*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 4 November 2011
I want to make a brief return to one implication of the ideas fleshed out by Joss Winn earlier this year in a post on the Triple Crunch, which focused on peak oil, climate change and the economic realities of business-as-usual, and then in my response on Triple Crunch and the Politics of Educational Technology. This implication is the role of academics and scholars; it is academic activism.
In his post Joss wrote: “It’s time that a co-ordinated effort was made by the sector to examine these issues in detail, involving academics from across disciplines as well as business continuity managers and VCs”. I concluded that academics and scholars might usefully contribute to story-telling that enables us “to critique in common the ahistorical truisms of liberal democracy, that technology and education can only meaningfully serve capitalist expansion, through discourses of finance capital that are related to value-for-money, efficiency, private/public, and the market.” We used the detail of climate change and liquid fuel availability inside our reality of capitalist social relations, to question the idea of the University.
This morning I read three things that stimulated a return to this question.
1. The weekly Oil Depletion Analysis Centre’s Newsletter (for 4 November 2011). In developing an analysis of the week’s events that impact on liquid fuel availability, the newsletter highlighted the Euro bailout and Greek politics, persistent Brent crude oil costs of$100/barrel, the UK Coalition Government’s decision to halve the feed-in tariff for solar energy, and a report from Cuadrilla Resources that it was “highly probable” that earthquakes in Blackpool were caused by their fracking activities. ODAC highlighted that:
“The UK today represents a microcosm of the current energy dilemma. Oil and gas production are in decline, energy costs are rising, and the race to avoid the worst impacts of climate change requires drastic cuts in emissions. Shale gas, along with tar sands and shale oil, offer an illusion that business might be able to continue as usual, but these are lower quality resources in terms of the energy they require to produce, pollution, and emissions. They are not the cheap energy sources on which our economy depends, and betting on them risks slowing the transition to a more resilient energy future.”
We might then ask, how are Universities addressing this dilemma in their forms, practices and research engagement?
2. In a note on #OccupyLSX, Pierce Penniless argues for political engagement and action that is deeply connected to everyday realities. He argues that:
“We are living in an extraordinarily hot political moment, in which people’s politics are changing rapidly – and in which systemic popular dissent is more visible than it has been for a long time. That it is systemic is most interesting: for all the reductive slogans about bankers and their bonuses, the political conversation that emerges in the camp is far more about systemic change than some peculiar bad bankers.”
PP grounds an issue I made around the time of the occupation of the Michael Sadler building in Leeds last November, in arguing for a process of deliberation focused upon re-production of our everyday realities. PP argues that his main point is to encourage experienced political activists to engage. However it might also be written about academics and scholars in grounding, theorising and supporting the development of alternatives. He writes:
“you need to engage this movement, and it won’t be comfortable doing so. I was down there almost continually, and one thing that’s striking is that its representation online bears little resemblance to what’s actually happening in reality. What’s happening is happening there, not on the computer screen.”
We might then ask how are academic and scholars addressing this dilemma in their practices and research engagements? How are we becoming activist? What are we working for?
3. Etienne Dubuis in Le Temps (in French, but translated at WorldCrunch), picks up on a point that has been increasingly made in Africa, about corporate land-grabs in what the global North terms “developing nations”. In this capitalist accumulation by dispossession universities in the global North are implicated in a process that reveals real-world examples of the impact of the triple crunch:
“The increasing production of biofuels also explains why international buyers are becoming so interested in purchasing agricultural lands, while the 2008 economic crisis also heralded land ownership as a relatively safe investment alternative.”
Whilst Dubois questions “how the benefits should be divided among investors, host states and local communities?” We might also ask how the risks are divided, and aligned with this what is the role of the universities in the global North and their internationalisation agendas?
In trying to open some of these debates up to a trans-disciplinary audience, and to one which is also focused on technology, Joss and I have a paper being published in e-Learning and Digital Media later this month, in which we consider:
the impact that peak oil and climate change may have on the future of higher education. In particular, it questions the role of technology in supporting the provision of a higher education which is resilient to a scenario both of energy depletion and the need to adapt to the effects of global warming. One emerging area of interest from this future scenario might be the role of technology in addressing more complex learning futures, and more especially in facilitating individual and social resilience, or the ability to manage and overcome disruption. However, the extent to which higher education practitioners can utilise technology to this end is framed by their approaches to the curriculum, and the sociocultural practices within which they are located. The authors discuss how open education might enable learners to engage with uncertainty through social action within a form of higher education that is more resilient to economic, environmental and energy-related disruptions.It asks whether more open higher education can be (re)claimed by users and communities within specific contexts and curricula, in order to engage with an increasingly uncertain world.
In the paper we hint at a re-focusing on deliberation; and a need to find spaces for such deliberation. This includes active engagement with the politics of events that is unfolding around us, at Occupy Wall Street, or Occupy Oakland, or in critiquing communiqués, or in delivering sessions at Tent City University as Mike Neary has recently, or at more established community events. This is part of the struggle for alternative ways of producing our realities and distributing our abundance and overcoming scarcity. Thus Joss and I argue for
social relationships that are redefined by educators and students, and [a] focus on people and values that is in turn assembled through open education. In overcoming alienation and disruption, a resilient education underpinned by open technologies and architectures enables us to critique and overcome unsustainable, commodified, institutionalised forms of education. The challenge is to develop such a critique in the face of everything.
This last statement is refracted by the key point that I take from PP’s cry for experienced activists to work within and for what might be at #occupylsx and at the aligned Tent City University. Only I look at it in terms of experienced academics working in similar spaces to help shine a light on what is denied in our world. To shine a light on the denial of a meaningful conversation about alternatives, in the face of the crisis that is revealed in austerity, in climate change, in resource depletion and in peak oil. And which is revealed at first in the Global South, but as ODAC highlights, which is also so much closer to home than we are allowed to imagine in our desperation for sustainability or business-as-usual.
And we might then reflect on the scholarly role given in A Message to Wisconsin’s Insatiable Workers and Students earlier this year:
Teachers, elaborate your teach-ins. Tell your story, encourage everyone you touch to say why collective struggle (not just bargaining) is a necessary part of our position in this world. Talk about your dying grandmother. Talk about your difficult addictions. Talk about history. This law is an attempt to conceal the realities of our daily lives and to liquidate those stories from the future. Reveal this, and make possible the education that was never allowed in school.
NOTE: Third University will be leading sessions as part of Leicester’s Community Media Week this Sunday and Monday, on social media for protesters. The focus will be on safety and story-telling. I will also be helping at a teach-out as part of Tent City University next Wednesday, on the implication of these issues on academic activism. In solidarity.