At 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.