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).
Yesterday was the last seminar of this year’s Post-Punk Britain course that I teach with Chris Warne in the third year of our History degree. It is a funny sort of course; it is not really about Punk, and quite a lot of people might think it is not really about History either. It is about what we can do with punk. We do some history of subcultures stuff, but really it is about thinking of punk as a methodology, as an ethos and as a form of dissidence or resistance. In practice that means it’s an ongoing pedagogical experiment. Each of the three years we’ve run the course has been totally different. This is partly because the students collaboratively set the agenda and choose what directions they want to go. It is partly because we’ve been funded through Technology Enhanced Learning and Excellence in Teaching to run a set of student led projects; DIY Digital and DIT Digital. These projects are scavenger history. Students create open access educational resources inspired by the course using apps, social networks, and websites that were often designed with other purposes in mind. Like a DIY zine, it is a way of taking what we can find and making it our own.
In the end I watched it because Catherine Grant very kindly invited me to speak at an event that she organised with Diarmaid Kelliher, on Pride and its Precursors and I was too honoured, and too embarrassed, to say no. When the film first came out I ducked and dived out of numerous press requests to comment on it. I had toyed with the idea of presenting at the symposium without actually having watched the film, maybe as a sort of thought experiment. I’d floated the idea over drinks with the talented historian Ben Jones from UEA but lost my confidence after he described some of the scenes I might have missed out on (the alien invasion and massive shoot out at the end).
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?
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.