The Way We Were Then

The Way We Were : 144 Piccadilly  squat A few years ago a TV company approached me to see if I would be interviewed for a programme they wanted to make about the Street Commune squat at 144 Piccadilly. It was to be broadcast as part of a series entitled ‘The Way We Were’ in which people who had been directly involved in recent historical events were asked to talk about their experiences, the interviews being intercut with archive film footage of the scenes being described. It was a neat, if somewhat simplistic formula, based on the notion that the testimony of direct participants or eye witnesses would provide a ‘human angle’ or ‘inside story’ otherwise missing from the public record. At first, I was reluctant to take part. I was somewhat dubious about the programme’s premise and did not know if they could treat the subject in a non-sensational [Read More…]

Formations Of Self And Society 1943-73: A Conversation With Cynthia Cockburn

2008  was forty years after  the student uprisings which  caused a storm in the teacups of the political establishment across the world. The anniversary was an occasion for  that generation, my generation, to take stock, to look back at the conjuncture  and consider how it had shaped  our politics  and subsequent lives.  As someone who  had been a student in the early sixties but had dropped out and become part of what became known as the ‘underground’ counter culture in London, I felt somewhat ambivalent about this spate of ‘memory work’,  most of it produced by ex student activists who had gone on to become established academics. Perhaps understandably their accounts  ignored anything that was not happening in  the universities. One of the motivations in writing my memoir, Reading Room Only   was to  correct this bias, and insist that there was other stuff going on, including the squatting movement in [Read More…]

Autographologies: Reflections On Writing A Memoir

Autographologies (text) This essay draws on the experience of writing  a memoir- ‘Reading Room Only’- to reflect on current trends, models and motivations within the genre. Philippe Lejeune’s notion of the ‘autobiographical pact’ is used to look at how different approaches to memoir-writing stake their claims to be an ‘authentic’ discourse of the self. In addition it is argued that life-story scripts, conveyed primarily through family and schooling, play an important role in the process of authentification, albeit one that is shifting as a result of changes in the culture, economy and society. The discourse of aspirationalism with its meritocratic insistence that everyone is an author of their own life is seen as symptomatic of this shift, as evidenced by the current popularity of the ‘triumph over adversity’ life story. The essay then turns to look at the influence of identity politics and the growth of the ‘victimology’ narrative; this [Read More…]

Living in Time

LIVING IN TIME: IN MEMORIAM PHIL SALMON (1942- 2005) I first met Phyllida Salmon when she was a colleague of mine at the London Institute of Education in the 1980’s. I was immediately struck by the precise and considered way she talked, as if she had given the matter a lot of thought and honed her perceptions accordingly. There was nothing pedantic about her approach – she just cut to the essentials of an argument, and expressed her ideas with the greatest clarity. She wrote in the same way , with a minimum of jargon and a total absence of academic pretentiousness . She had studied English at Cambridge and it showed in her prose style. She then trained as an educational psychologist, coming under the influence of Don Bannister and personal construct theory. Her research concentrated on the informal processes through which teachers and students made sense of the [Read More…]