Tag Archives: geography

The UCU pension strike and geographic literacy

This morning I felt quite inspired by three geographers who’ve posted things on the internet that make me glad that I work in the discipline of geography and proud to be a geographer. I’m grateful to the letter to students and the Twitter thread about the upcoming UCU pensions strike posted by Alice Evans and Jason Dittmer and by Derek Aldermann’s excellent post to the AAG newsetter entitled “Time for a Radical Geographic Literacy in Trump America”. So inspired by Alice’s, Jason’s and Derek’s example, I’m posting this to encourage students to support us in the upcoming strike, not (just) because you care about our wellbeing, but because the whole higher education sector is threatened by this latest neoliberal and inhumane move. The change to our pension arrangements does not only mean that many of us might not be able to afford to retire, it also means the deterioration of our working conditions and therefore your learning conditions. As the always insightful Liz Morrish writes:

“The working conditions of the staff who teach you, are your learning conditions. Whatever justifications or denials are uttered, this remains the case. Lecturers who are made ill through work overload cannot give you the time or energy you deserve.”

The same goes for lecturers who will not be able to afford to retire even when they are very old, infirm or mentally exhausted should this move go through.

Geography teaches us to analyze our environments and the spaces and places in which we and others get to live, work, move and act and in which we experience freedoms and oppressions. I found my niche in geography as a site in which to study dispossession, marginalization, racialization, coloniality, capitalism and sexism, because it helped me understand the spatialities that constitute these processes – that racism and sexism for example always have a geography as well as a history. And so do decolonial, anti-racist, anti-capitalist and feminist struggles. Because places/spaces are contingent as well as structured, by paying close attention to the ways in which oppressions and resistances are embedded in geographies, we can potentially find ways to diminish or enhance their impact. Geography also teaches us that things are connected. There is for example a relationship between the neoliberalization of higher education, the rise of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Brexit insanity, the people who have died crossing the US-Mexican border, in the Mediterranean sea and in the Grenfell Tower, school shootings, and the growing mental health crisis. Doing geography means in part tracing and revealing these connections. We can acknowledge these connections while acknowledging that British academics are of course much better off than those forced into dangerous migrations.

Being exposed through the discipline of geography to critical race theory, feminism, cultural studies and critical development studies have shaped me into the scholar and the person that I am. Thanks to the awesome scholars in geography and cultural studies that I’ve been able to study with, teach with and learn from, in person and through their writing, I feel I’ve developed a set of skills that enable me to analyze the world in which I live far better than I would be able to do without that study. Studying geography enables us to understand the things that disturb or outrage us and do what we can to challenge them. The current crisis is something students can and should learn from, and not just be affected by.

In the now more than three decades that I’ve been either a student or faculty member, I’ve seen dramatic changes in the university, some of these are good, most of them are bad. Universities have become less elitist spaces and that is good. There is still a long way to go to dismantle sexism, racism and Eurocentrism in the academy, but the conversations are at least underway and are becoming connected across institutions. But most of the changes I’ve seen in higher education are overwhelmingly negative and I realize that most of my career has involved attempting to defend public education from the neoliberal onslaught that takes its shape in a whole bunch of neoliberalizing and intellectually impoverishing technologies such as REF and TEF, in the creation of the highly indebted and anxious student subject, in the increasing casualization of academic labour, in the fetishization of large research grants, in the privileging of STEM subjects over humanities and social sciences, in the increase in workplace bullying, in the treatment of so-called Tier 4 students, and in the creation of the abysmally-named Office for Students. These things do not enhance research or learning and I am annoyed that we must spend so much time resisting them in the interests of being able to still do good teaching and good research. It is exhausting. Most of us never wanted to spend our careers fighting rampant neoliberal managerialism and there is a prevailing sense among many of my friends and colleagues that academics succeed in spite of their institutions rather than because of them.

But the thing about geography and other critical fields in the social sciences and humanities is that we can’t keep our analyses confined to our primary fields of study. I know that my students will be able to apply their geographic skills to many aspects of their personal and professional lives after graduation and that is the strength of a geography degree. So as a geographer I am simply not able to analyze neoliberal processes and gender inequality in Nicaragua and then not apply these analytical skills to my working environment. I can’t learn about modes of governance that are enacted by indigenous peoples and not think how such principles could help us to create a more humane university rather than one built on exploitation, exclusion and hierarchy. I admit that I sometimes spend probably futile time imagining what the university would be like it it were run like a Zapatista caracol, where leadership means not imposing your will but obeying the will of the majority and working from below.  In other words, I can’t keep my work separate from my working conditions.

So striking for me is not just about pensions – although I do want to able to afford to retire and not be forced to work until I drop dead – it is about dignity for academic workers and our students and respect for the pursuit of knowledge geared towards creating a better world. Striking is part of the attempt to transform the ways the university is run and funded for the better.

I am fully aware of the need I and others have to look after ourselves, our families and our financial situations. We have large rents, mortgages and bills to pay and striking will make meeting those financial commitments very hard for many of us. It is even harder for women and single parents too, especially given the gender pay gap in British universities. We are also totally committed to our students and our teaching. We care about you deeply, your learning and your education. We know that most of you have taken on huge debts and are doing too much paid work in order to get your degree.  We know you are worried about your grades and your employment prospects. But know this. Striking is a really tough thing to do. It is a last resort. It puts a lump in our throats and grips us with a sense of anxiety. But strike we must in the interests not just of our pensions but of the sector as a whole and I urge you all to support us.

Some of my colleagues are not going to strike. They will cross picket lines and teach their classes. It is of course their right not to strike just as it is the right of others to strike, but the absence of solidarity makes me feel sad and frustrated. Some students will also cross picket lines and be glad that their classes were not disrupted. I understand that, especially given the excessive fees that you pay that should never have been introduced. But instead of crossing the picket line, you could spend the day improving your geographic literacy in other ways – talk to staff on the picket lines, read a book that will make you think, read something written by one of the four scholars I’ve mentioned here. Your education can continue even if your classes are cancelled. But I’d also like to encourage you to think about the broader conjuncture in which you are seeking to gain your degree and getting into debt. I have a Nicaraguan friend who was an undergraduate student in the 1970s who never finished his degree because he was forced by circumstances and political conviction to abandon his studies and fight against the Somoza dictatorship. Like many others, he risked his life but the revolution triumphed and the brutal dictatorship was brought down. It put the nation on a different course in which many good things became possible and imaginable. He was a part of that revolutionary struggle. It is one of the things that makes him inspirational to me and makes me feel honoured to be his friend. You might argue that things were different in 1970s Nicaragua, Nicaragua was a politically unstable third world country living under dictatorship, and that surely British students living in a first world liberal democracy shouldn’t have to make such sacrifices.  To make such an assertion is to profoundly misunderstand the current conjuncture and the dangers that accompany the present moment.

Right now, we are living through extremely challenging and dangerous times, which one of my favourite decolonial scholars, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, refers to as social fascism and abyssal logics. As I argue in more depth in the introduction to my forthcoming book, we are living in a world in which there is growing indifference to human suffering, in which existing citizenships are removed and borders are constructed, and in which colonial nostalgia is being resurrected with the support of forces that we think of as benign or democratic. The universities are thoroughly enmeshed in and central to these dynamics. They are not impartial observers. The politics that underpin both the Trump presidency and Brexit as well as the rise of colonial apologetics in the academy are as serious as those that underpinned the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s and the Latin American dictatorships that established themselves in the second half of the 20th century. Across the globe, we are witnessing the intensification of modes of racialization, criminalization and stigmatization that produce fear and anxiety and lead to the preventable deaths, deportations or displacement of innocent people.  Not only do we need to be vigilant in the face of these threats, but we also need more than ever to be on the right side of history. Because if we don’t do start to do things differently in the world and put people ahead of profits, private property and the whims of the stock market, your degree or your white skin, or whatever privileges you already possess and are accumulating might not be enough to save you, or indeed any of us. So Derek’s call for geographic literacy in this context is extremely timely. So I’m striking for my pension, because I need it to live off, but I’m also striking for you and the students that follow you, and for a decolonized non-hierarchical academy in which a feminist ethic of care and a high degree of geographic literacy may grow and flourish. We are grateful for your support.

 

 

 

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My tribute to Professor Eric Pawson

From the UC Chronicle 44(12) 2009

Last Friday I went back to my old department, the Department of Geography at the University of Canterbury, to attend the retirement party of Professor Eric Pawson, my former PhD supervisor, colleague and head of department. I wasn’t asked to speak at the event, which is fine because lots of other people did, but I would like to acknowledge publicly how fortunate I was to have worked with Eric for almost 15 years from the late 90s until my departure from Canterbury at the end of 2012. I also want to do so because of a sense that Eric’s style of leadership is something that is sadly in increasingly short supply in the neoliberal university and it is worth reflecting on why it is that is so and how things might be different.

As a PhD supervisor, Eric was wonderful. Although we were both cultural geographers, our research interests were quite different. But he took my feminist thesis on single motherhood in post-revolutionary Nicaragua in his stride and managed to give me lots of academic freedom – something I feel I might not have had to the same extent if I’d stayed in the UK to do my PhD – while also providing significant intellectual input. I didn’t appreciate until later how such a balance is really difficult to achieve. His supervision always felt constructive and Eric never allowed me to doubt my work or myself, although would quite sternly draw attention to my weaknesses, such as whenever I was taking my feminist hyper-reflexivity too far.

As a member of the academic staff after my PhD, Eric was fundamental in helping my career to develop. He is the best head of department I have ever had by far. Given the way that things are changing in higher education, it is likely too that he will be the best I will ever have. Unlike many heads in contemporary institutions across the UK and New Zealand, Eric did not buy into the culture of audit and surveillance that pervades our institutions. He never internalized the “line manager” subject position; he was always a colleague, mentor and advisor rather than someone engaged in “performance management”. He never believed that academics need to be constantly surveilled and always made to feel a bit anxious, because otherwise we will get up to no good. As head, Eric was a senior scholar that cared about people and geography, and about both teaching and research. And his efforts went into maximizing us as researchers and teachers, giving us both autonomy and unconditional support, which was the most effective way to achieve what might now be referred to as “excellence” or “impact”. Of the many complimentary things said about Eric on Friday, one was that he was “on everybody’s side”. That is a form of leadership that I think is increasingly endangered.

Eric was the anti-neoliberal embodiment of the managerial approach. He always maintained a healthy ironic stance towards the neoliberal university and as head he sought bottom-up practical solutions to the challenges that faced us as academics or as a department. Decisions were taken collectively and democratically rather than being imposed in a top-down way. Even when you disagreed with the way forward, you could live it with what was decided because you’d been included in the deliberations. He trusted us completely as colleagues and professionals – any modes of surveillance came from elsewhere (TEC, College, PBRF) but never from Eric. We published a paper together on the PBRF (the New Zealand equivalent of the REF) based on our experiences. Despite the different ways in which we were located in this process, we both saw it as something unfortunate to be negotiated, subverted and turned to our advantage. As Liz Morrish and others have noted writing on UK universities, in many institutions the REF has become a toxic instrument of discipline used to impose unattainable and stress-inducing targets, the casualties of which are staff wellbeing at work, collegiality and learning conditions for our students. Leadership for Eric was however about reflecting with us on the intellectually impoverishing dynamics of instruments such as PBRF and striving to keep their negative impacts to a minimum, while working to help us achieve the highest possible scores we could. To the best of his ability, Eric always tried to remove the obstacles – financial, practical, and intellectual – that stood in the way of my achieving my potential. He helped me to get promoted and was my strongest advocate during those processes. He told me frequently that I was trying to do too much and should cut down. He made sure that I got the funding I needed, especially for fieldwork in Nicaragua, and that I got to do the teaching and research I cared about. He was enthusiastic about my successes, indeed about everyone’s successes, while never engaging in acts of self-promotion himself. I’m especially grateful for the good work we did together – including the special issue of the New Zealand Geographer in 2009 (see image), the 2010 New Zealand Geographical Society conference in Christchurch, the PBRF article, the successful prevention of a forced merger with the Department of Geology – and for his support in helping me to get the Marsden grant on media convergence (that in the end I had to do away from Canterbury) and for letting me reschedule classes right in the middle of the teaching semester so I could go to the UK when my sister had an accident. I realize that Eric’s leadership provides me with resources for thinking about how we can do the kinds of things that Liz Morrish is talking about, how we can make things more sane for ourselves, our colleagues and our students, while still doing excellent research and teaching.

So I am grateful to have had Eric as a colleague and mentor for so long and for the self-affirming and positive environment in which I got to work for a number of years thanks to him. I am also grateful for the good advice on so many matters, and the ongoing support that he has given to both me and Kevin since our departure from UC.

Have a happy retirement, Eric, you really deserve it.

 

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.

 

 

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.

Portability

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.

References

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

Notes

[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.

 

 

Latin American Development

Published by Routledge, March 2013

Latin America’s diverse political and economic struggles and triumphs have captured the global imagination. The region has been a site of brutal dictators, revolutionary heroes, the Cold War struggle and a place in which the global debt crisis has had some of its most lasting and devastating impacts. Latin America continues to undergo rapid transformation, demonstrating both inspirational change and frustrating continuities.

This text provides a comprehensive introduction to Latin American development in the twenty-first century, emphasizing political, economic, social, cultural and environmental dimensions of development. It considers key challenges facing the region and the diverse ways in which its people are responding, as well as providing analysis of the ways in which such challenges and responses can be theorized. This book also explores the region’s historical trajectory, the implementation and rejection of the neoliberal model and the role played by diverse social movements. Relations of gender, class and race are considered, as well as the ways in which media and popular culture are forging new global imaginaries of the continent. The text also considers the increasing difficulties that Latin America faces in confronting climate change and environmental degradation.

This accessible text gives an overarching historical and geographical analysis of the region and critical analysis of recent developments. It is accompanied by a diverse range of critical historical and contemporary case studies from all parts of the continent, providing readers with the conceptual tools required to analyse theories on Latin American development. Each chapter ends with a summary section, discussion topics, suggestions for further reading, websites and media resources. This is an indispensable resource for scholars, students and practitioners.

Review

“This book is a delight and its approach long overdue. By broadening its interpretation of the meaning of ‘development’ and by addressing many of the most contested issues in academic and political debates in and on Latin America, it brings home to the reader, but in an eminently comprehensible and digestible form, the complexity of the region’s recent and contemporary patterns of economic, social and political transformation. Moreover, to its great credit, it does so with a sharp eye, a sympathetic ear and a clarity and comprehensiveness which have all been sadly lacking in such books for several decades. This book sets the picture straight and does us all an invaluable service.” Antoni Kapcia, Professor in Latin American History, Faculty of Arts, University of Nottingham, UK.

“This book is a critical introduction to Latin America and its experience with development, and provides an invaluable resource to both students and scholars. Historically and geographically rich, this book examines processes of state formation and political economic thought through the colonial period and the Republican era, the emergence of Industrial Import Substitution and the dependency school, and the rise of neoliberalism and its discontents. These historical transformations have of course been marked by ideological struggle and political violence, and Julie Cupples proves the ideal guide to the continent’s shifting political and economic landscapes. The book highlights difference as well as continuity, and its attention to the region’s immense ethnic, linguistic, cultural, class, and ecological diversity is particularly valuable. Latin American Development provides a nuanced and authoritative look at political and economic change in the American continent.” Tom Perreault, Associate Professor of Geography, Department of Geography, Syracuse University, USA

The text can be purchased from:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Latin-American-Development-Routledge-Perspectives/dp/041568062X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1364503129&sr=1-1

http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415680622/