In, Against, and Beyond The University: for the courage of boundary-less toil

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 11 November 2011

“It isn’t for the moment that you are struck that you need courage, but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

ONE. At Liberty Plaza on Sunday, Žižek argued that “the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world, [and so] we are allowed and obliged even to think about alternatives. There is a long road ahead, and soon we will have to address the truly difficult questions – questions not about what we do not want, but about what we DO want. What social organisation can replace the existing capitalism?

TWO. This re-framing of alternatives demands that we move against historically positivist thinking, which maintains business-as-usual as our only option. It demands that we move against simple problem-solving arguments that see us making puncture-repairs to reason, justice, and universality, or in plaintively arguing for “a better capitalism”. The more courageous step is to re-imagine and re-produce an overcoming of this historically-specific, alienating capitalist system. We need an ontological critique of what is, on the basis of what could be. This is a process of overcoming the elite’s interpretive myths – of being-in-excess of their hegemony over us. Of living beyond their enclosure of our lives.

THREE. And this forms a process of re-inscribing our place in the crisis beyond what those with power-to chose to reveal. On Tuesday 11 October, the European Systemic Risk Board stated that:

  • There is a global crisis of sovereign risk;
  • The transnational financial crisis has reached a systemic dimension;
  • There is an upwardly rising risk of contagion; and
  • After a period of leveraging, we are experiencing a period of correction.

And yet in education we are told to focus upon finding mechanisms to maintain business-as-usual. And in the background our technologies-in-education are underpinned by corporate imperialism, war and human rights atrocities. Our technologies-in-education are a mechanism for profit and enclosure and the re-production of power, based upon a history of labour-in-capitalism. We are increasingly separated from the reality of our being. This is the violence of our ongoing crisis, through which the idea and the reality of the University is attacked.

FIVE. Dowrick argues that it becomes possible to gain courage and unearth resilience when giving up the wish that things are other than they are; when surrendering to the painful truth of what is. In this space it is possible to recast our lives through sharing, exchange, openness, and against hoarding, privatisation, enclosure. Against the risk of cynicism or passivity that tells us there is no alternative, to fight for that alternative takes courage.

SIX. And what of courage and alternatives and the University? We might argue, pace Holloway, that by fetishising the University as a site of the production of alternatives, we isolate it from its social environment: that we attribute to the University an autonomy of action that it just does not have. In reality, what the University does is limited and shaped by the fact that it exists as just one node in a web of social relations. Crucially, this web of social relations centres on the way in which work is organised. The fact that work is organised on a capitalist basis means that what the University does and can do is limited and shaped by the need to maintain the system of capitalist organisation of which it is a part. Concretely, this means that any University that takes significant action directed against the interests of capital will find that an economic crisis will result and that capital will flee from the University’s territory.

SEVEN. Yet the University remains a symbol of places where mass intellectuality, or knowledge as our main socially-productive force, can be consumed/produced and contributed to by all. The University remains a symbol of the possibility that we can create sites of opposition and ontological critique, or where we can renew histories of denial and revolt, and where new stories can be told, against states of exception that enclose how and where and why we assemble, associate and organise. This symbolic power-to critique and negate what is denied to us, to overcome the alienation of our knowledge from our lives, is reflected by the spaces that academics take up within and against the neoliberal university, and might be revealed in boundary-less toil beyond the borders of higher education.

EIGHT. The Edufactory Collective have highlighted the political, activist importance of such boundary-less toil in this historical moment. They argue: “The political question which, from Tunisia to the UK, India to Latin America, revolutionary movements and revolts pose is the alliance or the common composition of different subjects and struggles. Transforming mobilizations around the public into the organization of institutions of the common: this is the political task today.”

NINE. In sets of occupations and teach-ins and free exchange, incubated inside the University, the symbolic possibilities of higher education might connect into this “organization of institutions of the common”. Here, higher education might be dissolved, in the form of mass intellectuality or higher learning or excess, into the fabric of society. It is in this borderless or boundary-less activity, which is overtly political in seeking an exodus from the logic of capital, where academics might contribute to our overcoming of the historical processes of capitalism.

TEN. Thus, in the mass of protests that form a politics of events against austerity, academics might consider their participatory traditions and positions, and how they actively contribute to the dissolution of their expertise as a commodity, in order to support other socially-constructed forms of production. How do students and teachers contribute to a re-formation of their webs of social interaction? How do students and teachers contribute to workerist and public dissent against domination and foreclosure? Where do we discuss alternative value-structures, and an alternative value-system that does not have the specific character of that achieved under capitalism. As Harvey notes, at issue is “to find an alternative value-form that will work in terms of the social reproduction of society in a different image.”

ELEVEN. We might, then, consider how students and teachers might dissolve the symbolic power of the University into the actual, existing reality of protest, in order to engage with this process of transformation. We might then consider the courage it takes to reclaim our politics and our social relationships.


One Response to In, Against, and Beyond The University: for the courage of boundary-less toil

  1. Pingback: Definitions, Markets, and Moving Beyond the ‘University’ | TheUniversityBlog

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