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Categories: education, language, peace

Alison Phipps

It is time to acknowledge that the seeds of violence are within all of us and if we become what we hate, we lose.

Alison Phipps is Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies at the University of Glasgow.
Her research interests focus on languages and intercultural studies, with a particular critical concern for the different ways in which people learn to live and communicate together by stepping outside comfortable or familiar contexts. She was in New Zealand as keynote speaker at the higher education conference – HERDSA, where she gave a talk entitled “When Learning is placed under Siege: Conflict, Creativity and Compassion in Higher Education”.

The more I try to do, the more I have no to do

We have to learn to live confessional lives, lives that still honour beauty, diversity, goodness and truth

How do we live when we have created the conditions of our own destruction? And what is the role of the university with that? To teach dispositions to live with that knowledge.

The place of learning is people

We have never been so educated as to be released our need to be dependent on the material. I’m inspired by the work of
Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu: we must reflect on the fact that the material conditions of our educational systems in Western Universities are based on the fact that we are not required to grow our own food and make our own clothes. And that led me to ask the question, and what would they look like if we were? And how might we grow and spin a university if it were. … the university is opening out from the days that it was theoretically an ivory tower – I’m not sure it ever has been an ivory tower but it certainly has been a place of the elite. We are now seeing universities setting up communities and projects (community gardens etc) and it is being changed by that – new knowledges are coming onto campus. This is very exciting as the university has to move its thinking around as people go to work in different communities.

(how much personal responsibility do we need to take). The critic and conscience of society applies to the university and the people with in it. The mantra ‘but there’s no alternative’ is far too easy. …invading Iraq…supermarkets…but actually there are alternatives being worked out all over the world by creative and courageous people., but often beginning in very small ways. I draw real hope from that. It’s important for me as an academic to try to live as an alternative, and to let people draw their own conclusions, and to decide for themselves to decide whether it is for them to live that alternative. I cannot live otherwise. But this was never a revolutionary action, yes I’ve been engaged in action all my life, but this wasn’t one huge enormous change, these were small steps. I wonder what life would be like if I didn’t have a car…? What would life be like if I filled by home with people who would otherwise be destitute…? There are no answers to these, but with anthropological training I know what can be learned from experience. So in a sense it is a new adventure to try and live in these ways and find out what can be learned. What I’m learning, perhaps is the beginnings of an art of forgiveness, compassion, and possibly humility.

(Am I an activist?). It’s a hard word, I’ve used it of myself, but I’ve always been a little shy of it. Maybe it is because I’m a bit of a poet – maybe there’s too many consonants in the word. I do. But I believe profoundly in solitude and rest and quiet. And the more I try and do, the more I know I have to not do. And those are very contradictory dynamics. But I think I discover when I have been very active and moving very much, but it is important to sit and stop and think – watch and take stock and be restored by what is around me. So yes I do and yes I don’t consider myself to be an activist.

(would your students describe you as an activist? Stanley Fish, critical thinking and nothing else). Critical thinking is not enough. If we really are going to create the conditions for action in whatever the world presents us, and we are going to do it with a degree of dignity, and in a way that we acknowledge that we are bound together, and that we are wholly dependent one on the other, then it is about more than thought – it is about action. I would profoundly come back to the work of Paulo Freire and the work of bell hooks – it’s about love.
When anger can become all consuming, it is time for me to take some time out, to go to the garden to sit on a rock.

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