Post-Corona-lock down: please do not return to normal

By James E. Addicott at jeaddicott.com

We were forced to create a blank sheet, upon which new futures could be drawn.

Now, more than ever, the politics of our future is taking place before our eyes and very few people are fully exercising their creative, imaginative capacities for considering alternative futures other than what be are being told is “normality”. We know that normal standards of modern living will eventually exhaust the planet’s resources to our species’ demise, yet, we are be assured that everything will soon get back to “normal”. What is normal about that? Like lemmings heading towards a cliff, given the choices of life and consciousness, wouldn’t it be abnormal to carry on as we were? The modern standards of living considered “normal” is a recent blip in an evolutionary history that seems to be drawing to a close.

How can it be termed “getting back to normal” when most humans have witnessed how everyday life can be lived without a modern culture which is “un-normal” or far from normal? What many of us have witnessed is normality; that is, life without roaring airplanes, life without traffic congestion, life without fast food outlets – more time with the family; more time spent in nature; more home cooking; less mainstream education, and so on. What we are being told was abnormality, may be closer to normality than the ‘norm’ we are being told to return to.

The abnormal/normal debate is kind of beside the point. What we should be considering is the vast array of alternative futures available for all of us, at individual and collective levels. Is it really necessary to start back up the motors of modern, industrial capitalism? Do we need to be greeted every morning by the booms and roars of traffic that is as upsetting to humans as it is are to various wildlife species? Knowing that air pollution around the world has dropped dramatically as the result of people working from home – which can be done – then why rush back to centralised office locations again? Knowing that river and harbour waters have turned transparent and blue, then why not do more to maintain vitality and aquacultural diversity? Seeing the effect that airplanes have on birds and the pollution of the skies, then why rush to reopen airports and put planes in the skies again?

The drive to “get back to normal” is highly political, very contentious, powerfully ideological, yet largely uncontested. What the corona lock down has shown us is that the system requires people – if people stay at home, nothing moves, nothing happens, en-mass economies grind to a halt. Everyday life is therefore a matter of sociology before politics and economics. It is therefore people over politicians and profits. We need more solidarity in not returning to the way things were or returning to normal; we need more solidarity in continuing to change and improve the world beyond politics and economic efficiency.

Corona-crisis: families segregated, supermarkets unite

That families should have to wave at each other from far distances and rub shoulders with strangers, staff and shoppers at supermarkets is the most unusual disposition. Family is understood as the foundation for primeval communities and societies – yet this is where the government has made some of its major social separations. Grandchildren can no longer hug grandparents; mothers can no longer sit with sons, fathers can no longer play with daughters, and so on. It terms of risks and liabilities, in terms of social responsibility, it is the base units or cornerstones of societies – the family unit – that have be institutionally fractured and torn apart by various government bodies.

Although we cannot maintain face-to-face contact with our loved ones for fear of endangering their lives, governments will allow those same loved-ones to shop or work in supermarkets for the sake of supplying food and household needs, and keeping the bottom-line of the economy ticking along. It is not all right to risk your life to hug your grandmother; it is socially acceptable for your grandmother to risk her life serving customers or paying bills. In that sense the economic base-structure overrides the fundamental needs of primeval social-structures. Shopping prevails; supermarkets have monopoly control.

OUT NOW: The Precision Farming Revolution: Global Drivers of Local Agricultural Methods (Book)

I very proudly announce that my debut book, which is entitled: The Precision Farming Revolution: Global Drivers of Local Agricultural Methods, is now available for download as a eBook via the Palgrave Macmillain and Springer websites.

This was based upon four years of research at The Department of Sociology: The University of Cambridge within one of Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall farming communities near Bath, UK. You will receive a 20% discount if you order the book through me (email me directly for more information).

Pre-orders are also being taken via Google Books, Good Reads and Amazon for the hardback version which is being released on: 13/02/19.

Here are some of the reviews the book has received already:

“This book connects debates and issues around precision farming technologies to show that farmers’ engagement with these technologies is influenced, but not exclusively determined, by economic and food-productivity factors. As a social scientist, James Addicott makes a clear case for factors other than just ‘efficiency’ playing a role in the adoption of precision farming. It is a must read for all students in the food and agriculture sector who seek to gain a balanced, realist understanding of how the global Precision Farming Revolution shapes and is shaped by the active agency of local farmers.” (Gert Spaargaren, Wageningen University, The Netherlands)

“The gains claimed by the promoters of precision farming are very considerable. Satellite farming companies argue that their observations enable exact and profitable decisions to be made about the application of chemicals. But, as James Addicott’s research suggests, this form of ‘scientific farming’ is very problematic. Control over satellite farming has dispensed with the farmers’ more local and ‘tacit’ understandings. Knowledge of a more general and universal kind is made to prevail. Meanwhile, farmers are faced by the competing technologies offered by precision farming corporations. As a result, farmers struggle with a range of incompatible products. This book shows that power and influence is being transferred away from the farmer and towards the big, unaccountable, transnational ‘precision farming’ offered by corporations.” (Peter Dickens, University of Cambridge, UK)

Keep up to date with developments on the book via this blogsite or my website: http://jeaddicott.com .

Preface:

Precision farming systems were marketed to local farmers on their ability to increase yields whilst reducing inputs and business overheads to ‘save planet earth’ and ‘feed the world’. But could autonomous, satellite-driven tractors and farm equipment help local family farmers achieve these goals? Critics contend that self-steering and self-regulating farm equipment incorporated throughputs of commoditised data which devalued the time-honoured knowledge accumulated by farming families; autonomous control systems reduced farmers to the role of nodes or conduits within control systems dominated by transnational firms. This book is the result of four years of research conducted at the University of Cambridge, and contains ethnographic research carried out in the West Country of England within a cooperative of farmers in rural village communities. It reveals the reasons why local farmers were investing into autonomous systems and traces any outcomes of adoption. It describes the driving forces in the fourth industrial revolution in the lead up to Britain’s Brexit referendum, detailing local and global drivers in revolution from the launch of Sputnik 1, world population growth metrics, climatic and ecological crises, profit-driven farming and government grants. Contrary to the claims that precision farming system came with calculable cost benefits that would stand to profit local farmers around the world, whilst at the same time making industrial farming ‘green’, the book analyses precision farming systems as one of a number of cultural methods to be found within Britain’s multi-agricultural and countryside landscape. Intelligence, ideas and thinking, new organisational powers and capacities, were precisely what precision farming offered farmers and firms. The power dynamics of industrial agriculture were reorganised and this book will offer readers an understanding of how and why.

Table of Contents:
1. The Precision Farming Revolution
2. Global drivers
3. Economic drivers
4. Cultural methods
5. Society and Nature
6. Farming futures

eBook ISBN: 978-981-13-9686-1
DOI: 10.1007/978-981-13-9686-1

On being Dyslexic at Cambridge University

By James E. Addicott ©2018

In this blog I reflect upon the process of studying for a PhD at one of the world’s highest ranking universities as a ‘dyslexic’ student. Let me begin by reflecting upon briefly detailing my background story:

I was diagnosed as dyslexic at the age of 30. I read a journal article once that stated that 50% of prisoners were diagnosed as dyslexic in a small study conducted in The US. I dropped out of education after leaving college with D and E grade A-Levels. From the age of 18 to 28 I moved to the then ghetto district of St Pauls in Bristol. I began a career as a pirate radio, nightclub and street-team DJ. I found it incredibly difficult to integrate with so-called “normal” society and much easier to integrate in places with less paperwork and bureaucracy, what some might call the “underworld”.

From around the age of 30 onwards my life slowly began to improve in terms of social mobility. In 2003, I studied for a certificate to teach English to foreign adults. I was picked up on my spelling by the examiners. They told me I could not qualify unless I could obtain a pre-diagnosis as dyslexic because my spelling was that poor – they didn’t know if I was being lazy or not. Then I went on to study for an undergraduate degree later that year. That year the Bristol Dyslexia Centre officially diagnosed me as quite severely dyslexic.

In 2013 I started studying for my PhD at the age of 37. Cambridge University is a place of big books, dense written texts, paperwork forms and bureaucracy, towering libraries and thick bookshelves – a dyslexic’s worst nightmare. I began blogging about it at the time – see ‘Experiencing dyslexia at The University of Cambridge’

I was registered with the disability department as dyslexic. I was told that I would not receive financial support since I was able to get accepted at Cambridge University, so clearly there was nothing much wrong with my reading and writing abilities. Although that was quite a blunt point to make, there was some truth to it, so what had changed? Why was I able to study for an undergrad, masters’ degree and PhD at one of the world’s highest-ranking universities, given that I had been diagnosed severely dyslexic?

I am convinced that the fundamental difference, more than anything, was that from around the year 2000 onwards, computer spell checkers and auto-correct software had become increasingly more advanced. These days, as I write, I can see the computer compensating for my disability in real-time. Now that is progress.

If I were to turn of the speel checker off and type and I naturally undestand that words are spelt then this article would read something like this. I find spelling vegetables such as coliflour, potatoes, bannanas, cabages, cuecumbers, most difficlt… so, turning auto-correct back on now…

Another remarkable shift that computing technologies have brought to us all, dyslexics and non-dyslexics alike, is the prevalence of icons, graphics, pictures, signs, symbols, multimedia or ‘visual culture’ over alphabetical writing or written texts. The home screen of a smartphone much more accurately represents the visual thinking mind of the human being much more so than sentences and paragraphs. Everyone struggles with reading and writing, hence an education system of fifteen years or more, so visual could well be increasing efficacy throughout modern societies, which eases things for dyslexics like myself.

After spending five years studying independently for a PhD, afforded the time to learn and educate myself, I understand my dyslexic way of thinking much more clearly. I tend to read much differently than non-dyslexic students. My natural approach to a linear text tends to be non-linear, spatial and visual.  I pick apart different parts of books or journal articles. Maybe I will read the back sections of a book before the introduction, preface or chapter three. I find myself pinpointing certain paragraphs or sentences and unraveling them; completely deconstructing and reconstructing them until I am satisfied I understand or feel I confidently know what an author is saying.

As I read, I tend to doodle and convert the ideas written in words, paragraphs and sentences into non-linear, spatial diagrams. Each book on my bookshelf has been converted into a series of spatial, 2D diagrams. A web of interrelated diagrams and scribbles is how I get to understand or grasp complex ideas and working theories such as Marx’s theory of base-structure/superstructure or Weber’s theory of rationality/irrationality. See some examples below:

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I was able to carry these skills over into my final oral exam. During my viva, as my examiners asked me a series of very complicated questions. I ducked my head down and quickly scribble down diagrammatic representations of the ‘conceptual forms’ that I thought their questions took. In an exanimation environment, where the pressure is quite high, it helped me to gather my thoughts together by briefly looking at these scribbled diagrammatic forms. I could then answer the examiners quite comfortably. I realised that this was a skill that I had developed over the course of my PhD studies that I could utilise swiftly and confidently. Such ‘envisioning’ or ‘spatial visually’ are gifts of dyslexia – see Thomas G. West In the Mind’s Eye: Visual Thinkers – Gifted People with Dyslexia and Other Learning Difficulties. By reading about dyslexia (ironically) and receiving support from disability centers, I have been able to realise my disabilities, weaknesses and strengths in order to study at one of the worlds leading universities.

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The worst part of being dyslexic at Cambridge University was attending the disability resource center to register as a dyslexic student. Then being handed a thick bunch of paper forms to fill in to register as dyslexic – the irony was profound! Non-dyslexic people would probably not understand the relevance of such an act. Such a situation might be compared, in analogous terms, to a student on crutches being told to register at another office located at the top of a long flight of stairs. You have a disability with paperwork and forms; you are given a heavy load of paperwork and forms to ‘help’ tackle the problem. It was a real statement of misunderstanding. Such problems with forms and paperwork are a persisting problem even following my PhD. As an example, I find myself informing a potential employer that I am registered disabled and have a specific learning disability called dyslexic, but then having to pay someone to proof read my job application because it could be rejected for seemingly haphazard spelling mistakes and grammar errors.

I say all of this to say that problems with dyslexic have been remedied with computing technologies, thankfully. However many quite traditional ‘barriers’ still obstruct dyslexic peoples’ everyday lifeworld. That a large proportion of the prison population might be dyslexic might suggest that disability in reading and writing is a publishable offense en mass.

“Dyslexia” is in some respects simply a label or tag; everyone has their own subjective ways of understanding and communicating within this complex world. Although sometimes I resent the label I still strongly identify as being “Dyslexic”. I hope this blog can contribute towards helping other dyslexic people in their struggles. If you identify as dyslexic or non-dyslexic and can relate to any of the above then please share on your similarities or differences in the comment section below.

Website: jeaddicott.com
Email: mail@jeaddicott.com
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