Against the fetishisation of the porous university


I’m speaking on Monday and Tuesday next week at a Porous University event in Inverness. My provocation is below.

In addressing the question of the role of open academics in dealing with problems ‘in the world’, this provocation takes as its starting-point the proletarianisation of higher education. Its academics and students, encumbered by precarious employment, overwhelming debt, and new levels of performance management, are shorn of any autonomy. Increasingly the labour of those academics and students is subsumed and re-engineered for value production, and is prey to the vicissitudes of the twin processes of financialisation and marketization. At the core of understanding the impact of these processes and their relationships to higher education is the alienated labour of the academic, as it defines the sociability of the University. This provocation examines the role of alienated labour in academic work, and relates this to the idea that the University is or may become porous, in order to ask what might be done differently. The argument centres on the role of mass intellectuality, or socially-useful knowledge and knowing, as a potential moment for overcoming alienated labour. The idea of mass intellectuality cracks the University from the inside so that its porosity increases, in order to abolish the very idea of the University.

One Response to Against the fetishisation of the porous university

  1. There are several things which I agree with in this provocation, and several to challenge. My agreements are with the points made on the alienation of the academic, and the sublimation of knowledge acquisition by the students to the demands of the monetisation of higher education. My disagreement is with the apparent emphasis (even as purely illustrative) of the “proletariat”, rather than the community at large. What about the rural population? Are we required to move to a city to be entitled to a valid opinion? Secondly, the idea of “abolishing the university” is itself a bourgeois indulgence. The reification of knowledge and advanced epistemological debates will continue, even without the administrative structures and hierarchy of “the university”. Is it not better to acknowledge this pragmatism and seek to maximise the benefit of the academy for the greater good of an educated citizenry by enhancing the flow of rational discussion of ideas between the university and the wider community of the nation.

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