Online seminar: the Alienated Academic and the Hopeless University

On Wednesday October 5th, 2022, at 15-18.00 (EEST) and 13-16.00 (BST), I’ll be facilitating an online session on:

“The Alienated academic and the Hopeless University with Professor Richard Hall”

The Zoom link for the event is at: https://tuni.zoom.us/j/66510029426?pwd=MzVRQW1aaitYS1RXdjZqemkwUmo5QT09

The session is being hosted by the research group of Assembling Postcapitalist International Political Economies (POSTCAPE), at the University of Tampere, Finland. For more details about the event, see the POSTCAPE site. The group’s background to the event is given below.

I am very grateful to Mikko Poutanen, who is a PhD researcher in Political Science at Tampere, for this invitation ands his support, and for his ongoing work on academic and intellectual alienation.

Background

The research group of Assembling Postcapitalist International Political Economies (POSTCAPE) welcomes you to join us in an online seminar with professor of education and technology Richard Hall from De Montfort University Leicester (UK). Professor Hall has written extensively on the changes of UK higher education from a distinctly critical point of view, noting that academics are becoming alienated. Academic work as a “labor of love” is increasingly commodified, not only challenging but arguably damaging the conditions of intellectual work.

Writing in the context of the United Kingdom, Professor Hall’s work argues that the neoliberalization of universities has already progressed to the point that the university has become “hopeless”. Yet, within this hopelessness, there is also radical potential for new imaginaries for future intellectual work and mass intellectuality. Only when academics are ready to acknowledge the university is hopeless, can we begin salvage work of the university which is not and cannot be looking back for solutions.

The new imaginary for a university and intellectual work in general has to address questions of economic, gendered, racialized and environmental problems that the current university, mired in late-stage capitalism, is able to identify but to do very little to solve.

In this combined lecture and seminar, Professor Hall will first outline his diagnosis of the alienated academic and the hopeless university, and potential ways forward and then open for questions and comments in a seminar discussion. There will be a break between the lecture and the seminar.

Relevant works

Hall, Richard & Kate Bowles. 2016. “Re-engineering Higher Education: The Subsumption of Academic Labour and the Exploitation of Anxiety.” Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor 28: 30-47.

Hall, Richard. 2018a. “On the alienation of academic labour and the possibilities for mass intellectuality.” tripleC 16(1): 97-113.

Hall, Richard. 2018b. The Alienated academic – The struggle for autonomy inside the university. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hall, Richard. 2019. ”On authoritarian neoliberalism and poetic epistemology.” Social epistemology 33(4): 298-308.

Hall, Richard. 2021. The Hopeless University: Intellectual work at the end of The End of History. Leicester: Mayfly Books.


Decolonising the PGR experience: resources

I am privileged to have been asked to speak today at the University of Exeter, Decolonising Research Festival.

NB I owe a huge debt to Drs Lucy Ansley and Paris Connolly who have made huge contributions to this work. It’s a partnership with them.

As is usual when I get a fee for speaking, I will be donating to a local rape crisis centre, so that the money stays in the local community. 

My slides are available from slide share and can be accessed below. There are some other, research-related resources, as follows.


‘Whiteness is an immoral choice’: The idea of the University at the intersection of crises

With Raj Gill at DMU, and Sol Gamsu at Durham, I have a paper accepted in Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education Research, entitled ‘Whiteness is an immoral choice’: The idea of the University at the intersection of crises.

It is in a Special Issue on Higher Education in the Eye of the Covid-19 Storm, edited by Jason Arday and Vikki Boliver.

In it, we argue that whiteness has historical and material legitimacy, reinforced through policy and regulation, and in English HE this tends, increasingly, to reframe struggle in relation to culture wars. This article argues that the dominant articulation of the University, conditioned by economic value rather than humane values has been reinforced and amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic. The argument pivots around UK Government policy and guidelines, in order to highlight the processes by which intellectual work and the reproduction of higher education institutions connects value-production and modes of settler-colonial and racial-patriarchal control.


Decolonising Research Ethics

Earlier I generated a presentation on decolonising research ethics, for the Decolonising the STEM Curriculum working group, being led by Lara Lalemi a PhD candidate at Bristol, working in Chemistry. Lara is part of the Creative Tuition Collective, which offers free tuition, extracurricular workshops and personal development support to pupils from low-income backgrounds, marginalised and underrepresented communities.

My slides are available as a PDF below, and an audio file is available here. They aren’t synced as an .mp4, because that is for the working group. However, I thought I’d make the raw information available, just in case.

My focus was the relationship between ethics and decolonising, with a focus on research ethics as relationality that works beyond equality, diversity and inclusion work. Here I am drawn to the following principles from our Decolonising DMU working position.

  • Diversify the syllabus, canon, curriculum, infrastructure and staff
  • Decentre knowledge and knowledge production away from the global North
  • Devalue hierarchies and revalue relationality
  • Diminish some voices and opinions that have predominated, and magnify those that have been unheard

Decolonising Research Ethics slides


Decolonising DMU and the PGR Experience

With Lucy Ansley, I spoke about decolonising and the PGR experience at the first Decolonising the Research Degree, network event this morning.

The aim of the session was: to situate work on decolonising the PGR experience, inside an institutional programme of work (DDMU) that has not previously prioritised research.

Our slides are available below, or here.

Some resources include the following.

e: decolonisingdmu@dmu.ac.uk

w: https://www.dmu.ac.uk/community/decolonising/index.aspx

t: @DecolonisingDMU

DDMU Interim Report

DDMU self-audit tool for research centres/institutes

DDMU Resources/Papers


new book: The Palgrave International Handbook of Marxism and Education

Working with Inny Accioly (Fluminense Federal University, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and Krystian Szadkowski (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland), I have a contract with Palgrave Macmillan for an International Handbook of Marxism and Education. Our working proposal is appended below. We hope for a draft to be submitted in mid-2023.

Overview

The Handbook to Marxism and Education is an international and interdisciplinary volume, which provides a thorough and precise engagement with emergent developments in Marxist theory in both the global South and North. Drawing on the work of authoritative scholars and practitioners, the Companion explicitly shows how these developments enable a rich historical and material understanding of the full range of education sectors and contexts. In this, it will develop a dialectical understanding of the interactions between the following.

  • The importance of Marx’s dialectical method in critiquing education.
  • Transnational and national governance, regulation and funding of education.
  • Histories and geographies of educational development and change, for instance in relation to corporate forms, the binaries of public/private education, issues of marketisation and commodification.
  • The structures, cultures and practices of formal and informal educational organisations.
  • The lived experiences of education by centring a range of intersectional analyses.
  • The educational role of new social and political movements, like decolonising, indigenous rights, Black Lives Matter and Rhodes must Fall.
  • The web of life and ecological readings of education.

This work proceeds in a spirit of openness and dialogue within and between various conceptions and traditions of Marxism, and brings those conceptions into dialogue with their critics and other anti-capitalist traditions. The Handbook contributes to the development of Marxist analyses that push beyond established limits, by engaging with fresh perspectives and views, which disrupt established perspectives as a movement of dignity. Following the introduction, the work is divided into three parts.

  1. Marxist modes and characteristics of analysis in education’, which provides a broad conceptual and historical context
  2. Emerging currents in Marxism and education‘, which tracks the trajectories of emerging and developing issues in education.
  3. Marxism, education and alternative conceptualisations of life’, which examines in detail the possibility to describe alternative educational futures.

The Handbook is designed to be an emerging, deliberative and dialogic guide to the relationship between Marxism and education.

  1. The Handbook focuses upon the intersection of the plurality of Marxist traditions, with both the full range of transnational educational contexts, and the historical/material development of categorical analyses in relation to emerging social issues. In this way, it mirrors the objectives of relevant companions to Marx’s Capital, which seek to interpret from specified positions, and enable the reader to generate analytical tools for themselves in their own context.
  2. The Handbook enables material and historical analyses of emerging currents that are shaping education globally, including how capitalism is re-engineering learning environments, teaching practices, and student engagement and learning, alongside the national and transnational governance, regulation and funding of educational institutions.
  3. The Handbook provides a rich, conceptual and transnational engagement with emerging work on alternative perspectives, including: Buen Vivir, Critical Environmental Education, “Environmental Justice and the web of life; critical university studies; movements for institutional abolition; critical or radical pedagogy; and social justice, including #BLM, decolonising, indigeneity and critical feminism.

NB The intention is to connect with a full range of emergent issues, rather than develop a standard genealogy or archaeology of Marxist categories as they apply to educational contexts. Thus, there is a deep engagement with issues of social justice, for instance, in relation to decolonising, indigeneity, queer education and intersectionality. There is a desire to draw out the links between structures, cultures and practices of education through a Marxist lens, and to bring these into conversation with emergent issues in relation to identity, environment, social reproduction and so on.

NB there is dialogue and negotiation with authors to be undertaken, including through the process of drafting chapters. This will undoubtedly impact the ways in which the volume is structured over-time, and we will keep this under review.

Finally, and crucially, the Handbook will recognise and work with genealogies and archeologies of work that has been undertaken in relation to Marxism and Education. These genealogies, and the authors who are so central to them, will be referenced and referred to within the Handbook. However, we do not see the Handbook working within/from those genealogies and archeologies. We do not wish to maintain established or dominant perceptions and conceptualisations of Marxism and education, rather we wish to disrupt those and engage established positions in a dialogue with emerging issues (for instance, intersectionality, decolonising, the web of life). We also wish to give a range of authors, from contexts previously made marginal, new spaces for voicing and weaving.

As a result, we look forward to disrupting particular positions and opening-up/out the possibility of new research and new voices shaping the direction for the field. In any authentic and meaningful, pedagogic and educational engagement with a range of intersecting, global crises, new voices and positions are required. Other ways of knowing and imagining and being in the world have never been more urgent.


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?