some notes on academic co-option and exodus

ONE. This is an age of enclosure; of mine and not yours; of indentured study; of an entrepreneurial life beholden to capitalist work; of a subservience to exchange value; of alienation in the face of money. In the face of the rule of money.

‘An age of crisis, such as the present, is an age of rage. It is an age of frustrated expectations, frustrated hopes, frustrated life. We want to study at the university, but it is too expensive and there are no grants. We need good health care, but we do not have the money to pay for it. We need homes, we can see homes standing empty, but they are not for us. Or quite simply, for the millions and millions of people in the world who are starving: we want to eat: we can see that the food is there, that there is plenty of food for everyone in the world, but something stands between us and the food – money, or rather the fact that we don’t have enough of it.’

‘That does not mean that we do not want money, necessarily. Money is the form that wealth takes in this society, and as the producers of that wealth, we all want to participate in it. In the present society, no matter how austerely we may (or may not) like to live, we need money to live and to realise our projects. So yes, we want more money, for ourselves, for the universities, for schools and hospitals, for gardens and parks, for projects that point towards a different world, and so on. But we do not want a world that is ruled by money, we do not want a world in which the richness that we produce takes the form of money, we do not want a world in which money is the dominant form of social cohesion, the medium through which our social relations are established.’

John Holloway, Rage Against the Rule of Money.

TWO. The University is succumbing to violence. It is a space for the reproduction of systemic violence. From “you have no voice”, to “your voice is delegitimized”. The University is militarised through its research, and the money that conditions it. Students want cops off campus, but University managers conditioned by debt and money need the discipline of the kettle and the courtroom. This is the normalised violence of coercion or control or marginalisation of students; or the militarisation of the physical spaces of our campuses; or the direct co-option of our own/our students’ immaterial labour in making stuff for the military. For the public good.

‘More than 50 universities have received funding from the UK’s national laboratory for nuclear weapons since 2010’

‘In a statement the EPSRC said: “AWE (Atomic Weapons Establishment) has unique research capabilities and assets and is a highly valued partner to EPSRC, contributing significantly to the UK’s overall research endeavour.”

‘It added: “EPSRC is party to both the concordat to support research integrity published by Universities UK in 2012 and to the Research Council UK policy and guidelines on the governance of good research conduct. We, of course, expect all the research we fund to be conducted in line with these policies and know that our partners share our commitment to such standards.”’

‘Cranfield said it had supported the UK defence community through its research since its formation as the College of Aeronautics in 1946. “We are proud that this work has helped protect the men and women of the Armed Services who put their lives at risk daily on behalf of our nation and to have contributed, in part, to the post-conflict reconstruction of nations around the world,” a spokesman said.’

Holly Else, University links to nuclear weapons maker ‘worth £8 million a year’.

THREE. Academics are increasingly co-opted for the maintenance of dominant positions. Co-opted for value. Alienated through the subsumption of their labour-power, and the products of their labour, from any notion of the public good. Reinforcing normative, deterministic myths of inefficiency; myths of the failing of the public; myths of the efficiency of the private; the reality that all of life must be for exchange rather than for use-value. A working life stratified in league tables, and project grants, and impact statements, and the internalised monitoring of work. A working life of performativity; of private knows best; of speed over thought; of consumerism; of the market. A meaningful, critical academic life annihilated by speed and time.

‘It may have been three years coming but the Government now fully accepts the importance of ICT for learning and that it’s not enough to simply leave it all to schools. That was the message from education secretary Michael Gove MP and skills minister Matthew Hancock MP at the first meeting of the Educational Technology Action Group yesterday (February 4).

‘Group chair Professor Stephen Heppell said: “We were given an unequivocal steer by our ministers to be bold and ambitious; to clear away impediments and to be world leading. They reminded us that technology could and should help make learning fun. It was a wonderful brief to be given, from the heart, and we will be open and inclusive in achieving what was asked of us – an action group, not a faffing around group!”

‘Michael Gove’s message to the new group was that he and his team had reflected on their former position of getting out of the way of the education front line. The public sector was not as tech-savvy as consumers and they felt that government had a convening and leadership role to play so that the right conditions were cultivated for education. They recognised the disruptive potential of technology and were committed to supporting teachers in leveraging the best out out [sic.] of technology to improve their effectiveness and professionalism.’

Merlin John, Etag ICT policy group told ‘be bold and ambitious’

FOUR. The University is broken. It is conditioned by neoliberal politics through the tenets of growth, financialisation and securitisation. Its twin contributions to society take the form of debt and privatisation. At issue is which knowledges and practices can be liberated from the University before it is too late. And the role of academics in that liberation.

‘The activist academic seeks a balance between the pursuit of individual rights and broader social justice. Not exactly an original idea. Many have pointed out that we live in a world defined by a proliferation of individual human rights and the neoliberal revival of early savage capitalism, which everywhere seeks to destroy the gains in social justice achieved in the 20th century. The expansion of “individual” human rights in the U.S. is accompanied by the decrease in social justice, i.e. increase in inequality, within the US, within other nations, and between nations, as well as the destruction of public education and health. Social justice succumbs while individual rights are increasingly enshrined in law. It seems that the larger the scope of legally-adopted human rights, the more the decrease in social justice worldwide. The struggles against both individual and collective wellbeing should be inseparable in theory and practice.’

Raúl Fernández, Nine Reflections for Academic Activists

FIVE. Against the rule of money; a rule of normalised violence; a rule underscored by the co-option of academic labour; a rule that is breaking the University; what is to be done?

‘The notion of exodus is important here, as a form of dissent , revolt or rebellion against capital’s exploitation of the entirety of social life… this connected web of social relations also offers a crack through which we might oppose the domination of capital over our existence. In Empire, Hardt and Negri argue that an association of the multitude, of interconnected oppositional groups that are able to share stories of oppression or austerity or hope or history using a variety of events and spaces, offers the opportunity for multiple protagonists to push for more democratic deployment of global resources. Virno goes further to argue that the very automation that capital develops in order to discipline and control labour makes possible an exodus from the society of capitalist work through the radical redisposal of the surplus time that arises as an outcome of that automation, alongside the ways in which different groups can interconnect in that surplus time. Academics then have an important role in critiquing the potentialities for an exodus away from the society of capitalist work.’

Richard Hall, on academic activism, boundary-less toil and exodus


3 Responses to some notes on academic co-option and exodus

  1. Thanks again Richard. You give good consideration. I’m watery of myself looking for things that confirm my thinking, so wanted to ask your thoughts on my interpretation.

    The past 10 years I’ve held the view you describe above. I’m not sure if it’s because of my anarchistic tendencies or because I’ve simply recognised the effects of a market-based research and education system…

    Either way, I’ve focused my skills development on the methods of exodus. Namely: self publishing, preferably on free and open source platforms like Wikimedia or Archive.org (but not at the exclusion of the commercial platforms), using Creative Commons Attribution licensing, and tools that have immediate and transferable use beyond the confines of any one institution.

    What that principle looks like in action is: University academics building and documenting their research or teachings on Wikiversity, backed up through Archive.org, using Youtube and other Google tools to promote and distribute, and then embedding that into the institutional system minimally through RSS, iframe Abd other embed codes. Further, the Academic applies the same principle when designing student assignments – feeding their emerging expertise into that same network of free information.

    To my mind, the ideal result is a self determined academic who can move freely and easily across institutions and web platform. Always augmenting their real life experience with documentation and hyperlinking, governed by that principle of web-based, commons-based, transferable (convivial) tools. This is the exodus position, but in the meantime the institution doesn’t lose, they have access along with everyone else. ..

    But the institution want more. They want exclusive access so they can restrict access = “social media policy”. They want to prevent exodus = “IP policy land grabs”

  2. Like Leigh (Blackall) I’ve also considered what an academic “exodus” might mean and have strived also to better understand ways to transcend the boundaries of educative arrangement. In essence, re-arranging chairs and tables has always been for me a metaphorical installation of a creative nature and perhaps less anarchistic except for the flames and the smoke that they emit. What has been working for me in the last 5 years or so is considering the importance of the data itself beyond that of the titrate – the paper as simply the cover sheet for the dataset. By making the data open (and not in my top draw) and licensed only in a way that protects that accord do I feel that I have a way forward. Paradoxically it also means that I sometimes need to build a bridge between what I’ve created in the past by linking the derivative data to the paper itself. What we need to be doing everyday is thinking and doing data as not a supplementary but as the primary, thinking impact not index, building grace where snoot would otherwise mute.

  3. Pingback: Anxiety & Academia - Dr Nadine Muller

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