A new Social Science Centre in Manchester

In May 2016 I went to the AGM of the Co-operative Higher Education provider Social Science Centre, in Lincoln, to pitch a new branch in Manchester. They approved my request.

The Social Science Centre began in Lincoln after the Browne Report of 2009 increased fees for students dramatically and began to turn Higher Education over to the market. Our vision is for democratically owned and run higher education free at the point of access.

SSC Lincoln have been up and running since 2011. We are starting only the second branch in the country. The unique selling point for the Manchester branch is the large multi-cultural demographic in the city – sheer scale and access, basically – and the site we have picked in the Quaker Meeting House, perhaps the most politicised Meeting House in the country, next to the newly refurbished Central Library, between all the major city railway stations. This is a winning location, right in the middle of Manchester’s radical history, Peter Street, etc.

We will open on September 5th and we will be able to boast of that, but also that we are providing free HE on a goldmine postcode, next to a fantastic library, with access – hopefully – to the latest Sociology journals online.

So, what steps do we need to take in Manchester to work towards this vision? Immediate costs are for space, travel for member educational trips and guest speakers, print costs, coops uk membership, other events such as an ‘open day’ and joining the British Sociological Association as an institution to gain access to current Sociology journals electronically. Our room size is already looking small in terms of the members we have gathered so far. We may be looking to expand our courses soon, from one to many, and this means room hire. Of course, this may mean an expansion of full members too, but it may not, our education is free at the point of access.

We need financial assistance, both in terms of money and business advice. We are crowd funding an initial amount – the response has been humbling – but it will just get us started.

The current education White Paper gives all of this its context, its current political relevance, as HE continues to turn 180 degrees to face the market. There is a surplus of academic labour in the social sciences and students who cannot afford fees for degrees and MAs for a variety of reasons.

The discourses in the media about the excluded on both sides of the staff-student divide are not hard to find. Our crowd funding campaign has triggered real evidence of an appetite for change. These problems are not going to go away, in or out of the EU, until 2020 at the very least.

It is time for us to spread the SSC nationwide. Those disenfranchised by current neoliberal frameworks are hungry for this. We should be ambitious. Let’s start to brush history against the grain, not just in terms of the way we think – which was Walter Benjamin’s use of that imaginative phrase – but in terms of transforming the landscape where we all live, which we all own, collectively.

Just having two SSCs rather than one is a big step, as it means that this is a movement and not an institution, a phenomena and not an anomaly. I would love nothing more than to set this branch up and go off to start another. However, for now, SSCM is here:

https://sscmanchester.wordpress.com/

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Quote in Lance Parkin’s book on Alan Moore

I have only just realised that a quote from an interview I did with Christian Martius has appeared in Lance Parkin’s book on Alan Moore. It was a strange day. Alan is a lovely bloke, but… it was always going to be a strange day. Here is the cover and the reference. The interview took place in The Black Horse, Northampton, and I published it in my ‘zine Eclectic Electric, all in 1996.

MLW and Castlefield Launch Pad, A Thin Vale

Here is the catalogue that accompanied the Manchester Left Writers show at Castlefield Gallery, called Powerhouse Liberation Movement. Interventions by all the MLWs are sandwiched between essays, one by Gavin MacDonald, called ‘Mapping infrastructure for the Northern Charnelhouse’ and one by me, called ‘From Perversity to Polity, please’. This essay was the planned conclusion to the MLW Open Democracy series.

MLW and Castlefield Launch Pad, the films

Manchester Left Writers won the last round of bids for Castlefield Gallery’s Launch Pad series, administered in association with the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

Part of the pitch was for us to make some experimental films. Here are my films so far. The films are being pitched as ‘Notebook Films’, lo-fi, ideas-driven, quick. Here are some brief explanations and glimpses of each of them:

Notebook Film No.1 begins with the Millbank Riot as an augur of the austerity to come and its responses, 2011 included. It comes into the city of Manchester past shipping containers, and meditates on the ‘parliamentary stop’ of Ardwick Station, which has featured in other MLW pieces. It then travels out of the city with all of the riotous noise of recent protest marches. It begins to demonstrate the methodology of making ‘notebook films’ with iPhones etc, and foraging for scraps to make work with. It challenges the relevance of ‘magnetic north’ and brings in Manchester’s science history. This film sets the scene. https://vimeo.com/159855505

For continuation, Notebook Film No.2 begins again at the Ardwick parliamentary stop. It passes the council clad high-rises named after suffragettes, to ponder class and housing, gentrification, gender and plein air sleeping, via a piece of tent graffiti. It then arrives in the city again at Victoria Station, past relatively new high rise housing stock, to consider Blake’s ‘Ratio’ and what Adorno and Horkheimer called ‘instrumental rationality’. The soundtrack comes courtesy of Onion Widow via Chelsea from Essex. http://bit.ly/29cxNQV

Notebook Film No.3 explores Ancoats, Engels and myth. It examines contemporary spaces where poverty and the rag trade adhere. It then attempts to collapse the recent filming of Captain America in the Northern Quarter with earlier myths, in order to try to break up and loosen how ideology operates, so that we might think about that in relation to the Northern Powerhouse. The soundtrack by Chelsea from Essex provides a kind of folk elegy for the present, as the ghosts of Cheshire huntsmen – Engels himself rode with the hunt – appear on the streets, providing further augurs. Found scraps begin to re-map the island: http://bit.ly/29cxKo2

Notebook Film No.4 is by Natalie Bradbury, with some input from me. It explores the relationship between town and country, urban and rural, between Manchester and London, between fixity and mobility. It also begins to explore the idea of the ‘poor relation city’, to the north and south of Manchester, in this case the first in a series of meditations on Stockport, that will later be followed by explorations of Rochdale. This film also finds spaces of hope, in passers-by, in tiny nooks, in small public sculptures like eccentric shrines, in tiny urban interventions, in windows, in walls: http://bit.ly/28VsXGN

Notebook Film No.5 is a short glimpse of a much longer film, just under half an hour, which takes a trip from Angel Meadow – the place of the extinguishing of Co-operation in the failure of the Co-op bank – to the birth of Co-operation in Rochdale, under harsh social conditions in the 19th Century. The film is subtitle ‘Top Deck As Method’, which is fairly self-explanatory: http://bit.ly/28ZUQ3f

Notebook Film No.7 uses the language of Stockport regeneration policy to make a critical but open short piece on the place. At one point, we are literally watching the traffic lights change, close up, trying to find meaning: http://bit.ly/29cxuFx

Notebook Film No.9 is about the worth of collage, and what Benjamin called ‘Botanising the Asphalt’, for urban exploration. It references Schwitters’ non-representational ‘stuff’ of ‘Merz’, and the ‘gesamtkustwerk’, or ‘total-work’ as smashed fragments. It uses Modern and Post-Modern references to Beethoven’s 9th to further embed the idea of the grand final masterpiece as ultimately shards, after Adorno, and Minima Moralia. This is a gutter version of Shelley’s Ozymandias, for the humanities in the early 21st century. Here it is: http://bit.ly/28VNPSm

All of the work here is mine, apart from some sound – credited on the Vimeo site where due – and Notebook Film No.4, which is by Natalie Bradbury, with my input. I will upload and preview more work as I make it. Notebook Films 6, 8 and 10 are currently being assembled by David Wilkinson. I am also working on the found scraps you can see in Notebook Film No.9, to present in the gallery space.

Here are the End Credits: http://bit.ly/28V13f9

MLW and Castlefield Launch Pad

Manchester Left Writers are proud to announce that they have won the current round of bids for Castlefield Gallery’s Launch Pad series, administered in association with the Jerwood Charitable Foundation. We are about to get stuck into exploring, filming and soundtracking the ‘Northern Powerhouse Liberation Movement’. More news as the project takes shape. Our intervention is due in May 2016. Castlefield is here:

http://bit.ly/18WlsyZ

Two Zero Reviews

Here are a pair of reviews, for fellow Zero authors, for the glorious Manchester Review of Books (you read right). One is in Zizek territory, Enjoying It, Candy Crush and Capitalism by Alfie Bown:

http://bit.ly/1R5WPmq

The other is a more speculative work, Drone and the Apocalypse by Joanna Demers:

http://bit.ly/1nqrLlG

They gave me the opportunity to flex a few underused theoretical muscles. All the Manchester review of Books articles that DON’T have a byline at the end are mine (!).

Thinking Allowed

I recorded Thinking Allowed, on the 9th of March. The show was hosted by Laurie Taylor, who, as an academic at York formed the basis of a key character, Howard Kirk, in Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man. I was talking with the brilliant Dr Katharine Tyler, her work on people declaring ‘village’ in the urban as a form of symbolic resistance was a great part of the discussion.

http://bbc.in/1QMbzlc

The ‘Northern Powerhouse’, a Manchester Left Writers Open Democracy series

I co-founded Manchester Left Writers (MLW) in January 2014, initially as a leftwing reading group, before shifting it into a more critical focus, via a series of publications called Broadsides and Precarious Passages.

I am now co-editing a series of articles with openDemocracyUK. In it, we aim to present the Northern Powerhouse as a prism, dispersing different political colours, and structures of feeling, in the present. We are looking at Manchester initially, the glittering prize in George Osborne’s eye, and then thinking about how to reclaim the mythical space of ‘the Northern Powerhouse’ for its people.

First, we have an Introduction to the series, before an opening salvo, The Northern Powerhouse as Real Mirage, and then David Wilkinson on the Gay Village, gentrification and the crash of 2008. This article was originally called Civic Pride.

Next, we have a co-authored piece by Natalie Bradbury, Robert Galeta, and me, called Pomona for the People, which argues for a proper public ‘agora’, or forum, in the city. It makes an argument for real ‘placemaking’ in the present, for everyone, rather than the ‘futures’ of capitalism for the few.

The photograph of graffiti on Pomona shows that it is already an interstitial, open space by default – it lies between Manchester, Trafford and Salford councils – it is clearly used by many nations, faiths and cultures. Why not keep it like this? Sadly, the answer is obvious, because capital and neoconservatism control the discourse. I have uploaded the original 3,000+ word cut, but here is the Open Democracy edit too.

The next piece was by Bob Dickinson, on Peel power, the real Northern PowerhouseThis was followed by Northern House Power and very shortly afterwards Seeing the Global in the Local. Here is the whole series:

https://www.opendemocracy.net/northernpowerhouse

Bristol Festival of the Future City

I will be speaking on a panel at the Festival of the Future City in Bristol this Thursday. I will be talking about a co-authored paper I have been involved in, with Ben Gidley and Sundas Ali, for Oxford University and the Government Office for Science. The paper is on Identity and Belonging in UK Cities, and the panel will discuss immigration in UK cities.

http://bit.ly/1SS5KG4