A selection of essays, articles, conversations, book reviews and newsletters from 2005-2020

The Price of Life

Written as the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in Europe, this is an essay about the encounter with parental mortality.

What’s Happening in Sweden?

A long read about Sweden, its story of itself and the role this country plays in the political imagination of millions of people who have never been here.

Negotiating the Surrender

An essay written for This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook (Penguin, 2019).

After We Stop Pretending

An essay for Dark Mountain: Issue 15 on the strange hot summer of 2018 and the beginnings of the new climate movements.

Deschooling Revisited

Writing about Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society (1971) for Issue 25 of STIR magazine.

It’s Time to Start a School

Issue 16 of my Crossed Lines newsletter was where we first announced the launch of a school called HOME.

Where the Words Run Out

For AHA! festival in Gothenburg, Alexander Dam, Sara Rousta and I created this performance for two dancers and a writer running out of words.

Three Seasons With CEMUS

This essay was my contribution to the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Centre for Environment and Development Studies at Uppsala University.

Childish Things

This essay on the role of art in modernity and its relationship to the sacred was written for Dark Mountain: Issue 12 – SANCTUM.

How Climate Change Arrives

An essay for The Precariat, a one-off newspaper published by the organisers of Planet B festival in Peterborough.

You Want It Darker

When the regular mechanisms of political narration break down, there is a need for something stranger: liminal writing for liminal times.

When the Maps Run Out

A letter I sent to readers of Crossed Lines, three days after the election of Donald Trump

Spelling it Out

An essay about the three languages you need to take a project from dreams to reality. Written for Jessie Brennan’s book, Re:development.

Pockets: A Story for Alan Garner

My contribution to First Light, a collection of writing that celebrates the life and work of the novelist Alan Garner.

Expectations of Life & Death

What is different today is that living to grow old has become a reasonable expectation, something we can almost take for granted, rather than a matter of luck.

End of an Epoch?

A review of two books about the Anthropocene by Christian Schwägerl and Gaia Vince.

The Predicament

What does art do when the world is on fire? This was the question that framed the Dark Mountain Workshop project.

A Journey Begins

This October, as the leaves gather in the gutters of Stockholm, a gang of artists, writers, performers and theatre makers will set off on a journey.

Let’s Get This Party Started!

A short story written for 28 Days, a one-off newspaper published during the UK general election campaign of 2015.

The Shield of Perseus

An essay about the role of literature under the shadow of climate change, commissioned by the Free Word Centre, London.

When Promises of Progress Fail Us

A review of two books that grew out of conversations among the friends and collaborators of Ivan Illich: Grassroots Postmodernism by Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash, and The Future of Development: A Radical Manifesto by Gustavo Esteva, Salvatore Babones and Philipp Babcicky.

The Moment When the White Rabbit Goes Past

In the fifth issue of Crossed Lines, I introduced my new role as leader of artistic and audience development at Riksteatern, Sweden’s touring national theatre.

A Five Hundred Year Moment?

Wherever you look, to the left or to the right, you will have a hard time finding a politician who doesn’t want to create more jobs. They may argue over the best means to do so, but they would hardly think of asking whether employment as we know it is a good thing.

An Outlandish Generosity

As shadows lengthen over our whole way of living, we may once more be in need of the kind of storytelling that stalks truths so monstrous they turn our minds to stone if looked at straight on.

Excavating Buried Assumptions

The radical thought of Ivan Illich speaks more clearly than ever to our times, I argue, in this review of a new selection of his essays.

A Farewell to Uncivilisation

For the fifth Dark Mountain book, I wrote this essay looking back on what we’d learned from four years of running the Uncivilisation festival.

The Capacity for Second Thoughts: Ivan Illich

From his rise to prominence in the late 1960s to the last conversations with David Cayley, published as The Rivers North of the Future, Ivan Illich sought to uncover the hidden assumptions on which modern industrial societies had been built.

The Fairly Big Society

The Tories did not simply invent a half-baked cover story, they took other people’s ideas for a joyride, then smashed them into the dead end of their own ideology. The challenge now is to salvage what is worth saving of those ideas from the wreckage.

The Crossing of Two Lines

The essay which introduces The Crossing of Two Lines, the book I made with the artist duo Performing Pictures.

Commoning in the City

Two days of conversations about ‘the commons’ on an island in the heart of Stockholm set me thinking about what it means to reclaim ‘subsistence’ in the 21st century.

The Regeneration of Meaning

The consequences of an economic crisis can both lead to and be made worse by the crisis of meaning experienced by those whose lives it has derailed. Is it also possible for actions on the terrain of meaning to help stem and even reverse the consequences?

The Space Hackers Are Coming

On the emergence of a new kind of spatial agent, responding pragmatically to the constrictions and precarities of post-crisis living.

Words Which Matter to People

It is the second day of my journey around Europe, a journey in search of resilience, and I am in a park near the centre of Helsinki, asking the locals whether they can help me understand the meaning of sisu, a word that is said to be central to Finnish culture and impossible to translate.

Three Travellers

“I don’t think I was given the best careers advice in school,” he says. “There was no future in making things, they told us. If you were bright, you should go to college and study something like law.”

The Breadline

The breadline runs through the middle of the Kallio district of Helsinki. On Wednesdays and Fridays, when the Hursti Charitable Association’s regular food distributions take place, queues build up along the pavement of Helsinginkatu all morning. Once a month, there is a special distribution for students.

The Dark Shapes Ahead

The dark shapes ahead are islands. Beyond them the sea shines and the sky seems a soft reflection of its light, and beyond both of these, the faded darkness of the next line of islands. This goes on for hours.

In the Future, Everyone Will Be Powerful for 15 Minutes

Published in Despatches From the Invisible Revolution (PediaPress).  1. Rioters smash the windows of banks, the drum beats towards war with Iran, protests fuelled by social media take over the streets of another capital city. As 2011 reached its endgame, the cinematic surface of Mike Bartlett’s play, 13, could have been taken from the next day’s headlines.…

Remember the Future?

Published in Dark Mountain: Issue 2. I am retracing my steps, trying to work out where I last saw it. In the north of Moscow, there is a park called VDNKh. It was built in the1930s, under Stalin, and then rebuilt in the 1950s as an Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy. An enormous site, full of…

Defusing the Apocalypse: A Response to John Gray

When Paul and I wrote the Dark Mountain manifesto, our hope was start a conversation. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been encouraged by how far this has spread, and by the range and thoughtfulness (in most cases) of the responses we’ve received.

How I Became a Cyber-Womble

This is James Wallbank’s story of founding Access Space, based on an interview I did with him for the ‘Steel City’ special issue of PICK ME UP zine, 28 October 2005 James and his friends wanted to make art with computers. But they didn’t have any money. So they decided to see what they could do with…

How To Bring a Building Back to Life

Published in the ‘Steel City’ special issue of Pick Me Up zine, 28 October 2005 I’m not sure quite how it started. There was a huge empty building in the middle of the city, an old cutlery works. One guy with a recording studio on the second floor, and the rest of it just mouldering away. Then the G8 Justice…

How to Get 800 People to Come to a Protest Picnic

(and get it in the papers and on the radio and telly) Published in the Pick Me Up zine, 24 June 2005 1. START WITH A GOOD IDEA. Try it out on a few people. It’s got to catch their imagination or it won’t work, whatever you do. 2. CLEAR YOUR DIARY. A lot of work in…