Radio waves of subversion

Scholar 'disrupts hierarchy' and combines theory and practice live on air. Matthew Reisz listens in

May 26, 2011

Academics, argues Amber Jacobs, lecturer in psychosocial studies at Birkbeck, University of London, "should have many different voices, media and contexts".

Much of her work has been at the crossroads of philosophy, feminism and psychoanalysis. Yet however valuable such research, "there is always a danger of it becoming inward-looking and claustrophobic, so it's great to explore ideas in another register", she said. To that end, from now until the end of July she is hosting a weekly radio programme titled Daily Subversions.

The show, on Spectrum Radio, gives artists, activists and academics a chance to describe some of the bold and often amusing things they have done to "disrupt a power relation or a hierarchy, make the familiar strange, reveal hidden ideologies or inspire solidarity and resistance in the workplace and beyond".

The first episodes have heard from Tim Mathews of protest group UK Uncut, who argued that "getting out on the streets is a way of making democracy visible", and journalist Suzanne Moore, who spoke of embracing "the punk ideal of taking accepted things too far", such as scaring men by wearing "over-sexy" clothing. Another guest spoke of working as a shop assistant and how she always "forgot" to remove security tags from pornographic material, so alarm bells would ring as customers left.

Film-maker Melanie Light described her experiences in the horror business, where life on set meant seeing female characters being "killed, mutilated or raped on a daily basis". Her response was a short film called Switch (2009), "where a woman stabs a predator to death and cuts his head off. I wanted to do what the guys do - 'why can't I kill you for a change?'"

Lynne Segal, anniversary professor of psychology and gender studies at Birkbeck, recalled an era of "feminist subversions" when she and others forced themselves to speak up at meetings in order to challenge the notion that an assertive woman was an overassertive woman.

More recently, she said, she had subverted her own image of herself as someone "very heterosexually identified" by "beginning a lesbian relationship in late middle age".

None of this radio work, Dr Jacobs stressed, is divorced from her academic, political and intellectual pursuits, although she was delighted to have the chance "to disseminate ideas in more creative, spontaneous ways" and reach different audiences.

She has long had an academic interest in the ancient Greek concept of metis, or "cunning intelligence". It was marginalised by Plato and so largely suppressed, but brings together forms of disruptive action.

She is also fascinated by "resistance and transformation of the dominant order" and said that the climate of cuts "requires a different sort of intervention". Daily Subversions allows her to combine theory and practice, she added.

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