Saturday, 31 July 2010

Ruth Rikowski's 41st News Update

I hope you are enjoying the summer. In one way or another, there always seems to be quite a lot going on in my life, and I can only ever really report on some of it. So, anyway, here are some of the latest highlights from me below.

I received a lovely, unexpected email ‘out of the blue’ from Dr. Victoria Perselli, Chair of Programme Directors, Education Doctorate and Course Director, MA Education (English Language Teaching), School of Education at Kingston University, inviting me to give a Keynote Speech at Kingston. Giving a Keynote will be a first for me, so is obviously special and something that I am excited about.

My talk will be in mid-September, 2010 and will be entitled ‘Information Technology: a form of liberation for females?’ I will look briefly at the traditional computing industry, which is very male-dominated, and then consider whether specific areas of IT can provide a new form of liberation for females; and in particular, whether social networking tools can help in this regard. I will argue that whilst these tools are useful they need to be used with care and they do not necessarily empower females; instead, they can even help to create new levels of vulnerability and can be time-wasting. Rather, females need to be more pro-active in general. I will then look briefly at the Feminist Library in London and drawing on my forthcoming book on digitisation, will argue that in order to preserve this wonderful collection the digitisation of some of this material could prove to be highly advantageous.

Our eldest son, Alexander Rikowski recently obtained a 2:1 for his Philosophy degree at King’s College, London, which we were obviously all delighted about. He worked very hard for it; it was a very demanding degree, with weekly essays and involved reading the raw material of many of the great philosophers. Also, most of the other students there had been to public school, so came from very different and privileged backgrounds compared to Alex; so he had that to handle as well. Alex thought that these people were definitely being groomed specifically to enter into the upper class/upper-middle class. Interestingly, Alexander got his best mark (69%) in Marxism. In particular, he has worked out some ground-breaking and very important ideas in regard to justice; but more about that on another occasion.

Meanwhile, our middle son, Victor, got a good upper second overall at the end of his second year at Bangor University, working towards his degree in Music and Creative Writing there. He also got Firsts in courses on Music Composition and Creative Writing for Children; so that was all great, and once again, demonstrates the extent and range of his artistic and creative ability.

Finally, my second cousin Neil Whitehead (who designed our ‘Flow of Ideas’ website – got a Double Distinction for his Foundation Degree in Photography at Southampton University, so he is safely through to the degree programme! He is also already planning to self-publish his second book – showing great initiative for someone that is just embarking on a first degree, I think.

For the last few months I have become very passionate about dancing (something that I have always loved but have not taken quite so seriously before). But now, I am determined to learn many of the steps properly. So, believe it or not, I am now learning ballroom, sequence, salsa and argentine tango dancing. It has, and continues to be, truly wonderful!
Anyway, a few weeks ago, someone at one of the dances noted that I was writing something down, and came over and asked me if I was a writer. To cut a long story short, having established that I was indeed a writer, he then asked me if I would help him with some of his own writing, offering to pay me for this. This assignment has now been successfully completed. Which now leads me on to say that if others are interested in me working for them on this basis (in whatever writing/editing/publishing capacity), then please do feel free to get in touch, and we can explore the possibilities together!

There are four new items up on my ‘Serendipitous Moments’ blog: 3 items about some events in our local community which we not only went to but were involved with and one book review. The 3 local events were: the Forest Gate Carnival, the Big Lunch and Forest Roots. The choir that I am in, Forest Voices sang at both the ‘Forest Gate Carnival’ and ‘Forest Roots’ and our son Victor, played acoustic guitar and sang at both the ‘Big Lunch’ and ‘Forest Roots’. The Forest Roots event was a first for Victor; he has played at lots of venues in Bangor, North Wales (both with his band and on his own), but it was the first time that he had performed solo to a musically-appreciative community-based London audience. He played one of his own compositions, ‘Today’ (which he composed just the day before) and a country and western song ‘Choices’ by George Jones, from the album ‘Cold Hard Truth’. There were many different musical acts throughout the evening at ‘Forest Roots’, with the main act being the band ‘Acoustica’ – all very enjoyable.

The book review is a short one of a bestselling novel, ‘Highland Fling’ by Katie Fforde, which I found to be a pleasant read.

Having completed his interviews with progressive librarians in various parts of the world, Al Kagan, African Studies Bibliographer and Professor of Library Administration Africana Collections and Services at the University of Illinois Library is now hoping to bring about a third international meeting for progressive library organisations. He is currently pooling ideas and I wish him every success with this worthwhile project.

Below is another news items kindly sent to me by Jia Liu (who likes to be known as Jessica (following on from 2 news items from her in my last newsletter, No. 40, in item 4). This news item focuses on a professional discussion that she had with Professor Elmar Mittler.

Recently I visited Professor Elmar Mittler, my former supervisor when I implemented a research project with the fellowship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, in the historical building of the Göttingen University and Lower-Saxony State Library (SUB Göttingen).

Prof. Elmar Mittler ( had been the director of SUB Göttingen from 1990 to 2006. Before that he had been the director of the Heidelberg University Library and the Bad State Library in Karlsruhe. The deepest impression I have had about him was his open mind and kind attitude. With his leadership, SUB Göttingen has been one of the biggest research libraries all over the world and he has a very high reputation in the worldwide library circle. Though he retired in 2006, obviously he’s still been very energetic and active in a variety of fields. During our last meeting, I invited him to talk a little on several points. This is what he said:

“ “ Activities for the time being
In respect of librarianship, I’m currently the chairman of the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL,, which is aimed at promoting Europe's cultural heritage in manuscript and print. On the one hand, it develops the database, the Heritage of the Printed Book in Europe, c. 1450 - c. 1830, a database of records from major European and North American research libraries. Also, it develops services and tools. The CERL Thesaurus provides multi-lingual information about names of persons and places found in catalogues of books of the hand-press period. And the CERL Portal offers cross-searching of catalogues of European manuscript materials, with the option to search selected early-printed books databases. So far 30 European libraries have been involved in CERL.

In the meantime, I give lectures on the book history in the Department of History of the Göttingen University. My main interest is how historians take advantage of modern techniques in the virtual research environment. I focus on the book heritage and book database. I teach in the Department of Book Science of the University of Mainz as well.

Cooperation with libraries of the United Kingdom

In addition to cooperating with some libraries of the United Kingdom within the activities of CERL, the Göttingen University Library collaborates on LIBER (Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche, in English, Association of European Research Libraries, at URL with some English leading academic research libraries. The Göttingen University Library plays the leading role in these two organisations. I had been the president of LIBER for 4 years and now my successor continues the work.

On the other hand, the other European project my successor is running is (, the platform providing open access to scholarly information.

Cooperation between your library and Chinese libraries
In the last two years, the Göttingen University Library had cooperation with the Shanghai Library. In the meantime, our library takes part in information exchange with Chinese libraries. This activity is mainly driven by the German National Library of Science / Technology and University Library Hannover (Technische Informationsbibliothek / Universitätsbibliothek Hannover, TIB Hannover). The main field related is nature science.

Current status of the German libraries
German libraries have the same financial problem[1]. The background is that the price of the science journal increases but the library budget keeps the same as before. There is no difference between the staff cost and the maintaining cost and they belong to one budget. Under the case that the whole budget shrinks, in order to keep the maintaining cost, the library director has to reduce the personnel. The libraries are really under great pressure and such situations started about 6 years ago in Germany.

On the other hand, German research libraries get additional funding these years. The German students began to pay the tuition, some part of which is used to maintain and develop the library. A part of the tuitions has been taken advantage by the Göttingen University Library to provide longer service time. Besides, there are some investment programmes of the government to support the library. The additional funding is used to refresh the new building of the Göttingen University Library. That’s the similar situation in other German libraries. “ “

7. MICHAEL WILBY – WINNER OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAY PRIZE 2010: ‘THE SIMPLICITY OF MUTUAL KNOWLEDGE’ Michael Wilby, a former A-level philosophy student of Glenn Rikowski’s (in the early 1990s) at Epping Forest College, won the Philosophical Essay Prize, 2010, for his essay on ‘The Simplicity of Mutual Knowledge’. Upon leaving Epping Forest College, Michael went on to obtain a degree in philosophy and then a PhD from the University of York, and he now teaches at Anglia Ruskin University, on the Cambridge campus. We were obviously delighted to find out about Michael winning this prize and wish him every success in the future. Michael is the son of the famous journalist, Peter Wilby, columnist of the Sunday Observer and the Guardian, and former editor of the Independent on Sunday and the New Statesman.

Some of my family went to see the newly released film ‘Inception’ recently, which they thoroughly enjoyed. What was particularly exciting for Glenn though was that his friend Howard Scarr from undergraduate university days, (they played in a regressive band called ‘Wavering on Ether’ along with Vincent Woodward and Derek Roche, at the University of East Anglia), did the synthesiser programming for the music in the film, working with Hans Zimmer in the process. Glenn said that the music was powerful and intense and really made the film tick. Howard went on to become a member of England’s first all-synthesiser band, ‘Zorch’, which came back to the University of East Anglia (UEA) to perform in 1976 (where we saw them play). See Zorch at MySpace:

Glenn spotted in the Guardian (EducationGuardian, 20th July 2010, p. 9) an article about the sociologist Dr Karen Throsby, from Warwick University. ‘So what?’, you might well ask. Well, Karen used to be a neighbour of ours, and then by a total coincidence, she went to work at Warwick University with Glenn Rikowski’s good friend, Mike Neary. The article ‘Blue Seas Thinking’ by Chris Arnot, looks at Karen’s research which explores what motivates people to engage in extreme sports such as Channel swimming. Karen has obtained funding from the Economic and Social Research Council in order to undertake this research. She herself enjoys swimming long distances and says that it is relaxing and ‘empties the mind’. I love swimming, but do not think I would at all enjoy long distance swimming. Anyway, we wish Karen every success with her research.

In my previous newsletter (No. 40), item 9 focused on the utilitarian philosopher, J.S. Mill. In this item, I referred to the benefit to be gained from the clarity of thought and communication, and remarked on the fact that J.S. Mill was particularly good in this regard. Also, that he was assisted in this process by his wife Harriet Taylor. In this news item I would like to explore this a little more.

I am of the opinion that the fact that Mill was a child prodigy and that he had to think so deeply and intensely from such a young age, must have helped him in the long-run to improve the style and clarity of his writing. Mill had a mental breakdown when he was just 20 years old, following on from his rigorous childhood upbringing. This must have resulted in him having to rethink his whole way of thinking and of expressing himself quite radically in various ways, I would have thought, the result of which led to his having greater clarity of thought, and also probably assisted with his production of beautiful, enticing and pleasant writing. This feel for his writing was what came across to me very powerfully when I first read his work as an undergraduate.

Now, a talent and ability like this can be very under-estimated, I think. We can take it all too much for granted; it all seems so obvious. But the person has probably gone through a lot of pain; a lot of deep and complex thought-processes, grappling with complicated topics, in order to arrive at what can then seem to be a simple conclusion and outcome; whilst also perhaps creating something beautiful. After all, J.S. Mill’s philosophy has been the bedrock of western democracy in many ways, but few people really clearly recognise this as such (most everyday people do not really appreciate where much of it comes from). It has just all become embedded in the bedrock of our society. In this way, Marx probably gets more credit than Mill actually. Whilst I think, obviously, that Marxism in the long-term is the most effective way forward; we clearly need to analyse capitalism and then move beyond it, at some point. But meanwhile, Mill has helped to make the world that we currently inhabit far more pleasant and tolerable. Also, many philosophers really write quite badly when it comes to style and clarity (take Kant and Aristotle, as examples), and Mill really stands out as someone very different; as someone that cares about his readers and the experiences they are having. Indeed, such writing is an art form in itself.

Similarly, I also aim to write clearly and to give readers something of the ‘feel good’ factor when I write. I now think that this can also probably be partly explained by the fact that, like Mill, I also had to think so very maturely as a child. But also like Mill, this can mean that my work is not always appreciated as much perhaps as I would like it to ideally be (both for my own satisfaction and for the long-term benefit of society at large). In my first book, on globalisation, for example, I grappled with many very deep and complex issues. Once I had sorted these out I was then able to explain these issues fairly simply and clearly to my readers. But then, some people rather than appreciating what I had done just seemed to think that it was all very obvious really; indeed, that perhaps I had even been repeating myself in parts (this became apparent from some of the book reviews). Heavens! Marx was also sometimes criticised for repeating himself; but that is because capitalism is circular and mad in so many ways, so in our efforts to explain it all, we can indeed, sometimes seem to be going round in circles. But rather what we really witness is a genius endeavouring to deal with something very complex.

So, people who develop important new theories can often summarise the main theories/conclusions simply; perhaps, in just a couple of lines. Others can then say, ‘well that is easy – what is all the big fuss about?’, without appreciating the pain, struggles, work and depth of thought that the person has gone through to arrive at this ‘oh so simple conclusion’. So, as and when some of us do develop new theories, we need to be careful about how we handle and present them to the world, I think. This is something that I am very mindful of these days.

Meanwhile, thinking about this further and building on the work of Wittgenstein, we should remember that the purpose of language is to communicate and understand each other, and within this we use different words and concepts to convey meaning in order to arrive at the same conclusion. The important thing is that we understand each other. So, for example, Existentialism means that ‘existence precedes essence’. But some will say, ‘well, what on earth does that mean?’ So, then we need to offer a simpler and clearer explanation. Whilst others might say that existentialism means ‘freedom and responsibility’. But this could be interpreted as being quite right-wing; this would then have to be explained in more depth. The existentialist, Sartre, for example, was after all, very left-wing. And so these are the sorts of problems that we can come up against and why we need to be mindful of the people that we are conversing with and remember that we communicate in order to effectively understand each other. And coming full circle, Mill was brilliant at this.

Making something that involves a lot of hard work and/or heart ache appear afterwards to be easy, can apply to many areas of course, and not just to writing. It can apply to organising a successful music gig, for example, or to the beautiful decorating of a house. We do not always want to go into details about the mundane effort undertaken in order to arrive at the beautiful outcome; rather, sometimes we just want people to enjoy and celebrate the finished result. And on that note, I will end this section.

As part of the Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (CLTHE), that I studied for a couple of years ago at London South Bank University, we had to give a talk that was observed by half a dozen other people (both fellow student-teachers and teachers) and we received feedback on our performances. The presentations were also videoed. Now seems an appropriate time to inform subscribers about this video, and the fact that it has now been made available on the Information for Social Change website – see

In my talk, I drew on some of the material from my book, ‘Globalisation, Information and Libraries’; and considered, in particular, the terms ‘Globalisation’ and ‘Internationalism’, in themselves. In addition, I delivered the presentation through the interactive lecture approach. This involved inviting participation from the audience as I was giving my talk.

Prior to this, I had been asked on a number of occasions by George Bell to give some guest lectures to masters students (on the MBA and International courses) on the topic of globalisation at South Bank. I related this to the term ‘Internationalism’, which was the term that George had been using, trying to obtain funding on this topic. The understanding was that, through giving these guest lectures (which were on a variety of topics and proved to be both demanding and time-consuming, albeit also enjoyable), that I would then be integrated into the masters programme, but this never came about (at least, so far, to date it has not come about)! The topics I spoke on included: ‘Globalisation’; ‘Leadership in the New Economy’; ‘MBA: the way forward – what next?’; ‘Knowledge Management and the Knowledge Revolution’; ‘Knowledge Transfer’ and ‘Knowledge Management across Cultures’. In regard to my lecture about possible ways forward for the MBA, for example, I suggested that it could prove to be highly beneficial if ‘hot topics’ such as globalisation, knowledge management and the knowledge revolution, IT and transferring knowledge across cultures were clearly incorporated into the MBA programme. The students found my lectures very interesting and seemed to be very pleased indeed excited, to be engaging with a published author. Also, many of them, like me, approached the topics from a left-wing, critical stance, which I found to be very heartening.

Many thanks to Jessica (Jia Liu) for providing information for item 6.

Best wishes


30th July 2010

[1] The problem means that since the budget of the Canadian libraries was reduced, the personnel had to be shrunk again and again.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Ruth Rikowski's 40th News Update

Well, the weather in London recently has certainly been lovely – reminded us of when we went to Rhodes 2 years ago! I wonder how long it will last; still enjoy it while we can. Our youngest, Gregory Rikowski, has just celebrated his 21st Birthday. Goodness – so, now they are all ‘fully-fledged adults’, as they say. So, anyway, in the throws of mid-summer, here is the latest from me below.

We received a lovely email ‘out of the blue’ from the British Library (BL), saying that they would like to archive our ‘Flow of Ideas’ website. As you can imagine, we were very delighted about this, as it means that hopefully, our website will be preserved over time, and will not be disappearing through changes in companies, technologies, decision-making and policies (which was what happened to our AOL blogs).

The British Library web archiving programme selects and archive sites to represent aspects of UK documentary heritage. These websites will then remain available to researchers in the future. It works closely with leading UK institutions to collect and permanently preserve the UK web. The BL archive can be seen at

As the British Library say this means that selected website owners have an historical record of their websites, and it aims “ develop preservation mechanisms to keep your publication permanently accessible as hardware and software change over time.”

Various quality insurance checks are currently taking place on our website, but soon all-being-well our website (along with my blog) will be added to the archive and made available to the public through the British Library archive website. I will keep you informed of progress.

Tony Ward, one of the contributors to my forthcoming, edited book Perspectives on Digitisation, came and visited us a couple of weeks ago, which was lovely. It was the first time that Tony had been to the UK for many years! Tony was born here in the UK, then went to work as an academic in the USA (at the University of California, Berkeley); and then on to New Zealand (at the Auckland University). He has had a very interesting and eventful life, and it was good talking to him and finding out lots more about it all.

Tony’s background is in architecture, but he moved into the area of critical pedagogy some years ago, and of course, that is where we overlap and have some common interests.
At Auckland University Tony directed the Commuity Design Studio for 20 years, working with marginalised communities, on areas connected with social equity across cultural boundaries. Much of his work in New Zealand has been with the Maori community. Tony has recently completed a year, working as a Wiepking Distinguished Visiting Professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, USA.

Tony has a website (, which is a free educational resource with downloadable essays, articles and projects. He is also currently writing a book on The Ward Method of creative consensus-building and social transformation. In addition, he circulates a newsletter.

We informed Tony about some other academics/friends of ours that are involved with critical pedagogy in the UK, and we look forward to continued fruitful discussions and communication with Tony and others in the future, on these and other related important matters.

There are 5 new items up on my Serendipitous Moments blog; two events and three book reviews. The events were: the Folk Festival at Leigh-on-Sea, and Janet Daniels Open Garden. The book reviews and reflections were on Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre and Past Secrets by Cathy Kelly.

Janet Daniels lives near to us, and her garden is truly amazing – never seen anything like it before. And the Folk Festival at Leigh-on-Sea was wonderful – singing and dancing all day. At the two events I took some photos and these are also on my blog. In regard to the books, Past Secrets was another best-seller, but Nausea and The Age of Reason saw me going back into classical-reading mode. The Age of Reason, a very important book, addresses the issue of trying to marry up Existentialism with Marxism (a difficult, if not impossible task), and Nausea addresses the issue of how important it is to have direction in life; to avoid going round in circles, and indeed, feel sickened by ourselves. I think it is wonderful that Sartre could see the value of writing both fiction and non-fiction in this way; presumably he must have decided that certain philosophical issues can be addressed better and more effectively through fiction than non-fiction.

Another contributor to my digitisation book, Dr Jia Liu (who likes to be known as ‘Jessica’) sent me 2 items for inclusion in my newsletter; one of the items is in regard to her professional work and the other is about Verena, her lovely little baby girl.

Jessica’s two news items are below.

Online Presentation for the Zhongsan University
Recently I was invited to release an online presentation to the graduate students of the Department of Information Management, Zhongsan University, China. The topic was my research supported by the Alexander von Humboldt (AvH) Foundation, the world famous institution aiming at promoting the international academic communications and cooperation between German and foreign scientists. The Foundation maintains a network of more than 24,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in over 130 countries worldwide - including 43 Nobel Prize winners and so far only one of them is majored in library. The presentation was given on the platform supported with Elluminate Live! (, a virtual environment optimized for learning. This was actually the first time for me to use such networked learning suite and the experience was really fresh to me. Later my former colleague of the Peking University told me that the Peking University has already supplied such software to the instructors of the university and some of them have taken advantage of it for teaching. Doubtlessly the online education is becoming one of the main types of instruction all over the world.

Baby Meeting
Our family and two families of Su (my husband)’s colleagues had another meeting (in German, Babytreffen). The common thing of we three families is that each of us has a baby and all the babies (Alina, Mark and Verena) were born around September 2008. The director of the Physics Institute, Goettingen University, Professor Samwer, even took the birth of these three babies as the top news of the institute of 2008. It’s well known that nowadays few German families would like to give birth to a baby. That’s why the German population has declined for years. The first baby meeting happened not long before Christmas of 2008. I just brought my baby Verena from Toronto to Germany to settle down with her dad. During that meeting, all three babies were held by their mothers and fed twice with the breast milk. Occasionally one baby burst out of tears possibly because he or she just wanted to have some attention and soon another babies followed. This time the babies have been 21 or 22 months old and they had been busy in playing on the ground by themselves. It was interesting that Alina and Mark seemed to have no interest playing with other babies and they only needed their parents’ attention every now and then. Only Verena went to the other babies and tried to communicate with them but got no reply. My poor baby! Hopefully in the next meeting the babies could react well with each other. On the morning next to the latest meeting Kasten, Alina’s dad, put a photo of the three little ones on the poster wall in the Institute and proudly wrote some words about their growth there. Prof. Samwer might also, perhaps, smile if he could see the three lovely standing babies.”

And here is a picture of Jessica’s lovely little baby girl, Verena.

Some Biographical information about Jessica
Jessica has been an Associate Professor at the Department of Information Management, Peking University, Beijing, China. From 2004 until 2006, she had been a Research Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH Foundation), Germany. During that period, hosting in the Lower-saxony State and Goettingen University Library, she implemented a project on the subject of metadata and its applications in the digital library. Later, with two resumed fellowships from the AvH Foundation, she conducted two other projects on digital reference service in Germany. After that, as a Visiting Scholar, she visited the Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto, Canada. Her main research interests are metadata, digital library and digital reference services. Jessica is the author of Metadata and Its Applications in the Digital Library, Libraries Unlimited, USA, 2007 and Evaluation of the World-Wide Reference Service in the Libraries, Chandos Publishing: Oxford, 2007.

John Pateman and John Vincent have a new book coming out in the autumn with Ashgate Publishing, entitled ‘Public Libraries and Social Justice’.
978-0-7546-7714-7 (hdbk); c. £40.00 It will also be available as an eBook
ISBN 978-0-7546-9432-8, see:

This is what it says in the information that is being circulated:

“The need for public libraries to tackle social exclusion and engage in social justice becomes ever more urgent as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, and the very survival of public libraries in the heart of the community is open to debate.

If public libraries are to develop and grow in the future and become relevant to the majority of their local communities, then they need to abandon outmoded concepts of ‘excellence’ and fully grasp the ‘equity’ agenda. This book examines the historical background to social exclusion and the strategic context in terms of government and professional policy. The authors propose a compelling manifesto for change and outline practical ways in which public libraries can be
transformed into needs-based services.”

The book includes an historical view of social exclusion, how to tackle social exclusion, developing a needs-based library service and where to go next.

Alistair Black, Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA has this to say about the book:

“Created a century and a half ago by the middle classes partly for their own use, the public library has nonetheless from the start professed itself to be the servant of the social whole. However, although over successive generations it has catered
well for a traditional auto-didactic working-class clientele, the public library has been less successful in addressing the needs of those at the margins of both society and social opinion. In light of this historical legacy as well as the ongoing diversification of society, Pateman and Vincent’s call to prioritise the social-justice purpose of the public library is not only appropriate but also timely’.”

I wish John Pateman and John Vincent all the very best with their forthcoming book.

MERD XIII on the theme of ‘Latin America and Education’ will take place on July 24th 2010, from 10.30 – 4.30, at the Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, WC1, in the Drama Studio.

The following papers have been confirmed:

‘Education for the Creation of a New Venezuela’
Dr Francisco Dominguez (Head of the Centre for Brazilian and Latin American Studies, and secretary of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign)

‘The Bolivarian Revolution, Twenty-first Century Socialism and Counter-hegemonic Education in Venezuela’
Prof. Mike Cole (Centre for Education for Social Justice, Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln)

‘Nicaragua’s “Participative Education Revolution”: Development and the ALBA Education Space’
Dr Thomas Muhr, (Centre for Globalisation, Education and Societies, University of Bristol)

The seminar is free but places are limited. To reserve a place email:

Convenors: Tony Green and Alpesh Maisuria

Glenn Rikowski is on the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Illich Studies.
The journal is an open access interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal “dedicated to engaging the thought and writing of Ivan Illich and his circle.” It welcomes contributions that “intersects with the wide range of Illich’s ideas, or that represent a version of the social critique for which he became famous on matters such as modern developmentalism, industrialized ‘progress’, institutional bureacratization, the heuristic role played by historical consciousness, the moral life, and/or the privatization/publicization of the lay commons.”

Illich’s book on ‘Deschooling’, in particular
had a powerful effect on me when I read it as an undergraduate. I remember thinking that it was a bit extreme, but never-the-less that it made many good points.

Of course, the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death has now been and gone. I tried not to think about it too much; I got just so upset last year! I have noticed though, that several people recently have been looking at my Michael Jackson article, which is on our website –
Let’s just hope that it will make a few people think!

Some while ago, ‘Jackopedia’ ( said that I had written a ‘great Michael Jackson article’. So, that was nice. ‘Jackopedia’ (a wikki) is the only online encyclopedia and community dedicated to Michael Jackson.

I also recently watched the Michael Jackson film ‘This Is It’ on DVD, which of course, consists of clippings from the rehearsals for his planned 50 ‘This Is It’ London concerts. I was quite loathe to do this for some while, as I thought it was somehow yet another way of exploiting him. Instead, society should have been looking further into how he died (which was basically the result of so many wanting a ‘piece of him’). But no – instead once again, money was made out of him. The cruelness of capitalism in its raw extremities (also without a truly loving and caring family) knows no bounds, it seems.

Anyway, in the end, I decided to watch ‘This Is It’; me not watching it wasn’t going to change anything. It was amazing; sensational; one could never have seen from that, that he was about to die. The concerts would certainly have been spectacular. I guess Michael Jackson was probably just too full of drugs which had become necessary to keep him going throughout it all, did not have enough sleep and did not eat enough. He should never have had to endure such a rigorous regime.

Still, what it said on the blurb on the back of the DVD was nice:

“In raw and candid detail, MICHAEL JACKSON’S THIS IS IT captures the singer, dancer, filmmaker, architect, creative genius and great artist at work as he creates and perfects his planned final London shows.”

What happened to Michael Jackson got me thinking a bit more about child prodigies. Well, that and talking specifically to my eldest son Alexander, about the philosopher J. S. Mill. Mill is a philosopher that I have liked and admired, since my undergraduate days. I particularly really enjoyed reading his book, Utilitarianism. As well as conveying many important and worthwhile messages, the book also in itself gave me a good and happy feeling; which was what his utilitarian philosophy was about anyway – ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’. It was also very well-written of course. So, strange that it had this immediate effect on me, on such a personal basis and at such a young age. I felt that whilst Marxism was so right on such a deep level; his work was very complex and difficult, and also that the world that needed to be created leading on from his work could not come about over night. In contrast, Mill’s work gave one a certain feeling of happiness and contentment in a more immediate and direct way. On reflection, I now think that perhaps I took Mill’s work a bit too much for granted for this reason; it seemed very simple and straightforward. Someone who does something well can make it look easy, and many others have just no idea about the amount of work and effort that has gone into producing that simple, wonderful and very effective result. I am sure that some of you must have examples of this on a personal basis.

Anyway, it was only more recently that I found out a little more about J. S. Mill, the man. I found out, for example, that his wife Harriet Taylor, wrote some of his material with him; even some of it for him. From then on I understood a little more about his work, and I thought that this probably partly explained why some of his writing had that slightly softer approach. Mill was a feminist before people hardly knew what feminism was. And it has to be remembered that quite a few philosophers in the past held dreadful views about women, seeming to think that they were almost incapable of thinking for themselves; take the philosophers Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, for example. So, Mill was brave, standing out from the crowd, in this way.

Then, more recently still, I found out some more about Mill’s rigorous upbringing; and how like Michael Jackson and myself, he was not able to have a proper childhood. But at least, Michael Jackson and J.S.Mill’s parents pushed them because they wanted them to be big in their own fields; whereas mine was really more clearly a case of child exploitation. Having said that, I was brought up to believe that I was bright; indeed, that was necessary, in order that I could and would look after my confused mother, apart from anything else. Once I became an adult I sought to use that to my advantage, and indeed, have sought in various ways to do that ever since then.

Anyway, I think the seeming simplicity of Mill’s work on one level is probably also a result of his upbringing and in this way, I also think that his work can be under-estimated. Because he could explain his views and ideas so clearly they seemed simple and easy; but that is an illusion. It must have taken him a long time to work it all out; to clear his mind. Indeed, he had a mental breakdown when he was just 20 years old (after having been pushed so hard from such a young age), and he then had to rethink things somewhat. So, in all probability being pushed from so young an age forced him to have to think simply and clearly to avoid him having any more such breakdowns. This is in contrast to a book such as ‘Nausea’, which I read recently (see item 3 above). Jean-Paul Sartre wrote this book before he had properly ‘sorted his own mind/head out’, I think. Not that one can ever completely sort this out, but hopefully, you get my drift. So, although ‘Nausea’ does have some important messages to convey, and for this reason it is a valuable book, it would have been a better book if Sartre had taken his time over it more, I think, and sought to engage the reader more effectively and just basically made it a more enjoyable read.

Strangely enough, I am also battling myself with some similar issues at the current time. Whereas someone without such complex backgrounds can, in all probability on one level, more easily write simple and engaging fiction plots (but not saying or indeed, attempting to say, anything very deep and profound). Take a pleasant book that I am reading by Katie Fforde at the moment, for example. This is what it says about the author on the cover of the book: “Katie Fforde lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and some of her three children. Her hobbies are ironing and housework but, unfortunately, she has almost no time for them as she feels it is her duty to keep a close eye on the afternoon chat show.” I say no more.

In regard to Mill’s childhood, he was educated by his father, with the advice and assistance of Jeremy Bentham and Francis Place. He learnt Greek at 3 years old, Latin at 12 years old, and by 16 years of age he was a competent logician and a good economist. His father and Bentham were both utilitarians and wanted J.S. Mill to continue and further the work. But after his mental breakdown, J.S. Mill had to rethink things somewhat, and he added some humanism and idealism to the basic utilitarian philosophy.

J.S. Mill, like Michael Jackson aimed to live life at the high level, with high pleasures, I think; and that is also what I am about. This way of thinking and behaving is perhaps partly a result of not having a proper childhood, and being denied some simple, childlike pleasures.

We have now received in the post our own copy of my second cousin, Neil Whitehead’s book, Whisky Breath Confessional. The photographs are very colourful, powerful, reflective, convey certain moods and are all on fine quality paper. They include photographs of the sea, trees, the sun, buildings, hedges, roads and of Neil himself. The self-published book was compiled using the Blurb software (Blurb creative publishing service, for self-publishing books) which seems to be quite something. This is a trend that we might well see increasing in the future. I wish Neil all the very best with his book, and hope that he sells lots of copies.

And in the final item, here are some photos of Victor Rikowski’s band, ‘Cold Hands & Quarter Moon’ - see

Best wishes


N.B. Many thanks to Jia Liu (Jessica) for providing information for item 4

6th July 2010