I wanted to offer a few words of both reflection – looking back on the year ending – and of projection – looking ahead to the new year to come.
First, I want to thank the 462 people who now subscribe to this blog. The number of subscribers has risen ten-fold since January, I think. I’m delighted and heartened by that development. It inspires me to keep on carving out the time to write regular posts.
When I look back at the posts over the past year, I’ve covered a fairly wide range of subjects: the housing crisis, left versus right politics, the migrant/refugee crisis, austerity policy and politics, radical democracy, knowledge and freedom, charity, and the politics of food. However, I am glad on reflection to see a coherent and distinct Agent of History approach emerging that I try to apply to whatever issue I’m writing about. As I see it, the Agent of History approach is to address any issue or event by attempting to invite readers to think more deeply about the structural factors at play, about the social system that shapes the issues/events we experience or witness. It is also about emphasizing action – what we can do to challenge the status quo and what alternatives we can start to create.
This approach was at work when suddenly tens of thousands read this site back in August. Back then, a friend, Kate Evans, working at My Life My Choice (where I run a weekly learning group), received an email from a contributing editor to The Sun ‘newspaper’ and Women’s Own magazine asking charities for a very particular request…
It feels lonely writing blogs sometimes, but, thanks to the growing number of subscribers and the regular positive feedback, I’m determined to keep going. Success is usually a combination of ability and application. Successful bloggers aren’t just the ones with distinct and persuasive voices; they are the ones who keep sticking at it. Indeed, the distinction and persuasion of the voice is honed over time by the continued application.
So, with the promise of continued application, what will Agent of History be covering in 2016? Well, I better first tell you what I, Joel, will be doing in 2016.
Above all, I’ll continue to develop my Capital City Project. The funding I received to build the foundations for this project from the Independent Social Research Foundation runs out in April. I’ve a couple of applications for funding in to two grant-making bodies, but it’s a very uncertain time for me. That said, I’ve decided that my future does not probably lie within the university for various reasons.
First, I’ve come to the conclusion that the more one seeks to understand and address the fundamental challenges of our time, the more one realises one has to transcend the artificial boundaries of academic disciplines and work with others from across and beyond the social sciences, the humanities, the sciences, the arts. Unfortunately, however, the contemporary university can’t seem to accommodate jacks-of-several-trades like me, preferring instead ‘world-class’ specialists in their own niche areas. It could also be, of course, that I’m just not that great a ‘jack’ to justify accommodation!
Second, the higher education sector has been turned into a market; the university has been turned into a corporation; education into a commodity; the academic into an edu-factory worker; and the student into a consumer. Each university, each department is an extremely bureaucratised place overseeing and disciplining academics. Academics are increasingly overworked, undervalued, stressed, and miserable. Four of my friends have had nervous breakdowns in the past month or so. Many more are barely clinging on. I really don’t fancy that!
Third, I don’t really see much hope of reforming the university from within. Groups of people can create beautiful things still within the university, but it only takes one managerial decision from on high to set in motion a process of destruction.
There are other reasons beside these three that I will address at a later date.
So, what’s the plan? I’ve decided to initiate the creation of a new centre – the provisionally named ‘Centre for Transformational Learning and Culture’ (CTLC). The goal will be to create a centre for artists, social scientists, and others to come together to explore ways of co-creating art, culture, and knowledge that can contribute to personal, collective, and social transformation. The CTLC can also serve to help its members attract funding for their individual or collective projects. There are already a few great people on board and, I’m confident, many more to follow.
In the months to follow, I’ll be bringing others into conversations to work out the best organisational form to adopt, the founding principles and objectives of the CTLC, and the optimal funding strategy.
Beyond this, I’ll continue to develop my community education work. I’ll be working each week with my friends at My Life My Choice as we aim, over the course of 2016, to produce a film depicting their painful interactions with the ridiculous and abhorent benefits system and expressing their visions for a very different society. I’ll be working with friends at Oxford Democracy-Builders, trying to take that learning group forward. Finally, I’ll be working with friends at the Hub community centre in Hodge Hill, Birmingham. I look forward to that very much.
So, 2016 proves to be a crucial year for me in trying to develop projects and create and build alternative institutions that aim to democratise knowledge and power in the UK and beyond.
The Agent of History site will continue to be a place where I share and reflect on these developments. It will continue to be a place where I offer analysis of current events and issues. It looks set to be a year of growing suffering and tension. Everywhere one looks, one sees troubled waters, one sees the growing stormclouds of political unrest and economic crisis, and the perils of fascism. But if one looks deeper, further, beyond the TV screen, one sees the unmistakeable seeds of hope and regeneration: the growing collaboration of communities, the infinite energy and creativity of ordinary people, all catalysed by the burgeoning growth of the internet and the network society. Even recent developments within mainstream political systems offer clear signs of hope.
So, in true Agent of History style, let the last word be of hope. I hope you will continue to join me on life’s journey in 2016 and, if you enjoy this site, I hope you will recommend it to friends.
I welcome any constructive feedback or any interest in participating in my projects. You can contact me at joel dot lazarus at hotmail dot com.
Thanks and wishing you and your families good health and joy in 2016,