Occupying Research – Reflections on the Convergence in London
Saturday 30th June saw the first Occupy Research Collective (ORC) Convergence take place in central London. Around 50 people came from all over the country to participate, with dozens more watching online from around the world. The theme of the day was ‘ethics and activist research’ although, in the spirit of Occupy, the final agenda was decided collectively on the day, allowing everyone to create a space for the topics they wanted to discuss.
The main discussions included the commodification of universities and strategies for countering this (such as open source outputs), radical education, the ethics of researching social movements, how to learn from histories of radical movements, and questioning the notion of research itself. There was a lot of enthusiasm to follow up on these discussions, including plans to start thinking about the process of drafting some ethical guidelines for researchers of social movements, and creating a network for radical education and research.
The Occupy Research Collective blogpage (https://occupyresearchcollective.wordpress.com/) is currently being updated to host a number of forums in which these ideas, and others, will be developed. Prior to the convergence, ORC only existed in London, having developed out of the Occupy London movement. The convergence discussed possibilities for future national gatherings, and although many wanted this to happen soon, it was felt by most that the priority should be fostering local connections and ‘occupying’ our own places of research.
Occupy Research is thus much more than a network of people interested in radical research. It is another form of Occupy activism, looking for inspiring ways in which we can collectively subvert and recreate the hierarchal and increasingly commoditised spaces of contemporary research. The focus of the convergence was on ‘the academy’ and the ways in which we can act both within and against the neoliberal university. However, Occupy Research is also about the ways in which the process of research can be opened up and held to account by social movements. Research is a collective process, but one which contains many uneven power relations. Academics, and to a lesser extent students, have access to many resources which could be of great benefit to social movements. Deciding how to use them should therefore be based on an open dialogue that extends beyond the confines of the university.
The convergence discussed some of these issues, and many more, calling for greater attention to the roles of research and its potentials for doing radical politics. There was also some discussion of research beyond activism and academics, such as the role of NGO workers, journalists, or indeed anyone who engages in forms of information gathering and communication. Perhaps the most refreshing element of the day was the acknowledgment that we don’t have the answers, and nor do we want them. Occupy Research, like Occupy more broadly, is an open and collective process which does not tell, but asks. As researchers, a key issue of concern is which questions to ask, and who is asking them. Hopefully this convergence will inspire much more thought and consideration into the ethics of doing research within and alongside a radical politics of asking.