Post-structuralism, as it ought to be explained



Today I got my provisional mark for my MSc by Research dissertation – a provisional 70, which is a provisional first, which gives me an overall provisional distinction. All subject to change with external examiners and exam boards, but still, right now I’m more than happy!

UC Berkeley anthropology library occupation takes on the administration and WINS!

Saw this news article from The Daily Californian about the successful occupation of UC Berkeley’s anthropology library, had to reproduce it in full. Proof that direct action and student occupations can win their demands.

70 Students, Staff, and Faculty gathered at Kroeber Anthro Library to protest libraries closing early 9 (c/o The Daily Californian)

By Amruta Trivedi

Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 9:15 pm
Updated Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 9:25 pm

The occupation of UC Berkeley’s anthropology library ended Saturday evening when campus administrators agreed to meet the demands of protesters and restore the library’s hours.

The demonstration began as a “study-in” Thursday evening in protest of cuts made to the library’s operating hours for the spring semester after a long-time library staffer resigned unexpectedly. About 30 protesters were in the library when news came that their demands had been met.

Tom Leonard, UC Berkeley’s university librarian, signed an agreement with protesters Saturday to restore the anthropology library’s hours to its fall 2011 schedule as soon as students can be recruited to work during those additional morning hours. According to the agreement, recruitment will start on Monday.

The original demands that protesters sent to administrators also requested that the campus find a full-time staff member to work in the library within the next 30 days, but the campus agreed to them only after negotiating to start the search for a full-time staff member in that time period instead, according to Yvette Felarca, a national organizer for BAMN.

Terrence Deacon, the chair of the campus anthropology department, who has spent much the last two days in the library and served as the liaison between library occupiers and campus administrators, said in an email that Leonard signed the agreement after small changes were made. During hours when there is no professionally trained library staff present, the circulation desk will be closed, but the library will remain open for computer use and as a study space, Deacon said in the email.

Deacon, who said he has been in conversation with administrators throughout the protest, said “there is good faith at the administrative level” about the students who occupied the anthropology library.

Although there were changes made to the protesters’ original list of demands, many at the library consider the agreement with administration to be a victory for their cause.

“This is an example for how to protect public education,” Felarca said. “It shows that students and community members are determining what a public university is.”


Amruta Trivedi is the lead academics and administration reporter


Dissertation full of WORDS

Dissertation word cloud

This is as close as I can bring myself to look at my dissertation again right now, after submitting at the start of December. I’m supposed to be rewriting it as a pamphlet for the Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group, and as a research proposal for PhD funding applications, but so far I’ve barely dared to look at it again for fear of it being terrible.

From Edinburgh to Sri Lanka: STRIKE!

University of Edinburgh on strike, by Joel Sharples

University of Edinburgh on strike, by Joel Sharples

This is really, really late, but I was deep in deadline hell last week when this post would have been at it’s most relevant. That said, we haven’t won yet, in fact it feels like we’ve only just got started defending higher education, and arts education specifically, from being undermined by education for profit. I wrote about University of Edinburgh students going into occupation ahead of the #N30 strike last week, and reposted the RSAnimate lecture about de-industrialising education this morning.

I wanted to post the section of an article read out by Prof. Jonathan Spencer, at the teach-out organised by the Edinburgh University Anti-Cuts Coalition at the library picket line last week. Prof. Spencer also emailed this round to the whole anthropology department, and his email is reproduced below.

Library picket line teach-out, N30, from Alasdair Thompson

Library picket line teach-out, N30, from Alasdair Thompson

Dear Colleagues and Students

As you know, many of us are on strike today in protest at the changes imposed on our pension scheme by University employers. As background I thought I would share with you some passages from a long article, co-written by our recent graduate Harini Amarasuriya (now a Senior Lecturer at the Open University in Colombo), and published in the national press in Sri Lanka earlier this year. The strike by FUTA, the academic union, in Sri Lankan universities this year was an extraordinary event which opened up a space for dissent and critical discussion in a society where dissent and criticism had been ruthlessly crushed in the last days of the civil war. Here are some highlights from the article:
The impulses that led us to seek employment and a career within academia were clearly not economic. We all walked into the university system with our eyes wide open as to what our economic condition would be. Most of us took the plunge because we hold on to an ideal of university life where ideas matter; independence and critical skills are valued, not feared. We have listened wistfully to stories of the past of fiery debates and arguments in senates and faculty boards, of brilliant and colourful personalities stalking our corridors, of their intellectual achievements and eccentric exploits. These legends also inspired us to choose this career path. We chose academic careers because we believed in a certain way of life, a certain form of engagement with the world. Over the years what we got was under-funded and under-resourced institutions coming under increasing political control by governments to whom education was no longer a priority. Given their environment, combined with the impossibly low salaries offered, the universities no longer attracted the best minds and inevitably took a turn towards mediocrity and apathy. And with a few exceptions and while trying to maintain some standards of excellence, most of us went with the tide!
This is not the first (and will not be the last) regime to use political power to interfere with the autonomy of universities. But safeguarding that autonomy requires academics to take their rights and privileges seriously and to fight to protect it. We reiterate that these rights and privileges are intrinsic to our ability and our obligations to fulfil our core functions in civil society. It is important that we do not forget that this fight has to happen within as much as outside the universities. As the UNESCO Lima Declaration on Academic Freedom and Autonomy of Institutions of Higher Education says, university autonomy is what enables the academic community to speak out with responsibility and independence on the ethical, cultural and social problems of their time. The current FUTA trade union action has enabled us to reflect on and act on these issues both inside and outside our institutions. The trade union action being suspended does not mean that our fight to protect our privileges and fulfil our responsibilities need come to an end. It is up to us to also hold FUTA accountable for the challenge they laid before university teachers at the seminar in Jaffna when one speaker asked us what we were going to do when our wallets and handbags were filled. The trade union action has been suspended even prior to our wallets and handbags being filled; perhaps our union leaders who have been exhorting us to keep fighting need to explain why they gave up the fight long before we were ready to do so.
The current mood of the academic community shows that it was not merely the salary issue which drew us on to the streets. The intransigence and inanity of the current regime and the humiliating treatment meted out to university teachers has had a positive effect. It has, without doubt been a significant factor in causing them to finally rise up and say enough is enough. You can push a community so far and no further. Perhaps, a more significant factor is the threat to the very future and survival of the country’s much cherished public education system. University teachers are now making it clear that they will not stand silent and watch the dismantling of this system. The demand for decent salaries is based not merely on self interest but also on real fears that the erosion of adequate funding is an insidious way of destroying these institutions from within. FUTA is also asking for adequate funding of education as a whole which is a sine qua non for sustainable development.
The article can be read in two parts here:

Changing Education Paradigms

The RSAnimate lecture series is a really brilliant resource, especially for people like me who have a slightly unpredictable attention span. Really interesting topics, explained in around 10 minutes by amazing thinkers like David Harvey and Slavoj Žižek. This video, with a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson, is really great.

Firstly, his take on ADHD – as a ‘fictional epidemic’ – is really interesting, I’ve been interested in ADHD since before starting my undergraduate degree when I worked at Disability Challengers. I’d recommend Richard DeGrandpre’s Ritalin Nation for anyone interested in the growth of the ADHD industry, if a little out of date by now. Robinson describes how the ADHD ‘epidemic’ isn’t quite as ‘epidemic’ as we might think, and also shows how education, and particularly the arts, are negatively affected by the growth in ADHD prescription drugs like ritalin – if the arts rely on the aesthetic experience, then the use of anaesthetics cannot be conducive to being inspired and engaged. As someone who spent the summer trying to write whilst having to take co-codamol almost everyday, I agree!

He then goes on to talk about how the growth in the ADHD epidemic mirrors the growth of standardised testing in schools, and challenges the industrial approach of education, which sees the school as a factory, with children passed through in uniform batches. Why do children have to go through schools in classes based on age group? Why are they taught there is only one right answer, why are they told they must do their ‘own work’, when collaboration is such a positive aspect of learning?

Its given me something to think about, at the end of my first semester tutoring on the Introduction to Social Anthropology undergraduate course at Edinburgh. The legacy of formal, school learning has such an impact on the students – sometimes the groups felt like pulling teeth, no one wanted to speak. Of course they didn’t – having a tutorial, where students are supposed to be doing the talking, asking the questions, pulling apart the ideas, is completely alien to school education. You’re not taught that you have anything interesting or worthwhile to add, you’re taught that you know less than the teacher, and you need to listen to them. If you ask a question, it’s because you don’t understand something, not because you want to challenge an idea, or consider it differently. And you ask questions of the teacher, not of your fellow students. So trying to shake off all that and get students to bring their own ideas, opinions and analysis to class and actually discuss rather than listen is pretty tough.

I’m going to my first session of a Paulo Friere reading group next week run by the Adult Learning Project, who are an amazing organisation. I’m working with some friends on a new course for them for next year, but in the mean time keen to learn about more creative, empowering forms of education. We’ll be talking about this piece by Nigel Gibson next week, hopefully it might give me some ideas on how to make next semester’s tutorials run a little more interactively.

‘Occupy to support your staff’ Edinburgh students in support of #N30

This time last year, I joined a group of students occupying Appleton Tower in protest against the introduction of £9k fees. This year, students have once again gone into occupation, this time in support of striking public sector staff, and in opposition to the HE white paper which is set to radically alter higher education. Anthropology is particularly vulnerable, as cuts to arts and humanities departments threaten the immediate future of the discipline. The occupying students have released the following statement:

We are now occupying Appleton Tower, in support of the UCU strike on Wednesday November 30, against the moves of the government to privatise higher education and in defence of the principle that education is a public, social good which should be free for all.

We are currently in the middle of the most aggressive attack on the notion of public education in any of our lifetimes. The White Paper being introduced by the government in Westminster will lead to for-profit institutions, a stratification of our university system and the reinforcing of social barriers. The plans are economically illiterate and will have disastrous effects on the system of higher education in the UK.

We stand in solidarity with student occupations across the UK. In Birmingham students have been blockaded without food and water, threatened with legal action and, unbelievably, even physically assaulted by security. We realise that in Scotland we remain sheltered from some of these effects. But as with the introduction of £9000/year tuition fees in England, which have led directly to the rest of UK fees at our university increasing to £36000 for 4 years, changes in the funding and organisation of universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will affect what happens here. That tuition fees, directly or deferred in the form of a graduate tax, have not been reintroduced for Scottish students is testament to the anger and action shown by students in Scotland last year. If we wish to defend our system and move towards a genuinely egalitarian position – where students are supported through their degrees, courses and staff are properly funded and no one is priced out of education – we must make a stand now.

We aim to  persuade staff and students that education does not have to be considered as a commodity to be traded for profit but is instead a public good which benefits all of society. That education is not simply a means to future employment but has intrinsic worth in itself. That universities do not have to be run as if they were a private business, but can be democratically controlled by their staff and students.

Next week lecturers, librarians, IT staff and others will be on strike as part of the largest coordinated action undertaken in generations.  We will be standing with them on their picket lines, supporting them in their struggle for a decent pension and the ability to retire in dignity. Their struggle is ours. If unions lose their fight, we will suffer when we come to start pensions of our own on leaving university.

We call on all students to support their staff, to refuse to cross picket lines and work from home or join us on the pickets. Pickets are not just for show; they are not symbolic nor are they just another way to express your unhappiness. They are a weapon – the only weapon workers often have to balance the relation of power between themselves and their employers. To cross a picket line is to undermine a strike. If you support the aims of the staff you must refuse to cross.

Our occupation is to defend education and our university. We do not intend or expect to disrupt teaching and hope that the university will not choose to cancel or move lectures or events happening in Appleton.

We invite all students and staff at Edinburgh University to visit our occupation and to join us. We hope that you will.