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 remember being canvased for the 1989 European election. I was a nineteen year old mother of a two year old, living in a shared house. It was the first election I’d been old enough to vote. It was also the first time I’d seen the Green Party as an electoral force. Something interesting was going on. I can’t say that Europe itself really mattered to me very much, but it opened up ways to think things through, that we couldn’t really find space for elsewhere.
On 19th November I stood in the Latest Music Bar Brighton and read out bits of my teenage diary from the year 1984-1985. The event, ‘Cringe at Mass Observation‘ was jointly organised by Cringe and Mass Observation as part of ‘Being Human: The Festival of Humanities’. London Cringe organise events where “Funny ‘grown-ups’ read aloud from their teenage diaries”. It’s a model that was picked up from New York and spread from there. Fiona Courage and Jessica Scantlebury from Mass Observation had been to one of the events and had immediately recognised Cringe’s resonance with Mass Observation writers who also share their private experiences and analysis for public consumption.
You can hear a bit more about Cringe, where it came from and the Brighton event on a podcast of an interview myself and Cringe organiser Ana McGloughlin did for Radio Reverb with Melita Dennett. (at about 22 minutes in)
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.
Earlier this month I attended two conferences in a week. Not great planning on my part but it was really interesting to move across geographical locations and organisational structures to ask in essence very similar questions but with very different answers. The first symposium I attended as a discussant was Rethinking Contemporary British Political History at Queen Mary’s Mile End campus organised by Dr Helen McCarthy. (The second was the Workshop on Voluntary Action and Philanthropy at Frankfurt University which I will write about later)
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?
You can now access the open version of the online resource I produced for the history department at Sussex, Reflexivity and History . You should be able to log on as a guest.
This post is about teaching reflexivity, and indeed teaching reflexively. However, in the way that messy discussions in history spill into one another this is also in many ways a continuation of my response to the Modern British Studies conference at Birmingham. One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot are the implications of what happens when we put our personal into our political (or professional). I’ve warned about what I see as the dangers of over-investment, entitlement and exploitation in the last post. But I do need to have a word with myself. As a historian of identity I know that the self is a central part of my work, of all of our work. But I want to suggest that we should accord the role of the self, and the implications of that, the same careful thought as we do with the rest of our work. It is not enough to state our personal engagement, we need to think about what it means.
When we began the Brighton hub of Wellcome’s sexology and Song-writing project we imagined that the young women involved would undertake some sort of original research and then write songs about it. It quickly became clear that the young women participants and the youth work and music practitioners had some different priorities. The practitioners wanted to concentrate on building a secure and supportive environment in which to build a collective group identity, and the young women wanted to sing songs that they already knew and liked. The young sexology song-writers didn’t want to write songs. They wanted to cover and recover them. Once we recognised that the priorities of the practitioners and of the young women needed to be our priorities too, we moved towards their goals. We weren’t training them to be researchers. They were training us in their modes of re-enactment: an active and creative intervention in a cultural circuit that brought together the legitimacy of publicly celebrated singer-songwriters, with their own experiences and voices.
I’ve been involved in the Brighton Hub of ‘Sexology and Songwriting’, a collaborative project that brings together academic researchers with songwriters and young people. The workshops are attached to to Wellcome Collection’s sexology exhibition and inspired by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL III). We got some additional funding from the Amy Winehouse Foundation. The aim of the project is for the young people involved to become active researchers and song-writers, disseminating their research in the form of their own songs, performed locally and potentially included in recorded form at the Sexology exhibition in February 2015. The workshops are based at the Brighton Youth Centre and in the performances will be developed collaboration with Brighton Dome.