Friday, February 20, 2009

New Journal on Social Movements

Interface: A Journal For and About Social Movements is a new on-line journal (everything is accessible) that includes looking at popular education. I like that the editors identify themselves as ranging from activists to academics. Their mission statement includes:
We are activists from different movements and different countries, researchers working with movements, and progressive academics from various countries. We have been involved in many different projects to support and develop the recent knowledge generation processes around contemporary social movements. Through this work we have come to recognise how much we stand to learn from each other – from the specific experiences of movements, from the languages that have been developed within and around different movements, and from different places and times.

The purpose of this journal is to learn from each other's struggles:
  • across movements and issues
  • across continents and cultures
  • across theoretical and disciplinary traditions
(Thanks, Budd, for sharing this)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Worth laughing at again!

I posted about these videos a couple of years ago, but now they've both made it to YouTube as well as having grown substantially. You can check out their original material here: Tetes a claques; and they now also have an English site here. I'm afraid the stuff isn't half as funny in English - especially this Halloween one which is one of my favourites. So if you can enjoy the French it is well worth it. Very good humour medicine. And maybe the English is better than i think (it could simply be my bias having grown up in Quebec and having learned to speak Quebec french more or less).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Storied Clothing

The house is strewn with pins and needles and a rainbow array of strips of fabric. It looks like a crazy wind has blown through leaving this varicolored chaos. Or it's like a wake that you can follow to find J'net hunched over her sewing machine at all hours of the day and night. True, i flee for the couch downstairs when the sewing machine in churning out the workings of J'net's imagination. But it's a small price to pay to support J'net in her vision of clothing that tells some of the stories of her Nuu-chah-nulth culture and aboriginal culture more broadly still. Our house is lined with the staid beauty of diversely-stocked bookshelves, the tantalizing beauty of folded bolts of fabric and rolls of hand-made paper and, spicing it all up, the cheerful chaos of numerous projects-in-process. If you want to see more of J'net's creations you can see some images on her website/blog: Koous Collection.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

You Gotta Laugh at What Hurts

More than anything else during all the hullabaloo of the proroguing of parliament last December i was discouraged by the spectacular ignorance of Canadian democracy that was exposed. Nor was this simply ignorance of the Canadian populace. A citizen not otherwise specializing in democratic process can be forgiven for failing to understand the (often arcane) formalities of parliamentary democracy as we've inherited it from our imperial progenitors. But to see politicians and journalists perform their ignorance was profoundly disturbing. I'm used to people being baffled by how "rules of order" work - we are hardly born with natural inclinations to move and second motions, let alone prorogue a parliament. These are processes that must be learned. But i can see that we are doing a really poor job of it. I've also just come through a strike by my union CUPE3903 at York University and, while i am a staunch defender of the democratic right to strike (and if anyone doubted the need to strike, the University's often cavalier belligerence made it pretty clear that nothing less than a strike would move them) my experience of democracy within the union was almost equally discouraging to that of my experience of witnessing the parliamentary fiasco. Nor would i simply say that it's about enforcing any particular set of rules (Bourinot's Rules, the basis for Canadian parliamentary procedure, were first written by a clerk of the Canadian House of Commons in 1884 - and if they favour a certain type of patriarchal leadership, this should hardly be a surprise after over a century of feminist activisma nd scholarship). I would like to see the rules reformed in a process of dialogue that democratic, critical and creative. But until we can bring that about, we got the rules we got. And they're not that hard to follow. Or so i thought. It seems we are equally ignorant about how to apply formal democracy at the national level as we are about applying at more modest organizational levels. The thing about rules in formal democracy is that they should be used both to ensure that the voice of the powerless is heard as well as the voice of dissent. However, most rules are used to regulate power such that the rule by the powerful and privileged is reconstituted pretty much as is. When i think of all that needs to be done this century in terms of climate change, the environment in geneal and continuing to resist and reverse the profound and historic injustices of inequality, i despair a wee bit when i see the comedy that passes for democratic process in our countries. Thus i need to see actual comedy (as with Rick Mercer above of John Stewart's Daily Show below).

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Terrific Reading List about Writing About Science

I just tripped across this Crowd-Sourced Reading List which is worth spending some time with. It's ostensibly about writing ab out science, but there's more to the collection than that, of course. It includes some of my faves like Stephen Jay Gould (i hope when i grow up i can write like him), David Quammen (who Matt & Sally have turned me onto), Oliver Sacks (who's simply too brilliant and kind to be human - he must have been sent here to make us smarter) , and more. All the links are to works that are available on-line. While Carl Zimmer (the blogger who compiled the list) notes some lacks in the list, he fails to note the quickly obvious absence of women writers. One of the comments asks about Rachel Carson and i've looked myself for some link to her published work, but i cannot find anything. However, here's a few pieces that i think are worth including by some of my favourite writers:

To Be of Use: Writing as Crafty Work

A Sustainable Writing Lab Workshop with moi ;-)

Wednesday, Feb. 18, 12:30 - 2:00 pm, room HNES 142 at the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University.

Hegemonic common sense trains people to believe that writing somehow exists apart from reading - that these are two separate acts. And yet one cannot exist without the other. Light needs dark, work needs play, meat needs salt (or so says an old folktale), a speaker needs a listener, and writing needs reading. These phenomena are co-creations. So, a writer needs a reader. But as Eduardo Galeano writes in "In Defense of the Word",

One writes out of a need to communicate and to commune with others, to denounce that which gives pain and to share that which gives happiness. One writes against one's solitude and against the solitude of others. One assumes that literature transmits knowledge and affects the behavior and language of those who read, thus helping us to know ourselves better and to save ourselves collectively.

The "usefulness" of our writing is always multivalent, directed inwardly and outwardly. To whom do we write? And who do we think we are, we who dare write? Are we worker? Craftsperson? Technician? Clown?

I propose that we all wish "to be of use" as Marge Piercy suggests in her poem named thus. In this session we will explore the constellation of forces that influence/govern our identity as writer and the effect we wish to have (or think we have) on the world. Using a few playful exercises we will generate texts that speak to this dynamic, tricky, necessary, imbricated ('cause i've always just want to use that in a sentence) inter-relation of self and other, writer and reader, performer and audience.

About the Sustainable Writing Lab:
Located in HNES Rm. 250, the Sustainable Writing Lab is a computer and information resource centre for those interested in environmental literature, ecocriticism, and other topics related to writing and the environment, and environmental studies. There are a number of SWL laptops Ph.D. students can access individually, or use for larger group projects.

(just catching up on blogging while my head is afflicted with a cold that has me blowing my nose every 90 seconds - oy! I appreciate this invitation from the SWL to lead a session on writing. I've been a participant of a few sessions and enjoyed every single one. The above-image is from - a wonderful source of copyright-free artwork bequeathed to social movements by Rini Templeton.)

A Book of Spells - Storytelling Concert Tour

This storytelling concert is sure to be a rewarding outing if you can take it in. I've been listening to Jan's telling since i moved to Toronto in the early 90s and i'm never less than impressed. Jan has a knack for bringing to life old tales that yet have remarkable relevance in our modern world. I've always admired how she manages to convey the complex layers of meaning that exist in these tales deftly avoiding reducing a story to this or that means of interpretation (e.g. a psychological rendering). I have seen less of Jennifer's telling, but it has always been on a par with Jan's and they make great storytelling duo!

I believe that one of the gifts of stories is the way in which they structure sets of truths into one coherent narrative despite that some of the truths are contradictory. It is ths diversity of meaning that exists within stories that make them remarkably powerful tools for preserving knowledge (and wisdom) across generations and millenia and cultures. Apropos of my previous posts on trickster pedagogy, the multivalent meaning within stories make them a primary means of practicing trickster pedagogy. Jan and Jennifer convey tales with all this wonderful complexity. They are both great tellers and, in the tradition of storytellers across the centuries, great teachers, as well.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Trickster Pedagogy and Clowns

Trickster pedagogy is also about clowns. And to honour this belated point i am belatedly adding Culture Collective to my list of favoured resources (see the right hand column). I met Jacob ad Elizabeth of Living Folklore many years ago and despite the miles between us their work has inspired me (and my funny bone) ever since. For i do believe that clowning represents an ancient pedagogy (and if "pedagogy" seems an odd word to use when talking about clowns then it's also a silly word, comical even and thus perhaps, circuitously, appropriate). As i have pondered what trickster pedagogy has to offer to popular education and the many struggles for social and environmental justice i have always valued the role of clowning as carrying a profound form of teaching. Exactly what that teaching is, is something that i am exploring. Not that i am interested in dissecting it. But rather journeying into it, exploring the terrain, even getting lost within it. It feels like one of those journeys from which people return with wondrous gifts. I'm not sure if the gifts i will return with will be wondrous to any but me, but i hope that they might be worth sharing with others.

I highly recommend The History of Clowns for Beginners by Joe Lee. (here's an excerpt).

So here are two videos from Culture Collective that i offer as brilliant examples of trickster pedagogy. The first is about a mural project which you'll see also included a journal-writing component (something of which i am very fond). Murals and mural-making have a long history of being involved in popular education (here's an article from muralist/educator Alex Goss about a Mexican project in which he was involved). The second is a description of Living Folklore's beadwork, angry water and post-Katrina New Orleans. Coincidentally, i am surrounded by beads like never before (i.e. on the floor, scattered across various house surfaces, even in bed - as J'net does a lot of beadwork (i'll share some images sometime but meanwhile you can check out J'net's blog and see some of her fashion design work).