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Here’s a list of previous sessions with links to a description and audio recording:
(At this point the Culture, Power, Politics series effectively merges with the ‘Introduction to Cultural Studies’ course)
The Right to the City: politics, place and policy in neoliberal London
PFI: The Financialisation of Everything
Spring / Summer 2019 Series
All of the audio recordings for this series can be found at the podcast page
The most reliable predictor of how a person was likely to vote in the 2017 UK General Election, or the 2016 Brexit referendum, or the 2016 US presidential election, was age. Is the generation gap now the definitive dividing line in contemporary politics? And what is a ‘generation’ anyway? How do historic events like the 2008 financial crisis produce distinctive ‘generational’ experiences? Is ‘generational politics’ just a reactionary frame way of looking at things?
Representing 3 generations of activism and commentary, Dawn Foster, author of Lean Out, Keir Milburn, author of Generation Left and Lynne Segal, author of Out of Time: The Pleasures and The Perils of Ageing, Radical Happiness: Moments of Collective Joy and many other works will discuss.
The Deserving Rich? Elite Culture and the Myth of Meritocracy
What do the members of today’s ruling elite think they are doing, and why? What stories do they tell themselves, and us, to justify their right to rule? Why has almost every senior politician since the 1980s promised to increase ‘social mobility’, and why have they failed?
Aeron Davis, author of Reckless Opportunists: Elites at the End of the Establishment and Jo Littler, author of Against Meritocracy: Culture, Power and Myths of Mobility will discuss this and other issues in the class culture of modern Britain.
Digital Politics in the Twenty-First Century
As the world moves online, politics does too. Despite anxieties about the dangers and limitations of ‘clicktivism’, online organising has become an indispensable tool for actors on every part of the political spectrum: from independent activists to major political parties. Hacking, open-source development, mobile telephony, piracy and cryptography are indispensable tools for activists all over the world, and for individuals and communities facing power-imbalances of any kind. What are the implications for democracy and citizenship in the 21st century, and what should we be doing about it?
We’ll be discussing all this with Alex Worrad-Andrews, software-engineer and founder member of Common Knowledge (a workers cooperative dedicated to building digital infrastructure for grassroots non-representational politics), Paolo Gerbaudo, author of The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy; Amit S. Rai, author of Jugaad Time: Ecologies of Everyday Hacking in India; and Emma Rees, one of the founders and first national organisers of Momentum.
Whose Empowerment? Feminism, Neoliberalism and Nationalism
Once an insurgent movement against patriarchy, feminism now finds itself occupying a far more complex position in the world. Powerful institutions, major corporations and almost all political parties – even the nationalist, xenophobic right – routinely pay lip-service to the goal of sexual equality. What are we to make of all this, and what remains to be done in the pursuit of women’s liberation? We’ll discuss these questions and more with Sarah Banet-Weiser, author of Empowered: Popular Feminism and Popular Misogyny, and Sara Farris, author of In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism.
The People vs The Media: Power and Democracy in the Public Sphere
The institutions of the modern media are supposed to serve the public interest: entertaining, educating and informing to the betterment of all. We all know that isn’t how it works. So what can we do about it? How can we challenge the concentration of information in the hands of the 1%? What does democracy mean in an era of fake news and billion-user platforms controlled by single individuals? We’ll discuss these questions and many other with Natalie Fenton, author of Digital, Political, Radical and Tom Mills, author of The BBC: The Myth of a Public Service.
After Work: The Fight for Free Time
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the world of work has been the central political battleground. What work is, who has to do it, who gets to do it and who gets rewarded for it are the most fundamental issues not just for trade-unionists and economists: but for feminists, artists, parents, teachers and, everyone else. The reduction of the working week, the reduction of the dependence of workers on their wages, has been a central objective of progressive reform and revolutionary struggle throughout that period. Today, in an age of dual-income families and blurring boundaries between workplace and home, the question of what work gets done in the home, by whom and when – and of how to reduce the load for everyone – has never been more urgent.
We’ll discuss the nature of work and social reproduction, and the possibilities of a future free from work, with Helen Hester, author of Xenofeminism, and Nick Srnicek, author of Platform Capitalism and Inventing the Future.
The War on Drugs: Race, Class, Colonialism and the Politics of Pleasures
It is now a matter of historical record that when Nixon and his aides officially launched their ‘war on drugs’ in the late 1960s, their express intention was to criminalise black radicalism and the counterculture. But the link between racism and the drug war goes back much further than that: the prohibition of recreational drug use has been founded on explicit racism since the early 20th century. In a longer historical context, the story gets even weirder. The ‘opium wars’ of the mid 19th century were fought by Britain to force China to accept imports of opium from British-controlled India. At the same time, generations of white bohemians have embraced drugs as a technology of self-transformation at least since the days of Coleridge and Byron.
What are the implications of this history for understanding the politics of prohibition and drug use today? How does the fightback agains the ‘war on drugs’ intersect with the politics of Black Lives matter? What would a radical, rational and democratic approach to the use and regulation of drugs in the 21st century look like? We’ll discuss these and other issues with Kojo Koram, editor of The War on Drugs and the Global Colour Line; Mike Jay, author of High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture & Mescaline: a Global History of the First Psychedelic; Jeremy Gilbert, author of Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in an Age of Individualism and Debra Benita Shaw, author of Posthuman Urbanism: Mapping Bodies in Contemporary City Space.
As our contribution to Antiuniversity Now 2019, June 15-22nd, we’ll have not one but two seminars this week
Vitruvian Mantology: Architecture and Posthuman Politics
Vitruvian Man, Leonardo’s perfectly proportioned human based on the recommendations of a Roman architect who thought that strong and stable (and beautiful) buildings would guarantee a strong and stable state, still provides the template for architectural design. What this suggests is not only that the built environment is designed to privilege able bodied white males but that architecture is, in itself, inherently political. This seminar will address the politics of space from the position of critical posthumanism in which Vitruvian Man stands for the exemplary human that no body can approximate. If we entertain the idea that we have never been human, then new possibilities emerge for thinking the politics of the social as it is constructed in urban space.
June 19th (WEDNESDAY)
Britain’s Nervous Breakdown: What is Actually Happening?
With Will Davies, and Jeremy Gilbert
What on Earth is happening to British politics, culture and society? Has the Brexit crisis been the inevitable outcome of 40 years of decline, or a wholly avoidable consequence of incompetent governance, exacerbated by a few duplicitous millionaires? Is the internet a powerful new tool of democratic engagement, or is it just driving everyone crazy, spreading fake news and stoking paranoia? Have postmodern societies become completely ungovernable? And if they have, should we care? Is liberal democracy finished, and if not, is it worth trying to save? Is neoliberalism in a terminal phase, or is it more powerful than ever? Could we end up with our own version of Trump in power? Would it make things any worse if we did?
These and other topics will be discussed by Will Davies, author of The Limits of Neoliberalism and Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World and Jeremy Gilbert, author of Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in an Age of Individualism.
(Sadly Angela McRobbie can’t take part as previously advertised).
June 26th (Wednesday)
Presented in Association with #ACFM – the Home of the Weird Left
Since the 1990s, Erik Davis has been charting the multiple interfaces between consciousness-expansion, technological trickery, drug cultures and social change: in books such as Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information, Visionary State and Nomad Codes, and on his pathbreaking podcast Expanding Mind.
Erik’s new book High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica and Visionary Experience in the Seventies is a study of the spiritual provocations to be found in the work of Philip K. Dick, Terence McKenna, and Robert Anton Wilson. High Weirdness charts the emergence of a new psychedelic spirituality that arose from the American counterculture of the 1970s. These three authors changed the way millions of readers thought, dreamed, and experienced reality—but how did their writings reflect, as well as shape, the seismic cultural shifts taking place in America?
In High Weirdness, Erik Davis—America’s leading scholar of high strangeness—examines the published and unpublished writings of these vital, iconoclastic thinkers, as well as their own life-changing mystical experiences. Davis explores the complex lattice of the strange that flowed through America’s West Coast at a time of radical technological, political, and social upheaval to present a new theory of the weird as a viable mode for a renewed engagement with reality.
In this wide-ranging discussion, Erik will introduce some key themes and discoveries from his crucial excavation of our countercultural history, discussing with Debbie and Jem the legacy of the radical 70s, the perils of the psychedelic mysteries, and the politics of the weird.
The Costs of Connection: How Data is Colonising Human Life and Appropriating it for Capitalism
Just about any social need is now met with an opportunity to “connect” through digital means. But this convenience is not free-it is purchased with vast amounts of personal data transferred through shadowy backchannels to corporations using it to generate profit. Colonialism might seem like a thing of the past, but in their new book, The Costs of Connection, Nick Couldry and Ulises Mejias show that the historic appropriation of land, bodies, and natural resources is mirrored today in this new era of pervasive datafication. Apps, platforms, and smart objects capture and translate our lives into data, and then extract information that is fed into capitalist enterprises and sold back to us. Nick and Ulises argue that this development foreshadows the creation of a new social order emerging globally: and that it must be challenged. In this session they’ll present their diagnosis and their prescriptions for this dangerous new condition of ‘data colonialism’.