Generative AI and re-weaving a pedagogical horizon of social possibility

I have a new article out in the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education. It is entitled Generative AI and re-weaving a pedagogical horizon of social possibility.

This is my contribution to a Thematic Series on Higher Education Futures at the intersection of justice, hope, and educational technology
(Edited by: George Veletsianos, Shandell Houlden, Jen Ross, Sakinah Alhadad, Camille Dickson-Deane). I am privileged to be engaged with this thematic series. The article is available open access here. The abstract is given below.

Abstract

This article situates the potential for intellectual work to be renewed through an enriched engagement with the relationship between indigenous protocols and artificial intelligence (AI). It situates this through a dialectical storytelling of the contradictions that emerge from the relationships between humans and capitalist technologies, played out within higher education. It argues that these have ramifications for our conceptions of AI, and its ways of knowing, doing and being within wider ecosystems. In thinking about how technology reinforces social production inside capitalist institutions like universities, the article seeks to refocus our storytelling around mass intellectuality and generative possibilities for transcending alienating social relations. In so doing, the focus shifts to the potential for weaving new protocols, from existing material and historical experiences of technology, which unfold structurally, culturally and practically within communities. At the heart of this lies the question, what does it mean to live? In a world described against polycrisis, is it possible to tell new social science fictions, as departures towards a new mode of higher learning and intellectual work that seeks to negate, abolish and transcend the world as-is?


some stuff on Palestine-Israel

A list of resources (mainly podcasts) that I have been engaging with, in order to work through how I feel about Palestine-Israel. I have an eye to deepening my own (self-) awareness, focusing on processing my grief and rage at our collective inhumanity, and where to place my energy. I also trying to think through what this means for my own place/sector of work, higher education, and how I might struggle with others against its complicity and silence.

Peace be with us all.


Medical Aid for Palestine: https://www.map.org.uk/


On the psychology and history of violence

‘You made me do it’ Jacqueline Rose on violence and its origins. London Review of Books, 45(23). Available: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v45/n23/jacqueline-rose/you-made-me-do-it

Torrent of Rage (with Jacqueline Rose). The Alexei Sayle podcast. Available: https://audioboom.com/posts/8426930-torrent-of-rage-with-jacqueline-rose

Hamas: Past, Present, and Future. On The Nose, A Jewish Currents Podcast. Available: https://jewishcurrents.org/hamas-past-present-and-future

Understanding Seen and Unseen Violence in Israel-Palestine. The Fire These Times. Available: https://thefirethesetimes.com/2023/12/22/understanding-seen-and-unseen-violence-in-israel-palestine/

“War Is the Basis of Accumulation” – Ali Kadri on Genocide, Waste, Imperialism, and the Commodification of Death. Millennials Are Killing Capitalism. Available: https://millennialsarekillingcapitalism.libsyn.com/war-is-the-basis-of-accumulation-ali-kadri-on-genocide-waste-imperialism-and-the-commodification-of-death


On processing, composting and organising (grief)

Talking to Our Families. On The Nose, A Jewish Currents Podcast. Available: https://jewishcurrents.org/talking-to-our-families

“Turning Grief Into Defiance” Abdaljawad Omar on Resistance & Possibility in Palestine. Millennials Are Killing Capitalism. Available: https://millennialsarekillingcapitalism.libsyn.com/turning-grief-into-defiance-abdaljawad-omar-on-resistance-possibility-in-palestine

Jewish Safety Means Palestinian Liberation: Organizing In Israel-Palestine After October 7. The Fire These Times. Available: https://thefirethesetimes.com/2023/11/26/organizing-in-israel-palestine-after-october-7/

Arab Jews for Palestinian Liberation w/ Hadar Cohen and Dahab Kashi. The Fire These Times. Available: https://thefirethesetimes.com/2023/11/17/arab-jews-for-palestinian-liberation/


On (academic) labour/labor and #freepalestine

Labor’s Palestine Paradox. On The Nose, A Jewish Currents Podcast. Available: https://jewishcurrents.org/labors-palestine-paradox

Academic Freedom Lecture UJ – Robin D. G. Kelley – The Virtual Suspension of Thought. The University of Johannesburg and the Senate Academic Freedom Committee. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pnxv92ELqEo

Keeping Alive Our Own Ideas of Freedom – Steven Salaita on Palestinian Resistance, Genocide and Electoralism. Millennials Are Killing Capitalism. Available: https://millennialsarekillingcapitalism.libsyn.com/keeping-alive-our-own-ideas-of-freedom-steven-salaita-on-palestinian-resistance-genocide-and-electoralism

“A Dam Against the Motion of History” – Fred Moten on Palestine & the Nation-State of Israel. Millennials Are Killing Capitalism. Available: https://millennialsarekillingcapitalism.libsyn.com/a-dam-against-the-motion-of-history-fred-moten-on-palestine-the-nation-state-of-israel


New book project: Beyond University Abolition

I have agreed a new book project with MayFly Books. Having worked with MayFly for my previous monograph, The Hopeless University in 2021, the ethos underpinning this publisher aligns with my own democratic and horizontal approach. I feel that the relations of production are generative and based on dialogue, and these prefigure ways of working for which we should all be struggling. I also felt very comfortable bringing my networks and communities into contact with MayFly, in order to support the open and inclusive approach of the Press. Moreover, it is important for me to bring my labour into play for radical publishers that are seeking to reimagine what academic scholarship might be, as an act of struggle.

The proposed title for the new work is: Beyond University Abolition: Imagining New Horizons for Intellectual Work with Mike Neary.

Overview

Beyond University Abolition (BUA) situates the work of UK educator, activist and scholar, Professor Mike Neary, against the traditions of indigenous, decolonial and abolitionist studies, in order to describe what lies at the horizon of University abolition, and what its transcendence might mean. Crucial in this analysis is an understanding of the contradictions between Neary’s revolutionary thinking and the intersectional, intercommunal and intergenerational realities of abolition. This has both theoretical and practical applications, and in the relationship between the concrete and the abstract, BUA will centre the idea of sublation, as an unfolding process of negating, abolishing and transcending. This brings our attention on the capitalist University into an engagement with a range of struggles that seek to transcend alienating social relations.

The book is the third in a triptych that began with an analysis of academic labour in universities of the global North, in The Alienated Academic (2018, Palgrave Macmillan). In The Hopeless University (2021, Mayfly Press), the analysis moved on to critique the political economy of those institutions. The approach in BUA will build from those analyses, to imagine intellectual activity otherwise, within a society that must negate, abolish and transcend its settler-colonial and racial-patriarchal, capitalist institutions.

The geography for Neary’s work on HE was ostensibly centred in the UK following the financial crash of 2007. BAU’s approach will bring this context into dialogue with four transnational themes.

  1. The 2010/11 struggles of students/intellectual workers in the UK, framed by the autonomist Marxist ontology of In-Against-Beyond. This highlights the material history of the Commons/co-operative praxis post-2010, in order to understand its limits in HE.
  2. Neary’s critical sociology, and practical experiments developed in common, at the intersection of: critical political economy of the University (new reading of Marx); pedagogical analyses of student-as-producer (following the Frankfurt School); revolutionary and avant-garde teaching; and, the co-operative governance of higher education.
  3. The humanism of Marx’s political economy, and in particular his philosophical and ethnographical work, centred around human becoming-in-community, as a process of sublation. This is enriched through the relational accountability of indigenous and decolonial practices, which centre respect for axiology, cosmology, ancestry, land, communities and values, and ask us to imagine the world otherwise.
  4. This communal and co-operative critique will be placed in dialogue with abolitionist praxis, in order to understand how abolitionist university studies might contribute to the generation of a new horizon for society. Wilson-Gilmore’s abolition geography points towards the liberation of space-time, realised beyond settler-colonial and racial-patriarchal institutions. This highlights the deep interconnections between institutions and social structures, like prisons, schools, universities, families, borders, and so on. Thus, abolitionist praxis offers a way of considering intellectual work beyond the alienating structures, cultures and practices of these disciplinary networks of institutions and disciplines.

This prioritises a methodology of critique, through a close reading that integrates Neary’s work with a range of abolitionist studies and practices, alongside decolonial and anti-colonial being and doing. This methodology seeks to use Neary’s work as a departure point for tracing the horizon of a society which no longer needs the University, or in which the University has been transcended through a process of sublation.


A statement from members of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity, demonstrating their solidarity with struggles for a free Palestine

The undersigned Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) members, past and present, make the following statement in our personal capacities. We do so in light of recent correspondence on a Critical Geography email list from someone with links to CURA, which has a proud tradition of supporting struggles against injustice and oppression. The correspondence in question in no way reflects our views or the traditions of CURA. We recognize that these are stressful and traumatic times for members of the critical geography community and echo the sentiments of others who have emphasized the need for care, thoughtful debate, and solidarity in interactions on this forum. We likewise emphasize that trolling and harassing modes of engagement are in no way reflective of the values of CURA. The statement that follows situates the solidarity of some members of CURA with the struggles against settler-colonialism and a genocide in the making in Gaza.

A statement from members of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity, demonstrating their solidarity with struggles for a free Palestine.


what might be done in the name of peace?

Perhaps the Western academic swallows their shaky voice for fear of their academic positions, careers, future salaries, and social standings. Nevertheless, there must be a greater reward for this complicity. There must be a greater sense of self-importance and collective realization. Perhaps it is a collective insistence by Western academic institutes to maintain the ‘Middle East’ at an arm’s length (or much farther) so that they can continue to study it from a distance and to plant in the geographies, bodies, and literatures of those children of darkness a utopia, a dream, an orientalist heaven. Perhaps because a liberated Palestine, a liberated Arab World, would have nothing exotic, nothing grotesque, nothing inaccessible, nothing dreamlike, nothing nightmarish, nothing pathetic, nothing victimizing, nothing criminal, nothing far-removed about it that would be worthy of study.

Thus, much of the West’s academia collapses categorically. It proves at this critical point in liberatory and decolonial history that its sole goal is to accumulate, archive, enumerate, pile, regurgitate, reproduce, and further take up space. All the while, it is granting those academics bigger paychecks, higher positions, retirement plans, and an illusory social status that the popular intellect rivals against and easily triumphs over. Its complacent and fatal silence has wholly hollowed out the term ‘decolonization’. Decolonization in those academic contexts morphs into an empty shell, a space filler, a standby trend, a conversation starter, and occasionally a means of self-congratulation. It does not attempt to interrogate white ‘humanity’ or white ‘morality’ or overall white blindness, which kills. It sits in the corner and watches until the severed Palestinian bodies have been removed, the blood cleaned, and the reports brought to the table. Then, after a long slumber, the West’s academia goes back to accumulating, archiving, enumerating, piling, regurgitating, reproducing, and further taking up space.

Sanabel Abdelrahman. Whose Humanities? Western Academia’s Persisting Complicity.

Achille Mbembe argues that Western/Northern/Capitalist academia can only reproduce ‘codified madness’, or disciplinary cultures, structures and practices that make it impossible to imagine, let alone enable, alternative stories and archives, unless they are curiosities. And for Mbembe the struggle is to demythologize this violent mundanity, and as a result, to demythologize whiteness.

Whiteness is at its best when it turns into a myth. It is the most corrosive and the most lethal when it makes us believe that it is everywhere; that everything originates from it and it has no outside.

Instead we might witness whiteness, not in its extraordinary violence as we scroll our phones over coffee, but by naming it as unfolding settler-colonial practice, or by naming settler-colonialism as the unfolding practice of whiteness. Naming a practice of zoning and enclosing for capital, ratified by the institutions of the North and their disciplines. Naming the violence of these ratifications of a particular History, alongside the archives that house its very particular endorsements.

Reproduced inside universities for impact.

The archives of ratification remind us, as Gargi Bhattacharyya simply states, that the ruling classes assemblages of extraction are proliferating. And in limiting our ways of knowing the world to the profanities housed inside those Northern archives, we enable reactionary whiteness to degrade all life for everyone. These archives are unable to label the emerging, unspeakable conditions for the degradation of not just work, but also of life. And the intellectual, University workers who tend to the archives of the North maintain their tendency to quiet acquiescence, even as a long material history of trauma unfolds through the masochism of vengeful nationalism, externalised as a terrible sadism.


These are the current, material conditions for University work. To consider whether monetising a genocide in the making, through future impact and public engagement, or to ignore it in order to reproduce value now. Or to use that impact case study or knowledge transfer or monograph or whatever as a form of cognitive dissonance and deflection and safety blanket. And this prompts a return to Eve Tuck’s asking of how shall we live?

How shall we live?

And sitting with this question makes me reconsider the material conditions and possibilities of protest and No! In all those eruptions of student protest in 2010-11, were a few of us just playing in a space that had widened, but which we couldn’t drive into fully out of fear of losing privilege and prestige? Had too few of us lost enough to find a level of mutuality with those students being kettled and batoned and taken into custody? Were we kettled by our commitment to a particular, settler-colonial archive? So, whilst we spoke about co-operative higher education and mass intellectuality and tried to build alternative forms, were these just curiosities? Just three or four-star curiosities?

I feel the qualitative difference in the emergent and insistent energy of being on demonstrations and vigils for Gaza and for ceasefire and for the return of the hostages. In vigils for murdered children and healthcare workers. In reading and hearing and holding the names of the murdered, and in remembering the dead in Gaza-Israel, we share an insistence on a new archive. An archive that refuses settler-colonial truth, built on an insistent energy that teaches me that this man-made world is unspeakable and horrific and beyond fucked-up. But it could be otherwise.

Those vigils and demonstrations remind me of the borders of the University. Because they are not taking place within the University, and there is no reason why they should, except that we want the freedom to hold them there. In those alleged bastions of liberal thought. Although we have seen that at times this cannot be tolerated, because these places are simply a representation of settler-colonial ideas and ideation. Because the prestige economy and its discipline-specific ontologies cannot tolerate them.


And this is one foundation of the problem. Our reaction to atrocity, and to the real time reporting of the slaughter of the innocents, is conditioned by our struggle for prestige as our primary motor. As if genocide in the South exists as evidence for future impact and world-leading outputs in the North. It is as if we can only organise around the unfolding of prestige and the wage and the pension, even whilst capital and its institutions reproduce a degraded idea and ideation of our prestigious, waged work.

So, we are condemned to remain trapped inside the University’s seductive promise of inclusion. And our compromise is our silence, and our living death. For Achille Mbembe in Critique of Black Reason, this ‘new fungibility, this solubility, institutionalized as a new norm of existence and expanded to the entire planet, is what I call the Becoming Black of the world’ (emphasis in the original).’

What does this Becoming Black of the world’ mean for us and our settler-colonial pedagogies and research agendas and disciplines and institutions?

How shall we live? How shall we live with ourselves?

And Ruthie Wilson-Gilmore insistently confronts us with the reality that abolition and transcendence requires that we change one thing, everything. This cannot be the safety for some of the gravitational pull of prestige and the homeliness of simply resuscitating comfortable problems. It has to be a new, mutual unfolding of a new war of ideas from within the University. A new war of ideas that reframes our work from where we have potential strength in the machine: our relationships and our pedagogies and our ways of knowing.

We cannot, we must not, carry on as if we can continue to turn the human and non-human waste of the unfolding genocide in the making into value. As value turns humans and non-humans and environments into waste.

In reminding us of this deep connection between value and waste, Ali Kadri confronts us with the valueless value of the university, whose ideas represent the class position of its top performers. And he reminds us, in the tendency towards silence around atrocities and genocides in the making, that academic ideas are the weapons that reproduce the system. And they underpin the technologies and bureaucracies and processes and chemicals and histories of a settler-colonial system that feeds off the waste of other human and non-human lives.

And what is the materiality of our ideas? The decomposing and recycling of other people’s waste, commodification and death. These are the ideas that reproduce the conditions for and relations of genocide.

How shall we live (with ourselves)?


Fred Moten reminds us of MLK’s insistence on the ‘fierce urgency of now’, which, of course, is situated inside a complex vision of the local/global in relation to matters at hand. He reminds us that this is about Gaza and not Gaza, now and not now, and that we have to inhabit these contradictions intellectually and ethically. And our work is developed in relation to a system that cannot be proportionate as it generates and feeds of human waste and the waste of human life.

And Fred Moten forces us to consider a new question: how do we give up our prestige in order to help make History? Because we cannot simply feed off it for impact. And if we can let go of our conditioning, how do we use that capacity to make History to renew anti-colonial struggle, now? Because Gaza is everywhere and everything, and we have to work from where we are.

His words quietly reveal that we don’t need the University to validate our stance against genocidal intent, even if we might want it to, so desperately. Instead it would be better if we were to realise and to accept that its colonial intent is so instilled and taken for granted that the University doesn’t care what we teach or research. Moten reminds us that the University and its system reproduces its colonial intent not in what we read and discuss, beyond culture wars, but rather in its extraction of value from our allegedly radical intent.

In our impact, and excellence, and commercialisation, and self-exploitation, and on, and on.

Yet its colonial intent is such a given that we also have leeway in the classroom and in the agendas that we set. Especially where we do this with mutuality and reciprocity as our intent. We have to talk among ourselves, as our working from where we are, in order to name and to label. Beyond the foreclosure of the discipline and the institution, our talk amongst ourselves is to build a front of struggle that takes insistent energy from the naming of the murdered and the kidnapped at vigils and on demonstrations. In the naming of the trauma, in the hope of moving with and through the trauma, we must refuse the ontological violence of our disciplines and institutions.


How shall we live? How shall we live with ourselves?

Our work must be anti-colonial. We must insist.

So, I continue to ask myself, how do I mobilise to support those who are adjunct or working on the margins or in anti-colonial (Palestinian) content? How do I demonstrate the courage to open-out the classroom so that it is anti-colonial? How do I radicalise my pedagogy such that it names and refuses genocidal intent? How do I radicalise my research such that it is clearly anti-colonial, and that it turns its gaze on that intent.

Because in this moment, teaching and learning and scholarship and research and knowledge transfer and whatever else the University does in society is meaningless if it is not about naming a genocide in the making, and asking what might be done in the name of peace.

What might be done in the name of peace, as a means of making peace? A peace in the making.

And this requires that we think about our disproportionate and asymmetrical relationship to structures, cultures and practices that reproduce ontological brutality.

And in the war of ideas this relationship cannot be built upon the colonial intent of the University. Rather, a human intent that asks, how and where might intellectual workers mobilise now? What practices do we urgently need to enact now? Because, reflecting on Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten clearly states that we have to radicalise our spaces so that we can meet this crisis rather than react. We need an urgent refocusing of attention now, to name this genocide in the making, and to work together to prepare for the brutality that will come.

Peace be with you.


on the violence of academic silence

Eve Tuck elevates and centres the question, “how shall we live?”, in her 2018 talk, “I Do Not Want To Haunt You But I Will: Indigenous Feminist Theorizing on Reluctant Theories of Change.” This is available to watch here. She takes the question from the conversations of Daniel Wildcat and Vine Deloria Junior. You can read their work on Power and Place: Indian Education in America, here.

Her centring of description over abstraction is hugely important, as we consider environmental, political, social, cultural catastrophes unfolding within and across ecosystems. And as we remember those communities and ecosystems that have already suffered, resisted and survived. Eve Tuck argues that the question has an almost unbearable agency. And that it is pedagogical. And it makes me question how it might be applied to our organisations and ways of organising,

And in thinking this through, and the ways in which the control and violence of structure has been deliberately migrated into culture, my friend and colleague Mike reminds me of DuBois’s Peace is Dangerous. In thinking about “how shall we live?”, peace is dangerous. And so is silence.


How shall we live? How shall I live? As men bomb children. As vengeful men bomb the children of others. Men unable to contain their own toxicity; unable to process and compost their own shit.

Men, unable to demonstrate courage and care and love. Men faced by the impossibility of reconciling themselves to difference. Men with no dignity.

Men. White men. Settler-colonial men. Addicted to settler-colonial violence.

Men with power, so abstracted from their humanity that all they have is the desire to kill the children of others. And to throw their shit around because they cannot contain their shit. They lose their shit and children die. Wantonly.

Purposeful in their wantonness.

And I feel that all I have is lamentation. The energy of my sorrow, pain, confusion and desolation. What can I do with this energy of lamentation? My incandescent energy of lamentation?

In this moment, how shall we live? How shall I live? How can I live? How can I answer that email, or draft that report, or write this proposal, or think about the next project, or whatever this academic work demands? How can I live this work, which feels so pointless, and so antithetical, and which looks to take the energy I need to lament this genocide? And then to act, somehow.

Tomorrow, how shall we live? How shall I live? How can I live? When I look at my calendar, and see what is planned, in the project review, the review of the committee, the induction session? How can I find the energy for that work, which feels so pointless in the face of this genocide?

How can I work in these times? I cannot face the bureaucratic, functional, operational, humdrum, whilst genocide plays out in the phone on my desk. Whilst genocide plays out in my pocket whilst I ride or walk. Whilst vengeful men bomb the children of others.

And I wonder, how can I work in these times, when I cannot face the business-as-usual? I cannot abide the business-as-usual, and the demands it makes of me.

I cannot bear the silence of those around me, and those who pass for our leaders or who claim leadership of our universities. I cannot bear the ignorance of those around me. I cannot bear the cognitive dissonance of those around me. Whilst genocide plays out.

But what can we do? What can they do?

Not this. Anything but this. Silence.

The violence piled upon violence piled upon violence. The trauma piled upon trauma piled upon trauma.

More than anything, I cannot bear the silence of those around me.

The silence blackening our souls.

Look at what they make us give, in order to survive.

The silence emblematic of the ways in which our academic work feeds into the militarisation, securitisation, authoritarianism of states and corporations around the globe. The ways in which our academic work reproduces policy and practice that enable technologies and techniques and bureaucracies of control. And worse. And the ways in which we hide behind public engagement, impact, knowledge transfer or exchange, and build careers on the back of work inside a system that contributes to living death. And worse.

How can I work in these times?

I cannot bear the inhumanity of the unfolding and never-ending culture wars. The ways in which the Government seeks to double-down on its brutalisation of those with less privilege. The ways in which the Government seeks to colonise our responses to the trauma of watching, hearing, feeling settler-colonial, vengeful men bombing the children of others.

And in response, the silence of those who claim leadership in academia.

And our unwillingness and inability to disinvest from the supply chains of trauma.

The unspeakable horror. Perhaps that is why we are silent. It is unspeakable, and this leaves us with the unbearable silence.

And this feels like I am hungover, in a trance, or in some terrible fever dream. It must be so, because this unspeakable horror cannot be, can it? Our silence cannot be, can it? The lack of collective protest and the lack of a collective scream of rage and the lack of a collective, “No!”, from inside and across our universities.

So I must scream and rage, “No!” elsewhere. I must march on Saturday, and think about the march, instead. Because I cannot demonstrate anything inside the university and inside the sector. I protest our silence. And try to begin conversation. And still the inertia of the university and the sector is claustrophobic. Seeking to bury me alive in its silence.

The violence of its silence.

The unspeakable horror of its silence. Mirroring the unspeakable horror of vengeful men bombing the children of others.

I cannot be still and I must scream. “No!” And I must do that somewhere that is not here. Somewhere that will exhume me from the silent tomb of academia.

A line from here to there. A line of flight for my scream of “No!” A scream against the pointlessness of any of this work; of any of my bureaucratic, functional, operational, humdrum, everyday work, whilst genocide plays out 2,298 miles away from here. How can I justify my work on equality, diversity and inclusivity, race equality, decolonising, whilst genocide plays out 2,298 miles away from here? Whilst here is silent about there.

And I know that it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair after 7 October, and all the death, and all the trauma. And it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair as vengeful nationalism seeks to punish indiscriminately. The vengeful nationalists who have the tools to be forensic, but instead who realise their desires through general and careful, genocidal carelessness. And it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair as this trauma is folded inside the inhumane re-election narratives of what passes for political leadership in these days.

Trauma unfolding through trauma. So that our Alpha and our Omega are death, and death alone. Living death, emotional death, corporeal death. When what we need are acts of love.

And I know that it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair at the realisation that we have been silent in relation to the Uyghurs, Yazidis, in Nagorno-Karabakh, and countless other traumas. That these traumas point us towards further, historical traumas, visited against countless other, indigenous cultures and communities. And our inability to see those traumas in our here-and-now, makes me question the authenticity of our truth and reconciliation with the screams of the past. In our academic work on equality, diversity and inclusivity, on race and gender equality, on decolonising.

And I know that it will continue to take me some time to work with and through my despair at the realisation that countless authoritarian regimes around the planet are using these days to test our limits and our boundaries. In the face of their inhumanity, what we will bear? What will we bear as climate catastrophe unfolds, and as more people need mutuality and reciprocity and care? What will we bear as climate catastrophe unfolds, and as our ecosystems need mutuality and reciprocity and care?

And I wonder, will the university ever give us the space and time to scream, “No!”? Without, at the same time, asking us to distil its impact, or its exchange-value, or its knowledge transfer.

How will we bear witness, when we cannot bear these unspeakable horrors?

How will we bear witness, when our organisation inside our organisations is so compromised?

Where will we bear witness, and move our scream of “No!”?

Move our scream towards something more generative.

Is it possible to move our scream towards something more generative inside our higher education, and inside our universities?

And I know the answer, as these unspeakable horrors unfold.

Peace be with you.


Beyond the Limits of Solidarity in the Post-Pandemic University

I have a new paper accepted in a forthcoming Special Issue: Organisation in the (Post)Pandemic University, of Work organisation, labour & globalisation. The paper is titled Beyond the Limits of Solidarity in the Post-Pandemic University. The abstract is appended below.

This article challenges a liberal analysis of HE inside an integrated system of economic production, and instead critiques: first, how UK policymakers sought to re-engineer English HE during and after the pandemic, through governance, regulation and funding changes predicated upon accelerating a discourse of value-for-money; second, the institutional labour reorganisation look followed, and which placed complete class fractions of academic labour in a permanent state of being at-risk; and third, how in continually demonstrating that it cannot fulfil the desires of those who labour within it for a meaningful work-life, the University must be transcended. In addressing the entanglement of precarity and privilege, it argues that, if the University is unable to contribute to ways of knowing, being and doing that address socio-economic, socio-environmental or intersectional ruptures, then it must go.

It is structured as follows:

  • Introduction: precarity and competition inside higher education (HE)
  • A policy of value-for-money
  • Labour reorganisation in the pandemic University
  • Conclusion: labour organising beyond HE

This might usefully be read alongside my Notes on leaving UCU.


Capital in Higher Education: A Critique of the Political Economy of the Sector

I am really pleased that Krystian Szadkowski’s brilliant deconstruction of the mess that higher education is in, and what is to be done is out now, with Palgrave Macmillan. The book is titled: Capital in Higher Education: A Critique of the Political Economy of the Sector.

The book offers a systematic, sectoral, and in-depth Marxist perspective on the critique of political economy of higher education. It proposes an original method of analysis of higher education as a field of capitalist production, grounded at the intersection of mainstream higher education research and contemporary debates in Marxist theories. At the same time, it imbues a political perspective based on the embedding of higher education within the wider social network of antagonistic relations that traverse the capitalist economy at large.

My series editor’s foreword is available, open access, here. In it, I note:

as Szadkowski’s crucial work on Capital in Higher Education demonstrates, the construction and power of terms like value-for-money are situated against the political economy of the sector. For many, this situation remains a mystery, which Szadkowski seeks to uncover through a powerful critique that centres Marx’s dialectical methodology, grounded in our particular, material history. The unfolding, material process of history is deeply entwined in our ways of knowing, doing and being in the world that people

may make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. (Marx, 1852)

Szadkowski seeks to help us understand these circumstances and their ontological ramifications for us. At the heart of this work is a desire to understand the unfolding relations between academic labour and capital in the reproduction both of the University and of socially useful knowledge. In this, Capital in Higher Education demonstrates how the connections between, first, the alleged autonomy of knowledge production, second, the quantification of outputs and impact and, third, the accelerated accumulation of the abundance of intellectual artefacts by educational publishers contribute to a terrain for the extraction of surplus-value that is dehumanising.

At the core of this is a deep methodological and ontological engagement with the material history of value theory, in an attempt to unpick how academic labour is conditioned and constructed for the measurement and commodification of knowledge. Understanding how value and markets erupt through processes of subsumption in a competitive, global environment that is itself stitched into a wider social terrain for valorising academic knowledge enables cultures of measure and measuring and prestige to be analysed. This is important because the value that can be materialised by measuring and commodified academic outputs, as a form of private property, is reinforced through a prestige economy that is mediated against an academic division of labour. Through the market, such outputs and measurements of prestige are brought into relation such that they might be compared.

In these days, Capital in Higher Education has lessons for us all.


for whom do we write as the world burns?

This is the text of the talk I have just given at the Symposium, Little Acts of Decolonization. I am very grateful to Juliet Henderson, Bally Kaur, Amrita Narang and Sayan Dey for their support. It erupts from some indignation in The Hopeless University. This symposium has been a gift.


A premise: for whom do we write as the world burns?

Where our writing is supposed to be excellent. Graded as 3* or 4*. Impactful. Entrepreneurial. With a tempo set externally. Regulated externally. Governed and measured externally. And that recalibrates our institutions and disciplines, or the subjects that discipline us. So those subjects and institutions discipline us epistemologically, ontologically and methodologically. To perform in particular ways.

And we might ask whether our being, doing, knowing and writing are simply reproducing, in and through the text, a collective life that is becoming more efficiently unsustainable.

Our knowing, doing, being and writing are shaped inside institutional and disciplinary structures, cultures and practices that are hopeless; hopeless in giving us the freedom to address crises of capitalism. Rather than helping us to imagine or reimagine the creation of a liveable environment for humans and non-human animals, our practices are designed to enable capital to reimagine itself. Moreover, we believe that our knowing, doing, being, and writing are a labour of love, which enable new forms of freedom, self-actualisation, social wealth or public good. Yet, they take place inside spaces of self-exploitation, self-harm, overwork, anxiety, dissonance. And these are amplified by the harassment, marginalisation and discrimination felt by certain bodies; amplified by methodologies that reproduce settler-colonial and racial-patriarchal cultures of silence as another violence. 

Some questions: So, we might ask: How do we write, not against what the University and its discipline(s) have become, but beyond the University and its discipline(s)? What would a society look like that no longer needed to write-up the University and its discipline(s), in order to justify those as its intellectual containers? What would intellectual work/practice look like in this society that no longer needed to write for-or-against the University and its discipline(s)? Could we write-down or write-off the debts that are attributed to us, inside the capitalist University?

In this, we might consider what do we need to negate, abolish and transcend inside ourselves, in order to write-up and tell-out our being-beyond the settler-colonial and racial-patriarchal University?

Some values

I am reminded that, in Living a Feminist Life, Sara Ahmed speaks for a being, doing and knowing that might also shape my writing. This is a plural mode (a pluriverse) that:

  • does not mean adopting a set of ideals or norms of conduct;
  • might mean asking ethical questions about how to live better in an unjust and unequal world (in a not-feminist and antifeminist world);
  • asks how to create relationships with others that are more equal;
  • asks how to find ways to support those who are not supported or are less supported by social systems; and
  • questions how to keep coming up against histories that have become concrete, histories that have become as solid as walls.

The archive

How do we write-up or write-down a new archive? This forces us to consider what has been written-off as invalid or unreliable. It forces us to consider for what kind of archive do we yearn? Achille Mbembe reminds us of the importance of expanding the human archive beyond what is deemed particularly valuable, and making richer, many-sided interconnections within it. Many-sided connections that reflect our humanity beyond the systemic desire to repurpose our lives as valuable, estranged, one-sided; as labour.

And here, the University cannot be transformed through the replacement of the archive of the high-performing, white man, whose privilege is based upon particular logics of intellectual and social reproduction, with that of another, particular, social subject.

Instead can we enact a process of writing-up a new sociability and relationality, which are ontologically and epistemologically plural? Unfolding. Composting what is, grieving what we have lost, imagining what might be.

Writing the Undercommons

And I am reminded that in this 10th anniversary of The Undercommons, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten spoke of acts of cultivation, and of cultivating Black study, possibly as a kind of fugitive planning. Such study is not what the University wants. Particular modes of study are what the university wants us to cultivate.

As Jack Halberstam wrote in the preface to the Undercommons (The Wild beyond: With and for the Undercommons) ‘the projects of “fugitive planning and black study” are mostly about reaching out to find connection; they are about making common cause with the brokenness of being, a brokenness, I would venture to say, that is also blackness, that remains blackness, and will, despite all, remain broken because this book is not a prescription for repair.’

He goes on to note that ‘we cannot be satisfied with the recognition and acknowledgement generated by the very system that denies a) that anything was ever broken and b) that we deserved to be the broken part; so we refuse to ask for recognition and instead we want to take apart, dismantle, tear down the structure that, right now, limits our ability to find each other, to see beyond it and to access the places that we know lie outside its walls.’

We want to write it off. We need to write-up another archive. The archive for which we yearn. An archive that refuses our enforced estrangement from, and competition with, each other.

Writing with-and-for

This is the general antagonism of expression; of writing-down the debts that they demand are repaid through academic work as a measurable, impactful, 4*, excellent labour of love. This general antagonism is not critique, but is study beyond what-is, in order to experiment with what-might-be.

And I remember that Subcommandante Marcos argued that our intellectual work needs to show ‘how the world was born and show where it is to be found’, and in this our yearning is to write-up our stories, and not as those stories form the University’s data-points. Co-opted by the University as objective data points, denying subjectivity, reproducing alienation and hopelessness.

Our with-and-for is not this. No.

We write-up and through our stories to end the world that refuses them. This is study with-and-for each other, and not with-and-for or inside-and-against the University and the discipline. The University and its discipline.

This with-and-for refuses the reality that our disciplines discipline us to write as if we are in a hostile world that needs to be tamed. It refuses a militarized and securitized writing-up of the world. It refuses a foreclosing of who we might be, and of our being and becoming. Our storytelling, dreaming, weaving, each refuse the desire of the institution to foreclose upon us; to reduce us to impactful, entrepreneurial, whatever. Or that we must be, in the words of Harney and Moten, finished, passed, completed.

Written-up as valuable; our insurance against the fear of being amortized as a cost that needs to be written-off.

This is antagonism against what Harney and Moten call the ‘deadening labor for the university, and beyond that, the negligence of professionalization, and the professionalization of the critical academic’.

Instead we might consider how we write to develop a mode of living together; a mode of being together that cannot be shared as a model, or a blueprint, or a utopia, but which shapes and cultivates an instance. An instance that is cultivated by study, in spite of one-sided, academic labour. How do we rupture this so that we can write from the standpoint of no standpoint, of everywhere and nowhere, of never and to come, of thing and no thing?

As The Undercommons closes out, Harney speaks of our ‘beginning with, and acting out, what [we] want’, as ‘a deepening of scale and the potentials of scale.’ He says ‘the further I get to the with and for, the happier I am.’

This is not our writing-down our one-sidedness, as a form of accounting and justifying. It is our writing that off. Writing that off as we write the world otherwise; acknowledging the debts that we have to each other. The many-sidedness of our knowing, being, and doing, as reciprocal debts and gifts.

The reciprocity and mutuality and dignity and telling-out of our souls.

Our ability to breathe in the world.

Our ability to imagine the world otherwise.

A richer archive for us to study, with-and-for.