Thursday, October 18, 2012

Discourses and difficulties

This autumn's schedule has got fairly frenetic. A couple of talks coming up, both of which are a bit introspective, in the sense that they try to analyse the dynamics and discourses that underpin the way we're framing our curriculum and our research in the School of Creative and Cultural Industries at UWS. On Tuesday I'll be in London at the MECCSA Practice Network's conference at the University of Kingston discussing the approach to practice-based research in the dreaded REF (Research Excellence Framework) that we are attempting to take. Here's the quick abstract: 

Shaping our Submission: Interdisciplinarity, practice and the spaces 'in between'

The School of Creative and Cultural Industries at UWS has evolved from being a small undergraduate-focussed media school to a more ambitious operation with an increasing volume of research output and knowledge exchange, encompassing digital art, performance, and film/broadcasting/journalism practice alongside established work in media and cultural studies. Using some examples of work from researchers in the School, I will explore some of the dilemmas and difficulties we face in positioning our submission within UoA 36, which for reasons of critical mass and impact we are concentrating on for this REF. I'd welcome suggestions for appropriate strategies to deal with the difficulty of accounting for research which falls in between REF categories and criteria. 

Then in a couple of weeks I travel to Lapland for the World Alliance for Arts Education summit, where I'll be presenting a paper with the following title:

Education for cultural practice/education for cultural economy? Intersections, interdisciplinarity and issues


The School of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) has grown rapidly in recent years in response to a government-led agenda of widening participation in higher education. UWS is a multi-campus institution that has its roots in a vocational, polytechnic approach to higher education but its ambitions are not limited to vocational training: in common with other ‘post-1992’ institutions in the UK it offers higher degrees, Masters programmes and conducts significant academic research.

Economic studies repeatedly emphasise the scale and significance of the Scottish creative and cultural economy, but these claims are contested and contingent, and beset with definitional problems.  The notion of creative/cultural employment, which is frequently flexible, freelance or network-based does not fit neatly into the definitional categories used by statisticians. The apparent divide between professional and participatory activity in the field of culture is also  problematic and contested.  Through partnership-based pedagogies and careful project design involving professionals from outside the university, the School seeks to offer students, many of whom are first-generation entrants to higher education, immersive opportunities to undertake cultural practice in professional settings. The model could be seen as a hybrid of polytechnic university, art school, and research institute.

What is at stake when we operate within these rhetorics and discourses of creative economy? Using examples from the range of work undertaken by the School I will explore some of the conflicts and collisions  in practice-based research, which combines vocational awareness with critical and cultural theory.

Hopefully these will also see the light of day as journal articles before too long. 








More on the histories of participatory arts

Here are the slides for a lecture I gave a couple of weeks ago for the 3rd year Performance students at UWS taking the Community Theatre module.





Place Making, Place Breaking

Lots of discussions about 'place' and 'placemaking' over the last few weeks. In Paisley and Glasgow, with my colleagues Gayle McPherson and Liz Gardiner, we've been running a short course in Cultural Planning which through a mix of walking and talking and mapping has been enabling a small committed group to explore questions about the relationships of culture to planning and community development. We visited projects in Govan and Easterhouse which in different ways are  advocating for and accelerating locally rooted cultural provision, for the rights of residents to be able to access spaces and resources for self-expression and representation. We drew on a number of approaches but focussed in on the particular school of participatory cultural planning involving mapping local cultural resources which owes a lot to Franco Bianchini and Lia Ghilardi, but also which has much in common with the school of 'asset based community cultural development' championed by people like Tom Borrup and Arlene Goldbard in the USA.




Then, the week before last, we hosted a reception at the new UWS Ayr campus for delegates to Architecture and Design Scotland's Design Skills Symposium and there was much discussion about how Ayr might become a 'university town' rather than 'a town with a university'. This raised many questions about the idea of learning towns, access to learning resources; the question I left with was 'where does learning take place anyway?' I've always been more interested in the idea of educators  developing and designing learning environments, contexts and situations rather than formally planned instruction - learning through exchange and conversation, rather than through one way transactions (a.k.a. Freire's 'banking' education).  Next Monday night I'm chairing a discussion with the Ayr Converses group  which will focus on 'adaptation' - again thinking about how places can reinvent themselves through small tactical acts of reclamation and redesign of existing spaces and buildings.

In the intervening period I've been in Mumbai, visiting Ben Parry, the artist and researcher who's doing a PhD with us at UWS and whose edited volume Cultural Hijack: rethinking intervention tells some important hidden stories about radical public art practice over the last 30 years or so. He's doing a very different kind of ambulatory practice in the hot, dry, dusty and very dirty world of Dharavi, working with families, workers and NGOs in the 13th Compound, which is the core of the recycling business. There, in intense conditions in packed makeshift factories, teams of ultra low paid workers reprocess waste bought from the brokers who buy from the ragpickers who systematically scavenge from the tips of Mumbai, and turn it into raw materials and products that can be resold by their bosses - cans, paint, glue, wood, fabrics, plastics, bottles, metal fabrication, side by side with bakeries, food shops and every conceivable item for sale. It's free market economics in an unbridled form, barely regulated, with little regard for the long-term health of the people living there, but offering plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs and advancement.
And it runs at full steam with an apparently endless supply of cheap labour to feed the machine. The dark mirror of globalisation?




During this visit, Ben has been focussing on gathering together the stories of the families who were displaced from the section of the water pipeline that runs through the western boundary of the 13th Compound, when the city authorities came to bulldoze the settlement 18 months ago.



Dharavi, as one of the largest 'informal' urban agglomerations in Asia, has been written about and researched relentlessly. As an 'urban enterprise zone' it has become globally known and regularly attracts the attention of researchers seeking to understand the dynamics of Asian megacities, models of entrepreneurship and issues in public health/development.  Prior to demolition, the section along the pipeline had become a particularly iconic location, not least because tourists and photographers could stand on the bridge on the Mahim Sion Link Road and shoot telephoto portraits of the inhabitants without having to seek permission or venture further inside. It was also used as a location to produce cover shots for National Geographic and featured in Slumdog Millionaire. Ben's project, Reversing the Gaze, seeks to interrogate "his own outsider 'gaze' and that of others who come to extract knowledge about Mumbai's informal urban practices."




There will be a small exhibition of photographs on the bridge next to the offices of Ben's current hosts, the Acorn Foundation, and some of this work will feed into more projects that Ben will develop over the next couple of years. Acorn is an NGO that does advocacy and education work with children and their families, with a particular focus on access to artistic expression. We travelled with the young people of Acorn to an air-conditioned downtown auditorium where they performed in a high energy junk percussion ensemble to a well-heeled audience of diplomats, donors and dignitaries. A collision of lives and worlds, anaethetised by emollient speeches about the need to do more for the condition of the poor, all made by people who'll never have to live anywhere like Dharavi. Ben will present a talk at CCA Glasgow about the project on the 23rd November, and a podcast/audiovisual piece of documentation is coming soon.

All of these experiences have made me reflect on how important it is to try to think beyond the simplistic binary categories/shorthands that are used to describe the different conditions in which people live, and the ways in which public political debates tend to boil down complex problems to simple slogans - an inevitablilty of policymaking and advocacy perhaps. What is at stake when heavily populated, heavily utilised, heavily productive urban areas are described as 'no-go areas' or 'slums'? The relationships between the formal/informal, the  so-called affluent and the deprived, the 'socially included' and 'socially excluded' are not easily understood as polar opposites once there's an encounter with material social worlds. A fascination with the condition of urban poor has preoccupied writers and explorers for centuries, from Henry Mayhew through Jack London through George Orwell, amongst many others, but the key question is - who gets to write/inscribe whose histories? In whose interests are these stories being told? Perhaps it suits city authorities just to write off zones of apparent poverty and extremity, and the story of the destruction of the pipeline community is a particularly potent example of an urban hotspot where these narratives of inclusion and exclusion, of formal infrastructure and informal habitation, of questions of land value and labour value, collide in explosive ways.

Now back in Scotland, I'm thrust straight into the Love Milton and Theatre Modo projects which are being undertaken as part of the Remaking Society intiative - which in some ways connect with these issues because they are also concerned with trying to articulate and demonstrate an 'asset-based' approach to community cultural development which tries to view communities as resourceful and gifted, unlocking potential rather than writing zones off as 'deprived'.

Places are designed, but they are also performed - they are the product of multiple interactions across power structures, economic flows, cultural norms etc; Designers and planners might think that they manipulate the conditions - economic, social, material - in which interactions take place but everyday performance - how places/objects are inhabited and used -  also shapes and reshapes them. This dynamic might also be used to describe the tensions between masterplanning (hierarchical) approaches and user-centred design (network/peer-to-peer); the actuality is that there is always an relationship between the two and this clash of perspectives, where grand infrastructure projects seem to be presented as 'solutions' is thrown into sharp relief in megacities like Mumbai. In this video, National Geographic seems to like the idea of using India's ingenuity and expertise in large-scale engineering to build massive bypasses: 

However, it's interesting that the solutions promoted by city planners focus on free flowing highways and arterial infrastructure, servicing the orgy of high rise development underway; there may well be other more indigenous and appropriate solutions to issues of urban improvement if the planners paid more attention to the actual patterns of inhabitation that shape the way most people survive.

Places are also the product of narratives - shaped by all the different stories that are told and retold about them. So sensitive urban development has to start with an understanding of the complexities of power and acknowledge the expertise and inside knowledge of people who live in particular situations. Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava of Urbz, the organisation which facilitated Ben's passage into Dharavi, articulate this dynamic in thoughtful ways

           "A combination of greed, prejudice, and ideological bias prevents the authorities from    supporting the incremental, locally-driven development of Dharavi. The labeling of it as a ‘slum’ has the perverse effect of delegitimizing a neighborhood altogether and thus justifying the lack of provision of public services. This is because slum dwellers are perceived as squatters who have no rights to the city.  Thus, the label of ‘slum’ is itself the biggest obstacle in the improvement of the quality of life in Dharavi and other such settlements. This is why through actual and conceptual intervention we aim at normalizing a neighborhood that doesn’t have much to gain from being described as an exception. What we should recognize is that Dharavi is a natural urban formation, unique and banal at once. It is the tip of the iceberg. Dharavi is urban India at its best, because it is a testimony to the capacity of people to lift themselves up against all odds; and at its worst because it also has the messed up aspect of a creature that was beaten up, marginalized and oppressed by powerful forces over too many years."

Contrast this approach with the teleologies and ideologies of competitive world city discourses - the way governments and authorities talk about positioning cities so that they can be high performers/winners in the economic arms race, of branding, of 'attracting inward investment'. In recent years the language of policy makers and their corporate 'partners' seems to have focussed on making Mumbai  a 'world class city' which given the intense congestion, creaking infrastructure and spectacular income differentials, presents considerable planning paradoxes.  In one sense Mumbai could be read as a paradigmatic future city, here right now - it presents a vision of what happens when neoliberal capitalism is allowed to unfold without reference to the right to the city of all citizens - a chaotic, dense, dynamic clash of commerce, cultures, classes; a dynamic that might find some of its origins in the experience of colonial rule and in the wider economic histories of India's exposure to globalisation processes.  In the meantime, the corporate world seems to be doing its best to erase from view much of the actual condition of the majority citizens of this 'world city' and instead fetishize the immense 'wealth creation' opportunities for the winners in the economic race. It's interesting to think about to whom this clever ad is addressed: 


Such  dreamworlds of neoliberalism seem to me to be a horribly inadequate response,  given the challenges of making the most basic human rights entitlements -  a decent standard of sanitation, housing, education, healthcare etc - available to the majority of the population. But of course Mumbai is far from unique in this dynamic. The privileged and powerful always seek to shape place narratives in their own interests. And the sheer size, scale, energy and dynamism of India and its ambitious, optimistic peoples provides plenty of possibility for radical change. Here's a documentary called "Build it Bigger" about the remaking of Mumbai's main airport. 

What if the current effort to promote "global infrastructure" could be connected to a similar intensity of ambition to improve basic local infrastructure or greater equity of access to resources? A segment of contemporary India's relentless persuit of growth and 'wealth creation' appears to have become largely uncoupled from the attempts to promote social progress or economic development for the poorest half of the population. A model for David Cameron or Mitt Romney to emulate perhaps? 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The dystopian networked metropolis, gamified

I think Ubisoft's (eventually) forthcoming title, Watch Dogs, looks interesting. It taps into so many contemporary themes:
  • Cultures of surveillance, hacking and control
  • The hyper-networked systems on which urban life has become so dependent
  • Cybercrime and terrorism
  • Privacy and the blurring of public/private life
  • Privatisation and enclosure of cities through corporate power




Admittedly, we've only seen a short preview so far, and much can change between design, realisation and release, but it caught my attention. The game plays on an old cinematic/narrative theme, of the lone (anti?) hero pitted against a relentless machine-run state in a pin-sharp simulation of the Chicago Loop. The demo video (above) assaults the senses with intertextualities drawn not only from game worlds (most obviously the Assassin's Creed/Grand Theft Auto open worlds) but also from contemporary cinematic and journalistic anxieties and preoccupations.

In an almost-now Chicago, the city is run by an integrated set of mainframe computers controlled by corporations, and the hero has a smartphone that allows him (and it always seems to be him, doesn't it?) to hack into his surroundings and the devices owned by the other characters, who are cyphers in a vast informational network. Despite the detailed rendering of Chicago's downtown architecture, there's something distinctly postmodern-knowing about the way in which the gameplay signals a city of sensors, networks and symbols: spaces built as much out of informational flows as from physical artefacts. This particular rendition of the city constantly, knowingly, refers back to its own digital origins. It's a virtual space of screens-within-screens, of networked avatars/citizens/bots (and can we tell the difference?) who are occupying a hyperconnected set of situations that can rapidly turn hostile. 

From what the designers have said, they're also aiming to build in interactivity that can spill over into the material world through mobile phone/tablet apps. So the game also offers some potential to cross over between the simulated world and the material world. 

We are becoming habituated to blurring the boundaries between sensory and digital impressions of places, from Google Maps to GPS. We are also becoming accustomed, through the increasing application of 'augmented reality', to look at where we are from different angles at once, or to drill down through layers of information served up at high speed on mobile devices to find clues about our surroundings in an almost Cubist reality-mashup of multiple perspectives.



The city on screen, the informational city, and the physical worlds are becoming increasingly blurred in a way first most comprehensively identified by William Mitchell in City of Bits, but, now, hyper-accelerated and with far more responsive (and potentially threatening) systems driving the energy/food/transportation/informational universes that we inhabit.

Of course we've seen plenty of this in science fiction before, of simulations within simulations, screens within screens - in the imaginary film worlds of Brazil, Minority Report, Blade Runner, The Matrix, etc. Surveillance anxiety and the consequences of uncovering private data and secret information are clearly not novel themes in fact or fiction. The ways in which technologies become taken for granted, and the ideologies that underpin our assumptions of technological progress, have been extensively explored elsewhere.  But  this game invites the player to act as a neural agent/hacker with the ability to tap into urban infrastructures, both personal and civic, and alter the way the world around us responds.  Presumably this level of interactivity might also allow users to upload clues and missions of their own into the neural net of the city.  

Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin are geographers whose work on networked, splintering infrastructures exploded the claimed neutrality/impartiality of the politics of urban planning that lie beneath the smooth surfaces and  highly engineered 'user experiences' of fast informational capitalism. More recently, the growth of what Graham calls military urbanism has revealed the extent to which dystopias and disjunctures are alive in the present, despite rhetorics of smart cities, intelligent grids, and surveillance providing security. 



We see some of the unforseen consequences of dependence on automated information management systems in the consequences of high frequency trading and disasters when power grids go down. (Another prompt for this post has been the beginning of discussions with a new doctoral student at HdM Stuttgart, Andrea Braeuning, who is examining concepts around 'smart cities').

The late Tony Scott also tapped into these themes for his fast-paced 2009 remake of 1970s film The Taking of Pelham 123, this time set in an informationalized, post-crash New York City:




Add to this sense of an edge-of-chaos informational city - only just under control - what could well be justified paranoia about the mass of data held about us by corporations, governments, the security services and informational policing - and it's not a big leap back to some of the popular concerns of the 60s and 70s about the consequences of automation and cybernetics and the alienation and anxiety that might be produced as a result. 

I'm also reminded of the short-lived QDOS online ranking service promoted by cybersecurity company garlik.com (beloved of financial services companies and those anxious about identity theft) which was promoted in this slightly odd video back in 2007. 



What is flagged here is the extent to which our physical security may well depend on data security in the future - information literally is power - and why we should be concerned about the control, governance and trading of that information. We still inhabit biological ecologies, but we are increasingly dependent on  electrical/informational ecologies for survival, a theme explored on film in Godfrey Reggio's work, which grew out of the Institute for Regional Education (sadly I can't find any of the early pre Qatsi-series IRE films online, as they illustrate these themes very well). 

Although in Watch Dogs virtual Chicago and its unfortunate virtual inhabitants have been given a bludgeoning makeover to fulfil the destructive fantasies of habitual gamers, and plenty of cinematic gloss,  I imagine that the game might also offer possibilities to work through its scenarios informationally rather than violently. However - and this is novel - a key mechanism of the game involves unleashing violence through informational control.  The player becomes the private investigator, the hacker, the vigilante, the seeker in a world of hidden threats, urban noir and whispers. It's a long way back to Fritz Lang and Weimar Germany, but I can't help thinking that there's a connection between the way in which 'M' explores how the density of urban contact amplifies narratives of fear and terror, and the way in which this post-millienial interactive fiction might unfold. 




An interview with James Morin, the creative director of the project, in the Guardian, explains the way in which the design team is approaching the notion of medium/message mashup : "...that's exactly what we are trying to pull off: the online metaphor is online! We want to talk about the internet and the way it affects our lives and we can do it in a way that no other game can. That's what lead us to the cross-platform aspect. It opens all sorts of really crazy doors for us."

There's a tradition in strategy games of simulated urban infrastructures, from SimCity and Grand Theft Auto to the various transportation/urban design applications that are out there. In this game, the infrastructure can be turned against the city's inhabitants - to devastating effect - conjuring images from disaster movies and unleashing apocalyptic terror. None of these effects are original by themselves, but it's the way the game mashes up different genres that offers some interesting representations of and insights on the world that we may be coming to inhabit, in a way that doesn't seem to distance the viewer from the imagined world, in contrast to previous generations of darkly humorous and dystopian open world games such as the Fallout series. 




So Watch Dogs presents a glittering, iridescent city of surfaces, a city of dark possibilities which, realised in the everday world would really not be pleasant, if you happened to be on the receiving end of militarized public intervention, caught up in urban guerilla warfare, or a victim of a determined lone gunman (or hacker).

Will games like Watch Dogs prompt questions about, or habituate us to the more dystopian potentials of the contemporary 'smart city'?  Will this next generation of 'smart games' perhaps stimulate a debate, within a popular cultural space, about the extent to which the contemporary world remains an iron cage - in which the apparent benefits of networked identities in a hyper-technologized world are double-edged, ambiguous, and slippery?








Monday, July 23, 2012

Tidying up and keeping track...

Archiving and capturing information when you're so highly reliant on an ever-changing swarm/web infrastructure can be a challenge. There's something satisfying and tactile about a physical book or artefact, and fires, plagues or floods permitting, they are reasonably secure stores of information. Not the case with the web, where resources and infrastructures which were once heavily trafficked can vanish into nothing overnight as corporations, governments or skint organisations switch the servers off.

There are several tasks I need to accomplish over the next few months. One is to digitise and store analogue material from my archive of projects and outputs from the last 20 years: not too many are worth salvaging but those that are, I intend to put online and back up to hard drive; and also I need to check back through the various blogs I've built, download and archive the important bits, and try to make sure the links are current.

This relates to another project I'm just beginning to compile on the various histories of what have been called, at different times, community and participatory, and more recently "socially-engaged" arts (as if art could ever not be social...although some practitioners and connoisseurs would prefer to keep the arts liberal-individual). More about that at another point, although it clearly links to the work that we're doing on the Remaking Society project, as the same thing seems to come up again and again - the point I've repeatedly made about the need to be a bit clearer about the genealogies, histories and typologies of the various strands of participatory arts practice.  In one sense it could be argued that we are moving towards a much more participatory culture, in which the tools and resources to produce and communicate are cheap and almost ubiquitous, but the problem remains that there's no way it is possible to describe the world as democratically organised, not least when the symbolic violence of giant corporate spectacles so dominates public discourse, and wealth of all kinds is so unevenly distributed. So deconstructing and reconstructing terms like 'participation', 'community' and 'collaboration' becomes incredibly important, especially if we want to reclaim them as valid tactical approaches to cultural production. There are some good recent bits of work that have done just this -  for example in some of the scoping studies for the AHRC's Connected Communities programme, and of course the Kester vs Bishop barney about 'socially engaged' art is worth a look too.

Anyway, it might just be worth re-capping where the various bits of information about my various obsessions are to be found. This blog chronicles a fair bit of my work over the last five years, and to go earlier you'd need to read the Creative College book, which captures what we were up to in East London before that, and then fled the scene before the Olympic tsunami hit. The UWS blogs have information about my current workplace and the research and development agendas being pursued there. The 'museum of..." series is a repository for what I think is interesting ephemera from the 1970s, '80s and '90s. I guess I should also start a 'museum of the 00s' but in some ways I'm more interested in thinking about how we got here than doing lots of recent digging through the dirty world of neoliberal fast capitalism. I've also been thinking a lot about 'network pedagogies' and how digital/distributed learning combined with face-to-face might open up possibilities for much more porous forms of learning organisation and learning architectures.

I guess the other thing to consider is that in the liquid, digital world approaches and strategies constantly melt and change. But this just makes it even more important to be aware of how and why we do what we do...


Thursday, June 07, 2012

Chicago


An old panhandler on the corner reads Rumi.
basketball player on hotel carpet signs autographs
crew cut man in shades barks instructions in his iPhone
the city of broad shoulders breaks easy

Black wallet left on a coffee shop table
Colorado driver's license and cards inside
For a split second I switch identities
Then hand in the case at the desk

Sunlight beats down on the buildings
Sidewalks heavy with concrete & steel shadows
In the city of broad shoulders
what will be left when the winners leave town?

5 mins after, man in shorts sweeps the shop
Did you see my wallet?
he asks, I tell.

three sixty dollars cash gone since he left it
a sharper thief emptied it first
City of fast bucks for some
for others, broke luck



Wednesday, May 09, 2012

About Time

My 43rd birthday arrives, and finds me in a somewhat introspective mood.

I've spent most of the last four years juggling projects. Far too many projects, with not enough of them reaching a satisfactory conclusion. A lot of stuff that previously I thought was at the centre of my work has been pushed out to the edges. It's been a strange time - up until around 2006/7, my work felt much more coherent, with a trajectory built up from more than a decade of solid, well supported collaborations with great colleagues in east London that brought together lots of my interests, and culminated in some decent publications and a reasonably coherent professional narrative. The last few years, particularly since 2008, have felt a lot more fragmented and fractious.

I've always had a magpie-like approach to disciplines and lacked the personal 'discipline' to do anything in massive depth - I have preferred breadth and connectivity to the microscopic focus on the particular that many academics settle for. That makes me useful for organisations that want people who are able to work 'between' and 'across' disciplines, which has become a bit of a speciality for me.

So I've been working on strategy, planning and collaboration in the School of Creative and Cultural Industries at UWS, which is now beginning to bear some fruit; the new Ayr campus offers massive opportunities and we've also refurbished some rooms in Paisley to bring together researchers in spaces that try to promote collaboration. We're also pushing forward with projects and collaborations in Glasgow, through Film City, the CCA and GI, and in Ayr, with the refurbishment of the Gaiety Theatre, and have been successful in beginning to get some funding for projects through our Skillset Media Academy. We've been working on very many fronts at once to try to create a networked academic infrastructure that promotes pathways into meaningful work for students and also levers the power and resources of the university in support of regeneration and social/economic development. 

We've established some research centres - in particular Creative Futures and our Creative Practice/Research Group, which are trying to draw together a disparate group of colleagues to work in support of this agenda, and pull out common threads for discussion and action. A lot of this kind of work, rooted in an awareness of the potential of the university as a public service provider and a catalyst for change, is about relationship building - but, as so often happens, individuals get caught in the gaps and inconsistencies between the rhetoric and the reality, where the rhetoric often runs far ahead of the reality and where a sense of trust, confidence and the capacity to make things happen needs a lot of development. In a sense, as Bourdieu wrote, we have to mediate between the spotlit 'front room' and the back rooms of change-making:  "among the tasks of a politics of morality [is] to work incessantly toward unveiling hidden differences between official theory and actual progress, between the limelight and the backrooms of political life."

If creativity is about agency - the capacity to make and do - then we need to build a climate which enables people to understand 'the art of the possible', which designs in opportunities for growth, and which, given that we are "publicly funded and publicly accountable" (the mantra of obsessive accountants everywhere) still meets regulatory requirements. We need creative systems, generative systems, not just bureaucratic systems. It's not simply systems-versus-creativity; there are no magic formulae; but we know a creative climate and a creative organisation when we experience one - we build the culture as we go. Systems AND creativity not either-or.

Within all this maelstrom of change I've been very excited by working with @UWScreative doctoral researchers - great people like Ben Parry, Jennifer Jones, Chris Dooks, Alison Bell and Gail Sneddon, and I have many good colleagues who successfully navigate between the academic and artistic domains. There is loads of potential for UWS to support cultural practice-as-research which also has societal impact (a kind of holy grail in current higher education jargon...) But it's also a struggle to have this kind of work understood, especially when there's a constant, nagging, focus on the empty buzzwords of 'entrepreneurship, employability, enhancement' etc. Thus requiring yet more translation, explanation, and mediation to try to build an academic agenda that is critical, reflective and actually generates work with significance. It's exhausting for everyone. There are far too many 'empty signifiers' to contend with, and not enough time for the thinking/doing that would actually generate new insights. 

The point is that achieving change - something, for example, that the dreadful, self-obsessed, lacklustre UK government has no conception of  - is far less about constantly banging on about outputs, performance or 'difficult choices' and much more about lived values and qualities. Working in the porous and pressurised postmodern university necessitates constant mediation between the tyrannies of planning grids, learning outcomes charts, metrics etc and the messy and turbulent world of everyday social interaction. However, planning grids, no matter how demanding they might be, can't lock down sociality - it's in the conversations and the encounters that people learn - so the question needs to be - what kinds of conversations do our systems promote? Are the conversations good enough? Are we doing enough to facilitate good conversations? In education, and organisations more generally - rather than constantly exhorting people to 'perform', perhaps we should spend more time thinking about whether we've got the conditions right that enable them to perform?  Climate, circumstances, context. "Quality" resides in the quality of interaction between members of the community, not in abstract measures of value. 


Money (that useful symbolic token which enables the purchase of time) remains scarce and seems likely to be so into the future. And I'm pretty exhausted with all this negotiation, particularly while my personal circumstances continue to be far more precarious than I would like. In such circumstances, the smart use of time is essential - we shouldn't be wasting money on ineffective meetings or pointless procedures. The question leaders should be asking is - what will it cost us NOT to change? (Of course, it suits √©lites just fine to maintain the status quo, but that's another story).


A few mantras that I keep repeating:

- saying or writing something is not the same as doing something: just because you've written something needs to happen doesn't mean it will happen
- we need to avoid 'fantasy management' where we paper over cracks and don't address issues
- and I'm back to 'hacking the organisation' as a founding metaphor for making things happen.


I have continued to be preoccupied with

-  questions of culture and value, in particular how cultural participation 'works'
-  network pedagogies and ways of fostering collaborative learning architectures
-  how to make good use of increasingly scarce time and resources

We can't go on, we must go on, we go on.