Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The Authentocrats and the fight for authentic identity and knowledge

Dear Colleagues,

Weird times indeed! I am taking respite from a doctoral thesis centred on issues of identity and knowledge to talk about this from a different, political dimension.

The fight against the experts is well known, and I remember well Michael Goves' demand during the Brexit referendum that the public shouldn't confuse themselves with knowledge and expertise. At a macro level we know have a more thunderous and Neolithic form of anti-intellectualism in the form of Trump, amongst others. Read this excellent blog for an outline of how we got to this parlous state: https://tinyurl.com/yc44uc4h

We should worry that such a brute stance against intelligence is seeping into public life. Just yesterday the Met Office, in conjunction with Public Health England, recommended people to safeguard their well-being when in direct sunlight - common sense? Not according to the media this morning which screeched, amongst other things, beware the nanny state: https://tinyurl.com/y7u9d6b7

In his new book, The new treason of the intellectuals, (and based on Julien Benda's polemical essay of 1927), Thomas Docherty suggests that, in part, the shift of the role of university as impartial indispensable, knowledgeable, democratic institution to a core means by which market-driven ideology is pursued, is where this problem occurs. We can no longer trust the independence of the experts. Like the rest of the marketplace, they have vested interests, and cannot be trusted. Details of the book are here: http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526132741/

And, we can now add to this toxic mix, the latest book by Joe Kennedy, Authentocrats: Culture, politics and the new seriousness - details here: https://tinyurl.com/ybn3lrbj

It is a fascinating read, and in part helps us understand how base political rhetoric has become in pursuit of authentic representation of 'the people'. There is a hilarious piece I today's Guardian which helps locate the book in current UK and US politics: https://tinyurl.com/y6wblqtm

Who represents the authentic political idea of 'the people' has always been heavily politically contested, but as the book reveals the new populism has sharpened its claws, and its coming directly at this battleground and truth, knowledge and expertise have nothing to do with it.

As you can see when you take a quick gander at the book summaries, and the article, the fight for truth, knowledge, and authentic representation gallops along at a pace.

Fascinating stuff, but very worrying all the same.

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Embodied Activism

Dear Colleagues,

Just wanted to write-up a note around findings in a space separate from my doctoral thesis, and share this via the blog.

An argument/finding/theory arising from my thesis is embodied activism (EA). The phrase can be found in several contexts, but when applied to trade unionism, and in the context of learning and knowledge production, I am saying this:

A grounded theory of EA is, I argue, an attention to the ways in which the knowledge and capacity of trade unionists are hollowed-out through their experiences under and within organised labour, and of the power of a critical pedagogy to renew embodied identity, consciousness and knowledge. My reasoning here rests in part on a notion of the hidden injuries of trade union renewal, but primarily in the way that narrative underscores the liberatory means of realising embodied identity, consciousness and knowledge though radical pedagogy.  

At its simplest - and is revealed in the last post in this blog - I am drawing heavily on established knowledge within activist educational realms to argue that, initially, trade union activists accrue their identity and consciousness through embodied processes of learning and knowledge production e.g. learning how best to represent members through casework. Their is cognitive learning here for sure for example of workplace policy and relevant statute. But the workplace steward embodies the union and comes to represent workers' interests physically. Like activists in other movements, the trade unionist learns through doing, and their physical self also suffers the detriment of activism in the form of state surveillance and/or blacklisting. Union work itself though is, I argue, harmful and injurious, and not just as a result of conflict with employer, but also through the conflict innate within movements. This, I argue, has the power to override initial comprehension of trade union identity, and corrode confidence also.

A critical pedagogy - like that of the MA ILTUS at Ruskin College - holds a potential to realise sedimented, embodied identity, consciousness and knowledge - and provide a pathway to sustain this through the maintenance of praxis via in/non/formal learning and knowledge production processes subsequently.

This is pretty powerful stuff, I think, and I look forward to writing more about findings as I complete the last stage of the thesis.

I've written in this blog previously about EA, but the thesis findings are much clearer/established now.

In Solidarity


Saturday, 14 July 2018

The multiple ways of learning and knowing through activism

Dear Colleagues,

Just a brief post whilst racing ahead in writing doctoral thesis findings. I wanted to give a plug for Griff Foley's book, Learning in Social Action, for having set an international benchmark for understanding the learning that takes places through activism.

As I am sure with other theses, there is a lot written that rests on early theory/evidence and I have to acknowledge the impact that his book (and others allied to it) have had on my reflections of teaching activists for 25 (approx.) years, but also how it's helped me understand the importance of embedding an appreciation of informal and non-formal learning into trade union education.

It's clear that UK trade unionism has benefitted in some ways from state funding of education. It is clear also however, that a focus on formal education and the 'skills' of trade unionism has not aided the process of trade union renewal, not least in identifying and generating new sources of trade union power.

Similarly, and as revealed by the excellent book  Union Voices, by Jane Holgate, Mel Simms and Ed Heery, the organising agenda of the UK labour movement, and the millions lavished upon this through state aid, and a similar formal/skills-oriented approach, has not been able to stabilise trade union density let alone increase it: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100825300

Foley's book helps provide a pathway to 'unlearning' from the formal education of trade unionism, and thinking instead of how we educate ourselves, not least by acknowledging the multiple ways in which learning takes places through day-to-activism and working for trade unions, and sharing the knowledge that's gained as a result.

A link to the book: https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/learning-in-social-action/

Naturally, there will still be a need for the formal/skills-oriented approach but at the moment, there is a profound and fundamental imbalance and this, I argue in my thesis, is worth exploring as part of the search for renewal.

In Solidarity