Recent-ish work

Here’s a list of things I have put out recently.

Over the last couple of years I have switched very consciously away from academic and political writing to ‘literary’ forms, poetry, fiction and experimental writing.

I have put out two volumes of poetry, SING volumes one and two:

Volume 1 is here:

Volume 2 is here:

These books collect the material from a year-long project in which I read in public, on the streets of Manchester.

I have since pitched these as a single-volume edition to the excellent Knives, Forks and Spoons press. Scott Thurston is involved and I am hoping he will write the preface for the single-volume edition (whoever eventually takes it).

I have published two books with poet Richard Barrett:

The Acts (published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe)

The Wake (published by Nowt Press)

I have been working up until very recently on a book called Last Days of Pompeii. This began as an experimental campus novel. It was meant to take in how it felt to pass through the long interregnum of Brexit Britain and ended in the first waves of the coronavirus crisis.

Available via Amazon for a while have been Vols. 1, 2 and 3 as separate editions.

But now here is the collected book with all three volumes in it, Vols. 1, 2 and 3 collected:

I had a London agent interested in that work, but who knows where I am with it now.

What started as A Book of the Broken Middle – already published by Fold Press (ISBN 978-0-9932600-4-9) – is due to come out with Boiler House Press as A Shaken Bible. This will be part of the Beyond Criticism series, BC Editions. The first run of books includes a republished Macbeth, Macbeth by Ewan Fernie and Simon Palfrey:

Related to that work is an article on Andrew Shanks’ translations of Nelly Sachs’ work for Blackbox Manifold at the University of Sheffield:

Although my main output has been more literary recently, I put out my essay E is for Enlightenment (2019) as a book-form piece. You can order that here:

This book really follows up my paper on postmodernism for JCEPS:

A chapter on the Concrete Abstract (with Dr Mark Rainey) came out in The Routledge Handbook of Henri Lefebvre, The City and Urban Society, Edited by Michael E. Leary-Owhin, John P. McCarthy. ISBN 978- 1138290051.

Dystopia, Chile, also put out a chapter online, with visual work, that I did for them, City of Blades – for a projected print book that never got off the ground:

I also set up Manchester Review of Books with Joe Darlington and Some Roast Poet with Adrian Slatcher.

Some Roast Poet has put out three poetry journals under the name of ‘Some Roast Poet’ (1, 2 and 3) and has published monographs by Steven Waling and John G. Hall:

Previous books include Small Towns, Austere Times (Zero). For my previous academic work see the entries below on this blog and a full-ish CV, here

Of course this flurry of record-keeping is prompted by the COVID-19 crisis. With this in mind, here is my collected poetry as a PDF, A4, printable. My older blog is also now open and is here:

The entries below also tell you where a lot of my other work is. My other blog before it kept a good record of everything that came out during that time, too. Use them as guides.

The Thommys

My partner Natalie Bradbury has been contributing to an end of year culture roundup for some time. It’s called ‘The Thommys’ (not the Oscars, and Thommy started it, see?) This is my first. It’s probably the most banal thing I have ever written. There’s an end of year roundup, 2019 and as I joined at the end of a decade there’s also a (patchy) ten year review, 2010-2020.

New paper on the end of postmodernism

I have a new paper out on the end of postmodernism for JCEPS. It’s really just a flag planted in some big territory in order to start some more work on the subject.

It just dropped with the new issue of JCEPS this week, but they forgot to include the page of graphs and left in some peer review feedback, which makes the end of the paper seem garbled.

I’m hoping that will be solved soon but with a shrewd bit of Photoshop and Acrobat faff I have solved its issues and you can read it here here.

Report on urban identity, belonging and citizenship

This report for the Centre for Urban and Comminity Research at Goldsmiths has just come out.

It emerged from work undertaken for the Foresight Future of Cities programme, as a member of a team put together by COMPAS at the University of Oxford. The brief of that research project, to risk being reductive, was to examine the last fifty years of urban patterns of identity, belonging and citizenship, before trying to project those patterns forward across the next fifty years.

The Foresight Future of Cities programme focused on urban renewal, but specifically on the risk factors these processes may face, from flooding to riots.

However, after the project was completed, it struck the authors that their work on identity, belonging and citizenship – undertaken before the general election of 2015, before the referendum on UK European Union membership went to ‘leave’ and the whole subject became a white hot cipher in ‘Brexit’, and before the general election of June, 2017 – had a much wider use on a changing British landscape.

It strikes us that precisely because of what came after the Foresight Future of Cities programme, identity, belonging and citizenship is going to be one of the key intellectual sites for British researchers of all kinds in the next five to ten years. The work on Englishness now seems almost prophetic.

We have therefore taken steps to have this work updated and then to have it published in the hope that it might inaugurate necessary ongoing debates about identity, belonging and citizenship in Britain, as the island morphs into new subjective shapes.

There is no better place for this work to emerge at the start of 2018 than the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR) at Goldsmiths. To connect this work to their roots, emerging somewhere between the Chicago and Frankfurt School, via crucial figures such as Paul Gilroy and Michael Keith, is to give the research a much needed politics.

Many thanks are due to Les Back, Director of the CUCR, for considering the report and providing a home for it.

Scrub Transmissions No.2

The Scrub Transmissions series is an occasional installation project run by Julie Campbell aka LoneLady, in which she ‘cements an MP3 device into the fabric of a structure, somewhere in the city or its outskirts.’ It is a ‘rumination on the built environment’, a ‘discreet intervention.’

The first of these was sited under the Mancunian Way. This time it is Miles Platting, a ‘clump of unassuming inner city factory districts’ where LoneLady walked ‘to burn out anxiety patterns and seek consolation’, as it ‘seemed to offer a habitat, a place to belong.’ She wanted to listen to ‘the voices of the landscape’ here, ‘before they are scrubbed out’.

The word ‘scrub’ is used in a double-edged sense, as in scrub land, waste, but as a verb, to clean up, and in urban terms, to gentrify. LoneLady’s greatest edge on the rest of the pop world has always been her imaginative capabilities.

But there is something powerfully simple going on here too: One thing that pop music does is move people out of their private spaces and into public ones. Ever since the music hall and beyond, this has meant an audience, a stage and performers, a night out.

By siting an MP3 player in the urban landscape that you can go and plug into, LoneLady moves private bodies into public spaces again, but this time not into a venue. She wants you to see and hear what she sees and hears when she takes those recharging walks into Miles Platting, walks that may not be possible forever, or at least not in this form.

The history of sound and field recording has always had an ecological dimension to it. The Vancouver Soundscape Project captured the noise of shipping, horn blasts and steam whistles which became like an Edgard Varese piece, musique concrete, but with a critical side high modernism didn’t possess, or if it did, a la the vorticists, it had destrustructive tendencies. The Vancouver Soundscape Project mapped industrialising processes through sound.

So I set off to find the second Scrub Transmissions intervention, with writer Natalie Bradbury, and I made a field recording of our journey there.

The map provided to locate Scrub Transmissions No.2 – posted on the LoneLady website – doesn’t give you a didactic route in, it tells you where the site is in relation to Piccadilly Station and Piccadilly Gardens. But in this case all roads lead away from Rome, as you move through the whacky, thumbs aloft, grinning facades of peak Northern Quarter shop window displays, over the intermittent dereliction of the A665 ring road – only a digit away from the number of the beast in ‘666’ – to the now gentrified streets of Ancoats.

Alex Rhys-Taylor, a Sociologist, asks us to expand the way we take in landscapes, to add to the dominant visual sense of them sound, smell, taste and feeling. Rhys-Taylor wrote about the now-cliched Bow Bells in London’s east end, being within earshot of which supposedly gave you bona fide cockney status. Taylor went there in the early 00s and heard no bells. He heard jacked up hip hop beats, industrial drills and car drones.

More recently, the last bell foundry closed in the east. What this tells Rhys-Taylor is that the social world in which one could hear the chiming bells of the churches, landmarks via which people genuinely oriented themselves in this version of the city, has gone. But crucially, he does not insert a bucolic vision here, where the past could be redeemed and the bells could be heard again, people are just navigating by other means, cars, GPS, public transport, all of which can still be heard.

It might be tempting to assume that all of that applies to that very loaded area, the mythical east end, but not here. But this is not the case: The back streets of the Northern Quarter and Ancoats are currently undergoing transformations that will render them not back streets at all. They aren’t just being ‘cleaned up’, the total transformation of their surfaces will change the spaces completely; they are being turned inside-out, like a sock. Or rather, they are being turned outside-in, as all the stitching – the wires and rusting pipes – vanishes under the appealing patterns of the commercial city.

One could still see the same thing in Soho maybe forty years ago, there were back streets and front streets, but now, mostly, as the demand for space intensifies, there are only front streets. This is the opposite of what Engels observed in the 1840s, where front streets served to conceal the poverty out back.

The Manchester streets have been changing from places where private bodies traditionally made themselves public, the Free Trade Hall conversion to a Radisson hotel for instance, to spaces where public bodies make themselves expensively private.

The sound of angle grinders and road rollers drone out of the whole area, as though the buildings themselves are painfully growing out of the cavities they are in. It is the foggy sound of an anaesthetised migraine toothache, decorated with the occasional machine screech of molar growing pains. But this mixes with the smell of food, the nouveau bakeries and delicatessens. Again, Rhys-Taylor makes these observations in relation to London.

We move slowly away from the ring road and up past Will Alsop’s chips building, the crassest height of post-Olympic bid, post-IRA bomb regeneration postmodernism. It already seems to be slightly grubby, beginning to confirm Owen Hatherley’s predictions about the slums of the future. Manchester Modernist co-founder Maureen Ward explains that this has been a strong part of Manchester’s narrative over the last twenty years or so, the urge ‘to entirely restructure its landscape and public spaces into a series of distinct marketable quarters or villages, effectively commercialising all aspects of the “city experience”‘.

She explains that this ‘is part of a wider trend globally to repackage our cities’ and as ‘Debord would argue, our personal lives’ which are placed ‘into commodified packages for consumption rather than “living” in any tangible sense.’

This nod to the Situationist Guy Debord is utterly appropriate: Some people refer to this building as the ‘chip butty’, the ultimate working class food, carbohydrates delivered inside more carbohydrates, coming out of a culture of draining manual labour. But this iconic working class food has been forced into irony, like much else on the cultural landscape in Manchester and elsewhere, its working class origins are only tolerable if they are placed in scare quotes followed by ‘LOLZ’. This is New Islington after all. Blair’s sick grin hovers over the whole zone.


Dale Lately recently wrote in the Guardian about the Manchester ‘pawn shop bar’ Dusk Til Pawn and similar trendy haunts. But up above the chips building the landscape changes and the irony gets far bleaker, as we pass the abandoned Bank of England pub, on Carruthers street, a name conjuring a butler, or perhaps an upper middle class civil servant.

The Bank of England is shuttered in black steel, a single CCTV camera scans the side, or  more likely, it doesn’t: The dead eye of zombie capitalism; it is ten years now since the crash of 2008. Credit and mortgage lending has been severely tightened by banks who caused the crash in the first place with risky lending.

The landscape changes again, yards full of lorries rear up, and shuttered industrial units, fragments of old industry. Here the dominant sense of the city is the grey noise of wind and traffic that seems so bleak and ubiquitously anonymous. It is a little like the area around Strangeways, it feels by turns abandoned, legitimate and shady.

What we hear in Miles Platting is the sound of post-industrial slump, uneven development as dark ambient music; again it might be tempting to think this is just grey noise, but no, the ‘scrub’ is transmitting perfectly clearly, its message is as obvious as that in the East End. Here is one of the last pieces of city-as-carcass. A last bit of dead flesh yet to be removed by the cosmetic surgeon.


After a wrong turn into some artist studios we find what looks like a factory reception after the Hiroshima bomb in 1945. We walk through into the open air. Graffiti proclaims ‘FUCKING HATRED TO CREATE MORE’. It is utterly chilling here. But it is honest, it is the place where those on the edge go, the necessary victims of capitalism. Here is the underbelly of the great pornographic spectacle of Manchester.

The MP3 player embedded in a breezeblock, the goal, is only the dramatic centrepoint of the piece. The journey to and away from it provide the fluctuating prelude and finale. They fluctuate because each journey will be slightly different, although the sound here, at the centre, does not alter. We plug Natalie’s headphones into the MP3 socket. LoneLady begins with a spoken meditation and the track starts.

I am reminded of a Janet Cardiff piece in London from 2003. The ‘audience’ picked up a portable CD player with headphones from Whitechapel library. They put the headphones on, pressed play on the CD, then followed the instructions, out into the street and right, then right again, then left. At points the narrative would talk about specific things, ‘see that man over there?’ In London, the chances of their not being a ‘man over there’ in the daytime are slim. The art, then, played with the line between myth and reality, fiction and fact, sound and walking, story and seeing.

But here, although each person who journeys to find the MP3 player will have a slightly different experience, the landscape itself is both narrative and narrator. The MP3 player is a kind of omphalos. There is a sense of an adventure game, to find a jewel – perhaps the pop fandom provides the urge – but once launched, we are into a wholly different space.

For a person growing up on Blake’s Seven and Tom Baker-era Dr Who, it is possible to feel like you are finding some sort of matter transmitter, or like some Michael Moorcock character, an anti-chaos device. In short, a broadcaster of meaning in all of the draining, primary-coloured meaninglessness.

This, in the end, is the wider purpose of the work and it is rooted back in the concerns of high modernism, particularly Beckett: The world is chaos, it verges on the pointless, it is up to us to find and make value in it.

Today we are privileged, we only have to find, as LoneLady is an exemplary maker of meaning.


Here is some selected photographic documentation on an A3 PDF.

Here is LoneLady’s page explaining the work:

It’s not what you know

I recently wrote an article on casualised academia for the IWW. This can be found here:

In it I argue that this level of labour can be viewed as a caste not a class. But there is another aspect to living in my caste that happens outside the university, and that is my daily attempts to get out of my caste.

Occasionally those statistics appear in the media that seem invented only to serve journalism:

‘137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016. … Minor illnesses (such as coughs and colds) were the most common…’

These statistics are often allied to an editorial that blasts the ‘workshy’ for taking ‘sickies’.

Here’s another kind of statistic you sometimes see, but only when the state wants to announce a new day of prosperity, like notices about increases in tractor production in the former Soviet Union:

Job Vacancies in the United Kingdom ‘increased to 818 Thousand in April from 806 Thousand in March of 2018’.

I’m interested in these statistics partly because what information they provide always covers the information that they don’t give. I have been monitoring the stupefying amount of time I put into job applications recently.

First, let’s look at some job vacancy figures in Britain. Let’s take a low estimate of 800,000 job vacancies per month in Britain and multiply it by the twelve months in the year. This comes to 9600000 job vacancies.

Many jobs shortlist between four and six people, so let’s take a median of five per vacancy and assuming that one of those applicants gets the job, we can also assume that the time of four people is wasted with each interview.

So, if we then multiply the vacancies by four – which is to discount the unwasted time of the successful applicant – we get 38400000. If we multiply that by the three hours on average it is estimated people take on job applications, we get 115,200,000 wasted hours.

One hundred and fifteen million, two hundred thousand, wasted hours per year. But this is a huge underestimation, and it is a picture of the jobs market as a whole and not just in my sector.

I spend at least a day on academic job applications. I research the university I am applying to. I try to sense the departmental structure from outside. I try to get a sense of its prejudice and bend myself to fit into their positive image: I do exactly what the union unconsciously does when it politely negotiates with HR.

Ivor Southwood writes about the emotional labour that goes into the application and interview and my rough calculations don’t even figure that in. There is the time taken out to attend an interview, the best part of a day is always knocked out, sometimes much more, sometimes it involves an overnight stay.

The real figure will be utterly mind-warping, but I am erring on the conservative. Someone I know went for a job recently. They had taken the decision to interview over two days and to interview eleven people each day. If twenty-two people spent an average of three hours on each application for one job, that means sixty-six hours of application work. Eight and a quarter working days, plus the two days of interview, is ten and a quarter wasted working days, just for one job.

It’s pointless recalculating up to scale using that example, as it is an extreme one, but it serves to show that my estimations of hours wasted are on the low side.

It might be tempting at this point to suggest that perhaps capitalism doesn’t work because all this competition is a huge waste of time: All of that labour going into pointless activities. But actually, it’s the opposite. Capitalism works precisely through this system of symbolic human sacrifice.

All of that labour is going into preparing irrational humans for the labour market, preparing themselves in their own time. Kneading their brains into compliance through an exemplification of the scarcity of opportunities to sell one’s labour.

It polices them, by disappointing them regularly, it makes them hungry for labour. I say develop the opposite mental attitude, that of ‘Ne Travillez Jamais’.

Another thing to consider here is the thing that everyone knows, but which never makes the media pop-statistical drop in. The dirty secret that jobs often go to people’s friends and relatives, and to people already ‘well in’, who ‘have their feet under the table’ and whatever other folk wisdom terms you care to use.

This includes jobs which are advertised and interviewed for as per guidance, but which will inevitably go to someone who has already provided a considerable amount of free labour to that job.

The key point to make here is that these vast amounts of wasted hours are often not going into a well-ordered competition, in which a neutral meritocracy is being exercised.

All those little rules about having to advertise jobs and put out to tender. The little disclaimers to be found within application forms, online or otherwise, ‘do you have relatives working here?’

I went for a fixed-term Senior Lecturer role at one of the big northern universities. I was tipped off by a friend, and the management were given the wink by her. It was in a subject I knew little about. I was told to ‘go for it anyway’. At interview, I diligently pointed out again, that this was not my subject. I got the job.

When I turned up for work on my first day, my line manager said ‘ah, you came to us through Jane didn’t you?’

More recently I went through a completely fake round of interviews for a temporary post. Everyone knew I was the only candidate. I had been given the nod as a ‘good person’, by the outgoing lecturer.

This is the weird curveball physics within the permafrost of the caste system.

But even this doesn’t work: I am outspoken and critical and write articles like this one; someone giving someone else ‘the nod’ is about as useful a recruitment technique as palmistry.

There will be serious discomfort for many university seniors who have read this far, discomfort when I say that their daughters, sons, relatives and friends are being handed work and whole positions around the back of any meritocratic system shakily in place.

In my more extreme moments, I wish none of those systems applied. I wish that companies could hire through whatever prejudices or social networks they have.

Because they often do anyway, not always, but often enough that I can give you personal examples, both in terms of how I have benefited and lost out from this fraudulent system.

Just imagine if there were a recruitment free-for-all. Suddenly everyone would be disabused of the fake notion that the game is being played straight. Then there would be trouble. Real trouble. But then there might be real change.

However, as it stands the whole system is a sick but functioning punishment-reward relationship with sadist capitalism: This is the real ‘sickie’ that everyone is taking.

Now I am eyeing the tunnel at the end of the light that is Brexit. I am wondering how my situation vis a vis my employment status may change in the future.

But this article centres on my personal problems far too much. The real tragedy here is that humans organise themselves in such a wasteful way at a point in history when that is completely hazardous.

The Corrie Deep Blues

Walking through Piccadilly Station the other day, after going to see the memorial to the dead of the M.E.N Arena atrocity, a trumpet blared out, weary and bitter. Suddenly it focused into the Coronation Street theme tune. I looked up and a couple of guys were sat drinking in the upstairs bar. One of them had opened his instrument case, taken out his trumpet and blasted out this tune. I scrambled for my iPhone and managed to record him just before he stopped, mid-flow. They looked hammered. People cheered. A couple of clippings exist, from Bradford Telegraph & Argus in the late 1960s, which cover the arrival of the American jazz player Roland Kirk, for a gig at the university. The matter-of-factness of these clippings cannot contain the lively sense of culture-clash, which begins right at the moment the completely blind Kirk emerges from a van in a boiler suit, asking cars to go around him. He then dines with the Telegraph & Argus correspondent, who feels it important to note that the waiter is thrown off-balance by his order of red meat, fish and vegetables, on the same plate: ‘Surf and Turf’ had not yet arrived in Bradford. Kirk then expressed his admiration for the Coronation Street theme tune, which he considered to be a ‘deep blues number’. It is, of course, but for the white working classes Coronation Street represented, it signified other things too, grittiness, a sense of stoicism and ‘northerness’, albeit reduced to a grainy surface. None of these aspects are incommensurate with ‘the blues’, but it is interesting to note how cultural documents can slip, and we can take a new sense of what the theme tune means. I wrote about this for the Ways of Looking festival in Bradford: Surf and Turf on Thornton Road. In Piccadilly Station it is taking on a whole slew of other meanings, as are all kinds of objects on the Manchester landscape at the moment.

The turn to Neobelief

The attention of the social sciences to what became known as ‘mobilities’ is very welcome, particularly the excellent work done by the Mobilities journal and its extended networks, with a (roughly speaking) centre at the University of Lancaster.

Mobilities ‘examines the large-scale movements of people, objects, capital, and information across the world’, and carries a strong sense that the elite are globally active, very mobile, while the worst off are not mobile at all.

But ‘mobilities’, like ‘cultural capital’ and a slew of other Bourdieusian terms – in fact any social science category you care to name – can be skewed and reified, made more solid than it is, less mobile in itself. When this happens it can happen in a bad order, politically, ideologically.

There is good evidence for the reification of the term ‘mobilities’ in mainstream media. In the Financial Times recently, David Goodhart claimed himself as an ‘anywhere’, a mobile, successful upper class boy. His middle class status and his mobility were all of a piece: The proof of one confirmation of the other; but Goodhart sides with the ‘somewheres’, those rooted in the landscape with strong ties to place, but without the ability, or rather the human capital, to flourish elsewhere.

Goodhart sets up the class divides of Britain as consisting roughly of a quarter of mobile ‘anywheres’ and a half of rooted ‘somewheres’. The ‘somewheres’, although not all of a piece, contain, in his analysis, Nigel Farage’s supporters. Goodhart himself has become sympathetic to Farage’s comments that he felt uncomfortable on a train in Britain when he couldn’t hear any English being spoken.

This appears to allow Goodhart to make the intellectual and ideological journey to the right that wishes to transport the ‘anywheres’ that he tellingly doesn’t mention in his article, the stateless refugees, out of the country.

Goodhart locates his empathetic shift to the ‘somewheres’, the rooted, in his dissatisfaction with Etonian Marxism, which in turn is located in his failure to make 1st XI football and 1st XI cricket team. This is not just nauseating tripe, it is dangerous, delusional rhetoric. He says:

‘If you went to the most famous school in the land you are often regarded as a social freak, a tourist in your own country.’

Goodhart is not a tourist in his own country: He claims that he is so on the front page of an FT supplement; the statement itself and the place of stating it eat each other.

What he was really doing was marking a clear rightward shift in the Financial Times, which could be detected all over that issue (18/03/2017).

Goodhart suffers from that minor malaise that many privileged people do, and the middle classes generally: They thrive anywhere, but do not feel they ‘belong’, like the the lower orders, and they want some of that warm, sexy, gritty, authentic and real world for themselves.

Except that ‘world’ is a constructed fantasy of their own. Like any constructed vision it edits certain things out and retains others. What they want is all of the perceived social ties without any of the agonism, struggle, pointless labour and fruitless searches for meaning the lower working and underclasses have. They want what they see as the community of the ‘somewheres’ without any of its problems, but with the cars, houses, fine wines and clothes of the ‘anywheres’.

They want to be in with the ‘somewheres’ but in the sense of, you know, the captain of the rowing team. The fact that Goodhart imagines that this cluster of demography he thinks he has identified knows he exists, thinks he can help, or, frankly give a toss about any of this – what I am writing now included – is a sheer delusion.

Goodhart is definitely part of another world for me, as I had to look up what the 1st XI football and 1st XI cricket team even meant. But he is part of a world that is at the centre of power, it is ‘at home’. I am an oddity. A curveball. A skint working class man who reads the Financial Times. I am the insider-outsider he tries to claim for his side, except I am firmly against him. What Goodhart is really signalling, all the way through this piece, to the elites, is that the shift to the right is alright.

When Goodhart sides with the ‘somewheres’, those rooted in the landscape with strong ties to place, he is also siding with ethnocentrism in a country where the Visaless are transported from shady airport prisons, for instance the one that is part of Manchester Airport, to remote places away from social contact, in some cases Glasgow, where they are then deported back to the hell they escaped from. G4S will then present an inflated bill for their services to The State. I am describing something that recently happened, as told to me by a researcher.

Goodhart says he is trying to save liberalism from its own over-reach. But it is really an under-reach. Revealingly, Maurice Glasman is listed as a mentor in this conversion, along with Michael Lind, Eric Kaufmann and Jonathan Haidt. His big claim comes in quite abstracted macro form, perhaps the most dangerous ideological form there is. He says that mid 20th century modernism came with the caveat that cultural universalism was never guaranteed. ‘The moral equality of human beings’ doesn’t ‘mean we have the same obligations to all human beings’. Where this was written he never says. In a land that barely has a constitution, it is a big claim to make.

Glasman, if you know his rhetoric, is all over this piece, but the damaging work on class by Mike Savage is also part of this problem. The simplistic idea that mobiles and immobiles are the class structure comes out of his work. It is then cited as though it is a stable, neutral science and an easy set of binaries, it is not.

Goodhart claims that he is more on side with the somewheres by further enabling their ethnocentrism, by seeing it as a neutral and stable floor. What research has shown is that the post-industrial slump zones are the places where the term ‘English’ is preferred to the more inclusive ‘British’. A map of Britain that matches the maps of Tory capitalist revanchism that rooted the somewheres in their own emiseration for decades to the benefit of their enrinchment.

He describes this as post-liberal rather than centre right: He thinks he is centre-left.

They can’t touch it, what they are. This complex is perhaps the most telling thing here: The political spatial metaphors are moving around again, like walking goalposts. I have also heard, this month, a description of the Tory party as ‘leftwing’. My jaw hit the floor. But former liberals like Goodhart cannot call themselves right wing. It would spoil the finish of the wine they chose that week, with immaculate taste, with taste that disguised its own taste by making sure it chose unpretentiously.

Goodhart also describes Steve Bannon’s conversion, 9-11, alongside his own recent epiphany. The blindness and hypocrisy is staggering. On 9-11 2001 the American imperialist footsoldiers they created returned as monsters.

The end of postmodernity is implicated in all of this. The idea that we can turn away from relativism to Truth. It is easy to see how postmodernity and relativism would be rejected, because I feel the desire rising in me to reject it too.

I sense this desire most strongly through my everyday encounters. I became interested in an example of ‘killing with kindness’ this week, a response to a friend, someone nursing a grievance of some sort who communicated it with something unexpectedly pleasant, in order to make a point buried under the surface. Claiming it and aiming it is infinitely more ethical and moral than all of that sinister shadowplay. The surface of language always conceals as much as it reveals, but to use it like that is the agonistic equivalent of dumb insolence.

But the main point to make with this anecdote is that here is how postmodern relativism was never a panacea. It never solved anything, it only forced a deeper repression of the rawer human urges, and we have a massive return of the repressed in Trump.

A friend also pointed me to a website for the Realist Left this week. The ‘Realists’? A fundamental conservatism always asks us to ‘be realistic’, but we never know what’s being announced when the annunciation to ‘be realistic’ arrives. In the case of the Tories an end of public life in favour of a national stitch-up which acts on behalf of laissez faire ‘business’. But it isn’t ‘the real’. This is drawing on Lacan and overlaps with some of the things Zizek and then Mark Fisher said, but asking us to be realistic suggests there is a fundamental non-ideological stable floor to knowledge, a place we can all just go and stand in where everything will be better, like ‘common sense’, but there isn’t, it doesn’t exist.

The biggest problem isn’t the split between identity politics and something ‘more stable’. The problem is that a kind of neo-Kantianism is being suggested. Although to say they’ve reached neo-Kantianism is over-reaching too. But it’s positivist, this stuff, its nostalgia is only the surface problem, but the deeper one – more dangerous because better concealed – is that it ‘posits’ that there is something solid out there we can locate. The only philosophy and politics I can tolerate has to arrive with all its negativity showing – that there is nothing at the heart of the something, or the negative, the absolute negation of what is posited – this is coming from Hegel, modified in turn by Adorno, Lefebvre and Gillian Rose.

Perhaps more immediately graspable is that this stuff shares much with Trumpism in that it yearns for something stable over the relativism of postmodernity. Need I say more? The search for certainties and authenticity, if pushed to extreme, will lead to fascism. But it’s also extreme to paste this group with that slogan. A more correctly measured critique would just be to say that we are always asked to ‘be realistic’ when someone is axing jobs, livelihoods, breaking up families with the structural violence of capitalism.

But there is a fundamental schism within the logic of the believers that they seemingy cannot reach: Belief and The Truth are different things. The current geist says we now have ‘belief’ in place of facts produced by experts. The left think that they are horrified, but they aren’t, because they have, in Britain, their own belief in Corbyn, as the Americans have in Trump.

This is the ultimate end of modernism, the rejection of technocracy for pure ideology. This is very interesting, precisely because a minor cult of New Modernism has been rising for some time. We have Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism and the following popular books such as Guide to the New Ruins and the various Modernist Societies. But these good intentions arrive via a nostalgic rearward view, a turning away from the present into a past seen as more caring, something which actually characterises trauma. The Neomods project utopian flights forward and are very critical of Postmodernism. But the New Modernists often present us with a contemporary collage of Modernism, a positive, celebratory version, without its horror, madness and war.

All of these things are evangelistic and nostalgic at the same time. They cannot be described as Postmodern as they are characterised by the fundamentalist belief in an idea, but they do not have enough velocity to fully pull free from the condition of Postmodernity either. Modernism seems to contain the idea that it is exceptional. That it is exempt from nostalgia. It isn’t. Like St Paul on the road to Damascus, the Neomods have been struck by the revelation that Modernism has gone, but it is always with us. The New Moderns are Pauline. They wait, yet it has already arrived. It has been torn violently from us, that which we love. But wait, it is also all around us. This in fact shares with Derrida the wait for deferred meaning in ‘Différance’, something that sat very well with Postmodern discourses.

The Neomodernists return to belief in modernism right at its very nadir: There is no coincidence here.

The new leftwing turn in the Labour Party and Neomodernism says that belief is good and cynicism is bad. But if that belief is produced through blinkering, then is the belief in itself good? Blind loyalty is no longer loyalty, we’d have to use another term, give it another name.

Phil BC, who blogs as A Very Public Sociologist, wrote a great post on ‘naive cynicism’. It says that attacks on Owen Jones for being a Corbyn critic equalled Jones’ ambitions for the leader of the Labour Party and job of Prime Minister. Phil BC says that it isn’t necessarily the case. This is true, but it isn’t necessarily not the case either. The key point to make is that belief or cynicism are not reliable strategies, they are attestations. They are both equally potentially flawed and both equally potentially potential. Phil BCs comments urge belief over cynicism. I urge us not to lose our productive cynicism when the populist rightwing turn also involves a turn to blind belief.

It is belief that produces fanaticism. I am very cynical about Alberto Toscano’s book on Fanaticism, it seems to conceal its own belief in Marxist fanaticism as it lays out its cases. It conceals it in a way that reveals it, and that concealing tells you more about fanaticism than the information actually posited there: This is the dimension of the book that I believe.

This work is the product of a contemporary ‘Agambenism’ that finds glimmers of revolutionary potential in the most hopeless of places, and Agamben himself has more lately and far less likely found it in strict monastic regimes: You have to be looking pretty hard. Hardt and Negri are also products of this kind of fantastical X-Ray Reading. I would love to believe Negri’s prison book The Savage Anomaly but I don’t. That there is some wonderful Spinozan turn to be found in 1968.

Obscure leftwing texts are one thing, but most of the world’s population doesn’t spend its time there. We might then turn here to the perhaps more troubling phenomenon of the Armchair Strategists. Armchair Strategy largely equals Social Media, summa totalis. It is the recycling of superficial messages emerging in and being re-processed through social media. There is Armchair Strategy about What Is To Be Done in Syria, perhaps the most ludicrous posturing, in all but the most informed writers, Bob From Brockley I will offer as a special exception. But this continues into What The Labour Party Must Do and on and on. Social Media is roughly 50% provision and 50% hindrance. This is how D.W. Winnicott once explained institutions. But the Armchair Strategist believes that they have the solution, if only they could be in the chair.

The current leftwing critique of Orwell is part of this. That Orwell was somehow an establishment stooge all along and must now be refused in the search for a purer leftwing figure. This search for purity, truth and the correct position are all over the political dial. I believe in Orwell precisely because he was flawed, as all humans are flawed, and contradictory and fallible. Nobody is perfect. But I would go further and argue that faced with the situations and presented with the information that Orwell was, I would rat on the Stalinists too.

I will go much further and say that many of the hardest critics of Orwell are not magically immune from doing exactly the same thing, were they there now, without much of the historical constellation laid out for them, a map into the past from the present. Because what they don’t have is a map to the future. This is the big problem of Armchair Strategy and so it usually attacks moves made in the near or distant past as soon as they are seen to have not been quite the best decisions.

There is a temporality, then, to our relationship with belief and the truth. Our relationship to belief and the truth is slowly, imperceptibly shifting. The point of this article is to begin to track the cultural movements involved in that. What we see in all the examples I have given here is not postmodernism, but a turn to Neobelief.

When David Goodhart converts to the localised, when the Agambanites and Negriistas begin to scry hidden dimensions in texts, when the Amrchair Strategists reveal how obvious it is what needs to be done in Cairo. When the more zealous Modernists proclaim that mass, top down planning was great all along. They are all engaging in Neobelief.

The City of Blades

In the week the new Greater Manchester Mayor took office for the first time, I attended two events.

The first was the Manchester University annual JMCE lecture, which this year was given by constitutional lawyer Rodney Brazier. His theme was Brexit, Politics and Constitutional Law.

The second was organised by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Humanities in Public programme and was titled Manchester as Cosmopolis. It addressed global migration in a changing United Kingdom.

At both these events, things were said that Andy Burnham might bear in mind.

The first event set the wider context. Rodney Brazier went right back to 1688/9 and the birth of the UK Parliament. From here, he suggests, after Brexit, treaties cannot overwrite parliamentary sovereignty. We might return to Hegel and a philosophy that worships The State and values Right over other forms of statecraft.

This was roughly the case until 1971-72, when the UK agreed to ‘an enlargement of sovereignties’ in compact with Europe ‘in the general interest’. Yet Brazier explains that it took 20 years for a legal dispute to arise because of this expansion of sovereignty, over fish, in 1991.

The details are not exactly racy, but the Merchant Shipping Act of 1988 was dropped, as it conflicted with EU law. From here, the matter was taken up by the tabloids, with performed fury, a precursor to the contemporary moment: ‘Foreign courts’, ‘meddling’, rampant British Nationalism.

Yet Parliamentary sovereignty was part of the compact with the EU, in 1991. It wasn’t separate. The EU was meshed with expanded, plural UK sovereignty. Where they were separated out by the tabloids and far right is where the ideology lies: The supposed great bonfire of British values did not happen for 20 years, and when it did, it was largely created by the British tabloids. Nobody should be surprised that UKIP began here, in 1991.

Brazier explains that between 1991 and 2016 we experienced a rise of discourse around ‘The European Project’ that was treated with derision by the rightwing tabloids. These tensions heated steadily until Cameron gave the spark of a vote. By this point, the erosion of trust rooted in the banking crisis of 2008 and the 2009 expenses scandal was dangerous: Through austerity ‘we’ pay for ‘them’, the bankers, MPs, Euro MPs, ‘The European Project’.

The tabloids had paraded examples on relentless drip feed for over two decades that added up, in the minds of tabloid readers, to ‘a picture’. Freedom of movement was blamed, rather than the lack of state competence. ‘Experts’ were kicked and the giant expert kicking conga goes on.

After Article 50, the ‘great repeal act’ means that EU legislation will remain enshrined in UK law until it is overturned. At this point, with modifications, we will be back to the situation of 1688-1972.

As Article 50 is triggered, we begin a long return to a narrowed field of sovereignty that is unlikely to reign in the banks. Yet it is capitalism that has left us with the seemingly contradictory result of a deep cynicism of government, plus a more singular and possibly heavier sovereignty.

Here again we might return to 1689, then later Hegel and a philosophy that worships The State and values Right over Treaty. The dangers should be clear: The Macron versus le Pen campaign involved a rejection of traditional parties in France.

Similarly, Trump has no political experience and is not part of the political dynasties. Mr Burnham may have won 63% of the vote, but the turnout was just under 29%. This said, every move our new mayor makes is a move in a paranoid, eye-filled landscape of sheer cynicism. I don’t envy him. I wish him luck.

At the second event, Manchester as Cosmopolis, former Manchester Evening News correspondent Andy Spinoza explained that the Northern Powerhouse ‘is a proposal, not a plan.’

The Northern Powerhouse started as a transport project, as Manchester underperforms in relation to London and the Southeast. The city cluster of Manchester-Leeds-Sheffield are seen as close, yet apart, and the transport solution, including HS2 – although Burnham is rightly sceptical about it – is meant to partly deal with the problem.

But the idea that getting to Leeds from Manchester faster, or vice versa, might deal with stagnating wages, exploitation and short-termism, is obviously mad, a hangover of the Blairism that Burnham is seen as a remnant of. The magical connect-up is as mythical as the mystic trickle-down, and Andy Spinoza owns a PR company called Spin Media.

Spinoza explains Burnham’s role as ‘soft power’, what an academic might call ‘pouissance‘, the power of conviction, rather than the ‘hard power’ of ‘pouvoir‘, the can do and will do. He has some hard power, Burnham, a new say over health, social care and other services. Burnham thinks too many luxury apartments are being built, and he is setting up shop as the mayor of social justice, but he is also perceived as a Blairite.

Our new mayor may well be viewed as Janus right now, double-masked and characterised by arrivals and exits, but when he finally leaves, history will fix his face forever.

The great Saskia Sassen then arrived at the Cosmopolis event, for the keynote speech, and suddenly there were many more things on the table that Burnham should consider.

Sassen began by describing some global cities of the north, with their vast, visible luxury zones. These zones are what Sassen calls ‘de-urbanisation’, cities as monocultures for the wealthy. Manhattan was given as an example, half full and for the rich. ‘A monster’ that crawls in and eats neighbourhoods from within. London’s Docklands is another example, as is Salford Quays, although much more modestly so.

Sassen gave us the big picture of how global cities came to be what they are: From World War Two to the 1970s, ‘the corporate’ was in-house, vertical, hierarchical, with upward movement inside. This came to a radical end when they went global. The old vertical model was mirrored in the buildings, for instance The Seagram Building, completed in 1958.

But we cannot read what is going on through the buildings any more. This is not a comment on postmodern architecture: The knowledge is now the infrastructure; not the buildings. Apparently Goldman Sachs has 100 physicists developing ‘intermediary instruments’. If we want to see the structures of corporate knowledge, I thought, we might perhaps find a way to look at their notebooks.

There is the more well known phenomena of ‘offshoring’, but Sassen explains how the corporation shifted its strategies of sourcing knowledge, as well as raw materials and production, drawing what it needs from multiple wells, a culture that clusters in global cities.

This, like vertical upward movement until the 1970s ‘is not an innocent process’. Sassen says 100 leading intelligence companies have branches in 600 cities. What then, is Manchester’s knowledge specialty? And to what other global cities is it connected? Andy Burnham is for ‘the digital economy’, but really, what is this, The Sharp Project? It is still so very vague.

Sassen understands the potential riches clearly: Google and Facebook are virtually risk-free enterprises, unlike the motor industry, which recently had cars withdrawn again with corresponding losses.

So, if they can pull it off, great, scrolling pound signs, but there are huge pitfalls and traps here. To explain these Sassen describes how sub-prime had ‘nothing to do with a mortgage’. It was a financial instrument that had ‘dressed itself in the clothing of housing’. ‘Houses’ had become material assets, and no coincidence that a lot of investment is now geared up to asset stripping.

The crippling irony is that sub-prime was a move to an asset-backed financial product after the simulacra of derivatives markets. After 2008, after all of this collapsed, we were given a series of absurd show trials and a set of phony recalibrations of risk and compliance legislation. Here again, Sassen moves around her subject a little more tangentially, explaining how we have ‘International Standards’, ISO, but the use of those quality guaranteed products is not enquired after, nor, I might add, are the supply chains or the exploitation of labour required to produce their ‘standards’.

Her key point here is that when ‘the global’ sets in, stability rots off the core: Manchester is global and is preparing to shift up a level of velocity in the global game. That is why the city is a building site, its circuits are being re-wired. But these circuits, to use a crass metaphor, are not being PAT tested before they run.

Sassen explains how the credit default swap market nearly doubled each year from 2001 through to its titanic crash in 2007. She explains how debt in households in Eastern Europe is largely owned by German, Austrian and Swiss banks.

The parallel phenomenon is hollowed-out urban space. For instance, Giles Fraser recently explained in the Guardian how his East London parish is being emptied by overseas capitalist investment.

And a man of the cloth should be concerned: Sassen tells us that this business is ‘extractive’; but the injections of capital themselves, the buying of the properties, are also a potential cause for concern, as dirty money launders through property.

Sassen shows a list of the acquisitions of existing properties by national and foreign investment. London is right up there with a jaw-dropping 40.5%. Manchester is lower down the list, at No.23 globally, hovering by Miami, but this is astonishing in itself.

Sassen shows a map of the iconic buildings in London, owned by one Chinese investor. To ‘a mayor’, she says, watch what happens to the physical assets. You need to know how to handle them, ‘or it will eat you up’. Look at what is happening in London, she says, public servants cannot afford to live there. Her message is stark.

Earlier, Andy Spinoza assumed that Blair’s ambition to get 50% of young people into universities, rather than providing job-focused education, is a further obstacle to the Northern Powerhouse ‘proposal’. But those in real hard power government such as Boris Johnson, did they do a bricklaying course? No. Are we then to conclude that proles are needed for the NPH pump-house? I guess so.

Spinoza describes people ‘getting on their own two feet’, and how there is currently too much bureaucracy for business startups. More laissez faire is classic Tory rhetoric. But there is an unspoken industrial romanticism under all of this too, that ‘up north’ we roll our sleeves up and do dirty jobs.

Under this is a yearning for Empire, it is latent in any ‘Make Us Great Again’ rhetoric. It lies under Trump’s rhetoric, drawing on a yearning for the days of the USA as a world power in full stride, and it is latent in this kind of city pride chest-beating.

When placed next to Sassen’s analysis, this kind of chest-beating begins to glow in dangerous colours. During Sassen’s talk, a line from Spinoza that stuck in my head returned: Apparently ‘we’ are to show that we can be trusted by ‘London’, by Parliament and The City, that we can be responsible with these new powers.

I began to wonder about the provenance of this vision of a Parliamentary ‘big other’ that was being raised by Spinoza. Where else has this notion been raised? What is its history?

So, during questions I asked Spinoza if this perceived need to compete with the city of London and the Southeast could be found in policy. ‘No’, he said, the idea that Manchester needs to prove its manly credentials were taken from a Manchester Evening News interview with Andy Burnham. Manchester’s masculine leadership, plus ça change, at the same time as we’re being told everything is changing.

This swagger about Manchester competing with the southeast is not in policy. They are cultural assumptions, to be found, as Sassen explains it, at the fuzzy edges of knowledge paradigms. They are to be challenged.

Therefore, in whose name is this great Manchester race being declared? I take Sassen’s ‘message to a mayor’ as for Burnham, and if it wasn’t intended as one, I wish to turn it around and send it his way myself: When people start talking of ‘competition between cities’, Sassen explained, ‘the only winners of that line are the corporations’. Sassen is completely sceptical of the notion of competition, ‘cities compete far less than leading corporate actors lead us to think’, she explains.

Sassen warns that the cities in the global game are in trouble, as they risk being ‘kidnapped’ by global finance, and Manchester is in that top 100. This means overseas investment in property. Buildings and streets that appear public are often owned by corporations. For instance Potsdamer Platz appears public, but is private, as is much of Docklands London. Here again we can turn to Salford Quays and the massive public-private fudge of the BBC and the offshore wealth of Peel Holdings and its shell operations.

Sassen tells us that ‘the law of urban land is often very old law’, but that the more creative lawyers are now creeping into public spaces. But they also creep vertically, upwards and downwards, for this is the new revanchist frontier. Career progress no longer means a slow journey from the Post Room to the Board of Directors. But physical expansion globally is going vertical, unless Burnham follows through on his thoughts about building on the green belt. Sassen explains how these compacts of legal advice, global speculation, investment and statecraft are ‘colonising the future’ of cities to ‘deal with the current electoral cycle.’

This involves the same infinite deferral of judgement that led to 2008, a deferral of judgement that carried on after 2008 and continues to hang over us. It doesn’t just hover abstractly over some mystical place called ‘the global’ that we need not worry about, it hangs over Manchester, right now, in the form of roving giant blades.

It is Peel eyeing up more infrastructure and opportunity. It is Deloitte U.S. priming the ground for overseas investment in Manchester via cultural journalism that blurs into a tourist guide. It is the Chinese consortium CMC at Manchester City football ground.

Sassen explained that although she loves the phrase, she doesn’t ask about the ‘right to the city’, now isn’t the time, but we must ask ‘who owns the city?’

Of course, she also asked us to find what the specialised difference of a city is. What then, Mr Burnham, is Manchester’s specialised difference on the global stage? But more importantly, who owns it?

There are two vectors here, travelling in opposite directions, through the same city, and re-shaping it as they go. There is the morphing of the UK constitution into something far more monosyllabic, and the opposite vector of a complexifying and ever-more predatory capitalism that The State cannot and will not reign in.

A concluding question might be ‘what are you going to do about all of this in the name of “the people” you so ardently profess?’ And ‘if your powers are too limited, who is going to do something about it?’

But that would be a naive question, and a naive demand to make. But I cannot imagine that these two vectors are going to neatly harmonise. The criticisms of ‘the global’ of economics and the current populist rightwing cultural geist are unlikely to be neatly separated either.

– A different version of this later appeared on Open Democracy UK.  

Reflexively Indefensible

‘It is very unusual for anything that happens in the university to have repercussions, because the university is designed to ensure that thought never has any repercussions.’

– Lacan, 1967

It comes on you slowly. The rage is all heat sweats. It has no immediate, single identifiable source. Uncomfortable family conversations. A devious implementation at work, one that is inarguable but also clearly unjust. A bad traffic encounter.

The heat sweats build, droplet by droplet. Condensation misting up the windows, until it gets so bad that you have to stop driving and wipe it away.

The clear view outside offers no respite. Grey in all directions and rapidly misting up again. You move on.

In 2014 it wasn’t immediately clear that publishing a book with the rage left in was the right thing to do. In 2017 it seems obvious. What I did with my book Small Towns, Austere Times, was try to show you how it feels when your class interests are being attacked and the attackers are being protected: This is how I have felt all my life.

Except this time, in my first book, Small Towns, Austere Times, the working class interests are being protected and the middle class ones are being attacked.

Now we see how the stifled rage of this situation was felt all over, not just by a researcher returning to his ‘home town’, whatever that means, and messily trying to make sense of it, but by everyone.

I ‘toured’ the book, for want of a better word, it sounds ridiculous. I received uncomfortable reactions. Then in Durham, at the Anthropology of Britain conference, I was told that an Anthropologist – one with interests in a particular Todmorden community group – was ‘furious’ with the book.

Welcome then, all of you, to rage. I sometimes wonder whether I should have done a nice little neat number and got a nice little neat academic position.

But I also sometimes wonder if I should have opened the book with the following sentence: ‘This is a full declaration of class war’.

But I can’t inhabit that. It sounds ridiculous. It feels ridiculous. We all live among the smashed fragments, the broken middle.

However, in this book I still inhabit the symptoms of the class I emerged from. Maybe I should seek psychoanalysis and gain full pathological accreditation for my journey to The Other Side.

I definitely dumped a bunch of writhing psychological eels on all of your desks, with all their complex aromas, for very particular tastes. Lacan made a comment that children were, at a certain stage of development, ‘eggy’. Neither cultured nor uncultured by language. Neither raw nor cooked. This book is served neither raw nor cooked. It was semi-intentionally half-prepared in a university kitchen, before being delivered, undigestable for some, a delicacy for others.

The book is an intentional blistering sore. One of my respondents recently said of the book:

‘I admire the result and your ability to explain it, but there is something I am not convinced by, about how you have distinguished the target and measured out the anger and grief. I’m not clear in reading the book that you justify the public and half suppressed rage you direct at those involved. It feels like the rage is bigger than the identified target and therefore something else isn’t being identified – that perhaps stands behind the target – in this sense the question for me is not about whether angry ethnography and writing is justifiable, but about how accurate the investigation and diagnosis are, of the emotional responses of anger, rage and joy.’

I agree with much of that. I wasn’t fully aware of this dimension of the book, even when it came out. Of course I knew it was pretty narky, but the full hit takes a while to arrive.

The book is a living and livid sign of what happens if you consciously expose the psychological bare wires of research, but in trying to do that, you also semi-consciously expose your own attempt to cover some of that exposing, processes that will be at play in all research, at some level.

Or rather, processes that are usually more successfully concealed by the bland tones of science discourse. I actually now think that if I have made a contribution to knowledge with this book, that is it.

The same respondent I just quoted called me an ‘impolite ethnographer’. I think ‘bloody rude’ fits better. In this book, I protect my own class interests and attack others. I am from the town I research, I went to its terrible secondary school and I watched my parents get by on twelve hour shifts before the minimum wage existed, in a house without much in it, that we were only in because the council decided to revoke a condemnation and sell it off for very little. They grew up surrounded by real rural poverty, in Warland, up the road, in houses you could only honestly call ‘hovels’, with stone floors. They are now desirable places to live.

But my work is not authoritative because of this either. I am very clear that ‘being from’ does not give me that. It is nervous, shaking, troubled. That is what ‘being from’ gives me. However, I think this is precisely what gives my book its legitimacy.

One universal about small town research is the base level ‘mood’ – in Heidegger’s sense of that word – that people do not like other accounts of ‘their town’. Todmorden is not ‘my town’, it never was, despite a traceable ancestry to the start of record-keeping. It isn’t now and it never will be.

This book is not necessarily mine now either, even though I take full authorial responsibility for it.

But that word in my respondent’s account: ‘justifiable’; justifiable to whom? The middle classes? Dear middle classes, this book is what happens when an ‘indigenous’ – I don’t like the word, in fact I hate it – tries to make work on your terms, in your project, and fails, but then offers that failure as the work.

Michael Keith has described how ‘angry writing’ is routinely excluded from academia, emotion is not just discouraged, but taboo. He also argues that in many ways the ethnographer is always already unethical. I agree with all of that.

Michael has addressed ‘the manner in which academic protocols fraudulently prohibit certain textual strategies whilst celebrating others’, that ‘in focusing on aesthetics, reflexive anthropologists evade rather than resolve questions both of ethics and of epistemology’ and that this ‘can be understood in terms of the responsibility of the author or scriptor with reference to the presence of anger in academic prose’.

Michael then outlines his urge to question ‘the manner in which anger routinely disqualifies writing from academic status.’

He says ‘what angers me about ethnographic work generally is that a sustained vogue for reflexivity so commonly casts a crisis of representation’ over everything and that the ‘smugness of the academy sits comfortably beside ostentatious angst over the academic method.’

‘Reflexivity’ he says, ‘decays into narcissism.’

‘What angers me specifically’ he says, is ‘that in the identity crises of everyday rites of credentialism’ academics ‘cast themselves as an “Other”, pursuing an elusive vogue in social theory, sociology, or, perhaps this week, anthropology.’

But for Michael none of this is ‘a passport to a ringside view of the exotic nor a form of methodological avant gardeism.’

He goes on to explain a moment where he recorded a number of racist dialogues from the back of a police car without intervening. He calls this ‘indefensible’, but adds, with bitterness and irony, that it was ‘reflexively so.’ If his work was reflexively indefensible for not intervening and naming, I wonder if my work is reflexively indefensible for doing so, or is that its rather sharp point?

What is clear is that many of the mainstream respondents think that the anger in my book disqualifies it from academic status. From them there is a glib rhetoric that all forms of knowledge are legitimate… except, that is, classed rage.

It is not that they don’t have the ears to hear, it is much more serious than that: They don’t have it mapped into the fibres and sinews of their bodies, it isn’t pulsing through their nervous systems like a disease.

Asking one to not live in one’s symptoms was in many ways what bourgeois modernity was all about. I inhabit my own symptoms and I do not apologise for that.

But extreme caution must be exercised here: When the classed and gendered subject returns and offers their own pathologies as something that is indistinguishable from a kind of exclusive belonging, as a kind of entitled ethnocentrism, alarms bells should ring.

A former colleague is now researching me as a kind of exploded classed subject. I’m in her research, which is as interesting for me as for her.

The targets of my book do cover a bigger, more un-touchable, much more painful blister. A bigger set of targets. A couple appear in my book. They place willow woven garden tools against the walls of a ruined former health centre that is about to be turned into a supermarket, which actually never arrives. Another blistering sore, from anyone’s perspective.

This couple were militating in their own symbolic way against unseen powers, global powers, and they were militating in the local. Those powers were bigger than themselves and bigger than the ruined health centre.

That was probably around 2011, and now, in 2016, the Referendum on EU membership and the US election. It was a misrecognition becoming culture, the placing of those willow tools.

But I misrecognised my own rage too. I was them and they were me, at the same time as they seemed like my opposite. The neo-Nazi in my book was the same. The presentation of semi-concealed fury in the book, directed at certain targets, but not others, was offered as political honesty, but I must add to my conscious attempt to simultaneously conceal and reveal, a semi-conscious attempt to reveal and then belatedly conceal my own class anger and bitterness: An even bigger rage, a vaster grief and a longer mourning for a perceived lost stability that never existed.

Now everyone is doing it.

It’s the ‘new thing‘ although Hegel might call it a kind of negative geist, or Spinoza ‘the sad passions’.

The book had to come out in the form it did, for those processes to come to the surface. They were only retrospectively diagnosed.

If it had lain unpublished it would have lain undiagnosed, by myself or anyone else. It had to ‘come out’ in all senses. We have just seen an outing on a national scale. An exorcism.

Then we looked to America and saw it there too. Now it is all over the west. I think even if you are a highly ‘ethical’ researcher coming into my book, ethical in that you’ve done all the right things, as our institutions tell us to right now – not my version of ethics – then you won’t be spared in there. You won’t walk through unscathed, and that’s the point. That is the journey I want everyone to take. We are all in the broken middle, not just our ‘subjects’. It is supposed to be both troubled and troubling, it can be no other.

There are ramifications for departmental ethics here. The ethical confessional is at the wrong end of the church. It is by the door where you enter: It should be at the back as you leave; I am going in neither end.

In Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah there’s a scene in a barber’s shop, where the respondent can’t go on, but Lanzmann makes him. The story must be heard, for the future. Asking if this was or wasn’t ethical in some binary way is mad.

Ethical decisions are messy and bloody, they are not the imposition of some a priori agreed behaviours.

In Todmorden, during research, I sat and listened to a disgraceful speech about how the working classes cause all the damage in town, followed by a claim that a bunch of idealists who run a limited company provided ‘earth care from cradle to grave’, as the real ‘care’ was being badly done by a besieged and privatised NHS.

I think including that scene was both reflexive and ethical. Most universities wouldn’t agree. But many universities can no longer be called universities.

But then recently, I remembered how my aunt died. She choked to death in front of her husband, because of a misdiagnosis by a useless doctor who still practices, in Todmorden. And when that memory was retrieved, in fact just as it was forming, before it fully arrived, I felt the exact same swell of rage I felt at that talk, during research.

There is one misrecognition that has seemed to be difficult to shake, and I am hoping it will get easier now: What I have been trying to tell you all along is not whether green growing is a good thing or a bad thing; what I have been trying to tell you is what happens to the social under deracinated forms of localism. Please also see Greg Sharzer’s work on the subject (2012).

Back then, there was casual everyday racism and horrible comments about migrants, now, to invoke Beck’s methodological nationalism, we have just uprooted ourselves again by one entire scale. We have retrenched to ‘the island’. Back then, there was a neo-Nazi, who I showed a picture of posing with guns, in front of swastikas and reproductions of romantic landscapes in oil, from his public blog, to a room in Sunderland with only fifteen academics in it, and got a pompous bollocking for it, and now there’s a savage spike in racist abuse and the MP Jo Cox is dead.**

If you really don’t get it by now and you are still angry with me then there is nothing more to do. Although it has to be said that the book has its supporters and enthusiasts in sociology and geography. It was always going to split people, and now is a time for splits, it is a split country.

Britain is now the place for an anthropologist: I don’t count myself as one; but it is the place for an anthropologist because it is a land of sheer contradiction. Britain is a series of hubs in a global network of trade and finance, some of them offshore, oil rigs and so far Gibraltar and other strategic nodes. Yet the inhabitants just narrowly voted to impossibly make the border of the island contiguous with the border of the nation state.

This will be impossible. It was partly a vote for safety out of psychological fear when the results will only bring its opposite. Like Setha Low’s book on gated communities, fear of the other is only increased by distance and enclosure. I am convinced that a large part of this mess can be attributed to the fact that not everybody is educated to understand that the coastline and the nation state are not quite the same thing.

But retrenching to Todmorden and retrenching to England are not unconnected phenomena. All the way through the book I warn against the dangers of localist sentiment for the social, not for petrol consumption or river pollution. Not for food production or food security.

In the media, some maps of the Referendum voting results were presented in blue and yellow. 48% voted to remain, around 52% voted to leave. But what if we mapped the island’s voting in 48% and 52% grey? We would get a visual ash cloud, covering everything. 48% and 52% grey are almost impossible to tell apart.

But don’t get them confused, because that would be to invite trouble, and at exactly the same time, 48% and 52% grey are as opposite as black and white.

This is no riddle. There is no contradiction here. This grey is now the political hue of the entire island. It is a more accurate map than the blue and yellow ones: This is my particular dialectical take on things.*

The Leavers voted for the binary dream of an island cut off from the EU and in doing so they potentially brought the EU much closer. By triggering a second Scottish Referendum, they may have already placed a new un-moated EU nation right at their borders. How easy do Leave voters think that border will be to police? Without boat patrols and radar? Myriad individuals fleeing across the wilds, tunneling. After making a much easier trip to Scotland on an EU ticket, entry to England should be a cinch. That Leave-voting Cumbria will get these escapees first gives me some pleasure.

But these internal divisions could be seen immediately after the general election in 2015. Manchester wanted to secede to Scotland and if you believe Paul Mason’s new map of the island the day after the general election results, Scotland to Norway.

What is happening is very complex, but the big point to hold to here is that the attempt to block out the nightmare of otherness, to put walls between ourselves and the other, only ever brings the other closer.

Here we can add to the skill and craft of the anthropologist that of the psychoanalyst. I strongly suspected the result would go for Leave. The work I did on the Future of Cities project for the Government Office For Science mapped testimonies to ‘Britishness’ or ‘Englishness’: The picture we have just seen, erroneously recorded as ‘rural versus urban’ in the media, was already under that data, which was processed by Sundas Ali, not myself.

Similarly, in the small town I wrote about, a large part of the working class subjects are post-industrial. ‘Rural’ is a confused and abused paradigm that is often applied to Todmorden.

A very large number of people turned out to vote on European Union membership who wouldn’t usually. This might give me pleasure, but this was a political bonfire of old rotting wood, of bitterness and resentment. 72-3% heat, with a 48-52% grey ash cloud. Choking, spluttering.*

There is now a politicised mass as well as a political mess, but what was clear about that vote is that the nation is split. Its psyche is divided into two warring halves.

One thing is certain. The new working class politics, if we can even call it that, is not going to be ideologically internationalist. Global powers rule them, they cannot see those powers, but they rightly loathe the effects of those powers in terms of how they play out in their lives.

This just happened at an island level, then we saw how the rage of it had been stifled all over the globe. I only showed it happening at the level of a small town, in myself as well as in those I encountered.

There isn’t necessarily a positive here, but where is it written that there needs to be one? Surely the bourgeois demands such things of the subjugated in order to continue that subjugation?

Opening it out, dissecting the sick social body and pinning the folds back to see what is at stake, what is eating at the organs, and negating, cutting so that we might return a more lively body than the one that went under, perhaps that is really all we can do.

It probably isn’t utopia as most academics think of it, but perhaps it is the only place the toxic, masculine classed subject can go to.


Hanson, S. (2014) Small, Towns, Austere Times, the dialectics of deracinated localism. London: Zero.

Keith, M. (1992) ‘Angry Writing’, in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Vol 10, Issue 5. London: Sage.

Lacan, J. (1967) My Teaching. London: Verso.

Sharzer, G. (2012) No Local. London: Zero.

* I made these points more fully in a small post-referendum book called Clocking Off, published by Fold Press. I also wrote a piece for the CUCR on the book: This will be my last word on it. Time to move on.

** It is possible to argue that fifteen academics in a room is a big audience: The book hasn’t sold a hundred copies yet, and the month after appearing live on Radio 4 to discuss it, it sold ten copies worldwide, before returning to 0, +1 or minus figures each month (Zero charge me for review copies).