Platform Discontent against the University

I have a chapter out in an open access book, The Digital Age and Its Discontents: Critical Reflections in Education.

I’ve written about Platform Discontent against the University. The abstract is below and the full chapter is available here.

The chapter addresses: Technology and the Capitalist University; Technology and Academic Labour; Discontent and the Re-imagination of the Institution;  Platform Discontent as a Social Movement; and, Beyond the University.

Abstract

Inside the University, technology shapes productive moments of capitalist expansion. As such, it is deployed in order to eviscerate academic labour costs and labour time, while promising to liberate the academic worker through free time. Thus, digital technology both re-engineers education in the name of entrepreneurialism and competition, and forces academics and students to struggle to enrich their human capital. In terms of responses to this re-engineering, this has led to discussions about accelerationism or the possibility of fully automated luxury communism. One outcome is a consideration of ways in which technology can liberate the direct producers of knowledge to cooperate through associations that widen their autonomy. However, while this work challenges the hegemonic idea of transhistorical, educational institutions with a particular focus on knowledge production and its uses, it runs into their integration inside the universe of value. Value forces institutions and managers to performance-manage academic labour, in ways that can be analysed through the idea of platforms as a mechanism that expands capital’s cybernetic control. This chapter critiques ideologies and practices of technology-rich institutions, in order to discuss whether the educational technology and workload management platforms that are used to control academic production might act as sites of discontent and alternatives that enable communities to reconstitute their own lived experiences. Is it possible to develop forms of platform discontent, which lie beyond simple discontent against platforms and instead enable communities to widen their own spheres of autonomy?


new article: The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the End of the End of History

Over at Postdigital Science and Education, I have a new article out:

The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the End of the End of History

The abstract is appended below.

The University is being explicitly restructured for the production, circulation and accumulation of value, materialised in the form of rents and surpluses on operating activities. The pace of restructuring is affected by the interplay between financial crisis and Covid-19, through which the public value of the University is continually questioned. In this conjuncture of crises that affect the body of the institution and the bodies of its labourers, the desires of Capital trump human needs. The structural adjustment of sectoral and institutional structures as forms, cultures as pathologies, and activities as methodologies enacts scarring. However, the visibility of scars has led to a reawakening of politics inside and beyond the University. The idea that History had ended because there is no alternative to capitalism or its political horizon, is in question. Instead, the political content of the University has reasserted itself at the end of The End of History. In this article, the idea that the University at The End of History has become a hopeless space, unable both to fulfil the desires of those who labour within it for a good life and to contribute solutions to socio-economic and socio-environmental ruptures, is developed dialectically. This enables us to consider the potential for reimagining intellectual work as a movement of sensuous human activity in the world, rather than being commodified for value.


Fergal Finnegan of The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside University

I am pleased that, over at Power and Education, There is a review by Fergal Finnegan of: The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside University. Fergal’s review was very generous and insightful, and connects to those of Joss Winn and Enja Helmes. He notes:

To accurately describe the university and what it means to be an academic today calls for a completely different set of coordinates. Hall takes up this theoretical challenge and sets out with clarity and force how this might be envisaged from a Marxist perspective (the book is the most recent publication in Palgrave Macmillan’s Marxism and Education series). The result is a thought-provoking and genuinely fresh perspective on the nature of academic work and the politics of contemporary HE.

It has an urgency of tone and frank passion which marks it out as different from many of the other lamentations about the decline of the university. Hall is pinning his theses on the door of an institution which he believes can no longer see what it does and that it in fact stands in the way of freedom.

However, Fergal also makes a very valid points about: how I might have used alienation as a bridge between critical moments and critical tendencies (including the work of Friere); the need for empirical detail (which I have forsaken for a while because my mind has been in a more abstract, philosophical space); the messiness of higher education (I guess that I set up a straw person for the purposes of the argument); and the relationship between class and the University (rendered secondary to a fuller, intersectional and humanist analysis).

In particular, this point that Fergal makes has stuck with me:

These gaps reflect the fact that TAA does not address class (de)composition and class formation – and the role of HE in these processes – in enough fine-grained detail.

I am hoping that I can begin to address this issue in the book upon which I am currently focused, which takes the University as its unit of analysis (as opposed to academic labour, which was central to TAA): The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at The End of The End of History.

Given what I have been reading and writing about, and my own struggles as a union negotiator and also in our institutional, decolonising project, I would not now have written TAA as I did then. Of course, this seems a little obvious, but much of my thinking recently has been about the structures/forms, cultures/pathologies and activities/methodologies of the institution, and the ways in which status, privilege, alienation, ill-being and so on accelerate class decomposition, and the possibilities for new class formations.

I also feel that I had a particularly naïve view of alienation, and hadn’t engaged with Hegel enough. Alongside critical theorists and radical pedagogues, this would also be a gap. In my defence, I feel that I had to curate my reading in particular ways, and I wanted my argument to take a particular route.

The very valid points Fergal makes about TAA have given me some stimulation towards re-engaging with The Hopeless University. I have a journal article forthcoming on this in Postdigital Science and Education, and I think my voice/writing are shifting (a function of a more confident position), including the nuance he speaks of around the messiness of the University. I had lost some momentum on this, And needed to sit with our current conjuncture, in order to make sense of myself in this space and time. I hope to use his words to kick-start my thinking again.

 


Decolonising DMU

I direct the evaluation for the Decolonising DMU Project.

With Kaushika Patel and Chris Hall (no relation), I am presenting on the project at the Advance HE Learning and Teaching Conference next week. If you have registered for the conference there will be a recording (.mp4) available. However, the slides are here.

You may also be interested in the project’s draft working position on building the anti-racist university, with which I was heavily involved. This connects to our research question: how does decolonising (its symbolism and reality) impact the idea of the university?

We are also presenting on Building the anti-racist University at a forthcoming event at the University of Bradford. The movement is (hopefully) growing.

Afterword

At Bradford I spoke about white privilege, and my own role in a process of decolonising. I argued following.

  1. Gurnam Singh spoke about white allyship Requiring an openness to building sustainable, democratic partnerships. I echoed this, in terms of horizontal forms of democracy, and building from below is a movement of dignity.
  2. I pointed back to a statement that Gurnam had made at the Radical DMU conference last year. He asked, how is it that in the most liberal institutions in the land in 2019, we are having to ask what it means to build the anti-racist University, or to decolonise? In fact, he forces us to ask whether these institutions can ever be described as liberal, and, if they can, whether that is a badge of dishonour that furthers particular forms of privilege.
  3. I argued the importance of challenging how structures/forms, cultures/pathologies, and activities/methodologies inside institutions, mirror governance, regulation and funding of the sector. The UK Conservative Government’s new Restructuring Regime for institutions in financial difficulty, reinforces the hegemony of the market and of human capital in dehumanising educational experiences.We have to find ways of refusing these pathological methodologies simply reinforce the power of people with no caring responsibilities, who over-perform, and who represent white, male, able power.
  4. In particular, we need to do this because University is implicated in a series of global crises, through the networks inside which it operates, its pathological search for surplus, its reinforcement of the performance ideals of the global North. It symbolises particular forms of life. It does not enable us to address climate forcing, a collapse in the nitrogen cycle, austerity governance, global poverty, whatever, unless those modes of addressing can be mediated through the commodity, the market, private property and money.
  5. Therefore, decolonising is a challenge to myself and my white, male privilege, just as it is a challenge to the very idea of the University grounded in the status and power are people who look like me. The voices that got us into this mess are not the voices I wish to centre as we build dialogue and look for potential routes towards another world or set of worlds.
  6. I see the process of decolonising not as the description of a utopia, rather as an attempt to situate this institution as a transitional moment, centring care, hope and dignity beyond the market, and focused upon equality rather than liberal tropes of equality of opportunity. It centres dialogue and reflection, and it grounds the University in its communities and its place.
  7. Peace be with you.

enough is enough

I am tired. In my heart and in my bones. I have been trying to sit with George Floyd, and to understand how to be in this world. It has felt beyond important to contact my black peers, colleagues and friends, and my peers, colleagues and friends of colour, to offer them what I can. I am constantly trying to acknowledge my privilege as a white, male professor, and that role’s reproduction of whiteness, and to find ways to redistribute that privilege. Being deliberate in reaching out felt like one strand of this.

Earlier in the week I had been ripped by Musa Okwonga’s testimony of his experiences of the police and the State as a teenager, and the subsequent, ongoing denial of his identity and expertise. He articulated how specific, racist forms of difference were imprinted and imposed upon him at an early age from without. He articulated how, even though he had written the critically acclaimed book on football in 2007, he was rarely asked to speak about football tactics, cultural history. Rather as a black man, he was forced constantly to re-articulate his and society’s position on race.

This constant, emotional labour made me feel exhausted, exasperated, frustrated, angry, tearful. A constant, emotional labour, which denies or detracts from the ability to grieve the murder of yet another black man or woman at the hands of the State and its institutions. The constant, emotional labour required to struggle against whiteness as it demands the generation of a double consciousness. And the part that had me in tears was when Musa made me internalise the reality that those struggles I have had with chronic anxiety and depression, two breakdowns, managing the death of my mother, chronic family illness, and on and on, were managed without the additional layers of navigation, compromise, fear, denial demanded of those with black skins. As he noted, he cannot leave his black skin at the door.

I am tired. But it feels as nothing compared to the exhaustion of this constant, emotional labour. Of a life that has to be justified against the power and privilege of others over and over.

Beyond Musa’s careful and considered and emotional and humane response, a second moment of tearful clarity came when Mark replied to my contact, specifically in response to the idea that I was trying to sit with George. He wrote, ‘Please tell him I am breathing.’ Fucking hell. I am in tears every time I read that. And I am reminded that Akwugo Emejulu writes of the eruption and exhaustion of protest that:

This is a gathering of the ghosts of our past, present and future. They assemble to watch us and wonder when and how this will end. We scream, we shout and we march because we are haunted by those we could not save and by the terrifying knowledge that these violent deaths at the hands of the state – or those who know they have the full support of the state – could happen to any of us. They couldn’t breathe because existing while Black is a threat to the everyday order of things – to the mundane organisation of American society that demands Black people’s subjugation.

‘Please tell him I am breathing.’ A gathering of ghosts. Sitting with me as I question, what have we become? What do we allow? How are we complicit? How, as Musa writes elsewhere, do I help others ‘not to be those who point at injustice and then stand by.’

And Mark wanted me to ‘Tell [George] that he has moved me closer to so many people including you. Tell him he has made me realise I need to have more uncomfortable conversations.’ And I think, how do I help to build upon the hope that centres upon Mark’s lived experience that he is still breathing? Building hope. This is our truth.


Rik replied to my contact and sent me this reminder from Stephen Garner.

The power talked of here is of unchecked and untrammelled authority to exert its will; the power to invent and change the rules and transgress them with impunity; and the power to define the ‘Other’, and to kill him or her with impunity. The arbitrary imposition of life and death is one end of the spectrum of power relations that whiteness enacts, across the parts of the world where white people are preponderant in positions of power. From Ida Wells’s anti-lynching crusade, through Malcolm X’s comment that ‘We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock: that rock landed on us’, to Carmichael and Hamilton’s pioneering and striking claims about the way structural racism functions as a compound of class and ‘race’ (1967), the recurrent theme is of African-Americans developing an ethnographic gaze of which the subject is the way power is wielded by White America and how it impacts painfully on them.

Steve Garner. 2007. Whiteness: An Introduction. London: Routledge, p. 14.

I see that I have access to some of that power wielded through white privilege, and that this potentially impacts painfully on others made marginal. I have long contended that my work inside the University is to abolish that power and that privilege, and to abolish the idea of the University as it enables and is enabled by that power and that privilege. Increasingly I see that the structures or forms of the University, the cultures that act as pathologies grounded in white privilege, and the activities that reproduce whiteness methodologically, are unable to deal with the conjuncture of crises. That they simply re-enact separation, divorce, exhaustion, exploitation, expropriation.

The voices that have been enabled over and over and over at the political economic core of our world, and which have brought us to the brink environmentally and socially, are not the voices that I wish to listen to in the search for another world. Instead, I need to do all I can to centre the voices of those made marginal, and the identities of those exploited, expropriated, extracted and exchanged. This is the only way I can see for us to push beyond the reproduction of exploitation, expropriation, extraction and exchange as the basis for our alienating existence. This feels like the struggle of our lives. I wonder if this is the real movement that will abolish the present state of things.


I have to consider this in the context of my own work, in particular in my institution’s engagement with decolonising. Elsewhere, Akwugo has noted, ‘To decolonise is to imagine that another university is possible.’ I am trying to relate the idea of the University, to its realities in its structures, cultures and activities, through conversation with particular experiences of black staff and students, and students and staff of colour. How do we bring the symbolism of the institution into conversation with how we imagine it, and our lived experiences of it, in order to be better?

I have written a working position for this:

In response to this, Decolonising DMU is an insistent movement towards a pluralist experience of the University, so that each individual and her communities feel more at home there. It works against the reality that some staff and students feel that they are not able to fit in, because they are alienated by institutions that are structured by whiteness and white privilege. We wish to elevate and bring to the front alternative experiences, stories, narratives and relationships, such that those who engage with the University do not have to give up their own identities and subjectivities. Our work refuses the idea that some should have to develop a double consciousness (or the daily reality of having to reconcile one’s own identity and heritage with the judgement of a dominant, Eurocentric identity), in order to survive in the institution.

This is a process of transformation or venturing beyond, which links strategy and action. It has a focus upon generating new knowledge about the University, its governance, internal regulation, management and organisation, technologies and information flows, and its relationships. In broad terms, the idea of Decolonising DMU challenges exploitation and dispossession, silencing, othering and marginalisation.

In this moment, my ghosts tell me that this is my real movement. And in that, I have to consider, as Oli Mould clearly and publicly articulates, what I can do as a white, male academic, to be better.

As the Particles for Justice collective note in their call for a #strike4blacklives, this involves a willingness to:

acknowledge the ways in which the effects of anti-Black racism are compounded for people who are also, for example, women, trans, non-binary, queer, Indigenous to the lands occupied by the United States and Canada, Latinx, Muslim, Jewish, disabled, and/or undocumented. We demand justice, reform, and accountability now.

And so I have to reflect and refuse the ways in which my practice reinforces pathological white privilege, whitewash and whiteness.

  • How does my research, teaching, administration, mentoring, widen the spaces and times in which black students and staff, and staff and students of colour can tell out their souls?
  • How do I contribute to the struggle for authenticity and legitimacy beyond whiteness, in institutional committees, trade union committees, governing bodies, institutional strategy, trade union campaigns, academic workloads?
  • How do I struggle for the rights of others, and their equality? What does this mean for me, in terms of student and staff attainment, advancement, personal development, workload?
  • How do I struggle against the monitoring and profiling of certain communities, and the measuring of everyone by a colonial and patriarchal yardstick?
  • How do I struggle against privileged forms of knowledge, and for multiple and interconnected ways of knowing, being and doing?
  • How do I struggle against experiences of microaggressions, harassment, hostility and hate crime that differentially impact mental and physical health? How do I fight for services for those who need them, inside and outside the University?

My work has to commit to deconstructing my practice and the alienating structures/forms, cultures/pathologies, and activities/methodologies that it enables. I have to centre the lived experience of those occupying subaltern positions, or those traditionally occupying second- order or subordinated status. I have to demand empathy from myself with the experiences of those made marginal or silenced. I have to do this work. Me, not those we have othered.

I have to be accountable for these statements. We who have benefited must be held to account for these statements.

I am tired. But it feels as nothing compared to the exhaustion of this constant, emotional labour.

This is my personal reckoning. A reckoning is coming.

And I will bear this tiredness because I refuse to be complicit in the reproduction of another’s toxic exhaustion.

Enough is enough.


against whiteness

The power talked of here is of unchecked and untrammelled authority to exert its will; the power to invent and change the rules and transgress them with impunity; and the power to define the ‘Other’, and to kill him or her with impunity. The arbitrary imposition of life and death is one end of the spectrum of power relations that whiteness enacts, across the parts of the world where white people are preponderant in positions of power. From Ida Wells’s anti-lynching crusade, through Malcolm X’s comment that ‘We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock: that rock landed on us’, to Carmichael and Hamilton’s pioneering and striking claims about the way structural racism functions as a compound of class and ‘race’ (1967), the recurrent theme is of African-Americans developing an ethnographic gaze of which the subject is the way power is wielded by White America and how it impacts painfully on them.

Steve Garner. 2007. Whiteness: An Introduction. London: Routledge, p. 14.


Votive offerings

I have decided to put the following into my Nan’s coffin.

A pair of wrist warmers, knitted by Jo. Nan loved the colours in the pair that Jo originally made for her, but one got lost. She loved the pastel colours, but she also loved the labour and love that went into making them. It reminded her of her work in the glove trade.

A badge from the launch for my last book, The Alienated Academic. It was dedicated, in large part, to her.

A Walsall FC badge from 1979, when my Granddad first took me to a game. Their house and Fellows’ Park were safe spaces. The world felt very different in 1979. As she will be interred with him, it feels so important for this to be there with them.

A card representing nature. She loved the world. She loved blossom.

A copy of the tribute I wrote for her.


For Elsie Hawes

It’s been a long, long time/Since I’ve memorized your face

It’s been four hours now/Since I’ve wandered through your place

And when I sleep on your couch/I feel very safe

And when you bring the blankets/I cover up my face

I do love you/I do love you

Sufjan Stevens. Futile Devices.


Elsie May Hawes, née Somerfield

b. 23 November 1917

d. 29 April 2020

I will miss travelling the hour down the A5 to help care for my Nan, Elsie Hawes, in the same house she had moved into after she married my Grandad, Ken, in 1940. It was the house where I had lived until my Mom remarried in 1973. It was the house that always felt like a safe haven. It was the house where she had lived alone following Ken’s passing in 1990. It was the house where she kept on.

She broke her hip in September 2018. For what seemed like forever, although it was six weeks, I would travel across to the hospital in Walsall, to discover her breaking the hearts of the nursing staff, declaring them angels sent from heaven. When she moved back home, the care team were also treated as angels by her. Almost everyone who came into contact with her wanted to take her home and adopt her, because when she saw you her face lit up unconditionally and made you the centre of attention. And she helped you recognise that the meaning and reality of care are mutual creations.


“She was 102 and we can confirm the happiest person, we as a team, had the pleasure of working with”

“Elsie you were amazing. I always look forward to visiting you and spending time I was there to cheer you up but I always went away feeling that you had made me happy.”

“Elsie was always so pleasant and grateful for everything. An amazing lady and such a pleasure to be with. I’m a better person for knowing her.”

Tributes from Hayward Befriending


Elsie and Ken cared for me having removed me and my Mom from the police house in which we were living in late 1971. They demonstrated immense strength as a working-class couple, in standing up to authority, in the name of their family and what they felt was right and just. It was in these next months at the start of my life that the connection was born, which would carry me through to helping my aunt, uncle and cousin to care for Elsie at the end of hers.

I have always held this care at the start of my life close to my heart. And I always felt taken-in to her heart. Yet not only was it important for me to reciprocate and reproduce and renew her love and care towards the end, but I also felt the need to make amends because I had not seen her for six years around the time Ken passed away. Our relationship was honest enough that we could talk about this, and that she could tell me he died with a broken heart, and that we could still hold hands, and I could still feel loved unconditionally. It was strong enough that we could talk about my birth father and my history, and she could express her fears that she would lose me, and I could comfort her. Because this was the only relationship in which I have ever really felt loved unconditionally; never scared of being abandoned; never scared of the scar of abandonment opening up again; never sitting in life’s antechamber.

Travelling over to see her in hospital was exhausting but necessary. I learned this six years earlier in doing the same for my Mom before she passed away. There is love and tenderness that needs to be shown in the hospital, but there are also questions that need to be asked and care plans discussed and contingencies negotiated. Periodically, as Elsie struggled with bouts of pneumonia, or when her SATs dropped as congenital heart failure and dementia kicked-in, we would find ourselves back chasing ambulances to A&E, and waiting. And after fears that this would be it, we would find her laughing with nurses and wolfing pieces of toast and butter. Rediscovering her in this way made these visits necessary.

We used to pop over on Tuesdays and Saturdays, since she broke her hip in September 2018. It was here that new sides to her were revealed to me, and new stories were told. Perhaps one of her strongest memories was of her friend Elsie Booker collecting her from her home in Leamore to walk to school. My great-grandmother would see two boys waiting at the top of the road and ask: what do they want? My Nan would reply that it was Elsie Booker’s brother and his friend Ken, and they were just going to walk to school together. My Nan loved the conspiratorial nature of this story, compounded by the fact that they did not take the sensible route to school, rather they walked across the park attempting to jump the brook without getting their feet wet, and if they failed then they had to avoid anyone in authority knowing they had wet shoes.

This is important because my Nan had a strong sense of self. But she also had a strong sense of duty and loyalty. I carry this fierce loyalty, and I hope some of her courage and faith. From an early age she would arise to do housework, including lighting the fire so that her father, a miner who worked nights on Cannock Chase, would have hot water when he came in. She used to complain, as the third eldest of seven sisters, of having to get up to do housework and then go to school, and after school having to take cleaning jobs, and that she was the carthorse because her sisters did not have the same pressures. Yet, almost immediately she would talk of how she loved doing chores in the kitchen with the back door open so she could hear her father singing as he dug potatoes.

Are you ever burdened/With a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy/You are called to bear?

Count your many blessings/Ev’ry doubt will fly

And you will keep singing as the days go by

John Oatman. Count Your Blessings. Hymnal.


In telling us the stories, I realised just how much life had been layered around her. She was born during the First World War, and had an uncle killed as a stretcher bearer at Passchendaele. She had left school at 14 to take up work in the glove trade in Walsall. After her housework, she would cycle 3 miles to the factory, put in a full day, and cycle home to do some more housework. Yet, her face lights up as she tells of occasional evening knockabouts playing tennis in the park with her sister Betty. To the end she claimed that her old tennis racket was in the cubbyhole in her bedroom. We smiled.

She was born into an age without mass transportation or communication, just ahead of the flu pandemic of 1918. She witnessed the great depression and the Second World War, the rise of the welfare state and consumerism. When we speak about the speedup of life it makes me smile, given the historical, material and cultural changes my Nan witnessed. Of course, these changes were threaded into an ordinary life, anchored very much in a few square miles of The Black Country, and in family and friends.

Ken was the love of her life, and we hope that she can be buried with him in the next few weeks. She married him in 1940, after a decade of courtship, and there is an amazing postcard of a photograph that they had taken at the Horace Dudley studio in Walsall in 1935, where he has written “Pals” and she has written “SWEETHEARTS” on the reverse. To her, they were more than pals; she was always determined. There are photos of her with her father in his garden, with her parents and sisters in the backyard on her sister Linda’s wedding day, with her mother and aunts and sisters on a day out in the 1930s. Yet I am drawn to the photos of Ken and Elsie’s wedding in Bloxwich, precisely because all these strands of my back story are visible and collected. I can never recover them, but at least they are collected.

Later in her life, she tells a story of meeting Queen Mary, the Queen Mother, in a hospital near Brixham where she was visiting Ken following an injury on manoeuvres. After he was demobilised, they moved into a British Waterways property, the 2-up 2-down in which they cared for my Mom and Aunt, and then me, where they welcomed my sister and cousins, and then in which she cared for my Grandad as he passed with cancer. She ended up having the shortest commute possible, as she became the forewoman for a men’s clothing factory across the road from her house. Beyond retirement, her expertise and availability was such that she kept being called in for advice – it was how Shankley would have wanted it at Liverpool.

It is indicative of how people felt about her that she had deep and lasting contact with those she had apprenticed and mentored. Family members of women she had worked with in the 1930s were still in her life. She continued to get the park-and-ride bus to two clubs, and was proud that as the elder stateswoman she had the best seat at the Thursday club. She was especially close to her sister Linda, with whom she went on weekly outings around the West Midlands on bus and train: Dudley one week; West Bromwich the next; Wolverhampton Civic theatre for the pantomime. Then they would go on coach holidays, until Linda’s health worsened. I remember them laughing, getting off the train in Leicester for a visit, when they were both in their late 80s. I remember how she made everyone feel that they mattered at her 100th birthday party. I remember how she treasured the wrist warmers that Jo crocheted for her, and how she sat holding Jo’s hands as friends. Apparently small pleasures treasured, and life lived for the present with hope for the future.


It took me a long time to understand this. Caring for Elsie taught me to recognise my sometimes pointless relationship to nostalgia. It was my grandad who first took me to watch Walsall FC play. He had watched them for years and the ritual around the game that he and Elsie put in-place became seminal in my life. It’s why, in spite of my team’s mediocrity, they are in my soul. Rediscovering footage from that 1979/80 season centres me at the intersection of critically and psychologically important elements of my history. Moreover, it reveals characteristics of my identity, in the psychological surety and safety of certain places and people. It reveals to me how that surety and safety was damaged, and how I spent my life trying to recover them until I realised how pointless it was, constantly looking backwards towards the fissures and breaks.

Instead, I try to focus upon small pleasures to be treasured. Saturday lunchtimes of egg and chips (very brown chips), and bags of cola cubes, and arriving home after the game to Saturday evenings of ham and cheese salad with pickles. Lots of pickles. (Especially her famous home-made picked onions. In her final pickling year when she was 90-odd, she made 91 pounds in weight, carrying them all back on the bus from Walsall.) I remember (deliberately?) falling asleep on Saturday evenings at their house, and staying over. I loved waking up there, and feeling like I belonged. I remember playing in the street in the summer of 1976 and my grandparents arriving to visit us, and the world lit-up.

It was this light that my Nan continued to bring in to the end. As we discovered her love of singing, and as she took such joy in the everyday whilst she was confined to her bed or hoisted into her chair. Her cheeky grin at the thought of some splosh (generally whiskey and cream) in her coffee, or laughing as we discussed whether Walsall had lost again, but cherishing the colours of the flowers she was bought, or watching the birds through her window. And then, “I won’t always be like this”, she would say, before breaking out into song: “I like a nice cup of tea in the morning/I like a nice cup of tea with my tea/and when I go to bed, there’s a lot to be said, for a nice cup of tea.”

I like to think that she went out as she lived her life, on her own terms as much as was humanly possible. It grieves me that I could not see her for the last six weeks of her life, other than in WhatsApp video calls with my aunt. But I love that she recognised us, and that she knew us from the card Jo made for her. I love that in a time of corona-crisis, she did not succumb, and instead it was just her time. We joked that she was never ill, and that everyone needed a couple of vials of her blood. We remember that she consistently defied the odds in life, and after she broke her hip, to keep on. I am forever grateful that my aunt was there with her at the end.


This is amazing to me as I reflect upon how much loss she must have grieved or endured, processed and internalised, and moved through, in her 102 years. There was a focus upon the ritual of the everyday, and of accepting the need to open yourself out to life. There is a calmness and simplicity in this. Not a stoicism or naïveté. Rather she demonstrated an acceptance of life, and of being able to sit with all its forms.

I think she would have loved the playlist of songs suggested by so many of my friends.

What this time with her has given me, in her long walk into the light, is a renewed understanding of myself and what is possible in my life and what is possible from my life. Our relationship has helped me renew my relationship with my family and especially my aunt, uncle and cousin, whose love and care for Elsie over the years is a celebration and to be celebrated. I have learnt some humility in this, and to try to balance my past with my present. I have also learnt to hold the everyday as central, whilst trying to do the right thing.

Elsie taught us to believe that we are courageous, and that in having faith in ourselves and each other we might find a more just way of living. Hers was a hopeful life, and one that pointed me towards peace. Her life is a reason why I dedicated my last book to her: “She taught me the value of conditionality and how to live with dignity. She taught me that a good-enough life could be described as ‘fair-to-middling ’”. Fair-to-middling was how she would reply when you asked her how she was, before she laughed. It was a beautiful understatement; like her life.

Her love is safe with me.


This is not the sound of a new man/Or a crispy realization

It’s the sound of me unlocking and you lift away

Your love will be/Safe with me

Bon Iver. Re:stacks.


Praktyka Teoretyczna: Has the University become surplus to requirements?

With Krystian Szadkowski from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, I am working on an article for a Special Issue of Praktyka Teoretyczna on Latency of the crisis: globalization, subjectivity, and resistance.

Our proposed article is entitled: Has the University become surplus to requirements? Or is another university possible?

Abstract

The University has become a place that has no socially-useful role beyond the reproduction of capital. In the context of globalisation and unifying sublation processes that are driven by transnational capital, it has become an anti-human project, grounded in narratives of human capital, productivity and value-for-money. It has become a place of suspended time, grappling to make sense of, and align with, a landscape of unrealised and unrealisable promises, which are amplified by growing economic inequality and precarity. It is a space that sits uneasily against a terrain that demands entrepreneurial engagement with flexibility, risk-taking, efficiency and human capital, whilst at the same time working to annihilate the value of labour-power that cannot drive innovation in commodity production.

As a result, the higher education sector in the global North faces structural issues that are realised in stagnating wages, a huge increase in the reserve army of labour, growing precarity and diminishing security, the unbundling of functions like teaching and research, an acceleration in proposed delivery times for degrees, and so on. In the everyday existence of academics, ill-being and mental distress are allied with recurrent and overwork. Moreover, people who identify or who are identified as black, female, disabled, queer, indigenous, are likely to be differentially impacted.

Thus, the University appears devoid of hope, and this reflects its inability to respond meaningfully with crises that erupt from the contradictions of capital, including that between capital and climate. Yet in its maintenance of business-as-usual, the University remains shaped as a tactical response to these contradictions. It is emblematic of the crisis and precarization in the lifeworld of contemporary society, precisely because the University’s subsumption for value production has been made visible. This changes the very idea of the University, and what it means to work inside the Academy, such that it is reorganised around surplus: surplus wealth; surplus labour; surplus time; and people surplus to requirements. In this, there is no space for collective politics or democracy, and in fact the University has become a key site for reproducing the separation of polity and economy as a mode of control.

This article pivots around the bureaucratic university’s desire for surplus, and its relationship to the everyday, academic reality of feeling surplus to requirements. In defining the contours of this contradiction, inside the normalisation of political economic crisis, we question whether there still exists space for an academic method or mode of subjectivation. This is an important moment in testing the possibilities for a horizon of hope, against what feels like the inevitability of hopelessness. It is important to recognise that the academic precarity accelerated by the ongoing instrumentalisation of prestige, and of status distribution mechanisms across higher education, which enables capital to regulate it through competition at institutional, national and global scale.

Moreover, the competitive norms are implemented in the University in the North are further imposed on the South and the East, and prevent non-Northern modes of knowing and doing to circulate. In engaging with political economic and socio-environmental crises, we question whether the University is able to go beyond such blockages, and whether the dialectical method is still useful. Here, we also critique the ability of the University in the global North to bring itself into relations with the epistemological sensibilities of the South and the East, which can treat other ways of seeing and praxis with dignity and respect.

Thus, in engaging with the contradictions grounded in the production of surpluses, the article closes by asking whether academics and students can define a counter-cartography of the University in the global North? Such a process of producing a counter-cartography seeks to refuse dominant, white, male, ableist, straight and non-indigenous norms, and instead offers dialogue around the reproduction of alternative lifeworlds. In grappling with the idea of surplus, and the everyday and structural ways in which its production are made manifest, we seek to ask whether another universities possible?