Utopianism in the UK

The Sussex Campus ‘Forever Strike’: Estrangement, Resistance and Utopian Temporality

  • Heather McKnight (University of Sussex)


The 2018 strike undertaken by academics working in the UK was the largest called in University and College Union history, lasting for fourteen days over 4 weeks, with 88% of members voting for strike action across 64 universities.[1]  This article explores how the campus at the University of Sussex during the time of this strike became a strange, conflicted and transformative space; both a heterotopia and a site for a critical utopian process, where norms can be bent and broken, where people can function outside of the normal rules and disciplinary technologies of contemporary academia.[2]  The picket lines were supplemented by strike supporting events, teach-ins, teach-outs, occupations, marches, workshops and socials; linking it with debates on the public university, decolonizing the curriculum.  The strike action reached beyond the pensions debate and demonstrated radical utopian potential. 


The article considers how moments of estrangement are created in the learning space of the picket, whose strangeness and otherness, in comparison to a class room, allowed participants to open up to new ideas.[3]  Estrangement enforces a reduction of hierarchy and creation of community essential to establishing what Giroux might view as a critical pedagogy that tries to resist modes of cultural reproduction.[4]  This actively changes how time is experienced on campus: slowing down, allowing for contemplation, opening up different experiences of the ‘Now’. Ultimately this article considers how the struggle is far from over either off or on campus.   On Sussex campus, the strike songs are still heard on Library square, meetings are ongoing, the UCU and student groups are taking forward their manifesto for change, while beyond Sussex, there has been disruption to established democratic processes at both the National Union of Students National Conference and the UCU Congress this year.  Strike action has contributed to a process of revealing new potentials both within, and beyond the campus.

[1] “UCU Announces 14 Strike Dates at 61 Universities in Pensions Row.”

[2] Foucault, “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias, ‘Des Espace Autres.’” 2

[3] Bloch, Halley, and Suvin, “Entfremdung, Verfremdung.”

[4] Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy. 5 - 6

Keywords: Protest, Higher education, Utopian studies, Union

How to Cite:

McKnight, H., (2019) “The Sussex Campus ‘Forever Strike’: Estrangement, Resistance and Utopian Temporality”, Studies in Arts and Humanities 5(1), 145-172. doi: https://doi.org/10.18193/sah.v5i1.166

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Published on
30 Apr 2019
Peer Reviewed