ASN 2016 Conference report back

by Sandra Jeppesen

In September 2016 I traveled to Loughborough in the UK to present our research on anti-authoritarian feminist media activism at ASN4 – Anarchist Studies Network.

ASN4 was probably the best anarchist conference I’ve participated in. The theme this year was ‘anarchist feminism’, so there were a lot more women, queer and trans people presenting, with analysis oriented toward queer, trans and feminist approaches to anarchist politics. The organizers had drafted a safer space policy, which conference participants worked on together in the closing plenary to finalize for the next conference.

In the first session, I presented a methodology paper that several of us in MARG are working on, which has been submitted to the journal, Feminist Media Studies. The presentation generated an analytical discussion on the constraints of anarchist methods in university research settings. For example, MARG works horizontally and offers paid employment, but at the same time we struggle with top-down expectations from the employer, funder, and academic system.

In the second session I presented a chapter on DIY culture for a book called Conceptual Approaches to Anarchism, of which there were several panels throughout the conference. The series of panels was pretty fabulous in terms of providing space for discussion that functioned as a collaborative critical inquiry generative of a shared understanding of concepts key to our movements, what they mean to us and why they are important. The other presenter on my panel, Mark Bray, presented on Horizontalism (via Skype). These two concepts meshed well together and we discussed what makes them specifically anarchist, how DIY can easily be co-opted, etc.

In terms of sessions I attended, two really stood out for me. The first had three presentations: Safer Spaces by Emma Segar of the Anarchist Federation, AFed; Occupy: the making of a feminist anarchist by Mary Hickok; and participate, perform, burn out by Claire Chong. Each of these presenters developed a critical analysis of the need for the recognition of often-gendered and racialized emotional labour that contributes to producing vibrant anarchist and activist spaces. Therefore, more supportive processes need to be put in place, as the panel suggested, and this is something that we in MARG are also finding in our interviews with media activists concerning the matter of anti-oppression praxis within alternative media.

The other stand-out session I attended was the Anarchy Rules! workshop co-facilitated by Alex Prichard and Thomas Swann. They focused our discussion on the creation of constitutions by anarchist organizations, handing out printed examples, and putting us into groups to address a series of questions. We first brainstormed principles anarchists believe in, and went on to discuss how these principles might be written down as a collective policy or shared framework for working together, making decisions, and resolving conflicts. While most people could see some benefit to having a founding document, be it a long constitution such as that of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies), or a living safer space policy such as AFed’s, there were a few who felt that the mere fact of a document that everyone had to abide by was in and of itself authoritarian. This question was not resolved, but flagged as an interesting contradiction for further consideration.

As with many activist-oriented conferences, the informal conversations over lunches and dinners were inspiring, and I went home feeling I had made some new friends, reconnected with others, and had a bag full of inspiring newspapers, zines and books to read.