Summary — This interview explores such questions as: How can leftist movements be built across social divisions on campuses? What can we do to break radical theory out of its capture in academia? Can we create institutions that are embedded in movements and that provide alternatives for radicals who get stuck in precarious academic life?
by Sutapa Chattopadhyay (Maastricht University)
Today, frankly our universities are transformed into knowledge-for-profit-enclosures, as primarily ‘branded’ universities are sold-out to the policy elites (techno-scientific foundations, business consortia and multinationals) for the progress of scientific research, on which intellectual property rights are placed that exclude most people from its benefits. This is the reason we must connect with ecosocialist, ecofeminist and anarchist strategies, as these alternative theories and praxis can undo the rigid, hierarchical, authoritarian, hegemonic and provincial university education system toward a non-hierarchical, egalitarian, emancipatory knowledge locus.
Summary: From the wilderness of adjuncting to university occupations and the Quebec student uprisings, professor Alison Hearn (U. of Western Ontario) discusses how we can create organizing grounds in the ruins of universities. The classroom presents possibilities for connecting pedagogy with organizing, while grappling with the tensions of context, faculty authority, and student resistance. Rather than falling into either authoritarian or hippy-dippy, de-professionalized modes of teaching, Hearn talks about how an ethically responsible approach can escape the academic capitalist rat race and build relationships across divisions of workers and students.
Summary: Tim shares his experiences of militant research with university workers and students, making disOrientation Guides, and the importance of starting from your own position for building solidarity. Reflecting on the Queen Mary Counter/mapping project and community-based cartography, he discusses the challenges of map-making collectively, as well as the benefits of the process for building a plane of commonality for struggles. Against the individualizing and recuperative functions of academia, he shares some thoughts on how we can better traverse the tensions our movements face across the boundaries of universities and communities.
CW: What is the deal with YoSoy132?
Patrick: It’s kind of a weird movement, because it started in the private universities, in a very upper class Catholic private university called Iberoamericana. It’s probably one of the more progressive private universities, because it has a quite independent and active faculty trade union. It arose in response to Enrique Peña Nieto who is the PRI candidate for president. The PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) was in power continuously from 1929 to 2000, one of the world’s longest running dictatorships, guilty of incredible abuses of human rights. The most infamous one was the massacre of Tlatelolco on October 2nd, 1968, just before the Olympics, when the Mexican army and paramilitaries killed around 500 people in a square near the center of Mexico City. It’s never been properly investigated. The ex-Mexican president, Luis Echevarria who was the minister of Internal Affairs when that happened, was briefly arrested and charged with genocide in 2006, but was almost immediately released. In spite of all their crimes, they’re on the point of being re-elected after just 12 years out of power. It’s like fascism coming back. The problem is that the party that’s been in power, the PAN (Partido Acción Nacional), has been as bad if not worse than the PRI. So, it’s just gone from the frying pan to the fire and back to the frying pan again. 60,000 have died in these last 6 years of President Calderon from the ‘war against drugs,’ which in reality has been a war against the whole population, at the same time a new form of governance and a new theatre in the “global war against terrorism”. It’s been government through military dictatorship that we’ve had in Mexico since 2006, and the electoral fraud in 2006, too, that started it. Of course there’s a real danger of another electoral fraud. Until May 11th it seemed like Enrique Peña Nieto was going to win the elections easily. There had already been one or two setbacks for him. First, at the Guadalajara International Book Fair in December last year, he was asked what were the three most important books in his life, and he couldn’t name one. He is just such a complete airhead, an ignoramus. This is the guy who’s going to be the next president of Mexico!
These are reflections on being a radical (to be precise: an anarchist) and teaching at a university. They are personal and subjective. I do not claim to having been very successful. My teaching was much less radical than I always dreamt of. This is annoying, because I think radicalism—the willingness to look at the roots of social phenomena—and a critical approach—contrary to an uncritical acceptance of the given—are necessary attitudes for serious social scientists; that differentiates them from ideologues and theologians. But I hope my teaching so far has not been totally pointless, I hope it had at least some subversive consequences, and I hope my reflections are of use for good people.
Sharon Irish | April 2012
I will be 60 years old in November of 2012. I identify as white, female, heterosexual and middle-class, and I try to be cognizant of these social locations. I grew up in a mobile, middle-class family, the youngest of three daughters. My father was a sociology professor; my mother, who was the family anchor in many ways, worked very hard for not much pay at the jobs she was able to get each time we moved for my father’s job–in child care or in clerical work.
In 1985, after seven years of coursework and somewhat ambivalently-conducted research, I earned my Ph.D. in art history from Northwestern University. My ambivalence stemmed from my difficulty balancing a passion for art history with an awareness of the urgency and necessity for social justice. I have to admit it took me about twenty years of part-time, adjunct teaching to come to terms with my love of art history and how teaching in that area might support social justice work. A national conference of the Women’s Caucus for Art that I attended in 1990 was my first “aha” experience in understanding that feminism and visual culture offered myriad and powerful ways to intervene in US socio-political structures.
I offer two stories out of my teaching experience, since I think some specific examples might be the most useful to others.
by Turiddu Kronstadt
When hired at an entry level university post, whether postgraduate, precarious, or tenure-track, one is often confronted with teaching courses beyond one’s background and/or interests (besides a complete lack of or very limited institutionalised pedagogical experience). That was somewhat the situation for me when I started teaching entire courses by myself under the ever deceptive title of Teaching Assistant. If I wanted a stipend (any stipend, really, at that point) and avoid being encumbered with even more loans than I had already accrued, I had to accept whatever was thrown at me.
It happened to be a lab in introductory physical geography (see syllabus here). I had no college-level teaching experience and had just decided to move away from physical geography after my MSc, so as to concentrate on social theories. The prospect of becoming a dishwasher for tenured faculty unwilling to teach introductory courses was not only irritating (and one must quickly learn to hide such irritation under such relations of power), but overwhelming. It would and did set me back in my studies as a result of having to dedicate many hours to a subject that was to me of little interest at that point. At least I had studied enough physical geography to be competent and to make the (it turns out) typical error of piling readings and gratuitous complexities in the curriculum, all for the sake of completeness and, ultimately, to cover up intense self-doubt or insecurity regarding my competence. Regardless, my involvement in anarchist and other anticapitalist groups (e.g., founding the short-lived Atlantic Anarchist Circle, joining the IWW) could not have been further removed from my institutional education work.
Would you like to be interviewed as part of a militant co-research project on anti-capitalist struggles in universities?
A primary goal of this project is to create tools for anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-oppressive movements on the terrain of universities. Another goal is to gather the forces of our movements through having conversations and making media that connect us with each other and our resources, thereby expanding and strengthening our relationships. Toward these ends, we’d like to interview you, eliciting your experiences and reflections on your attempts at interweaving radical pedagogy and radical organizing within and outside your classes, including your goals, curriculum design, tactics, context, tensions, obstacles, limiting and enabling conditions, etc.
As we aspire for this project to be one of ‘militant co-research,’ we are creating it in collaboration with multiple participants—including, hopefully, yourself—and producing different forms of media from it for our multiple audiences. Our interviews’ outcomes could include:
- Publishing edited versions of the interviews on libcom.org, edu-factory.org, and any other websites and listserves with a receptive, anti-capitalist audience.
- Collecting them on this website, which we’re developing for the project (http://classwaru.wordpress.com)—as a knowledge base for others to draw on when composing their own classes and organizing strategies. This is part of a wider project that originated in the “Occupy the AAG” meeting at the 2012 American Association of Geographers conference, continuing conversations from previous organizing (such as the “Beneath the University, the Commons” conference).
- Using them as a basis for analysis in our academic writing, along with articles for publication in free, open access websites and journals (some written anonymously, depending on the level of militancy of the content). We could co-write such articles.
- Using them in other forms for your own purposes beyond these listed here (e.g., to write texts that are tailored to the local contexts of the movements and terrains of struggle in which you are involved or for the specific context of your academic work).
Aiming for another principle of ‘militant co-research,’ we see these interviews and the wider project as mutually transformative processes—opening up our subjectivities, collectivities, knowledge, theories, goals, pedagogies, and organizing practices to possibilities of critique and change.
Finally, a note on anonymity: considering that being open about your radical politics could threaten both your academic employment and your radical organizing, we welcome you to choose to remain anonymous in the public presentation of these interviews. If you want to do so, let us know and we will remove any identifying info from all public circulations of this project.
If this sounds exciting to you, would you like to participate in an interview, or rather, a facilitated conversation? Our interview would take about an hour, and we would do it over Skype (so that we can record it). If you are interested, could you please tell us your availability within the next month or so?
Thank you very much for considering this. Do let us know if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions, and if you’d like further information about the project.
Class War U
classwaru [at] gmail [dot] com
 On militant co-research, see, e.g., Marta Malo’s “Common Notions, part 2” – http://eipcp.net/transversal/0707/malo/en, and Malav Kanuga’s reading list – http://www.thisisforever.org/fall-seminar/readings
Have you tried to integrate radical organizing approaches with your classes? Have you attempted to engage your students in activist research, or militant co-research, participatory action research, etc.? How can classrooms be better tools for anti-capitalist movements?
We’re working on a project to create tools for anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian movements on the terrain of universities. To further this project we are seeking reflections on people’s experiences on using activist research in the classroom. If you are interested in participating, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you follow-up questions to elicit your experiences and reflections on your attempts at integrating radical organizing with your classes, including your goals, curriculum design, tactics, obstacles, etc.
Contributions will be collected into a user-friendly website as a knowledge base for others to draw on when composing their own classes and organizing strategies. The impetus for this call came from a group that is already attempting to make such an activist research class—a group of folks from the “Occupy the AAG” meeting at the 2012 AAG (Geography) conference. Also, we will use your contributions to analyze the limiting and enabling conditions for anti-capitalist organizing in universities, and we will present the results and some thoughts on strategies in a freely circulated articles.
Finally, a note about ANONYMITY: Considering that being open about your radical politics could threaten your employment situation, we welcome you to choose to remain anonymous either in your submission or in the public presentation of your reflections. If you want to do so, please let us know and we will remove any identifying info from all public circulations of this project.