Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Walking Inside Out - Introduction



Introduction:A Wander through the Scene of British Urban Walking

by Tina Richardson


WHAT IS PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY?

Get a map of your local area and spread it out on the floor. Study the map, imagine the terrain, find your preferred route – perhaps a bridleway or a towpath – and trace it on the map. Grab your coat off the hook in the hallway and put on your sturdy shoes. Leave the house and dump the map in the wheelie bin. Forget the map. Go to the nearest bus stop and get on the first bus that comes along. Get off when you feel you are far enough away from home that the area is unfamiliar. Begin your walk here.

Psychogeography does not have to be complicated. Anyone can do it. You do not need a map, Gor-Tex, a rucksack or a companion. All you need is a curious nature and a comfortable pair of shoes. There are no rules to doing psychogeography - this is its beauty. However, it is this that makes it hard to pin down in any formalised way. It is also this ‘unruly’ character (disruptive, unsystematic, random) that makes for much discussion about its meaning and purpose - today more than at any other time.

This volume does not pretend to have a definitive answer to what psychogeography is, but it does propose to open up the space that can be defined as psychogeography, providing examples and encouraging debate. In his introduction to Psychogeography (2006) Merlin Coverley asks: “Are we talking about a predominantly literary movement or a political strategy, a series of new age ideas or a set of avant-garde practices?” and goes on to say that it is all the above (2006, 9-10). In just a couple of sentences we have opened up a can of nebulous worms on the ambulatory behemoth that psychogeography (or urban walking) is. What this selected volume of essays does is present the state of play as it is for psychogeography in the UK in the 21st century...

Click here to read a viewable online copy of the full introduction, or here to download a pdf.


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Assembling the Assemblage: Developing Schizocartography in Support of an Urban Semiology


You can read this free/open access article, published in Humanities Journal  special edition, Spatial Bricolage: Methodological Eclecticism and the Poetics of 'Making Do', edited by Les Roberts. Here is the abstract, and below part of the introduction and a link to the rest of the article:

Abstract

This article looks at the formulation of a methodology that incorporates a walking-based practice and borrows from a variety of theories in order to create a flexible tool that is able to critique and express the multiplicities of experiences produced by moving about the built environment. Inherent in postmodernism is the availability of a multitude of objects (or texts) available for reuse, reinterpretation, and appropriation under the umbrella of bricolage. The author discusses her development of schizocartography (the conflation of a phrase belonging to Félix Guattari) and how she has incorporated elements from Situationist psychogeography, Marxist geography, and poststructural theory and placed them alongside theories that examine subjectivity. This toolbox enables multiple possibilities for interpretation which reflect the actual heterogeneity of place and also mirror the complexities that are integral in challenging the totalizing perspective of space that capitalism encourages.

Introduction

The ways that we develop methods to help us understand, critique, and express our responses to urban space are as dynamic and ever-changing as the geographical space is that we are presented with as our object of study. The built environment can often operate on our psyches in a subliminal fashion, such that its changes—even when this involves substantial developments—become incorporated into our spatial awareness quickly and subtly. This has the effect of creating a type of cultural forgetting whereby it becomes difficult to remember what was in that place prior to these transformations taking over. What these transformations may hide requires a form of revealing to take place that will not only expose the layers of history, but will also encourage discussion, engender creative responses, and give voice to what is under the veneer of our everyday urban spaces.

This article offers a discussion on the forming of a method of urban critique—schizocartography—which allows for a flexibility in regard to interpretation, and also borrows from differing theories and practices in order to create a flexible set of instruments. This toolbox can be applied to all stages of the process of analysis, from the physical field work, to the critique and research, through to the forms in which the outcomes may be presented. Schizocartography brings together psychogeographical practice and urbanism with theories that examine subjectivity, heterogeneity, and power in order to present an adaptable set of tools that assesses many of the components involved in being present in our towns and cities. Schizocartography “reveal[s] the aesthetic and ideological contradictions that appear in urban space while simultaneously reclaiming the subjectivity of individuals by enabling new modes of creative expression. [It] challenges the ossified symbols of hierarchical structures through the act of crossing the barriers (concrete or abstract) of a particular terrain.” (Richardson 2015, p. 182). It acknowledges the need for a subjective mapping of place, one that can respond to the fluidity of physical space as much as it does to the flexibility of us as individuals. Cont...

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Paul's Walk, London Drift 1/7/17 – Part 2


By Paul Hazlehurst

Continued from Part 1

We passed Lords Cricket Ground, with its futuristic pavilion hovering above the brick wall, and came to Abbey Road zebra crossing. A small crowd was on either side of the pavement. As soon as there was a gap in the traffic, they would walk across whilst others took photos. It looked like a never ending loop. I wondered, would this be going on in fifty years’ time, how many were pilgrims performing a kind of religious ritual and how many tourists? I could not name a track from the Beatles Abbey road album myself. It is hard not to become a tourist in London, the city seems designed for tourism. Cross the zebra, peer through the railings at the recording studio, sign the wall, then visit the shop. Abbey Road had become a brand: "the most famous recording studio in the world". I took a photo of John and Brian as they crossed the zebra. They were enjoying themselves again after the hustle and bustle of Camden.

We were back on the tube again heading for Westminster, the pace picking up again. I was starting to miss drifting: travelling on the tube was like being blindfolded, there was no in - between, no sense of distance covered. It felt a bit restricting, but was a fast way to move through the city. Westminster station is a futuristic concrete bunker with beams everywhere, a marvel. I tried to get a photo, but was too slow. Outside an austerity demonstration was ending as tourists posed for selfies with the London Eye as a backdrop. Blair's footprint with a ‘fast track’ option. Crossing over the river the smell of cooking food and the voices of street entertainers filled the air. My jaw dropped as we came to the South Bank Centre.


It is described in Barnabas Calder's book Raw Concrete as one of the most gloriously irresponsibly, expressive pieces of architecture ever designed: a shouting spitting punk - architecture for those who do not fear architecture. For me it is also an amazing building, a psychogeographical puzzle box waiting to be solved. It challenges you to explore it and find a way in.

John and Brian started talking about carbuncles and car parks: they liked the shiny new steel and glass structures. We moved on to the National Theatre, described in Raw Concrete as Denys Lasdun's masterpiece of abstract architecture. They looked puzzled as I got my camera out and started to photograph the theatre, as walked towards an outside staircase.


They were now so used to a world of security cameras and guards that they were genuinely amazed by the fact that you could just walk around the building. I was bemused as I walked around the terraces, photographing from every angle, before finding some seats for a break. John wandered into the BFI shop, coming out smiling, with a keyring. Christopher Lee as Dracula, fangs bared with blood smeared around his lips, it tied in perfectly with our earlier visit to Highgate Cemetery. The theatre had a utopian feel: the future seemed hopeful.

It was late afternoon/early evening, the bars and restaurants were filling with fresh-faced people getting ready for the night ahead. We crossed the Thames and began our journey home. The day had been an interesting blend of psychogeography and tourism...

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Paul's Walk, London Drift 1/7/17 – Part 1


By Paul Hazlehurst

As the train passed the goods yards and graffiti covered walls approaching Euston Station, I again felt the joyous excitement that a visit to a city brings to me. The beginning of a new adventure, wandering around with no set plan, seeing what will happen and where I would end up.

I was travelling with my twin brother John and his friend Brian. They were not psychogeographers, but both enjoy walking and were looking forward to visiting London. We picked up our rucksacks and exited the train. Standing in the station foyer, Brian started to tap his mobile phone, conjuring maps and data from his fingertips, whilst I checked my camera settings. We decided to get the tube to Archway and explore Highgate.

We picked up tube navigation easily enough, but on leaving the station at Archway soon got lost. Brian's phone map started to mess up and he lost direction at a crossroads, walking about with his phone in front of him like a Geiger counter. I was about to suggest that we just wandered, but after five minutes John asked a passer-by for directions.

Climbing up Highgate Hill, a flyer on the pavement advertised the Freud Museum, ahead was the Whittington Stone, a monument marking the point where Dick Whittington heard the Bow bells chime: "Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London". Cutting through Waterlow Park, the area was leafy and luxurious - oozing wealth. Toned bodies in Lycra were all around. More pulled up on racer bikes outside a gated community which was the size of a small village. A man pushed a pram down Parliament Hill, as a woman lifted weights on top. The voices of personal trainers filled Hampstead Heath. The city looked far away again, a spiky graph line.


We decided to go on the cemetery tour, which gave a history of the city and how it buried the dead. The tour was enjoyable, with a mix of Hammer Horror, dark catacombs, poisoned Russian spies, the Highgate Vampire, and celebrities from Karl Marx to Jeremy Beadle. Funnelling out of Camden Town tube station like grains of sand in an hour glass, the relaxing pace was broken. John looked panic stricken: "stay together, don't get lost", he said as the barriers were opened and the crowd of passengers swarmed onto Camden High Street.


The street was a riot of noise and colour - people flowing in every direction - it was impossible to take it all in at once. John ducked into a souvenir shop looking for a key ring - he needed something solid to hold onto to calm his nerves, after years of weekly shopping at the local supermarket this was a shock for him. Brian was looking for an escape route but the sun was shining on his phone screen rendering it useless. The market looked too crowded, so we headed along the Regents Canal towpath, passing a floating Chinese restaurant and an art deco narrow-boat. Street art and tags adorned the walls. The crowds of people started to thin, passing the London Zoo. Brian examined his phone under the shade of an iron bridge, picking Abbey Road as our next place to head for.

Click here for Part 2

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Anywhere in 'Anywhere': An Unconventional Look at Cecile Oak's New Book


"Please feel free to read Anywhere in any way you want and take away from Anywhere whatever you wish; read it as a novel, as a failed conference report, as travel writing, as a meandering guidebook, as a textbook written by a drunken geographer. Or all of these. I hope that everyone, whether on the ground or in their imaginations, will use this book as a guide to making their own journeys in their own 'South Devon'"

This is how Cecile Oak prepares us with her author's note at the beginning of Anywhere: A mythogeography of South Devon and how to walk it (Triarchy Press 2017). So, rather than present a formal review of her new book, I will be taking her literally and choosing some extracts from 'anywhere' in the book as a way of offering an introduction to the text. I would however like to begin with an introduction to the characters in the book and make a comparison with this particular approach to writing with the film Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov 2002).

This mythogeography of South Devon is explicated through the discussion between Cecile Oak (known as the stranger) and her companion A. J. Salmon (known as the guide). While we are all familiar with Oak's academic lineage and her doctoral thesis, Salmon may not be so familiar to readers. Seemingly, he is both a thief of poetry books and a provider of poetry education - one of these leading him to jail and the other providing him with a distraction while incarcerated in 2009. These characters are comparable to the Narrator and the European in Russian Ark (which also uses this dual narrative technique). In Russian Ark the narrator tells the story, but also has a guide (the European), who acts as a sounding board but also introduces the narrator to Russian works of art, and historical facts and characters, of interest in the film.

Below are some of the urban characters that caught my interest in the book - some living, some inanimate - with images sourced elsewhere. The text is Oak’s...

St Luke’s Church by Derek Harper

“There are a lot of hypnotic objects to be dealt with in Buckfastleigh before we can get out. The brutalist church with a chain running out of a gutter and down the back of the building and through the grilled of a large drain. We decide it isn’t mechanical, but there simply to guide the stream of water into the drain, A thin drizzle is starting to fall, we watch how the water flows from link to link…” (page 300)

Guide Psychogeographique de Paris by Guy Debord

“Frustratingly – or maybe this is why it serves everyone so well! – there is very little documentation on these situationist wanders. And [Andrea] Gibbons has the reason. It’s directly attributable to the failure of the Situationists to defend their Algerian comrade Abdhelhafid Khatib after his psychogeographic survey of Les Halles was cut short by arrest (in the context of the Algerian War this constituted an existential threat to Khatib); instead the Situationists seem to have closed down the whole project.” (page 199)

Snails Overlapping by Tina Richardson

“There are two kinds of patterns in the water. The reflection that transports a here to a there, reproduces itself, but also replaces somewhere else with itself. When that kind of reflection is the main metaphor for comparing and connecting things, it reinforces analogy, homogeneity and conformity…[The] second pattern: diffraction is a kind of dynamism in the matter of the world. It is what the theorist Donna Haraway calls a 'metaphor for the effort to make a difference in the world'. This works all the way down, so at a certain level, incredibly small things overlap, interfere, and make a difference all on their own.” (page 79)

Rosy Cross of the Golden Dawn

“On the bricked floor of the parking space are symbols set around a Kabbalah ‘tree of life’…When I put the images up on Facebook later a ‘friend’ comments that the combination of symbols is characteristic of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Hmm… Someone else posts that these are symbols of a spirituality of light generated from an “electrical pivotal point”, not the sun, not the centre. Could we be talking about diffraction here? My correspondent guides me to a Plymouth University astronomer called Percy Seymour. When I look him up he seems to have been a fairly conventional academic, studying magnetic fields around planetary objects, until he suddenly ‘flipped’ and began to interpret everything, including human personality, as subject to the magnetic and gravitational fields of the sun and the planets.” (page 160).

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Assembling the Assemblage: Developing Schizocartography in Support of an Urban Semiology


You can access this Humanities Journal open access article here. Below is the abstract:

This article looks at the formulation of a methodology that incorporates a walking-based practice and borrows from a variety of theories in order to create a flexible tool that is able to critique and express the multiplicities of experiences produced by moving about the built environment. Inherent in postmodernism is the availability of a multitude of objects (or texts) available for reuse, reinterpretation, and appropriation under the umbrella of bricolage. The author discusses her development of schizocartography (the conflation of a phrase belonging to Félix Guattari) and how she has incorporated elements from Situationist psychogeography, Marxist geography, and poststructural theory and placed them alongside theories that examine subjectivity. This toolbox enables multiple possibilities for interpretation which reflect the actual heterogeneity of place and also mirror the complexities that are integral in challenging the totalizing perspective of space that capitalism encourages.

This article is part of a special edition edited by Les Roberts: Spatial Bricolage: Methodological Eclecticism and the Poetics of 'Making Do' and focuses on the concept of bricolage:

This is a proposal for a Special Issue of the journal Humanities, on the theme of ‘Spatial Bricolage’: the art and poetics of ‘making do’ (de Certeau 1984: xv) in spatial humanities research. Expanding on themes explored in an earlier Humanities Special Issue on ‘Deep Mapping’ (Roberts 2015/16), this follow-up collection places firmer emphasis on questions of method: the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’ that variously informs the doing of deep mapping and spatial anthropology. Provisionally organized around the twin concepts of cultural bricolage and the researcher/practitioner as bricoleur, this Special Issue aims to collate and provoke critical discussion trained on spatial bricolage as an interdisciplinary (or ‘undisciplined’) nexus of practices and pick-and-mix methods. Claude Lévi-Strauss described bricolage as ‘[the making] do with “whatever is at hand”… [; to address oneself] to a collection of oddments left over from human endeavours’ (2004: 17, 19). If eclecticism informs a deep mapping practice increasingly oriented around the embodied and embedded researcher, then it is one that correspondingly finds its creative expression in the art and poetics of ‘making do’. As a ‘maker of quilts’, or, as in filmmaking, ‘a person who assembles images into montages’ (Denzin and Lincoln 2011: 4), the researcher-as-bricoleur makes do insofar as what it is she or he is ‘mapping’ is recast as a representational and affective assemblage. In the same way that calls for a ‘more artful and crafty’ sociology are underwritten by a push towards more ‘open methods’ in the social sciences (Back and Puwar 2012: 9), approaches in the interdisciplinary field of spatial and geo-humanities strive to embrace a methodological eclecticism adaptable to the qualitative dynamics of experiential, performative or ‘non-representational’ (Vannini 2015) geographies of place. Engaging with deep mapping ‘in all its messy, inclusive glory’ (Scherf 2015: 343), contributions for this Spatial Bricolage Special Issue are therefore sought from a wide range of fields that address questions that speak to issues of methodological eclecticism in spatial/geo-humanities research. Papers are especially welcome that examine the role of autoethnographic methods and practices, performance and gonzo ethnography, digital methods, or which address some of the ethical questions and constraints thrown up in relation to urban cultural bricolage as a mode of critical spatial research within the academy.

Friday, 7 July 2017

The Ruined Institution: The Production of ‘Excellence’ in Higher Education – Part 3


By Fenella Brandenburg

Continued from Part 2

(this is the final part of this series of posts)

Since the Enlightenment the university’s relationship with industry has grown out of a direct response to an economic need. This meant the university reacted to the demands for a certain type of knowledge requirement. In postmodernity the university has acquired the mantle of a business-oriented philosophy in its own right, meaning that attempting to demarcate commerce and HE as separate entities is far more complex. In order to compete in a globalised market the contemporary university is expected to think and operate as if it were a business: it has to take up the procedures and practices of commerce. As far back as 1990 academics were writing about the application of a commercial formula to every aspect of education. Cynthia Hardy says:
The tough choices advocated in business literature are likely to escalate the political conflict that surrounds declining resources, not resolve it. Draconian measures – terminations and program closures – can send shock waves through the university community. The more marketable individuals will leave to find less hostile surroundings; potential recruits will resort to political infighting, as they try to protect their departments. (1990: 317)
Hardy’s comments imply a potential move by many academics into other professions with those remaining having to become defensive in order to protect themselves and their future within the institution.

These illustrations are provided so as to emphasise that the current period of austerity is situated within the greater issue of how organisations operate under neoliberalism in general and their response to politico-economic events. While cuts to funding in HE are going to have an impact on those studying and working at the university, the effects of capitalist oriented processes on those at the university can be both subtle and furtive.

Mark Fisher makes direct reference to university bureaucracy, including providing an extensive list of documents a module leader is required to complete for each module they oversee (2009: 41). He says that the constant checking, monitoring and production of figures does not provide “a direct comparison of workers’ performance or output, but a comparison between the audited representation of that performance and output” (2009: 42). Mary Evans puts it succinctly: “Since God no longer exists, we have invented assessment” (2004: 34). Evans says of both the Jarratt Report (1985) and the Dearing Report (1997) that they imposed “upon universities a quasi-democratic ethos of collusion with the values of a market economy” (2004: 23). Consensus is all that is needed to enable bureaucracy’s seamless transition: “The ‘right’ process is established, the rules of the game set, and what is then required are cooperative and consenting players” (2004: 62).

Dissent becomes difficult in a system that sees the student as consumer, service and product of the system (Fisher 2009: 42), because the ability of students or staff to direct any grievance to a recognisable figurehead is difficult. Any challenge of/to the system simply points to another set of figures, attached to which are a set of further criteria. Or, instead, the result of the query may just appear as a re-framing and re-presentation of that data back to the enquirer: “the best performativity [...] comes rather from arranging the data in a new way” (Lyotard 2004: 51). Bureaucracy, as an instrument for measuring excellence in the corporatised university, as Fisher describes, “floats freely, independent of any external authority” (2009: 50). It produces a style of surveillance culture for academics that is rather like an invisible postmodern semblance of the time and motion study that constantly hovers over them in the form of a bureaucratic superego.

This constant checking is part of the everyday administration of the contemporary university which attempts to measure production in the same way that a factory would through the use of the nebulous term ‘excellence’. The use of the term ‘excellence’ has changed over time. For example, in the transcription of a lecture given in 1991 at The Centre for the Study of Theology at the University of Essex, David Jenkins (the Bishop of Durham), uses it quite differently. This lecture is entitled ‘Price, Cost, Excellence and Worth – Can the Idea of the University Survive the Force of the Market?’ While it offers a critique of the corporatised university, Jenkins uses the term ‘excellence’ in a similar way to how the term ‘mastery’ might be used: “everything is concerned with ‘price and cost’ and not with ‘excellence and worth’” (Jenkins 1991: 31). It is likely that the term ‘excellence’ has become appropriated by corporations (and the university) because of its convenient vagueness. The pervasive audit culture enables a form of micro-management without the manager appearing in bodily form. Richard Hill says that technology has enabled this ideology to proliferate, since administrators are often no longer needed to carry out many tasks on the behalf of academics, now measuring forms are often online and accessible by all through their desktop computer (2012: 172).

Hill highlights the common use of the word ‘excellence’ in taglines and slogans used by universities, providing examples from Australian HE institutions: “‘Integrity, Respect, Rational Enquiry, Personal Excellence’ (Edith Cowan University): ‘In the pursuit of excellence in teaching and research’ (Griffith University): and ‘Excellence, Innovation, Diversity’ (University of Wollongong)” (2012: 60). He describes this as “corporate-speak” and while he uses a flippant writing style to explain how these taglines operate on the unconscious, he nevertheless hits upon a significant point in regard to how language is linked to how we view the world: these “phrases [...] send certain images racing through the collective psyche of prospective students in the hope of instilling some sort of lasting semiotic effect” (ibid.). And this is apparent when Readings states: “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).

Bibliography:
Evans, Mary. 2004. Killing Thinking: The Death of the Universities (London and New York: Continuum).
Fisher, Mark. 2009. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Winchester: Zero Books).
Hardy, Cynthia, ‘‘Hard’ Decisions and ‘Tough’ Choices: The Business Approach to University Decline’, HE, 20, 3 (1990), 301-321.
Hill, Richard. 2012. Whackademia: An Insider’s Account of the Troubled University (Sydney: New South Publishing).
Jenkins, David. 1991. Price, Cost, Excellence and Worth – Can the idea of the University survive the force of the Market? (Colchester: The University of Essex).
Lyotard, Jean-François. 2004. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester: Manchester University Press).

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

Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Ruined Institution: The Production of ‘Excellence’ in Higher Education – Part 2


Image: Baird Point at the State University of New York
(referred to by Bill Readings in The University in Ruins)

By Fenella Brandenburg

Continued from Part 1

The idea of the student-consumer has become more significant since the public-funding cuts that followed the global recession beginning in 2008. The 2013 National Student Survey (NSS) asking students for feedback on whether their degree courses were ‘value for money’ resulted in 29% of them stating it was not (Public Finance 2013). This study coincided with the first group of British students (excluding Scotland) being subjected to the rise in course fees from approximately £3,000/year to up to £9,000/year. The study was criticised for asking the wrong question because it was placing the student solely as a consumer of a product that might be expected to be directly commensurate to some kind of financial gain (for instance, a graduate job), rather than providing a question based on knowledge gain. Hence, the question posed tends to encourage an answer in the negative. Nevertheless, one could argue that for the other 71% it was ‘value for money’, perhaps a higher result than might have been expected with such a significant course fee rise. However, the question itself reflects the trend to express the acquisition of knowledge through exchange-value rather than use-value.

Like academics, students are also subjected to university bureaucracy in the form of surveys that measure their teaching and service satisfaction at the micro and macro level. Mary Beard describes the lack of a response to the questionnaires by students as “survey-fatigue”, and in an article in the BBC news magazine looking at the pros and cons of student surveys, states that the problem with the student survey was that it was seen as an absolute measure of course quality, when actually students can mark courses down for a host of different reasons, such as extensive reading lists (Beard 2013).

However, the latest tuition fee rise and the other cuts in HE funding by the British government, appear under the popular media-generated term of ‘austerity measures’. In 1989 in an article entitled ‘The Management of Austerity in Higher Education: An International Comparison’ Manuel Crespo stated:
The management of higher education in a period of uncertainty, budgetary constraints and real or apprehended decline in enrolments has become a major issue in Western developed countries. Since the late seventies different HE systems have devised strategies to adapt themselves to shrinking resources. (1989: 373)
As the new British Prime Minister in 1997, Tony Blair hoped that 50% of young people would go to university. He stated that: “Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for HE” and “will not introduce ‘top-up’ fees and have legislated to prevent them” (Blair 2005). Nevertheless, later he was accused of reneging on this promise with many later media interviews hinging on the semantics of the above statements, especially the “no plans” reference (ibid.). It appeared that the structures and money were not in place in order to support Blair’s wishes. Neither were they at the point of the later 2010 coalition government in Britain, when the current, and greatest, course fee rise occurred. This response to public sector cutbacks in periods of austerity, while not a new money-saving strategy, nevertheless, in the contemporary university – which operates on the guidelines set out in the Jarratt (1985) and Dearing Reports (1997), where HE institutions are expected to operate like corporations – means that today they are evaluated primarily in economic terms.

Concluded in part 3 (upcoming).

Bibliography
Beard, Mary, ‘A Point of View: When Students Answer Back’, BBC News Magazine, (2013), [accessed 6 June 2013]
Blair, Tony, ‘Did Labour mislead over tuition fees?’, Channel 4, (2005), [accessed 7 June 2013]
Crespo, Manuel, ‘The Management of Austerity in Higher Education: An International Comparison’, Higher Education, 18, 4 (1989), 373-395.
Public Finance, ‘Degree Courses ‘Not Value For Money’ Say Third of Students’, Public Finance, (2013), [accessed 6 June 2013]

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

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The Ruined Institution: The Production of ‘Excellence’ in Higher Education – Part 1


By Fenella Brandenburg

In The University in Ruins (1996) Bill Readings says that it is ‘excellence’ in its manifest bureaucratic forms which is the driving force behind harnessing the university’s function of the past and in postmodernity placing it under the forces of the market (1999: 38): “Like the stock exchange, the University is a point of capital’s self-knowledge, of capital’s ability not just to manage risk or diversity but to extract a surplus value from the management” (1999: 40). The Research Excellence Framework (REF) and the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) are perfect manifestations of Reading’s critique in action.

Readings dedicates a whole chapter to the notion of ‘excellence’, which he considers to be the watchword of the contemporary corporatised university. Its effectiveness within the institutional apparatus cannot be underestimated and in order to deconstruct the university discourse it is important to understand the way excellence operates. For Readings, ‘excellence’ is a hollow term that has no absolute definition (1999: 24). He states: “An excellent boat is not excellent by the same criteria as an excellent plane” (1999: 24). A 2013 article in Times Higher Education mentioned “teaching jargon” and states: “despite repeated claims of ‘teaching excellence’ on institutions websites, there was little elaboration of what this meant in practice” (Matthews 2013: 8).

Readings also makes reference to how the consumer-orientation of the university ties in with technology, a large focus of Jean-François 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 ratio in matters of information” (1999: 39). Capitalism uses technology in order to circulate information and enable a pooling of resources into a “generalized market” (Readings 1999: 32). In the university it is the term ‘excellence’ that helps promote the propagation of this data and mobilise its message. Readings says ‘excellence’ becomes translatable and usable by anyone who wishes to describe it within any phenomenon, in whatever way they choose, by any criteria (1999: 24).

One of the functions of excellence is how it helps promote the processes of circulation essential to capital’s operation in regard to power. Previously, the nation-state sat in the centre of civic life and produced streams of power emanating outwards (the institution being one of the representatives of the nation-state). Readings says that today, however:

Capital no longer flows outward from the centre, rather it circulates around the circumference, behind the backs of those who keep their eyes firmly fixed on the center. Around the circumference, the global transfer of capital takes place in the hands of multi- or transnational corporations. (1999: 111)

What this means for the university is that in its corporate incarnation it is essential that it becomes part of this process and adopts the modes of operating that capitalism endorses.

Upon repeated use the language of the university of excellence becomes normalised, but it has ideological origins which are needed for it to function within the capitalist system, both within and outside the university. The language that excellence adopts, while serving the purposes of the corporatised university, also has the function of creating a type of abstraction, which removes the output of the system – the data that is promulgated – from not only the material practices that are required to deliver it, but also from the staff who work in the university and produce this data (or are party to producing the data). Thus, the term is often used without compunction, without question and without an understanding of the material effects of the process that underpins it.

Continued in Part 2

Bibliography
Matthews, David, ‘Global faculty made up of bachelor’s boys and girls’, Times HE, 19/26 December 2013, p. 8.

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

Saturday, 3 June 2017

'Anywhere', a new book by Phil Smith



Anywhere is the product of much wandering and writing and researching (about 20 years give or take a few months). For this, Phil Smith has drawn on walks and performances with groups like Wrights & Sites and GeoQuest and a longstanding fascination with the layers of terrain in South Devon, UK (which reach out far beyond its boundaries). In 2010 Triarchy Press published his Mythogeography in which he proposed an approach to exploring and performing the multiple layers of place; now, in Anywhere, for the first time, those principles are applied to make a sustained and intensive account of the mythogeography of a specific area. In order to get at its elusive layers and narratives, Phil has approached it through different authorial voices, pseudo-autobiography, fiction and personal immersion and mythologisation; there have been many journeys, sometimes lone, sometimes convivial.

If ‘mythogeography’ means anything – as a method that anyone can use anywhere – then it stands or falls by this book.
            
It can be ordered here through Triarchy Press.


Friday, 5 May 2017

Music, Affect and Old Fogeyness (Part 2)


Click here for part 1.

I have always been interested in aesthetics and taste in regard to music, and have noticed my own attraction to the style of music that tends to remind me of the that I liked when young. One example would be my love of Britpop and Indie in the 90s - a lot of it being influenced by psychedelia, for instance the more obvious music of Kula Shaker, but also early Blur’s There’s No Other Way (1991). Actually, this is one of the theories that I had assumed applied to our decline in regards to interest in contemporary popular music: that we were always pretty much going to like what influenced us most in our formative years. So the next two examples I am going to provide (both very current) relate to my (un-worked-through) theory above – we like the music that influenced us most when we were growing up – and the theory presented by Wallace in part 1 of the blog, what I have called the nothing-new-under-the-sun phenomenon.


After a sleepless early morning about a week ago, I turned on Radio 2 to the Phil Gayle 3.00-5.00am slot and heard the opening bars of a song that, in my half sleep, sounded familiar. Yet I was aware I didn’t actually know the song. I remember thinking: “This sounds like it might come from the early 1970s, but if it does how do I recognise it and yet not know it?”. Then I thought: “It sounds like Fleetwood Mac”. It turns out that it’s a new song by Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie: In My World (2017). Now, I’m not a big Fleetwood Mac fan, although I do own Rumours on vinyl (who doesn’t – right?) and love the ending of The Chain. I’m also not a big fan of female singers. So, I am making an assumption that there is something nostalgic about it that I am attracted to. Well, it now seems to be on the Radio 2 playlist, but I have also downloaded it. I really like it. I only download about 1 new single a year – so that’s testament to how much I like it, I guess.


My other example is a bit more unconventional, and also reflects Wallace’s discussion on newness. I was watching BBC2’s Later With Jools Holland last night (2nd May). The second song was by a band I had never heard of before: Future Islands, with the song Cave (I’ve included this link here to their official video, but try and watch the performance, which is key to my experience of it, on the Jools Holland link above if it is still available – the song starts at about 4.20). When their set appeared, I thought it looked reminiscent of The Pet Shop Boys, and certainly the opening synthpop bars were. But then the song starts and the lead singer, Samuel T. Herring, starts moving about the stage in a very peculiar way, singing in a voice that sounds like it might have been adopted by an actor playing a pirate in a 1930s black and white film! He growls, he punches his chest, he hits himself on the side of his head and he cries – this is really a passionate performance and is absolutely entrancing! It definitely fits Wallace’s description of the experiences of newness that are much more commonplace in our youth, as I have never seen anything like this before. So, maybe I’m not quite the old fogey I thought I was…
“All those unapologetic old fogeys willing to take a stand and denounce the music of today have a lot more in common with the youth than someone like me. At least the fogeys are willing to trust their instincts, finding their kicks where they find them, and never minding the places they don’t.” (Lary Wallace)

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Music, Affect and Old Fogeyness (Part 1)


There was an interesting article in Aeon in April about how our music tastes change as we age: ‘Now That Was Music’ by Lary Wallace. He says: “One grim day (when youth is over) you find that new music gets on your nerves. But why do our musical tastes freeze over?” It is something I’ve often thought of and, actually, I think I did quite well to last till I was 42. I remember it was then because it coincided with the time I left London, although I think geography was only a tangential connection. The author also lasted till he was 40 years old, which is interesting and may reflect the fact he is a music writer and, therefore, engaged in music (like the musicians he mentions who he says seem to be “immune”). Wallace actually thinks the decline of interest tends to begin in one’s thirties.

In this two-part post I will be providing two past musical experiences in order to work through my own affective responses in this regard, and two contemporary examples.

One of the key points the above article makes is that “our inability to appreciate new music” is connected to our ability to “experience surprise” and therefore a “sense of wonder”. As we age, we encounter less new experiences. I would describe it as the nothing-new-under-the-sun phenomenon. So, firstly I’d like to provide a couple of examples of the sense of wonder in regards to music from my youth. The fact I can remember them still today – and they both go back to the 1970s – means they must have had a major musical impact. Both involve me seeing these musicians on Top of the Pops for the first time.


The first was the Electric Light Orchestra’s 10538 Orchestra (1972). ELO looked, and sounded, like a rather strange and magical orchestra. I had never seen anything like this on Top of the Pops before. Although, it probably wasn’t a surprise that I would like the music, being a The Move fan previously. It wasn’t just how they looked that captivated me in that moment (although I do remember that well), but how they sounded – like an orchestra (hence the band and song title name). One of the comments under the video on Youtube echoes my own experience: “This is the track (1971 I think) off the original Electric Light Orchestra album that totally hooked me on ELO all those years ago....and I'm still playing that original old worn out vinyl...and here we are in 2015, and I'm in my sixties and still hooked...oh god that's good music....” (cogidubnus1953).


The other example is seeing Ian Dury and the Blockheads perform Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (1978) for the first time. It wasn’t just Dury in his tight white T-shirt, stretched over his thin chest, with his impractical sunglasses – although that all added to the mystique. Nor was it just his unusual way of singing-speaking, with his strong undisguised Essex accent. It was also that brilliant intro with the discordant piano riff. I really hadn’t seen anything like that before.

Also, I particularly liked the way Dury moved, which was strange and yet compelling (remember Ian Curtis from Joy Division and his strange dancing). Dury was particularly un-self-conscious. It seemed to me that he was totally absorbed in the music and, if it was a performance, it came across as something much more natural than that. He seemed blasé about his appearance and unconventional movements. He also made guttural noises that couldn’t be described as singing at all (I’ll return to this in part 2). This was probably the strangest and most captivating performance I had seen on Top of the Pops, ever!

Part 2 will look at some contemporary affective musical responses.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Down the Rabbit Hole or Reflections on Post-Truth Reality (Part 2)


Part 2: How Can We Challenge ‘Truth’ Today?

By Fenella Brandenburg

For Part 1 of the blog, please click here: Are We Really in a Post-Truth World?

Do we need to give up on the idea of truth, or revealing it, since the ‘rules’ appear to have so drastically changed? I would like to attempt to answer this question under the rubric of poststructural theory. I believe we have to constantly rethink our strategies in order to challenge those in power, because complex environments require well thought out approaches. I’m not convinced that those undertaken in the 60s and 70s will work today, whether they are activist in nature, or operate on analysing the textual instead, such as discourse analysis or deconstruction. I don’t mean that they have no value, I mean that if all bets are off in terms of the value attached to what truth is (and we are not just talking about what truth is or not here, but also the recognition that truth has less purchase and to some is completely irrelevant), then maybe we should not look at what is being said, but look at something much more fundamental to that, who we are and what our place is in the world. I propose to do this by using Gilles Deleuze’s theory of The Fold (1993).

Deleuze uses Leibniz’s theory on the Baroque (the folded subject) to help explain the position of the individual: the subject is perspectival, it is its point of view and represents a particular moment. Deleuze explains how the Baroque differentiates two forms of folding: material and soul that exist on the two levels of Baroque architecture - matter on the lower, and soul on the upper - where each floor is labyrinthine, extending to infinity (2006: 3). However, these two floors are connected, and Deleuze suggests this connection is formed by another fold (2006: 4), thus there exists a means of communication. On the surface of a fold there is the means whereby a point can develop producing a singularity (when discussing Leibniz, Deleuze uses ‘singularity’ to describe the perception of movement). This is a point of inflection (the place on the curve where the tangent crosses it), what Deleuze describes as an “elastic point” (2006:15). These inflections are potentially innumerable and become available perspectival positions. This folding, created by inflection, creates an “envelope of inherence” and Deleuze explains that this inclusiveness simultaneously creates the fold at the moment the fold forms this inherence (2006: 24).

Thus, we have the process of aggregation in the folding: the folding creating the force of inclusion, but at the same time this incorporation is forming a fold around that which has been gathered up. Deleuze explains what this means for the soul described by Leibniz (what occurs on the upper floor): this windowless floor, covered with drapery, is inclusive to the point where the process of enveloping is so encompassing that a soul is formed (ibid.). This is not a place, exactly, nor entirely a point of view, but “what occupies point of view, …a soul, a subject” (ibid.). In this process of inclusion, which concurrently forms the fold, it becomes apparent how an inside can be formed from an outside: the windowless floor, defining the soul for Leibniz, creates an intact subject, a soul attached to a body (matter).


So what does this model provide us with in terms of explicating the problem of post-truth?

We can now begin to see how our sense of self-hood, which appears to be inside us, actually comes from the outside and is formed in a little pocket we conveniently call our ‘self’. The normally polarised inside and outside become connected in the model of the fold, therefore contradictory terms become reconcilable: truth/lie, us/them, and so on. The outside, therefore, is found on the inside, the other is in myself, and the answer to the unthinkable paradox of what truth is, is in thought itself.

This has multiple benefits in regard to our problem at hand. The fold, whilst forming an envelope which situates the subject at that point of view, in its act of folding over also enables that subject to see itself. The subject can be self-reflective (and reflexive), can see its place in the world and has agency in terms of moving their perspective (by simply moving along the fold). Also, it means that what may present itself as impossibility (for example, a paradox such as how can the truth be a lie), is not separate from the understandable, but actually contained in it, and formed as a fold of it….

Please note: I have been invited to give a joint talk at the Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography in September 2017 with David Bollinger. While Dr Bollinger and I have had some academic differences in the past, and some not-so-academic differences, we are attempting to get past these in order to present a lecture at this year’s congress.

Bibliography:
Deleuze, Gilles. 2006. The Fold. Trans. by Tom Conley (London and New York: Continuum).

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Genii Loci: Discovering the Spirits of Place


By John Reppion

I was lucky enough to grow up on the borderland of the modern world; the South-West tip of Liverpool where a haunted Tudor mansion house and the grave of a giant were as easily reached as the abandoned synthetic resins factory and boarded up secondary school I spent so many of pre and early teenage days hanging round. All of these places already had their stories but all of us added our own layers of narrative and meaning just by being there. I became fascinated with the idea of being able to physically enter a story at a young age, although I never thought of it quite in that way. I just knew I wanted to be near the enormous grave of The Childe of Hale surrounded by crumbling skull-and-crossboned tombstones, to stand in awe before the mammoth, and to my young mind wholly terrifying, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. These places were gateways to the trans-mundane; ‘thin places’ where the barrier between the natural and the supernatural, between the now and the past, seemed permeable. In these places I was able to walk on and in and through history, through stories, and to commune with the characters from those narratives.

Since I began my writing career in 2003 this idea of narrative embedded in locations has been a big part of my work whether it be my fiction, or my essay and article writing. To some extent all this culminated in April 2016 when I put on a one day event here in Liverpool entitled Spirits of Place. Myself and eight guest speakers met at Calderstones Mansion house, in the heart of Liverpool’s Calderstones Park, and gave a series of talks on topics ranging from archaeology, to literature, to history, to magick. Every talk took its cue from the location – many delving back as far as the neolithic tomb whose remains lend their name to the park itself. The event was a success and I was asked by Daily Grail Publishing if I’d be interested in turning Spirits of Place into a book. I was, of course, excited by the idea but soon realised that the book would need to be a completely different beast to the event.

I took the core concept and broadened the scope. Instead of pinning down one specific location, I decided it would be more interesting to open the book up completely, allowing contributors to write about anywhere in the world (indeed, in the case of futurist Mark Pesce, about the virtual world). I admit that I am a white, middle-aged Englishman, but even so I felt that it would also be nice to hear from people other than that group which is perhaps somewhat over represented in this particular field. Likewise, I felt that London was a city whose psychogeography has already been tackled amply elsewhere. With these few guidelines in place I drew up a list of writers who I thought could offer some interesting and unique perspectives on the intersection between landscape and narrative.

One of those writers was Kristine Ong Muslim: an author, poet and translator who still lives in the same rural town in Maguindanao, southern Philippines, where she grew up. Her piece in the book is entitled “Agonies and Enchantments” and deals with the spirits – metaphorical and otherwise –
of her childhood as much as anything. Recently I emailed to ask her about her choice of subject matter and the way she handled it. 

“In a remote small town such as the one I’ve been living in for most of my life, the family unit accurately represents the condensed version of an interlocking, often times dysfunctional, aggregated whole. It helps that when Western colonial influence infiltrated an area such as ours, the infiltration was minimal, thus some indigenous practices survived to this day. There was also relatively less bastardization and demonization of certain pagan beliefs. In this little town, almost everyone knows each other. Almost everyone knows whose husband is screwing another person’s wife, who you can turn to if you need ‘magic water’ to make someone stop falling in love, and so on and so forth. So when I wrote about my family and childhood, I am effectively writing about the entire small community in this part of the world.”

Spirits of Place also features essays from: Alan Moore, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, Warren Ellis, Gazelle Amber Valentine, Iain Sinclair, Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, Vajra Chandrasekera, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Dr. Joanne Parker, and Damien Williams. It is available to order now from spiritsofplace.com

Bio:
John Reppion has written articles for the likes of Fortean Times, and dailygrail.com. His day job is scripting comics with his wife and writing partner Leah Moore. John’s prose fiction has been published by the likes of PS Publishing, Ghostwoods Books, and Swan River Press. His website is moorereppion.com and he can be found on Twitter @johnreppion

Friday, 24 February 2017

Terminalia 2017: A Geographer's Account

Terminus - The God of Boundary Markers
Terminalia
by Andy Turner

1. Introduction

1.1. Metadata

1.2. Contents

2. Background

3. 2017-02-23

3.1. Do all things have a beginning and an end? An exploration into linking things together

  • So another year passes and I pick up to some extent where I left off near South Gate by The Adelphi just South of the river.
  • Before that I had a happy dérive over water under train with an old map of the bounds and some chance meetings by waterhouse place not far from old haunts and new.

IMAG1640[1].jpg

4. References