There is no way out but through

At a couple of recent discussion events around The Hopeless University, I have been asked what is to be done? For a variety of reasons, I didn’t give the answers that I perhaps might have done. Instead, I pushed the idea that this was about revealing stories of trauma, denying the validity of externally-imposed recommendations, blueprints, and utopias, and developing new forms of relationality.

After the fact, and thinking this through in a little more detail, I realise that there is some safety for me in focusing upon the critique of the University, which is contained in the first five chapters of my book. This is a classic academic safety mechanism and learned behaviour. Now, I realise that I was denying people the opportunity (potentially) to discuss ways through the morass and hopelessness. Perhaps I was conditioned by the safety and security of a hopeless position. Perhaps I was also conditioned by my general tendency to feel alone in any room, left to pointing out what is wrong, rather than developing a sense of belonging that might help us walk elsewhere.

Anyway, this is what I now think, and I’m grateful to those who asked questions, and who have forced me to rethink what I think.

There is no way out but through

The final two chapters of the book position how I feel about our work in our universities. My position is that I have to work through my despair at the state of the world, and the structures, cultures and practices, which we have created, and that re-purpose themselves pathologically and methodologically to deny our agency. Doing this work takes courage and faith, not only in myself, but also in my relationships. Doing this work enables me to mourn the world we have created and reproduce, and thereby to yearn for something different, and to be indignant.

In this, I take heart from the return of history, and a sense that we have material agency in the world. I take heart from those who are building social networks around food banks, whilst I am indignant that they are needed. I take heart from those protesting in Hungary for LGBTQIA+ rights, whilst I am indignant that this work must be done. I take heart from those communities in Namibia protesting for reparations rather than simply reconciliation from Germany for its genocidal colonialism, whilst I am indignant that this work must be done. And on, and on, and on. And in this I recognise the skills, knowledges, capacities, capabilities, and humane values that enable the struggles, and that show us alternative ways of knowing the world.

I see a range of collective, lived experiences, which push against the capitalist notion that we are at the end of history, and that enforces particular forms of abstraction as limited, indirect or one-sided ways of knowing and experiencing the world. I see a range of collective, lived experiences, which shine a light upon an ability to sit with trauma and to push beyond it, and the ways in which our dominant political economy demands that we suture or cauterise our wounds in the name of business-as-usual.

These collective, lived experiences of trauma highlight the entangled nature of our subjectivities and beings, beyond their reduction to labour-power. Here, the idea of composting, decomposing and recycling appeals to me, because it is about acknowledging that we have created this system of social reproduction that denies humanity-in-nature. Therefore, we have the power to create something else. In the book I note:

Decomposing opens-up the struggle for plural worlds. Multiple, mutual ways of knowing erupt from the theorisation of singular, lived experiences, which themselves set the grounds upon which the manifestations of our exploitation, expropriation and extraction are made common. Whilst suffering is absolutely relative, situating the cause, rather than the effects, of that suffering in critiques of our mode of social reproduction, enable us to move beyond symptomatic responses, and address the ways in which our differences, fed upon and exacerbated by capital’s social metabolic control, also offer us a potential moment for mutuality and unity.

Here, a focus upon direct democracy between all individuals helps us to invert associations of capitals that deny humanity for-value. Decomposing these associations offers a way of constructing ecosystems that can recycle the nutrients of social goods into local communities. Communication across communities, or communes, such that a commune of communes acts as the basis for such ecosystems, is pivotal in defining and meeting universal social needs. Universities and their infrastructures are central to this process, including in their decomposition and recycling. They have the ability to help in the diffusion of technological and organisational solutions for reducing the realm of necessity, for generalising access to the means of production, and for refusing the extractive relationship between humans and nature. This requires a significant cognitive and psychological movement amongst individuals and communities. However, in asking those communities to discuss what is necessary for their existence, and how might they live in a world facing the intersection of crises, it is life-affirming.

The metaphor of decomposing enables me to see that capital and its institutions created mycorrhizal networks that infect and inflect our lives for the extraction of surplus. They make us redundant beyond our labour-power and become toxic to us because they internalise exploitation and expropriation in our very beings. Can we decompose this, remove the toxins produced by value, and recycle our skills, knowledges, ancestries, lands, capacities and hearts for another world?

We make our own history

We make our own history, and we have the ability to do so in every moment, and to do so collectively. In the book I write:

The present is pivotal, and the process of healing is one of questioning, and then mobilising or moving. This reproduces the potentiality of preguntando caminamos, or asking, we walk (Marcos 2002), as a recovery of the idea that we make our own history and our own paths through collective dialogue, based upon where we find ourselves. We can only move towards ‘our true heart’ (ibid.: 268) in the next moment, by understanding our modes of knowing, doing and being in the present moment. This teaches ‘how the world was born and show where it is to be found’ (ibid.: 276), as a movement of dignity. The struggle for movement delineates life as pedagogic practice, and erupts from our present, hopeless situation as a demand for generalised, intellectual engagement with alternative ways of making the world, and being in it. It is predicated upon abolishing separation, for instance between teacher and student, and transcending roles, such that each individual articulates their intellectual capabilities as a social activity.

This is a process of reintegration, in particular of self and other.

As history returns, this is also a struggle for reintegrating hope and hopelessness, such that we can be courageous and faithful in articulating our yearnings. This is a yearning beyond the forms, pathologies and methodologies of University labour. It is for intellectual work in society, which takes self-determination as its content and thereby opens-out new forms that give everyone free access to human intellectuality: everything must be for everyone. As a deeply relational practice (Yazzie Burkhart 2004), its starting point cannot be reform of the University and its crisis-driven existence. Like our ignorance, the search for a cure merely prolongs our agony. Instead, we must speak and listen, question and make paths, guided by those ‘who continue without hearing the voices of the powerful and the indifferent’ (Marcos 2002: 32).

Here, thinking about being guided by those who continue without hearing the voices of the powerful and the indifferent, I consider my own practice. How I can contribute to a new universal conception of life, framed around a counter-narrative to the universe of value. How I can help by listening to shared stories of trauma, and finding ways to build mutuality and new forms of relationality. How I can help those stories find new audiences. How I can help us recover our mass intellectuality at the level of society, rather than reproducing the general intellect as commodified knowledge from within the University.

I am also thinking about how such sharing might enable us to build a new qualitative experience of life, beyond its current quantification as human capital, commodity, surplus everything. Our ability to share and relate singular experiences of exploitation, expropriation and extraction, and to bring that into relations with the particular, colonial and patriarchal demands of our political economy, is a starting point for taking a step in a new direction.

This requires a different quality of relationship that points beyond power and prestige. It requires that we call out what we see and experience, and bring any privilege that we have to the use of others, in order that they can share their stories and we can build empathy. It requires that we remember what we have built collectively, and seek to dissolve that into the fabric of society, rather than seeking to extract rents from it.

It also demands that I focus upon building a base for a counter-narrative, through my work in a trade union, in committees, in mentoring, in projects, and also outside the University, in my relationships and voluntary work. Moreover, this needs to be grounded in care and dignity. It needs to be grounded in a collective discussion of the world for which we yearn, and pointed in a direction beyond the toxicity of capitalist reproduction and its institutions.

This discussion needs to accept that not everybody will chain themselves to a pipeline, be able to withstand being kettled on demonstrations, be able to teach, be able to write, be able to lobby, be able to bake, be able to care whilst others are protesting, and so on. However, we might accept that it is okay to bring our own selves to our collective struggles in those ways that nurture us. It took the system that we are in centuries to unfold as it has, and that will not be reversed overnight. The work of moving through painful and differential for different bodies, and will take time. But there is nothing else other than living death.

And in this ongoing, tortuous struggle, we might accept that whilst we act inside the University, we are also acting for a world beyond the University-as-is. We are looking to link our narratives of trauma to those elsewhere. We are looking to build solidarity across institutions, communities, networks and sectors, in order to describe other worlds. We are looking to accept the many-sidedness of life, and the many-sidedness of ourselves. We are looking to realise the end of the end of history.


book launch events: The Hopeless University

I currently have three events tied to the launch of The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the end of The End of History.

I am leading a staff seminar on June 29th in the Sociology Department at Durham University.

There is an open seminar at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland on 15 June at 1pm BST (2pm CET), and you can sign-up from the Philosophy of Higher Education website.

You can book a place at the official book launch on July 2 at 3pm BST via this Hopeless University Eventbrite page.

I will be in conversation with John Coster and Paul Reilly of the Documentary Media Centre at 3pm on Friday 9 July. This will be hosted on Facebook Live by the Documentary Media Centre.

NB you can purchase a copy from a variety of places now.


purchasing options: The Hopeless University

Whilst The Hopeless University can be purchased from Amazon, other retailers will be available through Ingram (who manage the print-on-demand service). Ingram distributes the new titles through its partners. However, there might be some differences in how fast the new titles are available in each vendor’s catalogue.

A video dialogue with Joel Lazarus on his Agent of History site is available here.

Rae Elbow and the Magic Beans has also released a new album with the same name, available from his bandcamp site, here.

Finally, I’m presenting on this in June at both Durham University and also Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland. You will be able to sign-up for the latter, which takes place on 15 June at 1pm GMT (2pm CET) from the Philosophy of Higher Education website.


Published, The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the end of The End of History

The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the end of The End of History has been published by MayFly Books, and is available as a download from the MayFly website. If you do read/download from there please consider donating to support this valuable, radical open access press. NB it can be purchased from Amazon, although it is print on demand, so other retailers should be available.

Endorsements can be viewed here.

There is a synopsis here.

There is a podcast here.

I presented some ideas, with a recording and Q&A here.

A video dialogue with Joel Lazarus on his Agent of History site will follow.

There is a published article here.

There is music by Rae Elbow and the Magic Beanhere. NB a wonderful, full album in partnership with Rae Elbow will be released with the book. It’s a multimedia sensation.

I’m presenting on this in June at both Durham University and also Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland. You will be able to sign-up for the latter from the Philosophy of Higher Education website.


A bunch of decolonising stuff

I’m pleased to be contributing to a Decolonising Critical Thought Workshop on 5 May. My position statement is given below.

Through my own practice as research and evaluation lead for the Decolonising De Montfort University (DDMU) project, I am drawn to your question on: What are the risks of institutionalisation, co-optation, etc. and how can they be avoided?, and a related question: what is the purpose of the University in an age of intersecting crises?

DDMU attempts to make sense of EDI work (e.g. Race Equality Charter), in terms of more radical movements. This brings the University into relation with individual and communal issues of whiteness, double and false consciousness, and behavioural code switching. Inside formal structures, built upon cultures and practices with historical and material legitimacy, engaging with such issues is challenging. The tendency is for formal accreditation, managed through established methodologies, risk management practices and data reporting.

I am interested in how we might open-out discussions that situate the communal articulation of the institution against the development of authentic relationships as a movement of dignity. This connects to post- and anti-colonialism, making visible subaltern or subordinate identities, black power and indigeneity, and critical race or anti-racist studies, alongside critiques of education, including critical university studies and the abolition of the University. At the intersection of critical for and decolonising, I am interested in thinking through whether another University is possible, or even desirable.


In other news, I have a co-authored paper forthcoming in a special issue of Teaching in Higher Education,  on Possibilities and complexities of decolonising higher education: critical perspectives on praxis. Our paper is a critical analysis of the work of DDMU, in relation to the structures, cultures and practices of universities. The abstract and structure are given below.

Hall, R., Ansley, L., Connolly, P., Loonat, S., Patel, K., and Whitham, B. (2021). Struggling for the anti-racist university: learning from an institution-wide response to curriculum decolonisation. Teaching in Higher Education, Special Issue, Possibilities and complexities of decolonising higher education: critical perspectives on praxis. DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2021.1911987 and https://dora.dmu.ac.uk/handle/2086/20773

Abstract: Increasingly, institutions are amplifying work on race equality, in order to engage with movements for Black lives and decolonising. This brings universities into relations with individual and communal issues of whiteness, white fragility and privilege, double and false consciousness, and behavioural code switching. Inside formal structures, built upon cultures and practices that have historical and material legitimacy, engaging with such issues is challenging. The tendency is to engage in formal accreditation, managed through engagement with established methodologies, risk management practices and data reporting. However, this article argues that the dominant articulation of the institution, which has its own inertia, which reinforces whiteness and dissipates radical energy, needs to be re-addressed in projects of decolonising. This situates the communal work of the institution against the development of authentic relationships as a movement of dignity.

Keywords: Black Lives Matter; critical race; decolonising; institutional change; whiteness; university

Structure: Introduction: an intersecting critique; Decolonising DMU: a critique of the University; Cultures of whiteness; Structures of dissipation; Practices of inertia; Decolonising the idea and practice of the University.


With Raj Gill and Sol Gamsu, I am working on A paper for a special issue of higher education, entitled Higher Education in the Eye of the COVID-19 Storm. Our paper has the working title:

‘Whiteness is a moral choice’: The idea of the University at the intersection of crises.

The proposed abstract is below.

Since the acceleration of a commodified higher education environment in England under the Coalition and successive Conservative governments, funding, regulation and governance of universities has become a contested terrain. Such contestation reveals a rupture in the very idea of the University, which makes clear the contingencies underpinning both the student-as-consumer in a deregulated market, and a renewed, fetishized, public university. These symbolic ideas of the institution have been cracked by the everyday realities of a confluence of crises.

Beyond existential crises like climate forcing, specific ruptures have led to a fundamental questioning of social institutions, cultures and practices. In particular, the conjuncture of Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matters have exposed the limitations of dominant and alternative imaginaries of higher education, which tend to be framed by whiteness. At a time when university workers were already engaged in industrial action over #fourfights, this conjuncture highlighted deep, intersectional injustices at the centre of these institutions, in spite of institutional engagement with standardised forms of accreditation, like Athena Swan and the Race Equality Charter. Struggles against structural inequalities erupted at the intersection of: first, differential workload, casualisation and pay; second, the marginalisation of black communities and communities of colour, in social outcomes through Covid-19; and third, the ongoing brutalisation of black communities and communities of colour, when they address state institutions.

Working through documentary and policy analyses, this paper articulates the ways in which these injustices are imminent to the idea of the University. This questions how this allegedly liberal institution is reproduced through whiteness as a site of othering. As a process of separation, divorce, alienation and estrangement between people, othering pivots around whiteness as a moral choice. As a result, this paper describes how the idea of the University has been explicitly revealed through this conjuncture as a means of distorting the subjectivities of all those who labour inside it, for inhuman ends. In critiquing, for instance, the Department for Education’s recent Restructuring Regime, this argument highlights the ideological positioning of economic value, productivity and surplus as mirrors that make certain bodies, cultures and practices visible and reinforces structural inequalities. Yet, in an age of crisis, this ideological positioning is in conflict with new social movements pushing to break the mirrors of whiteness and look for alternative pathways. Here, we question whether the University is able to move beyond the reproduction of structural inequality, in order to contribute to the abolition of the present state of things?


Ill-being and the University

I’m presenting on Ill-being and the University, at the NNMHR Congress 2021: Medical Humanities: In(Visibility)

My abstract and slides are appended below. My work will build upon some thoughts in my forthcoming book on The Hopeless University, connected to work on the reproduction of hopelessness in the University in this article in post digital science and education.

For some earlier work on ill-being, the University as an anxiety machine, alienation and Weltschmerz, see the list available at this post on the rise of academic ill-health.

Felicity Callard’s keynote has helped me to remember my own experiences of cycles of chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety. Her conversation took me back to feel the edges of my grief, and how the duality of my forgetting/remembering remains entangled with my soul. It was a stark reminder of how the individualised experiences of life through illness are related to the dominant political economy that demands overwork and productivity as culturally-acceptable self-harming activities. It was a stark reminder of the need to share individual lived experiences, in order to generate a collective front against capital’s social metabolic control, which dehumanises and wastes lives.

My remembering is detailed in a blogpost on academic and life, which also links to other posts at the intersection of corporeal, cognitive and psychological breakdown. The trauma of my remembering makes me want to puke. It brings me to tears. It is an echo.

Abstract

Covid-19 has amplified feelings of alienation amongst those who learn, teach, provide professional services, and research inside the University. In spite of the uncertainties of life inside the pandemic, institutional demands for the maintenance of business-as-usual increasingly reproduces precarious and proletarianised working conditions. Whilst institutions focus upon resilience, mindfulness and well-being, this is entangled with the reality that University work, like all labour, tends to catalyse ill-being. Through the pandemic, it is possible to trace how the intersection of socio-economic and socio-environmental crises both enable the structural adjustment of sectoral and institutional structures and damage bodies and psychologies. As institutional forms develop high plasticity, cultures become pathologies, and activities are defined methodologically, individuals and communities are scarred. In the pandemic, the scars are made visible, in terms of reports of overwork, self-sacrifice and feelings of precariousness, underpinned by a sense of hopelessness and Weltschmerz, with physical and psychological manifestations, including headaches, fatigue, anxiety and depression. In spite of the pandemic, the University demands the internalisation of specific behaviours as culturally-acceptable, self-harming activities. These subsume the humanity of intellectual work under economic determinations. This anti-humanist terrain and its resulting, widening circuit of ill-being, will be sketched in this paper.

Keywords: anxiety; hopelessness; ill-being; pandemic; University


The Hopeless University

It looks likely that my next monograph, The hopeless university: intellectual work at the end of the end of history will be out with MayFly Books in early May.

There is a synopsis here.

There is a podcast here.

I presented some ideas, with a recording and Q&A here.

There is a published article here.

There is music by Rae Elbow and the Magic Beans here. NB a wonderful, full album in partnership with Rae Elbow will be released with the book. It’s a multimedia sensation.

Endorsements

In defining his position as a Marxist, Raymond Williams wrote that the most formidable task of all is to show the connections between “the formations of feeling and relationship which are our immediate resources in any struggle”. In Hopeless University Richard Hall takes up this task seriously. He helps us to understand how the current “university-as-is” relies on the universalization of anxiety and the spread of alienation. They are means through which it sustains its reign during the very last of its days, literally, at the end of the End of History. Moving from hopeless hierarchies, elitists privileges, widespread pathologies of the capitalist academic workplaces to ineffective positivist methodologies that lay at the core of the contemporary university, Hall criticizes the widespread culture of self-harm, imposed precarity, senseless competition, to address the contradictory essence of the hopeless institutions. We are dwelling in this contradiction. It makes our days unbearable; it makes us dire and dull; it prevents us from breaking the vicious circle of hope and despair. However, we know all too well that hope is no plan for liberation from this condition. Hall suggests that to escape it, we need to find the strength in what we have and who we are – in our daily practices of solidarity and mutuality, in our acts of self-care and kindness. By these means, we can finally face the call to starting the exodus from the tight walls of our “sausage factories”. The Hopeless University is the first and necessary step on this long path.

Krystian Szadkowski, Institute of Philosophy, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland.

In The Hopeless University Richard Hall builds on his previous book The Alienated Academic as he argues against the University in its current form. While already exploring hopelessness and the corresponding Weltschmerz academics feel towards their place of work in his previous works, he delves deeper into the idea of refusing what the University has become; an anxiety machine responsible for its workers’ ill-health, PhD students’ anxiety and depression and even academics’ and students’ suicides, for the sake of producing labour power and capital. Not only does the book reflect on the circumstances of those involved, it also situates the University within the socio-economic and socio-environmental crises that are currently taking place on a global scale. In doing so, Hall includes a critique of the University’s response to events such as the Black Lives Matter movement or the Covid-19 pandemic, highlighting its incompetence to offer solutions and position itself as anything but an anti-human project that puts profit before people. Casual workers have become more casualised, those with caring responsibilities are left to carry the burden, and work life further intrudes into private life through increased workloads that are to be done from home, resulting in a constant connection to the institution. Hall reiterates the non-neutrality of the University and its complicity in the reproduction of inequality and inequity, as those in precarious position are further exploited when they are gendered, racialised, disabled and/or queer. Thus, he does not treat these groups as an afterthought, despite him not facing the same challenges, making this book a good reminder for those who occupy “safe” positions within the academy to remember their privileges and continue to challenge their institutions on behalf of those who might not have the same degree of freedom. Towards the end of the book, Hall calls for the abolition of the University as we know it, for steps to be taken that are impossible in the hopeless institutions that currently exist. His critical analysis throughout the book leads Hall to conclude that only when the forces and relations of production are dismantled, another University, one that fosters community and promotes solidarity not just within the elitist walls of the institutions but also outside by joining working class organisation, can be possible, if at all.

Svenja Helmes, PhD student at the University of Sheffield and co-author of Life for the Academic in the Neoliberal University.

At the end of The End of History, we urgently need brave voices to tell us that, no matter how fervently we might hope, we must confront the stark truth that everything may well not turn out all right; to confront ourselves in and of this truth; and to begin the necessary process of grieving this truth. Richard’s forensic deconstruction of the capitalist university, and the senses of hopelessness and helplessness it generates, leaves us unable to deny this truth any longer. Yet, it is Richard’s unflinching commitment to a dialectical materialism that enables him to reveal how the transformative power of truth takes seed when we finally and fully allow it into our hearts. It is in this heart-centred dialogical process of reintegration within and reconnection without that he locates not just the healing power of sharing our stories, but the first stirrings of a movement. It is a movement of negation of the Hopeless University’s own negation of our difference and denial of our being; a movement of the deepest, most essential yearning for our personal and collective authentic becoming; and, therefore, a movement with the capacity to imagine, explore, and organically establish modes, cultures, and even institutional forms of knowing that can birth a new system of social metabolism beyond capital’s tyrannical reign.

Each page of this wonderful book is filled with vulnerability, courage, wisdom, and, above all, love. Richard combines all four of these qualities in his refusal to offer any strategic blueprint for an alternative post-capitalist university and in his invitation to us to sit – to sit with ourselves and with each other, with our wounds and our pain, to sit with the bewildering but beautiful entangled messiness of our lives and our world, and to sit attentive at last to a present that can integrate and be fertilised by a past in order to conceive a new dawn yearning to be born.

Joel Lazarus, University of Bath.


Building engagement with decolonising inside the pandemic university

During De Montfort University’s Learning and Teaching Festival on the Challenge of Change  I’m taking part in an online panel about Building engagement with decolonising inside the pandemic university.

Date: 25/03/2021 (12:00-13:00)
To register please click here. For further information please email eventsoffice@dmu.ac.uk
Bookings will close 1 hour prior to the start of the event. Registrants will receive a link to join the online talk 24hrs before the event, via their provided email address. This event is open to all.

Abstract

The pandemic has disrupted the flows of learning and teaching across higher education, with impacts on the experience and well-being of both students and staff. At the same time, other layers of intersectional, intercommunal and intergenerational marginalisation are being reinforced. The nature of staff and student engagement both with each other and the University is being challenged. Yet, institutions are also working to transform their structures, cultures and practices in relation to critical issues like racial, social and environmental justice. One such transformation is in relation to decolonising. In this panel session, members of the team who are working on Decolonising DMU will discuss the idea and impact of the project, and how it has been affected by the pandemic. At its core the project is working to build the anti-racist University, and the panel will map out the opportunities and challenges of this for staff and students.

Critical Reflections on the Language of Neoliberalism in Education

In order to celebrate the publication of the Routledge collection, Critical Reflections on the Language of Neoliberalism in Education, the Education Division at De Montfort University is holding a panel discussion reflecting on neoliberal discourse and language in education. The book focuses upon how particular words endanger the possibilities for a humane education, whilst others enable educational possibility. The panellists will discuss some of these words, and open up a discussion about the power of words in all of our educational contexts.

It’s being held online (link below) from 13.30-15.00 (GMT) on Wednesday 3rd March, and features the editor, Spyros Themelis (University of East Anglia), Maria Chalari (European University Cyprus) and Eleftheria Atta (P.A. College, Larnaka), and me. Whilst Maria and Eleftheria will focus upon ‘educators’ as a word of possibility, I will focus upon ‘immiseration’ and ‘managerialism’ as endangering words, and will question whether ‘alternative education’ might enable something else.

Link: https://eu.bbcollab.com/guest/952733659fe046cf8f9b401d0989306a