‘Self-seekers, Madmen and Poets’

Ruth Kinna of Loughborough University’s department of Politics, History and International Relations is one of the leading authors on anarchist history and political theory. In this clip, she talks about William Morris, Guy Aldred, Dora Marsden and their anarchist thought.

Managers in the Protest Camp – Is there managing beyond management?

In a guest post for the CPPE, Fabian Frenzel, Lecturer in the Political Economy of Organisation at the University of Leicester School of Management, writes on the importance of rescuing the concept of managing from a narrowly business-centred understanding. Fabian will be launching his new co-authored book Protest Camps at the University of Leicester on the 29th of October, along with Liam Barrington-Bush who’ll be presenting his new book Anarchists in the Boardroom. To register for the event, please follow this link: http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/management/about/news/new-perspectives-on-anarchism-and-management

Would you consider a manager as someone who helps organize a protest; who is involved in a social centre or alternative housing project; who creates a rota on a large piece of white paper, hoping to win some volunteers for the empty slots? Would you consider a manager as someone who runs a family, takes care of children, the elderly, who helps in greening a street corner? Would such a person consider themselves as a manager?

Probably not. The term manager is reserved for roles of a more abstract order: the running of corporations for the purpose of making profits or the organization and control of our collective life by the state. Management is – for the very reason of this context – considered at best a dreadful necessity by most people exposed to it.

Indeed anti-managerial sentiment is probably one of the most widely held public experiences of our times, be it because we are hassled in our workplace by managers and their ‘plan’ for us or because bureaucracies are overwhelming us with Babylonian and Kafkaesque demands. We don’t like managers and this is not surprising considering that they are – on top of often being a pain  – extremely well rewarded for what they do, receiving high earnings, powerful positions and an ever increasing realm of influence.


As teachers and researchers in a school of management this should concern us. We are critical of management, perhaps, but what do we do? We receive our salaries because so many people understandably decide that entering the managerial class is smarter than being merely exposed to it. If you can’t beat them join them. For the fees our students pay we provide them with the backstage pass of modern social organization.

More recently there is a lot of talk of responsible management. Perhaps this is in response to the obvious limits of current managerial practices. There is the call to educate better managers, to make them more responsible, to make them consider the harm they often do. In the context of the UN Global Compact (link to http://www.unprme.org/), business schools now network and cooperate globally in order to make management education more responsible.

But does this suffice? We know well the traps of corporate social responsibility, of green-washing, of business ethics applied. And who would want to teach irresponsible management anyway?

Perhaps something can be gained by liberating management from its marriage with abstract, distant organization and with business administration: severing the conceptual ties that bind what we think of as management to the pursuit of capitalist profit and political control. Instead, what if we started understanding as management those things we do to collectively organize our lives and struggles against capital and the state and what we do to care for and help each other, how we co-operate without domination and in solidarity.

In my collaborative research on protest camps I found managing and organizing to be useful, practical and mundane as well as decentralised and autonomous.

Perhaps liberating managing from management doesn’t involve much more than reminding ourselves that we all manage all the time and that we should not allow some people to claim that we need to be managed by them. But this also means that we can no longer pass the blame. The challenge is to take full responsibility for our own affairs.

Hard Cash update

The edited book project, Hard Cash, that Stephen Dunne and myself are organizing is entering a new phase.  We’ve got promises (some a little vague so far, but that’s what thumbscrews were invented for) from 18 authors (including several members of CPPE).  Topics range widely as expected, including the strongly empirical, the purely theoretical, the historical, the psychoanalytic and the downright strange.  It’s looking very good.  Any tardy CPPE-ers out there who still want to chip something in can do so, but you better be quick.

The project will be the subject of a two-day workshop on 6th and 7th December this year hosted by ULSM, at which we hope to bring together as many of the authors as possible for a pre-writing exchange of ideas and general party.  Attendance contingent on the promise of a chapter….

Beyond that, the first submission deadline for chapters will be the end of May 2013.  In the intervening period, as well as writing our own sparkling contributions, Stephen and I will be hassling publishers of various stripes in the hope that they will not only publish it, but even give us money – hard cash, of course – to do so.



More Philosophical Freebies

Too lazy or thick to read all that difficult philosophy? Well the nice folk at Open Culture have put a bunch of TV interviews conducted by Brian McGee with famous and very posh philosophers on the interweb.  Go here.

Aside from Iris Murdoch and Martha Nussbaum there is a noticeable absence of ‘Lady Philosophers’ from the list, but this was the seventies which were, as I dimly remember, quite crap.  You may feel the urge to wear tweed and light up a pipe when listening to these.  If so, go with it….


There were strong echoes of Stefano Harney’s recent seminar at the Exterritory event in Paris this week.  Exterritory is a project initiated by Israeli artists, filmmakers and curators Ruti Sela and Mayaan Amir in 2009, to explore some of the many contradictions produced by the struggle over land in the Palestine/Israel conflict.  Because both sides lay claim in various ways to ‘territory’ (conceived in multiple ways), Ruti and Mayaan wanted to explore the possibility of stepping outside territory altogether to innovate modes of resistance and to highlight the absurdities of the battle over land.  This has involved many different events over the years, most strikingly their projection of images of the region and its many people onto the sails of yachts at night in international waters off the Israeli coast.

Anne Davidian from the Evens Foundation opens the Exterritory symposium

The event in Paris – co-hosted by the Kadist and Evens Foundations – was the first of a number of planned symposia bringing together artists, curators, academics and other oddments to consider what ‘exterritory’ might mean in practice.  The Paris symposium explored various aspects of exterritorial and extraterritorial space (the distinction between the two being far more meaningful in French).  The first session included (defiantly non-) geographer Stuart Elden’s thought-provoking analysis of the construction of ‘exile’ in Shakespeare’s plays and Laurent Jeanpierre‘s examination of theoretical and juridical notions of exterritoriality. The second session consisted of my own rambling thoughts inspired by events of 2008 and the ‘flash-crash’ – ‘Where has all the (xeno)money gone?‘ – and Dana Diminescu‘s fascinating exploration of the complex and emergent spatialities of migration. All four papers were skilfully brought together by the contribution of Anat Ben David, one of Ruti and Mayaan’s regular collaborators on Exterritory.

Angus getting flash with the Flash-Crash

All sorts of cross-cutting themes and resonances emerged from the papers and subsequent discussion that I won’t rehearse here (the event was filmed and will eventually appear on-line) but for me the most striking aspect was the ubiquity of social, economic, political, individual, collective, planned and spontaneous ‘spaces’ that do not conform to the established norms of legally-defined and reproduced ‘territoriality’.  Indeed, by the time we’d worked through the ambiguous spatialities of exile, xenomoney, migration, cyberspace, exception, and many others, territory itself was beginning to look like the minority sport.  Which, of course, makes it all the more interesting that so much of our legal, institutional, police, military and political activity should be devoted to what emerges as a very narrow and privileged mode of living in and thinking about the world.

Paradox in Cairo

I have just returned from an exhilarating trip to Cairo to present a paper as part of the Downtown Conyemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF) being held at a number of venues across the city centre.  I was asked to contribute to an exhibition called ‘I’m Not There’ at the Townhouse Gallery hosted by the Contemporary IMage Collective and curated by its multi-talented curator/director Mia Jankowicz.

As its title suggests, the exhibition comprised a series of ‘absent’ artworks – missing because they had been censored, destroyed, banned, stolen or otherwise prevented from being shown.  Instead of the works themselves, therefore, the exhibition space was filled with the ‘biographies’ of the missing works and, in some instances, empty frames and/or wall-spaces whare the works would otherwise have been.

The result was a rather austere exhibition consisting almost entirely of english and arabic text in black and white telling the stories of the various absent works.  The idea of an ’empty’ exhibition is not a new one – as the curator happily acknowledged – but in the context of the ongoing revolution in Cairo it took on a very particular resonance.  The Mubarak regime was extremely censorious (though apparently presented itself as doing those being censored a favour because it saved them from future trouble and/or civil unrest) and the habit of censorship seems to be one that is continuing.  The prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood winning forthcoming presidential elections in Egypt, and promising to introduce Sharia Law, has raised fears of even tighter restrictions in the future.

My own contribution stemmed from my involvement with Swedish performance artists goldin+senneby‘s ongoing project ‘Headless’ for which I act as spokeperson/emissary.  Headless concerns, among many other things, the ways in which contemporary offshore finance uses legally structured absence and agency (e.g. in the form of shell companies, tax consultants, impenetrable private trusts, etc) to conceal wealth and other nefarious activities from the tax and regulatory authorities.  In the context of Headless, I stand in for the artists whenever they are innvited to exhibit and/or speak about the project – as they put it, they engage in an ‘act of withdrawal’ (multiple puns intended).

I was, therefore, in the strange position in Cairo of being the only part of an actual ‘artwork’ present, though of course standing in for the ‘real’ artists.  In light of this ambiguous position, the paper given was a rather rambling reflection on the representation of absence entitled ‘The art of not being (t)here’. (The Prezi accompanying the talk can be found here).

Having foollishly imagined that the visual arts would offer a wide range of examples of the representation of absence, in fact this is a far trickier topic than anticipated.  Fortunately, I was rescued by a combination of earlier reflections on money and boundaries but more importantly by Rosalie Colie’s fascinating but largely neglected study of the use of paradox by Renaissance poets, writers and artists – Paradoxia Epidemica.

Not only was Colie’s analysis relevant to my own profoundly paradoxical situation (having flown to Cairo for 48 hours to stand in an empty exhibition standing in for two people who were absent), but had a resonance with the wider context of the exhibition.  Colie quotes a letter by the poet and master of the paradox, John Donne, that gives a flavour of why (with Dr Donne’s apologies for the pre-orthographic spelling):

“Only in obedience I send you some of my paradoxes; I love you and myself and them too well to send them willingly for they carry with them a confession of their lightnes. and your trouble and my shame. But indeed they were made rather to deceave tyme then: although they have been written in an age when any thing is strong enough to overthrow her: if they make you to find better reasons against them, they do their office: for they are but swaggerers: quiet enough if you resist them. if perchaunce they may be pretyly guilt, that is there best for they they are not hatcht: they are rather alarums to truth to arme her then enemies: and they have only the advantadg to scape from being cald ill things that they are no things: therefore take heed of allowing any of them least you make another.”

John Donne, letter to an unknown friend, early 1600s (emphasis added).

The highlighted sections caught my eye in particular.  The first emphasises the playful aspect of paradox – something that certainly applies to Headless, but also to many other contemporary art works (e.g. a lot of the grafitti that has sprung up all over Cairo during and since the Revolution).  The second is more complex.  On the one hand it suggests that the paradox is weak – it simply collapses in on itself if examined too closely.  However, it also alludes to the way in which paradox holds a mirror up to the powerful – power itself is a paradox that ‘swaggers’ a little too much and that can always, therefore, be resisted.  Paradox, this suggests, playfully mocks power in a way that can both wrong foot it, and higlhlight its own contradictions and vulnerabilities.  It also allows for a mode of political commentary that defies censorship by making a virtue of (apparent) banality.  As Colie put it:

“The paradox does not commit itself, nor does the paradoxist: another reason why in the melee of Renaissance ideas, there was a paradoxical epidemic, affording man the chance to postpone a philosophical or religious choice he might live to regret.  Indeed, the paradoxical form denies commitment: breaking out of imprisonment by disciplinary forms and the regulation of schools, it denies limitation, defies “siting” in any specific philosophical position.”

Rosalie Colie, 1966, Paradoxia Epidemica: 38





Pedagogy of the Neo-Liberally Oppressed?

Things have recently gotten all quiet on the virtual front. Within the classroom, on the other hand, things are presently very active. This surely must have been expected. Most of us have more people listening to our lectures than we (will ever) have studying our papers or reading our blogs. That has to be the experience upon which we organise, both individually and collectively. I’m not so sure it is something to worry about. After all, if we can’t speak to the interests of the captive audiences whose attention we attain more on the basis of compliance than enthusiasm, we really shouldn’t expect to capture a willing readership online. Teach first, then blog!

Here I’d like to briefly describe what has been happening within one of my classes and hopefully others can share similar experiences and concerns.  

Within a course on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) my students and I have been speculating upon the extent to which the occupy movement, alongside a variety of ongoing and proposed parliamentary responses to the global financial crisis, might be considered  historically monumental events in 100 years time. The students are being asked to review Colin Crouch’s The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism, particularly his account of CSR, and in so doing they are being asked to speculate, with Crouch, as to whether CSR is likely to become a more prevalent feature of the post-crisis landscape, or not. The students are also being asked to discuss these issues from their own position as potential managers and employees of post-crisis profit-making firms by considering the extent to which the debates and struggles currently in evidence might eventually serve to re-allign their own lives, for better or for worse.

This is, I think, a very concrete set of concerns. Nevertheless, the potential lines along which these concerns might be meaningfully pursued have very quickly proliferated. The reading list I’ve developed looks very much like a whistle stop tour of classical political theory. Whilst I know that an excellent occupy reading list is already being created I find it difficult to endorse anything other than the classics, at least in the context of a 10 hour module. I’m open to debate, of course, but with the likes of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Mill and Marx on my side, my opponent will need to come armed with some pretty strong artillery! 

Sometimes I worry that I am doing the students a disservice by not telling them what they really need to know about CSR. These worries rarely last long, however – the resources within the CSR literature are entirely inadequate to the task. So maybe the task itself is the problem? Maybe I shouldn’t bring the student’s own hopes and fears into the pedagogy but instead offer stable points of orientation as if I was really in a position to offer them. Try as I might, I find it hard to adopt that course of action. So maybe that’s the problem.