Posts Tagged ‘ everyday life ’

Criminalising National Action achieves nearly nothing, and may endanger us all

The horrific assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox by Thomas Mair left the nation in a deep sense of mourning, anger and confusion. As a result of his connections with National Action, perhaps the most extreme of Britain’s array of neo-Nazi and far-right groups, the latter have been listed as an illegal terrorist organisation under anti-extremism laws. Commentators cheered for the fact that National Action, and the grotesque politics they stood for, were to be consigned to the dustbin of history. However, although many of us might dearly hope this to be the case, a brief glance at the history of fascism and its opponents shows that what appears to be a sensible and effective policy move is underpinned by a profound misunderstanding of groups like National action, their politics, causes and motivations. Moreover, the forward march of ‘anti-extremism’ legislation poses a very real threat to those who dare to oppose the far right on the streets.

Not so long ago, during the heady days of New Labour’s first term in office, many could be forgiven for assuming that the far right was largely a thing of the past. The once-notorious National Front were in disarray – the intimidating street marches that had once buoyed them to what felt at the time as the de facto control of entire neighbourhoods were no longer as big or as menacing, and their new electoral strategy was pathetically unsuccessful. Their cousins in the British National Party, led by the (then) fresh-faced Nick Griffin, were equally small, ineffective and not taken seriously outside of one or two small pockets of the country. Thatcher, Major and Blair all had the same strategy: if declining industry and the emergence of a new, finance-driven, globalised economy leads to frustrations among those ‘left behind’, then over time they will simply adapt to this new environment.

For a while, this market-based strategy seemed to be working: incidents of racist violence and abuse dropped. However, it was underpinned by a range of other factors, including anti-discrimination laws in the workplace, community-focused policing approaches, dramatic crackdowns on football hooliganism, the growth of CCTV, and the reorientation of the far right towards electoralism. The long economic boom from 1993 onwards also helped to soften the uneven and complex impacts of the newly globalised economy emerging in the UK. For a while, this created a fragile but carefully cultivated sense of social peace.

The problem with this apparent social peace was that it was propped up on decidedly flimsy pillars. The economic buoyancy provided by the long boom was unceremoniously sunk by the global financial crisis of 2008; anti-discrimination laws led to the mainstreaming of ‘anti-PC’ discourses in the right-wing media which legitimised its more hard-right variants; the 2001 riots in northern cities illustrated how superficial community policing strategies were; CCTV was used more to criminalise the presence of working class teenagers in public spaces than it was to bring about any kind of ‘justice’ to the victims of theft or violence. The electoral successes of the BNP in the mid-2000s saw the far right poking their heads above the parapet once again – not in ‘white power’ t-shirts but in smart suits, and armed not with banner poles but with glossy leaflets.

The liberal, cosmopolitan centre-left were shocked, and their mouthpieces set about chastising BNP voters for their ‘stupidity’ and ‘ignorance’. Now, despite the demise of the BNP as an electoral force and the decline of the English Defence League as a unified social movement, the far right appears as present and as dangerous as it ever was in the 1980s, and attitudes towards immigration, nationalism and ‘law and order’ that were once the preserve of the far right are now widely accepted as mainstream.

Although this is well-documented, important pieces of the story have been conveniently forgotten. In the decline of far-right politics, alongside policy choices and economic growth that operated ‘above the heads’ of ordinary people, decidedly more grassroots factors were at play – namely, the anti-fascist movement. In particular, between the mid-1980s and the early years of Blair’s New Labour, one important element in the successful struggle against the far right was a group by the name of Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), which was arguably one of the most effective anti-fascist organisations the UK has ever seen. Along with a range of other so-called ‘militant’ anti-fascist groups (such as the Asian Youth Movements that formed to defend Asian neighbourhoods against far-right attacks), AFA sought to confront the far right with a combination of ideological and physical approaches. Distributing leaflets, knocking on doors and holding public meetings was one element of their approach; the other involved physically fighting the far right and disrupting their capacity to organise. The violence of AFA’s strategy was a point of contention – not least because it arguably cultivated an exclusionary culture of macho prowess among its street fighters – but it nevertheless played a key role in beating back the far right (sometimes literally) in the 1980s and 1990s. The trouble with the new-found sense of peace in the late 1990s and early 2000s is that the organisational memory, strategies and skills developed among anti-fascists during the previous two decades were lost, forgotten or actively dismantled.

So, if AFA and similar organisations were so effective, why have they all but disappeared from our collective memory? Alongside its commitment to radical left politics, which may have played a part in side-lining it in relation to relatively ‘apolitical’ organisations like the Anti-Nazi League, its explicit support for non-state-sanctioned violence rendered AFA a particularly ‘ugly’ element in a struggle that is persistently represented by the centre of politics as clearly divided between ‘peace versus violence’ or ‘love versus hate’. If only it were this straightforward. What’s more, AFA threatened the state’s monopoly of legitimate violence by acting outside of the state’s definitions of ‘reasonable’ protest. This is a crucial point, since it means that the people were in some areas doing a better job of policing the far right than the police themselves. Indeed, it is well known that the police themselves have had a long history of racism – both individually and institutionally.

Importantly, the violence in the strategies of AFA and similar groups has always been a convenient excuse for governments to crack down on political radicals – take the various socialists and trade unionists of London’s East End, for example, who in the 1920s and 30s were at the forefront of the bloody struggle against Oswald Moseley’s blackshirts, or the anarchists and communists in the same period who severely delayed the rising tide of fascism in Italy, Spain and Germany. Even in the aftermath of World War II, socialist Jewish veterans found themselves having to regroup and physically fight off a resurgent fascist movement on the streets of Britain. During those periods, it was the anti-fascists who suffered most severe state repression – even those who were not radicals but aligned broadly with the anti-fascist cause. These groups threatened the status quo far more than the fascists they opposed – the latter didn’t want to overcome capitalism but simply to reinforce it with anti-democratic authoritarianism and underpin it with racism as an explicit state policy.

Historically, there is little doubt that state crackdowns on ‘extremism’ have tended to sweep up those confronting the far right as much as – or even more than – the fascists themselves. But this is not just a historical issue, as mass arrests at recent anti-fascist demonstrations, and the especially harsh sentences that followed, indicate. In many cases, it was ordinary people, not the state or the police, who were the most effective at closing down opportunities for the far right to grow. The problem for AFA and other anti-fascist groups is that in order to effectively confront the far right, they needed to refuse the standard rules of engagement that are expected of ‘civil society’. This has been the case even when they have not undertaken violent activities, such as blockades or pickets. Many anti-fascists have paid a heavy price for their activities – not only hefty prison sentences but also disablement or even death. As we have seen with the assassination of Jo Cox, this can be the case even when people do play by the rules.

It is important that policy-makers and wider society recognise the implications of criminalising neo-Nazi gangs like National Action, and the laws used to do so. Clearly this approach will slow National Action’s activities and make it harder for them to organise in the short term, but criminalisation is a superficial, tokenistic and temporary measure, and is certainly no silver bullet for addressing the root cause of the growing wave of far-right activity across the UK and Europe. Relying on punitive legislation to deal with the complex social issues that lie at the base of communities’ struggles for survival and wellbeing in a turbulent world is a recipe for dangerous, counter-productive complacency. And if the lessons of history teach us anything, they teach us that the far right are not the only ones who stand to suffer from the vague and dangerous agenda of ‘anti-extremism’.


We need to talk about the police

These days, there is absolutely no doubt among many people where the police stand. They stand for the protection of elite-driven laws (whether or not they are just). They stand for privileging the rights and freedoms of a very select group of people (usually rich white men). They stand on the side of property. A friend of mine from the USA explained passionately about the growing police brutality and growing numbers of (predominantly black) deaths that occur at their hands. He said that for every person they protect and serve, there is another who they are brutalising – to protect one is to necessarily dehumanise the other, and vice versa.

This is all absolutely correct and the growing distrust towards the police in much of the Anglophone world can only be a positive thing. The police as an institution originated as an army of private thugs for hire to the highest bidder, protecting the rich and powerful against the transgressions and resistances of the majority. At the same time, for a while now I’ve been increasingly realising that we, as anarchists, need to develop a more nuanced understanding of the police in relation to the future world we want to create. Now I know what this sounds like, but don’t sharpen your knives just yet…

One of the most recurring points that people (even other radicals) make about anarchists and our attitudes towards the police is that we only see the bad stuff. So the argument goes, they do a lot of good work and are just nice people trying to make life better, even if their good intentions can end up fuelling negative dynamics. This is of course a very one-dimensional understanding of the police that reduces their political impact to an individual scale of care, ethics and civic responsibility; a convenient smokescreen for overlooking their active role in fostering division, imposing coercive state violence, and ‘outsourcing’ social solidarity to a group of undemocratic specialists with axes to grind.

However, we cannot deny that it also has an element of truth in it. One of the most powerful developments in policing in the late 20th Century was to blur the lines between ‘attack dog of the state’ and ‘friend of the community’. The police force is not just about committing a range of spectacular and ‘ordinary’ violences against transgressive groups and individuals (ethnic minorities, radicals, working class communities), it also performs other roles that are actually socially useful, e.g.

  • Managing large events
  • Disaster relief
  • Emergency support (e.g. car crashes, collapsed buildings)
  • Regulating / diverting the flow of people or traffic in crowded areas
  • Addressing conflicts and disagreements
  • Acting as figureheads of civic duty and responsibility

What anarchists often seem reluctant or afraid to articulate to a broader public is that all of these things, and more, will be necessary in any post-revolutionary society in which the monopoly of violence held by the state (and exercised by the police) no longer exists. Since general, if critical, support for (or acceptance of) the police in many circles is so hegemonic, it is easy for us to always see the police as always doing bad stuff – it is our responsibility to expose the injustices that they commit and are complicit in. But sometimes, outside of their core role as the protectors of state and capital, they are socially useful, and some of the specialist skills and techniques that they have developed can be applied to society in ways that stretch beyond their violent underpinnings.

What is needed is a rearticulation of the police that continues to push back against their violence but also recognises that in any society there is a need for a group of specially trained people to deal with public situations related to circulations, conflicts and emergencies in a future anarchist world. Examples of community self-management and forms of what we might call ‘popular security’ are plentiful, but it’s all too rare that anarchists link these examples to people’s fears about a world without the ‘protection’ of the police. Presenting this message in relation to anarchist principles of self-management, participatory forms of democracy, accountability and solidarity is therefore an important step to take.

[PS. I wrote this a while ago – a few days before the Hillsborough inquiry’s findings came out. In hindsight, it probably isn’t the best timing to make this kind of call so please don’t read this as some kind of ‘provocation’ against the absolutely correct and throughly deserved rage against the lying, cheating, smearing scum of the South Yorkshire Police!]

6 notes towards a real sharing economy


Sharing has such an emotional power; an almost primal force that we all enact in everyday life, and in so many ways. The past week was Global Sharing Week, a week-long series of high-profile events (and frantic hashtagging on Twitter) to promote the sharing economy, led by the frightfully keen and whimsically-named The People Who Share. The sharing economy is an extremely broad, politically ambiguous concept that is generally defined as any organised practice in which resources that might otherwise be privately owned, bought and sold are made available and exchanged collaboratively. It has become a catch-all label for any vaguely networked, collaborative initiative, from co-ops to co-housing, from DIY to dinner clubs, from tourism to transport. Increasingly, businesses and entrepreneurs are seeing sharing (or what some call “collaborative consumption”) as a lucrative new marketplace, in which the human capacity to share, care and help one another can become a new focus for capital accumulation. And in the UK/European context – of policy-makers’ obsession with ‘resilience’ (e.g. here) in the context of permanent austerity – it has growing purchase among elites in the mitigation of societal risk stemming from state-led cuts and the ongoing volatility of capitalism in general. This is part of what some have rightly come to call “sharewashing“, in which the sharing ‘brand’ is used to enhance the power and/or wealth of dominant elites, obscure injustices, and fails to critically address the status quo.

The big question is: in the context of sharing becoming problematically incorporated into government and business, can the notion of a sharing economy be reclaimed and reworked genuinely for the common good? Can radicals use the sharing economy as a focus for social change, and if so, how?

Below are six key factors in making this happen.

1. Sharing as non-commodified and cumulative

If sharing is to be useful for radical and progressive politics we need to draw clear boundaries between what is sharing and what is profit-making. A genuinely shared resource cannot be a commodity, since its value must rest exclusively on its use. If you make a profit out of sharing something, part of its value takes the form of profit (i.e. exchange value) and is extracted and kept by whoever is making that profit.

Take AirBnB, for example. People with spare rooms are renting those rooms out to tourists. This means that the room is not just valuable as a space to sleep, read, relax etc., but it is also valuable as a source of income both to the host and (much more significantly) to AirBnB bosses. This does two things: first, the introduction of money affects the social relationship between the host and guest, potentially hindering the chance of direct and equal experiences of one another’s cultures as you might expect from a non-financial equivalent such as CouchSurfing. Second, although most people renting their rooms on AirBnB are not rich entrepreneurs, money still disincentivises the possibility of reciprocity or mutual aid – i.e. I am less likely to offer my spare room to someone for free (i.e. genuinely share it) if they charged me to stay in their spare room. I’m probably less likely to share it for free with others, too.

In contrast, non-financial hospitality platforms such as CouchSurfing – or, better still, user-run and non-profit initiatives such as BeWelcome – encourage non-commodified relationships because no money is exchanged. Guests are more likely to offer their own spare room, sofa or floor to others in the future since they recognise the value of receiving that hospitality from their own experience. It doesn’t always work this way, but it is much more likely to happen in a genuine sharing situation.

2. Sharing as open and accessible

Non-commodified forms of sharing therefore accumulate not money but social bonds that are likely to lead to a greater number and a wider diversity of sharing relationships. And since there is no money exchanged, you do not need to have money to blow to become part of a sharing initiative. But the parasitism of capital in the sharing economy also has a friend: specialism.

I don’t mean specialism in the traditional sense of knowing skills such as how to wire a plug or cook. I mean particular forms of social, cultural and economic capital that currently create boundaries around much of the sharing economy. It’s things like knowing your way around Twitter (to find events, stalls and projects), having access to the right circles (e.g. knowing artists, bakers, travellers), having sufficient level of education to seek it out and value it (e.g. the environmental knowledge to know why it is better to collect and cook out-of-date food than to throw it away). Many of these are quite specialist skills but they are often ‘soft’ and can easily go unnoticed.

What this really boils down to is that there is a set of social and academic skills and knowledges linked (especially but not only) to class that facilitate or inhibit people’s participation in the sharing economy as it is currently manifested. Currently, much of the sharing economy (both capitalist and non-capitalist) is unashamedly and unreflexively middle class, accessible to a minority of people who have the time, money and skills to enjoy it.

It doesn’t matter if it is cheaper to make your own clothes than to buy them – if it takes up valuable time that you can’t find unless you can pay for expensive childcare, then it is not accessible. Likewise, pastel-coloured Union Jack bunting, to take an admittedly caricatured example, does not appeal to us all; for many, it is a “KEEP OUT” sign, carefully defining the social, cultural and economic boundaries of a space (see also cupcake fascism). A real sharing economy must be not only sensitive to these issues (of class, yes, but also gender, ethnicity, disability, colonial legacies etc., which also structure how accessible an initiative is) but, crucially, it must also actively confront and address them in the way it is organised, managed and promoted. One example of how people are already doing precisely this is the supper clubs linked to housing struggles in London.

3. Sharing as strategic

A sharing economy that consciously addresses issues of material wellbeing, justice, and survival is one that can become part of an everyday politics for social change. While the introduction of money has been used as an incentive for participation in sharing businesses, making the direct cost of services cheaper than commercial equivalents and potentially encouraging more sustainable lifestyles (e.g. lift-sharing costs money for the driver and passenger, but less money than two separate cars), this remains located firmly within, and in support of, the existing status quo.

One positive dimension of the sharing economy that the business interests have not (yet) entirely done away with is precisely this focus on material needs and goods – cheap X, low-impact Y, convenient Z. Given the right conditions, and bearing in mind points 1 and 2, these can materially improve our lives and the environments we live in. However, we need to think more strategically if we are to leverage sharing as a) a universal good that all can participate in, and therefore b) a potential force for radical social change.

One possible focus for this more strategic thinking could arguably be what’s known as the foundational economy, which comprises the essential structures and institutions that make most ordinary people’s everyday lives possible, such as public transport, food production and processing, utilities, and public healthcare and education. Many initiatives already engage directly or indirectly with these foundational issues, but they tend not to be focused on reshaping them, let alone replacing them with something radically different. We would do well to think about how sharing can become a (or the?) central component of the foundational economy, and find ways to put it into practice. Initiatives like the Swedish fare-dodging ‘union’, Planka, are admirable and inspiring, but how much more powerful could these be if we developed ways to retrofit existing transport systems so that they can be used, maintained and expanded through collaborative sharing practices between workers and passengers? Not only could they be effective and responsive, but also they would serve to demonstrate the power of self-management in material terms to the wider public. Indeed, in the case of Planka, this is an issue they are already thinking about (in Swedish).

4. Sharing as not (outwardly) political

Perhaps the most powerful dimension of the sharing economy is that it is not an especially politicised phenomenon. This is a double-edged sword: it makes sharing vulnerable to capture by capital and state (as we can clearly see in policies of resilience and sustainability, and in how entrepreneurs have jumped onto the sharing bandwagon), but it also opens up alternative forms of relating and resource use beyond the hierarchies and exclusions of capital and state.

We see similar dynamics in the Global South, where the informal economy is widespread: while it is an economic form that is highly vulnerable and precarious, the possibilities for autonomous, collective organising can be expanded through the networked spaces of self-organisation that it engenders. It may not be a focus for entrepreneurs in the same way as the sharing economy is in the Global North, but the capacity for retail and food businesses to use the ‘market trader’ or ‘street food’ soundbite in their branding is nonetheless very powerful.

In a contemporary political landscape in which the majority of the population is not engaged or interested in traditional forms of politics and only a very small majority of eligible people even vote, the sharing economy may therefore represent ‘ways in’ to more politicised activities and rationalities by means of its grassroots, networked character and orientation towards self-organised problem-solving. Participation in sharing economies might take place through consumer choice (i.e. a decision based on desire or style preferences), need (i.e. a decision based on the necessity to access certain resources for cheap or for free) or social networks (i.e. participating due to friends, family or other contacts), but the outcome could well be positive if organised and managed in a way that provides a gateway to possibilities of political agency and participation.

However, rather than the proselytising or missionary style of past and current examples of this (e.g. the Salvation Army or political ‘front groups’), it is important to remain vigilant to the clear risks involved in setting up initiatives purely for the purposes of mobilisation or recruitment.

5. Sharing as a principle of struggle and conflict

Although we need to be vigilant about the dangers of cynically latching onto the sharing economy ‘wave’, it might also prove useful for thinking more carefully about how political movements can use sharing principles more effectively in their own internal organisation and resource use. In-fighting and splits are common in the Left, which leave a trail of personal bitterness and organisational fragmentation. Regardless of their underlying politics, networks and umbrella groups that are hospitable to a diversity of politics and tactics, such as the People’s Assembly and recent Radical Assemblies in London, represent possible models for a stronger culture of sharing that we can take inspiration from. Likewise, sharing resources (e.g. materials, information, tactics, ideas etc) could potentially lead to a stronger Left with greater capacity and more efficient resource use within our meagre means. Green and Black Cross needs some cheap printing done? The local IWW branch has access to a printer that they can use. The Anti-Raids Network needs some information on new deportation guidelines? No problem, an RS21 group at the other end of England has a contact at the UK Border Agency. And so on. Some of this is already taking place informally, but these kinds of sharing could be considerably expanded and solidified for mutual benefit.

6. Sharing as already around us

Finally, perhaps the most powerful thing that a radical approach to sharing needs to bear in mind is that sharing is not something that flashy entrepreneurs simply made up one day. As a key part of broader practices of mutual aid, it is one of the oldest and strongest tools for human survival and wellbeing in human history. It is everywhere, right under our noses. I borrowed a guide book to Moscow from my neighbour only a couple of days ago. Did she charge me? The thought never entered her head, and not because she particularly cares for me, nor even because she wants something else in return. In South Africa a few years ago, I helped pull someone’s dog out of a river; the same principle applies.

We share to survive all the things in life that are pitted against us: capitalism, patriarchy, state bureaucracy, racism, homophobia, and so on. We also share because it gives us joy and satisfaction and human contact. We share because the best way – indeed, the only way! – to have a genuinely fulfilling life is to do a million little forms of sharing, mutual aid, and solidarity, that are beyond the logic and reach of the dominant social order even though we live through that social order every day. If ever we need reassurance that the best order of things is a world collectively managed by and for ourselves, if ever we find ourselves feeling like a new world is never going to happen, we just need to look around us and think about all the many different ways we share and care for and with one another. We thrive when we share – and when we thrive, we thrive despite capital, not because of it.

How (not) to write a paper: part III

[continued from here and here]

4,356 words down, and the paper is progressing, slowly, but quicker than I’d expected. I’m already wondering what other work I can fit into April. There’s the book proposal, but the co-editor wants to wait a few weeks until she visits London for a face-to-face meeting. Then there’s the paper I’m co-writing, but the other author can only do his sections in the second half of April and I can’t guarantee that I’ll be finished soon enough. Then there’s my Master’s student whose thesis I’m supervising. I worry about her progress, but supervising from a distance is so much harder than in person. How do you kick someone’s arse by email? What can you do from 600 miles away but send nagging emails covered in a thin veneer of pleasantries anyway?

But back to the paper. Check back over the old manuscript that I presented at the conference. Cut and paste and – hey presto – I’ve got another few chunks of text. Now to edit them into the flow of the paper, which is harder than it sounds. I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been easier to do it all afresh and avoid trying to shoe-horn this old stuff into the new paper. Oh well, I’ve started so I’ll finish.

This paragraph doesn’t fit at all, but I like it. Where does it go? It’s floating around and has no home. Sod this: shove it anywhere – highlight to remind myself – I’ll try again later – ctrl+s.

Now the theoretical sections are taking shape, maybe it’s time to look at empirical things. What themes do I have? Do I have enough material to make the argument I want to make (and do I need to ‘stretch’ it to sound definitive)? I’m certainly not the only one who has pushed the boundaries of how far one can take an argument without losing sight of the empirical material.

[Musical interlude as I take a few hours to help H with job interview preparation. I reassure myself that I’ll make up the time in the future. Brief gleam of happiness that my job allows me to do such things, followed by a dark cloud that reminds me of how much extra work I do on top of 9-5]

Completely lost my train of thought – check Facebook, check Twitter – nothing interesting. Check again. Check emails. Make cup of tea and pick the lumps out of the peanut butter while I wait for the kettle to boil. I need to get more exercise: working a few feet from my kitchen is a serious occupational hazard.

Back to the desk – check work emails, Facebook, personal emails – back to the paper. God, this floor is filthy – hovering is very tempting right now. FOCUS, DAMN IT.

One week until the deadline: when will the panic resurface? I need that fear to get the work done and stop faffing around. Why did I even consider what other work I could do this month? I must be delusional.

Check emails, read call for papers on entirely unrelated topic. Search author of said call for papers on the internet for no apparent reason. Yes, I definitely need the fear.

How (not) to write a paper: part II

[Continued from here ]

LIGHTBULB MOMENT! I wrote a formal paper for the Paris conference – surely I could lift quite a lot of material from that? Check back over old paper: most of this is irrelevant now. My topic has changed too much. Plus I spliced half of the lit review into that paper I had to stop in order to write this one. Damn.

But I can use some of the work on autonomy, and bits of the empirical sections. Good, good.

Still not sure what my conceptual ‘hook’ is. Autonomy is a bit over-done and I think it needs nuancing. Maybe this is my contribution? I bet no-one has applied autonomy to mobility, certainly not in a geography of tourism context. Better check to be sure…

Search Google Scholar, Web of Science et al.

Autonomy geography mobility

“autonomous geographies” mobility

“autonomous geographies” tourism travel

Geography “autonomous travel”

“Autonomous space” mobility travel tourism


OK, nothing. Looks promising, but “autonomous travel”, really? What does that even contribute to the world? Isn’t it just co-opting the concepts and theory of autonomy for some managerial tourism type to rip off and make mega-bucks? I need to be careful to protect the paper from this.

But either way, I still need empirical material to back it up. Grounded theory and all that. OK, check over my coding: “geopolitics”, “mobility”, “globalisation”, “state”. Damn it, I’ve only compiled “state”.

**Musical interlude while I spend an entire day compiling, cross-checking, thinking about the empirical material**

Geopolitics looks meaty – lots to do with travel routes and modes (e.g. cycling, couchsurfing, hitching) blocked, shifting, changing qualitatively, speeding up and slowing down, fragmenting and converging according to visa and border regulations and inter-state conflicts. OK, I like where this is going; I think I can work with this. I’ll cross-reference with globalisation and mobility (and possibly economy) and there could be some good intersections of capital and state to eek out somehow and squeeze in an (indirect) critique of the complicit tourism industry on the side.

Still stuck on the literature and theory. Didn’t Lucy Finchett-Maddock write something about entropy? Check paper. Still none the wiser about what entropy actually is. Something to do with energy and complex systems theory. Good read nonetheless – if only I’d remembered this for the VR and Formas funding applications I put in last week. Never mind. I really should make contact with her – we have some good crossovers – but how to approach someone you’ve never met? I’m quite socially awkward at the best of times. Perhaps I could ask for a paper of hers, pretending I can’t get it at my library. Yes, that could be a good way of introducing myself and my research interests. But then again, does it sound too… DAMN IT STOP PROCRASTINATING.

The irony, of course, is that I check Facebook about ten times a day. Surely that kind of procrastination is even less productive. I kid myself that Facebook and Twitter are important networking tools but they’re not really. I just end up watching MMA videos or commenting on funny pictures of cats. Perhaps there is some value in it though, as the… GET ON WITH IT.

Back to the paper. Amend the bullet point skeleton and I can see it coming together. Some progress is being made. Now to quickly check my emails / Facebook / Twitter just one more time…

[To be continued]

How (not) to write a paper: Part I

Over the coming few weeks I’m going to be covering the progress of writing an academic paper, from start to finish, including all the gory bits. We see academic papers only when they are finished, neat, unitary. We don’t see the mess, the revisions, the pain and the corner-cutting that goes into their production.

Euan Craig, a potter originally from Australia who’s lived in Japan for much of his life, was once asked how long it takes to make a pot. He replied “about 30 seconds to throw the pot, and 20 years to learn how.”

So the only thing that you won’t see in this process is the long, non-linear, tangled threads of intellectual development and change over the course of my entire life that have, in one way or another, influenced the production of this paper. However, what you will see is a genuine, warts-and-all impression of what really happened.

I will also add another caveat: not all papers work like this. Each has its own life, some ebbing and flowing gently over years, others crammed into the space of a few weeks (like this one), others still never quite ever being finished and sitting, waiting, hoping to be ‘complete’ one day under piles of more pressing labour to be completed. Academics reading this may deeply identify with this process, but other academics may not understand at all. We shall see…

Finally finished the commentary for Dialogues in Human Geography. Now to the next project, after a little break. A bit of reading around the subject of encounter and difference. I think I know where I’m going with this. Good, good. I can see where this paper is going.

Oh, wait, wasn’t there another submission deadline coming soon? The one I presented in Paris? Shit – quick check of old emails. SHIT. Deadline is 30th April??! That’s three weeks. Oh God oh God oh God. My brain is now full of encounter and this is about territory. What the hell is territory anyway?  A raft of concepts and definitions comes flooding back: territory-as-effect (Painter), calculable space (Elden), rebuttal of Elden (Antonsich), deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation (Paasi, Newman, and the border studies types), multiple non-linear territorialisations (can’t remember who said this off the top of my head), etc etc ad infinitum. Didn’t Sam H write something about territory too?

Quick check of my 2012 territory paper. This is useless, but maybe I can lift some of the lit review out and re-work it for this topic. Not sure if I can get away with that.

Check back over the abstract. Completely impenetrable. What did I even mean?

Check back over the presentation notes. What a load of crap. How did I ever become an academic with such half-baked ideas?

OK, breathe. Let’s do a little mind-map. What are the issues? I always see people draw these wonderfully chaotic and creative mind-maps – maybe I’ll try that and hope that some inspiration comes:












Right, well that wasn’t much use.

I wonder if I could just duck out and hope the guest editors won’t mind. I’m really good at letting people down gently. But I respect them and want to support their project. I hung out with them in Paris and they were really welcoming to me, despite being this dumb Englishman who can only muster shaky A-Level French. No, I owe it to them, plus it gives me a deadline – I need deadlines to get things finished. Otherwise, I just faff around and get frustrated.

So, if a mind-map won’t work, maybe let’s get the logic straight and fit the structure into that as I go. OK, back to good old bullet point lists. Let’s do this.

bulletpoint screenshot








Cool, we’re getting somewhere now. But – ‘labour’ – how does that relate to territory? I don’t know if I have enough empirical material. And I’ll need to theorise it very carefully. OK, sideline that – I can always splice it in later if I have time and space.

Oh, space, shit, forgot about that – what’s the word limit? 60,000 characters – what the hell is that in words? OK, looks like it’s about 10,000 words. OK, that’s a lot of space to fill, but doable. At least I won’t have to edit it heavily to cut it down to the word length before going to review.

But I still need a conceptual ‘hook’. It needs to be somehow “innovative” but I literally have no theoretical innovations to offer. Quick scan through old papers and notes. Still no joy. Maybe if I just start writing, something exciting will magically emerge from the writing process? Wishful thinking.

OK, breathe. You can do this.

[To be continued]

Paul Stott on Punk Islam

I just came across yet another interesting entry on Paul Stott‘s blog.

In it, he discusses Taqwacore, a novel, film and small but growing movement that unites Islam with punk values and aesthetics. It seems to be an interesting V-flipping manoeuvre by disenchanted Muslim youth, rejecting the authority of both Islamic leaders and Western governments and forging an irreverent and life-affirming form of religious and cultural identity in this third space. Mr Stott deals with the subject – the film in particular – with his typical style and panache, so I will leave you to peruse the original entry…