Centre for Urban and Community Research

Here is a piece I have just submitted to the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR) ahead of my talk at Goldsmiths, where I will work through the problems and pleasures of ethnography, via an overview of my Zero book, Small Towns, Austere Times (2014). I will explain the origins of that work in a private archive of visual material relating to one quite neatly bounded place. I will then open up these quite specific things into a much larger debate about the global and local, ethnography, ethics and the limits of seeing ‘in the local’, in the early 21st century. The poster for the event is here. This piece, for the CUCR blog, is a kind of effective Afterword to my Small Towns book:

http://bit.ly/1jWvbKK

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Deracinated Localism

My explorations of Wales and its borderlands led me to re-apply what I had learned to my formative political landscape, the Calder Valley. Here is the first piece I put out on that place, again for Street Signs, The Dialectics of Deracinated Localism, Some Notes from the North. This then led to my PhD thesis, and the eventual passing of a Viva Voce, and then a book for Zero, Small Towns, Austere Times (2014):

http://bit.ly/1PziVYr

Here is a sample chapter from that book, The Dialectics of Working and Not Working. Through this work I contacted a fellow Zero author, Greg Sharzer, who had No Local published in 2013. We are now working collaboratively on the global, viral rise of Localism as a ‘solution’. This is being articulated theoretically through examples such as Baron Glasman’s theological retrospectiveness, and Syriza’s use of Localism as an immediate response to the continuing crises in Greece. Greg effectively runs a branch of Historical Materialism in Korea.

My last single-author shout on this topic for the moment will be published in a chapter called ‘Is To Fix Always to Return?’ in a volume called Cultures of Repair, which will be published by Berghahn Books very soon. Catherine Malabou has written a philosophically generous introduction to the volume.

Some Border Countries

I began to read Raymond Williams seriously after my PhD supervisor, Les Back, put me on to Border Country, the novel that was unfairly panned at the time of publication. I had read bits and pieces before then, particularly his 1958 essay ‘Culture Is Ordinary’, which I still think is one of the greatest British essays ever put to paper.

With almost miraculous serendipity I was teaching at Hereford College of Arts, and discovered that Williams’ grave was near to where I lived in Abergavenny. I made a pilgrimage to Clodock Church, near Pandy. I then began to write about the ‘Border Countries’ of Williams, and those I had come from, on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border. I began to map these on to the ones Edward Said wrote about, in my mind.

So here is a micro-phase, with its relevant published traces, Border Country, a Visit to the Grave of Raymond Williams, which opens the phase, and then The Bus Stop, The Cathedral, Fifty Years On, which introduces ‘austerity’ into those narratives – as the 2008 financial crash unravelled – and then Unpacking Ships and Containers, which closes my work in Wales and The Marches. The scene was then set for the material that led to my PhD thesis and first book, Small Towns, Austere Times, which was published by Zero in 2014. I theorised in Wales and then applied that in the Northwest of England.

Early Adventures

Here is some early work on urban landscapes, and approaches to it, emerging from 1990s British Psychogeography.

I was in touch with Manchester Area Psychogeographic – particularly Bob Dickinson – before heading south to Goldsmiths to undertake my MA in 2003, where I carried on the tradition. I ran some walks as ‘Scape’ with Katherine Bourke during that time. I wrote an article called The Art of Navigation, for Street Signs, which is an account of one walk.

I took Street Signs from a stapled departmental newsletter to a proper publication during my MA year, eventually editing the first new issue along with Professor Les Back. My print design skills from my previous life enabled this.

The Scape walks were run with help from the CUCR, the Centre for Urban and Community Research. Michael Keith was particularly encouraging. He was the Centre Director at the time, as well as Labour MP for Tower Hamlets. Jim Segers of City Mine(d) was staying at Laurie Grove Baths. I remember his legs sticking out from under the desks in the morning, in a sleeping bag.

They were exciting times, but I became jaded with the political emptiness of a lot of what passed for Psychogeography, and so wrote another article for Street Signs, called Mind the Gap, Psychogeography as an Expanded Tradition, which emerged in 2007. I intended this to be a flag planted in the ground, that I could return to, but I never did. I wanted to start a PhD on British Psychogeographers in the 1990s, the ‘Magico-Marxists’. I registered the topic at Goldsmiths, and even got Chris Jenks to sign up as supervisor. Ultimately, I delayed and he moved to Brunel to become the Vice Chancellor. I attended a few conferences and events, notably the excellent TRIP festival at MMU in 2008, but I couldn’t get around my reluctance to align myself fully with contemporary versions of the subject.

I interviewed Patrick Keiller for Street Signs in 2003, and he confirmed my distance from politically-evacuated Psychogeography, but strongly reinforced my committment to investigating political landscapes, particularly on ‘The Island’.

As if to finally extinguish the subject for me, my extensive Psychogeography pamphlet collection subsequently burned down – along with me – in the house I rented, at 1am in 2014. I had publications by the AAA, LPA, MAP, Equi-Phallic Alliance, Stewart Home and Neoism, et al. To hecate with the landlord and estate agent. The final working, however, is ‘The Ashes’, which I kept. See the link to the right here…

This strange article for Street Signs in 2007, Ram Raiding the Modern Past, at a Garden Centre Near You, effectively straddles the divide between exploring political landscapes and Psychogeography. It foreshadows my interest in public and private space, and the way in which aesthetics and affects such as nostalgia tend to cover the power relations in social space. This piece is a suture between my earlier Psychogeographic work, coming out of a long engagement with British Art Schools, and my next phase, on Border Countries.