How things can be done differently

Cover article of the THE

In November, the Times Higher Education magazine published an article where the Social Science Centre is welcomed as a new form of radical institution: “the critical vanguard”!

It seems that radical journals can survive and thrive in a conservative era. It is good news. Many of them have intrinsic academic merit. Without them higher education would be impoverished. But it is time to return to some fundamental questions. Are journals the right institutions to pour so much radical time and effort into? What are they trying to achieve? Are they capable of offering alternatives that people can believe in? Today it is harder than ever to bat these questions away with talk of revolutionary negation or the necessity of analysis. People are desperate for solutions, for pathways out of the dilemmas of a failing system.

I believe that, over the coming decades, the radical tradition will be reoriented and reimagined in institution-building of another kind. It is towards institutions that deliver housing, jobs, services or even higher education that the radical compass is pointing. The journals will carry on the good fight, questioning and provoking. But we will learn to expect less of them.

So I’II conclude with a different type of dissident institution. Although it has the rather grand title of The Social Science Centre, Lincoln, it is tiny. This not-for-profit co-operative, founded only this year, is attempting to establish “a new model for higher and co-operative education”. More specifically, the centre is “designed for students who do not wish to take on the burden of debt currently imposed by the government, but do wish to receive a higher level of education”. So far it has 27 members and £360 in the bank.* Harvard it ain’t. But no matter their scale, such ventures do something important. They show us how things can be done differently.

Read the whole article here.

* At the end of 2011, we have 36 members and over £1000 in the bank!

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