UEL suspends 'Mr Mayhem' and cancels alternative G20

Event scrapped as academic lands in hot water over media comments. Melanie Newman reports

April 2, 2009

An alternative G20 summit at the University of East London was cancelled this week after security concerns and the suspension of its principal organiser.

Chris Knight, chairman of the Docklands branch of the University and College Union at UEL, was suspended on charges of bringing the institution into disrepute over public comments he made about the likelihood of violence during the anti-capitalist protests in London.

Billed in the media as "Mr Mayhem", the professor of anthropology at UEL was the key figure behind the alternative summit, which was due to take place on 1 April, the day before the G20 Summit of world leaders at the nearby ExCel Centre.

UEL said its primary responsibility was to maintain a "safe and secure campus environment".

Professor Knight told Times Higher Education that his suspension related to an article published in the London Evening Standard last week. It quoted him saying that he wanted to "harness the rage" of social action groups, and that while he did not advocate violence against people, he was "not too bothered about damage to property".

At the UEL premises, from which he has been banned, he spoke of plans to occupy the university.

"Nobody messes with the union," he said, adding: "I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb."

Professor Knight is a founder member of the Radical Anthropology Group, which builds on the theories contained in his book Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture (1991).

The book challenges the theory of French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss that culture emerged after early human males agreed to exchange females according to custom instead of taking them by force.

Professor Knight argued that females forced males to honour a social contract by collectively going on sex "strike" for two weeks each month - the result of synchronised menstruation cycles - providing sex in exchange for food and shelter. This allowed males to hunt without fear that in their absence rivals would impregnate their women.

"All this happened 130,000 years ago in sub-Saharan Africa," Professor Knight said. "The sex strike was the first mass strike action in history and culminated in the human revolution, which produced language, consciousness and culture."

Hunter-gatherer societies such as the Hadza, who live in Tanzania's Rift Valley, still arrange their lives according to a fortnightly lunar cycle, and Professor Knight said that Western society should adopt this model.

"Across the planet we've got one lot of people working all the hours God sends and another lot who are unemployed or not part of the economy. If we all went on strike for two weeks, employers would have to employ double the number of people. We would all work to a nice, slow rhythm of two weeks in work, two weeks out of work."

The prevailing global economic crisis could lead to a second "human revolution", he suggested.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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