UNWRAPPING SOMETHING RADICAL THIS CHRISTMAS

by Liv Barnett

Christmas is rightfully criticised as an event of extreme consumerism and financially the most challenging time of the year for many, especially as satisfying the desires of children come with an increasingly steep price tag. But it is also a time where everyone celebrating it demonstrates the capacity for generosity, self-sacrifice and thought for others. No doubt, the 20th and 21st century history of Christmas is one where people consume as much as possible, with little care for waste or the environment. Articles circulate annually telling us of ‘Christmas towns’ in China where the whole town is populated by families painting little plastic trinkets red, only to be sent to Europe and America for temporary use during this festive season. It is also the time when people accumulate most of their debt, the time when drunk and disorderly behaviour in the UK sky rockets and domestic violence increases dramatically.

However, let’s not feel too glum, even for the those who resent the un-unionised Amazon workers standing in for “Santa’s Little Helpers”, or the fact that Father Christmas is supposedly an old white dude with a beard who delivers gifts, meanwhile a less old white dude with a less impressive beard is remembered for his anthem aiming ‘to save Africa’. There’s still something positive we can focus on.  

Christmas is a time where people in the western world also mark a moment in time and space with togetherness

It is one of the only times of year where everyone is encouraged to spend time and feast with loved ones. Feasts traditionally bring people together, for better or worse, and contribute to how people make and maintain different forms of social relationships. Rather than thinking of Christmas as a time where we are forced to be with family, we can think of it as a time where family is made. The sharing of particular ritual foods, meats and special vegetables puts Christmas in a similar category to feasts that take place throughout the world during significant moments in life, and just like in societies idealised for their collective way of life, Christmas is a time where people in the western world also mark a moment in time and space with togetherness.

Alongside feasting and sharing of particular foods, there is also gifting. Within the academic discipline of anthropology, gifting is not understood merely as a one way transaction of an object for the sake of demonstrating love or kindness, but rather a social practice that establishes ongoing social relationships. These may not always be benign. Gifts can draw people into obligations to others, or begin the process of competitive gifting where people out-gift each other in value or substance and establish their own prestige. Nonetheless, gifting is the antithesis to alienation – it is a moment we give something of ourselves to another person – it might be time taken to find the gift, money spent purchasing it, or thought gone in to choosing it. The gift is far more than the object that is exchanged, it is a material representation of both the social relationship that exists between the participants of the exchange, and also a symbol of the amount of effort and sacrifice someone is willing to make for another without any direct or immediate material gain. Such sacrifice and thought for others is increasingly more rare and is not a virtue promoted in the current neoliberal climate – where we are expected to exercise individual choice and freedom without regard of our impact on others or the environment.. Thinking of others before ourselves is one aspect of Christmas that exists alongside the otherwise alienating aspects of it, where those producing the objects later purchased and exchanged are never to use the object or meet the people who do so (an aspect of what Marx termed as estrangement).

Therefore, this Christmas (and in the lead up to the New Year) try to remember and remind your loved ones, that what has made this period significant to our communities

Christmas, for those fortunate enough to have the resources to celebrate it, and loved ones to celebrate it with can be a time of closeness. It can also be a time of intense stress with an increase in domestic violence and family conflicts. It puts a huge strain on women in particular, who often carry a large proportion of the invisible material and affective labour of Christmas on their shoulders (cooking, choosing presents, decorating, organising guests, placing presents in stockings and cleaning in preparation for hosting). Therefore, it is certainly not a time of ease. But we should nonetheless remember that it is a time where we reforge and maintain our most significant social relationships. This, paradoxically done through immense consumption –  is nonetheless a moment where many of us make time and effort to reconnect with family and friends. Christmas is one of the few rituals left that brings people together in time and space through feasting, gifting and even singing the odd carol. Therefore, this Christmas (and in the lead up to the New Year) try to remember and remind your loved ones, that what has made this period significant to our communities is not just the birth of a religious figure, the reincarnation of earlier pagan rituals, the royal’s taste for German trees or Coca Cola’s branding skills but our relationships of care that are made and maintained. Through the acts of gifting and sharing at Christmas we emphasise the ways we are all connected and affected by one another, as opposed to prioritising the individual that is otherwise pervasive in contemporary political and economic ideologies.  

Featured image :  Christian C  (no changes made, under CC 2.0)


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BEYOND TUITION FEES #11 – MUCH TO LEARN, MORE TO DO

By Bradley Allsop and Rowan Gavin

It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green have brought together perspectives from across the sector to explore the possibilities of post-fees HE. In the final instalment, the series editors summarise the visions for the next chapter of UK HE that the series has laid out.

There is more energy, debate and innovation on the left now than there has been for decades. Capitalism’s multiple crises, and the inability of its defenders to respond to them, are beginning to translate into tangible political opportunity. This series sought to capture the essence of some of this historical moment and direct it towards thinking about what we want our university campuses to look like, beyond the staple progressive policy of scrapping tuition fees. A project in unashamedly utopian thinking, it recognised the very real possibility that free tuition might be a reality in the near future, and sought to explore how this requires the left to think practically about what comes after and where our energy should be focused next.

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EXAMS SHOULD BE ABOLISHED – HERE’S WHY

By Dan Davison

Examinations are woven into the fabric of student life. From the ‘Key Stage’ National Curriculum assessments I sat in childhood through to the tests I took as a Master’s student, every stage of my education has known the familiar cycle of revision, testing, marking and grading. It was not until I became a precariously employed university tutor that I realised how dangerously uncritical we are of that cycle. By this point it seems so natural to make people sit exams at various points in their lives that it scarcely occurs to the public consciousness that students and teachers might be better off without such a regimented approach to learning.

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WHAT ARE UNIVERSITY COMMUNITIES MADE OF? – BEYOND TUITION FEES #6

By Ellen Musgrove and Max Savage

It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. But what will the implications for universities be if this comes to pass? And what can we do to leverage this progress? In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green are bringing together perspectives from across the sector to explore these questions.

At any demonstration concerning the anti-marketisation or -commodification of education and the university you will hear the phrase “We are not consumers – we are a community.” The motive behind this message is a good one, bearing positive and uplifting implications for the demonstrators. However, to those outside the demo space, be they apathetic students passing by or workers who may not have the freedom to stop and participate as readily as an academic might, calling ourselves a community means very little in a practical sense.

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FREEING EDUCATION FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS – BEYOND TUITION FEES #5

By Lotty Clare

It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. But what will the implications for universities be if this comes to pass? And what can we do to leverage this progress? In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green are bringing together perspectives from across the sector to explore these questions.

We face many challenges as students in 2018. Painfully high tuition fees along with eye-watering maintenance loans means that lower income students will leave university with over £50,000 of debt. Bafflingly, Prime Minister Theresa May only recently came to the realisation that poorer students are getting deterred from going into higher education. By contrast, the Labour Party’s promises to scrap tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants are of course a welcome relief for many prospective students – UK national students that is. Labour have seemingly barely considered the possibility of doing the same for international students. At the University of East Anglia, non-EU international students pay about £14,800 annually, on top of having to prove that they have access to thousands of pounds for living costs. If education is a right, why are we privileging wealthier international students in this way? What would Britain look like if we abolished or at least dramatically reduced fees for international students?

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THE FUTURE OF STUDENTS’ UNIONS – BEYOND TUITION FEES #4

By Bradley Allsop and Calum Watt

It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. But what will the implications for universities be if this comes to pass? And what can we do to leverage this progress? In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green are bringing together perspectives from across the sector to explore these questions.

Students’ Unions are meant to defend students’ rights, fighting with and for them during their time at university and beyond. However, modern SUs are often dominated by corporate thinking, consumer culture and cosy collusion with university management. Radical, grassroots democracy is often muted or discouraged, channelled instead into more temperate, gradual and piecemeal avenues by Unions centralised in their functioning and timid in their approach.

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THOUGHTS FROM THE FRONTLINE OF MARKETISATION – BEYOND TUITION FEES #3

By Maddie Colledge, UEA SU Postgraduate Education Officer

It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. But what will the implications for universities be if this comes to pass? And what can we do to leverage this progress? In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green are bringing together perspectives from across the sector to explore these questions.

CW: Mentions suicide

It’s common for arguments in favour of free education to be dismissed as abstract or utopian, and for students who promote it to be belittled as naïve. I fear that in our attempts to try to portray the significance of free education, we have fallen into a trap where the concept has become so expansive and broad, and the term so overused, that it has lost all meaning. We need to move away from talking about ‘free’ education, and towards articulating a vision more explicitly centred on ‘state-funded’ education or ‘public’ education. For me, the description ‘free’ makes the concept feel distanced from the viable possibility of education funded through public taxation, and does us no favours in making it reality.

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