TedX Talk on Freedom and Constraint

How can we step away from systems we depend on when we recognise that those systems are flawed or harmful? I have spent six and a half years in higher education, and I think this is one of the big questions that has underpinned my work throughout that time.

My undergraduate dissertation was an analysis of the ways in which universities function to reproduce social hierarchies rather than prioritising the deep education of their students. It was an expression of my disappointment in an educational system that taught students to pass tests, quote dead white men, and to expect penalisation if they tried anything creative or unusual.

I am the first person in my family to attend University, though not the last. My brother is an exceptionally skilled games designer and my sister is a brilliant writer and criminologist. I have benefitted immensely from my university education and the label of a degree from Durham University has opened doors for me; it was instrumental in getting me into a situation where my academic interests now pay my salary as an ESRC scholarship holding PhD researcher.  In a very obvious material way, higher education is a system I depend on.

Left to right: Me, Maisie, and Corrin together on New years Eve 2017

Housing is a system that we all depend on. Despite what neoliberal messaging would have you believe, regardless of how much ‘grit’ we demonstrate, how honed our morning routine is, or many positive affirmations we chant, there is very little we can achieve or enjoy in life without a safe and secure home.

Our individual abilities and quality of life are expanded or constrained by the structures we exist within.

The distillation of neoliberal messaging

This is what I discuss in my TedX talk. The talk is broken down in to three key questions:


  • How can we step away from the live-to-work mentality?
  • How can we step away from the work-to-spend mentality?
  • How can we step away from the ecocide inherent in our current model of economic expansion?


Tiny houses offer an interesting way to answer these questions.

Given that, for now, we have to function inside of a neoliberal globalised capitalist economy, tiny houses suggest a way of augmenting the ways in which we function inside that system, including how dependent we are on waged labour, how much we participate in the purchasing and then throwing away of consumer goods, and the size of our carbon footprint.

I have now spoken to thirty different people who are building or already living in their tiny houses. This diverse group includes newly graduated students and those who have been retired for years, single people, families of four, single mothers, software engineers, architects, and artists.

Whilst tiny houses are not a suitable solution for everyone, these people demonstrate that despite the constraints of a debilitating global housing crisis, stagnating wages, and a worsening climate crisis, there are ways of living with greater autonomy and at a greater distance form the machinations of a financialised, transaction based, extractive model of life.


I’ll leave it there for now, but am always happy to hear from readers. I have gotten some really nice emails recently so thank you to everyone who reaches out.

You can always keep an eye on what we are doing in our social enterprise OpHouse.

I also invite you to join this rad gang, especially if you are a woman or non-binary person involved in higher education.


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