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.


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?


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.


Submitted: The hopeless University

I have finally submitted my manuscript for The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the end of The End of History. I blogged about my initial proposal here, and spoke about it on this podcast. It builds upon this article from June of this year.

The contents are currently structured as follows.

Chapter 1: A terrain of hopelessness at the end of The End of History

  • Introduction: the value of the University
  • The value of the University-in-crisis
  • Structural adjustment and hysteresis
  • The University at The End of History
  • The reproduction of hopelessness inside the University
  • Dialectics of hopelessness
  • The University at the end of The End of History

Chapter 2: Hopeless struggle in the anxiety machine

  • The University as an anxiety machine
  • A meritocratic framing of hopelessness in the anxiety machine
  • The immoral economy of the University
  • The political economy of hopelessness
  • The commodification of hopelessness
  • The institutionalisation of intersectional hopelessness
  • A hopeless struggle

Chapter 3: Forms of hopelessness

  • Introduction: hopeless ventures
  • Flows of hopelessness
  • Restructuring the concrete reality of hopelessness
  • Hopeless associations and joint ventures
  • Financialised abjection
  • Metabolic unfreedom
  • Venturing beyond hopelessness

Chapter 4: Pathological hopelessness

  • Introduction: surplus everything
  • The pathology of the anxiety machine
  • University ill-being
  • The University peloton
  • Reification and social metabolic control
  • For infinite humanity?

Chapter 5: Methodological hopelessness

  • Introduction: socially-useful hopelessness
  • The dialectics of the University
  • The University and negation
  • Assemblages of separation
  • Socially-necessary labour time
  • The University-in-itself, for-value

Chapter 6: A Movement of the Heart

  • Introduction: moving with hopelessness
  • A dialectical movement
  • Entangled subjectivities
  • Composting the anti-human University
  • An indignant movement of dignity

Chapter 7: Beyond the University at the end of The End of History

  • Introduction: is another university desirable?
  • Forms of antipathy
  • Cultures of antipathy
  • Practices of antipathy
  • The place of intellectual work at the end of The End of History

 


Covid-XX and the idea of the University

Yesterday, I spoke at a DMU Education Research seminar. The slides and the paper upon which I based my talk are available here.

I made a subsequent recording of my presentation, which can be accessed here. Please note that this is an hour-long. It is overlong. I apologise. One day, I will learn.

Anyway, following the session, I copied the text chat/questions, and I have pasted those with my responses below.

Peace and love.


Q: Another metaphor – panopticon?

A: yes, potentially. In particular, in relation to the reality that our relations of production are estranged and separated during the pandemic, as we all work at home or in our offices, mediated by screens and through masks. It becomes easier for institutions and networks/associations to monitor us against particular modes of performance and behaviours. It is easier for those institutions to measure us against norms that are morphed and shift through the pandemic, but which are always shaped through dominant perspectives. The Panopticon in all its forms, managed in the image of white men with no or limited caring responsibilities and symbolic access to means of production, reinforces what Foucault argued were signalisation and dressage.

Q: It would be interesting to hear more on alternative that you did not want to talk. I still wonder what suggestion you have for alternative. Actually, what alternative do you propose at the face of covid-19? If you do have then how and with what means to utilise to materialise that alternative?

A: I am not interested in finding alternatives or utopias or blueprints. I am interested less in the future, and more in the present, and in a focus upon both questioning and moving or mobilising. I like the idea of “asking, we walk” or preguntando caminamos. I like the idea that we make our own history and our own paths through collective dialogue and questioning, and that this demands engagement with alternative ways of knowing the world and doing or making the world, and therefore being in the world. I am against the idea that white men with privilege define alternatives.

Q: Can you say something about the university and the State, perhaps the university as an expression of State hopelessness?

A: Marx and Engels argued that the state is an organising committee for the bourgeoisie, which emerged as a governance and regulatory power following the Treaty of Westphalia, and that there is no reason why it should be seen as transhistorical. Mariana Mazzucato has argued extensively about the ways in which the state creates an infrastructure for capital. I see a deep interrelationship between capitalist institutions, be they State-funded, cooperative, governed as charities or companies limited by guarantee, or whatever, the State that creates the terrain from which the universal value can expand, and how we feel about our lives and their possibilities. So, yes, in my argument the university is an expression of a wider state of hopelessness, and in response, I want to discuss intellectual work at the level of society. I want to discuss the potential for mass intellectuality at the level of society. I want to discuss how we liberate our ways of knowing and doing, in order to respect the ways in which we have built the world and how that building has been co-opted and taken from us. This enables us to see how hopeless things are, and not to outsource solutions to boffins, or wonks or the State, but instead to see our own agency at the level of society. I want us to dissolve the institution and its hopelessness into the fabric of society.

Q: Yep, to that need to move beyond both capitalism and the nation state – and the need to appreciate the positioning of the university as an institution within that state-corporate nexus?

A: yes – there is a need to understand the relationship between value and value-production, institutions of the state, corporate forms, and transnational organisations. Then, there is a need to engage with our own individual and collective agency, in order to enable/imagine the potential for new forces and relations of production, beyond the universe of value. This agency is historical, but it must be now.

Q: You paint a very gloomy picture and I wonder what you would say to our younger colleagues and those just entering the profession as to what they can do to remain positive about themselves and their work and their relationships with students?

A: you should try living with me. It must be awful. I would say I am sorry that it is constructed in this way with these pathological cultures and these methodological ways of working. I would say seek solidarity inside the institution, and look to make common cause, whilst keeping yourself safe. This means the ability to put food on the table and pay rent, without overworking and becoming ill. Social reproduction, values, humanity, dignity are so important and need to be protected. I would say try to find ways to limit the necessary labour of the bureaucracy of the institution, in order to widen your freedom for the work that energises you, potentially in relation to public engagement, your particular field/discipline, classroom-based engagement. I would say try to find ways of making your work useful in society, rather than valuable in the market.

Q: It seems to me that the concept of value is at the heart of this discussion, but value is almost always in the eye of the beholder. Our students and their future employers will inevitably define value differently, as will we. What I struggle with at present is the tendency for too many universities to destroy their value proposition by tactics that damage institutional reputations that took decades to build. The damage is caused in several ways that include reducing course entry requirements (for fee income) and making it harder to find time or resources for research. Can we spend more time exploring the nature of our value as academics? I guess we’d all feel less hopeless if we felt more valuable.

A: my problem is that the concept of values defined specifically in relation to capitalism, in terms of being a productive worker from whom surplus-value can be extracted. This is an exploitative arrangement, and it denies the ways in which we might mediate our lives directly between us as different individuals who share a common humanity. Instead, value enforces second-order mediations, like the market, divisions of labour and so on. Too often, value is defined in relation to excellence, satisfaction, money, impact and so on. I would say that we need to discuss whether the institutions inside which we live our fit-for-purpose, in engaging with intersecting crises, which materially affect people’s ability to live. As part of that we can discuss value or values, but we need to play on our terrain and build a narrative around our needs.

Q: We are so privileged, and we work so hard to get here, surely we greatly value the university and all that accrues to us through it. While we need to be guarded against the dreadful concerns and threats and that you very eloquently outline and explain, surely there are more reasons to be cheerful. 😎

A: there are so many contradictions that flow through the institution – it is beautiful and it is damaging, it enables and disables, it is a labour of love and it causes us ill-being, we see work intensification and precarious employment and at the same time many of us gain promotion and tenure. All labour is exploitative, and it tends to expropriate many lives, and extract resources from across the globe. My own take is that a limited number of our global society are able to access that privilege, which is made scarce and commodified, and the status of those roles and their appearance as high-status, reinforces exploitation, expropriation and extraction. At issue is, what is to be done? The reasons to be cheerful that I see are the potential for revealing hopelessness and sitting with it, in terms of the lived experiences of those who are denied privilege. From there, we might discuss mutuality, dignity and solidarity.

Comment: I agree that we are very privileged to be able to earn a living discussing and analysing in detail the subjects we care about with young (usually) and enthusiastic learners. Those of us who do research love the feeling of generating new knowledge that benefits mankind. However both our teaching and research are always under attack from micromanagers and bureaucrats who seem to insist on measuring and counting it all. Theirs (the micromanagers) is a hopeless task but they expect us all to join them in it. We must resist, for the sake of our students and our own humanity.

Q: The university and education are part of the superstructure supporting the dominant ideology of capitalism, in this sense, it is what Malcolm X suggested the chicken coming home to roost. Unis have been a place of privilege and actually within that excluded groups. The market has always been oppressive the minoritized have always know that, it is not unexpected that the mode of production turns it focus to HE and I am wondering if people are feeling oppressed by it and clutching at straws for hope. We all become the petty bourgeoise even if they don’t want to admit it and display false consciousness.

In the end it is our humanity and inter personal relationships that cannot be marketized everything else will.

A: thank you. Here, I returned to the idea that alienating conditions have been experienced differentially, but now the experiences of those of the periphery are being generalised amongst those with privilege and status. The system seeks to colonise all of our lives, and to make our lives, hopes, cares, relationships unliveable by commodifying them, or by squeezing out the time we have to develop them. Hope, if such thing exists, is an act of love for ourselves and each other, which recognises the asymmetrical relations we have to the autonomy of capital.

Q: Cussed = the pedagogy of arsiness 😉 Much needed form of such?

A: Mike Neary once asked that our struggle is not for the University, but against what the University has become. In this, we need different strategies.

Q: Diane Fassel wrote in 1990 “Everywhere I go it seems people are killing themselves with work, busyness, rushing, caring, and rescuing. Work addiction is a modern epidemic and it is sweeping our land.” Doesn’t sound like much has changed in 30 years (if not longer). Matthew Fox addressed the potential to reinvent work – back in 1994; Frederic Laloux with “Reinventing Organizaions” in 2014; and many other. As you’ve mentioned this stuff goes back well further into the past, yet we’re highly resistant to any change. Do you think the same conversations today be heard in 2060 (if we don’t kill each other in the mean time)?

A: I do not know. However, precisely because the intersection of crises is making the world unliveable, we need to discuss our work and our intellectual engagement in society, in relation to a collapse in the nitrogen cycle, climate forcing, austerity governance, the pandemic, or whatever. This feels hopeless, and indeed, inside capitalist social relations, it is hopeless, but new ways of existing or new paths are opening. We need to believe that we have the power to make those paths together.

Comment: I help my students by reflecting the Tao Te Ching: “Do your work then step back. The only path to serenity… He who clings to his work creates nothing that endures. If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go.”

Comment: It is the humanity we need to hold on to totally agree…. our humanity as staff and students

Comment: I came across this: carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/public-policy-and-the-infrastructure-of-kindness-in-scotland can universities be ‘kind’?

Comment: I felt less hopeless by engaging in the hopelessness of it all.


slides for Covid-19 and the idea of the University

My slides for tomorrow’s Education Research seminar at DMU are available below from my Slideshare.

Drawing upon my recently published article in Postdigital Science and Education, on The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the End of the End of History, I am presenting the first in a new series of Education Research Webinars.

Date/time: Wednesday 28 October, 2020, 1.30-2.30pm

Access: via Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, https://eu.bbcollab.com/guest/f5220dae6a104f46bae508215ef4a844

Abstract
The University is being explicitly restructured for the production, circulation and accumulation of value, materialised in the form of rents and surpluses on operating activities. The pace of restructuring is affected by the interplay between financial crisis and Covid-19, through which the public value of the University is continually questioned. In this conjuncture of crises that affect the body of the institution and the bodies of its labourers, the desires of Capital trump human needs. The structural adjustment of sectoral and institutional structures as forms, cultures as pathologies, and activities as methodologies enacts scarring. However, the visibility of scars has led to a reawakening of politics inside and beyond the University. The idea that History had ended because there is no alternative to capitalism or its political horizon, is in question. Instead, the political content of the University has reasserted itself at the end of The End of History. In this presentation, the idea that the University at The End of History has become a hopeless space, unable both to fulfil the desires of those who labour within it for a good life and to contribute solutions to socio-economic and socio-environmental ruptures, is developed dialectically. This enables us to consider the potential for reimagining intellectual work as a movement of sensuous human activity in the world, rather than being commodified for value.


Decolonising DMU

I direct the evaluation for the Decolonising DMU Project.

With Kaushika Patel and Chris Hall (no relation), I am presenting on the project at the Advance HE Learning and Teaching Conference next week. If you have registered for the conference there will be a recording (.mp4) available. However, the slides are here.

You may also be interested in the project’s draft working position on building the anti-racist university, with which I was heavily involved. This connects to our research question: how does decolonising (its symbolism and reality) impact the idea of the university?

We are also presenting on Building the anti-racist University at a forthcoming event at the University of Bradford. The movement is (hopefully) growing.

Afterword

At Bradford I spoke about white privilege, and my own role in a process of decolonising. I argued following.

  1. Gurnam Singh spoke about white allyship Requiring an openness to building sustainable, democratic partnerships. I echoed this, in terms of horizontal forms of democracy, and building from below is a movement of dignity.
  2. I pointed back to a statement that Gurnam had made at the Radical DMU conference last year. He asked, how is it that in the most liberal institutions in the land in 2019, we are having to ask what it means to build the anti-racist University, or to decolonise? In fact, he forces us to ask whether these institutions can ever be described as liberal, and, if they can, whether that is a badge of dishonour that furthers particular forms of privilege.
  3. I argued the importance of challenging how structures/forms, cultures/pathologies, and activities/methodologies inside institutions, mirror governance, regulation and funding of the sector. The UK Conservative Government’s new Restructuring Regime for institutions in financial difficulty, reinforces the hegemony of the market and of human capital in dehumanising educational experiences.We have to find ways of refusing these pathological methodologies simply reinforce the power of people with no caring responsibilities, who over-perform, and who represent white, male, able power.
  4. In particular, we need to do this because University is implicated in a series of global crises, through the networks inside which it operates, its pathological search for surplus, its reinforcement of the performance ideals of the global North. It symbolises particular forms of life. It does not enable us to address climate forcing, a collapse in the nitrogen cycle, austerity governance, global poverty, whatever, unless those modes of addressing can be mediated through the commodity, the market, private property and money.
  5. Therefore, decolonising is a challenge to myself and my white, male privilege, just as it is a challenge to the very idea of the University grounded in the status and power are people who look like me. The voices that got us into this mess are not the voices I wish to centre as we build dialogue and look for potential routes towards another world or set of worlds.
  6. I see the process of decolonising not as the description of a utopia, rather as an attempt to situate this institution as a transitional moment, centring care, hope and dignity beyond the market, and focused upon equality rather than liberal tropes of equality of opportunity. It centres dialogue and reflection, and it grounds the University in its communities and its place.
  7. Peace be with you.

enough is enough

I am tired. In my heart and in my bones. I have been trying to sit with George Floyd, and to understand how to be in this world. It has felt beyond important to contact my black peers, colleagues and friends, and my peers, colleagues and friends of colour, to offer them what I can. I am constantly trying to acknowledge my privilege as a white, male professor, and that role’s reproduction of whiteness, and to find ways to redistribute that privilege. Being deliberate in reaching out felt like one strand of this.

Earlier in the week I had been ripped by Musa Okwonga’s testimony of his experiences of the police and the State as a teenager, and the subsequent, ongoing denial of his identity and expertise. He articulated how specific, racist forms of difference were imprinted and imposed upon him at an early age from without. He articulated how, even though he had written the critically acclaimed book on football in 2007, he was rarely asked to speak about football tactics, cultural history. Rather as a black man, he was forced constantly to re-articulate his and society’s position on race.

This constant, emotional labour made me feel exhausted, exasperated, frustrated, angry, tearful. A constant, emotional labour, which denies or detracts from the ability to grieve the murder of yet another black man or woman at the hands of the State and its institutions. The constant, emotional labour required to struggle against whiteness as it demands the generation of a double consciousness. And the part that had me in tears was when Musa made me internalise the reality that those struggles I have had with chronic anxiety and depression, two breakdowns, managing the death of my mother, chronic family illness, and on and on, were managed without the additional layers of navigation, compromise, fear, denial demanded of those with black skins. As he noted, he cannot leave his black skin at the door.

I am tired. But it feels as nothing compared to the exhaustion of this constant, emotional labour. Of a life that has to be justified against the power and privilege of others over and over.

Beyond Musa’s careful and considered and emotional and humane response, a second moment of tearful clarity came when Mark replied to my contact, specifically in response to the idea that I was trying to sit with George. He wrote, ‘Please tell him I am breathing.’ Fucking hell. I am in tears every time I read that. And I am reminded that Akwugo Emejulu writes of the eruption and exhaustion of protest that:

This is a gathering of the ghosts of our past, present and future. They assemble to watch us and wonder when and how this will end. We scream, we shout and we march because we are haunted by those we could not save and by the terrifying knowledge that these violent deaths at the hands of the state – or those who know they have the full support of the state – could happen to any of us. They couldn’t breathe because existing while Black is a threat to the everyday order of things – to the mundane organisation of American society that demands Black people’s subjugation.

‘Please tell him I am breathing.’ A gathering of ghosts. Sitting with me as I question, what have we become? What do we allow? How are we complicit? How, as Musa writes elsewhere, do I help others ‘not to be those who point at injustice and then stand by.’

And Mark wanted me to ‘Tell [George] that he has moved me closer to so many people including you. Tell him he has made me realise I need to have more uncomfortable conversations.’ And I think, how do I help to build upon the hope that centres upon Mark’s lived experience that he is still breathing? Building hope. This is our truth.


Rik replied to my contact and sent me this reminder from Stephen Garner.

The power talked of here is of unchecked and untrammelled authority to exert its will; the power to invent and change the rules and transgress them with impunity; and the power to define the ‘Other’, and to kill him or her with impunity. The arbitrary imposition of life and death is one end of the spectrum of power relations that whiteness enacts, across the parts of the world where white people are preponderant in positions of power. From Ida Wells’s anti-lynching crusade, through Malcolm X’s comment that ‘We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock: that rock landed on us’, to Carmichael and Hamilton’s pioneering and striking claims about the way structural racism functions as a compound of class and ‘race’ (1967), the recurrent theme is of African-Americans developing an ethnographic gaze of which the subject is the way power is wielded by White America and how it impacts painfully on them.

Steve Garner. 2007. Whiteness: An Introduction. London: Routledge, p. 14.

I see that I have access to some of that power wielded through white privilege, and that this potentially impacts painfully on others made marginal. I have long contended that my work inside the University is to abolish that power and that privilege, and to abolish the idea of the University as it enables and is enabled by that power and that privilege. Increasingly I see that the structures or forms of the University, the cultures that act as pathologies grounded in white privilege, and the activities that reproduce whiteness methodologically, are unable to deal with the conjuncture of crises. That they simply re-enact separation, divorce, exhaustion, exploitation, expropriation.

The voices that have been enabled over and over and over at the political economic core of our world, and which have brought us to the brink environmentally and socially, are not the voices that I wish to listen to in the search for another world. Instead, I need to do all I can to centre the voices of those made marginal, and the identities of those exploited, expropriated, extracted and exchanged. This is the only way I can see for us to push beyond the reproduction of exploitation, expropriation, extraction and exchange as the basis for our alienating existence. This feels like the struggle of our lives. I wonder if this is the real movement that will abolish the present state of things.


I have to consider this in the context of my own work, in particular in my institution’s engagement with decolonising. Elsewhere, Akwugo has noted, ‘To decolonise is to imagine that another university is possible.’ I am trying to relate the idea of the University, to its realities in its structures, cultures and activities, through conversation with particular experiences of black staff and students, and students and staff of colour. How do we bring the symbolism of the institution into conversation with how we imagine it, and our lived experiences of it, in order to be better?

I have written a working position for this:

In response to this, Decolonising DMU is an insistent movement towards a pluralist experience of the University, so that each individual and her communities feel more at home there. It works against the reality that some staff and students feel that they are not able to fit in, because they are alienated by institutions that are structured by whiteness and white privilege. We wish to elevate and bring to the front alternative experiences, stories, narratives and relationships, such that those who engage with the University do not have to give up their own identities and subjectivities. Our work refuses the idea that some should have to develop a double consciousness (or the daily reality of having to reconcile one’s own identity and heritage with the judgement of a dominant, Eurocentric identity), in order to survive in the institution.

This is a process of transformation or venturing beyond, which links strategy and action. It has a focus upon generating new knowledge about the University, its governance, internal regulation, management and organisation, technologies and information flows, and its relationships. In broad terms, the idea of Decolonising DMU challenges exploitation and dispossession, silencing, othering and marginalisation.

In this moment, my ghosts tell me that this is my real movement. And in that, I have to consider, as Oli Mould clearly and publicly articulates, what I can do as a white, male academic, to be better.

As the Particles for Justice collective note in their call for a #strike4blacklives, this involves a willingness to:

acknowledge the ways in which the effects of anti-Black racism are compounded for people who are also, for example, women, trans, non-binary, queer, Indigenous to the lands occupied by the United States and Canada, Latinx, Muslim, Jewish, disabled, and/or undocumented. We demand justice, reform, and accountability now.

And so I have to reflect and refuse the ways in which my practice reinforces pathological white privilege, whitewash and whiteness.

  • How does my research, teaching, administration, mentoring, widen the spaces and times in which black students and staff, and staff and students of colour can tell out their souls?
  • How do I contribute to the struggle for authenticity and legitimacy beyond whiteness, in institutional committees, trade union committees, governing bodies, institutional strategy, trade union campaigns, academic workloads?
  • How do I struggle for the rights of others, and their equality? What does this mean for me, in terms of student and staff attainment, advancement, personal development, workload?
  • How do I struggle against the monitoring and profiling of certain communities, and the measuring of everyone by a colonial and patriarchal yardstick?
  • How do I struggle against privileged forms of knowledge, and for multiple and interconnected ways of knowing, being and doing?
  • How do I struggle against experiences of microaggressions, harassment, hostility and hate crime that differentially impact mental and physical health? How do I fight for services for those who need them, inside and outside the University?

My work has to commit to deconstructing my practice and the alienating structures/forms, cultures/pathologies, and activities/methodologies that it enables. I have to centre the lived experience of those occupying subaltern positions, or those traditionally occupying second- order or subordinated status. I have to demand empathy from myself with the experiences of those made marginal or silenced. I have to do this work. Me, not those we have othered.

I have to be accountable for these statements. We who have benefited must be held to account for these statements.

I am tired. But it feels as nothing compared to the exhaustion of this constant, emotional labour.

This is my personal reckoning. A reckoning is coming.

And I will bear this tiredness because I refuse to be complicit in the reproduction of another’s toxic exhaustion.

Enough is enough.