SOAS student union supports UCU strike

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Letter from SOAS Student Union to the student body:
 
“Dear students,
 
You’re probably aware that next Wednesday, November 30th, is going to be a very big day around the country, with what will probably be the biggest public sector strike since 1926.
More than two million workers, including teachers, headteachers and civil servants around the UK will be striking next Wednesday. The strike aims to defend public sector workers from the cutting of their pensions – which, if it goes through, amounts to a major cut in their pay and will mean poorer, more vulnerable pensioners in a few decades time. The decision to strike has been taken after months of negotiations with the government.
You may not be aware – because it has only recently been confirmed – that the Universities and Colleges Union will also be on strike on that day.
This means that on Wednesday 30th November SOAS will not be running as usual as many lecturers and teaching assistants will be on strike.
Most classes will be cancelled or rescheduled (check with your lecturer – it will probably also start an interesting class debate), and the library is likely to be reference only.

The SU shop and bar will be completely closed all day long, and me and the other sabbatical officers will not be in our office – although we will be on the picket lines!

The university will be picketed (for those who don’t know, a picket line is a demonstration by striking workers that they are on strike and that they would like others to support them by not entering the building). As the Students’ Union, we are officially asking students not to cross the picket lines and not go inside any of the SOAS buildings on the day – the most important way to show solidarity with our lecturers is not to break their strike.

Whether or not you agree with the decision by UCU to strike, our lecturers have always been supportive of our actions and welfare, and we should offer them the same courtesy.
Moreover, the public sector strike takes place at a crucial time of government cuts to public services and university funding, that is putting the future of public universities like SOAS in jeopardy and threatening dramatically the universal accessibility of Higher Education. The lecturers’ strike action is therefore in the students’ interest as well, as it is an act of protest against the government’s destructive Higher Education policies and recessive austerity measures. For this reason, as students, we should join in the strike and support it actively.
 
If you are concerned about being penalised for taking the day off university and not attending classes, don’t worry. We have been in negotiations with the School to ensure that students do not suffer any negative consequences for their decision of supporting their striking lecturers.
For this reason, we are glad to announce that:

All coursework due on this day has been given an automatic one-day extension: this means that you will not lose marks if you hand in your essays the day after.
Library fines will be suspended for books not handed in on November 30th.
Students who decide not to cross the picket lines and therefore not attend classes on November 30th will not be marked as absent; this means that
if your lecture is still going ahead as scheduled and you decide not to attend to avoid breaking the strike, this absence will not affect your attendance record and you will not be penalized in any way.
If for any reason you would wish to cross the picket line, you are free to do so and we will strive to ensure that no one feels intimidated or pressured.
However, we do encourage you to not cross the picket line, come outside SOAS and get involved with what could be a massively important day for both the university and the entire country.

You can come and show your solidarity with staff on the picket lines from 9am – they would be delighted to see a great show of student support, and there will be teach-outs, debates and music going on (the samba band will be there!), as well as hot food and drinks. Having student support on the picket lines is very important for the lecturers on strike, so if you can please come from 9am. If you wanna bake a cake or bring some food for the strikers, that would also be greatly appreciated!

At 11.30 we’ll be gathering at SOAS to join the education feeder march to the national demonstration against pension cuts and against wider cuts to education and other public services. This will be a huge demonstration – probably 40.000 workers from all across London will be marching together – and it would be great to have a big SOAS contingent, so make sure you come down at 11.30 at least!

There’s also lots going on in the build-up to the strike – there will be a tent protest outside the university from Monday, and on the night of the 29th an event in the KLT to discuss the strike, with lecturers and workers speaking about the aims of the 30th and what might come next. With rallies planned around London and six universities already in occupation, there are likely to be lots of other exciting events going on across the country. And if you want to help flyer or make banners for the demonstration, or otherwise get involved, get in touch with SOAS anti-cuts group (soasanticuts@gmail.com).

So, just to recap: please choose to support your lecturers by not crossing the picket lines on Wednesday; come to show solidarity with them on the picket lines from 9am; and join the feeder march to the big trade union demonstration from 11.30am, meeting at SOAS steps.
Myself, Ali and Chuck and the rest of the Students’ Union exec will be around on the day if you have any questions about the strike action, otherwise if you have any doubts or problems please feel free to get in touch now via email.

Thanks for reading all this, and see you all on Wednesday!

Much love,

Arianna (Co-President Welfare and Education, SOAS SU)”

Reading bell hooks “Teaching to Transgress” (1)…

November 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

…I like much of what she is saying, but I like it most when she tells stories about how she has tried to put her ideas into practice – here, for example:

Working with a critical pedagogy based on my understanding of Freire’s teaching, I enter the classroom with the assumption that we must build ‘community’ in order to create a climate of openness and intellectual rigour…It has been my experience that one way to build community in the classroom is to recognise the value of each individual voice. In my classes, students keep journals and often write paragraphs during class which they read to one another…To hear each other (the sound of different voices), to listen to one another, is an exercise in recognition. It also ensures that no student remains invisible in the classroom. (40-41)

And when she discusses the consequences of her teaching practice:

I have not forgotten the day a student came to class and told me: ‘We take your class. We learn to look at the world from a critical standpoint, one that considers race, sex, and class. And we can’t enjoy life anymore.’ Looking out over the class, across race, sexual preference, and ethnicity, I saw students nodding their heads. And I saw for the first time that there can be, and usually is, some degree of pain involved in giving up old ways of thinking and knowing and learning new approaches. I respect that pain. And I include recognition of it now when I teach, that is to say, I teach about shifting paradigms and talk about the discomfort it can cause…Often when students return from breaks I ask them to share with us how ideas that they have learned or worked on in the classroom impacted on their experience outside…Through this process we build community. (42-43)

I want to say thank you to the students and teachers of the Goldsmiths Educational Laboratory for Surprising Experimentation for getting me hooked on bell.

Wave of student occupations

November 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

The advantages of having multiple academic employers means I get to hear about many of these things first/fast…

Goldsmiths

As I was getting a coffee at Madisons in New Cross before my lecture today, a girl came in distributing flyers that read:

Goldsmiths is now occupied in solidarity with the November 30th strike and the global occupation movement. We reject the privatisation and marketisation of life, and the violent transfer of public wealth into private hands. We stand with all those afflicted by this vile agenda and against those who profit from this enforced misery.

SOAS

The SOAS occupation began yesterday. All I have seen on it so far is a statement from SOAS:

A group of approximately 25 people, some of whom are from SOAS, entered 53 Gordon Square yesterday and remained there overnight, despite requests to leave.

The School has just renewed a lease for the building with the University of London so that it can be refurbished as a much-needed study space for research students for the 2012/13 academic year.  

and a statement by the occupiers, which includes the following justification:

The building has been empty for three years, subject to a legal dispute over its ownership. One of the claimants, the School of Oriental and African Studies, has this year announced that the property is to be redeveloped as a new post-graduate centre. Concurrently, it has announced the appointment of a new dean of post-graduate studies, one of whose perks will be a luxury apartment in the top-floor of the building.

SOAS management are perhaps ignorant of the context in which 53 Gordon Square was left vacantly to rot. Since 2008, the recession has been steadily worsening. House prices have remained unaffordable, living costs for ordinary people have continued to rise, and desperately needed public space has been made over to Big Retail at fire sale prices.

We don’t need any more luxury apartments, any more than we need new senior managers to live in them. The Bloomsbury Social Centre will instead be a real community resource: the material instrument required to build for the November 30th strike. Students, workers and local people are all invited to use it.

I probably need to look into this further, but as someone who knows how little space there is for research students in SOAS and therefore has some idea of how much it might mean for research students to have access to that space for the 2012/13 academic year, I really wish the occupiers could have either picked a better target or at least provided a justification aimed at the research students whose space they are occupying. I recently attended a meeting of research students to discuss how to ensure their needs are taken into account in the negotiation of the new Doctoral Training Centre which was to be based at 53 Gordon Square.  In this meeting, several of those present expressed amusement at the idea of a luxury apartment for the new dean positioned directly above the workspace of the students for whom s/he is responsible. On that point many research students might be sympathetic with the occupiers’ view that “We don’t need any more luxury apartments, any more than we need new senior managers to live in them.” But they won’t be sympathetic with the occupiers in relation to the fact that they are going to lose much-needed study space.

Other news coverage

http://www.freedompress.org.uk/news/2011/11/24/universities-occupied/

http://bloomsburyfightback.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/statement-from-the-bloomsbury-social-centre/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/nov/23/student-protesters-back-public-sector-strikes

http://anticuts.com/2011/11/24/statement-on-university-of-birmingham-occupation/

Contacts for (cheap) legal support

November 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1461

http://www.marywardlegal.org.uk/

http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/

Back to International Political Economy

November 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

The class discussion following my lecture this week for my students at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) has got me thinking hard about my studies in International Political Economy (IPE) before I left Warwick University to begin my PhD in Social Anthropology at SOAS. I am thinking about the possibilities for moving my research back towards the direction I was pursuing before (see ref 1, below), but moving back in that direction carrying with me the ideas, frameworks, approaches, theories etc. I have picked up during my training as an anthropologist. This post comprises some initial thoughts/notes/reflections around this topic.

The campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.

My IIS students asked me for case studies of instances in which – to use the terminology of the Occupy Movement – the 99% have successfully held the 1% to account. As I revisited the texts I first encountered during my MA in Politics at Warwick, I re-encountered the story of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Here’s a snippet from an article in the Financial Times, followed by some references to useful journalistic and academic writings on the story:

There is a memorable scene in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when the outlaw heroes are hounded for days by a bunch of armed men on horseback. After failing to shake off their mysterious pursuers, one of the hunted men asks despairingly: “Who are these guys?”

Similar fear and bewilderment have seized governments of industrialised countries as they struggle to draft rules for the treatment of foreign investment. To their consternation, their efforts have been ambushed by a horde of vigilantes whose motives and methods are only dimly understood in most national capitals.

This week the horde claimed its first success and some think it could fundamentally alter the way international economic agreements are negotiated.

The target of their attacks was the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) being negotiated at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the attackers a loose coalition of non-government organisations (NGOs) from across the political spectrum. They included trade unions, environmental and human rights lobbyists and pressure groups opposed to globalisation.

The opponents’ decisive weapon is the internet. Operating from around the world via web sites, they have condemned the proposed agreement as a secret conspiracy to ensure global domination by multinational companies, and mobilised an international movement of grass-roots resistance. (de Jonquieres, Guy (1998) “Network Guerrillas” Financial Times Thursday April 30 1998)

Drohan, Madelaine (1998) “Grassroots groups used their own globalization to derail deal” The Globe and Mail Wednesday April 29 1998

Mabey, Nick (1999) “Defending the Legacy of Rio: the Civil Society Campaign against the MAI”, in Sol Picciotto and Ruth Mayne (eds.) Regulating International Business: Beyond Liberalization London: Macmillan, p. 60-61

Mayne, Ruth and Sol Picciotto (1999) “Preface” in Sol Picciotto and Ruth Mayne (eds.) Regulating International Business: Beyond Liberalization London: Macmillan, p. vii

O’Brien, Robert (1999) “NGOs, Global Civil Society and Global Economic Regulation” in Sol Picciotto and Ruth Mayne (eds.) Regulating International Business: Beyond Liberalization London: Macmillan, p. 257-272

Absence of Actor-Network Theory.

Looking through the second edition of the IPE textbook Global Political Economy: Evolution and Dynamics (O’Brien and Williams, 2007, ref 2 below), and Global Politics as if People Mattered (Tétreault and Lipschutz 2009, ref 3 below), I’m struck by the absence of references to Actor-Network Theory and Bruno Latour. I know this doesn’t mean there aren’t scholars out there using these approaches; it’s just that reading some of the comments on the back of Tétreault and Lipschutz’s book I immediately think of Latour’s argument in Reassembling the Social (ref 4 below):

This book teaches readers that global politics is not something ‘out there’; rather, it is something shaping their own lives in the most personal ways and is something which they, too, are responsible for shaping. (Mary K. Meyer McAleese, Eckerd College)

Maybe the advantage of Tétreault and Lipschutz’s book is that it is more accessible than Latour…?

References:

1. Donegan, Brendan (2006) “Governmental regionalism: Power/knowledge and neoliberal regional integration in Asia and Latin America.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 35 (1): 23-51.

2. O’Brien, Robert and Marc Williams (2007) Global Political Economy: Evolution and Dynamics 2nd edition. London: Macmillan 

3. Tétreault, Mary Ann and Ronnie D. Lipschutz (2009) Global Politics as if People Mattered 2nd edition. Lanham: Rowham & Littlefield

4. Latour, Bruno (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory Oxford: Oxford University Press

Benson, Arizona

November 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

…And to compensate for the sour grapes of my previous post, here’s a song I’m currently digging, from the John Carpenter film Dark Star (1974):

Benson, Arizona

Here’s the lyrics, and some insight into the background of this relativity-themed country&western song.

And here’s a commentary on the film published in the Guardian earlier this year.

And now down to work.

A situational irony, or, the challenges of pursuing socialism in the context of capitalism

November 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today I am grateful to the Marxists running this year’s Historical Materialism conference for making it possible for me to work a 12-hour day in SOAS on a Sunday (I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of both the current labour market situation and my own agency in making this possibility seem like a good idea).

Where Am I?

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