Living through a global pandemic is a weird thing. K-Punk Quarantined was our way of coming to terms with the uncertainty and changes that were wrought by the crisis. Like many, we were driven by a desire for connection, community, and a sense of normality at a time of dislocation and doubt. Originally the series was billed as an event exploring the work of Mark Fisher and localised entirely to the University of Birmingham. Then lockdown hit. Shortly thereafter, we’d found out our funding for the series had been approved by the College – a bittersweet thing, given that it would no longer be possible to run it as we’d originally planned. A lot of academic events at this point were deferred, if not completely cancelled. The disruption to our working and domestic lives had been too great, and the event seemed no longer possible. We discussed postponing and even cancelling. However, we also realised that, with any and every sense of the University community decimated by the crisis, we needed to do something, even if only to bring back some semblance of University life.
As a group, we’d always been advocates of finding ways of discussing theory beyond the gated environment of the University. But, as a small reading group, we didn’t really know of ways we could reach outside of the academic environment. We started out as the Contemporary Theory Reading Group, an informal gathering established between Postgraduate students in the English Literature Department at the University of Birmingham. Initially, the only thing guiding us was an interest in contemporary theory, and a desire to learn more about it as well as to discuss and critique it in an informal context. After a couple of meetings, and some support with event dissemination from a couple of members of staff in the school, we launched our first series in the English Department – three texts over three weeks, with the aim to discuss a further four texts to be decided by group attendees in as democratic a manner as possible. Our first session took place on the 5th of February 2019, and back then we didn’t expect to be doing anything more than a regular reading group.
The national UCU strikes were a wake-up call for us. We’d become a constant fixture in the department by then but that was precisely the problem, we were confined to the department. We were all advocates of doing something more – we all believed that theoretical work has an imperative to public good, and public debate. During the strikes we decided we should open up our base, run a teach-out instead, provide a space to talk about theoretical texts relevant to industrial action, and the upcoming election. These events were a great success, and we found many like-minded thinkers from outside of our respective fields, attached to the union, and otherwise, who were interested in partaking in the same conversations as us.
K-Punk Quarantined was the natural outgrowth of this desire, a desire to dissolve the boundaries that we found could stifle accessibility, and thus debate. After the success of this event, and the opportunity to spend more time with a theorist we all loved, but in whom we could not previously find the time to immerse ourselves, we wanted to build on the momentum of K-Punk. Ctrl Network grew from our desire for community. From it, we hope to provide a platform for theoretical discussion beyond the University, and a space where we can immerse ourselves in ideas not yet familiar to us.
We invite participation from all invested in theory – those in the know, and those still learning. We invite artists and creators, and those with and without an institutional home.
Please communicate with us.