Tenure loss will hit NZ

Last week I published an opinion piece in the Otago Daily Times about the dangers posed by the loss of tenure at New Zealand universities. It has received more than 800 social media shares in less than a week. I am sharing it here today as many students and faculty gather at NZ universities to hold #lovehumanities events and on the 6th anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake which arguably both accelerated and facilitated job losses and departures at the University of Canterbury. screenshot-2017-02-22-11-48-40

The rest of the article can be found at https://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/tenure-loss-will-hit-nz

Review of The Radicalization of Pedagogy

screenshot-2017-01-02-14-50-46At the end of November at the University of Manchester, we launched our book series Transforming Capitalism published by Rowman and Littlefield International and celebrated the publication of the first three books in the series, a trilogy focused on the intersections between anarchism and geography. The three books are The Radicalization of Pedagogy, Theories of Resistance and The Practice of Freedom, edited by Simon Springer, Marcelo Lopes de Souza and Richard J. White. Below is my review of the first book in the series, The Radicalization of Pedagogy, that I presented at the event in Manchester.

The Radicalization of Pedagogy seeks to strengthen the linkages between pedagogy and anarchist geographies, based on the premise that pedagogy is a primary site for resistance within anarchist practices. I have to admit that I came to this book with very limited engagement but some sympathy with anarchist theory and anarchist geographies. The book describes anarchist thought as one of the four foundations of what we might call radical geography, the other three being feminism, Marxism and poststructuralism. Of these four foundations, anarchism is the one that according to the editors deserves a much fuller consideration in geography. But I did come to this book with a very strong interest in radical pedagogies and in particular in the contemporary university as a neoliberal and colonial institution. I’m interested in seeking ways to undermine the rampant neoliberalization and corporatization of the contemporary university and also to find ways to decolonize its faculty, curricula, governance practices and modes of operation. Like many of my friends and colleagues, I’ve personally experienced the destructive dimensions of the neoliberal university, and am alarmed by the collective harm current arrangements inflict on scholarship, learning, and the wellbeing of both students and faculty. As a geographer, I’m also very interested in what is happening to our discipline in the context of these processes and pressures. My geography unit at the University of Edinburgh is part of a very large School of Geosciences, where neoliberalization and geoscientization mutually constitute one another in often quite problematic ways. But I’ve also been inspired by decolonial interventions into the academy that I’ve been exposed to as a result of three main experiences. The first is the scholarly contributions made by Māori intellectuals and activists in Aotearoa New Zealand. I worked at the University of Canterbury there for many years, and witnessed the incompatibility of neoliberalization and the incorporation of Māori worldviews into the westernized university. The second is the work I do in Central America on indigenous rights, where I have a long-established research collaboration with an intercultural grassroots university, URACCAN, on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua that is attempting to organize higher education quite differently. The third is my interaction with a growing body of literature referred to as the Modernity/Coloniality/ Decoloniality paradigm that I’m trying to incorporate into my teaching as well as my research. In addition, I’m also an avid indeed compulsive reader of scholarly, journalistic and activist work that critiques the neoliberalization of the university and am keen to participate in discussions on how we might do things better. This book makes a very important contribution to those discussions and debates. But it has a much broader remit than that, because it deals with many different kinds of pedagogies – the university is amply present but it also engages with the idea of schools, promoting the idea of unschooling or the destruction of the school, as well as providing detailed accounts of activist pedagogies that exist outside of institutions such as in gangs or on cycling tours. Some of these activist pedagogies provide extremely useful material that could be harnessed within the university, in particular in modes of learning such as fieldtrips that take us outside of the classroom. Ronald Horvarth’s discussion of teaching radical pedagogy in communities in East Detroit in the 1960s and 70s, where the students didn’t need to be taught about racism, because they lived it, but instead developed skills in activist mapmaking as a kind of liberation pedagogy and anti-racist praxis, is particularly interesting. At Edinburgh, we’ve just started running an undergraduate field trip to Cape Town and have been trying to develop the course around working directly with activists in Cape Town, Freirean pedagogies and notions of unlearning privilege, so there’s a lot of material here that’s encouraged me to reflect on field teaching in sites of racialized oppression.

While I enjoyed all of the chapters in the book, there are three that I found particularly inspiring. So I will say a few words about them and then I’ll end with a few words of critique.

Chapter three by Levi Gahman explores how the Zapatistas are implementing autonomous forms of education in the face of harmful neoliberalism and shows how the Zapatista pedagogic model can be useful as our institutions of higher education are transformed into what he refers to “sites of hetero-masculinist oppression, neurotic separation, hierarchical posturing and silent paranoia”. Zapatistas schools teach mutual aid and critical thought, rather than individualism or competition and learning is organized in a non-hierarchical and horizontal way. I have long admired the Zapatistas. I was in Chiapas in 1993 just after the Zapatista guerrilla training camps had been discovered in the Lacandón jungle and just a few months before their mediated rebellion was unleashed and I’ve followed and taught on their struggle ever since. Indeed, I keep their ten principles of good government on my office door as a model of how the university indeed could and should be run. As Gahman notes, if we were to implement Zapatista pedagogies in our universities we would have to eliminate “administrators and all vertically professionalized designations”.

Chapter 5 by Kye Askins and Kelvin Mason’s on public, participatory and activist geographies that they term “fuller geographies” is also very thought provoking and seeks to take us beyond simply defending the public university from the neoliberal onslaught. Their experiences with academic seminar blockades at the Faslane nuclear weapons base on the Clyde near Glasgow dramatized in a theatrical script – the chapter is written in the form of a play – shows how public spaces can be transgressed and transformed by acting in them, but then how these performances can be used as resources for reflection by others to learn about how oppressions can be resisted but also how they tend to reassert themselves. The third chapter that I especially enjoyed was the chapter by Richard McHugh on education in gangs, on what he calls informal informal pedagogy, where he provides a counter-response to the common critique made of Paolo Freire which is that his liberation pedagogy was constrained by its social embeddedness in Christian values. McHugh shows how these constraints don’t really matter as Freire functions as a catalyst for reflection, and engagement with Freire can bring about what he calls an “emancipatory action” and lead to the refusal of the default position that is on offer. He also has a great analysis of the TV drama Homeland that disrupts the dominant ideas of radicalization that are in place in the post-9/11 world US and UK.

I’ll end with a few words of critique. I think the intersections between indigenous and anarchist pedagogies that are highlighted in the book are fascinating but are largely underdeveloped. Many of the indigenous movements I’ve studied, taught on or worked with – Tūhoe in New Zealand, the indigenous inhabitants of El Alto in Bolivia that Raúl Zibechi has written about, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca in Mexico all see both the state and capital as violent and destructive forces of domination and are finding or maintaining ways to govern themselves. As far as I know, they never refer to their movements as anarchist, but this book has revealed the parallels, points of connection and potentials for solidarity that exist between anarchist movements and decolonial and indigenous social movements. In particular, the refusal to distinguish between ends and means, as well as the concepts of horizontality, reciprocity and mutual aid are all themes that appear quite strongly in this book as they do in much decolonial thought. Therefore it’s a pity that only one chapter in this book dealt with this issue in depth.

For me there’s one other gap in this book. Despite the fact that anarchist praxis should articulate well with feminist praxis, as it does for example in the Zapatista caracoles, and indeed a couple of the chapters refer to the intersections with a feminist ethics of care, reading the book made me feel that anarchism was and is a terribly male endeavour. Indeed, only two of the 15 contributors to this book are female and virtually all of the anarchist geographers and activists on which the book draws its inspiration are male. There’s a chapter by Federico Feretti on the contributions made by early anarchist geographers and educators to libertarian pedagogy and secular public education – it’s a fascinating history that geographers should be exposed to, yet all of the names he mentions – Piotr Kropotkin, Elisée Reclus, Philippe Pelletier, Léon Metchnikoff, Charles Perron, Francisco Ferrer, James Guillaume, Ferninand Buisson, Paul Robin – are male. It wasn’t until the final chapter when Simon Springer briefly refers to the work of Emma Goldman that the contribution of an anarchist feminist gets mentioned. In this chapter, Springer lays out a compelling philosophy on unschooling and refers to himself as an unschooling parent. I agree with him that school is often a site of immense suffering and harmful forms of discipline, although I do think that school is also a site of friendship and fun where we learn not only to be compliant but also to subvert authority. I was a single parent and viewed school in part as childcare, and so I couldn’t help thinking about the gendered dynamics of unschooling and I wondered who cares for his unschooled kids while he’s working as a university professor.

But this book is hugely useful to all of us who are attempting to negotiate the intellectually impoverishing and anxiety inducing dynamics of the contemporary university, the misplaced and misguided focus on “student satisfaction”, “feedback”, “innovation” and “distance learning”, the conversion of students into highly indebted consumers, and the end of consensus decision making. Eric Taje’s chapter discusses school as a statist-capitalist strategy to produce obedient workers and docile citizens and he notes that it failed initially as the first generation of wage labourers were impossible to discipline. It makes me concerned that as those of us with memories of a different kind of university become smaller in number and are replaced by faculty whose entire education was neoliberalized, we’ll have less and less capacity to resist. According to Taje, for many dominated and objectified people, the only way out of oppression is for them to become oppressors themselves, which might explain widespread faculty co-optation and the all too frequent inhabitation of the tyrannical line manager subject position. Furthermore, many of the ideas here would be hugely difficult to implement. We might be co-learners in the classroom, but at the end of the day, I’m tasked with awarding my now anonymized students individual grades so a new kind of instrumental relationship focused on grade maximization and ranking rather than conscientization comes to dominate. The hierarchy “between those who know and those who don’t” that doesn’t exist in Zapatista schools (Gahman 2016: 88) is reasserted. But there are things we can do and this book emphasizes that. A small group of us, inspired in part by the slow scholarship movement, are trying to enact more collaborative, less competitive ways of being together in the academy and in this respect this book contains ideas that can support us in that endeavor. The idea, expressed by Joe Curnow and others, that the processes we use to achieve our goals should embody those ultimate goals are particularly useful. If we want a less destructive, less competitive academy, we start by relating to one another differently and in the words of Gahman (2016: 82) “taking care of each other in oppressive circumstances”.

If you are interested in submitting a book proposal to the Transforming Capitalism series, please contact one of the editors, Ian Bruff, Julie Cupples, Gemma Edwards, Laura Horn, Simon Springer or Jacqui True.



UK solidarity with Nicaragua: Let’s get real

I like staying up to watch electoral returns, but there is no point in doing so when the results are already known in advance and the election lacks any kind of popular legitimacy. Nicaragua goes to the polls tomorrow in an election that will produce a landslide victory for incumbent president Daniel Ortega. These elections are of interest to anyone who cares about revolutionary struggle, power, and social justice in Latin America. For solidarity activism with Nicaragua in the UK and elsewhere, it is important to understand the conditions that underpin this electoral contest.

I was an activist with the UK solidarity movement long before I started to research Nicaraguan cultural politics. In my early 20s, during and just after the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1980s, my activist involvement, especially with the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign and the Central American Human Rights Committees, proved to be a wonderful political education and I am grateful for the insight and experience it gave me. As a result, I was able to work with and learn from Central American revolutionary leaders, human rights defenders, feminists, environmentalists and trade unionists both in the UK and Central America. While my efforts today are much more focused on research rather than solidarity organization, I appreciate the importance of international solidarity for making a difference in the world.

In the 1980s, when Reagan was in power, I believed in the FSLN and the Nicaraguan Revolution as a force for good, as an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggle that in the early years achieved some remarkable things but later became unstuck as a result of a multitude of factors, including but not limited to US foreign policy. As many people know, the FSLN, the party of the Revolution led by Daniel Ortega, lost the 1990 elections and then spent 16 years in opposition, attempting to return to power. Daniel Ortega remained the FSLN leader throughout those 16 years, losing two further elections in 1996 and 2001. In the late 90s, the FSLN did a dodgy deal (el pacto) with the ruling Liberals to weaken the safeguards in the electoral law to make it more likely that the FSLN could return to power. Thanks to el pacto, Ortega returned to power in 2006 and was re-elected (unconstitutionally as the Nicaraguan Constitution forbids re-election) in 2011. He is now running for a third consecutive term with his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his running mate. This means therefore that in the 37 years since the triumph of the Revolution in 1979, Ortega has been the president of Nicaragua for 21 years and leader of the opposition for the remaining 16 years. This is the 7th election in which he is running for president. The municipal elections of 2008 and the presidential elections of 2011 were widely denounced as fraudulent.

Like many revolutionary and progressive Nicaraguans, I ceased to support the FSLN a very long time ago. Indeed, many Nicaraguans, including many of those that fought in the revolutionary struggle, confirm that the existing FSLN leadership has betrayed its revolutionary principles, has embraced neoliberal capitalism, and has become increasingly authoritarian and repressive.

Yet these painful and highly visible realities seem however to have escaped substantial sectors of the UK solidarity movement. Instead, UK solidarity appears to be recycling a narrative that is dangerously inaccurate and obscures the desperate situation facing the country at this particular moment. Ignoring the tragic and disturbing events that afflict Nicaragua in order to circulate a highly simplistic anti-imperialistic discourse is not a form of solidarity that serves the needs of Nicaraguan citizens fighting for a better life nor is it useful for young activists in the UK who are seeking to understand the complex political situation and to figure out how to act in solidarity through anti-capitalist activism.

One example of this disconnect was evident in a tweet I saw last week while I was doing fieldwork in Nicaragua. The tweet was sent by @latamerica16 and it announced that Paul Oquist, Nicaragua’s National Policy minister, would be a guest speaker at the Latin America 2016 conference (https://latinamericaconference.wordpress.com/). This is a conference to be held in London on Saturday 26 November and is sponsored by the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign and Unite. Even more disturbing was the accompanying photo (see Figure 1) that announced Nicaragua’s “phenomenal progress” with a bunch of quite astonishing statistics that would come as quite a shock to most Nicaraguans, including the idea that Daniel Ortega is enjoying an approval rate of 79%.

Figure 1: Poster tweeted by @latamerica16 on 26 October

Figure 1: Poster tweeted by @latamerica16 on 26 October

For all those organizing and attending the Latin America 2016 conference, here is a quick overview of the current political situation in Nicaragua. It contains elements that should be central to Latin America 2016.

For the past few months, the country has been seen numerous street and online protests about what is widely understood to be an “electoral farce” (farsa electoral), because the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court has eliminated the only viable opposition. The other parties who appear on the ballot are run by co-opted people that nobody has heard of and that have no popular base of support. Ortega has banned international election observers, despite their presence being enshrined in the electoral law. I worked as an international election observer with the Carter Center in 2001 and 2006, and Nicaraguan elections are usually intense affairs, with high levels of passionate civic engagement, well-attended rallies, and visible campaigning everywhere. Usually campaigning material is attached to every available wall, lamppost and tree. This year nobody has really bothered to campaign and the urban landscape is unusually bereft of campaigning material. Plenty of party flags and posters do however appear on the walls of the state institutions, also in contravention of the electoral law, and public sector workers are expected to demonstrate their inked thumbs on Monday to confirm that they did go to vote. On 26 October in Bilwi on the North Caribbean Coast, a couple of FSLN posters appeared, some of them had been immediately destroyed (see Figure 2). It was no different when I returned to Managua on Saturday 29 October. It was indeed hard to believe that we were in the final week of an election campaign. I caught the tail end of the close of campaign by the Conservative Party and there were certainly no more than 100 people there. Some were possibly locals, happy to get a free t-shirt. A campaign in favour of active abstention has gained traction, as according to many Nicaraguan citizens, there is nobody to vote for. In response, the number of booths in polling stations will be reduced to create queues outside and generate an impression of civic participation. The hashtag #yonobotomivoto (I won’t throw away my vote) is trending on Twitter. Last weekend saw large protests against the farsa electoral in Nueva Guinea (see Figure 3), San José del Bocay, Jalapa and Pantasma and yesterday university students from the Central American University (UCA) also held a protest.

Figure 2: A tiny amount of electoral campaigning material appeared in Bilwi on 26 October

Figure 2: A tiny amount of electoral campaigning material appeared in Bilwi on 26 October

Figure 3: The tweet reads: We continue to mobilize against the electoral circus. In La Unión, Nueva Guinea, the campesinos and campesinas from the communities are here.

Figure 3: The tweet reads: We continue to mobilize against the electoral circus. In La Unión, Nueva Guinea, the campesinos and campesinas from the communities are here.

In addition to recognizing that the 2016 presidential elections have no credibility and legitimacy, solidarity activists should also be aware of the following. Since returning to power in 2006, the government has taken control of all four branches of government. Public employees and government ministers that openly criticize the FSLN leadership are removed from office. Daniel Ortega commands intense and unprecedented levels of police protection. The streets around his home in Reparto El Carmen are heavily guarded at all times. Five per cent of the police budget and 10 per cent of the police personnel are used to protect the president and his close entourage. Anti-poverty programmes that have reduced poverty to a small degree have been administered to supporters in clientelistic ways, making it hard for people to express open opposition. Venezuelan aid has been privatized, in the sense that it is absent from the national budget, and directed into private projects. The government has spent more than $3 million on adorning Managua with dozens of metallic trees (see Figure 4) and $80 million on 50 armoured T7B1 Russian tanks. They send out the riot police or groups of violent mobs (grupos de choque) every time the opposition organizes a peaceful protest. They have criminalized therapeutic abortion, putting even more women’s lives at risks. The government is also pursuing the construction of a $50 billion interoceanic canal with Chinese investment that will produce irreversible environmental damage and will displace hundreds of campesinos and indigenous groups from their lands. Furthermore, there is a serious environmental and social conflict in the North Caribbean region, where colonos, subsistence farmers from the Pacific, have settled illegally on ancestral lands belonging to Miskito and Mayangna populations and have become increasingly violent. More than 20 indigenous community members have been murdered by the colonos in the past year, but no state protection or investigation into illegal activities (murder, land trafficking, illegal occupation of indigenous territory) has been undertaken.

Figure 4: Dozens of metallic trees adorn Nicaragua's capital city Managua

Figure 4: Dozens of metallic trees adorn Nicaragua’s capital city Managua

So what we have in place is an authoritarian, repressive government that does not tolerate political pluralism and freedom of expression, does not respect or support the rights of indigenous peoples and women, is responsible through inaction (towards the colonos and rampant deforestation) and action (pursuit of a neoliberal megaproject such as the canal) for extensive environmental destruction. Ortega is in a precarious position – the fall in oil prices and the crisis in Venezuela along with the approval in the US Congress of the Nica Act are both likely to substantially reduce the external funds flowing into Nicaragua. The other pink tide governments that have been also been his allies are also in crisis to varying degrees. To compensate, Ortega is doing deals with Putin and Russian investment in transport, telecommunications and military hardware is already visible, but such an association is likely to isolate Ortega further. These issues are absent from the UK solidarity literature. If you read the latest news briefing from the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign (NSC), it seems to suggest that all is well, that the elections are free and fair, and that the vast majority of the electorate are ready to vote for the FSLN. I understood why Ortega wishes to make his regime and the electoral process appear legitimate, but I do not know why a UK-based solidarity campaign would wish to do so. As a long term NSC activist, I am disturbed by such blatant and extreme political irresponsibility. If they cared about those that gave their lives for the revolution in the 1970s and 80s, about the freedom to participate in politics without intimidation, about the fate of Nicaragua’s indigenous groups, they would endeavour to engage honestly and accurately with Nicaragua’s messy complicated politics. There are lots of Nicaraguans fighting for something better. There are lots of Nicaraguans honouring the sacrifices made during the revolution, denouncing corruption, seeking to address poverty and marginalization in sustainable ways, and speaking out in defence of human rights and the environment. We should stand with them, not with a corrupt and authoritarian caudillo.


The Stern REF review: What will happen to the feminist geographers?

The REF is a flawed problematic technology that emerges in the context of the neoliberalization of higher education and is widely criticized by academics across blogs and journal pages. In my experience, most research and teaching active academics tolerate the REF, but not many of us embrace it. It detracts from our teaching and scholarship, it encourages disciplinary forms of performance management, it discourages long-term and ambitious monograph projects, and makes it difficult to embody alternative (non-REFable) academic subjectivities. As a result of the high social and financial cost of the REF, the government commissioned an independent review carried out by Nicholas Stern that has now been published. I was surprised to read in the review that “many respondents to our consultation stated that research and the HE sector would be poorer without it and that largely the benefits far outweigh the costs”. The review does not say who the respondents to the consultation were nor how extensive it was. So the review starts with an assumption that REF is mostly good and is here to stay but that it needs a little improvement here and there. The review identifies some of the  flaws with the system and poses some recommendations in order to mitigate these. Since the review was published last week, a number of scholars have produced a range of critiques and endorsements that I have read with interest (see for example Campaign for the Public University 2016; Morrish 2016; Bhandar 2016; Wilsdon 2016). While a minority welcome the recommendations, the majority are more critical and have emphasized how the recommendations will be harmful to early career and BAME scholars. I think they are also potentially harmful to women and to scholars whose work is seen as marginal within their school or college.

The review identifies some of the well-known problems with the REF and there are three on which I wish to comment: the question of portability; the question of equality and diversity; and the question of interdisciplinarity. The recommendations seek to prevent the so-called “gaming” of the system, in particular where institutions hire high performing scholars just before the census date in order to enhance their REF return, by putting an end to the portability of outputs. They also seek to enhance equality and diversity at tertiary institutions. The review notes with concern how white men get submitted at a much higher rate than both women and people of colour. Finally, the review also wants to make it easier for interdisciplinary research to get included.


The section on portability is so flawed, it beggars belief. A number of commentaries have flagged its problem for early career scholars on short term contracts, pointing out how the university that has failed to give them a permanent contract should not be able to benefit from their publications and undermine their future career prospects. But the lack of portability is not just a problem for ECRs but for anyone. Indeed, it appears to be based on an assumption that good scholars only move jobs because they have been poached for REF purposes. They do not. They move to be closer to a partner (the nature of the academic job market and the absence of formal spousal hire policies means that lots of academic couples are living apart and commuting and seek as soon as they can to change that state of affairs) or elderly parent, to be able to see more of their adult kids or babysit their grandkids, because they want a job in a more affordable city where they can buy a house, because their head of school or dean is making their life a misery, and because they want to be closer to a fieldsite, co-author or collaborator. People who need or want to move should not be deprived of their intellectual property. The idea of date of acceptance is of course also profoundly arbitrary. Books can take many years to write and journal articles can be based on many years of fieldwork. Publications get started in one institution and finished in another. Heavy teaching and administrative workloads means that publications also get written in the evenings, at weekends and during annual leave. Imagine being told that the articles you wrote in your own time no longer belonged to you. Stern’s recommendations might terminate one kind of gaming but will lead to another. As a journal editor in the US, Neil Smith (2010) recalled receiving a phone call from a British scholar that urged rapid acceptance of a submitted paper “because our RAE submissions are due in two weeks” (RAE was the precursor to REF). In the future, scholars will be asking editors and publishers to post-date letters of acceptance so they can take forthcoming publications with them to a new position. And if you wrote the article in your own time, because 35 hours a week is simply not enough time to write and do other work, can an institution tell you that you can’t take it with you?

Equality, diversity and interdisciplinarity

The review seeks to enhance equality and diversity by insisting that all academics are returned. It also seeks to secure improved recognition for interdisciplinary research. But it instantly undermines these aims in two ways. First, it allows for a differential number of submissions per academic to be submitted. While an average of two per academic is the aim, some people could submit fewer (even potentially none which I am sure is no different than not being included) and some more, up to a maximum of six. Second, it calls for some measure of metrics to be added to the (secret[i]) peer review. I can see instantly how both of these measures could be highly negative, as a result of both gender and institutional location. I am a human geographer in a School of Geosciences, a school that must accommodate humanities scholars and geophysicists, critical social scientists and positivist ones. We have a College of Humanities and Social Sciences but we are not in it as the School of Geosciences is located in the College of Science and Engineering. The enormous differences in our epistemological and methodological approaches, not to mention in modes of writing, publishing, supervising, securing funding and co-authoring make REF particularly challenging. In the last REF, in order to maximize the financial return, the School submitted all academics to ‘Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences’ (Unit of Assessment B7) rather than to ‘Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology’ (Unit of assessment C17). Outputs authored by geographers were cross-referred to C17, but essentially we made a single submission to B7. But we all submitted four outputs so it was equalizing in that respect, even if as geographers we would have preferred to only have submitted to C17. If in the next REF, the School decides to submit once again to B7 and a differential number of outputs are allowed, we might find it is not only women and people of colour who are de-selected but scholars whose work is least like “earth systems”. It would certainly make the construction of a coherent narrative more straightforward if the work conducted by feminist scholars or queer theorists did not have to be included in the narrative. In other words, the serious risk exists that human geographers will be submitted at a lower rate than earth scientists or geoscientists. These inequalities as well as those of gender are likely to be exacerbated by the proposed addition of metrics to the existing system of peer review. A recent study (Writing for Research 2014) has shown that the citation rate in the natural sciences is six times greater than in the humanities. Other studies have revealed that men get cited far more than women. This is because men tend to cite mostly men, and women tend to cite both men and women (see Ahmed 2013; Ingraham 2016). Even in human geography, men get cited at five times the rate of women (of the 100 most cited human geographers on Google Scholar, only 21 are female). So if you were trying to maximize REF returns in B7, in a system where metrics matter, the article by a female humanities scholar with ten citations is going to look far less appealing that the article by a male geoscientist with 100 citations. The Stern review sheds no light on how these inequalities might be avoided. Maybe the new focus on interdisciplinarity will help scholars like me but I have no idea what Stern means by interdisciplinarity as no definition is provided. Is interdisciplinary work when a physical geographer works with a geologist (drawing on principles in geomorphology) or when a human geographer works with an anthropologist (drawing on feminist poststructuralist theory) or is interdisciplinary work when a positivist geophysicist works with a decolonial queer theorist? The first two examples are straightforward and commonplace theoretically and epistemologically, the final one is hard to imagine. Equality and diversity could be enhanced and the problem of interdisciplinarity minimized by allowing researchers to submit to the panel of their choice, as occurs in the New Zealand PBRF[ii], and then scores are aggregated at school or departmental level.

So Lord Stern, I feel totally underwhelmed by your intervention.


Ahmed S (2013) Making feminist points. feministkilljoys [blog] 11 September https://feministkilljoys.com/2013/09/11/making-feminist-points/

Bhandar B (2016) The Stern Review. London Review of Books 2 August http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2016/08/02/brenna-bhandar/the-stern-review/

Campaign for the Public University (2016) Let a hundred flowers fade … The Stern Review [blog] 29 July http://publicuniversity.org.uk/2016/07/29/let-a-hundred-flowers-fade-the-stern-review/

Cupples J and Pawson E (2012) Giving an account of oneself: The PBRF and the neoliberal university. New Zealand Geographer 68(1): 14-23

Ingraham C (2016) New study finds that men are often their own favorite experts on any given subject. The Washington Post 1 August https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/08/01/new-study-finds-that-men-are-often-their-own-favorite-experts-on-any-given-subject/?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_wb-experts-1020am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

Writing for Research (2014) Poor citation practices are a form of academic self-harm in the humanities and social sciences. Medium 27 October https://medium.com/advice-and-help-in-authoring-a-phd-or-non-fiction/poor-citation-practices-are-a-form-of-academic-self-harm-in-the-humanities-and-social-sciences-2cddf250b3c2#.zgh1cha9t

Morrish L (2016) A Stern talking to? Academic irregularities [blog], 28 July https://academicirregularities.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/a-stern-talking-to/

Smith N (2010) Academic free fall. Social Text 21 August http://socialtextjournal.org/periscope_article/academic_free_fall/

Wilsdon J (2016) The road to REF 2021: why I welcome Lord Stern’s blueprint for research assessment. The Guardian 29 July https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2016/jul/29/why-i-welcome-lord-sterns-blueprint-for-research-assessment-ref-2021-stern-review


[i] I say secret because you don’t get to find out how your outputs were graded and what score you were awarded. Academics who tried to get their own scores through FOI requests were told to go away.

[ii] Before returning to the UK in 2013, I experienced three rounds of research audit in New Zealand under the PBRF (Performance Based Research Fund). The PBRF in many ways is an abhorrent, governmentalizing technology that like the REF subjects academics to disciplinary performance management regimes and heavy handed surveillance. It is however also a technology within which, as Eric Pawson and I argued, one can carve out subversive spaces of self-esteem and affirmation (Cupples and Pawson 2012). Since being exposed to the REF, I have to say I miss the PRBF (I can’t believe I am saying this), which is a fairer, more inclusive and more transparent system that overcomes some of the problems I have identified above and addresses many more. If we are to have research audit (and I wish we didn’t), it is a pity that Stern did not explore alternative audit systems elsewhere in the world. The PBRF is a better system than the REF for at least three reasons. First, rather than a system in which a unit of assessment/school narrative is authored in secret by a small group of academics, in New Zealand individual academics get to craft their own portfolios and write their own narratives. This means you can submit to the panel that most suits your work and don’t end up in a situation where human geographers are submitted to earth sciences panels as part of a school submission. You can be as interdisciplinary as you like and say so and cross refer yourself to a second panel. Second, you get to find out your own individual score. I know this is problematic in some ways, but in the REF you are asked to produce world class research without knowing whether your research in the last round was already world class. It is much more transparent than REF. Third, everyone is submitted, nobody is excluded on the basis of citation rates, gender or for any other reason, and you submit everything you published but nominate four outputs as being especially significant. It is OK not to have four if you are an early career scholar.



Urban Marginality: Researcher Links Workshop

I am on my way to Mexico City where in collaboration with my Edinburgh colleague Tom Slater, and Toño Gallardo and Mariana Gallardo of Universidad La Salle, I am organizing a workshop on Urban Marginality that will run from 11-15 July. We are generously funded by the British Council and CONACYT’s Newton Fund. We will be joined by more than 30 early career scholars from the UK and Mexico who are all working on themes of urban justice and urban marginality. To find out more about us and our workshop aims, please visit our workshop website, like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. During the workshop, Kevin Glynn and I will present a paper that brings our Marsden funded research on geographies of media convergence into dialogue with questions of stigmatization, decoloniality, and urban justice in Mexico City through an analysis of the Santa Muerte phenomenon.



May 2016 New Zealand talks

I am in Dunedin and Wellington over the next two weeks, speaking at the University of Otago and Victoria University of Wellington on my Marsden funded research in both Nicaragua and Aotearoa New Zealand.

I am attending the Space, Race, Bodies II: Sovereignty and Migration in a Carceral Age conference at the University of Otago where together with Kevin Glynn I am presenting a paper (on 7 May) that explores the intersections and interactions between indigenous people, the criminal justice system and the media through a focus on innovative reality series Songs from the Inside broadcast on Māori Television and on Tame Iti’s mediated activism. I am also going to pick up on these themes at Victoria University of Wellington in the Social Theory Spatial Praxis workshop . I am also running a master class on decolonial theory with a group of geography postgraduate students at the University of Otago on 5 May.

I am speaking about our Nicaraguan research in the Department of Geography at Otago University (Monday 9 May at 1pm) and School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington (Thursday 12 May at 4pm) and giving the following paper (co-authored with Kevin Glynn).

Shifting Nicaraguan mediascapes: Authoritarianism and the struggle for social justice


There are two main threats to the authoritarian rule of the Nicaraguan government led by Daniel Ortega: the first is the Managua-based NGO and civil society sector led largely by educated dissident Sandinistas, and the second is the escalating struggle for autonomy and land rights being fought by Nicaragua’s indigenous and Afro-descended inhabitants on the country’s Caribbean coast. In order to confront these threats and, it seems, secure indefinite political tenure, the government engages in a set of centralizing and anti-democratic political strategies characterized by secrecy, institutional power grabs, highly suspect electoral practices, clientelistic anti-poverty programmes, and the control through purchase or co-optation of much of the nation’s media. The social movements that threaten Ortega’s rule are however operating through dispersed and topological modalities of power and the creative use of emergent spaces for the circulation of counterdiscourses and counternarratives within a rapidly transforming media environment. The primary response to these mediated tactics is a politics of silence and a refusal to acknowledge or respond to the political claims made by social movements. In the current conjuncture, we can therefore identify a struggle for hegemony whose strategies and tactics include the citizenship-stripping activities of the state and the citizenship-claiming activities of black, indigenous and dissident actors and activists. This struggle plays out in part through the mediated circulation and countercirculation of discourses and the infrastructural dynamics of media convergence.

Thanks to everyone for the speaking invitations, especially Marcela Palomino, Christina Ergler, Tony Binns and Holly Randall-Moon and to the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand for the funding that has made this research possible.

Reconciliation and Mandatory Indigenous Content Courses: What are the University’s Responsibilities?


by Rauna Kuokkanen

I fully agree with everyone who argues that Canadian university students do not know enough about Indigenous peoples and their societies, histories, political orders and worldviews or systems of knowledge. Yet, I’m wary of the growing chorus of calls for mandatory courses on Indigenous issues in Canadian universities. I fear we as Indigenous scholars and educators are selling ourselves short. Especially for universities that have not shown serious and long-standing commitment to Indigenous studies and scholarship, mandatory courses are an easy way out.

A lot has been written on both the pros and cons of mandatory courses on Indigenous peoples and the logistics of designing, implementing and teaching such courses: who is going to teach the courses, under which unit with what kind of financial and human resources available (see, GaudryJustice; and McDonald). I share these and other concerns about how to ensure the…

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