Sunday, 31 January 2010

Ideals and ideology

There are so many debates surrounding the Camp for Climate Action that I don't know if I could cover them all. But as someone who studies ideological morphology (the construction of an ideology, in a descriptive rather than pejorative sense, using particular arrangements of political concepts) there are certain elements I find particularly interesting. The general impression I get is one that may be counterintuitive to some - that the core of horizontal politics, rather than being weakened by infighting, may in fact be strengthened by the push to define itself.

Bear in mind here that I'm looking at this from the perspective of horizontal politics - where the core contains a conception of anti-hierarchy formed of components such as consensus, affinity and autonomy, shaped by adjacent concepts such as prefiguration (creating change in the here and now rather than waiting for a revolution) - and not of green politics, where the core is focussed more around saving 'the planet'. Yes, I'm simplifying a bit here. Long story short, from the horizontal politics standpoint, I don't find it shocking that activists with climate change on their agenda may also give priority to issues of wider social change.

In fact, from this perspective, it is those involved in the linked radio show who are missing the point. Yes, if the climate fairy could wave a wand and end climate change but leave the world otherwise unchanged, with people as mean and selfish and destructive as before, horizontal activists wouldn't find this a tolerable solution. (I'm not really sure how many greens would either tbh, but the person who ventured the suggestion seemed to think they should) The fact that her 'solution' wasn't greeted enthusiastically suggests that the Camp for Climate Action has a greater claim on being a horizontal movement with an ecological slant than on being purely a green movement.

Let's look at the original aims of the CCA. (source) One of the central themes is 'direct action' - including civil disobedience but also encompassing a wider theme of acting directly, at a grasroots level, in an autonomous fashion, rather than waiting for a leadership to do it for us. Under the question 'what kind of social movement?', the following answer is given: 'Grassroots, participatory and self-organised. Challenging consumerism, growth & capitalism. Strong anti-capitalist ethos. Slipping between anti-capitalist / anti-growth – an ongoing debate. Needed to embrace civil resistance / direct action – to challenge the 'democratic norms' which don't themselves challenge the system, and because its not about asking others do do things.' More, similar information can be found on the linked discussion thread.

Now, the debates. These arise largely due to the inclusive and participatory nature of the Camp, and in particular the inclusion of 'liberal' (in the pejorative sense as generally deployed by anarchists for those who see the state as a potential defender of freedom) elements. More pertinently, the last few Camps have openly included elements which see the state as the provider of solutions to climate change (arguably those who see it purely as an environmental rather than a social issue). The controversy stems from the favouring by some participants of solutions such as a 'green tax' or population control - described by the horizontals and anarchists in the vicinity as 'green authoritarianism'.

It is possible to speculate on these debates in terms of the potential for the Camp - and if you're really optimistic/pessimistic (depending on outlook) the wider constellation of horizontal movements - to be irrevocably decided. This I do not agree with, seeing instead the potential for a stronger and more coherent horizontal outlook - forced to define itself by the need for distance from the elements described above. This may mean a clearer definition of horizontal space - a decision to ask certain groups to work seperately - even an exodous by horizontals to start up a seperate space (although this would be a shame since the CCA is arguably their baby). But it will also mean that the anti-hierarchical - and by extension anti-hegemonic and anti-state - elements will be reinforced, through the need to defend them. I am hypothesising and also, as this is a matter of personal belief as well as acadmic interest, hoping!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Mad at Mandy

While the man once known as Man-dee the one-eyed trouser snake is far from the biggest hate figure in my life (I don't have many, but the highest ranks are clogged with racists, holocaust deniers, child molesters and people who do experiments on kittens, so Mandelson gets off lightly there unless he has hobbies I don't know about!), I have spent the best part of my adult life (15/16 to my current grand old age of twenty-cough-something - lets just say over a decade...) being annoyed with him to a greater or lesser extent. His latest offence, as I'm guessing those of you involved in higher education will know, is to cap student numbers and threaten to fine universities for taking on too many students. Now, maybe this proves the point of some scientists I know who would discount my degree(s) as being any use, because the maths of this make no sense at all. This is the government that wanted to be known for increasing student numbers, getting a higher percentage of young people into university, inflating the number of jobs that you need a sodding degree for, etc - now they're considering fining us for doing what they asked?

No I don't want the Tories back. I have lived under a Tory government. I have lived under Mrs Thatcher (not like that you kinky bastards). I know what is behind the airbrushing on that front. That doesn't make this lot seem particularly desirable though...

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Teaching adventures

I've had a complete reshuffle this term in what I teach. In particular, I've been taken off a module I'd have been teaching for the fourth time, and placed on one that I have taught topics similar to in a very different environment. I am something of a newbie, in other words. I have a good enough idea of the material, but am going to be making a lot of use of technique this semester! It will be interesting to see what can be translated from one course to another. Luckily I have a good mentor and module convenor, so can ask them for advice. Believe me, this is important!

Here is an overview of I want to do:
-For every seminar I want each student to come prepared with a point of interest about the reading and a question it raises for them. You can do a lot with these.
-Have each student think of a question about the topic, write it on an index card and stick it in a box. Each one then pulls a question out. They end up answering each other's questions in groups. This emphasises that students are producers of knowledge rather than passive consumers.
-The module convenor has already asked that we get each student to 'adopt' an EU member country and pay it special attention when reading up on the issues. The first thing I am going to do is ask them to come to seminar #2 with a list of 5 facts relating to 'their' country and its relationship to the EU. I also hope to have some kind of debate based on the country adoptions, but it depends what the balance is like for each issue!
-I want to find something to do that involves feeding the students. Political theory provided a whole load of opportunities for introducing biscuits, cake and chocolate into the proceedings. So far the EU hasn't, apart from the chocolate bar the convenor gives out as a quiz prize in some lectures. I'd rather link it more directly than that.
-I'm looking forward to covering the expansion issue - full of questions of identity, inclusion and exclusion, this is the bit of the course which is intrinsically interesting to me rather than interesting as a new teaching experience. I just need to work out how to structure it.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


Hello *waves*. This is a bit of an experiment, as I've never blogged under my real name before despite having had at least two online identities that could be easily pinpointed by people who know me. It means I've missed out on stuff like linking to my blog from facebook, commenting on certain offline friends' blogs with a link and joining in certain debates. So I'm going to give open-air blogging a try and see what happens.