Tag Archives: cultures of peace

Keynote lecture, Iberian Association for Cultural Studies, University of Murcia, 2 October

IBACS_logoI’m very much looking forward to giving a keynote lecture this week, at the 16th International Culture and Power Conference, which is being held from October 2-4, hosted by IBACS (the Iberian Association for Cultural Studies) and the English Department at the University of Murcia, Spain. Here is a little information about the conference (the full programme’s here):

The conference’s special topic will be SPACE. The 16th Culture and Power conference seeks to respond to the growing importance of space, spatial analysis, and localization in cultural studies. While locating cultural practice in concrete geographical and social coordinates has been a constant in the field, the last two decades have witnessed an extraordinary expansion in the ways space has been explored and made to signify in relation to such different social categories as: gender and sexuality; race and ethnicity; region, nation, and globalisation; the real and the virtual. Likewise, location and ground, as well as notions of public and private memory, history, deep and slow time, cultural and media archaeologies, and storytelling have all become essential to more traditional temporal concerns.

Resistance is Fertile / COMPOST CAPITALISM banner, OCCUPY, Oakland Port USA shutdown 2011

Resistance is Fertile / COMPOST CAPITALISM banner, OCCUPY, Oakland Port USA shutdown 2011

I’m giving the opening plenary on Wednesday, and my title is ‘Polemic space, protest, and the garden’. From my introduction (though I don’t like the inelegantly contradictory ‘larger … sub-project’ phrase and may change it): ‘In the terms of this conference, it’s a matter of looking at an uncool, apparently apolitical social-cultural space and practice—the public or private garden, the dirty seasonal act of gardening—and asking questions about where aspects of power manifest themselves in there, and / or are hidden, challenged, subverted. It’s also to acknowledge that this particular book [Radical Gardening] is a very small part of the larger cultural studies sub-project to disseminate our hard-earned, threatened (it feels, from a British university perspective, at least) knowledge about, say, the operations, achievements, history of culture as critique and as engine of social justice to as wide an audience as we can.’

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Crass and anarcho-punk symposium, June 28 2013

No Sir, I Won’tReconsidering the Legacy of Crass and Anarcho-punk

Friday 28 June 2013

Organised by Oxford Brookes’ Popular Music Research Unit (PMRU)

in association with the Network of Punk Scholars (NPS)

Stations of the Crass, patch30 years since legendary anarcho-punk group Crass released their highly challenging LP Yes Sir, I Will, this symposium will explore the impact and long-lasting legacy of Crass and anarcho-punk. Crass are widely perceived as ‘reluctant leaders’ of the anarcho-punk scene; an ironic title for self-proclaimed anarchists, of course. The central question, for this study day, is: were Crass and anarcho-punk scene significantly effective politically or, alternatively, was the anarcho-punk scene surreptitiously more about clothes, music, image and ‘symbolic rebellion’ (to use Adorno’s term)?

Newspaper articles, journalist/fan publications and a growing body of scholarly work on Crass and the anarcho-punk music scene has been keen to celebrate the fact that such groups sold many thousands of records (more than a million in total in Crass’s case, reportedly), contributed substantially to the rise of anarchistic strategies on the Left and the revitalization of CND in the UK, drew the attention of the UK establishment including the House of Commons and were eventually prosecuted under the Obscene Publications [A]ct.

Recent scholarly work on punk has challenged classic academic accounts of punk such as Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Querying the legitimacy of such accounts has been a specific intention of the nascent Network of Punk Scholars, for example. This symposium, however, would offer a counter-challenge to post-Hebdigean scholars: what is the meaning and politics of punk? What have bands such as Crass done, beyond the ‘bricolage’ which Hebdige describes? What are (were) the limits to their efficacy as agitators? Was/is anarcho-punk really about more than music? If so, was music the best possible vehicle for the forms of agitation which Crass undertook?

Within the study day, in addition to presentations from members of the Punk Network of Scholars and any other interested parties, an afternoon panel combines the views of Penny Rimbaud (the vociferous drummer of Crass), Sarah MacHenry (Crass fan, 1in12 member and ex-Witchknot/Curse of Eve drummer) and George McKay (author of Senseless Acts of Beauty, discussing examples of correspondences he had with Crass in the early 1980s).

Themes for papers might include (but are not limited to):

  • Penny Rimbaud and George McKay in conference discussion, Salford 2008

    Penny Rimbaud and George McKay in conference discussion, Salford 2008

    Specific discussions of Crass

  • Discussions of other bands from the anarcho-punk milieu
  • Comparisons between anarcho-punk and other punk sub-genres
  • Anarcho-punk as a subculture
  • Anarcho-punk as a political ‘culture of resistance’
  • Continuities between hippies, punks, ‘eco-warriors’, ravers and so on
  • Music versus Politics
  • Anarchism versus Marxism
  • Underground versus Mainstream
  • Pacifism versus Violence.

The deadline for proposals for papers is Monday 15 April.

The symposium will be free of charge and will run all day. A free lunch will be provided. However, spaces are limited and interest is expected to be high so it is recommended that you book a place early to avoid disappointment. Those interested in giving a paper or wanting to book a place should contact Dr. Pete Dale at Oxford Brookes  University, pdale@brookes.ac.uk c/o School of Arts, Richard Hamilton Building, Headington Hill, OX3 0BP. Please do not hesitate to contact Pete if you are at all interested in this symposium event.

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CND and the Sex Pistols open the 2012 Olympics

… and Glastonbury Tor transplanted from the West Country, Williams Shakespeare and Blake, marching Suffragettes waving banners, nurses and the National Health Service—that’s socialism in the public sector, currently under threat—Windrush migrants from the Caribbean, Critical Mass demonstrators arrested outside the stadium. I am amazed that such an event should present a version of Britain I can actually recognise. And Evelyn Glennie (disabled) percussing, and Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ for the British team’s processing, and 500 construction workers—the people who built the stadium—involved, probably some of whom were scaffolders like my saxophonist father.

Sex Pistols lyric projected on the house (left), CND symbol formed by dancers (right): music and politics at the Olympics 2012 opening ceremony

In the bonkers (slang—mad, crazy; © Dizzee Rascal) world of British history we got in the opening ceremony I was impressed most by a moment when the young people dancing formed a peace symbol, or, more accurately, formed the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament symbol from 1958, while, jumping a couple of decades (there was a lot of that), a record of the Sex Pistols played. We’d heard a fragment of Johnny Rotten (disabled) singing ‘God Save the Queen’ already—a fab moment itself, for anyone of my generation, who’d seen the band in 1977—but now it was ‘Pretty vacant’ (with its notorious chorus that has Rotten sounding ‘va-CUNT’).

We care (CND), and we don’t ca-are (Pistols). Brilliant.

[PS btw the day did indeed start at 8.12 am with me ringing a handbell outside the front  door, my participation in Martin Creed’s Work No. 1197, ‘All the bells…’]

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Manchester Salon: a public forum for engaging and debating ideas

Salon Discussions

Crafts and gardening: the new frontiers of radicalism?

Monday 19 September 2011 (Import into Outlook)

Kate Day, Professor George McKay, Barbara Hastings-Asatourian and Rob Lyons will discuss the impact crafts and gardening are having in society.

Kate DayThe current wave of interest in craft, and in particular in the process of making things for yourself, surely has its roots in recent social, political, and economic developments. It is often argued that the fashion for creative activity can be regarded as a backlash against an increasingly virtual and corporate world that promotes the passive consumer – albeit a Web 2.0 one. Alongside the grow-your-own allotment movement, the make-your-own approach enables craft participants to experience shaping their material world, creating objects that have an individual stamp and a narrative in their production. Is this just a repeat of the rural craft revival of the 1970s for a new generation, or perhaps a new twist to the fashion for eco doom-mongering?


Prof George McKayOver the past 10 years, and emanating initially in the U.S., the DIY craft movement has played a critical role in promoting craft activity as a democratic and political tool. Online movements such as Craft Mafias, guerrilla knitters and ‘craftivism’ have encouraged a younger generation to regard craft as a platform for sharing ideas and protest. The activist approach shares common strands with the ‘guerrilla gardening’ movement, with activities such as seed-bombing and yarn-bombing linking to a new generation of political protest that prioritises community and direct action in the reclamation of social values, vs corporate or state ideologies. Alongside this, selling sites such as Etsy have developed a burgeoning market for user-led trading, often at a low price point due to the predominantly amateur nature of the traders. Perhaps the ultimate outcome of the of self-styled ‘craftster’ movement, the website Regretsy celebrates some of the worst excesses of where ‘craft goes bad’.


Barbara Hastings-AsatourianAn aspect of the craft and gardening revival is how connected and virtualised it is, rather than isolated or disconnected. Making groups, once regarded as the prevail of the Women’s Institute and over 60s, are now attracting hip young things keen to share techniques and learn new skills. Crafting events, from knitting groups, through local meet-ups to the V&As popular Craft Rocks evenings, are attracting cool urban (and predominantly female) audiences. A far cry from the cloth kits and macramé owls of the 1970s, these activities do nonetheless contain an element of nostalgia. The rediscovery of ‘grandma’s skills’ (possibly not passed on by grandma herself due to changes in inter-generational connections), hints to a lost generation in terms of craft skills development. Notions of a make do and mend approach prompted by recession, don’t ring true as buying new if often cheaper, and with the erosion of craft teaching in schools and further education, there has to be a deliberate desire to learn crafting skills to then use them to ‘make do’. From a fashion and style aspect, bunting, village fetes, and Cath Kidston’s ubiquitous patterned homewares hint at a longing for a more innocent age of pretty things and pride in the home-made.


Rob LyonsIs the backlash against the generic high street chains, alongside environmental and ethical concerns a positive one? A growing interest in authenticity and provenance presents the capitalist project as faceless consumerism promoted by big chains producing throwaway items (in conditions that are often questioned), has prompted ‘discerning’ consumers to seek out locally sourced products. The popularity of farmers markets and craft fairs of course articulate this trend from global to local, with interesting outcomes regarding price and quality when we’re mindful of the additional pressures posed by economic recession. This trend has naturally not been overlooked by global luxury brands and major retailers hit hard by the loss of confidence in ostentatious consumption. Brands such as Mulberry and Camper have been quick to inject craft values in to their product ranges and marketing, facilitated by big budgets and up to the minute consumer intelligence way beyond the reach of individual craft makers and retailers.


Craft as technical ability and a medium for expression has also received renewed interest, perhaps notably from the previously aloof fine art world. Grayson Perry’s winning of the Turner Prize in 2003 was something of a coup for the craft world; less shocking than Perry’s transvestite alter ego Claire and his acceptance of the award in a baby-doll frock, was that Perry defines himself as a potter and is actually skilled in his craft. Perry’s journey in bringing craft out of the wilderness was carefully orchestrated, and having received support from the Crafts Council he strategically aligned himself with the fine art world to achieve his ambition. Is this blurring of the boundaries between art and craft such a good thing, and why does it seem to be the case that the constituency is largely female and middle class?


Some background readings

Guerilla gardening, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

BBC crisis over ‘fake’ sweatshop scene in Primark documentary, by Ian Burrell and Martin Hickman, Independent 17 June 2011

Guerilla gardeners target housing estate in Somerset, BBC News 15 August 2011


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Venue and Time

The Shakespeare Pub, 16 Fountain Street, Manchester, M2 2AA at 7:15pm for a prompt 7:30pm start, expected to finish just after 9:00pm. Tickets are £5(£3 concessions) payable in advance, using the PayPal Donate button on the Manchester Salon website (feel free to donate on top of the £5 ticket), but can also be paid for on the night if booked in advance by Emailingevents@manchestersalon.org.ukThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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