Praktyka Teoretyczna: Has the University become surplus to requirements?

With Krystian Szadkowski from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, I am working on an article for a Special Issue of Praktyka Teoretyczna on Latency of the crisis: globalization, subjectivity, and resistance.

Our proposed article is entitled: Has the University become surplus to requirements? Or is another university possible?


The University has become a place that has no socially-useful role beyond the reproduction of capital. In the context of globalisation and unifying sublation processes that are driven by transnational capital, it has become an anti-human project, grounded in narratives of human capital, productivity and value-for-money. It has become a place of suspended time, grappling to make sense of, and align with, a landscape of unrealised and unrealisable promises, which are amplified by growing economic inequality and precarity. It is a space that sits uneasily against a terrain that demands entrepreneurial engagement with flexibility, risk-taking, efficiency and human capital, whilst at the same time working to annihilate the value of labour-power that cannot drive innovation in commodity production.

As a result, the higher education sector in the global North faces structural issues that are realised in stagnating wages, a huge increase in the reserve army of labour, growing precarity and diminishing security, the unbundling of functions like teaching and research, an acceleration in proposed delivery times for degrees, and so on. In the everyday existence of academics, ill-being and mental distress are allied with recurrent and overwork. Moreover, people who identify or who are identified as black, female, disabled, queer, indigenous, are likely to be differentially impacted.

Thus, the University appears devoid of hope, and this reflects its inability to respond meaningfully with crises that erupt from the contradictions of capital, including that between capital and climate. Yet in its maintenance of business-as-usual, the University remains shaped as a tactical response to these contradictions. It is emblematic of the crisis and precarization in the lifeworld of contemporary society, precisely because the University’s subsumption for value production has been made visible. This changes the very idea of the University, and what it means to work inside the Academy, such that it is reorganised around surplus: surplus wealth; surplus labour; surplus time; and people surplus to requirements. In this, there is no space for collective politics or democracy, and in fact the University has become a key site for reproducing the separation of polity and economy as a mode of control.

This article pivots around the bureaucratic university’s desire for surplus, and its relationship to the everyday, academic reality of feeling surplus to requirements. In defining the contours of this contradiction, inside the normalisation of political economic crisis, we question whether there still exists space for an academic method or mode of subjectivation. This is an important moment in testing the possibilities for a horizon of hope, against what feels like the inevitability of hopelessness. It is important to recognise that the academic precarity accelerated by the ongoing instrumentalisation of prestige, and of status distribution mechanisms across higher education, which enables capital to regulate it through competition at institutional, national and global scale.

Moreover, the competitive norms are implemented in the University in the North are further imposed on the South and the East, and prevent non-Northern modes of knowing and doing to circulate. In engaging with political economic and socio-environmental crises, we question whether the University is able to go beyond such blockages, and whether the dialectical method is still useful. Here, we also critique the ability of the University in the global North to bring itself into relations with the epistemological sensibilities of the South and the East, which can treat other ways of seeing and praxis with dignity and respect.

Thus, in engaging with the contradictions grounded in the production of surpluses, the article closes by asking whether academics and students can define a counter-cartography of the University in the global North? Such a process of producing a counter-cartography seeks to refuse dominant, white, male, ableist, straight and non-indigenous norms, and instead offers dialogue around the reproduction of alternative lifeworlds. In grappling with the idea of surplus, and the everyday and structural ways in which its production are made manifest, we seek to ask whether another universities possible?

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