Creating activist scholars

New anarchist-led program at CIIS aims to help Bay Area social justice groups

Anarchist Adrej Grubacic heads CIIS's new Anthropology Department.

This semester, the California Institute for Integral Studies (CIIS) will start a new Anthropology Department featuring teachers who are grassroots organizers with decades of experience, including Boots Riley, Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz, Sasha Lilley, and Chris Carlsson.

The program's goal is to create "activist scholars," to get students into communities outside the institution, and to use their research and intellectual opportunities at the school to move social justice projects forward. And the man who organized it all is an unrepentant anarchist.

"The most distinguishing character of anarchism for me is prefigurative politics — creating the new within the shell of the old," Adrej Grubacic, the new department head, told us.

His classes come at a time when anarchism is being more widely discussed in the US than it has been for generations. Non-hierarchical general assemblies and consensus-based "direct democracy," long practiced in anarchist and other leftist circles, swept across the country along with the Occupy movement last year.

Anarchists have been associated in the public eye with everything from spirit-fingered affirmations to the masked, black-clad protesters smashing bank windows and scrawling anti-corporate messages on walls. But Grubacic says it's more than that.

As anarchism exploded into practice in Occupy's tent cities, it was also experiencing a renaissance in the ivory tower. The North American Anarchist Studies Network was founded in November 2009, and since has brought together a growing number of professors who want to explore and teach anarchism through annual conferences.

Big names such as Yale Anthropology Professor James Scott have declared themselves anarchists. In a country where the study of economics is usually code for the study of capitalism, professors longing to talk alternatives are coming forward in droves.

It's more than a little ironic that, within an ideology focused on a lack of hierarchy, it can be hard for those on the street to connect with those in the lecture halls. So how can the academic-types truly support The People?

From Zapatista schools in Mexico to universities run by the Landless Worker's Movement in Brazil to popular universities throughout Canada and Europe, people all over the world have developed institutions based on anarchist and Marxist principles.

Now, in San Francisco, Grubacic is hoping to do the same.

A historian who was an anarchist by age 13, Grubacic grew up in socialist Yugoslavia, a country engulfed in brutal civil war by the time he reached his 20s.

"I was raised a Yugoslav," Grubacic says. "So I was raised to be a citizen of a country that doesn't exist anymore."

He was teaching history at the University of Belgrade, but his political beliefs became a problem.

"The political cultures and political groups in power were either Serbian nationalists or these hyper-capitalists," Grubacic told me. "And going after them, because I was publishing and I was doing a lot of things, was—let's say, not a smart career choice."

It was with input from his mentor, famed leftist writer and academic Noam Chomsky, that Grubacic left the crumbling Balkan state for his own safety. After a frustrating stint at University of San Francisco, he found CIIS.

"This is the first place where I think that I was hired because I was an anarchist, or I am an anarchist. It's kind of funny," Grubacic says.

Founded in 1968, CIIS grew out of the California Institute of Asian Studies, and has quietly taught holistic approaches to psychology and integrative approaches to psychology, spirituality and the humanities since then . Today 60 percent of CIIS students are studying clinical or counseling psychology. The Anthropology and Social Change program is part of the School of Consciousness and Transformation.


"We hate the government, the government should give us more money because we are entitled to it because we represent dozens of people who hate the government."

So hilarious.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 08, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

This is laughable considering that the original Anthropology program did what Grubacic claims to have "developed". What has really been created is a Sociology program masquerading as an "Anthropology" department where education serves one purpose, to professionalize radicalism, ignore institutionalized issues of racism, sexism, classism, and transphobia, while turning a blind eye to the ways an anarchist joins forces with a assimilationist and dominance-driven administration. Clearly it helps to have friends in the media, because this piece of writing actually makes the 'new' department sound like it's doing something 'new' with education.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 9:58 am

yes, and the original anthropology department was completely fucked up, inbred, and cultish. this department will actually be new and open, and possibly even healthy.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 12, 2012 @ 10:50 am

maybe the new department won't be fucked up and dysfunctional.

Posted by DCount on Aug. 12, 2012 @ 10:52 am

wow, cool!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 3:32 pm


Posted by paul on Aug. 09, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

Yet another "new" program that has not considered the history of CIIS. Nothing new here. Great ideas but not new, CIIS has been dedicated to just such transformative learning since it began.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 10, 2012 @ 9:45 am

Yes, CIIS is a great place. This program is a welcome addition to an already great school.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 10, 2012 @ 10:41 am

Convivial Approach to Communication of Knowledge
We offer several forms of convivia, or convivial spaces of knowledge communication:

Emergency Library is a space that affirms the original meaning of the library as a communal institution: it is a convivial space of exchange of books, poetry, and ideas. In this convivia, we exchange ideas, skills, and organizing knowledge with the communities outside the Institute. We are scholars on call, responding to the emergent needs of the communities in struggle, who might be in need of legal advice, activist companionship, scholarly input, or a media suggestion. We bring this information not as impositions but as gifts, in the spirit of exchange and mutual aid, learning from the communities in the process.

Political Laboratory is held once each semester as a weekend-long convivial encounter of local or international scholars working on a particular project, students, and selected participants from the local community. Together they think collectively about a particular idea, book, concept, or project.

Atelier of Insurrectionary Imagination is a space of occasional magic, where artistic production is combined with political imagination, and subversive creativity. Here, artists inspire students and members of the community to dream collectively and explore the unsettling alchemy of art and social justice.

Autonomous Classroom is an experimental class created convivially by MA and PhD students, a class where the world is turned upside down, students become teachers, teachers become students, and all graduate students autonomously design a class that they teach and self-manage over the course of one semester.

Guerrilla Workshop is an improvised event-space where students, faculty, or students and faculty, present on their current work. This includes papers to be presented at various conferences, report backs from academic or activist events, and dialogues relevant to anthropology, social justice, and critical theory.

Dialogues and Interrogations. Instead of interrogating people, in this public convivia we interrogate ideas. This takes form of a bi-monthly conversation between activist journalists and prominent organizers and activist intellectuals.

Posted by paul on Aug. 11, 2012 @ 3:25 am

snooze..... this "program" is such a joke in regards to some of the anarchist institutions/free skools that have been in SF/Oakland for years now. Academic recuperation is always a shame to see.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2012 @ 8:36 am

Best program in the world. Haters gonna hate...

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2012 @ 9:22 am

People, research the history of this school, and what they did to the previous SCA department. You say a cultish department? How about a cultish school? For realz.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

Related articles

  • Creating activist scholars: extended interview with Andrej Grubacic

  • Preaching denim

    At Holy Stitch, young people get sew motivated

  • Let it learn

    What's fresh in Bay education, from pot activism 101 to design degrees

  • Also from this author

  • Privatization of public housing

    Many residents feel they're moving from the frying pan of Housing Authority control into the fire of developer and nonprofit management

  • Homeless for the holidays

    Changing demographics in the Bayview complicate city efforts to open a shelter there

  • Betting on Graton

    Newest casino targeting Bay Area residents promises to share the wealth with workers and people of color