Personal Text: Stefan Szczelkun

Stefan Szczelkun, London UK

Stefan Szczelkun currently works on the MA in Visual Culture at the University of Westminster. He completed a PhD at the Royal College of Art in 2002 on the legitimation of collective sites of cultural production and their value within a democratic culture. Stefan is an artist with a particular interest in publishing both in traditional book format and more recently in multimedia and digital video.

I was struck by a crystalline formulation by Jonathan Wolff in a recent Guardian article. He said:
“Marx observed that one of the tendencies of capitalism was ‘the concentration of capital’: the increasing amount of our lives that gets sucked up by the market. Over time more of life, such as childcare and entertainment, becomes ‘commodified’. Consequently when the market crashes, it brings more of our lives down with it.”

I like his image of our lives being vacuumed up. I feel this has happened to me as I’ve become more involved in academia… Wolff avoids any discussion of alienation. Its not just with market crashes that commodification effects our lives. The system warps everything it marketises and the market has to constantly expand. We just notice it more acutely at times of crisis. This includes every way we are wrapped up in career pathways and in my case formulations of research activity that fit in with corporatised academic and university structures. The system imposes serious and often subtle limitations on our ability to think in an organic and socially connected manner.

Another strong image he uses is the idea of people in recently industrialised areas of the world returning to ‘the family farm’ to survive during periods of economic downturn. I like the abstract and simple image of Lifeworld and System to differentiate between the commodified areas of life and the parts of our lives in which relations are more direct and ‘human’. For knowledge workers the problem is often the extent to which the literary is tied-up in a System history – the history of commodification, or put more bluntly the history of middle class culture. We need to ask more about how intellectuals operate and have operated in the Lifeworld – which can often be equated with oral culture, street culture, drug culture, sub-culture, gang culture. How can intellectual discourses gain strength and take themselves seriously outside of the Academies? What could the oral intellectuals version of ‘street cred’ look like.

I think we need to work on this idea of ‘the family farm’ as a place of haven. A space in which direct relations to our basic needs are protected. I was just speaking to Graham Harwood about how he has bought an old boat. Where he lives on the Thames estuary this means joining a community which is commodified very little and in which human relations are still paramount.

Many people I know in the London region have considerable resource in spite of the recession. A lot can be achieved with the small amounts of surplus resources most of us have if we decide to use them for liberatory practices, rather than squander them on commodified needs (exotic holidays, drugs, gadgets, Legoland, un-needed clothing, whatever). Its just that we need to see these uses of our money and time as more exciting than our dependency on commodity consumption.

One of my own current projects is to attempt to make invisible lifeworld discourses visible and able to be appreciated with the collective Agit Disco project.

And in a similar vein to bring non-academic praxis and Lifeworld thinking into the radical mainstream discourses of the lib-left field, with all their machismo. I’ve put together a DVD about peoples struggle for Inclusive Education, which are crucial to any emboldement of the lifeworld and is not just for or about ‘people with disabilities’.

There are thousands of good initiatives for progressive steps, from campaigns against hitting children or against arms trade to allotment associations or guerilla garderners, which have developed a great deal of species being or family farm expertise. In spite of all these projects it seems difficult to bring them to a unified focus. How do we create a sense of solidarity of purpose for human evolution? How do we even seriously discuss what we want to become as human beings? It is about time we stopped putting up with being buffeted about by the legacy of oppression and the mechanistic needs of capital. Too often those forces feel all powerful. The truth is that we we are completely powerful and able to think clearly about what we want to become. Often the barrier is simply our own embarassment! This kind of talk is simply not normal.


1. Marginal Notes, Jonathan Wolff, Education Guardian Higher, Tuesday 7th July 2009 p6.

2. My reading of Lifeworld/System theory is from Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Action.

3. New forms of meeting.

Publicamp, 2009

Publicamp, 2009

Publicamp used a format of 15 minutes per person to present on whatever they want to. Presenters can talk all the time or ask questions or advice or opinions from the audience. Its a good non-hierarchial efficient method of getting everyone heard. This one in Kennington Park was run by Critical Practice a group from Chelsea Art College.

4. New skills of discourse e.g. reclaiming our ability to ‘spout’ or speak in public in the corners of places of spontaneous congregation.

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