In 2008, the rise of the Transition Towns movement sparked an Aberystwyth initiative (Mason and Whitehead, 2012). One of the working groups was a reading group, initially to discuss Transition movement literature. Initially, the group met out-of-hours in a local organic restaurant, the Treehouse, which functioned as a ‘green space’ (c.f. Horton, 2006). In 2009 our first ‘out-reading’ was a critique of the politics of the Transition movement, (Trapese Collective, 2008). Thence, the group began more radical reading, memorably Holloway’s Twelve Theses on Changing the World without taking Power. In 2010 and 2011, members of the group participated in occupations and teach-ins by students opposing hikes in tuition fees. By late 2011, however, the group was flagging with a scant handful of regulars. Inspired by Exeter Anarchist Reading Group, we called a meeting of all the local activists we could think of, resulting in an injection of some new life. ‘Marketing’ ourselves via university channels attracted academic staff, Masters and PhD students. One member set up a blog which extended our practices into writing and interaction with authors whose work we read (https://abertransitionreadinggroup.wordpress.com/). Arguably, the group became academic-heavy/activist-lite, though any distinction is vexed (c.f. Askins, 2013). To signal the extension of our focus beyond energy transition to any form of change, we added ‘s’ to Transition in the group’s name. For me, this signified a shift from the totalising ideology of the Transition movement to a more pluralistic approach to community politics and knowledge.
It would be too lengthy to list everything we have read, but a poll of regulars reveals some favourites. We sustained an engagement with Albert’s Parecon, largely ignored by academia. Unsurprisingly given the group’s preponderance of human geographers, David Harvey and Andy Merrifield have proved popular, while Simon Springer’s Why a radical geography must be anarchist (2014) was a favourite. The Kilburn Manifesto (2013) stimulated an exchange with one author, Stuart Hall, now sadly deceased. We have read about the degrowth, makers, Low Impact Development, and climate justice movements, but oddly not Occupy. Listening to pod-casts and watching films, we do not confine ourselves to written texts. Future activities mooted include reading fiction, discussing music, art and poetry, attending performances and exhibitions, and inviting speakers.
In 2014 the reading group is the only collective legacy of Aberystwyth’s Transition initiative. Evening meetings are in cafe-bars outside the university. Group identity remains defined by municipal transition: we are concerned with social change, our own lives, the place where we live and its relations with a wider world. As with other local activisms, our radical ambition is constrained by a lack of critical mass in a small rural town with a conservative university, neither offering significant resistance to processes of neoliberal globalisation. As a new year looms, the group seems to be entering a new phase, coalescing around more conventional academic format and content.