Sunday, 21 January 2007

CANE Conference, 20th January

Few people know how it feels to get up at twenty-to-four in the morning. I’m now one of them.

Yet neither this, nor the three-and-a-half hour car journey (kindly provided by GL) unduly impede my participation at the CANE conference of postgraduates, held at Newcastle University.

We should always be grateful for small mercies and by luck my paper was slotted into the schedule early on. My panel (‘Research and Education’) was up against the titans of ‘EU and European Studies’, and ‘Rural Economy and Fishing’.

The heavyweight competition crushed us. We attracted an audience of three.

Not to be daunted my fellow panellists gave fine and dandy presentations on the state of Higher Education in Putin’s Russia (Patricia Leon), and the issues and responsibilities arising from interviewing in politically contentious environments (Bryony Slater). In contrast I felt my own meditation on movement-relevant and liberal surveillance knowledge effects of studying socialist activists came across as a semi-coherent, vacuous ramble. This is despite the advantage of reading directly from the paper I prepared for the event (the others were PowerPoint whizzes).

What the audience lacked in quantity, they made up in quality. It came out in the discussion that Bryony and I encountered similar ethical and methodological issues. Her fieldwork is with the indigenous Blackfoot peoples of southern Alberta and locates it as a contribution to the effacement of cross-cultural misunderstandings. This work is important as the Canadian authorities, who historically have treated the Blackfoot as a colonised people, has now taken upon itself the responsibility of preserving their heritage. Yet despite this the Blackfoot are only employed by the relevant agencies at very low levels in the institutional hierarchy. You will find no Blackfoot people on the boards or in any decision making capacity. Despite the obvious differences I think we had an interesting exchange on reflexivity, knowledge effects, interviewing methods and the problems of being an ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’.

After the break there was only really one panel choice for me – ‘Approaches to Marxism and Imperialism’. David Hallinan gave a paper on Sartre’s relationship with Marxism and made the case for his continuing relevance. I can’t pretend I know much about old Jean-Paul but it seemed to me the framework proposed here was not a million miles away from Bourdieu’s philosophical anthropology. The second was by Foday Kabbah on liberal guilt, aid and anti-imperialism. This provoked lively discussion on the nature of contemporary changes in class composition, sublimation of middle class guilt and my enemy’s enemy mentality. Both panellists suggested that we should cautiously welcome the development of a ‘progressive’ middle class. I wouldn’t go as far as they did by suggesting this is the best hope for a socialist transformation.

Over dinner I got chance to network with a couple of people and catch up with NB, a former Keelite. After dinner we went to ‘Ecology and Environmentalism’ and listened to papers on ecological footprints (Pia Halme), justice and animals (Jennifer Clare Haywood) and ecological conflict between elephants and humans in NE Namibia (Lorraine Moore). I made a couple of contributions, reinforcing what a few others had said about the relationship between capitalism and environmental destruction, as it seemed Pia was advocating consumerist-type solutions. In fact she favoured far more radical action but was unable to elaborate further in the time allotted. I did like all these papers but by now I was seriously flagging and I’m sorry to admit I nodded off during the last one.

I didn’t fancy any panels in the final session and neither did GL, so we wandered around town for a while. Now, I freely admit I’m something of a country bumpkin. I come from a small village, and live in a city renowned for its parochialism. And bloody hell, didn’t Newcastle remind me of it! I was blown away by the sights of the quayside, the complex mishmash of building styles, the literal multi-layered character of the city and the sheer scale of the engineering. Walking over the Tyne Bridge and soaking in the riverside sprawl is a memory that will stay with me for a long time.Wish I'd brought a camera along :(

We got back with plenty of time to spare for the final keynote speech. This was given by Prof William Maloney on declining participation rates in parties and voluntary associations, and the rise of third sector organisations (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, etc.) marked by spectator activism. That is, a commitment not going beyond the opening of one's cheque book. For example, it is a sobering thought that the RSPB has more members than all of Britain’s political parties put together. He did not go into the reasons why this is the case, but rather dwelt on the problems it posed the functioning of liberal democracy and whether they help integrate members into the system. He suggests these organisations strive to represent an interest policy makers may otherwise ignore, but the membership is not empowered by the process. In fact most members have very little say over how their organisation(s) are run. Their role is to ensure a full time cadre of protestors, office staff, media people and researchers get on with the job. Members either accept as is or get out. This was the basic gist of the paper and a number of other issues were raised in the discussion, such as if a certain oppressed group was not mobilising around its interests, should we bemoan other people from taking them up? That’s something for me and others out there averse to hand-wringing politics to chew on.

CANE was the first I presented at and there are quite a few lessons I’ve drawn from the experience. It was heartening to see quite a few Marxists in attendance, and great to speak to other sociology PhDs for once! The organisation was spot on, and my heartfelt thanks goes to the CANE team.


Jenya said...

I Found Free PlayBoy Girls, you need view this.
Absolutely FREE PlayBoy & Penthouse:

Liam Mac Uaid said...

There's no such time as twenty-to-four in the morning.
Who is Jenya?

Phil said...

Yay, my first bit of spam!

I'll be keeping that and treasuring it forever.

In the meantime I'd better stick comments under moderation until I sort out an anti-spam method.

Phil said...

Job done!