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The @thirduniversity on the @thirduniversity

16 Dec

The Third University went down to the bank of ideas yesterday to attend the 2nd discussion about the potential for a London Free University at the Bank of Ideas. The Third University have been around for a while now, since March, and it’s seen and been to a few things in the few months it has existed that was like that discussion last night. As consensus discussion is hard to work with and it was felt that although asked, we couldn’t really tell people what we had done so far that perhaps answered and mainly asked a lot of questions about power, dominating voices and fear of listening within critical spaces, it was felt that we should reflect on the things that we have done, perhaps to help those who are trying to set something up or to avoid getting trapped by the same ideas they are supposed to be critiquing.

February 2011

Born in a pub, possibly because it was difficult to decide the value of throwing an egg at Nick Clegg in a privatised space such as a shopping mall. We were happy to be the third university in Leicester, because the other two were happy to charge 9 thousand pounds for the privilege. We were also friends with the social science centre and the really open university, who opened up the possibility about what we might become. We visited the Really Free School in London and was inspired by things just happening and people learning from each other.

March 2011 

First teach in – at the coffee republic in leicester on the day of the UCU strike. We were there for a few hours and we discussed what a third university might be and look like and who and what will it teach. We stuck loads of post it notes on the mirror and were donated some nice chocolate cake as well as being allowed to use the space. It’s amazing actually, there is space everywhere – you can just do stuff when you stop getting hung up on metrics and accreditations. Many people there were already teaching something to somebody somewhere. This was warming. This is the sort of stuff we spoke about. The third university dissolves into city and appears when we need it.

April 2011

The Third University ran a alternative teaching training session at NatterJacks Bar – who were also very nice and offered us space any time that we feel that we might need it. We set our objectives of teaching – if it is your first night, you have to teach. And teach people have. We learned about what people knew already, what they would like to learn and really, it is just nice hanging out with people who are passionate about the things they like. This has framed much of what the Third University has been about. Here is a list of the things that we discussed and the things we might learn.

May 2011

The Third University ran some lessons in liberating knowledge where we took out learning to lunchtime and dissolved into the high street. It was a nice sunny day. We took a break to hang out the bunting.

June 2011

The Third University hung out the bunting during Community Media Week. It did some stuff around social media, and citizen media and the shock doctrine. It invited people from all different parts of the UK to think about how to critique things like education and the olympics. It was nice to work with our friend citizen eye who are already providing free education opportunities to Leicester.

We took up Croquet. We held lunchtime lessons in Croquet and wet maths through June and…

July 2011

We won croquet! We beat the high chancellors of lols and took victory on the pitch. We saw the politics in croquet.

We also responded to the alternative alternative white paper. We are worried about alternatives too. So we set up a customer charter, just to make sure that those who are part of the third university know their place.

We announced our unemployability framework – the focus for 2011/2012 term, making sure that our members constantly make sure they are increasing becoming less employable by age.

We expanded, advertising for a Third University Business manager – where we appointed Professor Terry Wassall and promoted him to Professor pretty much before we got his references because it was a sure bet and he’s our pal.

We tried to learn about consensus decision making – but it changed everything. So we came back to Leicester and made no decisions.

August 2011

We did some arty stuff for a change. We taught in and out during the riots, it was more educational than watching the telly.

We went camping in Hampshire. We drank beer and chatted about everything. We weren’t very good at behaving or doing what we were told. We can put up a tent though.

September 2011

But we got ready for protest and prepared for November.

We have to acknowledge politics in everything. We bring what we learn from the third university and it helps us do the things that we need to do in other spaces. And that’s nice.

October 2011

We occupied everywhere. We visited Wall Street, St Pauls, Glasgow, Ayr, Leicester, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham. And we thought about it.

November 2011

Especially in our home town, Leicester. We were inspired by the young people who were raising awareness for the things that others would choose to ignore. We visited some more Occupy camps, we spoke at a few and shared stuff in tent city university, in the bank of ideas, in nottingham city centre, at the Space Project in Leeds. We loved to learn from people and feed on the energy of the movement.

December 2011

We came to London to speak with those who are inspired to set up and encourage a national network of free universities across the UK. We hoped that we could join them and share why and how we did what we have done this year. But it was about technology before doing, it was about spectacle before substance, it was about numbers before people. And that was hard for us.

In the new year, we are putting out focus into continuing to work with the communities and the people who support us, to run a day of activity about the things we like, to play darts, to talk and build with bikes and alternatives to the world we live in. We have to do it by talking to people, not building destinations. We can have space when we need it, but mostly the space we need is here already. We don’t need to recruit but you can join us if you wish. We are going to continue to watch what happens.

Radical alternatives? Surely we can do better?

16 Dec

We wish to juxtapose two things.

The first thing is this statement from Vinay Gupta on the muppetocracy. In it Vinay gave us food-for-thought about the desperate hard-work that a re-politicised form of higher education might have to undertake in the face of socio-environmental crisis. He writes

“Do you think Occupy, or any political group, Left, Right, Green, Libertarian or other, has any hope of doing so much better than our existing system that we actually manage climate?”

He goes on, damningly:

“Gandhi’s last card was this: with enough discipline, we could govern ourselves and our own affairs so that the State had little or nothing to do. Everyone perfect in their duty to their family. Everyone perfect in their duty to their neighbour. Every village perfect in its duty to its poorer neighbours: a global wave of responsibility displacing coercive models at every point.

“That’s not happening either.

“And now the question: do you know what to do?

“So here we are, face to face, at the end of our tethers. If you’re not aware of this situation, I guarantee you it’s because you’re not paying attention, alas. The more people know about these issues, the more worried they get. The best of us are chronically depressed and grasping at straws, fighting our own minor battles in full expectation of futility, while awaiting results that seem to take forever to come.”

The second thing is about futile battles. We popped along to the Bank of Ideas last evening to see how the London Free University was developing. We love the Bank of Ideas, just like we love the Space Project in Leeds, and the Social Science Centre in Lincoln, and the heroes in Oakland and those who are indignant in Chile and Spain and Greece, and everywhere. There were some lovely people at the first meeting of the LFU – in particular it seemed to us a number of younger academics in precarious employment situations or who had been inspired by the Occupy process, and for whom education was a way in, or a way out, to something else. Something more enclosed. There were also a number of older academics for whom engagement with a different energy was revitalising.

What we learned from the second meeting was enlightening for us in thinking about place and dissent and co-option and process and curriculum, and it made us wonder a few things about *alternatives* as potentially futile battles. So this is like our Christmas list of things we have been thinking about over the course of 18 months in attending and arguing and doing, and most importantly in listening and hearing other people.

  1. There are always people who think they know the answer. Or at least how to unlock it. Like it is a commodity to be revealed. And in thinking that they know the thing they speak or skew conversations. And they demonstrate their power. And they forget to listen. And they marginalise. And they accelerate the exodus.
  2. Are we really trying to re-produce the University in the name of *free*, whatever *that* is, inside capital and ruled by money? Without a critique of the form of the University inside capitalism we risk simply re-producing all the same alienating principles that congeal and restrict inside the academy. Mimicking what we are railing against is comfortable but changes little. It simply gives us a new, safe space in which to rail and exclude.
  3. The process of consensus is disabling where it is shackled to a perceived need to be productive or by self-imposed time constraints or by the fear of being bogged down in long discussions, and by the desperate, unquestioned desire to act now. However, we’ve seen the allegedly direct democratic process of consensus used in time-limited ways to marginalise or simply give voice to those more experienced in the process. In this way it is no different to standard institutionalised forms of governance. But what is worse is the subtext that it is more open and transparent, and that somehow at every point we don’t have to out power relationships. The network, for all our trite statements about newness, is neither new nor power free. It is just as hateful and disabling, or just as counter-hegemonic and different.
  4. Nor is it good enough to use statements about alleged openness, facilitated by technological or platform richness. Or to state that everyone has access through always-on, or libraries or SMS or to use assumption and assertion of *democratic process/form* in order to drive what is a deeply political process. Technology is not neutral. Technology is enclosing and monitoring and its use needs constant attention, and we need to find a way to engage those whom it marginalises, if we are not to become that which we claim we are not. It is not enough to say that because notes from a meeting were online, and that issues were previously raised, that certain directions or issues are closed for comment. Or that we do not have the time or the courtesy to renegotiate. The very act of making such statements is an act of power-over. Previous discussions or technological determinism become veils over what was once enacted and what needs renegotiation. We need to recover and remember how our statements are potentially acts of closure, of the rejection of the need to reiterate or re-cover issues that need constant renewal. It is a sense that we must always be moving irrespective of the need to bring others along, rather than a recognition that we might not in any one place have the answer.
  5. We appear to be becoming obsessed with content. We see disenfranchised teachers wanting a place or set of spaces in which to re-find themselves. But to what purpose? To the empty promise of an education that is free for all? Free for all under capitalism with no engagement with critical pedagogy or structures or politicised forms, that risks then becoming a free-for-all. By re-engaging our focus on the subject, within its fetishised, commodified, REF-ified, controlling, capitalist appearance, we start from us. From the teacher, with the power. We do not start with the student. Or the community. This is simply another way of doing things to people. Or speaking to an echo chamber. And this is maybe where traditional university educators have it right when the mesh critical pedagogy with power, before they get to content. We know that content is safer for some people. As is producing curricula for students. But who says we know what is needed? Who says we have it right with our “activism 101” or our “educational technology 101” or our “physics 101”? For whom and for what is this free or radical education?
  6. We note that it is very rare indeed for people to start from the student or the community, and to ask how might I help that person/those people? What does this mean for me as an educator? What does this mean for power? What does this mean for process? What does this mean for politics and pedagogy? What does this mean for content? Our obsession with content and just getting on, mirrors their obsession with employability and becoming a productive economic actor.
  7. Place is important in building permacultures that emerge over time, and may congeal, as occupy threatens, into some form of counter-hegemonic position. Does it really matter that the mainstream, virtualised within its X-factor love-hate, its bitter cynicism of all things French, its snarling and visceral hatred of Leveson, its snide cynical use of austerity to demonise, might lose interest in us or our commodified, branded project? Why run to catch-up with a thing that neither knows nor cares? Do we somehow believe that the thing we loathe can be tamed? Or that we will not just form it spectacle? That the thing which brutalises can be turned through some liberal homily? Really? We might push back for a while but building the alternative as a process takes time, and deliberation, and technology, and talk, in the social centre, and the pub, and the WEA, and the Women’s Institute, and at the football, and on the picket line, and in the school and the university. And occasionally in the mainstream. But isn’t the rule and domination of the mainstream over our lives the thing we wish to break? With its alienating hatred.

I’m sure there are other things that we learned. But it has made us think about shock and awe, and how their domination of our spaces is so disconcerting at times that we can only imagine alternatives within their space and place. It is as if we can reimagine nothing other than a nicer form of what they do to us. A nicer form of control and power, because some of us are more free or more knowing than others. Rather than negating their institutional and process-driven power over us, we simply re-inscribe those patterns through our new institutions and forms and processes, whilst claiming they are new or democratic and power-free.

So we wonder how we might try to create something that starts from power and critique and critical pedagogy and politics, and most importantly from the student, in order to disengage, refuse, say no, push back or break their imposition on our world. Surely we can do better?

occupy everywhere

14 Oct

On Wednesday we went into occupation of ourselves. This was a joint action between Leicester, New York and Ayr. This is part of a general call for action and discussion about alternatives and repossession and opening out of spaces that have been violently enclosed.

In New York we took our occupation down Broadway, past City Hall and a labor rights protest against developer Sam Chang and past the portacabins at the World Trade Centre site that bore the flags of the National Union of Crane Operating Engineers and the New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters. We occupied Broadway in order to witness the allegedly alternative form of organisation at Occupy Wall Street. The occupied space:

  1. made us think about how public, or previously enclosed spaces are colonised by sub-groups and permacultures, and re-enclosed by them – it made us think of homeless shelters;
  2. was clearly part of a spectacle, with the police watching the tourists watching those who faced out of the occupied space with their single issue placards who in turn corralled those who had settled the square;
  3. used consensus decision-making, and was clearly being dominated by a few people who were owning the process for others – in fact the process of repeating the words of each speaker as they spoke, formed a liturgy of consensus that risked talking down/overwhelming those who were deemed to have invalidated the process; moreover it felt like “his name is Robert Poulsen“;
  4. used consensus to decide to spend $2000 on 30 flags; the speaker proposing this wanted US-made flags that could be inscribed and used in direct action; he did not want “shitty flags” that had been made abroad; so much for labour solidarity in the face of the transnational finance capital that was located 50 yards down the street; as for ignoring capital and making rather than buying flags, well that wasn’t on the agenda;
  5. was clearly fetishised – in the face of a threatened eviction, which did not take place this morning, the occupiers cleaned the square – they became good occupiers, in order to keep the spectacle on the road. They inscribed the square with power, the same socially-reproduced power relations that they claimed to be opposing, and used consensus to re-inscribe that fact. Then it felt that the square was reified as the only focal point for action. Rather than walking away from its normalisation with the legal framework demanded by the Mayor, the occupiers cleaned their cell. You will obey the bunting. Whoever hangs it up.

And so we walked away back up Broadway and thought about occupation as an ideological apparatus that was unable to reveal a tranformatory social moment because it could not imagine a revolutionary other world. We thought about how capital needs disruptors like these in order that it can adapt to them and re-produce its logic through their actions. We thought about how a radical set of ideas around equality in a square might never become tranformatory because they cannot move away from concepts like equality as it is formed within the legalistic institutions of democracy-in-capital.

And we thought about November 9/30 in the UK, and the types of actions that might unfold from there. We thought that what is at stake is being against inequality through capital, not a fight for equality or its subsumption under equality of opportunity/social mobility. These are bourgeois sops/liberal justifications. The fight is for the negation of inequality under capital, and for alternative forms of value and ways of realising that value. And so we thought about how to use November 9/30 to engage in a critique of labour-in-capitalism as the organising principle for  the structures of our lives, and we thought how to connect students and workers in this project, in order to overcome this historical crisis. And we wondered about the role of the University, and what might be salvaged from the neoliberal university, and how that space might be re-invented against the reproduction of the university as education-for-capital.

an away day in Bedford

2 Oct

Yesterday we held a walkabout-cum-learnathon-cum-exploration-of-space-cum-awayday in Bedford. We were hoping to learn something about unemployability. We learned:

  1. about historically-defined administrative units of wapentake, hundred, shire and county. We learned about their role in feudal enclosure and political control and taxation. And in our wondering why they developed as they did, with different flavours in different spaces/places, we reflected upon their historically-situated and defined emergence, and the historically-situated and defined emergence of new possibilities. Just because it was, doesn’t mean it has to be;
  2. about the role of public schools and rowing clubs and rugby clubs and the aristocracy in the early development of football and the way in which the town provided a space for former colonial administrators, in the history of Bedford. And we learned about the sacking of the town under Henry III and its pivotal medieval role on the River Great Ouse. And we wondered about how that inscribed the place and the space with a particular culture and set of explicit values that denied other histories and possibilities by enclosing and refusing them;
  3. about the ways in which the successful defence of the line in rugby union offers a sense of hope and relief and release through a real-world focus on place and space. And the attritionality and precarity of our actions in the world. And we wondered how that shared engagement in a space, shared for immanent and yet disparate reasons by a crowd, and that co-operative association might enable new forms of production and use to emerge in other spaces. Or we wondered whether there always had to be dominant and dominating rules inscribed and imposed on our land.

And we thought about how walking through a place like Bedford, historically-situated as an amalgam of cultures, reflected by a distinctly conservative culture, might enable us to re-think our solidarity with #occupywallst, and prepare for action ahead of #nov9 and #nov30. And we wonder about this in the real-world, and in face of the proletarianising reality of austerity, and we reflect on the need for direct action, in enabling possibilities for a world of #unemployability that is against capitalist work as the primary organising principle for all our our lives.

On Leicester and its spaces for doing stuff: 9th August (LCB Deport 5pm onwards)

31 Jul

As part of a City Galley exhibition “I will talk with anybody who will talk with me” (A series of performances/installations/conversations, named after this footage from a news piece on the anti-university of London in 1968) The Third University will be doing something in the space (which looks a bit like a den you’d build when you were small) at the front of the LCB Depot on the 9th of August (5pm onwards).

There will be a little bit of learning from Eric Rosoman (the exhibition coordinator) on some of the pieces in the space – followed by hopefully an interesting discussion about the spaces in Leicester for doing stuff. The Third University is aware that although the council have their own managers for arranging and talking about things to do in spaces, much of it is from a top-down, business orientated perspective. This is about reclaiming, re-appropriating and hacking the city. It would be nice if we could talk about what we might do in the autumn term. You have an idea, a thing that you are good at or something that we should be teaching, we would like to help you find things to learn, but also have a place and a space to do it- even if it is or never needs to be permanent. This is what this discussion/talky thing will be about.

The lesson will follow after by a trip to the pub. There will be more details about logistics later – but please do keep the 9th of August open- and let us know if you’ll be there. Either on twitter -or leave a comment here.