On Saturday 30 June 2012 the Occupy Research Collective held its first convergence meeting at UCL. The collective emerged out of series of reading groups on topics relevant to the movement. Participants decided to take their discussions a step further by establishing a network of collaboration to ‘Occupy Research’, meaning to both do research on Occupy and to ‘occupy’ research by engaging in activism within academia. In this guest post, Anastasia Kavada shares her experiences and reflections from the day.
Beginning early on a Saturday morning, the circle got progressively larger as new people started trickling in towards noon. The meeting included people of different ages, backgrounds, and activist or academic experience. Some were activists who had participated in Occupations in Britain and elsewhere and who are researching Occupy-related issues. There were also some Occupy activists interested in what research could offer to the movement.
After a general introduction of the collective and the rules of the discussion (going through the hand signals seems obligatory in every Occupy-related meeting), we used an open methodology to propose topics for the breakaway sessions after lunch. These topics included research ethics, the neoliberal university and its implications for publishing and research, memory and archiving, teaching and learning, as well as doing research for social change.
I followed the first part of the research ethics group where discussion focused on the tensions of activist-research. Should researchers be insiders or outsiders of the social movements they are studying? And can we be both good researchers and good activists? There’s really no definitive answer to these questions and, to my experience at least, no way of resolving these tensions. But these tensions can be used productively as they motivate us to reflect on our practice as researchers and activists. Indeed, talking about these questions in the breakaway group brought to the fore some interesting observations. For example, we wondered whether the distinctions between activists and academics are as clear-cut as these questions suggest. And we discussed whether academics reinforce the divide by restricting their activism to the movements they are researching and by failing to bring this activist spirit in the academic structures to which they belong.
I then moved to the teaching and learning group, where we talked about the difficulties and limitations of academic learning. Can radical teaching take place within academic institutions? What are the best ways for facilitating students to gain ownership of the learning process? How can we best teach about social movements? Again, there was no real answer to these questions but a proposal for action: to establish a network for radical learning that would engage with these issues not only in theory but also in practice, possibly by organizing practical trainings and workshops on radical teaching methods.
Overall, discussions were stimulating and people seemed eager to continue working on these issues both online and offline. All of the sessions were live-streamed and you can find more information about the collective here: https://occupyresearchcollective.wordpress.com/ . If you’d like to take part in organizing the group and helping out with different events, you can also subscribe to the mailing list: http://groups.google.com/group/reading-occupy .
Following the Occupy logic, the collective is envisioned as an open space where people can reflect on the questions rather than dictate the outcomes of ‘Occupying Research’. It is an initiative that’s not only welcome, but necessary.
Anastasia Kavada is a senior lecture in Media at Westminster University in London, UK researching social movements and media practices. Follow her on twitter @AnastasiaKavada