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New Public Thinkers and Daily Inspirations

I’ve been meaning for a while to write a post about the people who daily inspire and inform me, after Dougald Hine launched a new personal website with a generous long list of people who do that for him. I was about to do that when he contacted some of us in his very particular urbane mode of ‘high dudgeon’ about a call from Radio 3 for a new generation of public thinkers. His dudgeon was that to be nominated you must be from a university. In response he has launched a….thing, called New Public Thinkers. Given the big shake-up (or destructive commercialisation, call it what you will) of the UK university sector at the moment, it is an excellent time to be boosting the thinkers and thinking networks that provide a university for the commons. I was just looking up the origin of universities and saw that the first one was in India, devoted to Buddhism, fine arts, politics and more. That seems appropriate. I like it too as we’ve just incorporated Flow Education and Culture Consultants in India, aiming to promote open culture and learning for good.

But back home in the UK, where I am now looking out on the snow (not quite ‘deep and crisp and even’) I’m desperately worried about the effects of the cuts on publicly-supported cultural learning in universities, schools, museums and libraries. I found it hard to afford academic study after my first degree. I don’t know if my daughter will be able to afford university. Or, even if we can afford the fees, in 8 years time will any British university provide the kind of illumination I would wish her to experience, as I did through exposure to amazing critical minds like Marcia Pointon and Homi Bhaba?

Terry Eagleton comments in today’s Guardian: “What we have witnessed in our own time is the death of universities as centres of critique. Since Margaret Thatcher, the role of academia has been to service the status quo, not challenge it in the name of justice, tradition, imagination, human welfare, the free play of the mind or alternative visions of the future.”

I believe we must all learn and teach each other, to help resist this dereliction to the notion of university as a public good. So, I’m happy to support Dougald’s call for alternatives. Not to create a sort of alternative club, or to exclude people who do work within universities, or to make some people feel miffed that they weren’t nominated. I want to support it so that we can build a mutual generous network, appreciating others for their inspiration, challenging them to teach us more, to learn more for themselves.

So, first I’m going to follow Dougald’s example and name lots of people that daily inspire me via Twitter and their blogs, or in conversations. There are many more I may add over time. Then at the end you’ll see my whittling down to three, selected by being in the UK, too unknown and in the area that needs most public debate: facing the challenges of environmental sustainability. I’m not explaining each person but do click on their profile and investigate them.

So, on sustainability, on facing a difficult future and imagining a new one: Dougald himself, Vinay Gupta (@leashless), John Thackara (as in Doors of Perception and @johnthackara), Jody Boehnert (@ecolabs), Indy Johar (@indy_johar) and Johann Hari (@johannhari101), Andrew Simms (@andrewsimms_nef), Polly Higgins (@pollyhiggins and @thisisecocide), Caroline Lucas (@carolinelucas) and Tom Crompton (@valuingnature)

On digital strategy, open culture and the public good: Paul Clarke (@paul_clarke), Nick Poole (@NickPoole1), Mike Ellis (@M1ke_Ellis), Mia Ridge (@mia_out), Jeremy Ottevanger (@jottevanger), Ross Parry (@rossparry) and Mark O’Neill (@marxculture). And outside the UK, Mike Pedson (@mpedson), Seb Chan (@sebchan) and Madanmohan Rao (@madanrao).

Artists and facilitators of creativity: Alana Jelinek, James Aldridge (@jamesaldridge4), David Barrie (@davidbarrie), Andrew Nairne (@artsthink), John Hartley (@johntonta) and so many more that this needs a post of its own.

Some more interdisciplinary people, who think about culture, learning and well-being: Fred Garnett (@fredgarnett), Nicola Triscott (@theartscatalyst), Tony Butler (@tonybutler1), Pat Kane (@theplayethic) and Anthony McCann.

And I couldn’t fail to mention my fellow co-directors Mark Stevenson (@optimistontour), Eliza Hilton (@ElizaHilton76) and Katherine Rose (@kathbrose). I could do another post on all our amazing associates but I will just mention one: Michael Jenkins.

So, my three nominees are Polly Higgins, Vinay Gupta and John Hartley.

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  1. Janet E Davis
    December 18, 2010 at 10:42 am | #1

    Interesting post.
    I notice that your list of thinkers are tweeters too.
    One of the things that I especially appreciate about the Internet is being able to retain some dialogue with those in acadaemia.
    The real new thinking is the daily dialogue that crosses some of the boundaries, the connections between ideas and issues that initially appear totally different. I have always been interested in science as well as arts, in popular and high culture, in how people think and interact. The Social Web enables me to observe, learn and participate in discussions with a wonderful mix of interesting people.
    However, we are just the people who have some level of ease about communicating openly, using digital technology. I also still to talk to offline people, and to random strangers at bus stops, in coffee bars, on trains etc who do not (or rarely) use the Social Web. I try to remember that we on Twitter (and other social media channels) are just a small minority who have one strand of thought in common – that the Social Web is a useful communication channel.

  2. Deborah Danowski
    December 18, 2010 at 1:35 pm | #2

    I think it is worth quoting this from J.M. Coetzee (in Diary of a Bad Year):

    “It was always a bit of a lie that universities were self-governing institutions. Nevertheless, what universities suffered during the 1980s and 1990s was pretty shameful, as under threat of having their funding cut they allowed themselves to be turned into business enterprises, in which professors who had previously carried on their enquiries in sovereign freedom were transformed into harried employees required to fulfil quotas under the scrutiny of professional managers. Whether the old powers of the professoriat will ever be restored is much to be doubted.”

    And a bit further on:

    “In the days when Poland was under the Communist rule, there were dissidents who conducted night classes in their homes, running seminars on writers and philosophers excluded from the official canon (for example, Plato). No money changed hands, though there may have been other forms of payment. If the spirit of the university is to survive, something along those lines may have to come into being in countries where tertiary education has been wholly subordinated to business principles. In other words, the real university may have to move into people’s homes and grant degrees for which the sole backing will be the names of the scholars who sign the certificates.”

  3. December 19, 2010 at 8:41 am | #3

    Hay, many thanks for this mention! May I add that I, too, do this tweet thing: @johnthackara

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