Saturday, June 19, 2010

Jose Saramago dies

Nobel prize-winning Portugese novelist Jose Saramago has died at the age of 87. Always on the side of the poor and the oppressed, and black-listed after a right-wing coup in 1975, he wrote novels that "combine surrealist experimentation with a kind of sardonic peasant pragmatism.
There is a full obituary in the New York Times

Monday, June 14, 2010

Policing the Public Gaze

A report on the "growing restriction on citizen photography" from the Manifesto Club - for Freedom in Everyday Life - is now available as a pdf download

" In recent years photography appears to be resurfacing as a site of heated political contestation. This comes amid a flood of arbitrary and often downright bizarre interpretations of privacy, security and public order rules, by police, community safety wardens, private security guards or self appointed ‘jobsworths’. Decisions to prevent photography in public places often appear capricious and overbearing, enforced through intimidation rather than lawful authority, with official explanations after the event simply adding insult to injury. In a climate of fear and

suspicion, fuelled by alarming reports of terrorist alerts and predatory paedophiles,

uncertainties around the limits of personal freedom appear to be making room for a new and muddled form of authoritarianism."

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Crowd Science and the Knowledge Commons

In a recent article published in the Times Literary Supplement, "What are Universities For?" (7 May 2010) Keith Thomas defends the British university system from the threat of cuts and changes by arguing that:

"From medieval seminary to the consultancy campus, universities have served the needs of society..." and that "the humanities offer an indispensable antidote to the vices which inevitably afflict a democratic, capitalist society. They counter the dumbing down of the media by asserting the complexity of things; and they challenge the evasiveness and mendacity of politicians by placing a premium on intellectual honesty".

Like many other recent defences of Academia, Keith's argument will not sustain the universities because it fails to offer any real vision of the future role of the universities within society, other than a continuation of their current role as gatekeepers for privilege, definers and guardians of what consitutes 'knowledge', accomplices in military research, manufacturers of consent, and seedbed for profit-driven technologies.

Yet there is a real opportunity for universities to transform themselves into the beating heart of a new knowledge commons, to work with people in the whole community rather than link themselves to the privileged elites commerce, industry, media and the state. Just a hint of what might be achieved is seen in this recent article "Crowd Science Reaches New Heights", published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.