This image is of an activist that has been attending the ‘Changing Practice’ social learning course. He presented a poster of his case study at a conference. His comment about the conference and the experience of sharing his work there was ‘It made me feel lonely.”
So I’m frustrated today. Yesterday I was not frustrated and very happy to have more time for my Phd. My hard working supervisor has managed to find some money to support the PhD process this year and I’ve also been able to source some money elsewhere. I’ve enjoyed this past week thinking and planning and even beginning to work on the very first chapter of the Phd. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed reading more of de Sousa Santos. I was so inspired that I even wrote to him. The thing is the inspiration that drove me to write to him is also part of my frustration which comes down to this…
I just don’t feel there is the time to spend writing a Phd for an intellectual community where knowledge cycles around and around. Ideas are written in the thousands upon thousands of journals that circulate the planet and this is supposed to be our contribution to society. Of course this is not our only contribution but this is what gets me. It is this contribution that is seen as the most valued. Well I just don’t have the time for it. I wrote to de Sousa Santos because his ideas were so relevant for our work as activist researchers and for the community activists that we partner with. I immediately thought how important it would be to share his ideas as it gives us concepts.. real grounded useful concepts around which to mobilise. And yet just the very act of trying to share these ideas in a platform that is more accessible, more reasonably human is almost out of reach or demands of me to develop a bunch of new skills that I currently don’t have and… more out of reach.. create the time.. the unpaid time to learn, create and share.
The reason for this pressure.. well where do we get the money to hold a workshop.. and if I was to write a user-friendly booklet to share with my fellow comrades.. who would design it, who would take the photographs, who will translate it? I could try and do all of this myself but what would it lead to – a sub-quality booklet.. maybe that is good enough but why should it be just ‘good enough’? Why isn’t the democratic representation of knowledge with and in collaboration with others valued as much as the massive body of text that we throw at our supervisors after four years of painstaking torture. How much do our Universities get for one published paper in a reputable journal? The last I heard was it was around R80 000. Now what I could create with R80 000. What I could do with that money in collaboration with the community activists I work with? Now I’m not saying the intellectual thought that goes into those doorstopper of a texts is not useful. It is vital but why the representation in this way and why are we still not thinking more about how, how, how we share knowledge and not only how much of it we can produce. Why is it not important to have a budget for photography, for being able to make short video clips? Sure I can learn these skills myself but isn’t it more important to partner with film makers and photographers who would rather use their skills to develop movements and to fight injustice rather than create another soppy love story movie or another award winning advert that will sell something completely useless.
There are online tools sure but these are so limiting and also amp up the pressure that the researcher activist in the Global South has to become an expert at taking and editing Youtube shots.. and there is nothing worse.. lets face… it than a bad video clip. But we just don’t have the money.. or do we.?? Is it more important to attend a conference or is it more important to collaborate with a local filmmaker to represent growing ideas and practices. I worked it out. I went to a conference last year. It was based in South Africa so I didn’t even have international travel costs to consider. It was close to where I lived so to get there only cost the fuel in my little fiat and yet how much was it all..
R5000 for the conference fee
R1796.20 in fuel
R1500 in accommodation expenses
That comes to R4796,20 the amount a local film maker quoted me to make a 10 minute documentary on a local activist practice.
The university I study at gives us a very small amount of money to attend conferences. It is so small that attending international conferences is completely impossible unless our supervisors have been able to access more funds through their hard, multitasking work.. so I thought maybe this money could be used for something else rather than showcasing our work for 15 minutes in some fancy conference venue but this is not the case. Anyway why go on about it!!! I’ll continue to subsidise myself to do all I can to represent knowledge and learning in a collaborative, interactive and democratic way .. even given the frustrations.. and de Sousa Santos agreed. His email back to me .. a rather gushy, Phd student … was heartfelt and sad. I could hear that he understood the struggles we face, that they are his own and that made me hopeful. I suppose there are spaces we can create and even if we do produce a bad quality youtube video’s from the video camera on a smartphone and a free software package that we find online that only allows us 5MB free uploads before it charges us .. we can work within these parameters. I’m also lucky to have a partner who is a computer programmer and can take one look at these so called free resources and create something better in less than half an hour. It just makes me sad sometimes because I see his skill and I see the skills of the community activists I work with and yet where is this depth of knowledge shared and represented. If universities in the Global South struggle to have the resources to share knowledge more broadly how do community activists find not only the resources but also the money to train to get the skills needed for all this sharing… or do we just give it all up and go back to talking by the roadside, sharing over a nice hot cup of rooibos tea and possibly forget about the noise of the information generation world out there? Do we say who cares about Youtube and facebook and knowledge platforms of this nature that have been presented to us as valuable by the the wealthier, more resourced countries of the world? What we have is between us. It is orally transmitted and held in our bodies and our hearts. It is held in our relationships and our care for each other. Is this enough? Maybe it is. And when, on those rare occasions, we can get together because somehow, somewhere money has become available to meet.. well then we sure make use of that time and share in a way that is meaningful to us.