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Alternative University

Activisms in 2018 Belfast

10 – 11 August 2018

Duncairn Centre /
Féile an Phobail /
New Lodge Festival /
Intercomm /

In partnership with Féile an Phobail, the New Lodge Festival and Intercomm, the University and College Union (UCU) at Queen’s offers a re-edition of its Alternative University in the Duncairn Centre, 10-11 August 2018. 

Last winter, UCU undertook its biggest industrial action ever for fair pensions. Parallel to the picket line, union activists from Queen’s and UU mobilised to provide free lectures. The Alternative University was born: during four weeks, in packed rooms, they lectured on, and discussed, an incredibly diverse range of topics with the audience, such as arts and media, religion, Irish history, social inequalities, sectarianism, women’s place in contemporary society, the future of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, forms of political resistance, activism and participation, citizenship, migrants and refugees, and many more topics.

This free alternative university proved to be a real success among those on strike as well as their students in support of industrial action.

This re-edition of the Alternative University intends to spread this initiative to a wider audience and give to the public the opportunity to participate and enjoy a free, endearing and subversive discussion on activism in our community. Come to listen, talk back and think collectively with academics from all disciplines!


Friday 10 August


3pm – 4.00 pm

Opening Panel: What does a strike do? 
Véronique Altglas, Owen Reidy, Merav Amir


Véronique Altglas is a sociologist and an officer for University College Union at Queen’s University Belfast. Her talk relates to the industrial action that swept UK universities last winter. Reflecting on the organisation of the strike at Queen’s, she’ll discuss whether striking work, how does it work and how it affects those who are involved.

Owen Reidy is the Assistant General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions which organised and represents 750,000 workers on the island of Ireland through its 30 affiliate unions. Prior to taking on this role in late 2016, he was a Divisional Organiser in SIPTU and led lengthy and successful disputes in Luas, the Dublin tram system and Dublin Bus which lead to pay increases of 4% and 3.5% per year. Owen will look at industrial action and strike action as part of a wider strategy within trade unionism and its importance today. 

Merav Amir is a geographer at QUB. She has been active in the anti-occupation and the Palestinian solidarity movement for the last fifteen years and became an officer for University College Union (UCU) at Queen's University Belfast in 2016. In her talk Merav will share from her experience of being an activist in these very different context and draw on her experience to reflect on effective political activism.




4:30 pm – 6:00 pm

Communities take over. How grassroots movements can safeguard, expose and enhance local heritage in Northern Ireland


Peter Doak From terrorism to tourism? Troubles Tourism in Northern Ireland.

Peter Doak is a Lecturer in Sociology at Ulster University. His research interests include urban sociology and sociological approaches to conflict transformation. He is currently working on ‘Harnessing the Potential of Tourism to Historical Conflict Sites in Advancing Peace’. This interdisciplinary project involves collaborative research which seeks to both examine and assist with the production of community-led conflict tourism projects in Belfast and Derry. His talk details this research. As this project is on-going, it is hoped to ignite discussions about the relationship between tourism and conflict transformation.

Agustina Martire Save CQ! Or how StreetSpace can save the Cathedral Quarter.

Dr Agustina Martire is Lecturer in Architecture and vice Chair of SaveCQ. She specialises in urban history and theory, looking specifically at the significance of mixed-use streets. Save CQ campaign calls for the redevelopment of the Cathedral Quarter as a distinctive, resilient, liveable, shared, and connected area of the city. StreetSpace is a research and teaching project that seeks to understand the significance of mixed-use streets, by analysing their physical, historical and experiential aspects. This talk will explore the connections between the campaign and research project and invite to debate on how research can be useful to raise awareness and transform the way city centre streets in Belfast can be developed.  


Saturday 11 August


10 am – 11:30 am

Generation and Everyday Life: Teenagers' Reflections on Growing up in Belfast
Madeleine Leonard


Madeleine Leonard is a Professor of Sociology at Queen’s University. Her main research interest is in teenagers’ everyday experiences of growing up in politically sensitive societies, and she has carried out research into the experiences and perceptions of Catholic and Protestant teenagers growing up in Belfast. Her talk will show how young people’s everyday spatial movements reveal much about the visible and invisible borders of politically contested cities and how they are maintained, strengthened, challenged and crossed.       


11:30 am – 1 pm

Bearing Witness to the ‘Pain of Others’: Frontiers of Research and Resistance
Phil Scraton


Phil Scraton is Professor Emeritus in the School of Law at Queen's University Belfast. Phil Scraton will draw on his work investigating the Hillsborough disaster, the inhumanity of incarceration and childhood in transition to explore the activism central to critical research, particularly in securing truth, justice and acknowledgement. Reflecting on the profound political, ethical and personal challenges involved in bearing witness to the ‘pain of others’, he proposes that knowledge production is neither value-free nor value-neutral but derived and reproduced within social relations of inequality and oppression. In contrast, critical social research seeks out the ‘view from below’, exposes institutionalised deceit and pursues truth recovery, thereby offering a necessary alternative to mainstream media accounts and official discourse. 


Lunch Break


2 pm – 3:30 pm

"Listen to young people. Let them have their say. Take it on board and do something about it": Activism informed by children and young people
Deena Haydon


Formerly a primary teacher, academic and senior researcher in an NGO, for the last 12 years Dr Deena Haydon has been an independent researcher conducting research with children and young people in Northern Ireland, and she has contributed to the process of reporting to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child about implementation of children's rights. Drawing on the views and experiences of some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised, Deena will consider how the voices of these children and young people can contribute to activism aimed at challenging and changing current politics, policy and practice. Discussion during this session will explore the necessity of adopting a perspective which includes ‘age’ as a determining context affecting children's experiences and opportunities, and the importance of promoting ethical and political values grounded in social justice. 



Varieties of environmental activism for a just transition from unsustainability: class, climate change, divestment and a new economy. 
John Barry


John Barry is a recovering politician, having been a councillor for the Green Party on Ards and North Down from 2011-2018.  He is an indifferent cook and a keen cyclist. As an academic he is a heterodox political economist working on post-carbon and post-growth economics and mapping the (inevitable) low carbon energy transition. Climate change, extreme weather events such as localised flooding and storm surges, energy insecurity and oil price increases and the continuing loss of more than human life both locally and globally are the ‘background noise’ to the ‘Anthropocene’ – the age of humans in the 21st century. This talk looks at the importance of advocating for a low carbon, renewable energy future must involve considerations of justice, class and also include the ‘disruptive’ politics of actively divesting from fossil fuels and actively ‘delegitimising’ their continued use.  




5 pm – 6:30 pm

Closing Panel: Radicalism in the University, From 1968 France to Belfast today
Seán Fearon, Julie Le Mazier, and Michael Pierse


Seán Fearon was President of Queen's Students' Union during 2016-17, and now works as economic policy advisor for Sinn Féin.  He will address the theme of student activism and the necessity for students' unions to embrace radicalism and wider networks for change. At the core of the difficulties and dangers facing student radicalism is the firmly embedded perception of unions: are they mere service providers, and stewards of a changing higher education landscape, or as distinctly political entities charged with offering an alternative? What social and political issues should demand the efforts and attention of students in an environment of this kind?

Julie Le Mazier, sociologist at University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, trade union activist (Sud-Education). Julie will talk about Higher Education Policies and Student Movements in France, from 1968 To 2018. During the 1968 French general strike, students adopted a contentious repertoire which is still used today: general assemblies, occupation and demonstrations. They gained the right for every high school graduate to go to university. In 2018, the government imposed university selection and was faced with student protest again. Julie Le Mazier will question the reasons of tactic and claim continuity in French student movements.

Michael Pierse is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Arts, English and Languages, Queen’s University Belfast. His research explores Irish working-class life and culture. What the hell are universities for? In The Slow Professor, Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber attempt to answer this question. They challenge the “corporatization of the contemporary university”, and through a mix of personal experiences, political manifesto and probing research, they call on students and staff to act now to reverse the disastrous course that universities have been plotting for decades. This talk will consider some of Berg and Seeber’s ideas in light of the recent UCU strike and increasing demands for change in universities in the north of Ireland and Britain.


The Alternative University will close on Saturday evening with a buffet and a gig in the Duncairn Centre with Dublin band ‘The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock’.


This event is funded by Intercomm, UCU at Queen’s and the Duncairn Centre