Radical pedagogies: dismantling the curriculum in higher education

I spoke yesterday at radical pedagogies: a humanities teaching forum at the University of Kent. My slides are here.

A recording of my jibber-jabber will be made available at some point via the conference website. However, there is a recording of a similar presentation at Greenwich from last November here.

I have posted some key links and resources that help me analyse or deconstruct or dismantle my approach to the curriculum below. Herewith I have posted some of the fundamental points that I was trying to explore during my talk.

ONE. As Sara Ahmed notes (following Angela Davis) in Living a Feminist Life, acknowledging those who have helped to carry the fire of your argument is important. Whilst I begin from an attempt to understand the reproduction of the world through the application of absolute negativity, or negative dialectics, my focus on rebuilding my understanding as something more productive demands an engagement with the narratives, stories and analyses of those who have been made marginalised. It is impossible for me to believe that those voices which led us into multiple crises of sociability, or social reproduction, are those we should listen to for solutions. They all must go.

TWO. One outcome of this is an attempted dialogue with those who would decolonise or dismantle the alienating contexts in which we are forced to work.

THREE. One such alienating context is the University, which is increasingly toxic. In order to hold on to what I need, I attempt to remember (and sometimes it is very difficult) the words of bell hooks describing learning as a process, rooted in the shared intellectual and spiritual growth of students and teachers, which emerges from conditions of care. Thinking about this in relation to Sara Ahmed’s description of what it means to live a feminist life gives us a starting point for discussing a more humane approach to the curriculum, which is the site of our critical engagement with each other. Ahmed’s description acts as a heuristic, enabling us to test our assumptions about ideals, norms, justice, legitimacy, marginalisation, mobility and so on inside our curricula.

FOUR. I ask whether it is possible for us to go into occupation of a curriculum that has been repurposed as a thing, reinforced by data and underscored by money? Is it possible for us to reclaim the curriculum as a process of becoming and of being, against a hegemonic view of the curriculum as a positional good both for students and institutions? Can we think about the ongoing process of creating social wealth through the curriculum, rather than reducing it to exchange-value and individual positionality?

FIVE. This is such a difficult thing to do, in the face of a policy narrative that shapes higher education for human capital; in the face of a policy narrative that increasingly proletarianises and diminishes academic labour; in the face of the policy narrative that forces us to internalise performativity, at the individual, subject and institutional-level; in the face of policy narrative that demands anxiety as a motive energy. Here we might reflect on our own cognitive dissonance as we are forced to internalise a particular subjectivity or mode of attention in our relationship to power. We might also reflect on the risks it takes to be wilful, or wilfully dissident.

SIX. The consultation for the Office for Students hints at the joy of learning for its own sake, and the public value of higher education. However, this is quickly subsumed under: the imperative to subsume higher education under the dictates of competition in the market; the imperative to justify this subsumption in terms of value-for-money and consumer protection; the need to commodify the processes of higher education, including the curriculum and staff/student relationships, so that better performance data is available for that market; the belief that it is only through competition that curriculum enhancement can be achieved; and, the reduction of trust-based classroom relationships to risk management, rather than acts of care.

SEVEN. I remember that Engels railed against competition because it separated us and set us against each other; that it forces us to deny the existence or subjectivity of others; that it forces us to objectify others; that it is used as a means of control and to impose more work; and our way out of this living death is cooperative and by authentic association with each other.

EIGHT. I am interested in the curriculum as a process of being and becoming. I am interested in how we engage with this process to reveal the layers of alienation that exist inside the University, in order to reveal those layers beyond. This includes recognising issues of ill-being, precarity and depression, and seeing their relationships to performance management and governance, rooted in the need to drive money and surplus as an apparent form of social wealth. However, it is important to analyse these in terms of separation: of student from staff; of student from content; of student from the start and end points of the curriculum; of the student’s life experience from her experience in the classroom; of staff from the ownership of the means of producing the curriculum; and so on. It is important to analyse these in terms of who governs and controls the labour-power inside the classroom. Our experience inside the classroom is mediated for us. We do not mediate our own experience with each other or with the world.

NINE. We have a lot to be pissed off about. I am indignant. I am searching for dignity. If you are not pissed off, then you are not paying attention.

TEN. We might then use our indignation to analyse a commodified curriculum that is stripped back to reveal flows of alienation at the intersections of: self/subject and other/object reflected in it; gender, race, (dis)ability, class reproduced through it; adaptations to socio-environmental crises ignored in it; disciplinary separations demanded by it. The curriculum as a process of being unbecoming that is an ongoing form of social wealth and a process of struggle over our social reproduction. We might ask, what is to be done?

ELEVEN. One moment of dialogue for developing an analysis is an engagement with ideas around dismantling or decolonising the curriculum, starting from an anti-oppressive position grounded in the experiences of those students and staff who have been othered. This enables us to reveal: underlying logics of truth or legitimacy in relation to curriculum design, delivery and assessment; ongoing colonisation in terms of the commodity dumping of open education resources into the global South and the extraction of human capital from those spaces into the global North; the possibilities that are implicit in a curriculum that is opened-out to a range of contributions and a range of starting points, and which is rooted in voice.

TWELVE. This is incredibly hard work, and demands the care for our collective intellectual and spiritual growth, of which bell hooks spoke. It demands that we consider our positions in relation to courage, fidelity, restraint, generosity, tolerance, and forgiveness. These are not unconditional, and they forces to confront issues of whiteness ¦ lack of support ¦ indirect racism ¦ permanence of race ¦ Eurocentric curriculum ¦ false/double consciousness ¦ exceptionalism.

THIRTEEN. Is it possible to develop the wealth of our real connections through the curriculum, and thereby to liberate ourselves? What does this mean for the ways in which we produce and consume the world? Pace Marx, the curriculum can only form a starting point for this where we enable individuals to create their own social interconnections, in order to gain mastery over them, and to develop their conscious knowing, their being and becoming. An alienating, reified or fetishised curriculum ruled by money does not enable the individual to become herself, or to know herself truly in the world beyond her value in a competitive market. It simply objectifies.

FOURTEEN. Such a moment of becoming then enables us to work against the ways in which our experiences are mediated by the market, the division of labour, commodity-exchange, in order to recognise how our collective, social skills, capabilities and knowledge have been stolen from us and sold back to us as knowledge transfer, impact, start-up activity, entrepreneurship and so on. It might then be possible for us to recognise our mass intellectuality, or our common ability to do. Without such recognition, we will only ever outsource the possibility of solutions to crises to the bureaucrats or scientists or technologists. We will not see that the solution lies inside ourselves.

FIFTEEN. We have so many examples of resistance and struggle and indignation, and of collective being and becoming, which emerge from inside and outside of the University. At issue are the ways in which we remove the false binary between inside and outside, in order to dismantle the University or to dissolve the institution into the fabric of society. At issue are the ways in which we use critical pedagogy to abolish the University, so that praxis, knowledge production, useful knowledge emerge at the level of society, rather than inside a fetishised institution.

SIXTEEN. How can we be wilfully engaged? How can we use the classroom as a weapon for wilful engagement, rooted in love? How do we become inter-generationally ungovernable?

SEVENTEEN. Do not fetishise the University. Do not fetishise the curriculum.

Some resources

Ian Clark has been maintaining useful notes on the conference here.

Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ahmed, S.(2012). On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ciccariello-Maher, G. 2017. Decolonizing Dialectics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Davis, A.Y. (2016). Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement. London: Haymarket Books.

Dinerstein, A (2015). The Politics of Autonomy in Latin America: The Art of Organising Hope. London: Palgrave Macmillan

Dismantling the Master’s House (2015). Dismantling the Master’s House, Available at: http://www.dtmh.ucl.ac.uk/

Hall, R. (2017). The rise of academic ill-health. http://www.richard-hall.org/2017/09/06/the-rise-of-academic-ill-health/

Hall, R., and Winn, J. (eds). (2017). Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://bit.ly/2dYsEkD andhttp://hdl.handle.net/2086/12714

Hall, R., and Smyth, K. (2016). Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education. Open Library of the Humanities. 2(1), p.e11. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/olh.66

Hall, R., and Bowles, K. (2016). Re-engineering higher education: the subsumption of academic labour and the exploitation of anxiety. Workplace: A Journal of Academic Labour, 28, 30-47. http://hdl.handle.net/2086/12709

Hall, R. (2014). On the abolition of academic labour: the relationship between intellectual workers and mass intellectuality. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique, 12 (2), 822-37. http://hdl.handle.net/2086/10816

hooks, bell . (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. London: Routledge

Lorde, A. (1988). A Burst of Light: Essays. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand.

McGettigan, A (2014). Financialising the University. Arena Magazine, Available at: http://arena.org.au/financialising-the-university/

McGettigan, A (2015). The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment. Political Economy Research Centre. Papers Series 6. Available at: http://bit.ly/2mkH7sK

Mirza, H. (2015). Decolonising Higher Education: Black Feminism and the Intersectionality of Race and Gender, Journal of Feminist Scholarship, 7-8: 1-12.

Neary, M. (2017). A pedagogy of hate. Policy Futures in Education, 15 (5). pp. 555-563. Available at: http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/26793/

Neary, M (2011).Student as Producer: A Pedagogy for the Avant-Garde; Or, How Do Revolutionary Teachers Teach? Learning Exchange 1(1) Available at: http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/4186/

Rhodes Must Fall (n.d.). Rhodes Must Fall. Available at: http://rhodesmustfall.co.za/

The Social Science Centre (n.d.). Available at: http://socialsciencecentre.org.uk/

Taylor, K-Y. (2016). From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. London: Haymarket Books

The University of Utopia (n.d.). Anti-Curricula: A Course of Action, Available at: http://www.universityofutopia.org/sharing

‘Why is my Curriculum White?’ collective (2015). 8 Reasons the Curriculum is White, Available at: http://wire.novaramedia.com/2015/03/8-reasons-the-curriculum-is-white/

Winn, J (2015). Academic Labour and the Capitalist University: A Critique of HE Through the Law of Value, PhD thesis. University of Lincoln. Available at: http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/17330/

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