A guest post from the Ray Hudson Posse.
If you were to ask a handful of early career scholars for their impressions of the recent British International Studies Association (BISA) conference in London they would probably say: “I wasn’t there”. The reason for the dearth in young attendees is that the conference (like all conferences) was prohibitively priced. Its four days costs a whopping £120 for early birds and £150 otherwise. For undergrads and postgrads the fee is £100 (early bird) and £130 (late). Membership to BISA is compulsory, which costs another £30 a year. It’s a hell of an entry fee into the Ivory Tower.
The way in which the structures of academia are chewing up and spitting out the next generation of scholars-with-no-future is most clearly expressed in the ‘conference trap’, characterised by a double-fuckery – those most in need of attending are precisely those most priced out. While for established academics conferences are little more than an opportunity to blow research budgets on a piss-up with the lads, for aspiring researchers these events are crucial to bolstering the CV and (*shudder*) networking. That is, they are crucial to obtaining a job that will provide them with the means – a proper wage, research budgets, time off teaching etcetera – needed to go to conferences! (And, also, to live).
But it is precisely early career scholars in fractional, contract or zero-hours employment that have limited/ no research budgets and therefore struggle to attend. It is precisely early career scholars that are underpaid and thus unable to pay out of their own pocket. These structural constraints tend to be ratcheted up if you’re a person of colour, not-male, working class, and/or from the global south. On the one hand we can’t afford to go; on the other hand we can’t afford not to go. We need a job to go; we need to go to get a job. Something has to give.
We went to BISA. We didn’t pay. We stole this conference. You can too. Here’s how.
Just walk in
Think of all the conferences you have paid through the teeth to attend. How often was your name badge actually checked when entering the building or the rooms where panels were held? How many times did you take your name badge off, or lose it, and have no trouble getting in? Your registration fee doesn’t go towards paying security guards to monitor your movements – conferences are some of the most laxly securitised spaces in our cities. Skip past the registration desk, saunter right through building, dance into the rooms, and generally no one will do a damn thing to stop you.
Make your own badge
Apart from a tote bag full of fraff and perhaps some piss-shit coffee, your registration provides you with a name badge. That’s it. And these aren’t barcode encoded, hologram printed badges. Instead, you usually get bog-standard plastic casing and some flimsy card with your name printed on it. These are easy to replicate and can be made at home for next to nothing. Once forged, your name badge will grant you unlimited access not only to this conference, but the one after, and the one after that.
Comrogues to the rescue!
If the conference has a semblance of policing, and if their badge system is more National Security than National Lampoons, do not give up hope. Get your friends – preferably permanent, tenured, well-paid faculty – to help you out. Walk with a large group of paid attendees to flummox security. Borrow your mate’s name badge. Ask buddies to report their badge ‘lost’ and get two for the price of one. If you happen to be a legit attendee, support those who can’t get in. Distract guards, open the fire-escape, double-up through the barriers.
Exploit all perks
Once you’re in, don’t be timid – take everything on offer. Load up on free lunches and hot beverages; bring tupperware and flasks to continue enjoying after the conference. Be first in the room for the wine reception and the last to leave. Take two glasses at a time; where possible, take the bottle. Share your exploits widely, especially with friends and strangers outside the conference walls.
Don’t get caught…
… but if you do, keep stum! Don’t reveal your name and politely leave. All questions are to be met with ‘no comment’. This might be tricky to get away with if you’re John Mearsheimer (but we all know he does it).
“Remember that misery”
Breach the ivory tower upon the trebuchet of autoreduction and smash the machines of the UniversityFactory with the mallet of wretchedness! Toe punt the fences that enclose scholarship and communise everything that lies beyond! eruditio sunt communia!