Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Unions in Court: Organized Labour and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Dear Colleagues,

I have long admired the writing/analysis of Larry Savage in providing critical analysis of the state of organised labour in Canada. So, I was pleased to see the publication of a new book by him, and Charles Smith, providing insight on the relationship between the Canadian labour movement and Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Details are here:

The book has been particularly helpful towards my doctoral thesis as it draws on Colin Hay's approach to structure and agency in the context of movement activism.

The blurb for the book reads:

Since the turn of the twenty-first century, Canadian unions have scored a number of important Supreme Court victories, securing constitutional rights to picket, bargain collectively, and to strike. Unions in Court: Organized Labour and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms documents the evolution of the Canadian labour movement’s engagement with the Charter, demonstrating how and why labour’s long-standing distrust of the legal system has given way to a controversial Charter-based legal strategy. This book’s fresh take on constitutionalized labour rights will have critical implications for the labour movement as well as activists in other fields.

Please follow the link above to get more detail of the book. You can read a sample here:

In Solidarity


Thursday, 8 June 2017

Vote Labour on June 8

Dear Colleagues,

The parallels between the crisis facing the country in 1945 and 2017 are clear and stark. The only party offering a credible, realistic opportunity for economic and social security for the majority of the UK population is the Labour Party.

If you have a vote - get and out and use it today!

In Solidarity


Thursday, 25 May 2017

The 'curse of knowledge' and what to do about it

Dear Colleagues,

I am in the process of writing-up my doctoral thesis and have taught myself two valuable lessons, primarily as a result of (a) nor being able to maintain a schedule of output and (b) feeling that my writing just isn't good enough. What I have learnt is, I am partly ashamed to admit, that I need to listen to the advice that I would give to a student in the same predicament:

(1) Just write - it might not be brilliant, but it's better than finding the day is ending and you've done bugger all. Linked to this;

(2) It isn't meant to be perfect first time 'round - great if it is - but it doesn't matter if it isn't. It'll give you some to read and reflect on and send to your supervisor to prove you are still alive and/or haven't run away.

Part of the problem is an assumption that, writing a doctoral thesis should mean using language that looks like the stuff I have been reading to help get my head around my research focus: activist education and knowledge production.

Well it should certainly look like I understand key messages, be able to grasp and apply elements of theory and relate this to my own research. But, what I shouldn't do is, as Steven Pinker warns, fall foul of the 'curse of knowledge' - and I think I have been.

For Pinker the curse of knowledge is:  the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn't occur to the writer that her readers don't know what she knows — that they haven't mastered the patois of her guild, can't divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so she doesn't bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

Taken from his book, The Sense of Style ( the simplest explanation of Pinker's position is that you can become so bound up within, or confident about your subject knowledge, that it becomes difficult to relate this in simple, explainable, understandable terms.

To know that I actually know what to do here is frustrating - I just need to keep reminding myself of the advice I'd give to students tackling the same challenge. In addition I shall bear in mind Pinker's advice to manage this problem:

Get rid of abstractions and use concrete nouns and refer to concrete things. Who did what to whom? Read over your sentences and look for nouns that refer to meta-abstractions and ask yourself whether there's a way to put a tangible, everyday object or concept in its place. “The phrase ‘on the aspirational level' adds nothing to ‘aspire,' nor is a ‘prejudice reduction model' any more sophisticated than ‘reducing prejudice.'”

When in doubt, assume the reader knows a fair bit less than you about your topic. Clarity is not condescension. You don't need to prove how smart you are — the reader won't be impressed. “The key is to assume that your readers are as intelligent and sophisticated as you are, but that they happen not to know something you know.” 

Get someone intelligent and part of your intended audience to read over your work and see if they understand it. You shouldn't take every last suggestion, but do take seriously when they tell you certain sections are muddy or confusing. “The form in which thoughts occur to a writer is rarely the same as the form in which they can be absorbed by the reader.

Put your first draft down for enough time that, when you come back to it, you no longer feel deep familiarity with it. In this way, you become your intended audience. Your own fresh eyes will see the text in a new way. Don't forget to read aloud, even if just under your breath.

In Solidarity


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Fight the Tory Attack on Schools

Dear  Colleagues,

The education unions are heading a campaign to fight back against cuts in school funding. Please use the interactive website below to identify an event near you that you can support.

You can also organise your own event by ordering resources from the campaign website:!/

Whatever you do, please join one of the most important campaigns of current political history.

In Solidarity


Thursday, 27 April 2017

Workers' Memorial Day: Friday 28th April 2017

Dear Colleagues,

All being well you have an event planned for tomorrow.

If you need to see what events are taking place across the UK - perhaps you can join one if you have nothing planned in your workplace - please follow this link:

In Solidarity


Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Radicalization of Pedagogy

Dear Colleagues,

Just a brief post to give a plug for a fascinating new book (published by Rowman and Littlefield) by
Simon Springer, Marcelo Lopes de Souza, and Richard J. White. You can order a copy here:

As those who regularly read this blog will know, a key focus and interest of mine is the means by which activists learn and shape their craft. This new text enters this domain with a focus on anarchist geographies.

As the advertising blub states:

How do activists learn radical politics? Does the increasing neoliberalisation of education limit the possibilities of transgressive pedagogies? And in what contexts have anarchist geographers successfully shaped alternative pedagogic practices?

Pedagogy is central to geographical knowledge and represents one of the key sites of contact where anarchist approaches can inform and revitalize contemporary geographical thought. This book looks at how anarchist geographers have shaped pedagogies that move towards bottom-up, ‘organic’ transformations of societies, spaces, subjectivities, and modes of organizing, where the importance of direct action and prefigurative politics take precedence over concerns about the state. Examining contemporary and historical case studies across the world, from formal and informal contexts, the chapters show the potential for new imaginaries of anarchist geographies that will challenge and inspire geographers to travel beyond the traditional frontiers of geographical knowledge.

The case studies deployed to explore the core thrust include the Zapatista tradition of education as a formative anti-neo-liberal model to. There is an article in Roar Magazine based on this chapter:

You can also see a sample chapter by following the link at the top of this page.

In Solidarity


Monday, 3 April 2017

Renegade: RIP Darcus Howe

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier this year the biography of Darcus Howe (activist, writer and broadcaster) Renegade: The Life & Times of Darcus Howe was re-published by Bloomsbury. Details are here:

Sadly, the news today is that Darcus Howe has passed away aged 74. There will no doubt be many tributes, but here's a link to an article in today's Guardian:

Growing up in Moss Side at a time of great economic and political turbulence, it was Darcus Howe through his writing and occasional appearances on television at the time, who made the greatest impact on me in linking contemporary racism to the UK's colonial past.

The tributes pouring in reflect his role challenging endemic racism in UK society, not least within state machinery, and particularly the police force. As is stated in the Guardian articled linked above:

In a hugely varied and influential journalistic career, he was also an editor of Race Today, wrote columns for both the New Statesman and the Voice, and served as chair of the Notting Hill carnival. His television work included the multicultural current affairs documentary The Bandung File, which he co-edited with Tariq Ali, and more recently White Tribe, a look at modern Britain.

Howe's legacy is vitally important in the current context of Brexit and the rise of populist politics and the far right. Please look out for the many hundred of articles critiquing his life and political contribution.

In Solidarity