Thank you for the following thoughts by our guest blogger Toni Adscheid from Germany, who supported the campaign on the street stall and in meetings when he was in London, and who participated in our online meetings during lockdown. It is through back and forth conversations such as these that we are inspired to carry onwards and take up the fight for housing with greater clarity and awareness of the role campaigning plays in the tremendous struggle that lies ahead. Educate! Agitate! Organise!
The following text is based on a talk, given at a conference on “Decolonizing the curriculum”
via zoom, to an audience of university lecturers, schoolteachers and students. The
conclusions I draw, derive both from my experiences in teaching undergraduate geography
students as well as my observations and interactions with members of Focus E-15 campaign
during the weekly street stall in Newham, organisational meetings and personal
conversations. I also want to clarify that I regard capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy as
inherently intertwined structures of oppression.
Contemporary neoliberal university practices attempt to fix the generation of knowledge
through curricula to the university, which is regarded as the only place for study. Moreover,
in neoliberal universities, students come to see themselves either as problem, because they
need to earn credit to graduate, or as professionals after they graduated. These attempts of
fixing the generation of knowledge to the place of the university as well as fixations upon
students as either problems or professionals, I argue, are two examples for colonizing
knowledge in neoliberal universities around the globe. In this regard, colonization can be
understood as the normalization of structures of oppression in which people are defined as
problems and offered salvation through institutionalized settings, which supposedly hold the
tools that people need to solve their problems. In the face of colonizing the generation of
knowledge through attempts of fixing (of students) and fixations (on the university as place
for knowledge generation), what would it mean to escape and thus refuse these attempts
of fixing the generation of knowledge to the university and attempts to fix students? For
me, this entails two things: To acknowledge that, outside of the university, people study all
the time and that amateurism should be encouraged rather than sanctioned.
As scholars like Stefano Harney and Fred Moten remind us, when we think about study we
ought to think as much about nurses in the smoking room as we are about the university
(Harney & Moten 2013: 112). Their argument opens up knowledge generation beyond the
walls of the university building as people constantly try to figure out ways to be with one
another, despite attempts to keep them apart, either by promises to become better by
themselves or by fixing them in place. This mode of study is what Focus E-15 engages in, and
what authors like Paul Watt and Penny Bernstock continue to emphasize. If we are truly committed to challenge current ways of colonizing knowledge, we have to look no further
than the street corners, the narrow alleys, the council housing estates. Here, in the outside
of institutionalized knowledge generation, people constantly try to figure out why they
ended up in their current situation but also think and practice how to live otherwise. This is
what Focus E-15 continues to highlight. People who are not recognized to have a voice,
especially young mothers in so called ‘temporary accommodation’, constantly figure out
ways how to escape and thus refuse attempts of being fixed, both in place and as persons.
They refuse because there is nothing wrong with them and nothing can hold them; they are
already amazing. As Saidiya Hartman wrote in relation to the US:
‘The decades between 1890 and 1935 were decisive in determining the course of black futures. A revolution in a minor key unfolded in the city and young black women were the vehicle. This upheaval or transformation of black intimate life was the consequence of
economic exclusion, material deprivation, racial enclosure, and social dispossession; yet it, too, was fueled by the vision of a future world that might be.’ (Hartman 2019: xv).
Young women, especially the young mothers of Focus E-15, are radical thinkers who never
fail to imagine how the world might be otherwise; this is what the campaign can teach
university students. This is what I convey in my teachings to my students in order to
decolonize knowledge generation: You are not the only ones who study, learn to listen to
the radical thinkers who continuously study around you. Initiating modes of mutual learning,
between in and outside the university, then becomes an imminent task if knowledge is
about to be truly decolonized.
My understanding of young mothers as radical thinkers then led me to the realisation that
neoliberal institutions, such as universities, fear those who they consider amateurs.
Amateurs who supposedly do not fully know what they are talking about, those who refuse
to be creditors after graduation, who refuse to graduate because they are committed to
study outside of the university. The university tries to get rid of that amateurism through us,
people who are involved in teaching. Our task, so we are told, is to enable students to
graduate by giving them credit. Hereby, those who do not receive credit are considered to
have failed, as they refuse to earn credit. However, as Focus E-15 continues to show, the aim
of study is not to become a professional (who supposedly knows everything) but about
fostering a kind of collaborative amateurism. This kind of collaborative amateurism in which for example a German PhD-student studies housing issues in the UK, can create openings
through which one can be affected by others, dispossessed and possessed by others. It
allows students to be opened up to the vast array of knowledge continuously generated
around them and to be affected by that knowledge; it helps them to realize that they can
never be entirely ready, never fully become professionals.
Practicing amateurism then means to acknowledge that study happens with each other, in conversation with those who never fail to imagine how the world might be otherwise. For those of us who are committed to keep ‘studying as amateurs’ it is important to stay with the trouble; even though we might be in neoliberal universities, we are not of them.
Harney, S., & Moten, F. (2013). The undercommons: Fugitive planning & black study.