OpenLearn Live makes the links between the worlds we live in, and the worlds of learning and research.
- Black Europeans: Alice Bah Kuhnke
- Ada Lovelace Day
- Tonight, BBC Four, 8.30pm - The Secret Life Of Books
- New free course: Institutions
- The meaning of Playboy
- Designing schools
A school has been shortlisted for the 2015 RIBA Stirling prize for architecture. The school, Burntwood in Wandsworth, is described by RIBA as "a last hurrah" of the now-discontinued Building Schools for the Future programme:
BSF may have been based on a wasteful methodology but it did have at its heart a desire to improve the fabric and learning environments of all our schools.
Burntwood also reminds us of the previous time when such aspirations were the norm: the 1950s and early ‘60s when the LCC and GLC programmes led by Leslie Martin were giving London light-filled, beautifully organised schools. Here at Burntwood a fine Leslie Martin-designed building has informed the new architecture and the relationship between the new concrete buildings and the older buildings adds a sense of architectural history and depth to the whole site. It gives the lie to the notion that the super-block with the vast wasteful atrium is the answer to the question, how do we best design a school?
The question of what makes a great school is one we've explored on OpenLearn, talking to pupils at two Milton Keynes schools about how a carefully designed environment can shape learning:
Well I like the courtyard because it’s nice and peaceful so when I’m upset I can just go there and relax.
I like the little circle of stones because it just looks really relaxing in that bit where you sometimes if you’re doing learning you can just sit down on the rocks and do some work.
Child (voice only)
And then when you walk around there’s lots of decorations, there’s like glass where it’s got bright colours on and it can actually catch your eye in a second.
The colourful ideas that have been decorated in the courtyard, and it’s not just the grown-up’s ideas it’s like children’s ideas.
I like, see that circle bit and there’s all hand prints from when people in foundation put their hand in, people in Year 6, so it’s a nice memory.
There was a comic strip - I think Boot - which depicted a wife telling her husband his "skin magazine" had arrived. "That's unfair" protested the husband, "it has articles on a range of subjects which I find informative. That's why I get it. It's not a skin magazine." "It's not now" replies the wife, "I cut all the pictures out." Last panel of the strip is the husband looking dejectedly at his bowdlerised magazine.
The Playboy organisation has taken on the role of the cartoon wife today, with the announcement they are dropping naked women from the title. This isn't a feminist move by the title, which will still carry images of women in what the title describes as "provocative poses", but more a admission that the internet has beaten the magazine at what was once its own USP.
But what does this leave the Playboy brand as a brand? It's not the first time the question has been asked. In 2011, Thinking Allowed explored what Playboy means:
I just wanted to bring in Angela now to see what her attitude towards the magazine itself. I mean, I used to see it around in the late '60s, '70s and people used to then say 'well, look it's got Mailer in, it's got Sartre, it's got Nabokov; even Margaret Atwood writes for it'. But of course it also had the famous centrefold, so I'm interested to know when you felt that it gained enough intellectual credibility from the writers to allow us to overlook the centrefolds?
Well I think it was a product of its moment and it might well have had Simone de Beauvoir or Margaret Atwood there, but I think you could be sure that very few women ever bought it or read it.
And it certainly wasn't the kind of magazine that women would go in to a newsagents and sit and read it on the bus back from work.
So there was a kind of exclusiveness - this was a debate directed primarily to men, about men, about masculinity and about sexuality. It might well have had an impact of opening up sexuality in a progressive way, as Carrie describes, but nevertheless it was a mechanism wherein women were always going to be on the outside; women were talked about; they were looked at, you can be sure that the pin ups or the centrefolds, they weren't writing articles like Norman Mailer.
At the same time, the OU's Sara Bragg shared research which suggested concerns about children buying products carrying the bunny logo might be missing the point:
We talked to diverse groups of parents and young people (aged 12-14) around Scotland; they were adept 'decoders' of contemporary culture, but they also showed that one can't say for sure what a product 'means', let alone what it 'does'.
In debating the effects of the Playboy logo, they pondered whether it was just a 'fashion icon', a 'cute bunny', with no inherent sexual connotations and disassociated from its history – the position generally taken by young people - or whether purchasing the products meant somehow endorsing the values of 'the sex industry' to which the brand was inextricably linked.
And even if it were the latter, should one explain this to children? - As one mother argued, 'you don't want to force them to think about things that they're innocently thinking [is] a nice pink bunny…. Just allow them to be children for that bit longer'.
How do you feel about institutions? What even makes an "insitutition" an institution? That's a question you're invited to explore with our new free course 'Seeing institutions differently'. It's drawn from a postgraduate module, and so is quite advanced:
Engberg-Pedersen is as generous as Brett with his insights into the qualities of institutions and the nature of institutional development. Two aspects of his theoretical approach are of particular significance:
Individual agency: Engberg-Pedersen places particular value on an individual’s critical engagement with elements of institutions that frame her or his behaviour. Quite apart from the general significance of this in institutional development, it has an important message with respect to professional behaviour and self-understanding. ‘Reflecting on the institutional context’ and choosing ‘action which confronts or bypasses a specific institutional element’ brings about change both socially and within the individual. The BancoSol story provides an example of one such action.
Institutional contradictions: This is the title of Engberg-Pedersen’s article. He identifies something that will, if you are involved in any process of development, strike you as a critical issue in the process: the encounter between different and differing ‘symbolic orders’, most obviously the symbolic orders of, on the one hand, the ‘interveners’, and, on the other, the ‘beneficiaries’. This is an encounter in which the new symbolic order contradicts the old, with the interveners in effect saying to the beneficiaries, ‘You’ve got it wrong’. The beneficiaries, in return, think that the interveners must have got it wrong.
If you'd like a slightly gentler introduction to the world of businesses and corporations, perhaps Brian Smith's exploration of why some companies succeed and others fail might be worth a look:
Some academic explanations of corporate success or failure seem to be better than others, in the sense that they are better at explaining what we see happening in the real world. For example, One of these strong explanations is called “dynamic capabilities theory”, which was first proposed by Teece in 1997. He defined dynamic capabilities as “the ability to integrate, build, and reconfigure internal and external competencies to address rapidly-changing environments”. In other words, changing what you’re good at to suit the market. Sounds plausible doesn’t it? But like all good answers it begs another question; in this case, how do some firms come to have such chameleon-like ability?
There's a new series of The Secret Life of Books on BBC Four this evening, and this series of the OU co-production is starting with The Fairie Queen. Dr Janina Ramirez explores the layers of meaning in the book:
Today is Ada Lovelace Day. She's celebrated today as a computing pioneer:
Ada was born in December 1815 into a life of wealth and privilege as the only legitimate daughter of the poet Lord Byron; although he deserted his family only a year after she was born. A sickly child, Ada was not expected to survive, but despite a series of life-threatening illnesses, she continued her education, and by her teenage years was becoming recognized as a mathematical prodigy. In addition to whatever natural talent she possessed, Ada was driven to the exploration of mathematics by her mother; who saw in logic, a cure for the madness that had afflicted Lord Byron. Ada was taught by, and corresponded with many of the leading mathematicians of her day, including, perhaps, the most extraordinary mathematician of his day – Charles Babbage.
During her lifetime, her work as a logician wasn't widely known; as this 19th Century newspaper visit to her memorial shows, she was very much pigeonholed as 'the daughter of the more famous Byron':
The style of the cenotaph is appropriate to its purpose, and harmonises with that of the church. A more suitable spot could scarcely have been selected; and we can imagine that he poet, had he been living, and had the melancholy task of finding a site for his daughter's memorial devolved upon him, would not have chosen one more congenial to his feelings than this - where the turmoil of the world does not reach, where kindred lie buried, and where the trees of the park and the woodland-slopes alone break, by their rustle and by the murmur of the wind sighing through the branches, the solitude so grateful to the poet's soul, and so fitting to the scene where the dead repose.
This week, we're using our start-up segment to celebrate Black History Month by putting the focus on some European trailblazers. Yesterday, we looked at Peter Bossman, the first black mayor of an Eastern European town.
Today, we're meeting Alice Bah Kuhnke, who since last year has been Sweden's first ever minister for Culture & Democracy. (Previously, the culture ministry had had no remit to encourage citizenship and participation.)
Alice was born in Malmo, but grew up in Småland, in the south of Sweden. At school, she excelled as a sprinter, but swapped sports for television. She worked for a while as children's TV presenter - she was the face of Sweden's local variant of Disney Club - but moved on to producing and presenting current affairs. She studied political science at Stockholm University, fitting her studies around media work and a role at Sweden's industrial giant Skandia. She also held positions of responsibility in the Church, and sat on the board of the Royal Dramatic Theatre and the Foundation All of Sweden - Performing Artists Against Nazis group.
Although her work often had political elements - working for think-tanks, leading Sweden's Youth and Civil Society agency - she wasn't a career politician; she only joined the ruling Green Party three days before her appointment. Many working in Sweden's cultural industries were delighted that the first minister for culture came from beyond politics. Daniel Birnbaum of the Museum of Modern Art told Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter:
"I am surprised since I have read the newspapers like everybody else and had expected a professional politician. But I am pleased they have dared to do something different, she is an exciting person that I hope a lot from. She is also a relatively young person which also feels exciting."
For Alice, there's a clear link between the two strands of the department she is creating:
“My most difficult task – and at the same time my most honourable task – is to work for the independence of cultural life. Art can only emerge and exist where there is freedom. Through clear culture policy in collaboration with other policy areas, I will work to provide more opportunities for cultural education and cultural participation.”