I’ve just got back from the most mind-blowing conference I’ve ever been to. Keep It Simple, Make It Fast, is a conference/music and literary festival/art show organised around DIY cultures, Spaces, Places. Events were held across various venues in Porto, bringing together academic presentations, some celebrity guests, live performances, exhibitions with daily book launches and a summer school. The event is convened by Paula Guerra and Andy Bennett with an incredible team of international volunteers. I went with my Subcultures Network army (Matt Worley, Petes Webb and Ward, David Wilkinson and stayed in a seminary with the Punk Scholars Network and Steve Ignorant from Crass).
I’ve been out of the country for a week at a great workshop in Berlin “How to Write and Conceptualize the History of Youth Cultures” organised by Felix Fuhg, Doctoral Student, with the Centre for Metropolitan studies. I was travelling with the histrrry girls and The Subcultures Network, so there were Harringtons. There are always Harringtons. We spent one day working and talking in the Archiv der Jugendkulturen. Its an incredible community archive and library that has brought together all the different traces of resistance in youth culture and subcultures. From magazines made by school pupils to the Love Parades’ backdrops and giant cut outs of Nena – the transational and hyper local are boxed up together and are being carefully catalogued by local participant experts in each scene.
Over the past few weeks Class War and LSE’s Lisa Mckenzie in particular have been taking a lot of stick for their choice of target and tactics. For months Class War and the Women’s Death Brigade have been standing up against the relocation of young teenage mothers by supporting E15 Mums’ campaign, opposing Poor Doors, challenging Gay Pride’s for profit associations with big business and international banking, and exposing the dodgy deals and marketing of working class women’s bodies for profit at the Jack the Ripper Museum in Cable St. All pretty straight forward. Not everyone likes the shouty, irreverent style of the brigade, but its pretty hard to defend kicking out teenage mums, humiliating social housing tenants, censoring gay activists in the name of Pride, or possible shonky negotiations for planning permission. But then Class War went too far. They went for the hipster – and the infamous Cereal Killer Café. Jokes were made on Radio 4 quizzes. Newspapers dug around in activist’s private lives and recreational choices for a few exposes. Friends of mine argued that these were the wrong targets and the wrong tactics. I’m not going to get into analysis of cultural capital and bearded entitlement (but honestly doesn’t your face take up enough space already?). But I found it difficult to see the cereal café as the biggest victim in the struggle around austerity.
Fair enough, the other side of that coin is that the bearded cereal sellers might not be your biggest problem either. In fact you might not have heard about all the grassroots activism that Class War and the Fuck Parade had been doing if they hadn’t annoyed Shoreditch. [disclaimer – I am gluten and lactose free so cereal prices are never going to be my biggest issue] But the issue of personal taste, and personal tactics really isn’t the problem anymore. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what your personal political style is. It doesn’t matter how your particular political form and content sit together. Because whether you like it or not, whether we like each other’s style or not, we really are all in it together. If we didn’t know that already, the CPS have just made it very clear.
I love a training session. I’m always signing up for new workshops. I know there is often a load of nonsense from academics who somehow think that they are instinctively good teachers and don’t need to engage in professional development, that isn’t explicitly developing their reputation as an international scholar. In fact I’ve heard early career and established academics say some pretty shoddy things about pedagogical training. Shoddy things that they wouldn’t accept being said about their own work, their own research or indeed their own teaching. Why wouldn’t we want to benefit from the high quality pedagogical research and training experience of experts? We certainly expect people to take our own research and experience seriously. In fact I have noted a direct correlation between historians who dismiss pedagogical training whilst simultaneously separating themselves from public history, heritage, amateur archivists, genealogists or school and FE based history curriculum as not being ‘real history’. So it is alright for historians to blag it as teachers but not for teachers to blag it as historians?
It probably says more about my life than theirs, but I seem to be haunted by old punks propping up the bar telling me stories about the Clash, or showing off their badge collection on ebay. There’s certainly a lot of punk ghosts around – icons– Sid, Nancy, Rotten before he became farmer Lydon , and reunion bands are everywhere. But what are the ghosts for? And why are they following me round all the time?
DIY Digital: Doing Punk Online grew out of the third year Special Subject History course ‘Post-Punk Britain’.
The course is in its second year and from the start, my co-tutor Chris Warne and myself, imagined it as an experiment in democratic teaching and learning. We use the growth of academic work around subcultures and youth culture since 1976 to explore bigger questions around what it means to be a contemporary historian today. This means that we look at local histories, archival practices, life history like memoirs, sound, image and moving images, and oral history alongside popular culture. Although there has been a determined growth in academic work on subcultures in history, sociology, criminology, English studies and beyond, PPB puts these alongside other forms of history work outside of the formal universities. We take the memories that people inherit, share and turn into stories as seriously as the academic theories around the politics of popular culture.
Good News! Chris Warne and I have been awarded one of 6 Technology Enhanced Learning Innovation Scheme awards at the University of Sussex. Our project is called DIY DIGITAL: Doing Punk Online. The award is attached to our shared third year special subject course Post-Punk Britain. The course is in its second year of delivery, and from the very first planning discussions that Chris and I had about setting up the course we wanted to explore free and open ways of taking the discussion out of the class room and really encouraging a DIY learning model.
There seems to be a lot of anarcho-punk knocking around historians. There have been a number of academic conferences and events around the politics and aesthetics of anarcho-punk, increasing numbers of academic publications, online resources, documentaries, homages, and the contemporary legacies of anarcho-punk seem to be woven through today’s Occupy and UnCut activism. These historical connections are often but not always embodied in the collectively organised band Crass. This year’s documents released by the National Archives included revelations of the government response to a hoax by Crass who faked and recorded a phone conversation between Thatcher and Reagan about strategy in the Falklands War. The hoax was momentarily thought to be the work of Argentine security services. In a context where there was little formal opposition to the Falklands War the hoax raises interesting questions for historians who are concerned with the limits of subcultural, countercultural or wider popular cultural production as a form of resistance. When the State responded to a countercultural prank as if it was part of their cold war security forces’ stalemate manoeuvres, then academic arguments about the extent to which culture is or isn’t related to ‘real politics’ don’t seem as abstract anymore. The way that anarcho-punk helps us slip through the cracks of the argument about whether subcultures are or aren’t really political seems to have some real purchase at the moment. Continue reading DUNSTAN BRUCE, AND WHY IS HISTORY SO UP FOR ANARCHO-PUNK?