My sense of this Imminent Distress Signal

‘Today we live a moment in which the global creativity forces have being oppressed’ – anonymous-


Surprise, anger and sadness. They are my reactions about what happened today at IDS. This is not about concepts or theories. This is just about how I feel.

 Let me explain the story briefly. I do not know if we have told you before that we are a group of MA students working on Unruly Politics at IDS. As part of our studies we prepared a sort of ‘unruly intervention’, called the Imminent Distress Signal, seeking to reflect on some ideas that we have been discussing and applying them in our context in IDS: what ‘unruly’ means for us, how to create a new social space, how to make people reflect, how to make visible what IDS kept invisible, what our own contradictions as students and as IDS are…

 We worked on the concepts and on the aesthetic of the intervention. Today was the big day and it was so exciting! This morning I felt almost like a child with a big secret to share: I am at 8.20 in the Institute, waiting for people to come and discover our pieces of work re-decorating the building; following them quietly to observe their reactions when they find an unexpected poster or a new message in their IDS usual context; trying to hide that smile in my face when I heard ‘this is amazing, I love unruly things’, or that moment when people started uploading photos in Facebook about the installation (I must confess I also saw some very serious faces).

 All this excitement and illusion went down in 4 hours. The IDS management decided to shut down the intervention because we did not have permission. They removed posters, pictures, collages, messages…

 First, I felt surprised. Simply I could not believe how such a simple exercise could provoke such a formal and straightforward, even insensitive, reaction.  It cannot be because of the content! The messages we used could be more or less provocative, you could feel more or less happy about them (even me!), but, to be honest, they were not SO unruly… So what was the reason? Just the blind obedience to the rules? Just the fact of showing who holds the power?

 Second, I felt angry. Simply I could not believe that IDS’s decision was to take all the intervention down, without talking directly with the authors, the teachers and students involved. Definitely you had other ways to do it. I have a strange feeling: I feel that my work, our work, has not been respected, I feel like if I had been treated as a minor who doesn’t need to be consulted, who cannot make a decision or negotiate about their responsibilities. I can feel the rigidness of the IDS’s structure, the weight of these 50 years over me right now… the necessity of control and power even over tiny little things, like this exercise.

Therefore, I feel IDS is not my space. We have been expulsed. I feel oppressed. I cannot breath.

 Third, I feel disappointed. Simply I cannot believe that IDS, apparently a space to reflect and create, proud of encouraging critical thinking and be at the vanguard of development, has made this decision and how it has be done. A decision that repress, not generate, learning and creativity, knowledge and discovering.

 One of the first slogans I read when I arrived to Sussex University was “be ready for the unexpected’. I liked it. I still do it. It is obvious that you can only find the unexpected when you enter the territory of the unknown, out of your comfort zone, letting things just be, flow… being unpredictable. What can we expect from IDS if it wants to control every single action? How can you move towards a new future if you are rigid and static? Where is the space for surprise? Where for creativity? Where the place for active responsible students, considering them as citizens? Where is our contribution?

 Moreover, another concern comes up to my mind: in my ten years of experience working with different teams and big NGOs, the necessity of control often means the lack of trust and confidence: in your team, in your members, in your students: What did you think we were going to do? To an institution that we all appreciate –this is why we are here!-, where we are spending one year of our lives, making a big effort, in terms of time, resources and personal and professional lives. 

 Today somebody wrote in the toilet that for he or she IDS means now ‘contradictions, challenge and repression of students’ critical thoughts’, and she or he reimagines IDS in ‘a new way to look and challenge development, and free thinking’.

 How can we do it?

It is undoubtedly that we citizens create space, with our movements, with our decisions, with our responses and struggles with power. 

Thus, my questions are:

What kind of spaces is IDS creating? For whom?

Has IDS become prisioner of its own rules and rigidness?

What kind of spaces are we, as citizens and students, contributing to generate?

… How far do we want to go?… 




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