Since my last update I’ve been working on my dissertation and enjoying the last days of the summer in Oxford. After handing in the dissertation I had about two days off before launching straight into the new university term, activity has been ramping up on campus and I can feel my life gradually shifting over to Leicester again. Between the dissertation and everything else I’ve neglected a lot of things (including this blog), so now I’m catching up on emails, side-projects and other commitments.

St. Giles

I went to the St. Giles fair with Maddy, and we both went up on the ferris wheel.

maddy_ferris_wheel

The wheel went round surprisingly fast, it was fun :)

We went through this old-syle ‘museum of curiosities.’

museum_of_curiosities

It was full of bizarre objects which included:

  • The pig with six legs
  • A Chinese lady, the smallest woman in the world! (kept in a jar)
  • The furry pike (caught in 1928 apparently)
  • An unborn whale foetus
  • The famous Brazilian two-headed boy

It consciously plays at the edges of respectability. All the while there are efforts to be more critical of the university’s uncomfortable heritage, and to put on a show like that is almost a self-parody.

st_giles_fair

Also Maddy took me out for hot chocolate at one point. ☕

maddy_cafe

PTB Gathering

I went to the annual gathering of the Belgian Workers Party.

In the past few years that I’ve been here Ostend has undergone a grand renovation. The train station has been all rebuilt, with a huge glass roof which now covers the platforms as well as part of the station building. The coastal tramway has also been brought under the roof and the old ticket office demolished. The old tram carriages look slightly out of place in their modern surroundings.

ostend_station

There’s also this massive bicycle park underneath the station.

So Ostend now has a very well-connected transport hub now. It seems way beyond the requirements of a small seaside town, but maybe there’s more going on in the area than I thought.

I set up my tent in the grounds of the holiday camp complex the party always hires out for the weekend. There was no running water in the showers, and my tent is developing a critical problem. One of the tent poles has split.

Thankfully there was no rain, no noise from the nearby tents, and pretty much everything went fine. I might have to deal with my tent in time for the next time I have to go camping though.

PTB_crowds

I posed with the ALBA stall. There was a theme of solidarity with Latin America - Dilma Rousseff was one of the big invited speakers.

anti_trump

As usual I met various other international delegates, including those of the Italian left. I added to my collection of stickers, t-shirts, manifestos, badges, posters, and all the promotional materials which political movements produce. My laptop cover is now pretty much totally covered.

I saw Vivek Chibber interviewed about the new ‘ABCs of Capitalism’ series being published by Jacobin and now translated into Dutch. I came across Chibber’s book Postcolonial Theory and the Spectre of Capital last year and really appreciate his insistence on class constantly returning to the fore.

Power does not lie in discourses or identities, it lies in social relations.

I also got to see Lowkey play on one of the side stages. Here he is singing Long Live Palestine.
(warning: the video is LOUD)

It was the first time I’d seen him perform live, and I was really pleased when he returned to his music career a few years ago.

lowkey_gig_1

Raise your pointy fingers in the air! ☝️☝️☝️

lowkey_gig_2

I also spotted a group of radical cartographers who make maps of ‘subjective geography.’

subjective_geographies

I left part-way through the Moment Central, and rushed back to the tram to rewind the series of journeys from Ostend to Brussels, the Eurostar to London, and finally a night-time coach ride back to Oxford.

ManiFiesta main stage

End of year dissertation

I handed in the final dissertation for my MSc course. Here’s part of my post-mortem, thoughts on how it went.

There are still some big unanswered questions looming over the dissertation:

  • Where did Charles William Packe get his money from? We know he had a mortgage, from… Sir George (?) and we know that he had bank shares, but in my research I didn’t come across the accounting for those. I had some expenses records, so I know how much he spent on some things, but that’s only one half of the picture. I didn’t have the complete overview of his finances.
  • More recent maps of land-holdings around Prestwold were not clear. I still don’t have any sort of chronological sequence of the spatial expansion of the estate. I know the estate expanded, but which areas were annexed at which times?
  • Why did CWP really close down Prestwold? I still have a sense that none of the justifications really account for his decision.
  • How exactly did he end up becoming an MP? It seems it was normal for him to be elected unopposed, multiple times, but how was he selected for the seat to begin with? It’s clear that he must have struck some kind of deal or arrangement, but the Conservative Party archives don’t go back that far. There’s definitely a story there, but I can only guess at the details.

Lastly, the literature review isn’t as coherent as I’d like it to be, the arguments raised in the empirical chapters don’t link up organically to the issues raised in the literature.

When you begin your research it’s like starting off in a dark room. If it’s going well, you’ll quickly grasp the basic outline, and with each nugget of information you start to see connections, things get gets clearer, and at the end of it everything comes together into the whole picture. With this project, there was a significant amount of material in the records office, but none of it fit together properly. I was scrambling around with a jumble of complex and sometimes contradictory details; the more I found the more my overall picture got hazy and confusing.

I managed to spend several weeks staring at a blank page, building up the dissertation painstakingly sentence by sentence. I did well to build it up to around 8,000 words so that when the final push came in the last two weeks I was already well over halfway done.

I spent a lot of time worried that I was behind on my writing target, but with the knowledge that I always had over a month to catch up. It was a problem of dealing with a large project with a lot of time to do it in.

Imagine you need to catch a train, the train isn’t due into the station for an hour, but it’ll take you an hour to get there. So you’re already late, you should start running, but it’s not immediately urgent because you have a whole hour ahead of you. It’s a difficult problem to deal with, and something which will probably get worse going into the PhD.

The other consideration is that properly researched material is incredibly time consuming. The rule generally applies that if something is easy to write, it’ll be easy to read; this project did not fall together naturally, it was a consistent effort to hold it together, so reading it back I don’t expect a glowing mark.

Having said that, I did put in the time every day in the library, reading, making notes, referencing every page, keeping track of details. At the end of it I wasn’t as physically exhausted as with my first masters dissertation; there was no big stressful panic, no all-night crunch time. I don’t know if I’ll get a fantastic mark, but I feel okay about it, and I’m proud of what I’ve turned out.

Societies Fair

I briefly went to help out with the Marxist Society at the university societies fair. Here we are with the stall.

marxist_society_stall

That flag on the stall belongs to an Italian group, one of the many splits from the PCI.

As university life picks up again, Leicester is drawing me back. I’ve applied for another room in student halls, and hopefully I get something, just until the end of the year.

New drive

I’m reaching the point where I’m starting to run out of space on my desktop PC. I took out my old Windows drive, which I haven’t used in ages, and replaced it with a new 480GB SSD.

new_drives

I’ve already maxed-out the drive space in my current mini PC case. I’m back to the old problem where it isn’t worth buying a new larger motherboard and case just to fit in another 2-3 more drives, you might as well just build a whole new PC. However, in the meantime, I’ve gained an extra 480GB and that’s good enough.

disks screenshot

Also maybe I should delete more files.

Bowling

I went bowling with some of the new students and the geologists who were in our office last year.

Reading

I’ve been very slowly reading Case Studies in the Origins of Capitalism, which came out pretty recently. I’m planning to give a talk on the transition debate at some point next year.

I’ve also been reading Despicable Deadpool.

deadpool 1

I blew through the whole collected paperback in an afternoon. The story didn’t really make sense, but the general goofiness makes up for it.

deadpool 2

DOAJ bang on DuckDuckGo

The Directory of Open Access Journals has a !bang on DuckDuckGo, so that you can search it directly from DDG. It’s a super useful little feature, but for years it was broken and returned an error on the DOAJ site.

So, one afternoon I was frustrated enough that I determined to solve the problem. I read through the DOAJ API and sent in a fix to DuckDuckGo. A few weeks later I got an email from DuckDuckGo saying they’d made my changes live, and the DOAJ bang search now works again.

There are around 4.3 million open access articles in the database at the moment, and all that research is now a bit more easily accessible. Give the search a try!

L’Amérique pleure

Les Cowboys Fringants have come out with a new album, and I’ve been listening to the headline song.

On a tué la chaleur humaine
avec le service à la chaîne.
À la télé un autre malade
vient d’déclencher une fusillade.

C’est si triste que des fois,
quand je rentre à la maison,
pis que j’parque mon vieux camion
j’vois tout’ l’Amérique qui pleure,
dans mon rétroviseur.