Occupying, thinking and learning by Chris Yuill
12 January 2012 1 Comment
The Occupy London camp outside St Pauls fired up the political agenda throughout 2011. It brought attention to a range of problems associated with global capital, and the wealth and power inequalities that flow from what has been characterised as the elite 1% . There are two observations I’ll make here after a day visit to the camp late last year. Firstly, the actual space in which the camp sits outside St Pauls in The City of London. The troubling idiosyncrasies of which have been charted by George Monbiot, but sociologically The City provides a case study par excellence of Lefebvre’s ideas of how capital represents and produces urban space to meet its own ends. This is not the London that most people know, presented in Eastenders or countless popular songs, but a space apart from the rest of London, plugged into the global financial flows as a generator of capital, as Sassens has discussed at length, and which operates on a different set of rules from other parts of the UK. It is, however, the second point about Occupy London that I want to bring to the fore.
Tucked-in amid the various tents and shelters there is the Tent City University (TCU). As a venue it has hosted a variety of talks, lectures and workshops given by a variety of people, academics and activists. When I visited the camp at the tale end of last year, Richard Wilkinson was in full flow illustrating his ideas on inequality with his trademark graphs. The actual talk was not much different from the one he gave at the BSA Equality lecture, where he outlined his thesis on the relationships between income inequality and various social problems, but both the context and reception were very different. It was all much more immediate and alive. The various institutions, for instance, that lie behind the growth in income inequality that Wilkinson has charted were situated literally metres away. But it was also how the talk was received that was interesting, despite squatting on the hard stone cobbles and loose remnants of carpet. There was a buzz of interest and keen debate that often can be lacking in the more formal settings of academia; perhaps a situation close to how Fromm describes learning and education in the ‘being’ mode of his ‘being/ having’ schema, where for students ‘listening is an alive process’ and where ‘new questions, new ideas, new perspectives arise in their minds’.
As with much of what LSX is trying to achieve by raising questions and pointing to new possibilities, the existence of the TCU can help us reflect on the state of contemporary education and university life. Critiques of the neo-liberal incursion into the academy are multiple and I won’t repeat them here, but what the TCU gave me on that day was a very brief but fleeting glimpse of how the experience of education could be; where the textures of learning were not wrapped up in second-hand business models, where active students are not reduced into passive consumers and where the learning was about ideas and thinking.
Chris Yuill, Robert Gordon University