“IMAGINING OTHER…”

 

Brief biographical background to the author of these web pages.

 

This page updated: March 2016.

 

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                                                                                                                        1. Teaching and Learning.

 

(i) UEL (1966 – 2002):

 

In 2002, when I took early retirement from teaching at the University of East London (UEL), I soon realised how important it was to me to find other ways of sharing ideas with others. 

 

Teaching (which I started in 1966) had provided a wonderful way of doing this, and the main focus of my teaching had always been to introduce students to other ways of thinking than their own.

 

At first this was done through “Liberal Studies” (bringing some sociology and politics into the courses taken by engineering and other technical students). Later we called the courses Related Studies, in order to emphasise that the content would be of relevance to the students’ own studies, and to avoid the suggestion that we had a right to ‘liberalise’ the students!

 

My first classes – I shall never forget! – were much as described in the ‘Wilt’ novels: 9.0 Monday Catering students, followed (at another building – Charlecote Road I believe) by block release carpenters and joiners, and car mechanics (from Ford mainly). Since all I had was an arts degree (in French – with Russian subsidiary, and a one-year course in Philosophy) I did what I could to introduce students to Russian literature... what else I can’t remember, but I soon learned to move from topic to topic to keep the class interested. One year I even got the class listening – through headphones in the language laboratory!! - to the music of Leadbelly as a way of linking social topics and music (they were mainly into R & B). Some of the discussions must have revolved around politics, as I remember an occasion when I was asked what I believed, and I wrote a string of beliefs/philosophies on the board – including existentialism and almost certainly socialism, and I might have added non-violence, maybe Buddhism (who knows, now?!). How I managed to teach for 21 hours a week I shall never know – though obviously I used the same sort of material for many classes.

 

The courses were based at first in the Dept of Social and General Studies (Head: Eric Baker) in the then Barking Regional College of Technology. As the institution was gradually ‘upgraded’ we lost the ‘lower level’ courses such as car mechanics, builders and so on. Instead, we began to teach HNC and HND students in Biology etc, and later the first degree the college ran (if I remember rightly): Applied Biology.

 

With the merger of Barking with West Ham and Waltham Forest colleges – prior to the formation of a polytechnic – the department came to be known as Applied Philosophy (Head Leon Crickmore). This was meant to put a typical ‘polytechnic’ gloss on our work, since ‘Polys’ aimed to get away from the ‘pure’ academic work of universities, whilst still producing graduates. My teaching timetable was now around 18 hours a week. There was an ongoing conflict over workloads, and I was a fairly active member of the union NATFHE during my career. This conflict involved constantly shifting methods for calculating the workload – the simplest formula being (in my view) that one hour’s teaching required one hour’s preparation. So an 18 hour teaching load meant a 36 hour week...

 

A digression, on hours and contracts:

 

As an example of the complex calculations that we had to make to account for our time, here is a breakdown (prepared for Tom Whiteread) in 1980 – 81 of my hours.

 

Tom’s form states that ‘Conditions of service are 38 weeks x 30 hours = 1140 hours per year.’

I claimed:

- student contact                                             280 hrs

- personal tutorials (including Dip HE)          63 hrs [Dip HE 25, PT 38 = 1 hpw]

- preparation time                                           305 hrs

- course admin (375 as PL + 90 admin

            [some hrs allocated per course]         465 hrs

- course activity/development                           10 hrs

- staff development (now known as CPD!)     114 hrs [3 hpw x 38 wks]

- School/Poly Committees                                  30 hrs

- other departmental duties/meetings                38 hrs

Total                                                                1305 hrs.

 

I put nil under: school visiting, short courses, consultancy, research. 

 

In the early ‘90s a ‘new contract’ was brought in which – it seemed to me – aimed to ‘eat into’ our vacation time. Thus the teaching year = 190 days (38 weeks, of which 2 for admin); holidays = 35 days (7 weeks) on top of Bank Holidays etc which = 12 days (in ’91 -2) – total 237 days. Scholarly activity was now expected, and defined as: ‘the periods of the year outside normal teaching weeks and holiday entitlement [and which] will primarily be devoted to research and scholarly activity.’ Available working days in a year = 52 x 5 (+ 1?) i.e. 261. So ‘scholarly activity’ should take up 261 – 237 = 24 days... (one day short of five weeks).

 

Another feature of the baroque accounting system we had to endure was SFTEs: student full-time equivalents – so we could work out our work-load reflecting the number of students in each class! This became even more of a pain with modularisation, as I student on I Unit = 1/6 SFTE (100 students = 16 SFTEs). Each member of staff was expected to ‘pull their weight’ in SFTEs – not like at Oxbridge where you had one-to-one tutorials a lot of the time, and gave an occasional lecture!

 

To return to the chronology: in the early ‘70s I taught on HND Applied Biology, HND and HNC Electrical Engineering, HND Business Studies, Degree in Applied Biology (DABs!) and Sandwich Electrical Engineering, Education (the Teachers’ Certificate) – and others.

 

When we became North East London Polytechnic we gained a reputation as a progressive institution – partly because of the presence of Eric Robinson as Deputy Director, who wrote a popular book on the New Polytechnics, and who held regular meetings with a small group of us who shared his progressive ideas. Robinson argued that students should be selected if we believed they could ‘benefit’ from higher education – not simply because they were expected to ‘succeed’.

 

I still maintain that this was a crucial idea – and it is sad to me that on becoming a university (if not before) we lost this philosophy in the drive to become more academically respectable. We also lost most of the emphasis on ‘applied’ study – and eventually Related Studies also disappeared.

 

However, at its peak in the early ‘80s, there was a ‘Related Studies’ component on courses in:

- the Business Studies Faculty (BA and Higher Diploma [HD] in Business Studies; BSc Applied Economics; BA Law; HD and Higher Certificate [HC] Computer Studies)

- the Engineering Faculty (HD engineering; CEI Part 2 – the engineer in society; BSc Chemical Engineering; BSc Mechanical Engineering, and Manufacturing Studies; HC Mechanical/Production, and Electrical/Electronic Engineering; HD Civil Engineering)

- the Science Faculty (BSc Science, BSc, HD and HC Applied Biology; BSc Biophysical Sciences; HD and HC Chemistry; HC Physics

- also, covering surveying etc (moved from Science to Engineering at some point): BSc Surveying and Mapping Sciences, HD Land Surveying, HC Surveying, HD Estate Management, HC Building, BSc Land Administration). 

 

Later the CNAA, which awarded polytechnic degrees, formulated a set of aims for all degrees which included the notion of ‘introducing ways of thinking other than those used in the students’ own discipline’. This way it was intended that sociologists and others were also “broadened”! Though at the same time the pressure mentioned above for ‘academic’ work militated against these progressive ideas.

 

As part of the developing organisation of the related studies staff in department (which itself had gone through several names – Arts and Modern Languages, School of Education and Humanities etc etc) in the mid-‘70s I took on responsibility for our work in the Business Studies Faculty – this covered not only Business Studies but Computer Studies and Applied Economics. Doing this led me to develop material on the Social Responsibilities of Business (and I later shared this work with David Binns); and – for the Economics students – I wrote courses on Political Philosophy (shared at first with Roger Almond). Out of this work came the notes on this site... and this I guess was one of the most ‘formative’ developments in my teaching career. I owe to Tom Whiteread (father of Rachel Whiteread the artist) who was head of our section at this time, a tremendous debt for identifying my possible development in this area. Tom sadly died some years later – he had always had a heart condition.

 

[I visited Tom in hospital, not realising quite how ill he was. I also deeply regret that I wasn’t able to engage in conversation with him (my shyness/reticence...) and hoped – as a good ex-Quaker – that it would be some comfort to him just to know I was there. I believe he died during the night after my visit. I sincerely hope that my visit wasn’t a stress for him... It’s still uncomfortable to remember this.]

 

Others took on responsibility for our work in each of the Faculties we ‘serviced’ – I particularly remember Dave O’Reilly in Engineering (he died of cancer when still quite young). Tony Hargreaves did a lot of our work in Science. Gerald Farmer (with a background in art) was another member of our team who died whilst still at work.

 

[Sometimes I feel that my memories are peppered with deaths – the first having been Eric Baker, who had run into conflict with the then director George Brosan; and some said the stress of this was a factor in his death. Then there was David Chalmers (his death is surrounded by some – obviously incomplete - memories I have of his being gay, and suffering from being beaten up...) Later Mike Boulding, who I worked with very closely, and who had been a heavy drinker (we used to go to the bar at lunchtime, and he would down pints of Guinness followed by whisky chasers – and we had no idea how he managed a class afterwards!), also died... ]

 

One of the ‘progressive’ developments during this time was the Dip HE by Independent Study – a course which enabled students to design their own programme of study, and their method of assessment (in consultation with teaching staff). Each student would have a ‘Specialist Tutor’ – and I tutored a good many such students over the years. Independent Study is definitely another story, however!

 

In the early ‘80s I took on responsibility for all the Related Studies work (by now I was a Principal Lecturer – for which I’m also grateful!). I had no intention of progressing higher to Head of Department status, as I felt that Heads are too often expected to carry out the wishes of the senior management, rather than democratically lead a group of staff. I think my most satisfying work was done during the late ‘70s – being responsible for a team of staff, and teaching Social Responsibilities of Business, and Western Political Thought and taking some Independent Study students. Mind you, all this time there were also meetings to attend: Academic Board, School Board, and Related Studies staff meetings, and various Assessment Boards, – as well as Natfhe meetings. I also took part in Validation Committee meetings (*) – to scrutinise and approve new courses. This was a fascinating thing to do, and gave me a broad view of different subjects being developed and taught across the institution. My time was very full but very satisfying!

 

[At one of these validation meetings I met, quite out of the blue, a woman who had been my first ‘serious’ girlfriend Barbara Chandler previously Haslewood, then working as a lecturer like me.]

 

In 1987 – 8 I got myself seconded for 0.4 of my time (2 days a week) to a department/division called Continuing Education: I had been involved with ‘study skills’ teaching, and prepared the Polytechnic Study Skills booklet (one year my son Eric designed the cover), also running Access courses. The Related Studies Unit had become ‘Science and Technology Studies’ - and then ‘Innovation Studies’ - as a result of David Albury and others planning a ‘New technology’ degree. I wasn’t happy about this, for two main reasons:

(i) it seemed to threaten to take staff away from Related Studies, because of the attraction of running our own degree instead of ‘servicing’ – with servicing you always had to negotiate with the parent department, and this could be a struggle. Having said this, quite a few heads or senior staff in other departments were surprisingly sympathetic to ‘Related Studies’ and I worked well with people in Business Studies (Dave Needle), computing (Peter Mattingly was an interesting character, as a member of SPGB, and I still see Allan Cheetham as we both live in Upminster), science (Paul Dye), and others. 

(ii) I was suspicious of the philosophy of the degree: it claimed that it would enable graduates to act as ‘gatekeepers’ between workers and management during the usually contested introduction of ‘new [i.e. computerised] technology’). I believe – and recent correspondence with Mike Hales confirms this – that I was right to be suspicious, since ‘gatekeepers’ are easily seduced to become a tool of management rather than being concerned with the workers’ interests. As evidence for this, I would suggest that there doesn’t seem to have been any increase in the number of ‘radicals’ working in industry with new technology... Eventually I moved out of the Innovation Studies Unit, as this was wholly concerned with what was now called the Innovation Studies degree.

 

During all this time I continued with my study skills work, and I enjoyed giving support to mature students. I always remember those who came to see me thinking they were not doing well, only to realise (with my help) that the problem was their own over-high expectations of what was needed – or under-valuation of themselves and their abilities. I needed to find a new administrative home, as I was not full-time in Continuing Education. The Continuing Education Unit was headed by George Chadwick, who always let his staff get on with things. He also had the ability to successfully expand the activities he oversaw, but he left eventually (I think he didn’t fit in with the new senior management – Frank Gould became Director around this time. I was based for a while in Engineering I think, and then moved into the East London Business School in ’93-4.  ELBS was previously the Business Studies Faculty... I was in the Business Policy group!

 

The Applied Economics degree (located in the Business School if I remember correctly) was revised in the early ‘90s, and the focus narrowed. My course on Western Political Thought was discontinued. Eventually it was replaced with a new course I designed: Capitalism, Bureaucracy, Democracy. (See UEL course outlines) As of now (first writing this in 2013) I am amazed that this course, which dealt with Keynes, Hayek and Marx, should have foreseen current discussions about the future direction of economics (there has even been a series of television programmes covering exactly these three thinkers). Another colleague of mine, Couze Venn, did once say in a discussion with me that he thought I managed to keep up with current thinking on a number of issues, which was very pleasing  - especially as I looked up to him in terms of his academic qualifications and his research. I have never done any formal ‘research’ as I felt it would narrow my outlook to focus on one specialist area.

 

Ever since the course was set up I had been, (as mentioned), a ‘specialist tutor’ to Independent Study students. In ’93 – 4 I took responsibility for Independent Study in the Business Faculty: there had been a move to get the students into the Faculties, because of the criticism the School for Independent Study received over its work with the students – that is, many Specialist Tutors were also members of the School for Independent Study (creating the danger of a conflict of interest or a lack of impartiality), and it was felt the students would get a better input from specialist tutors in the (other) Faculties. The Independent Study courses were eventually closed down – more popular was the modular Dip HE. This was a development I perhaps should have more strongly opposed (as a member of the Validation Committee I did express my reservations), as it meant the fragmentation of knowledge. Eventually the whole Polytechnic/UEL became modularised... In 1994 I was teaching on a group of modules – POL102 (Politics, State and Society); POL103 (Key Concepts in Political Science); POL101 and 201 (Political Philosophy); POL220 (Capitalism etc); and BUS2/319 (Social Responsibilities of Business). Each one was of course interesting to teach, but the students were not getting a coherent package as they could pick and choose pretty much whatever mix they wanted. ‘Choice’ was then – as it is even more now – the mantra!!

 

My work-load was excessive at this time, I felt, as I was dealing with Independent Study in ELBS and with study skills. I have a copy of a letter I wrote to the Rector Frank Gould in 1992 complaining that the work in ELBS on Independent Study was taking up too much time and asking that someone be appointed to take on study skills. I remember getting no reply – and nothing happened. I don’t remember the sequence of these changes very clearly, but eventually a unit called AALDU under David Albury took on responsibility for Learning Development, replacing George Chadwick. To be honest, I saw David Albury as a careerist, and before long he moved out of NELP. One of only too many ‘radicals’ who move to the right – and upwards in status terms! However, I still believe that his book ‘Partial Progress’ is very important, as it demonstrates how technology is put to use in a social and political context (it is not ‘neutral’) – and his example of the Davey lamp in mines (demonstrating that there were more explosions after it was brought in, because it enabled the owners to send miners into more dangerous shafts...) has influenced me deeply. When David Albury left UEL I felt angry that he had not only helped to destroy Related Studies, but was now leaving Study Skills and Learning Development in the lurch. Interestingly, he went on to become (I think) Deputy Director at another former Poly, and shortly after we heard that he had sacked a load of staff in order to put them on new contracts. So much for his socialist past! How ironic that his book was a critique of the mis-application of science and technology to the detriment of workers...

 

Finally, when the CNAA was made redundant as Polytechnics became Universities, I eventually moved over to teaching Politics and especially Political Philosophy. It seems to me that that most useful things the teaching of Politics can do are: to empower people (through learning the “how” of politics), and to spread notions of critical thinking and tolerance, through the discussion of other ways of thinking about politics and other ways of doing politics than our (so-called) liberal democracy.

 

(ii) WEA (2008 – to date):

 

A few years after retirement my need to share ideas with others was still strong, and I became a tutor for the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA). This excellent organisation has been going for just over 100 years, and provides opportunities for adults to follow courses in a wide variety of subjects.

 

The groups that I have had dealings with have all been stimulating and challenging – and I have to say it is much more fun teaching people who are motivated to learn and who have some life experience!!

 

Local groups request particular topics/tutors that are available, and so far I have delivered courses on: political philosophy, social movements, and the Enlightenment.

I’ve also travelled round Essex to do this, and have got to know Leigh, Malden, Takeley, Rayleigh, Harlow and Loughton!!

 

I very much hope that “visitors” to this site - especially those who come through the WEA - will e-mail me with any thoughts or responses to what I have written: my email address is on the ‘Index’ page: Index. 

 

 

2. Politics.

 

Apart from teaching, another activity that enabled me to share ideas with others was politics.

 

I have taken part in pressure-group activity over the years, from early “ban-the-bomb” marches under the auspices of CND (my parents were pacifist and very concerned about the threat of nuclear weapons). I was secretary of the Leeds University students’ CND society just at the point when everybody got involved in demonstrating against the Vietnam war (1963 – 4), so we were suddenly a very small society, having been one of the largest! My only recollection of activity with the society was getting involved in locating the nearest Regional Seat of Government – at York – and holding a march to publicise it and protest against it. I can only remember a few names of people involved in all this (Robin Jenkins, Pete Able, Marcia Shamash... ) and every now and then I wonder what happened to them!

 

Whilst at Barking/NELP I had a minor involvement in direct action against the Colonels’ regime in Greece, through sympathy for some of the Greek students in my classes. This was on the occasion of the visit by queen Frederica to England, and it got my picture in the Sunday paper (Sunday Times I think) – a demonstrator being carried off by police!

 

I was briefly involved with Friends of the Earth in Redbridge, but became disillusioned when I brought some leaflets on a ‘multiracial carnival’ to a meeting and found that at least two of the group were strongly opposed to this being brought to a FoE meeting.. Now (2016) I am not only involved again, but Co-ordinator of Havering FoE and campaigning to raise awareness about bees, climate change and air pollution, as well as opposing landfill plans that damage the local countryside. I am a member of the Green Party as well.

 

Obviously I believe in the usefulness of pressure groups, even though ideally I want to see a radical (if not revolutionary!) change to our political, economic and social system. I also support (though not actively!) new “social movements” e.g. against globalisation.

 

For a time (mostly in the ‘70s and ‘80s) I was involved with the libertarian socialist group Solidarity. The group no longer functions but there are some “ex-Solidarists” still keeping in touch with each other, often by e-mail or the web. Solidarity published many articles and pamphlets that took a critical, radical stance on current politics, from a libertarian socialist perspective. Some of these publications are still available, and Solidarity’s ideas are still discussed by other groups and on various web sites, but I feel that ‘new social movements’ seem to be more likely to succeed in changing the world than small political groups. There is a new Solidarity group that I’ve not really investigated, though it seems to have an anarchist/libertarian socialist outlook. [Re-reading this I realise that my views have changed somewhat over the years, even in the last few years, especially in that I would no longer advocate ‘revolution’ – certainly not in the sense of an exchange of power. Perhaps there is still something of an anarchist in me, as what I’m saying is that when a new group seizes power (especially ‘state power’) they only too often begin to act repressively. We surely need to destroy all such power???!!! ]

 

Some members of Solidarity followed closely the evolving ideas of Cornelius Castoriadis. He moved from Trotskyism to a post-Marxist radical view based on the idea of “social autonomy”, and he developed a notion of the “social imaginary” which, whilst not widely influential nevertheless has its dedicated followers, and which I believe deserves to be better understood.  I hope that readers will notice similarities between Castoriadis’ formulations and the philosophy underpinning these pages, even if most of the notes are academic in content!

 

Links:

 

My own notes on Castoriadis:  Recommencing Revolution

 

The most comprehensive website devoted to Castoriadis: www.agorainternational.org

 

Philosophy behind these pages:  What is meant by 'imagining other'?

 

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