Creating activist scholars - Page 2

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

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Anarchist Adrej Grubacic heads CIIS's new Anthropology Department.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY YAEL CHANOFF

"It's the only department like it in the United States," Grubacic says. "This is going to be one of the few places where anarchism is going to be studied."

"So anarchist social theory, anarchist education, anarchist ideas in general. We are going to study them, seriously, because they need to be recognized seriously. It's a beautiful history, it's a beautiful tradition," he says. "How important it is, I think, is revealed, by the recent rediscovery or reinvention of anarchism at Occupy. So I think that it's more relevant than ever to create a space where anarchism will be studied."

A CIIS education doesn't come cheap. Two years in the masters program costs at least $35,000, and to earn a PhD will cost more than $60,000. Scholarships and financial aid are available, but Grubacic called the question of access to this program "a huge question."

"It's troubled me from the very beginning," he says. "We are creating an experiment. It's a social justice, community-based program in a private school."

He hopes, however, that students will learn applicable skills in the program. Classes on radio, film, and writing, Grubacic says, will give students practical skills. "They will be able to continue, either as academics and go to get their PhDs, or to join the non-governmental sector, to work with NGOs, to work with community groups, to work with labor groups."

Not the most lucrative professions, perhaps, but likely the chosen fields for many Anthropology and Social Change students.

Grubacic calls creating a program based on teaching grassroots and subversive knowledge in an elite institution "a paradox," and one he's not alone in. Grubacic got advice on the issue, he said, from Anibal Quihano, a Peruvian scholar known for his theories on colonial power who now teaches sociology at the Binghamton University in New York.

In fact, Grubacic practically convened a conference of post-colonial and anarchist scholars to help develop Anthropology and Social Change. Grubacic sent the program's description around to everyone from his buddy Chomsky to Immanuel Wallerstein to World Social Forum organizer Boaventura de Sousa Santos. He got advice, too, from organizers at the Popular University of Quebec and the Popular University of Social Movements, a school in São Paulo, Brazil run by the landless workers' movement there.

"The deciding thing about our own methodology was that we would like to listen, both to the voices coming from the past, so people who are doing similar things before us, and to people who are doing similar things right now," Grubacic said. "We also went — and this is the third form, let's say, of listening — to the people in the community."

He reached out to contacts and friends of professors in the university, as well as hanging out in gathering places and striking up conversations with those who showed up. He told one story of doing this covert outreach in the Tenderloin National Forest, the botanical garden and neighborhood spot just 10 blocks from CIIS's building on Mission and 11th streets.

"Some people were completely uninterested and thought, what's the purpose? Who are you, with this weird accent? Go home," Grubacic laughed. Some, though, were more receptive, including a woman who said the program could help with those fighting against San Francisco's problem of environmental racism.

"This person told me that she thinks activists can come to a particular community, do an ethnography, do research, and then present that research to people in the city, and show the people who have power in the city to make decisions why such behavior is unjust," Grubacic said.

In the end, that is essentially how the program will work. Students will partner with local organizations, neighborhood groups, or other affiliated people working on social justice goals, doing research to help further their goals.

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