Thinking in Crisis Times

Thinking in Crisis Times: A Collective Exploration by the English Department 2020-21
The shift to online learning this year, however partial or temporary, presents a tremendous change in teaching and learning in our department. Because these changes are both profound and at the moment unavoidable, they have raised countless urgent and pragmatic questions for everyone involved. Staff have spent months in the lead up to September 2020 thinking about the best way to use the online systems provided by KCL, and students will have spent time grappling with their own questions about online learning, not least the way it will affect their university experience and long-term future.

Meanwhile, however, this shift is taking place within a larger context of unprecedented crisis, including but not limited to the global COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting deaths of 41,500 people in the UK alone (as of September 2020). Months of Black Lives Matter protests have given increased visibility to the politics of race and ethnicity around the globe. These dynamics intersect in the unequal effects of COVID-19, which have disproportionately hit the Black and minority ethnic population of the UK. In response, students, activists and scholars have continued to push the university system to move beyond surface-level diversity initiatives and to grapple with the real ways in which universities perpetuate inequality and injustice.

Inevitably, these issues will be present in our seminars, lectures and discussions this year in various ways, some more visible than others. Some of us will be grieving someone lost to COVID. Some of us will be dealing with the emotional effects of increased coverage of police violence against Black people and racist violence in general. Whatever their content, our particular experiences of this moment will be part of what we carry with us into this academic year. And we will bring these experiences to an online learning environment that can itself increase inequality.

As students and tutors, we have crucial skills in close reading, narrative analysis and speculative thinking that can help us understand this historical moment in significant and powerful ways. But without the capacity to encounter one another and gather in our physical department, there is a danger that there will be nowhere for these larger community investigations to take place. For the same reasons that it is more difficult than usual to think together right now, it is important that we find a way to do so.

Thinking in Crisis Times is one response to this challenge. For the first time ever, all members of our community, including undergraduates, postgraduates, and teaching, research, and professional services staff, will be invited to read and discuss together a single set of readings. These have been chosen to help us all consider the way that the different forms of crisis we are all encountering in the present intersect, their longer history, and the ways they are operative for us as a community. Undergraduate students will have a chance to read and discuss this material during the term, although doing so is in no way mandatory, and there will be no assessment. Interested staff and students at all levels will come together for larger conversations, talks, workshops, and more, on the content and import of the material. Each term, an artist will join us via a digital residency to share their work and their thinking on these issues with us.

If you have suggestions or want to become more involved, please contact the Thinking in Crisis Times organisational team. We look forward to doing this thinking with you.
Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and neither those of the English Department, nor of King’s College London.
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