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Pesky students

I’ve yet to make up my mind about the protests of the last few weeks. I watched the first live courtesy of a hyperactive BBC news channel, which probably gave a vastly distorted view of everything, and have been keeping up with – if not participating in – the rest of events. As a slightly bolshy leftist I broadly agree with Marx’s tenet that education should be free: I dislike the way it’s become a marketised social cost that must be repaid, when a good education is really a social benefit – that’s not really a radical viewpoint. Nevertheless, I think what’s been missed by the angry students and socialist agitators is that a lot of the education that’s affected is not all that good, not necessarily fit for purpose.

I don’t agree with charging any student nine grand per year to study. It’s too much burden to place on a teenager who isn’t really sure what they’re doing. I don’t agree with a graduate tax when a loan can be paid off and not hang over the student forever.

Having been both a student and an education administrator of late, I’m pretty familiar with HE: what’s needed is not necessarily to make undergraduate degrees more accessible to all, but to make education more appropriate to need and ability. So: students who are academically-able should be able to go to do a literate, academic degree at a university of their choice, and should have the same access whatever background they’re from. But many students would be better suited to vocational courses, or training, or apprenticeships, or something similar, and this is what is sorely lacking. Hiking fees and cutting university funding is NOT the way to solve the problem: it needs a more root-and-branch approach.



I’ve been studying geography for the last year. I’ve looked at gentrification many times, planning and development, the philosophies of Marx, of Foucault, of Friedman, urban policy in Paris, Rio, London, the Chicago School’s  models and the LA School’s opposing models, the whys and wherefores of quantitative and qualitative research, focus groups and internet surveys, public engagement and civic ownership, encouraging low-emission lifestyles and a lot more. I am only now looking at a map, and that’s one I have to make for myself. So much for geography being degree-level colouring in.

Off to see America

I have above my desk in my new working environs an A0, canvas map of North America from 1955. It’s not for inspirational purposes or anything, it’s just that we found it in a secondhand bookshop in Saffron Walden, and I like maps. Need to know the distance of the shipping route between Galveston and Key West? Victoria, BC and Yokohama? San Francisco to New Orleans via Cape Horn*? The elevation of Mt McKinley, Mt Popocatepetl or Death Valley**? Or the notable cities of Baffin Island 55 years ago***?

Maps are great. Once I’ve written my dissertation and handed it in; and got married; and moved house again; maybe I’ll head to the British Library’s nice looking exhibition.

* 746, 4200, 13,727 respectively
** 20,300, 17,887, -280 respectively
*** there isn’t any


Prior to taking my course, my experience of research involved mostly googling bands and transcribing Pixies songs on a crack copy of Sibelius for my undergraduate dissertation. But I’m a social scientist now, and apparently my trade has tools. I found the methods course fairly uninspiring when actually taking it, but having worked out how to write an essay again I managed to work out that, actually, it was pretty useful and now I’m looking for a job, maybe invaluable.

I’m looking at a job at the IPPR – reading carefully, this may just be the exact job that I could hope for. Reading the job description, I suddenly discover that I am in possession of knowledge and skills to do it – quantitative or qualitative, archival research or focus groups, postal survey or semi-structured interview, desk-based or fieldwork. I discover that I  know about the subject, and care about it – I can argue my case for redistributive welfare, green industrial growth, renewable energy; or against neoliberal ideas of big society which may work for the majority of the population, but make the most vulnerable even more vulnerable; or for democratic participation and individual and community representation at all levels. I have my views and I can do the leg-work to prove it: I’m actually pretty pleased, it’s easy to get bogged down doing a Masters, as if it were for its own sake.

And breathe.

I’ve started half a hundredweight of new posts recently and not had the time to finish them off. Hence, a quick review of the last month or so.

Election came and went, and I don’t know if I got carried away by the touchy-feeliness of it all but I don’t hate it yet. It depresses me slightly that the main policies that the government have announced so far are mostly significantly to the left of Labour: hopefully this will change if a good candidate gets in as leader (we’re talking not tainted too much by Blair/Brown affiliations). All fairly good on green things, social justice (even with IDS), but I’m holding my breath slightly for George ‘Evil’ Osbourne’s input – then we’ll see the true face of the decentralisation of state that’s promised.

Allotment is looking slightly choked with overgrown grass at the moment, but not for long; this week it’ll be getting a strim. Firstfruits have duly been picked, some peppery and multicoloured radishes. Squashes, potatoes, corn, lettuce, peppers, peas and beans are all on their way.

Workload is crammed high right now: I’ve just had my first exam since 2003 (it was fine, I think, although I distrust the Breton marking it); all my bumph from my internship is due in on Thursday (a good experience overall, and pretty interesting in the context of my course); currently mired in dissertation literature review, but it’s no bad thing – this morning I’ll be biking up to Wood Green Library to read Marx, Hobsbawm, Stedman Jones and more Marxist history – class discrimination is no dead thing, apparently.

I’m Leaving Home: one housemate is leaving, so the rest of us are moving too – out of Noel Park (on the subject of which, I drove around the sister estate (and related subject to my dissertation) Queen’s Park last night – entirely cuter and better kept up than NP), probably to Tottenham or the ‘Stow. Major announcements imminent.

History is nothing but the actions of men in pursuit of their ends.

There’s lots of terms I’ve been cheerfully bandying about over the last few weeks: post-politics, the death of conflict in the political world; the new public management, or the corporatisation of public services; governmentality, a Foucauldian intervention, “the conduct of conduct” by government; elitism/pluralism, or how the world is governed; cosmopolitanism, the positive disconnectedness associated with our ‘second modernity’. I could go on. It’s been satisfying to go through a course at university and discover that, in doing the assessment, everything ties together.

I’ve been pursuing an elective course on the governance of the sustainable city, and it’s been by far the most organised thing I’ve studied so far. Everything in it’s place, discrete topics every week, and yet they come together really satisfyinglyin this assessment of the current position of the political state. So I’ve been off (as well as doing a million other things at once) arguing the case that the idea of government by consensus, partnership etc. is a sham and a front, and I find myself right in the middle of it on an internship. Government by general consent is an appealing concept on some levels: include as many as you can so you don’t exclude any opinion, consult consult consult… yet everything’s dictated from the top. It’s quite impressive. It’s been good to see this in practice, and it’s been firmly consolidating me in my political standpoint. Yes I’m still somewhat a Bevanite, but when it boils down to it I’m a reluctant, partial, neo/post/whatever Marxist. The old beardy man had some sensible things to say, and they’re a bit inescapable.


My shoulder’s still not particularly 100% for some reason, but it’s good enough that I can head in to my class with a very Gallic political waffler today. I’ll continue with David Harvey on the way in, no doubt, but at the moment I’m juggling all sorts of philosophies and arguments in my head for a very busy March. 1) Prepare post-Marxist analytical framework to critique the World Bank in Croatia. 2) Sublimate Slavoj Zizek, Chantal Mouffe and Erik Swyngedouw into a coherent assessment of post-politicism. 3) Research the use of home energy assessments in meeting carbon reduction targets. All by yesterday pretty much.

So predictably I went looking for Street View instead, and found that 96% of the country is now covered. So, you can see where I grew up, and some of my favourite holiday destinations (we have here the west of Scotland, the Yorkshire Dales, the West Cornwall moors, the green lanes of the South Hams, and my ultimate childhood destination, Caswell Bay on the Gower, which still looks exactly as I remember it, twenty years ago.