on spaces for dissent and resistance

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 8 April 2011

Sarah Amsler has recently asked:

Why aren’t more academics speaking and acting out in greater earnest against the destructive policies of privatization, marketization and corporatization now being imposed on and from within universities?

Sarah pursues possible reasons why.

  1. Ideological: enough academics desire this, or that we don’t believe in the promises of critical education enough to fight.
  2. Prosaic: perhaps this majority hopes for the introduction of costly tuition fees, seizing upon them as a long-denied source of private investment.
  3. Disciplined: many are also convinced that alternatives are impossible, and that challenging the policies is therefore hopeless or pointless or both. She makes the case for performative consent.

Sarah then opens-up a space for the battle of ideas, founded on resistance and dissent that takes the form of activity, within and beyond the academy.

We are also learning that such serious attacks on public education, critical disciplines and research, non-hegemonic epistemologies and democratic life, can only be met with equally as serious acts of resistance – which may of course take a plurality of different forms.

I have argued elsewhere about the discipline of the kettle and debt, and about alternative responses to the Coalition’s ideology. However, Sarah’s argument has reiterated for me the power of technocracies within the academy, and the struggles of academics in a University system that serves as a functionary of neoliberalism within the social factory. The Coalition’s agenda has quickened the pace of the marketised, dehumanising, administrative suffocation of our formal educational existence.

The issues with which I am grappling follow.

  1. Do we need to critique and integrate the possibilities of the four theses of the invisible university?

Thesis 0.1: The University is a Machine in the Network of Capitalism & Empire.

Thesis 0.2: There is No Crisis. It is all Business as Usual.

Thesis 0.3: The University Cannot be Saved.

Thesis 0.4: Defect to the Invisible University!

  1. How do we integrate oppositional spaces within the academy with the raft of autonomous spaces, institutions and associations for higher learning that exist beyond it.

The Really Open University: an ongoing process of transformation by those with a desire to challenge the higher education system and its role in society.

The University of Utopia: to provide convincing alternatives to ‘academic capitalism’.

The University for Strategic Optimism: we have a magnificent opportunity, a multiplication of possibilities, the opening of a space in which we might think about, and bring about, a fairer and wealthier society for all. In short: Many good reasons for strategic optimism!

The Education Activist Network: to take control of campus for another kind of education.

  1. How do we develop the honour and the courage to become dissenting or dissident, in order to melt our higher learning into the fabric of the social factory? So that we can imagine something different? In this, how do we use our histories of resistance to inform our approaches? We have forgotten our collective histories and the Coalition would like to expunge counter-hegemonies from our memory. We need to reclaim our histories.

So maybe Sarah flags that in institutionalised spaces, where we are disciplined by profit-and-loss accounts and NSS scores and reviews of our practice and external income generation and state control of research agendas, and where trust is subsumed within hegemonies of private consumption rather than shared production, it is in our associations that we have hope. Marx argued:

only in association with others has each individual the means of cultivating his talents in all directions. Only in a community therefore is personal freedom possible… In a genuine community individuals gain their freedom in and through their association.

Is it now only beyond the University, in the multitude, in the autonomous collective, in the social science centre, in the really free school, that we are free to resist and dissent and re-imagine? Do we have to become dissident? Do we have to re-imagine higher education as higher learning beyond the institution, dissolved into community? In the face of the crisis, where do we find hope?

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