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The Tesco Lecture – Video

November 30, 2010
12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2010 2:42 pm

    Do you have text-versions of those lectures?

    • flashbank permalink*
      December 2, 2010 4:26 pm

      Hello Malte,

      you can find a draft of the first speech here, just be aware that it is not the exact wording of the lecture. a transcript of the second lecture should go online fairly soon.

      Best regards,
      Fjodor

  2. Angel permalink
    December 2, 2010 8:24 pm

    Dear Dora,

    As someone who has worked in a grocery store, I have mixed feelings about your lecture. I was an employee of a major chain before I went back to school; I was paid a small hourly wage, but I was part of union and entitled to small raises every couple months. Honestly, I didn’t know what “heterodox” and “existential” meant.

    I hope that I would have been amused by the event. Even though I wouldn’t have understood much of the lecture, I could have pretended it was mad ranting in another language (and the cardboard lectern certainly added to an idiot savant image).

    On the other hand, I might have been upset by it. If I were having a bad day because customers were complaining about not being able to reach their favorite cereal, I might have felt the words I didn’t comprehend were elitist and demeaning.

    Now, nearly a decade later, I have completed my university degree and I understand—and agree with—many of the points you made. I also learned about Freire’s style of pedagogy. While your tactics may not be considered strictly “banking” (although the term could be apt because of the location of the first lecture), they certainly aren’t “problem-posing.”

    I would classify your lecture as proselytizing. Instead of preaching to the clerks, perhaps you should try to engage in meaningful dialogues with them. I suggest that if you are going to claim their place of employment as your classroom, you should consider the employees your students and, if you agree with Freire, your teachers.

    The space that you lectured in was already politicized. However, you will never understand the existing politics if you don’t speak with the people—if you merely speak at them in language they may not understand.

    I humbly ask that you consider using the pedagogy of Freire in your next class.

    Sincerely,

    Angel

    • flashbank permalink*
      December 3, 2010 2:24 pm

      Dear Angel,

      Thank you for your letter–it is one of our goals at the UfSO to spark debate and to be a public forum where dissension is welcome and encouraged!
      However, I would like to clarify a couple of points, which, from your email, appear to have been unclearly articulated in our actions.

      First of all, the UfSO is not a political party with a set and delimited number of goals and dogmas. We aim to be decentralized and remain without a restrictive identity– we have no party line. Everyone is free to co-opt our content, our aesthetic, our tactics, our name. Therefore, to respond to your critique of our “proselitizing” quality, our lectures, I believe, are instead instant snapshots of spontaneous political exclamations, precarious cries of war, fleeting calls for utopia coming from the gut. To me, they are not meant to last or to be placarded on the walls as party platform or established ideology to be instrumentalized.
      Which brings me to my second point: it probably wasn’t made clear enough but we were not addressing the shop’s clerks in particular. Our action was first and foremost a performance. What we call “lectures” are obviously not real lectures, by real professors: our act reflects our situation: as our public goods and spaces in the realm of higher education are invaded by private interests, we inhabit and reclaim private space, as students, in a configuration where knowledge is passed on. We are organizing performative strategic interventions, festive, punctual, chaotic. Small political flashes: our wake up signs, interpreted, sometimes, and wrongly, as a Workers of The World Unite! type message, is instead a reflection of our strategy for creating a brief period of surprise and chaos in each of our uncalled-for tactical interventions, breaking with the monotony of corporate routine and social expectations.
      I couldn’t agree more that “The space that you lectured in was already politicized.” But when you say: “However, you will never understand the existing politics if you don’t speak with the people—if you merely speak at them in language they may not understand.” you imply that our goal was purely academically didactic.. I hope the explanations above will clarify our position in this regard. However, the UfSO, still in its birthing stages, will develop a variety of methods and strategies, of which, I am sure, non-hierarchical learning events will be an essential part.
      Finally, as to our choice of a Tesco in a relatively underprivileged area: I do not believe that this was a mistake. Tesco’s, like WalMart in the US, would have us believe that they are Allies of the Working Class, through the Amazing Purchasing Power Increase that they offer: it is the core of their branding. While not denying the reality of the need or accessible groceries, obviously, I refuse to be won over by this argument: Tesco’s labour practices are in contradiction with this brand image; like the Koch Brothers endowing the MIT Cancer Research center with one hand while pouring millions in lobbying money to prevent environmental regulation of carcinogenic substances with the other, this hypocrisy needs to be exposed.

      Yours in optimistic struggle,

      Dora K.

  3. Southwark Notes permalink
    December 3, 2010 1:18 pm

    I notice you didn’t put our comment up which makes similar points to Dora’s. We hoped that you would in the spirit of comment and discussion. Was just a contribution to the debate you started with the Tesco lecture, also because Tesco’s is a place we go every week living and being politically active in the area for 20 years. We agree with Angel’s point on thinking about Freire’s pedgagogical approach although it also has it’s limitations (re: consciousness raising, which we remain suspicious of). But at least he favours dialogue over lecturing. Good luck, comrades!

    • flashbank permalink*
      December 3, 2010 1:35 pm

      Southwark Notes, there was no attempt to censor debate, your comment was on a different post and was approved and responded to. Thanks for your interest and engaged response.

  4. December 4, 2010 5:50 pm

    Cheers! Our mistake! Will check it out!
    *-)

  5. December 4, 2010 6:35 pm

    “What we call “lectures” are obviously not real lectures, by real professors: our act reflects our situation: as our public goods and spaces in the realm of higher education are invaded by private interests, we inhabit and reclaim private space, as students, in a configuration where knowledge is passed on. We are organizing performative strategic interventions, festive, punctual, chaotic. Small political flashes: our wake up signs, interpreted, sometimes, and wrongly, as a Workers of The World Unite! type message, is instead a reflection of our strategy for creating a brief period of surprise and chaos in each of our uncalled-for tactical interventions, breaking with the monotony of corporate routine and social expectations”

    One of the key points made by Angel in another post is that the site (of Tescos) is already politicised. This is a very sharp and thought-provoking comment and worth you examining further than your reply seemed to indicate.

    On this point (of your reply), well, to us, a lecture is a lecture regardless of who gives it and who claims it’s as a performance. As for knowledge being passed on, you might like to figure out how knowledge is produced and how it is passed on especially when it comes to working-class communities. I’m not sure how much knowledge was passed on to shoppers, workers etc at the Tesco store. What do you mean by ‘passed on?’. How can you also test this assertion?

    Back to the ‘Wake Up’ sign and your notion that it and the lecture is somehow ‘breaking with the monotony of corporate routine and social expectations’. This is a very large claim for such a slight manifestation. What are the social expectations in Tescos? Is Tesco’s (as a public space) monotonous? Many many everyday encounters, conversations, subversions, struggles, solidarities, subtleties and so on happen in that place daily. These are just normal human social interactions, complex and beautiful. None of the protagonists of any of those interactions need to ‘wake up’. There is a danger of falling into the trap many well-educated anti-capitalists fall into which is to see capitalism as a monolithic symbolic realm when it is in fact a social relationship subject to real human struggles on many levels. Regardless of our hatred of capitalism and it’s alienations, we have no problem doing our shopping at corporate Tescos because it’s cheap and we are poor. If we did all our shopping in a non-corporate store full of ambiance and joy de vivre, it would not make one ounce of difference to capitalism. The real economic struggles are much bigger than seeing Tescos as a symbol of capitalism and it’s enclosures. We understand that and we buy our bread and catfood there. I’m sure many other shoppers, workers and other, understand that too.

    As they say, ‘struggle is a school’.
    In critical solidarity. SN

  6. Angel permalink
    December 5, 2010 5:58 am

    Hello again!

    Dora, I would like to mention that I was critiquing your methodology, not your content. By “proselytizing” and “preaching,” I was referring to the fervor and conviction of your performance. You would probably be doing a disservice to yourself and your cause if you claim that you are not an anti-neoliberal acolyte.

    As southwarknotes mentioned, there are a variety of politics in any Tesco (or Walmart). To once again project my experiences onto this situation (since you didn’t speak with any Tesco employees), I would like to discuss one specific example. I felt very silenced as a grocery store clerk. No manager ever asked my opinion about any policy or procedure; the customer was always right.

    You used employees much in the same way: as a backdrop for your morality play. You “lectured” them; you did not care what they had to say. The Tesco employees also have no say in the larger politics that you criticize: they don’t brand–they merely hang the signs.

    And so, I ask–in your form, not your content (your diction, not your argument)–you to be more respectful of the employees than the corporation you claim is so evil.

    Your fellow anti-capitalist,

    Angel

  7. Fjodor permalink
    December 5, 2010 3:44 pm

    Dear Southwark Notes, Dear Angel,

    as one of the students of the University for Strategic Optimism I want to express my gratitude for the seriousness, with which both of you consider our intervention.
    If we can learn from it without starting taking ourselves too seriously, you have done us a great service.

    You should know that there are different opinions on this issue. It is important, and Dora made this point, to understand that our lecture was in not directed at Tesco customers or employees. It was not even a protest against Tesco itself, even though it had elements of such a protest and they are indeed questionable. If it had been a protest against Tesco primarily, it would have been utterly ineffective and useless. If you watch the video, you will see that there is no employee in the audience and that the customers are mostly unaffected by it. They proceed with their shopping, which we did not prevent them from doing. Still Angel writes: “You used employees much in the same way: as a backdrop for your morality play.” I would like to think that it was mainly the space, its certain architectural and social context (the shopping isle filled with cornflakes boxes) which we used as a backdrop, not for a morality play, but for an absurdist theatre (which, indeed, sometimes amounts to pretty much the same). Even though we are aware and critical of it, in terms of practicability and time constraints, until now we accepted to largely ignore employees and customers. For future interventions, I would like to do otherwise. I want to note, nonetheless, that at all times people were standing at the entrances of the isles handing out information and engaging into dialogue with customers.

    Form and content of our lecture are a reflection on the university-system, how it is as much as in which direction it is heading. Thus your criticism in a way is our criticism. Yes, we reproduce hierarchical structures (in our performances, not in their preparation); yes, Dora is using a specific and problematic language of exaggeration. But I maintain that we are doing so with a slight twist, conducting some kind of what could be called mimicry. I think this is visible in the video.

    Our lectures can only be understood in the context of the ongoing protest against the cuts proposed by the government. In this sense, again, they are reactive. This is their limit. When Dora writes “breaking with the monotony of corporate routine and social expectations”, what I understand by it is mainly breaking the monotony of what we are doing as well as what is being done to us.
    Southwark Notes writes “I’m not sure how much knowledge was passed on to shoppers, workers etc at the Tesco store. What do you mean by ‘passed on?’ How can you also test this assertion?” I totally agree – close to no knowledge was passed to any employee or customers. However, something was passed to students, the few attending the lecture or the many watching it from home. I call it, very cautiously, a form of empowerment. If you look at other protests, if you talk to students, if you read the blogs, you will find some kind of pragmatic hopefulness. We do not buy the lies of neoliberal apologist, who want to sell us those cuts as an opportunity and chance. But we use the discontent and disruption their proposition causes to broaden our imaginary of what is possible. It is to this spirit that I hope we are contributing. And maybe at least some knowledge is being passed through this empowerment to parts of the media and its readers; the knowledge that the students are willing to fight.
    Not least, you are engaging in a dialogue with us. Eventually no knowledge was passed to you, but an occasion was created for this conversation. For that I am happy.

    Nevertheless, in the light of your comments, we need to ask ourselves: Should we at all go into an already politicised space, ignore a large chunk of its implications and just refer to one of its political aspects. We chose to do so. Maybe there are better ways; we want to explore them. But then again, on a general note: Is their another way – doesn’t every intervention what so ever have to make this choice?
    Still, probably and for reasons we are discussing among us, the conflation of two spaces and two issues worked better in the context of a bank on Borough high street. I guess this is what we have to think about in every individual case. I still believe that the risk of a failing conflation remains an integral and productive moment of our performance!

    One important goal of our interventions, at least for me personally, is to make an argument for public higher education. Not because I think it is perfect, but because, if we fight for it not just now, it does offer a place (limited as it unfortunately is) or, if you prefer, a base camp from which to rethink and question not just us, but society as a whole. Thus, the problems we are facing tie in with a multitude of other issues. Thank you for your attentiveness as it does not allow us to forget about this.

    The University of Strategic Optimism can be understood as one very small addition to the ongoing protests, because we (and many others) felt a vast diversity of forms (inside and outside the actual university) are necessary to counter the homogenous narratives of the government and the media for this protest to be successful. Now, Successful for me means two things:

    1. Reclaim and defend public higher education.
    2. Re-imagine public higher education through put it into question.

    The question remains how to do so. For that your criticism is all the more important.

    One last thing, please join the students on Thursday on parliament square, the 9th of December, and tell everybody else to come! It is on this day that the parliament intends on voting on the increase of the tuition fee-caps. If we manage to prevent this increase, it will empower everybody else calling into question the governments proposals.

    Solidarity,
    fjodor

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