UfSO Timeline 2010-2013
University for Strategic Optimism Timeline (Compiled by Dr. Dorian Hope, Nov 2014)
The UfSO were not an organisation with members as such, but a horizontal tendency – with all the problems that entails – operating within the Academy and beyond. Anyone could enrol and participate. It is therefore likely that many, many actions escape this list, which does not make any attempt to be exhaustive, but rather to give a fair representation of the type and trajectory of actions undertaken by the UfSO between its foundation in Nov 2010 and its dissolution in Sept 2013.
10 Nov 2010 Those who would form the UfSO meet during the occupation of Millbank Tower on what was officially the NUS/UCU ‘Fund Our Future: Stop Education Cuts’ demonstration in central London. Unfortunately a number of them are arrested that day, but on the other hand, one them did receive £50 from the Daily Mirror for a phone picture from the top of the Tower. The assault on the conservative party HQ actually began when one the UfSO’s esteemed professors launched an egg over police lines towards the cowering Tories beyond. From that humble egg hatched a great many things, including the ensuing riot – perhaps the most serious disorder seen in the capital since the Poll Tax Riots of 1990 (a title happily now surpassed). Those who evaded the police’s clutches founded the UfSO over a can of cider, warming themselves around a burning conservative party sofa. The obsequious and pitiful response to the glorious events of Milbank from the NUS and UCU bureaucracy (with a few notable exceptions from individual members) merely cements the idea that an alternative form of practice is needed to embody our struggle. The general crisis of the old union apparatuses and leftist bureaucracies is felt everywhere, especially among the students, where activism had for a long time had no other outlet than the most sordid devotion to stale ideologies and the most unrealistic ambitions. From this crisis, long-running, but now blindingly acute, the UfSO was born.
24 Nov 2010 Flash-Lecture, ‘Higher Education, Neo-Liberalism and the State’, delivered by Prof. Étienne Lantier, Lloyds TSB, London Bridge. Video immediately released online. Aside from those who go to edit and upload the film, around 50 UfSO students and academics travel to Whitehall where a number are kettled in the subsequent riot. A contingent escapes to SOAS, apparently with the use of plagiarised press IDs, and joins the occupation there, releasing a statement to the press ‘UfSO in Solidarity with SOAS Occupation’, later published as ‘Creative Subversions: A Politics Beyond Representation in the UK’, later published in Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, Volume 20, Number 1, Fall/Winter 2011, pp. 271-278.
27 Nov 2010 architect Charles Holland writes the first analytical article on the UfSO and its lecture format: ‘Spaces and Events’, for Fantastic Journal. He considers the UfSO intervention as (a critique of) architecture and urbanism:
“The spirit of 1968 has been evoked again and again this week to describe the occupations and protests over higher education cuts. […] A more nuanced and politically engaged connection with the soixante-huitard generation was developed by Bernard Tschumi during the late ’70’s in his book Questions of Space. Tchumi’s subsequent career as a building architect has slightly obscured the radical polemic of his earlier writings, which are worth revisiting. […]
The occupation this week of a Lloyds TSB by the University of Strategic Optimism, would seem to fit into just such a dissonant notion of space disrupted by event. How many architects though would recognise the University of Strategic Optimism as a piece of design? The overlaying of one programme – lecture hall – over another – bank – is clearly only half the story.
Both ‘Bank’ and ‘University’ are typological classifications of use and not descriptions of architecture after all. Their forms may have grown up to reflect and embody the activities that occur within them – spatial representations of the social relationships involved – but they remain capable of being re-used and reoccupied for anything. The lack of fit of form to function is, in Tschumi’s terms at least, what makes the USO radical. It doesn’t belong there.
The relationship between form and function is not instrumental or straightforwardly causal. As Tschumi says, “Murder in the street, is different from murder in the cathedral”. Neither the building nor the programme are left unaffected by such radical occupations. It’s almost instantaneous dissemination via YouTube etc. though gives it a weird kind of permanent impermanence.”
Other blogs begin to discuss the UfSO, as diverse as Really Open University, Critical Legal Thinking, The Critical Attitude, Stewart Who? at The Hospital Cub, Shopping Hour, Ment, Alegralalaboratory, Mute, Off Beat Kultur, Publicpraxis, Dissident Island Radio, Culture Wars, Deterritorial Support Group and Naked Punch.
Daniel B Yates, writing for culturewars.org captures a general flavour of the commentary, with most descriptions unable or unwilling to go beyond some superficial comparison with the Situationists (who, we note, never undertook any remotely similar actions, certainly within their most well known ‘Debordist’ faction, although some of the Second Situationist International’s more ‘Dada-esque’ ‘scandals’ are potentially distant relatives – at a push). Yates comments:
“One explicitly theatrical work came from The University of Strategic Optimism, a group of players whose inaugural lecture took place uninvited in a busy London branch of Lloyds TSB. Their slogan ‘You marketise our education, we educate your markets’ was only one element in a tightly-woven piece of political theatre.
This and actions like it have been linked to a revivifying of the ideas of the Situationists, those shadowy activist-philosophers whose critiques of consumer capital have for almost half a century been gestating in the underbelly of popular culture. From the pages of their journal they declared ‘theatre is dead’, only to resurrect it as a mobile concept. They would stage their disruptive ‘situations’ on streets, and in public or private buildings, employing a ‘director’ as well as a ‘metteur en scène’, to ‘co-ordinate’ the piece. Situationism would make its way to British theatre through companies like The Agitprop Street Players (the forerunner of Red Ladder) who carried out guerrilla cultural activities such as ‘poster alteration’ on the London tube. It would influence playwrights like John Arden and David Hare, and move Howard Brenton to say of Debord’s foundational text that it offers ‘a very brilliant analysis, and has a certain truth in the spin doctored world of this tiny island’.”
Observations such as these might have created some buzz in an art world desperate to latch on to some perceived radicality in the hope that it might rub off on them. However, they do neither us, nor the situationists any favours. We were never a theatre or art group, we never made the slightest effort to court the art press or institutions and the politics that we espoused collectively, through our lectures, was never even particularly radical. This was for strategic reasons – it was precisely our intention to say fairly unremarkable, non-radical things, but precisely through an act of spatiotemporal framing to place them into a position of antagonism with the physical and ideological limits of capital and the liberal state’s tolerance for dissent. Our aim was to knock up against those limits, probing for cracks, but it was also simply about propaganda, confidence and a collective subjectification. It was an attempt at a strategic optimism.
28 Nov 2010 a coalition of the UfSO, pensioners and other local activists storm Lewisham Town Hall, Catford. TSG, mounted police and dogs are deployed to supress the ensuing riot. Thirteen police officers are injured.
29 Nov 2010 Tweet from the London Review of Books (@LRB 29 Nov 2010) “RT@leninology University for Strategic Optimism at Lloyds TBS youtube.com/watch?v=zn9kAo … << the Situationist International returns.”
30 Nov 2010 Second Lecture ‘Market Education, Instant-Mix Degrees and the Commodification of Everything’, Dora Kaliayev, Tesco Superstore, Old Kent Road. Film released online. UfSO bloc then moves into Central London for a day of cat-and-mouse rapid passage through varied ambiances. Running with sound systems and stalked by undercovers, they eventually make it to Trafalgar Square, taking refuge in the pub as 146 are arrested outside.
3 Dec 2010 UfSO open letter in solidarity with the LSE occupation.
4-5 Dec 2010 UfSO workshop at Arts Against Cuts ‘The Long Weekend’, University of London Union, London.
6 Dec 2010 UfSO’s first Open Day, as part of ‘Unkettling Education: A Riotous Teach In’, Goldsmiths College, London. Includes numerous video interventions conducted with the ‘DIY Lecture Booth’. Videos immediately released online. Those UfSO present participate in the ensuing discussion in favour of turning the ‘Open Day’ into an ‘Open Night’ by occupying the university. The assembly decides in favour of the library. UfSO members are split on the decision concerning the location, but are unanimously in favour of occupying.
6-9 Dec 2010 UfSO participate in Goldsmiths Library Occupation, one of a wave of dozens of university occupations across the UK. The UfSO DIY lecture booth set up in library concourse. The occupation quickly ascends into liberatory hedonism as the whiskey flows freely. Certain UfSO academics are hospitalised after sustaining an injury falling from the library roof whilst fucking.
8 Dec 2010 UfSO distribute détourned article ‘by David Cameron’ in the Evening Standard; ‘Spread the Love for Education’, UfSO amorous public action and video, on the London Underground and in various Central London locations. Video immediately released online; Prof. Etienne Lantier and Prof. Tess Quixote appear on the Furtherafield show on Resonance 104.4FM, hosted by Marc Garrett.
9 Dec 2010 UfSO First Conference: ‘On Violence’, is held from the Whitehall Kettle and the occupied treasury building. Papers include: ‘Difference Within Form – What is a Riot Policeman?’ Tess Quixote; ‘The Performance of Violence’, Dr Jacques Valentin; VIOLENCE, POLICE, STATE: A Fragment on Benjamin in a Bankrupt Era, Dr. Yollom Ward and ‘The Kettle: Resistance and Responsibility’, Dr. Yojo Queequeg. The conference continues throughout the subsequent riot, until all papers are set on fire and launched, delegates then either melt away or throw themselves into the melee. The conference is concluded on Westminster Bridge shortly before midnight.
10 Dec 2010 Sarah Amsler, ‘Creative Militancy, Militant Creativity and the New British Student Movement’, Huffington Post:
“in the words of the already intrepid public-pedagogical University for Strategic Optimism, which stages five-minute occupation lectures in banks and shopping malls, to “educate your markets if you marketize our education.” It’s only been a few weeks, and already they are succeeding.”
This particularly piece of Situ-style chiasm crops up a lot in second-hand reports on the UfSOs activities in the form of a direct quote. To date however, I have been unable to uncover the source.
19 Dec 2010 UfSO Winter Carol Concert intervention. Détourned carols result in the UfSO being forcibly removed from the Winter Wonderland Themepark, Hyde Park, London.
18 Jan 2011 – April 11 ‘UfSO vs Goldsmiths’. The UfSO jointly hosts a lecture series and reading group ‘Cultural Studies and Capitalism’ with the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths. The lecture series on Marx’s Captial is recorded by the UfSO and released online. Likewise they open the lecture itself and university building for the public to attend. This action subsequently leads to the entire CCS programme being opened up to the public for free in 2011-12, 2012-13 in contravention of university management policies.
26 Jan 2011 First meeting of the UfSO Capital reading group, at The Black Flag, New Cross, London.
28 Jan 2011 Third lecture of the UfSO, ‘C*u*ts and Co, Private Banking, Taxation and the Great British Bankrobbery’, Dr. Peregrine Poppycock, Prof. of Funny Money. At Coutts Bank, the Stand, London. Coutts awarded with giant blank cheque. Video immediately released online; In a co-ordinated UfSO action, the lecture is delivered simultaneously at Coutts Office, New York by American comrades.
29 Jan 2011 UfSO bloc at NCAFC Demo, Central London.
28-29 Jan 2011 UfSO lecture notes and propaganda feature in ‘I know you know I know you know‘ exhibition, curated by the ACE Curatorial Collective at Hunter College’s Times Square Gallery, New York.
5 Feb 2011 DIY Lecture Booth and Fourth Lecture ‘The Big-Society comes to New Cross Library and sneers at it (and knowledge in general)’, delivered by Ms. Portia Kensington-Hogg, introduced by Dr. Dorian Hope, at New Cross Library as part of the ‘Carnival of Resistance’ against library closures, comprising over 40 ‘read-ins’ across the UK. Of these, only the UfSO-supported event ends in the decision to occupy, sparking a wave of library occupations and expropriations across the country. Protester James Holland told the BBC: “I think with this occupation we are going to take the libraries campaign – and the anti-cuts campaign in general – to a whole new level. We are just not going to put up with these cuts”. Video released immediately online.
11-13 Feb 2011 UfSO send delegates to ‘For a New Europe: University Struggles Against Austerity’, European Meeting of University Movements, Paris 11-13 Feb 2011. It makes links internationally and with Free Schools in Leeds, Liverpool, Lincoln and Glasgow. In Paris the UfSO propagate for an international wave of bank occupations, something they promote in the UK by successfully encouraging Uk Uncut to adopt a campaign of bank occupations. A movement of bank occupations subsequently grows across Europe and globally, something that particularly feeds into the Indignados movement in Spain – which was kicked off by a ¡Democracia Real YA! bank occupation in Murcia on May 13 – and from there, on to Occupy, which took its initial impetus from the Indignados (along with David Graeber, who also attended some of the later UfSO occupation actions, such as the ‘Free “Free Market” Market’):
“The Knowledge liberation front gathered in Paris Saint Denis on February 12th and called to a day of teach in in the banks of many European cities on March 25th. In London they are already doing this: groups of students and researchers go into the bank, and they occupy the place and read poems, and discuss molecular biology, and talk about their problems, and eat something, and sleep.
Occupying banks has to become a daily practice. Is it dangerous? It is, but it is more dangerous to wait for somebody to come and help us to have jobs and money and schools and house, when financial capitalism is destroying our lives. Financial capitalism has declared war against society.
We cannot avoid this war, but we can win.”
– Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, for Edufactory.org, 4 March 2011
15 Feb 2011 Guest post by Jacques Valentin for the UKUncut website is published, arguing for further bank occupations. It is part of the UfSO’s attempts to draw the UK Uncut group into a proposed global movement of bank occupations it had propgated for in Paris. One of the founders of UKUncut tells UfSO its 2010 actions did indeed inspire the campaign group’s shift in tactics towards targeting banks; The ‘Orgy of the Rich’ event takes place. For this UfSO join Arts Against Cuts in storming the Sotheby’s Contemporary Art auction at Southeby’s in London. When bidding opened at £2 million for Andy Warhol’s ‘Nine Marilyns’, debonair members of Arts Against Cuts and the UfSO are overcome with feelings of desire, climaxing in an ‘Orgy of the Rich’. Outside, public services are auctioned, and great bargains are to be had on health services, libraries and, eventually, the police force.
16 Feb 2011 UfSO in discussion with Dr. Theolonius Wisengrund and The Paper editorial collective at the ‘Birth of a New Movement’ symposium, Goldsmiths College, London.
19 Feb 2011 UfSO mobile sound system/street party at Lewisham ‘Carnival Against the Cuts’ demonstration. Eventually the party is moved back to a house in Brockley due to inclement weather; Space Hijackers organise a ‘Mass Debate’ in Barclays bank, Tottenham Court Road, calling for debates to be held in banks everywhere.
22 Feb 2011 UfSO collaborate with the Goldsmiths Fightsback group in storming the official opening of Goldsmiths’ multi-million pound ‘New Academic Building’ (subsequently the Stuart Hall Building, lol) by Tory MP Archie Norman. Norman is ejected and the copious amounts of wine liberated by a riotous crowd of several hundred students. They proceed to enjoy their ill-gotten gains to the accompaniment of the attendant UfSO soundsystem.
March 2011 …Ment journal issue 1 ‘Welfare State…ment (on Welfare States)’ contains ‘Benoit Loiseau in conversation with Prof. Grave Riddle’ (The University for Strategic Optimism).
1 March 2011 Dazed and Confused Vol II #95, Article: ‘We Are Everywhere’, Laurie Penny, feature with UfSO. pp. 100-103.
4 March 2011 UfSO ‘psychogeographical’ radical history audio tour of the London Overground trainline between New Cross and Dalston Junction: ‘Tracing a Line of Absence and Presence – ‘Cultural (De)Tourism’ with the UfSO’. This pedagogical plagiarism is part of Collective Futures: Organising Critical Experience Symposium, held between London, Copenhagen and Berlin.
9 March 2011 UfSO ‘University Recruitment Fair’ intervention in a temporary pavilion constructed by the artists Charlesworth, Lewandowski & Mann at Chelsea College of Art’s parade ground. The presentation was part of ‘If Not, Then What?’ Curated by Cecilia Wee. Visitors to the exhibition were recruited to join UfSO actions at the planned national anti-cuts demonstration on March 26. When considering the event Dr. Jacques Valentin made a statement on art that ends with the following:
“By our occupation of both this symbolic and physical space in the art college at Chelsea, we attempt to show that by being only a stone’s throw from the Tate we can sometimes also be only a brick’s throw from Millbank Tower”.
11 March 2011 UfSO protest at Deptford Town Hall against Goldsmith University compliance with UK Border Agency policing of international students.
12-13 March 2011 UfSO workshop at Arts Against Cuts ‘March Weekend’, University of London Union, London.
14 March 2011 UfSO design, release and distribute sticker selection, including the popular ‘NHS – Not For Sale’ stickers.
20-25 March 2011 UfSO support the occupation of Deptford Town Hall, Goldsmiths, University of London.
25 March 2011 International day of bank teach-ins; UfSO supports this with its Fifth Lecture, ‘The Free “Free Market” Market’, in the occupied government department of Business Innovation and Skills. Seeking to show the connection between finance and the state, UfSO attempt to mark the international day of bank teach-ins by occupying the government department in charge of Universities and by holding a market instead of a teach-in. They march from a meeting point at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and enter the department building but are quickly ejected, although they manage to set up the market outside, blockading the entrance for several hours. The lecture and film is delivered by Dr. Yojo Queequeg. Additional speeches from Marcus Karlsberg and David Graeber. Video immediately released online. ‘Free Free Market Market’ returns to Deptford Town Hall for a post-event party at the occupation.
26 March 2011 National Protest ‘March for the Alternative’, organised by the Trades Union Congress. Avoiding the TUC stewards, the UfSO bloc help carry a giant 20 metre-long Trojan Horse with the Black Bloc from Kennington as part of the South London feeder march. The horse is subsequently burned in the middle of Oxford Circus as the day descends into small-scale rioting. No separate UfSO action is undertaken on this day as UfSO is on strike in solidarity with the Arts Against Cuts call to suspend all cultural programming.
7 April 2011 ‘What Protest?’ or ‘The UfSO DIY Activism Performance Protest Extravaganza’ intervention, V&A Museum of Childhood, London. Part of the Papered Parlour ‘It’s Your Write’ self-publishing event. Having had their proposal for a Molotov Cocktail making workshop turned down by the Museum of Childhood, the UfSO lead museum visitors on a wild goose chase as they follow dozens of signs throughout the museum claiming ‘UfSO DIY protest extravaganza this way!’ Each sign in fact led to the next however, and after half and hour or so, disillusioned visitors eventually gave up looking for the mythical event. At the end of the night it was announced that the evening’s UfSO performance had been cancelled due to budget cuts.
16 April 2011 UfSO discussion/intervention at AMASS: Towards an Economy of the Commons, Chisenhale Gallery, London.
May 2011 Shift Magazine #12, Prof. Percy of the UfSO writes ‘Anarchists and the Big Society’ pp.18-20
May 2011 UfSO first discuss the idea of an ‘alternative student handbook’ and begin a series of regular meetings reading and discussing examples of the genre.
1 May 2011 UfSO bloc at the May Day march, Central London.
8 May 2011 The UfSO is discussed in Thomas Gorkey, ‘What Does Recognition Look Like?’ in Roundhouse Journal: Reimagining the University, pp.46-52 – a Really Free School publication, edited by, amongst others, a professor of the UfSO.
13 May 2011 ¡Democracia Real YA! undertook the performative occupation of a bank in Murcia kicking off the Spanish Indignados movement that would erupt across the country two days later, on 15th May.
1 June 2011 UfSO Professor Rosa Zetkin releases essay on the Royal Wedding: ‘ Celebrate Peasants’.
10 June 2011 UfSO paper at Whose University? Resistance and the Idea of the University, entitled ‘The University is Dead, Long Live the University’, by Prof. Markus Karlsberg, Prof. Johannes Effra and Prof. Grave Riddle. Here they meet Prof. Steffano Harney who will later contribute writing to the group.
12 June 2011 UfSO organise and provide security for an Arundhati Roy talk at Friends House London, as part of an event hosted by the International Campaign Against War on People of India (ICAWPI). UfSO are very much in support of Arundhati Roy’s comments in a recent interview:
“Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.”
29 June 2011 UfSO Open letter to Danish Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation and the The Danish Agency of Universities decrying the outlawing of the Free University of Copenhagen. It ends:
“All power to the free universities of the future”.
30 June 2011 Large-scale public sector strikes in the UK. UfSO ‘host’ a strike demo afterparty by handing out flyers to strikers and locals, inviting people to come and get ‘free booze and canapés’ by gatecrashing the Bold Tendencies gentrifying art event on the roof of the multi-story car in Peckham.
19 July 2011 UfSO Prof. Johannes Effra publishes ‘The Strange Demise of David Cameron’.
28 July 2011 Dan Hancox, Kettled Youth, Vintage Digital. Discusses rise of UfSO as part of UK student movement.
Aug-Sept 2011 UfSO undertake the collective writing process for ‘The Student Handjob’ an alternative student handbook, with the aim of agitating at the beginning of the new university year in October. The text is written as a practical and political guide for new students, with each section written and rewritten collectively until no single voice can any longer be identified.
6-11 Aug 2011 Widespread, almost-unprecedented riots and urban uprisings across Britain.
10 Aug 2011 Dr. Sofia Himmelblau publishes ‘#Riotcleanup or #Riotwhitewash’ to an eruption of controversy. The article, highly critical of the supposedly ‘spontaneous’ social-media, ‘self-organised’ response to the riots shames a left who had been remote in support for the unrest and reluctant to criticise the fascistic response from the establishment. The article attracts death threats against the unrepentant Dr. Himmelblau along with a rapid 50,000 hits, making it the most widely-read article the UfSO produced.
12 Aug 2011 An unapologetic Dr. Himmelblau posts a follow-up article ‘Sofia Himmelblau Responds to her Critics’. Prof. Grave Riddle posts ‘Linking the Riots and the Media Scandal’.
15 Aug 2011 Kabbir Chibber utterly misses the point in an article, Youth Quake: London, T-Magazine, The New York Times:
“And the art itself? A cheeky collective calling themselves the University for Strategic Optimism held their debut at a bailed-out bank, followed by another performance in the cereal aisle of a Tesco. But by and large, no movement has emerged to challenge the new austerity. After all, one of Britain’s biggest artists, Tracey Emin, is a famous Conservative supporter, something unthinkable a generation ago. “There’s more a disillusionment than anything else,” says Jennifer Higgie, co-editor of Frieze magazine. As yet, there’s no sign of a British Ai Weiwei.”
22 Aug 2011 UfSO make links with Birmingham Social Centre and Free School
28 Sept 2011 First limited print run of a few hundred of The Student Handjob (inkjet printed and stapled, with original ‘so radical it’s bodacious’ cardboard covers) produced to be distributed at a number of London Freshers’ Fairs. It features a pull-out copy of the famous ‘Nick Clegg Est Un Con’ poster (originally designed to promote March 26th Action) and the controversial ‘The Paedo-files: Political Paedometer’. The ‘Handjob’ runs to 72 pages and contains articles on racism, time and space, crime, work, benefits, direct action, depression, internships, debt and more. Guest contributors include the DSG and ‘the Dude’. A series of new détourned illustrations, stolen from various prospectuses and educational publications are produced by Dr. Jacques Valentin, amongst others.
8 Oct 2011 Official launch party of the ‘The Student Handjob’ is a hijacking of the Space Hijackers ‘Coalitious – Things that Shouldn’t go Together, and Don’t’ party in Limehouse, across the street from the famous British Sailors’ Society – location of the Situationist International’s Fourth Conference. Copies are distributed to party-goers with free gift UfSO condoms attached – promoting one of the more enjoyable forms of practico-theoretical critique.
15 Oct 2011 UfSO bloc at Paternoster Square, in what becomes Occupy LSX/Occupy London. UfSO presence at Occupy London continues until late Dec 2011 when it tapers out due freezing temperatures and activism burn-out. During this time the UfSO presence includes a lecture and workshop at the camp’s Tent City University.
25 Oct 2011 The Student Handjob is officially (re)published as ‘Undressing the Academy: or, The Student Handjob’ London and New York, Minor Compositions/Autonomedia 2011 and distributed globally through Autonomedia. This edition has a new cover image (a wanking socialist fist, from Jacques Valentin) and a new short cover text on a pale green background.
28 Oct 2011 Dr. Sofia Himmelblau, ‘To Be Done With the Judgement of Dogs’, illustrated by Laura Oldfield Ford in Nyx: A Noctural, issue 6, Monsters.
2 Nov 2011 Annual General Meeting of the UfSO, Laurie Grove Baths, Goldsmiths, London. Attempt made to revitalise the UfSO one year since its formation and attract new people and ideas. Alliances made with Goldsmiths Fightsback group and joint occupation planned.
10 Nov 2011 UfSO bloc at the Free Education demo, Central London, ending at David Harvey lecture, Occupy London Camp. This is the last time the UfSO banner is carried at the head of a bloc at a demonstration as it is no longer able to command the numbers it once did.
12 Nov 2011 UfSO Lecture Six: ‘Towards an (under)common(s) statement for collective study’, followed by workshop and discussion. Tent City University, Occupy London Camp, St. Pauls, London.
14 Nov 2011 Tent City University Debriefing.
26 Nov – Dec 3 2011 UfSO organised occupation of Whitehead Building, Goldsmiths College, London in collaboration with Goldsmiths Fightsback. The occupation is called in solidarity with the strike on November 30th (the largest strike in the UK since the 1926 general strike). During the process of this occupation the UfSO informally merges with Goldsmiths Fightsback, with several members also forming the parallel current Goldsmiths Disorganised Left, or joining Plan C London. The following is part of the statement published in the event of the occupation:
“WHY ARE WE OCCUPYING?
To stand with all those affected by privatisation and commodification of life.
To stand against those who profit from this global misery.
To organise for the N30 strike.
To create and debate.
To make university space accessible to everyone.
To sabotage the marketisation of education.
WHERE ARE OUR DEMANDS?
Our aspirations for society can in no way be met by the management of the university. We cannot address an authority we do not recognise. We know that whatever comes next is something we will make, not something we will ask for. The crisis of the university is a manifestation of the broader crisis of capitalism.”
University supplies are communized in order to support the occupation and the blockade of the University finance office that ensues. UfSO refuse to negotiate with management or release a list of demands, claiming that many in the student body are tired of the usual activist gestures. A campaign of détournement is undertaken across the London transport network in which fake Goldsmiths adverts are placed, criticising the University’s stance on access and privatisation. Several banner drops around campus and the surrounding area, including from the roof at the front of the main Richard Hoggart Building. Following Nov 30th, the occupation is declared a week-long party. Events include: talks by Cedric Robinson, Neil Gordon-Or, John Hutnyk, Sara Ahmed, Joanna Hodge, Dhan Brar and the Precarious Workers Brigade; Sykpe link ups to Cambridge Occupation and Occupy London; a rap from US war vet Darnell Summers, written by a friend who died whilst fighting in Vietnam; numerous art events; a discussion on education and with members of the education department; discussions on the intersections between gender, race and class; deconstructions of discourses around multiculturalism; and many musical sessions including acoustic punks, Cosmo and DJs. Even Vice magazine shows up to review our party. They didn’t like it.
Nov-Jan 2011 Prof. Grave Riddle (Midlands Campus) posts a number of articles to the blog in rapid succession that become increasingly erratic, searching for answers to his own personal questions regarding a revolutionary politics. This culminates in his facilitating a bizarre and possibly intoxicated New Years guest post by Dr. Jane Grant of Coventry University (whilst other UfSO faculty are not monitoring the blog, owing to being drunk under a table somewhere). It is entitled ‘Why Do You Marxists All Hate Life So Much?’ (1 Jan 2012) and is followed by a defensive response from Prof. Riddle to the rapid criticisms of Grant’s post (2 Jan 2012). This is followed by a post entitled ‘A Schopenhauerian anti-capitalism’ (6 Jan 2012) by Dr. Rosa Salome – ‘UfSO Reactionary Division’. Here Riddle announces:
“I would like to welcome Dr. Rosa Salome to the UfSO after successfully annoying our readers with her reactionary, non-Marxist reflections on capitalism. This is an unabashed act of nepotism and non-democratic decision making on my part, as I seem to be the only person writing on this blog at the moment (I’m waiting to be told off, if not sacked – culled you might call it – at some point soon). So I have recruited some new friends from the midlands region to mix things up a bit on here, to try to get past the one-sidedness of left pseudo-academic discourse on the blogosphere and perhaps encourage some useful dialogue (dialectic). To this end, I have also created the new reactionary division of the UfSO, just so readers are aware when we are being radical and when we are not. It can get confusing sometimes.”
The episode ends in a split when London members assert that collective responsibility applies to all blog posts and posts should from now on be circulated to delegates of all campuses for a process of peer review prior to publication. Riddle and the Midlands-based so-called ‘Reactionary Division of the UfSO’ split from the main group, posting a parting shot in the form of a blog entry bemoaning their ‘censorship’ and comparing it to the repression of the Stalinist Central Committee – entitled ‘samokritika’ (18 Jan 2012) and another ‘Why I am a Marxist? (sic)’ (18 Jan 2012).
7 Jan 2012 Jodi Dean reviews The Student Handjob:
“Gotta say–my first reaction is that the optimism is hard to find; it’s being deployed so strategically as to be barely apparent at all. I think for the authors–students–and likely readers–students the optimism might come out of a combination of the expressions of rage and despair in the book and the emphasis on responding collectively, whether through writing, squatting, or protesting–although the book is not naive about the efficacy of protests: it notes the failure of the last decades biggest protests (February 15 2003, globally, and March 26 2011 in the UK).
That said, I love the book as a rejoinder and anecdote to the stream of educational propaganda shoveled through my college’s listserv. […] The cynicism and anger in Undressing the Academy are like having students stare blankly at an enthusiastic lecturer giving them guidelines for success and then take a massive shit in the middle of the class before walking out of room.
The overall critique of the education is its absorbtion within and continued production of capitalism. So this is not the 60s call for relevance, meaning, and authenticity. It’s more brutal. There’s no safety net of welfare to catch it; the result of education in contemporary conditions is prostitution and debt.
The book is like a cry for education free from capitalism, free from exploitation, competition, and the miserable conditions that leave students with no time to think open and faculty with no time to teach. […] I wonder if many faculty will assign it–too dangerous?–and if it will circulate as student samizat–among those who don’t have time to read? If the critique of the university in the 60s was that education was a factory, the critique in this book is that the workers are over-extended and the products are shoddy; the factory has broken down–its capitalist setting has shown its horrible face. Its filled with cheating, bribery, exhaustion, excuses, and all for the profit of the very, very few.”
18 Jan 2012 Split in the UfSO between the London campus and Midlands Campus (Grave Riddle, Jane Grant, Rosa Salome – the so-called ‘Riddlers’, after their leader Prof. Grave Riddle). For details see above.
25 Jan 2012 Prof. Jimbeau Pickett publishes ‘Hypocrisy and Ethnic Studies in Arizona’.
Feb-April 2012 UfSO contribution in the form of syllabus suggestions to ‘Leeds Polytechnic’ (off-shoot of Really Free School, Leeds) – ‘This is Not a Module 5.4’ event, Leeds.
Feb 2012 Student Handjob reviewed in Radical Philosophy 172, by Daniel Nemenyi. Nemenyi naively compares the UfSO to the Situationist International, but makes some valid criticisms of the UfSO’s failure to adequately grasp its commonalities of struggle with research and teaching staff.
Feb 13-18 2012 UfSO hosts visiting activists of the No Borders Convergence, London 2012.
Feb 18 2012 Having made contact with a like-minded autonomous university in New Zealand called We Are the University, UfSO posts a guest post from these new-found antipodean comrades entitled: ‘Same Shit, Different Side of the World’.
Feb 26 2012 Don Giovani, Don of the UfSO, publishes ‘Stolen Futures – Politicised ‘Justice’ and the Suppression of Protest’ in response to his upcoming trial for violent disorder.
Feb 29 2012 Having seen the occupation tactic come full circle, Prof. Verity Mensonge publishes a rambling memoir/critique of her involvement with the Occupy Movement, from her perspective as part of the UfSO contingent at the camp. It also serves as something of an elegy for the ‘2011 moment’.
March 22 2012 UfSO host a discussion event: ‘Iran the Epicentre of Crisis’, Goldsmiths College, London.
April 2012 UfSO makes links with the militant student movement in Quebec.
4 June 2012 a somewhat calmer Grave Riddle returns to UfSO fold with a post entitled: ‘Some Preliminary Notes on Hope and Radical Pedagogy’. This makes the UfSO one of the few avant-garde organisations to have split, only to – on reflection – decide to overcome their differences and reunite.
22 June 2012 UfSO support a Plan C London event fundraising for the student struggles in Quebec.
1 July 2012 Forkert, Kirsten, ‘Some reflections on Student Protest Anti-cuts Activism and Artistic and Intellectual Autonomy’ in Work, Work, Work: A Reader on Art and Labour, Jonatan Habib Engqvist et al. (eds). Berlin, Sternberg Press, 2012, pp.153-172
31 Aug 2012 UfSO issue communiqué in support of London Metropolitan Students threatened with deportation after the collapse of their university. It is signed ‘interminable committee of The University for Strategic Optimism’.
3 Sept 2012 September issue of Occupied Times contains: UfSO Professor Shelley Hydra, ‘Notes on What a Radical Pedagogy Might Feel Like’, Occupied Times #17, p. 10.
Nov 2012 UfSO further dissipates into various initiatives. Grave Riddle turns his attentions to the Free Universities Network, contributing a piece ‘Three Suggestions for a Radical Education Network’ (1 Nov 2012) to them. Meanwhile, Marcus Karlsberg and others join the work of the Plan C London sponsored Edu-Commission, contributing to its report on the state of higher education in the UK (21 Nov 2012). Others still form a group at Goldsmiths called ‘Goldsmiths Migrant Solidarity’ (which also shares many members with that other UfSO off-shot, Goldsmiths Disorganised Left).
1-2 Dec 2012 UfSO academics Prof. Riddle, Prof. Karlsberg, Prof. Hackett and Dr. Himmelblau. Along with Comrades Prof. Jean Baton and Dr. Buttercup Bubblefanny contribute to the ‘Sustaining Alternatives’, Free Universities Network conference, Oxford. This is a meeting for those involved in radical educative ventures to attempt to come up with concrete plans for connecting their various ventures and make them sustainable in the long to medium term. As far as the UfSO is concerned at least, this failed. There is to be no sustainability for the UfSO project. The conference is abandoned when two UfSO operatives (Baton and Bubblefanny), attracted by the surreal spectacle of the recent floods, opt to go swimming in the semi-submerged playground next to the conference centre instead of joining the debate, causing a commotion by nearly freezing to death.
2 March 2013 professor of the UfSO Johannes Effra responds to a questionnaire from a PhD Student at University of Kent, researching art and politics:
It was never a performance. This was not performance art. It was a political act, like a strike, or a march, or a brick through a window. The UfSO actions weren’t some apolitical middle-class dance, look-at-me vulnerability for those with sufficient cultural capital to remain gazinbg stony-serious, the kind of dull post-adolescent narcissism that passes for performance. Nope. Sounds gruff and grumblesome but it’s not meant as such. It was politics first.
If you’ve been following us, then you’ll know, as we do, that we’re pretty much inactive at the moment.
Thanks for joining us at those actions. Here’s some brief answers to yr questionnaire. Another UfSO member might answer differently, but given the lack of contact here are my thoughts. They represent only one part of the university faculty😉 Hope it helps,
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1. To what degree is audience participation important for you?
The focus was on disruption, in a situationist-vein. The audience were largely invited, or were members of the public who we’d annoyed by being wherever it was – police, security guards. Having numbers there gave events more credibility.
- To what degree are participants collaborators/co-authors/ controlled by you?
They were invited to come, but informed fairly last-minute what the plan was. Is that control? No, not intentionally. They were invited to come, and generally did, but the numbers were very small, and tended to be middle-class postgrads from London (our mates).
- What is the relationship between your ideas and the audience’s feelings/interpretations?
Audience weren’t important. More making symbolic gestures that generated discussion.
- Did you study at art school?/Is it typical for your members to have studied at art school?
No. Generally group members weren’t from art school. Politics, history, literature, that sort of thing.
- How important is it that your work is situated outside the gallery?
It wasn’t performance art. The gallery is a place to make money. It wasn’t an interest of ours whether we were there or not.
- Is there a problem if it is situated within the gallery system?
Not really, depends if you’re trying to sell protest to oligarchs or not. We weren’t. The gallery-patronage system isn’t corrupt or anything, it’s a straightforward capitalist economy as it always has been since the Renaissance. Our worlds are wider than art, our political analysis and targets clearer.
- How important is it that your work operates in the political sphere?
It was political work, so better to reverse the question – how important was it that the work operated outside the political sphere? Not that important, though we wanted to have fun too.
- Describe the politics of your work.
We began being opposed to the threefold increase in university tuition fees and end of EMA – means of making further education unaffordable to low-income youth, the backgrounds many of us had come from actually (our postgrad education and speakers belie the more working-class backgrounds of many members). We blamed banks and the bank-bailout for forcing an economic deficit for which cuts and rising fees were proposed to remedy. We felt state-owned banks should end their bonuses and be forced to repay the public what had been pledged in the bailout. Our target then extended to the marketisation of university education, the difficulty of meaningfully getting a job out of a degree (and Tesco degrees). More fundamentally, we were opposed to the privatisation of public spaces and the increasing policing of immigration borders and the restrictions against international students. It came from a broadly Marxist political and economic analysis, with a preference for Situationist-style protest gestures that disrupted symbolic targets.
- What theory informs your work?
Marx, Debord, Mark Fisher in the background – long discussions, arguments and hair-tugging debates primarily.
- What distinguishes your artwork from activism more generally?
It was a part of the political work, we were lucky to be joined by artists and film-makers who were able to create funny and exciting visual work for us.
- What other artists inform your work? How does your work fit historically and in a contemporary context with other art?
- What’s more important to you, the aesthetics of your work or its social impact, why?
Social impact. Aesthetics themselves are political, even apolitical aesthetics signify a profound political conservativism.
- Does your work carry a message or do you aim to question, to create debate etc.?
Yeah, see Q8. The work aimed to raise awareness of organisations we felt were contributing to marketisation and privatisation of higher education.
- Do you have important relations with other agencies/people/institutions that help you realise your aims?
We worked to build this, with limited success. It’s a general problem among the left to work intensively in small groups with little contact amongst each other. We worked well with activists in some of the university occupations though.
- Name one book/film/artwork/or similar cultural output that has influenced you.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
March 28 2013 The Marxist of Granby pens a statement in support of the student occupation at University of Sussex: ‘Parasitic Management and the Sick Student Body – All Power to the Sussex Occupiers’.
17 April 2013 Dr. Sofia Himmelblau publishes an obituary of Margret Thatcher, as a single-side flyer and on the UfSO blog.
29 Aug 2013 ‘(Dis)Orientation Manual New York City – Disco Crazy’ launched in NY, inspired by the Student Handjob is published in the US.
29 Sept 2013 The UfSO use the occasion of a three-sided football game in Deptford to hand out flyers announcing their dissolution, simultaneous with the birth of a new triolectical football team playing in the Luther Blissett Deptford League – Strategic Optimism Football. The UfSO announce that they are triolectically inverting Marcel Duchamp’s infamous gesture of “definitively abandoning” art in favour of chess. In their case, giving up politics to play three-sided football. However, SOF’s first game is played under the banner of an international day of action against gold mining in the Roșia Montană region of Transylvania – undermining their own futile gesture from day one. It was therefore from this game that one of three-sided football’s key tactical dissimulations – the so-called “Rosia’s (Triple) Cross” – obtained its name. ‘The Optimists’ play in a multi-coloured kit, triolectically derived from industrial painting, occult magick and sploshing. They function as a home team for all those with no home, where all the shirts read Blissett. They have gone on to contest the LBD League in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons and sent players to the 1th Triolectical Football World Cup in Silkeborg Denmark, in May 2014.
Feb 2014 ‘Leksykon : Geografie nieposłuszeństwa’ (Lexicon: Geographer Disobedience) in Format P #8 NIEPOSŁUSZEŃSTWO: TEORIA I PRAKTYKA (Disobedience: Theory and Practice), Warsaw, 2014 features the UfSO.
March 2014 In response to continuing interest and in an attempt to offer a final summation of the past few years, two now retired academics of the UfSO publish a history of their autonomous university by way of a coda to the groups activities: Marcus Karlsberg and Verity Mensonage ‘UfSO: (A)History & Classroom Consciousness’ in Argos Aotearoa #1 ‘The University Beside Itself’, Auckland NZ., March 2014. pp. 62-69
November 24 2014 On the fourth anniversary of the inaugural lecture the UfSO website is archived by Prof. Dorian Hope, with timeline, writings and images uploaded, with the intention of informing future struggles in education and beyond.
Post-Scriptum – some [dis]honourable mentions of the UfSO elsewhere:
May 2014 Listed by the Tate as an educational resource – an example of a ‘collective’ who are ‘questioning learning’. Lol.
Amsler, Sarah ‘Beyond All Reason: Spaces of Hope in the Struggle for England’s Universities’ Representations Vol. 116, No. 1, The Humanities and the Crisis of The Public University (Fall 2011), pp. 62-87
Amsler, Sarah (2011) ‘Strivings towards a politics of possibility’. Graduate Journal in Social Sciences, 8 (1). pp. 83-103
Amsler, Sarah and Canaan, Joyce (2011) ‘Cracking capitalist realism: the new student movement and its post-capitalist politics’. In: Marxism and Education: Renewing the Dialogue, 9 April 2011, Institute of Education, London.
Canaan, Joyce E, Hill, Dave and Maisuria, Alpesh, ‘Resistance in England’ in Dave Hall ed., Immiseration Capitalism and Education: Austerity, Resistance and Revolt, Brighton: Institute for Education Policy Studies, 2013, pp. 176-205.
Chanan, Michael, Chronicle of Protest (Film) 2012.
Chibber, Kabbir, ‘Youth Quake: London’, T-Magazine, The New York Times. 15 Aug, 2011.
Cole, Mike, ‘Conclusion: The Current Crisis of Capitalism and the Role of Education’ in Sara C. Motta and Mike Cole (eds.) Education and Social Change in Latin America, London, Palgrave MacMillan, 2013.
Forkert, Kirsten, ‘Some reflections on Student Protest Anti-cuts Activism and Artistic and Intellectual Autonomy’ in Work, Work, Work: A Reader on Art and Labour, Jonatan Habib Engqvist et al. (eds). Berlin, Sternberg Press, 2012, pp.153-172
Gorkey, Thomas, ‘What Does Recognition Look Like?’ in Roundhouse Journal: Reimagining the University, pp.46-52
Gokey, Thomas, ‘Strategic Invisibility: The Zero Point of Modernism and the Avant-Garde’ in Ridvan Askin et al. (eds). Speculation V: Aesthetics in the 21st Century , New York, Punctum Books, 2014. pp. 286-310
Hancox, Dan, Kettled Youth, London, Vintage Digital, 2011
Himmelblau, Sofia, ‘To Be Done With the Judgement of Dogs’, illustrated by Laura Oldfield Ford in Nyx: A Noctural, issue 6, (Monsters).
Iles, Anthony and Roberts, Tom, All Knees and Elbows of Susceptibility and Refusal: reading history from below, Glasgow, Transmission Gallery, 2012.
Jones, Ken, ‘The Practice of Radical Education: From the Welfare State to the Neo-liberal Order’, in Education, Childhood and Anarchism, Catherine Burke and Ken Jones (eds), Abingdon and NY, Routledge, 2014.
Latimer et al. ‘Creative Subversions: A Politics Beyond Representation in the UK’, later published in Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, Volume 20, Number 1, Fall/Winter 2011, pp. 271-278.
‘Leksykon : Geografie nieposłuszeństwa’ (Lexicon: Geographer Disobedience) in Format P #8 NIEPOSŁUSZEŃSTWO: TEORIA I PRAKTYKA (Disobedience: Theory and Practice), Warsaw, Feb 2014
Loiseau, Benoit, in conversation with Prof. Grave Riddle (The University for Strategic Optimism) …Ment journal issue 1 ‘Welfare State…ment (on Welfare States), March 2011
Nemenyi, Daniel, ‘University for Strategic Optimism, Undressing the Academy, or The Student Handjob’ (Review), Radical Philosophy 172:56 (2012)
Penny, Laurie,‘We Are Everywhere’, Dazed and Confused Vol II #95, March 2011 pp. 100-103.
Percy, ‘Anarchists and the Big Society’ Shift Magazine #12, May-Sept 2011, pp.18-20
Power, Nina, ‘Dangerous Subjects: UK Students and the Criminalization of Protest’ in South Atlantic Quarterly 2012, Volume 111, Number 2: pp.412-420
Sealey-Huggins, Leon and Pusey, André, ‘Neoliberalism and Depoliticisation in the Academy: Understanding the ‘New Student Rebellions’’ in Graduate Journal of Social Science September 2013, Vol. 10, Issue 3.
Sealy-Huggins, Leon and Pusey, André, ‘Transforming the University: Beyond Students and Cuts’ in ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 2013, 12 (3), 443-458
Sukarieh, Mayssoun and Tannock, Stuart, Youth Rising?: The Politics of Youth in the Global Economy, London, Routledge, 2014
Wilken, Rowan, Goggin, Gerard (eds), Mobile Technology and Place, London, Routledge, 2013
There were many faculty who joined the fluid UfSO tendency over the years of its existence, ranging from around 50 to, in the end, five. In the course of its existence it can be estimated that some 3-400 people passed through its ranks. We were a diverse bunch, deserting sons and daughters of two dozen countries, students and teachers, from Middle-Eastern political dissidents in exile to ex – and not so ex- junkies, from sex workers to the offspring of plane hijackers. Some of those esteemed colleagues comprising the UfSO’s invisible college over the years are (in no particular order):
Dr. Jacques Valentin
Prof. Marcus Karlsberg
Prof. Johannes Effra
Dr. Sofia Himmelblau
Prof. Elmo Hackett
Dr. Buttercup Bubblefanny
Dr. Jean Baton
Prof. Theolonius Wisengrund
Prof. Grave Riddle
Prof. Verity Mensonge
Prof. Lucy Biscuit
Dr. Jane Grant
Dr. Rosa Salome
Prof. Jimbeau Pickett
Don Don Giovani
Prof. Étienne Lantier
Prof. Dora Kaliayev
Prof. Tess Quixote
Dr. Yollom Ward
Dr. Yojo Queequeg.
Dr. Peregrine Poppycock
Ms. Portia Kensington-Hogg
Dr. Dorian Hope
Prof. Rosa Zetkin
Prof. Shelley Hydra
Dr. Fjodor Morton Martin Martens
Dr. Molly Doiu
Dr. Bash Car
Prof. Simone de Beauville
Dr. Rosa Ciemny
Prof. Bob Edwards
The Marxist of Granby
Dr. Karl Boxer
Dr. Dr. Plato
Prof. Smutty McSmutt Smutt
Dr. Basil Bernardi
Dr. Kath Stealinghome
Prof. AB Pea
And all the many, many others.
Following the general student insurgency of late 2010, somewhat inevitably the spectacle singled out particular names – variously the charismatic, the attractive, the privileged, the articulate, the ‘authentic’ – those such as Laurie Penny, Aaron Peters/Bastani, Charlie Gilmour, Jodie Macintyre, Alfie Meadows and Claire Solomon. We don’t want to knock these people, we have nothing against them. Instead we would draw attention to the process by which a movement is reified into a particular ontological form. UfSO’s system of interchangeable professorships and doctorates – somewhere inbetween the tradition of the revolutionary nom de guerre and the multiple name strategies of those such as Luther Blissett – was one attempt at doing things differently.
Following their time in the UfSO, many members went underground, succumbed to work in academia, the arts or publishing. Many left the country. Several continued activism through various organisations, such as Plan C, Goldsmiths Disorganised Left, Precarious Workers Brigade, Solidarity Federation and the New Cross Triangle Psychogeographical Association. One member briefly had some trouble whilst working in India, when the ruling party falsely accused her of being a spy in the pay of Bangladeshi intelligence, but this was quickly proven to be a politically motivated fabrication.