Occupy London's School of Hard Knocks

Classroom. Manuel Castells spoke to Occupy LSX this morning.


PATERNOSTER SQUARE, LONDON—In the shadow of St. Paul's Cathedral, across from a Starbucks papered in protest signs, London's newest "university" is gaining popularity. At Tent City University, members of Occupy the London Stock Exchange (Occupy LSX) can hear academics—including a few big names—speak about a variety of topics related to their movement.

Tent City University held its first lectures, many of them in an actual tent, near the end of October, soon after protesters moved in to Paternoster Square and St. Paul's. It was an effort to provide "a free university, which is rarefied in the world of education," says Katherine Stanley, one of Occupy LSX's spokespeople. After sending out some initial invites, Stanley says they've recently been "inundated with e-mails" from interested speakers.

The lineup of talks—written on a whiteboard outside Occupy LSX's neatly arranged library, "Starbooks"—is a mixed bag, with subjects as varied as the history of St. Paul's, economic theory, homeopathy, and the dangers of nuclear power. But a few names stand out.

Today, for instance, celebrated Spanish sociologist and Berkeley professor Manuel Castells stopped by at the square to talk about how networking and organization shape society. (Castells gave a lecture series at the University of Cambridge the past week.) "What we have at the moment is democracy, but a restrained form of democracy - and the political class has an interest in maintaining the rules of the game," Castells told the crowd, according to Occupy London's Twitter feed.

Sociologists from the University of London and the University of Roehampton and representatives from several nongovernmental organizations on climate change are booked later this month.

Speaking later today is anthropologist Jerome Lewis of University College London, who got involved after some of his students asked him. Lewis sat in on several other talks recently and says people are enthusiastic and ask good questions. "It provides access to a large number of people who wouldn't otherwise speak to an academic," he says, as well as good dialogue in a cozy tent space.

Lewis, who studies pygmy hunter-gatherer societies in Africa, will discuss how humans evolved to live in these kinds of societies, whose richest members share their excess without a second thought. "It's an ancient human tradition," he says—and he hopes the Occupy movement will incorporate that bit of social science into its message.