Wednesday, 23 December 2009


What I have attempted to do with this appropriated map is to generate a schizocartographic image that attempts to appear seamless with the original. A number of words and phrases have been added, in a similar style to the first, which may not be initially apparent. Most of the added text is from G. Spencer-Brown's text on the calculus of indications (boundary algebra) The Laws of Form (1969), for example: “the law of calling” and “unmarked states”. A highlighted box in the centre quotes a longer section from the book. Spencer-Brown's book, while about mathematics, is also philosophically influenced. He has been hugely important in the area of autopoiesis and second-order observation.

Stand Back!

This map is based on a map from the Chamberlin Powell and Bon University of Leeds Development Plan (1963). The underlying map shows the proposed gas, steam and water pipes for the campus in red, yellow and blue. In order to produce an appropriated and subjective map (a schizocartography) of the original, I have superimposed some lyrics from Peter Gabriel's song Steam over the map and included some images of steam pipes downloaded from the internet.


This image uses a map from the Chamberlin Powell and Bon Development Plan (1963) for the University of Leeds, which highlights the level of the ground on the university campus in different colours. The different elevations of land caused many architectural considerations when designing new buildings over such a vast area. I have added text and images to demonstrate some of the ways that these issues were dealt with.

Monday, 21 December 2009

The Power of Representation

In The Burden of Representation (1988) John Tagg looks at photography in relation to its representation of history. Much of his text is concerned with how institutions enable certain photographic images to gain status when representing particular aspects of history. Tagg dovetails the theories of Foucault and Althusser when analysing power structures and ideological apparatuses in regard to the implications of representations of history. While Tagg reproaches Althusser for his circular analysis of power in its movement around the ISAs - the ISAs were unable to produce power themselves and were only able to act upon it (1988: 25) - this criticism also becomes a way of enabling Foucault's model of power to orient Althusser's theory of ideology:
The discourses, practices and institutional structures of the Ideological State Apparatuses could secure nothing in themselves but only function as the reflex of an already inscribed power and repetitively re-enact or re-present what was already ordained at the level of the relations of production, into which a complex diversity of irreducible social relations were now collapsed. (ibid).

In the chapter 'The Currency of the Photograph' Tagg, in his own words, “set[s] out to bring a semiotic analysis of photographic codes into conjunction with an Althusserian account of 'Ideological State apparatuses' and to hold them in place by a Foucauldian emphasis on the power effects of discursive practices.” (1988: 22). This has also been my attempt when discussing the actions and practices within the institution and the inscriptions of power on the body, prescribed through an ideology which promotes ideas of excellence. The institution can only re-present and re-inscribe power that is already available to it; but, I maintain, this is done through an ideological structure that promulgates certain ideas (ideologies) that become realised through concrete practices in the form of actions carried out by the body (the subject).

Tagg states that cultural practices belong to “a field of power effects in which they are articulated with economic and political practices, representations and relations, without presupposing any unified outcome.” (1988: 30). He explains that it is “systems of representation” that actually operate on identities; constructing them, rather than expressing them (ibid.). The problem for anyone attempting to scrutinise the contemporary university's representation of itself, in regards to the effects it produces, cannot be critiqued outside of a historical analysis. As Tagg says: “There are no laws of equivalence, then, between the conditions and effects of signification, only specific sets of relations to be pursued.” (ibid.).

Tagg's critique of how photography is used by the state hinges not around the “power of the camera” in its capacity as a technology used for surveillance but “the power of the apparatuses of the local state which deploy it and guarantee the authority of the images it constructs to stand as evidence or register as truth.” (1988: 64). In the age of virtual technology where the university's website becomes a portal to the educational institution, everything that is represented there, or indeed is accessed there, becomes, potentially, a guarantee of this authority. The university owns the copyright of the images of itself that appear on the homepage of the website, they cannot even be used by students in their own work. While my focus is not on photographic images, but rather cartography, many of the criticisms that Tagg directs at photographic representations of history also apply to representation in general, especially in relation to power. Tagg, in his discussion on Foucault, states that power “is what displays itself most and hides itself best” (1988: 67). This has become apparent in regards to the cemetery at the University of Leeds: it exists in actual geographical space, but is not very apparent in cartographic representations of the university campus1. The map entitled Where is the cemetery? (above) demonstrates this problem: the cemetery, St Georges Field, exists and does not exist at the same time. I maintain that St Georges Field, in its (non) representation by the university, is highlighted perfectly when Tagg states in his criticism of Althusser: “What he does not show is that it is in the representational practices of these apparatuses themselves that the ideological level is constituted [...]” (1988: 69). What is not represented (and what is) is both a cause and effect of ideology.

I believe these representations (for example, something as 'innocent' as a map of the university campus) become what Tagg describes as “discourses which themselves function as formidable tools of control and power, producing a new realm of objects both as their targets and as instrumentalities.” (1988: 70). Power produces the lived experience, what we consider to be 'reality'. This orients power in everyday gestures, actions and practices, at the same time naturalising it. The structure of the university in relation to power, with its project of excellence orientated in ideological concrete practices, becomes a self-sustaining operation. Tagg explains this circularity in relation to Foucault's model of power:
A regime of truth is that circular relation which truth has to the systems of power that produce and sustain it, and to the effects of power which it induces and which redirect it. Such a regime has been not only an effect, but a condition of the formation and development of capitalist societies; to contest it, however, it is not enough to gesture at some 'truth' somehow emancipated from every system of power. Truth itself is already power, bound to the political, economic and institutional regime which produces it. (1988: 94).

Therefore, the ideology manifest in the concrete practices of the university utilise power in order to produce truth. But while these 'truths' appear in representations of the university, it is important that one does not get caught up in these representations and forget what appears behind them and holds them in place. We need to study the material of the university in order to be able to question its origins and reveal these regimes of truth. While meaning is made within the specific formation of the particular institution, this does not mean that the dominant mode of power cannot be challenged. This is acknowledged by Bill Readings when he explains that the Renaissance city streets offer the inhabitant a chance to reappropriate its “angularities and winding passages” (1999: 129); so too Tagg explains that institutions offer “multiple points of entry and spaces for contestation” (1988: 30).


1 At a presentation of my thesis to a group of academics at the University of Leeds, one said to me that he had been at the university ten years before he knew of the cemetery's existence.


Readings, Bill. 1999. The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press).

Tagg, John. 1988. The Burden of Representation (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan).

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Process of Power/Knowledge in the Institution

In Discipline and Punish (1975) Michel Foucault discusses how mechanisms and processes within institutions become normalised as part of an exercise of power. Foucault explains that the classical age brought with it a different approach to education. The body was required to become “docile” through its management by “disciplinary power” (1991: 156). The operations required to be carried out by the student were controlled down to the finest detail and Foucault provides information on how this training was carried out: students were given strict instruction on how to sit and write (1991: 152). Foucault makes it clear that this form of direction was not about teaching or instructing the student in a specific gesture; it actually imposed “the best relation between a gesture and the overall position of the body, which is the condition of efficiency and speed.” (ibid.). Not only was it required that the individual (the body) was controlled to the minutest degree, but also that, with the required training, eventually these gestures would become 'natural' (1991: 156). It is essentially for the perpetuation of any ideology that the subject assumes their position (both within the apparatus and in his/her body): the student in the school makes the appropriate gesture which has not only become organic for them but also concretises them in the material process of the institution. They act as they are instructed: they carry out actions (Althusser) in the form of these gestures (Foucault) which are materially inculcated in the body-politic.

For Foucault this body-politic is: “a set of material elements and techniques that serve as weapons, relays, communications routes and supports for the power and knowledge relations that invest human bodies and subjugate them by turning them into objects of knowledge.” (1991: 28). While it may initially seem that describing the contemporary student (or member of staff) as subjugated is a gross exaggeration of a state that the modern body could possibly be forced into in a democratic world; on closer examination it becomes apparent that power is applied in a much more subtle way in postmodernity. The seeds of the application of the power/knowledge process, that still operates in the institution today, are apparent in Foucault's exploration of education in Discipline and Punish. Before discussing how I believe Foucault's model of power dovetails with excellence in the posthistoric university, I shall briefly explain how, for Foucault, power works in relation to knowledge.

Foucault explains that thinking of power and knowledge as separate from each other, that they exist in detached domains, is a mistake; in fact “power produces knowledge” (1991: 27). Foucault says “there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does no presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.” (ibid.). Knowledge of something – for example, a field of theory or, indeed, knowledge of individuals – produces power; but also being in a position of power enables knowledge to be gleaned. Foucault explains that this reciprocal power/knowledge process involves the knowing subject, the known object and also the modes used in the procurement of that knowledge (1991: 27-28). In relation to micro-politics, this works in regards to knowledge of the individual, in particular the body, as is apparent in instructing students on how to sit and write. It is this that Foucault describes as “political anatomy” (1991: 28). However, he makes it clear that this is a procedure that does not decontextualise the subject, or the body; it is the analysis of a process, the body-politic, which means the individual cannot be removed from this activity and examined on their own in relation to power (ibid.).

Previously I discussed how the term 'excellence' fits in with the actions of the subject who is part of the university: excellence requires processes of qualification that materially situate the subject who is partaking in that process in the institution, and therefore in the ISA. Foucault explains how an obsession with procedures and rules becomes an economic process:
The meticulousness of the regulations, the fussiness of the inspections, the supervision of the smallest fragment of life and the body will soon provide, in the context of the school [...] an economic or technical rationality for this mystical calculus of the infinitesimal and the infinite. (1991: 140).

In the University of Excellence these are the qualifying gestures that measure the system's efficiency. However, describing them as simply 'gestures' implies that they are innocuous. By employing Althusser's ideological model we have seen how the individuals in the university become subjected through their actions. However, by applying Foucault's power/knowledge theory we can see how this process operates on the body itself. So, in a sense, this could be described as doubly material. If we hold that Althusser's subjection of the individual is material (actions take place within concrete apparatuses); and that, for Foucault, knowledge of the individual brings with it a process that propels them into a relationship of power through the control of the body (the material body as it functions within that particular domain of power), then excellence does not only invest the subject in the ideology of the specific ideological apparatus, it also physically represses them at the same time. While repression seems like an extremely strong term to use to describe what occurs within the university, when examining Foucault further it becomes apparent that this repression (subjugation) is actually quite subtle.

Interestingly, Foucault also uses religion to examine power in relation to what is required of the disciplined individual, as does Althusser when he talks about how by carrying out the actions required by God you are showing that you believe (for example, kneeling to pray). Foucault says that details are essential to theology, God expresses his wishes through these details: “For the disciplined man, as for the true believer, no detail is unimportant, but not so much for the meaning that it conceals within itself as for the hold it provides for the power that wishes to seize it.” (ibid.). The detailed procedures that are part of the practice of religion - instilled in the actions carried out by the individual - provide access to power which becomes utilised elsewhere. In the university this works in a number of ways. One example to consider would be the feedback students are constantly required to 'volunteer' on the various service sectors in the university, for example: teaching, accommodation, catering or the library. It may not initially seem that power is being relinquished in these moments: a tick box form may not appear to have any other function than that of an attempt to improves services. Could a feedback process that asks for your individual experience of your BA be considered differently: a qualitative form, taking part in a meeting or an interview. All the information collected is saved and used within, and outside, the institution. This is knowledge about the student, detailed information that, in fact, most members of the university are constantly providing, without question. This information becomes the data on which the university operates: plans are formed form it, ranking takes place based on it.

For Foucault ranking is part of the theme of classification which he situates in an epoch centred around the 18th and 19th centuries (the classical age). However, this ranking does not fix individuals, in the more obvious sense, in physical space; rather it propels them into this power/knowledge process (1991: 143). Foucault explains how disciplines of power work in relation to ranking: “Discipline is an art of rank, a technique for the transformation of arrangements. It individualizes bodies by a location that does not give them a fixed position, but distributes them and circulates them in a network of relations.” (1991: 146). The student at the university is constantly being assessed, and therefore ranked, through examinations, essays or feedback from lecturers or tutors: “The examination that places individuals in a field of surveillance also situates them in a network of writing; it engages them in a whole mass of documents that capture and fix them.” (1991: 189).

The data produced from these assessments is considered in the light of excellence; ultimately appearing in ranking tables which enable the university to sell themselves in the national and international marketplace. But, simultaneously, the effect on the individual – this process of evaluation does not just apply to students, but also staff – is one that puts them into circulation in relation to power: “[...] the table has the function of treating multiplicity itself, distributing it and deriving from it as many effects as possible.” (Foucault 1991: 149). In a sense, the data produced and circulated becomes a form of currency: the university exchanges its ranking tables for new students (fees). In a Marxian sense the students and staff sell themselves (their bodies) to the university in the form of their labour – the student may appear to be the customer but they also bring in fees from elsewhere, by attending the university (and completing their course) they bring in funding. In becoming “the target for new mechanisms of power” (Foucault 1991: 155) the knowledge produced by the interrogation of the student/staff creates another level of product, one that is utilised when it is put back into play. When the data collected from individuals appears in the ranking tables, it provides an financial return.

Foucault, Michel. 1991. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. by Alan Sheridan (London: Penguin Books).

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Action, Excellence and the Naturalisation of Subjection

The term 'excellence', which Bill Readings describes as the “watchword of the University” (1999: 21), requires internal operations in order for it to be measured. These operations exist in the form of actions and practices carried out by individuals within the university: in particular, administrative staff, but also teaching staff and students. The assessments are considered to be quantifying procedures but are actually qualifying ones. The measuring systems used attempt to quantify something that cannot really be quantified (excellence is an empty and fluid term with no absolute measure). Really what is occurring is a qualifying gesture: the measuring of excellence is circular, it just enables excellence as a unit of measure to be reconfirmed. Thus, excellence is qualified (justified) in the measuring of itself. This is how the ideology of the university - this mirror-like process - enables actions to be sutured into its practices, at the same time reproducing itself as an Ideological State Apparatus (ISA), and its staff as subjects.

Louis Althusser discuses this mirror relationship in relation to how the subject of ideology connects with the Subject of ideology through a process of misrecognition. Providing an example of Christian religion he explains that “God is the Subject par excellence” (2006: 121). It is essential for the Subject of ideology that He reproduces Himself in the form of His subjects; and since man has been made in the image of God he will see himself in Him (2006: 122). Althusser explains that it is this “universal recognition” that becomes the “absolute guarantee” that subjects within the relevant apparatus will do what is required of them by the institution (2006: 123). However, he does acknowledge that there are “bad subjects” (those who do not conform) who might require some form of repressive action (ibid.).

Althusser uses the example highlighted by Blaise Pascal to demonstrate how actions inserted into practices actually work. And, here I am quoting Althusser quoting Pascal: “Pascal says more or less: 'Kneel down, move your lips in prayer, and you will believe.'” (2006: 114). For Pascal, to believe in God all that is required is that you pray. Althusser explains that, from the perspective of the single individual, this works through how the individual acts within the particular ISA: “[...] his ideas are his material actions inserted into material practices governed by rituals which are themselves defined by the material ideological apparatus from which derive the ideas of that subject.” (ibid.) (Althusser's italics). For individual staff who are part of the process of measuring excellence, this would involve such actions as: collating information on key performance indicators; processing student's feedback forms on their lecturer's; involvement in the peer review process; or developing knowledge transfer processes. But, the list is endless - mostly because these processes cannot be separated from the everyday operations of the university. One some level, everyone is working towards excellence.

Nevertheless, in the educational institution I do think there are individuals who might behave as 'good subjects' - they may go-through-the-motions of carrying out the relevant actions - but may not 'believe'. Not all the staff of the university who participate in its practices are unaware of what is occurring on an ideological level. I do not believe that all the university's members believe in the term 'excellence' or accept that the 'corporate university' model is the right one for them or others to exist in: some do not, in a wholesale way, relinquish themselves to the corporatised university, they understand the term 'excellence', how it works, and its ideological origins. But, I do think that the institution requires a certain level of 'buy-in' to its ideology in order for it to operate in the way that it does.

What is important to the university is that enough individuals are prepared to perpetuate the ideology of what Readings calls the “University of Excellence”. This is often done through the use of the word 'quality' - although, the term 'quality' is usually afforded to the university that operates as if it was a corporation, as opposed to the term 'excellence' which relates to the university as corporation (Readings 1999: 22). But Quality Assurance (QA) is still part of the process of measuring standards of excellence1. At the University of Leeds there is an Academic Quality and Standards Team that measures the excellence of the university's quality assurance procedures. So, even the processes that measure excellence are themselves measured. It is required that, in a kind of panoptic way, the university measures itself measuring. And, in relation to students, this works by seeing the student as a customer, and by so doing, creating a reciprocal relationship: the student also sees him/herself as customer and is, hence, supplied with a product-service - Althusser's “double mirror-connection” (2006: 122).

Readings says “Students in the University of Excellence are not like customers, they are customers.” (ibid.). So, providing that students within the institution behave like customers – they 'act', in the Althusserian sense, by participating in customer-like practices – then the university has customers rather than students. Students pay tuition fees and therefore demand a return on their investment in a product: a degree. Many students now believe in the supplier/customer dialectic which is manifest in the form of the educational institution. The phrase 'I've paid course fees and therefore I should get a better [insert university service/product/function]' is not uncommon. This equates to value-for-money. Readings says that what this does is situate (or for Althusser: 'subject') the student as “consumer”, rather than as an autonomous individual who can make their own well thought-out choices (1999: 27). This ties in to how it is essential that the ISA is able to get the subjects to “work by themselves”, which is done by making the subject think they are making a free choice, but also by “submitting them to a higher authority” and hence simultaneously requiring they relinquish that freedom (Althusser 2006: 123).

It is essential that this ideological process be seamless, opaque and 'instinctive' for its subjects: in other words, natural. Althusser says that the effect of this subjection is that it seems like a normal state of affairs, it is just the way things are (ibid.): we all live “'naturally' in ideology” (2006: 116). We take up 'positions' that, by definition, are subjected ones, without realising we are doing so. According to Althusser we are “always already subjects” (2006: 117): we are hailed as such and we take up our place in the apparatus.

Readings, too, discusses the 'natural'. He says that business management processes appear natural to those carrying them out, and he even uses the word “actions” when making this point (1999: 30). He explains that this works through the language used within management structures as part of administrative procedures; the processes adopted, and the language used to further their use, imply they are a natural path to take (ibid.). When discussing Total Quality Management Readings states: “[...] it is natural to adopt these means of planning, which are as old as humanity even though they were not formalized until the end of the 18th century.” (ibid.). While Readings is talking about procedures rather than individuals; it is the attitude of the subject adopting those procedures that naturalises their subjection due to their actions carried out in relation to them. A procedure is adopted, a material activity is carried out.

Readings, Bill. 1999. The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press).

Althusser, Louis. 2006. 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation)', Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. by Ben Brewster (Delhi: Aakar Books) pp. 85-126.

Forgotten Solo Dérive

Saturday November 21st 2009. I set off at 4.59am from the Parkinson Steps, on my own. Still dark, although a few birds were chirping, anticipating dawn which was still a while away. There were more people around than I had expected; mostly students coming back from their night out. My original plan was to walk the periphery of the campus (as shown on the map), to see how defined the edge of the campus is in real space, as compared to how it appeared on the map. I was also interested in how long it would take to walk around the university's circumference.

My secondary project (Freud always thought it useful to have a secondary project) was to look for university signs giving prohibiting instructions. As it turned out, this didn't reveal anything particularly interesting, so instead I decided to look for buildings that appeared on the map to be university property, but actually turned out to not be.

I did notice quite a few more of the monolithic university signs that are so commonplace within the campus boundary. While I do find them attractive, they do have a flavour of Kubrick's 2001, and are quite imposing. I guess we (the students) are the apes surrounding the stone (wisdom) and developing our tools (knowledge). I don't propose to continue the analogy, as it's too disturbing to contemplate.

Students beating their chests to get what they've paid for...

I found a large part of what appears on the map as the campus space dedicated to the NHS: The Mount. The NHS Choices website does acknowledge the existence of this site, located in Hyde Terrace, but provides no information on it, although one person seems to have 'rated' it. Further searching revealed it is for mental health teaching.

At one point, while photographing a clamping sign, I heard a man coming up behind me - I'd previously seen him pulling into a car park nearby. He asked me if he could help me, which translated basically means 'what do you think you are doing?' I told him I was a student doing research. He told me not to photograph the place next door, which he called 'Covance'. I actually hadn't noticed it, so then became interested in it. The sign said 'Covance. The Development Services Company.' which sounds very innocuous and actually turns out to be a clinical pharmaceutical company which carries out trials here, on students (people desperate for money) – particularly in anti-obesity and dental pain (possibly considered to be a target group due to their perceived as stereotypical lifestyles). The sign is clearly hiding that it is drug-related as it only says ' Development Services Company', where the website says 'Drug Development Services Company'. Interesting.

Covance Website

Drug Trials at the University of Leeds

Another business space I saw was near the business school: It is a business centre. This is what the website says “Find out how close operational links with the University of Leeds and a personal touch from our staff really do make us different.”

The Leeds Innovation Centre

While walking towards Clarendon Road I saw a small sign attached to the wall saying 'isg' and an arrow. If you type in: isg leeds university into google, the first return appears with this headline: “ISG Wins £4m Leeds University refurb contract”. It turns out the ISG (Interior Services Group) are completing the final stages of refurbishment on the Michael Sadler building (according to the front page of Construction News), so perhaps the sign points towards the site office.

Constructions News on the “refurb contract”

Another link says that ISG are also doing the landscaping for the new childcare centre. So that's another £2.5m for them!

Building Talk on ISG's coup on the childcare centre

In total I saw four foxes on my walk: two crossing Woodhouse Lane and two near St Georges Field. Other nocturnal beings were a man working for Metro, the bus company, whose job was to clean all the bus stops. I went to the Metro website to see how much he might be paid, but the only vacancy was for a Bus Station Manager £23,489 - £28,579 per annum. I was also asked if I had a light by a young man who crossed the road to ask me. I said I was sorry but I hadn't and then he swore quite angrily, I was worried for a few yards that he might be behind me (originally he had been walking in the opposite direction), but it turns out he wasn't.

It was a short dérive and I was back at the steps by 5.37am. I headed into town to get breakfast at probably the only establishment open at that time. I noticed that the Rusty Building has a red light on top. I have decided to rename the building the Ginger Building in order to support the minority group.

The Ginger Building

After eating I walked back to Headingley. I suddenly realised that since I'd left home a mist had descended.

Note: The dérive has been named the Forgotten Solo Dérive as I forgot to pick up the customary souvenir.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Louis Althusser, Ideology and the Practices of the Institution

In 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation)' (1969) Louis Althusser explains how he has developed his term 'ideology' from that of Karl Marx. He explains, that for Marx, ideology was a set of “ideas and representations which dominate the mind of a man or a social group.” (2006: 107). Althusser then goes on to distinguish the differences between a theory of ideologies and a theory of ideology: a theory of ideologies is grounded in history due to the class positions represented in the social formations taking place around it; whereas a theory of ideology is not oriented in history, because there is no position outside of ideology that can enable history to reflect ideology's position (ibid.).

Althusser explains that in Marx and Engel's The German Ideology the term 'ideology' is reworked, and he describes it as no longer being a Marxist one (ibid.). In this version ideology is completely unreal and can be compared more to a dream: “All its reality is external to it.” (Althusser 2006: 108). Althusser states that it is because of this that ideology's history is outside of it, leaving the individual with only their own concrete bearing (ibid.). It is this that distinguishes Althusser's project – the development of a theory of ideology – from a theory of ideologies in general, and he puts a convincing argument forward to explain how he works on the term 'ideology' in The German Ideology to form his own version in respect to his thesis. He demonstrates that if ideology is a dream, this means it must be a “negative determination”; also if ideology has no history that pertains to it (all it has is a perverted version of history) then this too is a negative thesis as “it has no history of its own.” (ibid). Althusser's main problem with this negative thesis in relation to The German Ideology appears to be with his observation of the work in general being a “positivist and historicist” one. To clarify his position, to propel his own thesis forward, and to demonstrate the difference between a theory of ideologies and one of ideology, Althusser states:
[…] I think it is possible to hold that ideologies have a history of their own (although it is determined in the last instance by the class struggle); and on the other, I think it is possible to hold that ideology in general has no history, not in a negative sense (its history is external to it), but in an absolutely positive sense. (ibid.).

This would be a 'positive' thesis for Althusser because he believes that there is a structure in which ideology rests that transcends history: the form that ideology takes, and how it operates, has been the same throughout time (2006: 108-109).

Before discussing how Althusser's model of ideology fits into my discussion of the educational institution, and in particular the university campus, I would like to introduce Althusser's two theses that make up his essay. The first, which shows a radical displacement of Marx's original model; and the second which materially situates ideology.

“Thesis I: Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” (Althusser 2006: 109). Whereas for Marx ideology is an illusion because it it misrepresents 'reality' to the proletariat, for Althusser it is the actual relationship between the individual and 'reality' that is misrepresented. Althusser concedes that this first thesis is a negative one in its representation of the object which is distorted (ibid.). He also believes that if ideology takes the form that he proposes, then this dispenses both with the idea that the authors of ideologies are powerful groups of people who deliberately mislead the less powerful 'other'; also the concept of alienation that was so important to Marx also, therefore, becomes irrelevant (2006: 112).

“Thesis II: Ideology has a material existence.” (Althusser 2006: 112). This material existence exists in the practices which are oriented in the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) - the ISAs being the following institutions: religious, educational, political, cultural, legal, along with the family and communications (Althusser 2006: 96). Because for Althusser this misrepresented relationship which is ideology, is “endowed with a material existence.” (2006: 113), these practices are “the realization of an ideology” and they “always exist in an apparatus” (Althusser 2006: 112). Althusser offers the church as an example of an institution that provides an apparatus for the individual to partake in a practice and thus realise its ideology. This is what he says about how this process works:
The individual in question behaves in such and such a way, adopts such and such a practical attitude, and, what is more, participates in certain regular practices which are those of the ideological apparatus on which 'depend' the ideas which he has in all consciousness freely chosen as a subject.
(2006: 113).

Althusser sees the actions that are carried out in relation to, for example, belief, duty and justice, correspond to attitudes in the subject that mean that they render themselves to a particular worldview (ibid.). And, for Althusser, both the attitude of the individual, and the practices in which they are involved, are material (ibid.); as he confirms, they are “actions inserted into practices.” (2006: 114).

A particularly interesting point Althusser makes in relation to how these practices operate on ideology is how by actually participating in them belief is produced (ibid.). It does not matter whether you believe or not, because the actions you carry out presuppose a belief that exists within that apparatus. Hence, the effects of the practice retroactively produces its cause through subjecting the individual. Therefore, the individual as subject is both the cause and effect. These actions are the effects of the ideological apparatus of which the individual is subjected, but they are also what produce him as the subject, as the cause of the effects. This is an integral part of Althusser's theory on structural causality. Why this is important for the institution (useful in terms of the promulgation of its ideology), is that those engaging in it, perhaps even at first sceptically, will eventually become subjected to it. This, I believe, is how the administration of the educational institution works, specifically in relation to 'excellence'.

Althusser, Louis. 2006. 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation)', Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. by Ben Brewster (Delhi: Aakar Books) pp. 85-126.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Resituating the Ruins

In The University in Ruins Readings states that we need to accept that the posthistoric university is a “ruined institution”, but: “Those ruins must not be the object of a romantic nostalgia for a lost wholeness, but the site of an attempt to transvalue the fact that the University no longer inhabits a continuous history of progressive revelation of a unifying idea.” (1999: 129). He goes on to explain that part of the understanding of this involves becoming aware of the complex spaces of the university in which we attempt to reside, but are actually unable to because we are alienated from them (ibid.). In the chapter 'Dwelling in the Ruins' Readings provides a concrete example of these ruins: “The campus of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo is decorated by some artificial concrete ruins that allude to Greco-Roman temple architecture [...]” (1999: 169). Readings sees the simulated ruins at Buffalo, situated next to modern buildings, as being problematic because they ground the arts and sciences in a specific tradition that amongst other things, excludes the local other: “ruins are the objects of subjective appropriation and mastery, whether epistemological or aesthetic.” (1999: 170).

Figure 1: The Baird Point Columns
Image Courtesy of
According to the website that the above image was downloaded from, the columns have been situated on the edge of a man-made lake and are “a popular hangout for students”.

By looking at the image above (figure 1), it is not apparent what the past life of the columns is (be they from Classical Greece, Italy or elsewhere). They could have been created for the purpose of a sculpture. However the University of Buffalo website dedicates a page to them. They are known as The Baird Point Columns, and they do have a history. This is what the website says, under a section called 'Buildings:
The marble columns on the concrete platforms were once part of the old Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Buffalo, and for some years lay outside old Baird Hall on UB’s south campus before their relocation to the lake. The columns were dedicated as a memorial to servicemen and servicewomen. (University of Buffalo 2009)

How the School of Management describes the ruins is particularly interesting, fitting in with the posthistoric critique of Readings, just discussed: “The Baird Point Columns represent education as a foundation of life.” If the columns are seen in this context, then they could be considered nostalgic, a hankering back to the cultural aspect attached to the nation-state, even if that cultural concept is not one of the origins of that nation, and rather is an adopted one (Greco-Roman).

Figure 2: Resituating the Baird Point Columns
Image courtesy of University of Buffalo Archives
According to the Buffalo archives, the columns rise over 35 feet in height above the base. It also says “Today Baird Point is still used as a place for 'educational, cultural, and social activities'”. (University of Buffalo Libraries 2009).

The University of Buffalo archives dedicates a whole section to the Baird Point Columns and their resurrection (figure 2). It explains how the columns were saved during the Federal Reserve Bank's destruction in 1959; they were cleaned but not reused until 1978 where they were placed at their current position.

I do not think Readings is entirely accurate in describing the Baird Point Columns as “artificial concrete ruins”, as I believe this implies they have been created for the purpose of a representation that is one of obfuscation: the ruins are still the ruins of the bank even if they are not original Greek or Roman ruins. The university is not 'pretending' the ruins are from classical antiquity. The history of the columns is available for everyone to search out, even if that history is not at first apparent. What I think is particularly interesting, is that they came from a bank: the symbol of the university has been adopted from a financial institution. In 'Situationist Space' Thomas F. McDonough explains that “spectacle-culture” takes something away from public space that was once available to the individual; a city that once provided meaning and significance, now in ruins simply has the function of reproducing power: “its history is put back into play in harmless form as entertainment in, for example, tourist attractions where 'public' space is commodified [...]” (1994: 76).

The SI were not duped by the appeal of the ruins: “We have no predilection for the charms of the ruins.” (Situationist International 1996: 45). They proposed to use the ruins in a particular way, by representing the aesthetic in a new context, through détournement. What the SI proposed was to create something new for the people “out of the ruins of the spectacle” (Sadler 2001: 17). Debord says that the spectacle is “capital to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image.” (2005: 34). For Readings, the spectacular form of the university is built on excellence, and the performative bureaucratic structure that reproduces excellence: “The university of excellence is the simulacrum of the idea of a university.” (1999: 54). While for Debord “The spectacle corresponds to the historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life.” (2005: 42), for Readings this is at the point that the university's Enlightenment project for humanity and culture became taken over by one of excellence. But, as Readings explains with the help of Freud's model of the Unconscious: new buildings that are built out of the ruins of old ones, present only one image, where two are co-present in the unconscious (1999: 170). This creates a type of haunting, appearing as a threat, which cannot be questioned through traditional means:
To inhabit the ruins of the University must be to practice an institutional pragmatism that recognizes this threat, rather than to seek to redeem epistemological uncertainty by recourse to plenitude of aesthetic sensation (nostalgia) of epistemological mastery (knowledge as progress). (1999: 170-171).

Neither a Romantic aesthetic, nor a harking back to the humanist quest for knowledge as liberation, will enable a valuable critique of the posthistoric university.

McDonough explains that the dérive as a practice helps to reappropriate “public space from the realm of the myth, restoring it to its fullness, its richness, and its history.” (1994: 77). Walking in urban space, examining its décor and investigating its signs, enable that history to be revealed. McDonough goes on to say that: “The Situationists' antipathy toward the 'charms of the ruins' was precisely an acknowledgement that these “norms of abstract space” that construct the public domain as evacuated were not “charming at all'”. (ibid.). While the Baird Point Columns may appear 'beautiful' or 'magnificent' to people, and be aspirational for the students at Buffalo, something is still being hidden from them in the process of their resituation.


Readings, Bill. 1999. The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press).

McDonough, Thomas F. 'Situationist Space', October, 67, Winter (1994), 58-77.

Situationist International. 1996. Theory of the Dérive and Other Situationist Writings on the City, ed. by Libero Andreotti and Xavier Costa (Barcelona: Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona).

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Cartography: Representation and Revealing the Hidden

In 'Postmodern Temptations', in Postmodern Geography: Theory and Praxis, Claudio Minca explains that, historically, our concept of space has been dominated by the 'the metaphysics of representation', and in his essay he demonstrates the problem that this has created in regards to power and concealment. Minca says that the duality inherent in seeing abstract life and the concrete world as separate, has “colonized” our relationship with space (2001: 197-198). And, this worldview also has the dual effect of hiding that logic behind its structure:
The map, the classical tool of geographic descriptions of the world and its various 'parts', similarly embodies the logic of such a 'colonization'. It is through its simulation of more or less reliable reproductions of the territory, that mappings have succeeded in naturalizing the continual evocation of some underlying, objective reality which only awaits to be unveiled, to be narrated; a reality whose order – and whose very existence – necessarily depended on its representability.
(Minca 2001: 198).

Minca is saying that cartography has the process of naturalising the allocation (or acquisition) of territories that are inherent in its project. What it does is merely offer a representation of space as seen from a particular perspective; but over time this model of the world becomes concretised within a particular worldview. If this is the problem with the modernist geographic project of mapping, it is important to consider the impact of this on a postmodern cartographic project. It has been the aim of this project to lift the consumerist veil which cloaks the university, in order to challenge its corporate 'logic'. But, this is based on an assumption that there is an objective reality hiding underneath, that can be revealed. This assumption could be problematic if one is attempting to locate a locus of power within the university.

To further explain the problems of creating a cartography of the world, Minca provides a complex example of two types of maps: Map A is a map that is a representation of an area that sees itself as part of a project that exists because this materiality can only be realised through the actual territory; Map B is a hidden map of meaning that can only be brought to light through concrete actualisation; this is “the real referent” (2001: 212-213). A useful way of thinking about these models might be to apply the Freudian concepts of manifest (Map A) and latent (Map B) to them. Map A, then, becomes what appears to the dreamer (to the viewer of the map) and is a reproduction that becomes lost in the process of translation (the dreamwork). It is the exterior appearance of the dream that can be recounted upon waking; for the map it is what appears in place of the unrepresentable. Map B, as the latent one, becomes available through the decoding of the manifest map. It is the manifest map that draws the latent map into the light. Map B is interior and hidden. Minca explains that when Map B fits with Map A, we consider it to be 'real' (2001: 213). Overdetermination, in regards to maps, being the consequence of the (latent) elements of Map B being represented many times in the, fewer, manifest signs that appear in Map A. In a political sense, Althusser sees overdetermination as the multiple voices available in a given situation that represent different viewpoints. Even though the dream is the product of one person, it is often the result of competing internal voices that represents certain drives. The process of mapping, while the product of a particular worldview, can say as much about the terrain by what it disregards or sweeps aside, as it can by what it promotes in its ideological manifesto.

Minca describes this modernist cartographic model as “the 'secret' of the colonization of the world” because it is a closed logic and describes only one possible reality:
It is here that we come fact to face with the iron-clad logic of cartographic reason, a logic which recognizes the existence of the territory in the only form in which it is capable of conceiving it; as the representation of a plan, a project; essentially as the representation of the cartography which has produced it.
(2001: 214).

Minca's discussion on cartography hinges around the colonization of the world and not the form of representation capital takes in the postmodern world. However, what is comparable here is that capitalism represents a plan, even if that plan involves the illusion of incorporation (everyone can have a stake) or the idea that it has behind it that we are free citizens, existing in a free market, able to make free choices. Globalization is the culmination of this free-market model. But at the same time, the ideology behind this model disguises social relations. This is apparent in the way poorer countries, in their attempt to get a foothold in the dominant financial model, have to make sacrifices on a human level: for example, in negotiating with richer countries a rate to be paid for disposing of their nuclear waste for them. This exchange produces a whole new concept of space: territory is altered by becoming a prohibited space due to the dangers from radioactive matter imported from elsewhere in the world.

As Minca says of modern cartography, it is simply a representation of itself, of its own model. This is the simulacra of capitalism that the Situationists so abhorred, and of which Jean Baudrillard discusses when he talks about the simulated signs that proliferate in the postmodern environment, never finding a resting place. This is the power of capitalism's face; attempting to look behind that face might imply there is something static, solid and central hiding behind the surface. In an essay entitled 'Hiding the Target: Social Reproduction in the Privatized Urban Environment' Cindi Katz states that the concept of a “hidden city” implies that the globalizing machine takes advantage of the already existing imbalance in concrete social practices (2001: 93). But, she goes on to say: “The hidden city is itself an outcome and representation of what might be understood as 'postmodern geographical praxis', but so too is the project of its unhiding.” (ibid.). But, because there is no central place where capitalism exists, this does not mean it cannot be revealed. It just means, in a way, it is located everywhere. This makes the search for the signs of capitalism easier than first appears. In relation to the project at hand, the university, this becomes apparent when historically examining objects that exist in space.

Katz, Cindi. 2001. ''Hiding the Target: Social Reproduction in the Privatized Urban Environment'', Postmodern Geography: Theory and Praxis, ed. by Claudio Minca (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers). pp. 93-110.
Minca, Claudio. 2001. 'Postmodern Temptations', Postmodern Geography: Theory and Praxis, ed. by Claudio Minca (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers). pp. 196-225.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Revealing Objects

In an article entitled 'A world you never knew existed', part of a series called 'Secret Britain' in The Guardian newspaper, Iain Sinclair discussed his process of psychogeography and how this helps reveal a hidden Britain. As previously mentioned, the dérives on campus were organised around the element of chance and directed us to locations which otherwise we would remain ignorant of: “These sites, come upon by accident, prick our imagination, provoke reverie.” (Sinclair 2009: 5). Sinclair explains how it is only at the point of near extinction that some buildings become visible to us for the first time (ibid.).

On the University of Leeds walks, one of the focuses of interest on The White Horseman Dérive was the space of a building that was no longer there, and which had in its place a steel frame, awaiting the materials that would then enable it to manifest itself as the new Charles Morris Hall in 2010. As Sinclair succinctly states: “When you don't see it, it is still there. And when you do, it is on the point of disappearance.” (ibid.). Félix Guattari explains that through its use of a system of signs “the capitalist Signifier, as simulacrum of imaginary power, has the job of overcoding all the other Universes of value.” (1995: 105). At the university, the “capitalist Signifier”, in the form of excellence, rewrites other systems of value. It does this by dampening the effects of anything that threatens it, and by reproducing those values and effects it finds beneficial to its task.

Sinclair explains how the most hackneyed of objects appear intriguing when examined from a new perspective (2009: 6), and this has been the case on the dérives carried out on the University of Leeds campus:
It is astonishing how the multitude of explorers, out there in the British landscape, bring back evidence of worlds within worlds. The smallest entries in the gazetteer of personal treasures plays its part in forming a coherent whole, a fiction of disappearance and restitution. (ibid.).

The found souvenirs from the walks, have acted not only as names for the dérives, but also have been evidence of a history: on one walk, The Lea Farm Drive Dérive, the found souvenir was a bus ticket which contained the data of someone's journey. To those on the walk, all that remained of the person and/or their journey, was the ticket which was left as a trace of that event: they had taken a journey to/from Lea Farm Drive in Seacroft, Leeds.

The objects that form the urban environment, often appearing as disparate elements in space, can become re-connected when expressed in a new subjectivity. This can be seen in how the dérives actually function. For example, in the White Horseman Dérive the method of randomness for finding stopping points was by throwing dice and attributing the numbers that came up to the numbers of buildings on the standard university map. By following the route decided by the dice this created a new relationship for these buildings; the buildings became part of a new process. The output of the dérives became an expression of this, produced by a specific aesthetic response from those involved, one not organised by conventional power structures.

Guattari, Félix. 1995. Chaosmosis: An ethico-aesthetic paradigm, trans. by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press).
Sinclair, Iain. 'A world you never new', 'Secret Britain', The Guardian, April 2009, pp. 4-6.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

An Island of Heterotopia

At one time the cemetery of St George's Field in Leeds was on the edge of the university campus, but it now appears as an enclave within the campus itself. An aerial photo of the university, taken in 1953, shows it only bordered on one side by the university. Now, in 2009, it is bordered on all sides by university property. Over the years, the university has managed to appropriate the cemetery into its own space (this has been done in a spectacular way on one border of the cemetery: the wall of the cemetery that borders Clarendon Road has become the base of the Henry Price Building, a halls of residence). But, interestingly, the university also manages to somehow hide the cemetery, although it is not clear why this is the case. It is only signposted at the main point of entry, the main gate-house entrance, and no path for pedestrians exists near this entrance, only a road. The cemetery appears as a kind of island in the campus.

In his essay 'Of Other Spaces' Foucault classifies cemeteries as heterotopias. A heterotopia is an physical space that has the ability to incorporate a number of incompatible concepts of space within its single framework (Foucault 2001: 241). For the cemetery, these somewhat contradictory themes involve many aspects. For example, once the body is brought onto the ground of the cemetery it exists in a number of states, up to and including burial, and is regarded differently depending on those states. Foucault explains that it was not until the beginning of the 19th century that every person was given a right to their own box and space of land that accorded it; however, this coincided with the moving of cemeteries to the edge of towns and villages (ibid.). This is what the plaque outside St George's Field says:
Alarmed by the insanitary and overcrowded state of the Parish Church graveyard and body snatching, the Leeds elite bought £25 shares in the Leeds General Cemetery Company. It acquired St George’s Field and created this fine private cemetery, where many Leeds worthies lie.
Architect: John Clarke
Opened 1835

Because dead and decaying bodies brought with them the idea of illness and disease, this disturbed the Victorians, and cemeteries were “no longer the sacred and immortal heart of the city” (ibid.). Because of the acquisition of the cemetery of St George's Field by the Leeds elite, it became a private cemetery for the bourgeoisie. The utopian idea that graveyards enabled a space for everyone in their death, for St George's Fields at least, became changed to that of providing a space for those who could afford it.

Foucault explains that heterotopias are not like utopias, which are “sites with no real space.” (2001: 239). Utopias are unreal in that they are ideas about how society should be (ibid.). However, this notion of utopia is not opposed to heterotopia. Heterotopias are spaces that contain utopian notions but are different from all the other sites that they are connected to: “I believe that between utopias and these quite other sites, these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, joint experience, which could be the mirror.” (ibid.). They are places where one sees oneself in a shadow-like form (ibid.).

Previously cemeteries (and churches) were the locus of the village, town or city, because they were tied in with the family, their history and lineage (2001: 241). The identity of the individual was heavily indebted to the family, and this was tied to geographical space at a time when people could not move about like they can today. The church, the centre of worship and congregation (and the moral compass), was attached to the cemetery which housed the bodies of dead relatives, providing a history for the family, and a security in a past, and hence a future. In their minds people could see themselves there in the graveyard: in the graves of their forefathers and in their own future place after death; like the mirror-effect of which Foucault speaks. The decline of the city-state, which came with the moving of the cemeteries to the outside of the centre of cultural space, heralds the beginning of a shift in cultural identity. This foreshadowed the decline of the concept of nation-state a century later.

What makes St George's Field particularly interesting as a heterotopia, is that in addition to the layers of meaning of space already associated with it because it is a cemetery, are those that have come about in recent history. Since the University of Leeds (and the accompanying Trust) became responsible for its upkeep, the space has changed again. The whole area has been landscaped, which has involved, among other things: making the original gravestones into paving stones that have become the actual paths of the cemetery; and relocating some gravestones into little oases, for the purposes of the aesthetics of the space, for example, by grouping them together under trees. Therefore, the bodies interned there cannot be located by their gravestones. This still causes distress for relatives today: Christine Bairstow wrote to the Yorkshire Evening Post in 2008, to protest about the fact she cannot locate her twin sister who died in 1946 (McTaggart 2008: 1). This makes the mirror motif of Foucault's even more complex. Christine Bairstow's twin (genetically as close a person to oneself that one can ever know) exists somewhere under the earth of the cemetery and cannot be located by her sister: she is simultaneously there and not there. This notion, while highlighting one of the qualities of a heterotopia, does not provide the counterpoint of the 'true' mirror: Christine knows her sister's body exists somewhere under the surface of the cemetery, but she cannot locate the actual point in space. On one of the dérives, a memorial to Christine's twin sister was discovered. She was 6 months old when she died.

In its redevelopment, another space has been juxtaposed on the cemetery: it is now a place of historic value in that it forms an archive for the university and for historians in general; it is also a space of aesthetic beauty, somewhere to be visited and admired for its landscaping and interesting architecture. It, too, provides a place of controversy: people cannot locate their relatives in space, since the gravestones have been relocated. In addition, the chapel (figure 9) now houses part of the university library archive. It is not used as a place of worship, but a place of storage. The God of religion has been replaced by technology's output, the God of bureaucracy. The space of the cemetery at St George's Field hangs on to a tenuous relationship with its past. Through its re-appropriation by the university - spatially and functionally - it has moved from sacred place and consecrated ground, to a symbol that reflects the function of the corporate university: the acquisition of property, the disregard of working-class space; and the firm emplacement of bureaucracy in its 'rightful' place at the centre.

Foucault, Michel. 2001. 'Of Other Spaces', The Visual Culture Reader, ed. by Nicholas Mirzooeff (London and New York: Routledge). pp. 237-244.

Saturday, 29 August 2009


This quote appears in Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (1972). The use of the word 'anti-production' pre-dates the definition developed by Deleuze and Guattari together in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia series:
It is impossible to separate the production of any consumer commodity from the institution that supports that production. The same can be said of teaching, training, research, etc. The State machine and the machine of repression produce anti-production, that is to say signifiers that exist to block and prevent the emergence of any subjective process [...]. (1984: 34).

In regards to the university, the “consumer commodity” would be considered the knowledge that is being 'sold' to the student and which is produced at the end of a course in the form of awarding a degree which can be exchanged for a job, ideally one of capitalist-orientation. It is even the case that the student could be conceived of as the commodity, rather than the knowledge gained which appears in the form of the degree. Guattari is saying that any process that is antithetical to that of the capitalist project will be prevented from emerging (as much as is possible). The signs that capitalism creates, discourage any singular processes of individuation and attempt to reroute subjective desires back into capitalist production: this is anti-production. Although I am reluctant to use dialectical terms like outside/inside when discussing post-structuralist themes, it appears from this definition that anti-production is a process instigated outside the individual, by capitalism.

In the work that Deleuze and Guattari carried out together, anti-production represents a moment in production that occurs as a result of primal repression. For them anti-production appears to be autonomous but is not: it operates alongside production but is liable to being rerouted into the dominant productive processes and becoming recoded into the forms of representation used by that system. This definition, takes the form of an internal process that can become hi-jacked by capitalism.

(I would welcome any feedback from Deleuze and Guattari experts)

Guattari, Félix. 1984. Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics, trans. by Rosemary Sheed (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books).

Monday, 24 August 2009

Walking: The Act of Moving About

The walked paths taken by human beings through space is controlled by many urban features. There are the more obvious solid objects like walls and fences that prevent people from taking certain routes through space, but not all of these barriers are solid: they might simply exist in the form of a notice stating 'No Entry'. But, often space is controlled in a much more subtle way. For example, the idea of 'walkways' which were popularised by architects in the 1960s, especially in regards to university space. Walkways were meant to join areas of the campus together and also encourage students to 'bump into each other'. Even though this seems like an community-spirited idea, it has the function of controlling space in such a way that students are discouraged from taking other routes.

Merlin Coverley explains that it is only by challenging assumed routes and investigating the unnoticed and dismissed areas, that one can get any real sense of what exists behind the surface of what appears as the everyday (2006 : 12-13). The students, academics and staff of the university move across the campus surface on established well-worn paths. Individuals tend to follow the same routes, as much for expedience as anything else. It is extremely unlikely that an undergraduate student attending a three year course would cover the paths that appear on the university pedestrian route map in the time they are at the university, let alone any routes that do not appear. As individuals in a busy postmodern world, we need to have an actual reason to go somewhere in order to see to see a new space; we are unlikely to wander, just for the sake of it. There could be many reasons for this, the discussion of which could make for a project in its own right. However, 'cheap' cars and a culture that does not encourage walking, do not help. Previous generations in Britain (and other cultures) walked most of the time. For example, in the 1960s it was considered perfectly acceptable to allow your children to walk to school, even when quite young. Multiple transport options allow people to move from place to place easily, but this also discourages the process of seeing the movement between places as an event in itself, an exploration of space. Walking enables the minutiae of the environment to be examined. Guy Debord explains how the city discourages detours because of its make-up: “cities have a psychogeographical relief, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes which strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.” (1996: 22).

A large part of the practise behind this project has involved providing other paths around the University of Leeds campus in an effort to: challenge the established route; experience the campus in a different way; and as an attempt to probe the very fabric of the university in order to encourage it to reveal its history. This has taken the form of a number of dérives (see other blogs). Debord states: “The city is the locus of history because it is conscious of the past and also concentrates the social power that makes the historical undertaking possible.” (2005: 176). This can also be applied to the university. The past of the university exists in the very fabric of the campus, and it tells a story of power; not just in the form of administrative decisions such as those highlighted when discussing the Compulsory Purchase Orders, but also the less obvious ones about how an individual moves around the campus. This history does not only exist in historical documents; the actual campus itself can also be read in an attempt to investigate the past, and even the future.

Coverley, Merlin. 2006. Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials).
Debord, Guy. 1996. 'Theory of the Dérive', Theory of the Dérive and Other Situationist Writings on the City, ed. by Libero Andreotti and Xavier Costa (Barcelona: Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona). pp. 22-27.
Debord, Guy. 2005. The Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red).

Monday, 17 August 2009

Lea Farm Drive Dérive

Wednesday August 5th 2009. We left Parkinson Court at the University of Leeds at approximately 5.00pm. Four members of the group were present. This dérive picked up where the Miniature Boulder Dérive left off, so the route had already been mapped out. The walk was concentrated at the South end of the university campus. This was our first evening dérive. The evening light, created a different ambience:

Evening Light

Below is the map of the route, including a superimposed map which was used to create the zigzag path made by the method mentioned in the previous blog.

Map and Route of Dérive

One of our stopping places was Leeds General Infirmary. We moved through the hospital, as if tourists. At one point a security guard came and asked us if we were looking for the exit. Whether he had overheard us, or was concerned about our photograph-taking, was not apparent.

We visited the Worsley Building again, which is a behemoth; truly a beautiful example of the 60s 'brutalist' architecture, very impressive. This is where the School of Dentistry is (no connection between brutalism and tooth extraction). Below is an image of the building from a short distance away, from a stopping point that took us slightly outside the perimeter of the campus:

Worsley Building

In the above image, the small triangular area on the opposite side of the road was unkempt. There was graffiti, much rubbish, cracked paving stones, broken pieces of metal sticking out of the ground. It is not clear if the property is that of the university, or the council. People seemed to use it to park their cars, in the spaces between the trees.

Much building work is being carried out on campus at the moment, the biggest project since the Chamberlin, Powell and Bon project of the 1960s. The contractors have signed up to the The Considerate Constructors Scheme, which is a code of conduct. On one of the hoardings around the new swimming pool area this tagline is displayed: “Improving the Image of Construction”. Unfortunately, this marketing move implies that it is just the 'image' of construction that needs to be improved rather than the 'reality' (although they could be considered to be one and the same, especially from the perspective of 'the spectacle').

At the end of the dérive, approximately 7.00pm, we realised that we had not picked up a found souvenir. We looked down at our feet and there was a bus ticket lying on the floor at this location:

The Bus Stop

The ticket said “Lea Farm Drive, Seacroft” on it, hence the name of the dérive. Having finished our walk we then entered the Victoria pub from the back entrance, which is a concrete ramp next to a car park in a modern building. You pass the trade bins to enter, in the semi-dark, a door and, going back in time, you emerge into Victoriana. It was rather like going through the back of the wardrobe to Narnia.

(all maps and images CC Tim Waters)

Sunday, 9 August 2009

The Naked University: The University of Leeds Campus

This map was based on walks around the university campus at the University of Leeds. The arrows are random and placed in terms of the aesthetics of the map. A key was created in order to attach song titles to the ambiances of the quarters. The cross indicates a building that is no longer there. It is in the process of being replaced with two larger ones: halls of residence.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Corporate University: Excellence . . . Schmexellence

Bill Readings describes 'excellence' as an empty, circular term that cannot be applied across fields; as he explains in a whole chapter dedicated to this phenomenon: “An excellent boat is not excellent by the same criteria as an excellent plane.” (1999: 24). Readings text is influenced by, amongst others, Jean-François Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979) and this is apparent when Readings discusses the more 'performative' aspects of excellence's measure: “[...] the question of the University is only the question of relative value-for-money, the question posed to a student who is situated entirely as a consumer [..]” (Readings 1999: 27). He also makes reference to how this consumer-orientation of the university ties in with technology, which is also a large focus of Lyotard's critique. Readings says: “All that the system requires is for activity to take place, and the empty notion of excellence refers to nothing other than the optimal input/output ration in matters of information.” (1999: 39). I would now like to turn to an example, provided by Readings, of how choices based on these performance measures actually impact urban space; I shall also examine the same phenomenon at the University of Leeds: car parking.

Readings provides a anecdotal example of how space is utilised at the University in relation to excellence. Jonathan Culler informed Readings that the University at which he worked, Cornell in New York State, had received an award for “excellence in parking” (Readings 1999: 24). While one might assume that this meant the Car Parking Services Department was efficient at getting cars in and out of the car park, and/or effectively utilising the space, so as to get as many in as possible, what it actually meant was - and I shall use Readings own words and italics here, so as to allow the irony to appear - “that they had achieved a remarkable level of efficiency in restricting motor vehicle access.” (ibid). Readings explains how the term 'excellence' has a function that enables it to work on either side of what can be considered as excellence: it becomes translatable and usable by anyone who wishes to describe excellence within any phenomenon, in whatever way they choose, by any criteria (ibid).

During the major planning drive of the University of Leeds that took place after World War II, and in particular during the 1960s, architects were employed to draw up plans to expand and develop the campus. Many architectural plans were made, alongside two large bound proposals prepared by the architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. These were: University of Leeds Development Plan: being a report on proposals for the way buildings could be planned and laid out to accommodate both the present needs and the growth of the size of the University which may be expected during the coming decade (1960) and University of Leeds Development Plan Review 1963: being a review of three years' progress on the Development Plan published April 1960 (1963). Much of the work is oriented towards a section of the campus that is referred to as “the precinct”. One of the drawings/maps provided in the 1963 review states next to it “This drawing indicates the relationship between the new development and the existing street pattern.” (Chamberlin, Powell and Bon 1963: 167). The map of the university, as it existed at the time, has the planned buildings superimposed over the existing area, so that both are visible. The precinct area includes plans for a number of very large buildings and vast car parking zones. Part of the conclusion of the report says the following:
No effort has been spared in Leeds on the part of the City Authorities, the Hospital Board and the Council of the University to make the planned expansion possible despite the extreme difficulties inherent in the comprehensive re-planning and redevelopment of the old City sites which have hitherto rested in many ownerships and were laid out between a network of streets obsolete for any present purposes. (Chamberlin, Powell and Bon 1963: 269).

It is only when viewing the above-mentioned drawing, that it becomes apparent what the architects mean by “a network of streets obsolete for any present purposes”. The precinct in particular, but also many other areas of the proposed site, are terraced housing. This is made even more clear when looking at an aerial photo of a section of the University of Leeds campus, taken in 1953. Whole streets of terraced houses needed to be 'acquired' in order to become University property, and then be demolished so that the development plan could be put in place. This was done with the aid of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs).

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. 1963. University of Leeds Development Plan (Leeds: The University of Leeds).

Readings, Bill. 1999. The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press).

Monday, 3 August 2009

Miniature Boulder Dérive

Image: Phill Harding

Saturday August 1st 2009. We set off from the Parkinson Steps at the University of Leeds at approximately midday. Five members of the group were present. The method used for the randomness quotient of the dérive was as follows:

Take a downloaded piece of Situationist text ('The Theory of the Dérive' by Guy Debord). Using a piece of tracing paper, draw a dot over the first word on each line that begins with a 'p' (for 'psychogeography'). Make a separate note of all these words. Lay the tracing paper over a map of the University of Leeds campus. Draw a line, moving from right to left which connects those dots that lay on top of the map. Ignore the dots that are outside of the map. The end result is a zigzag line on the tracing paper that is superimposed over the map. The line becomes the route (as much as possible that it can be followed), the dots become the stopping places. Each point of stopping would then have the relevant word attached to it. Also, the photographs attached to the map, would be a picture looking towards the next point that would be visited.

As before, we had a GPS tracking device, and two cameras, one attached to the stopping points on the map, as can be seen below.
Map: Tim Waters

We began our dérive from the North edge of the university and worked towards the South, in a zigzag fashion. Within a few minutes of beginning, a 'found object' was stumbled upon, hence the name of the dérive (see image above).

This campus dérive seemed to take us to a number of maintenance-related sites on the campus, including a section of the university that had asbestos located in a room behind the geography/textiles blocks area. There was a warning on the door, but the door had been left open, and the area was not protected.

A number of redundant signs were found during the walk. Smallish, unobtrusive, plastic signs in varying primary colours, with arrows on. These were on a number of buildings in the area around the Union building. No text appeared alongside the arrows.

We also found an area that was being treated for Japanese Knotwood. It was fenced off and had been treated due to its rhizome-like root format:

Again we ended up in St. George's Field, but our route this time was different and we discovered a whole new set of phenomenonon in the cemetery. Including small memorial spots (maybe actual graves): one for a 6 month old child, going back to 1946.

We discovered a blue plaque dedicated to Sir Clifford Allbutt, who apparently invented the clinical thermometer, which replaced the previous one-foot long one that the poor ill patients had to not only negotiate into their mouths but also hold in place while it took 20 minutes for the result to appear!

We also found a very attractive building called 'The Priory', which had no connection to drug rehabilitation. Upon enquiry we found out it was a halls of residence. It is apparently a private organisation that provides student accommodation. This property On the dge of the Leeds campus charges £115/week and describes itself as “Truly Unique Student Accommodation”:

The weather was poor. We were rained on more than once. Our dérive ended at approximately 4.00pm, but in that time we had at least 2 generous breaks. At some point during the dérive we realised we had been using the words attributed to each point in reverse order. We interpreted this as part of the chance element of the walk.

We did not complete the whole of the original path assigned to the map by the above-mentioned method. However, it will be completed shortly, and will, of course, appear as a separate dérive because: a dérive is "considered as the time between two periods of sleep" (Guy Debord).

N.B. This is the blog of one member of the group, and therefore is subjective.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Posthistoric University: From Détournement to Denudement

Dwelling in the ruins of the University thus means giving a serious attention to the present complexity of space, undertaking an endless work of détournement of the spaces willed to us by a history whose temporality we no longer inhabit. Like the inhabitants of some Italian city, we can seek neither to rebuild the Renaissance city-state nor to destroy its remnants and install rationally planned tower-blocks; we can seek only to put its angularities and winding passages to new uses, learning from and enjoying the cognitive dissonances that enclosed piazzas and and non-signifying campanile induce.
(Readings 1999: 129)

Bill Readings critique of the postmodern (what he calls posthistoric) university in his book The University in Ruins (1996), analyses the university in its redirection from a historico-cultural legacy to its current incarnation in the form of a capital-generating, consumer-oriented, corporate entity. His investigation focuses on the quality of 'excellence' which he sees as being the watchword of the corporate university. For Readings, 'excellence' is a hollow term that has no absolute definition; he sees it as a construct of the bureaucratic university that provides a marker of simulacra-like value: “[...] excellence is not a fixed standard of judgement but a qualifier whose meaning is fixed in relation to something else” (1999: 24), and “Excellence is […] a means of relative ranking among the elements of an entirely closed system” (1999: 27).

While Readings examination of the university is not an obvious reading of space, he often makes spatial references in relation to capitalist power: geo-political, architectural and noetic/psychic space. This is especially apparent in the chapter entitled 'Dwelling in the Ruins', where associations can be made to the language of the Situationist International group (SI), even though Readings does not make direct reference to this (other than his use of the term détournement, the only obvious reference is on page 17 where he mentions Guy Debord and provides a definition of 'the spectacle'). In this chapter Readings discusses the idea of architectural ruins, and how this ties in with his thesis on the posthistoric university, analysing the university from a number of perspectives, including ideological, pragmatic and romantic. I shall return to the notion of 'the ruins' in the chapter of this dissertation entitled 'Resituating the Ruins'.

It is apparent in the opening quote that Readings uses architecture as a vehicle for his critique of today's university. Even though he is discussing historical, philosophical, ideological and/or political space in the opening extract, rather than geographical, he nevertheless uses the language of the concrete to make his point: the Italian city. He also uses a term appropriated by the SI, détournement, to express the need for a continual re-working of the past in order to appropriate and resituate it in the form of the new. Here is an oft-quoted definition of 'détournement' provided by the SI:
Short for: détournement of preexisting aesthetic elements. The integration of present and past artistic production into a superior milieu. In this sense there can be no situationist use of these means. In a more primitive sense, détournement within the old cultural spheres is a method of propaganda, a method which testifies to the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres.
(Situationist International 1996: 70)1.

It is apparent from the above definition that the process of détournement can be utilised within any form of production and is not something solely associated within an act of challenging capitalist power, as it would have been for the SI. The above quote makes reference to how it has historically been used in an ideological way, through propaganda. The act/process of détournement is not something that has only been used in a utopian project, such as that of the SI, but can be employed for any 'political' end, or indeed artistic means. As the SI state above: “In this sense there can be no situationist use of these means.”; this seems somewhat contradictory, since they have already appropriated the word in an attempt to reuse it in another setting. Also, in relation to the power invested in the term in essays by many members of the group, including Debord's essay 'Détournement as Negation and Prelude' (1959), it is clear from accounts that the Situationists did use the process in a practical sense, as Simon Sadler explains in The Situationist City: “Détournement would permit anyone to take part in raids on official culture” (2001: 44). While the SI do not explain what they mean by “a superior milieu”, it may stand for the institutions that they consider problematic, and because of this their denial that “there can be no situationist use of these means” may be a politico-philosophical one in that for them a “superior milieu” may represent a totalising form, which their programme fought against.

To return to Readings' use of détournement. In this dissertation, I propose to use the term in a spatial sense in the same way Readings has above. Sadler sums this up well when he discusses the practices that the Situationists utilise in the city, such as psychogeography (which I will shortly return to); he describes détournement as “diversion” (2001: 11), which is one of the typical translations from the French. My own diversion from Readings forms an important connection between Readings own comments on space and history, in relation to the university as city, and the processes utilised by the SI group in their critique of the capitalist city-scape. In the way that Readings recommends as a way of challenging the space of the posthistoric university, I should like to discuss and propose a possible process in the form of a concrete practice, in an effort to apply “a serious attention to the present complexity of space” (Readings 1999: 129) of the university. I shall do this by lifting the corporate veil of the university and revealing it in its nakedness.

One of the definitions that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) applies to the verb denude is: “To make naked or bare; to strip of clothing or covering; spec. in Geol. of natural agencies: To lay bare (a rock or formation) by the removal of that which lies above it.”. It is interesting how the OED have provided an example of the word 'denude' here in a geo-spatial way by making reference to geological formation. My own excavation of the university will not be a geological one, nor archaeological, as I shall not be psychically digging beneath an actual surface, but rather more an ideological surface. I propose to explore the topography of university space that exists in the form of the campus, in an effort to: re-appropriate the university space; examine the outward phenomenon of the corporate university; and provide an alternative cartography to that supplied by the university. Before I begin the process of revealing the naked university, I should like to introduce the SI group's concept of the Naked City.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Jacques Derrida: Through the Looking Glass

I dreamt of Derrida last night. I think I was interviewing him, although it may have just been a regular conversation. We were in a house, in a kitchen or maybe a sitting room, at either side of a large farmhouse table. In the centre of the table, along most of the length, was a structure made of mirrored glass.

The structure looked like it was made of shards of mirror, although the pieces were placed in an organised fashion. The construction was about 2 feet high and contained in a metal frame, with gaps between some of the pieces of mirror, which were all placed vertically. The structure was not very deep. To see Derrida I often had to move my head so as to keep him in view and so as not to see myself in the reflections instead.

We talked about old-age and death. He believed he was going to die soon, but not in a way you do when you have a terminal illness as a sign. He said he was very old, although he didn't look that old, and to me was the same age as he was in his film. I said he didn't look like he was going to die and that my father was older than him. He said he was sure that he was going to die imminently, but was unable to explain to me the reason for this belief.

He was relaxed in an intense kind of way, if that doesn't sound like a contradiction. I felt comfortable in his company and the atmosphere was one of familiarity, although not close friendship. Looking at his face, especially his eyes, seemed to give a glimpse into the activity of his mind. It looked like he never seemed to stop thinking, in a deeply philosophical way, about the world.

At one point I managed to get him framed perfectly between the sections of mirror.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

White Horseman Dérive

Saturday July 19th 2009. We set off from the Parkinson Steps at the University of Leeds at approximately 11.45am. Four members of the new Leeds Psychogeography Group were present. We had a variety of printed downloaded maps of the university campus, including a maintenance one, which was quite detailed. We also had a GPS tracking device and software that mapped our route and tagged stopping points, enabling images or sound to be uploaded and indexed at these stages. Prior to leaving for the walk we had planned our route by throwing dice to decide which buildings (all numbered on the maps) we would stop at. Co-incidentally, a number of these buildings were collected together in the Lifton Place area, which is apparent when looking at the map (see link below).

As this was our first dérive it was quite experimental. Also, the four of us did not know each other well, so not only was it an exploration of urban space, but also one of psychic space. And, the fact we were all approaching psychogeography from a different perspective made the experience very interesting, as we all made note of different aspects of the environment: aural, aesthetic and spatial.

One of the first places we visited was St George's Field. It is an old cemetery which has been preserved and appears as a kind of oasis in the, mostly, modern-structured urban landscape of the campus. The cemetery is slightly hidden inasmuch as it is not signposted and there is no dedicated pavement that runs down the north edge of it. Below is a BBC link which includes a potted history of the cemetery:

The university was quiet; even the act of trying a number of locked doors did not draw security out of their summer mothballs. We did bump into someone, not a student, who was also photographing the urban landscape of the campus. There were also workmen on a section of the university which is being redeveloped: doing some overtime, or catching up in order to meet the deadline which is contingent on them getting paid the amount they have declared in their original tender.

At one of the buildings (that came up twice when the dice was thrown), there was an exhibition from one of the Fine Art PhD students. So we took some time-out, visited the exhibition, drank some juice and chatted with the artist. The exhibition was on body hair. One of the works was a number of screens showing hair being removed, and the accompanying sounds.

At one point we discovered a lost wallet on a windowsill in a courtyard. There was nothing of importance left in the wallet, but it had been placed like a miniature triptych. An image of this can be seen at the above link. We also found a red badge containing an image of a white horseman, hence the name of the dérive. It has been decided that dérives will be named after found souvenirs on each walk.

The dérive lasted approximately 3 hours and ended when bodily functions and desires kicked in.