M'Gonigle & Starke, Planet U

First read finished, and I've started the second one. A journal asked me to review Michael M'Gonigle and Justine Starke's Planet U: Sustaining the World, Reinventing the University, so I'm moving right into the book for a little while.

Interesting. It rehearses the usual depression-inducing stuff about environmental decay and social injustice, and the usual updated versions of 60s strategies to remedy same, but it's interwoven with some quality history of the university institution and some thorough argumentation based on the specific example of the University of Victoria. (It also includes some great summaries of local places and history.) The basic thrust is "act very locally, for globally important reasons." That may make the book sound glib, but it kind of is. The great challenge of political writing is how not to sound like a true believer, and M'Gonigle has managed that better in other texts, Forestopia, for example. I've not seen Justine Starke's work before, so I can't yet comment on that.

It's tough to argue against most of its precepts, naturally: local food sources, green construction, reduced vehicle use, and so on. The book's purpose is to argue for what it calls a "constructivist postmodernism" that will generate flexible responses from what have developed as inflexible monoliths, namely universities. I'm resisting, though, because lessons from Glavin's Waiting for the Macaws (particularly the drive toward hope) and Heath & Potter's Rebel Sell keep rattling around my head.

Heath & Potter argue that countercultural thinking dooms us into rejecting small changes in favour of overthrowing the whole system. If we don't turn the ship but instead try to believe that the ship is, I don't know, a goat instead, then the ship steams into the dock while we chase it with a poop shovel. M'Gonigle & Starke want to overthrow the system, but through rapidly incremental small changes. Wonder if the second read will clarify my thinking...


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