Nearly 300 Converge for the Inaugural NAASN Conference

By NICO RAHIM

Nearly 300 people converged in Hartford, Conn. on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 21 and 22 for the inaugural conference of the North American Anarchist Studies Network (NAASN). Panelists and attendees came from throughout the United States and Canada to discuss anarchist theory, history and current anti-authoritarian movements.

“(NAASN) is being established with this conference,” said Nathan Jun, a conference organizer and a philosophy professor at Midwestern State University in Texas. “So far it has exceeded our expectations.”

The original expectation was that 30 or 40 people would gather at the Charter Oak Cultural Center, but there was an “overwhelming” response to the call for papers, discussions and panels in late-July, organizers said. The conference ended up consisting of discussion on more than 30 papers, three workshops and more than seven panels.

Topics ranged from a report-back on the anti-authoritarian movements in Greece by Andrej Grubacic and Chris Spannos and a presentation on collective participatory action-research in Montreal by women from CRAC (Collective de Recherché sur L’autonomie Collectif), to a panel discussion on anarchists in political organizations and a paper presentation on Anarcha-Islam by Mohamed Jean Veneuse.

Saturday was capped with the third and final performance of Emma, a play by Howard Zinn on the life of Emma Goldman. The play was produced in the egalitarian and anti-authoritarian spirit of Goldman. The original director of the production was let go because she did not want to sacrifice creative control to consensus decision making.

Organizers of the conference got the idea for NAASN from the Anarchist Studies Network in the United Kingdom, Jun said. But unlike the U.K. Network, which is affiliated and funded by the U.K.’s Political Studies Network, organizers envision the North American version as being independent of any larger network and made up of “professional and grassroots scholars of anarchism,” he said.

Organizers felt that there is a need to create a forum for academic and nonacademic anarchist scholars to engage in discussion, debate and at times self-criticism.

“I do think there's a need for NAASN in North America,” said Deric Shannon, a conference organizer and a sociology instructor at the University of Connecticut. “One, because knowledge production is bound up in the ways people are oppressed. Secondly, because we need a space that troubles this stupid divide between ‘professional’ scholars (academics) and grassroots scholars. If we do this right, NAASN can serve as one such space.”

The conference came to a close Sunday with a discussion on “Developing the NAASN.” Attendees and organizers decided to hold rotating conferences hosted at different locations by different people, but planning for a conference in 2010 has been tabled for the time being. Organizers are currently creating a listserv and a Web site to facilitate the formation of the network. A few professional scholars have decided to work on collective projects together under the auspices of the NAASN, Shannon said.

“Like American society in general, the anarchist milieu can be a pretty anti-intellectual crowd. Likewise, we've just gotten ridiculous with our sectarianism, refusal to have principled debates, and our inability to have disagreements that are productive (look at almost any random comment thread on Anarchist News, for example),” Shannon said. “I wanted to create a space that was safe for free inquiry and debate and didn't turn into that kind of counter-productive circus.”

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