Thursday, June 02, 2016

Help to celebrate Ranulph Glanville's work

The exhibition

Ranulph Glanville
Architecture | Art | Cybernetics | Design. London and the 1960-ies

is open until June 13th 2016. You may visit the exhibition at Echoraum, Sechshauserstraße 66, 1150 Wien from 18:00-20:00 on weekdays and from 15:00-18:00 on weekends.

There is a rich program accompanying the exhibition. Next events are:

31.5.2016 18:00              Ranulph Glanville : lecture on electronics, architecture and epistemology. Magnetic tape, ca. 1970 | ca. 90’
1.6.2016 18:00                Ranulph Glanville : Experimental and electronic music from the 1060ies and 1970ies, Comment : Albert Müller
2.6.2016 18:00                Iannis Xenakis : Lecture on architecture and music, delivered at the Architectural Association (AA), mid 1960ies, magnetic tape | ca. 120’
6.6.2016 18:00                Ranulph Glanville : Tutorium on the Theory of Objects. Bolton University, 2013 | video
7.6.2016 18:00                Ranulph Glanville – his last lecture, Oslo. video, 2014
8.6.2016 20:00                dieb13 : Glanville revisited. Electronic music by Ranulph Glanville remixed and performed on turntable | Concert

13.6.2016 20:00         Finissage:
Stephen Gage The Sixties and the Seventies (and Ranulph)
Lecture in english language
Dirk Baecker Komposition im medialen Raum
Lecture in german language
Compositions by Ranulph Glanville from the 1960ies:
Bernhard Höchtel - piano
Robert Pockfuß - E-guitar
Jakob Gnigler – tenor saxophon
Incomplexitudes Beatrix - Piano Solo
Title (La cathédrale des escargots) - for any Instruments and Players
Writ in Squares - for 1 Glass & 1 Cardboard Sheet & 2 Contact Mikes (2 Players)

Guided tours may be arranged by calling + 43 1 8120209-30 or by mailing

Dams are damned?

Water governance can only be appreciated and acted upon systemically.  In the past this has rarely been the case, and the failures of our historical ways of thinking and acting in relation to water, just like the chickens, seem to be coming home to roost! This article makes compelling reading: 

The water crisis in the West has renewed debate about the effectiveness of major dams, with some pushing for the enormous Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River to be decommissioned.

Monday, May 30, 2016

SCiO Open Day in London - 11th July

SCiO is holding an open day event in London in July.  The programme is now available as are details for registration at the event.

"SCiO is a group for systems practitioners and is based in the UK, but has members internationally. It is focused primarily on systems practice and practitioners rather than on pure theory and on systems practice as applied to issues of organisation."

I have been invited to give a talk: 

Session: Ray Ison - Governing in the Anthropocene: towards systemic governance

The talk will reprise themes associated with a number of international addresses given in 2016 that address the question of what does the field of 'cybersystemics' have to offer for governing in the Anthropocene? A response to this question entails examining how the concept 'system' has gone feral and its implications as well as what a field of cybersystemics might look like, and why? Through groundings in his own research Ray will explore what ways governing might be understood and enacted into the future whether globally, nationally, organisationally or at the level of programme or project. Some of the framing considerations for a new book will be explored (Diamonds are not Forever?); this is a collaboration with Ed Straw that emerged from the SCiO meeting in London in 2015.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Why universities are failing 5. The Kelsky critique

As recently reported in the Guardian Education, Karen Kelsky is a former acadmic turned job consultant for academics who has a very strong critique of particularly US universities where 75% of academic staff have no job security, health insurance or other work benefits.  She is a critic of privatisation and 'corporatisation' of Higher Education (HE) including "of how higher education has changed, including the financial burden on post-graduates". She goes on to say:

"Every country should adequately fund its institutions of higher education,” Kelsky says. The consequences of this lack of public moral purpose include reduced participation by people from disadvantaged backgrounds. “The most privileged institutions that serve the most privileged classes will survive. They have private endowments and funding models that are actually wealthier now than they were five years ago.”

While the UK may not be as far down the track of privatisation – or as she puts it the “vitriolic anti-intellectualism” – or suffering the outlandish student debt of the US, Kelsky warns that it is “stunningly far down the road” on what she calls “neoliberal productivity rubrics”. She means the REF, or Research Excellence Framework, the system used to assess UK academics’ “output”, which includes targets, for example, on the number of journal articles published.

“You can’t quantify academic productivity the way you can other kinds of productivity. You could point to countless people who probably wrote one book in their entire career but that book changed the way we think.”"

Clearly not all share the Kelsky critique as reponses to her article demonstrate.  This is clearly a systemic issue that warrants careful unpicking and interpretation.  I cannot help but feel that the proponents of HE reform, and thus what universities are becoming, engage in simplistic analysis and inadequate and uncritical boundary judgements re the 'system of interest'.  In part this claim can be gleaned by considering Aditya Chakrabortty's article (What the great degree rip-off means for graduates: low pay and high debt) and a critical response from former Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell.

In the UK the new Higher Education White Paper is out without, it has to be said, many ringing endorsements.  In the Guardian Opinion pages the writer notes:

"There is something hypocritical about this instrumentalist approach where the marketplace is to be the only judge. It may be true that the old idea, often persuasively advanced by the academic Stefan Collini, that the university is “a partly protected space in which the search for deeper and wider understanding takes precedence over all more immediate goals” cannot survive unscathed in a world where there is huge unmet demand for technically literate and numerate graduates to staff the knowledge economy. Yet, by sleight of hand, it seems Mr Johnson is promoting the latter for most students, while for a shrinking elite the old ideal quietly prospers. It is hard to see how the Office for Students, which will absorb the Office for Fair Access and the Higher Education Funding Council, will be able to shape the university landscape so that the small elite improves outreach to less privileged applicants. A new research and innovation body that has overall responsibility for the annual £6bn research budget will not reverse the trend towards its concentration in a shrinking number of universities. In years to come, most students will go to lower-status teaching-only colleges."

It thus needs to be asked what is 'the' university becoming such that it can be claimed to be failing...or not?

Post Card from Tanzania 3. Exotic weeds

The infestation of native vegetation by exotic weeds is a major systemic problem to many.  It is a global phenomenon associated with human-induced spread of species from one country or habitat to another as well as spread via other mechanisms. Some of the perceived problems have been many years in the making.  The Ngorongoro Crater and conservation area is not immune to this issue as the photos below testify.

Visually the main weed species during our visit was yellow flowered (see photos above) with a purpleish-flowered species seemingly problematic in some other areas (see photo with bull elephant). Whilst we were there staff were slashing the yellow weed - as can be seen from the boundary between the slashed and unslashed area in the photo with the lioness. 

Despite time spent searching on the web I have not been able to put a name to these two species. I wonder why? Our guide did not know their names either.  Thus I cannot say anything about their rate of spread, seriousness or whether slashing actually works in the long term. As with all attempts at control of weed species it is likely to be expensive.

 The species in the photos are clearly not the only ones of concern.  In the past Mexican Poppy (Argemone mexicana) has also been a problem as this World Heritage Site Report affirms:

" a prescribed burning programme has been put in place to reduce the spread of invasive weeds, with 400 ha successfully burnt in September 2005. A combination of manual removal, mowing and burning has also been applied to areas infested by the Mexican Poppy which is now reported to be eradicated from the Crater."

There was the odd poppy plant about but it seemed far from a major perhaps a success story?

Australia has its share of exotic weed 'problems' for which traditional approaches to improvement seem inadequate as this recent paper reports in relation to the weed serrated tussock. These researchers highlight:
  • Community-based, polycentric governance of invasive species control has potential to be more effective than traditional government-centred approaches.
  • Research was conducted to explore this potential with respect to the invasive weed Nassella trichotoma in New South Wales, Australia.
  • Lack of effective collective action is a more significant barrier to effective control of this species than lack of information.
  • Landholders are willing to participate in community-based serrated tussock management to improve the collective response to this problem.
  • Such an approach is feasible, and should complement rather than replace existing serrated tussock management approaches.
 Research such as this suggests that co-management models of weed problems in the Ngorongoro Conservation area are likely to be worth pursuing....if they are not already being done.

Postcard from Tanzania 2. The Maasai

What are the boundaries between legitimate inquiry-based tourism and exploitative voyeurism?  To date this has not been an issue I have had to deal with, but a 'scheduled visit' to a Maasai community on our recent trip brought these thoughts to the surface.  Today Maasai live from the outskirts of Arusha, through the agricultural lands approaching Manyara and then Ngorongoro, and especially the Ngorongoro  Conservation Area which extends westward from the crater to the boundary with the Serengeti National Park.

Having made the visit to a Maasai village and seen first hand how and where they live one is struck by the complexity yet sophistication of their culture.  At the same time they conserve some manners of living that are antithetical to emergent values in our own society, such as patriarchy and a high value on animal ownership (i.e., numbers) rather than, say productivity, or concerns for grazing pressure.  I learnt that sheep and goats are more lucrative than cattle, though culturally the latter are most important.  In the village we visited, five out of about 100 spoke English and only a similar number had received more then basic primary school education. On the other hand it is hard to imagine how, having moved from one world to an another, the two cutural trajectories (the Maasai and the 'global west') could be embodied in one individual, yet alone group.

These concerns are the subject of serious scholarship and the Maasai themselves. As noted in Wikipedia the "Maasai are pastoralist and have resisted the urging of the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. They have demanded grazing rights to many of the national parks in both countries."  There is also a good summary of the range of outside influences on Maasai life and culture:

"Maintaining a traditional pastoral lifestyle has become increasingly difficult due to outside influences of the modern world. Garrett Hardin's article, outlining the "tragedy of the commons", as well as Melville Herskovits' "cattle complex" helped to influence ecologists and policy makers about the harm Maasai pastoralists were causing to savannah rangelands. This concept was later proven false by anthropologists but is still deeply ingrained in the minds of ecologists and Tanzanian officials.[40] This influenced British colonial policy makers in 1951 to remove all Maasai from the Serengeti National Park and relegate them to areas in and around the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). The plan for the NCA was to put Maasai interests above all else, but this promise was never met. Due to an increase in Maasai population, loss of cattle populations to disease, and lack of available rangelands due to new park boundaries, the Maasai were forced to develop new ways of sustaining themselves. Many Maasai began to cultivate maize and other crops to get by, a practice that was culturally viewed negatively.[40] Cultivation was first introduced to the Maasai by displaced WaArusha and WaMeru women who were married to Maasai men; subsequent generations practiced a mixed livelihood. To further complicate their situation, in 1975 the Ngorongoro Conservation Area banned cultivation practices. In order to survive they are forced to participate in Tanzania’s monetary economy. They have to sell their animals and traditional medicines in order to buy food. The ban on cultivation was lifted in 1992 and cultivation has again become an important part of Maasai livelihood. Park boundaries and land privatisation has continued to limit grazing area for the Maasai and have forced them to change considerably".[41]

The situation of the Maasai is usefully understood as a 'wicked problem'; there are clearly no 'right answers but merely responses with fewer unintended systemic consequences.  The book Staying Maasai? Livelihoods, Conservation and Development in East African Rangelands  explores many of the systemic issues: 

"People, livestock and wildlife have lived together on the savannas of East Africa for millennia. Their coexistence has declined as conservation policies increasingly exclude people and livestock from national wildlife parks, and fast-growing human populations and development push wildlife and pastoralists onto ever more marginal lands. The result has been less wildlife, and more pastoral people struggling to diversify their livelihoods as access to pasture and water becomes harder to find. 

This book examines those livelihood and land use strategies in detail. In an integrated research effort that involved researchers, local communities and policy analysts, surveys were carried out across a wide range of Maasai communities providing contrasting land tenure and national policies and varying degrees of intensification of agriculture, tourism and other activities. The aim was to create a better understanding of current livelihood patterns and the decisions facing Maasai at the start of the 21st Century in the context of ongoing environmental, political, and societal change....... 

While livestock remains the critical anchor for most Maasai households, many are obtaining income from a variety of alternative sources. Unfortunately, income from wildlife/tourism, an option seen as most desirable by many because of its potential to provide economically and environmentally ‘win-win’ situations, still benefits relatively few Maasai. Similarly, although governments favor agricultural intensification, significant crop income or enhanced food security from subsistence cropping elude most."