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.


Research and the COVID-19 crisis: International Day of Education

I’m speaking at DMU’s panel session on: Research and the COVID-19 crisis – International Day of Education.

My talk is on: Covid-19 and the idea of the University

The idea of the University is being challenged at the intersection of crises, including those of finance and epidemiology. As a result, the public value of the University is continually questioned. This talk will uncover how, at the intersection of crises, those who labour in universities might recover their historical agency, and reimagine higher learning. 

My slides are available on my Slideshare.


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.


COVID-19 and the idea of the University

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.


Platform Discontent against the University

I have a chapter out in an open access book, The Digital Age and Its Discontents: Critical Reflections in Education.

I’ve written about Platform Discontent against the University. The abstract is below and the full chapter is available here.

The chapter addresses: Technology and the Capitalist University; Technology and Academic Labour; Discontent and the Re-imagination of the Institution;  Platform Discontent as a Social Movement; and, Beyond the University.

Abstract

Inside the University, technology shapes productive moments of capitalist expansion. As such, it is deployed in order to eviscerate academic labour costs and labour time, while promising to liberate the academic worker through free time. Thus, digital technology both re-engineers education in the name of entrepreneurialism and competition, and forces academics and students to struggle to enrich their human capital. In terms of responses to this re-engineering, this has led to discussions about accelerationism or the possibility of fully automated luxury communism. One outcome is a consideration of ways in which technology can liberate the direct producers of knowledge to cooperate through associations that widen their autonomy. However, while this work challenges the hegemonic idea of transhistorical, educational institutions with a particular focus on knowledge production and its uses, it runs into their integration inside the universe of value. Value forces institutions and managers to performance-manage academic labour, in ways that can be analysed through the idea of platforms as a mechanism that expands capital’s cybernetic control. This chapter critiques ideologies and practices of technology-rich institutions, in order to discuss whether the educational technology and workload management platforms that are used to control academic production might act as sites of discontent and alternatives that enable communities to reconstitute their own lived experiences. Is it possible to develop forms of platform discontent, which lie beyond simple discontent against platforms and instead enable communities to widen their own spheres of autonomy?


new article: The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the End of the End of History

Over at Postdigital Science and Education, I have a new article out:

The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the End of the End of History

The abstract is appended below.

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 article, 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.


Fergal Finnegan of The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside University

I am pleased that, over at Power and Education, There is a review by Fergal Finnegan of: The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside University. Fergal’s review was very generous and insightful, and connects to those of Joss Winn and Enja Helmes. He notes:

To accurately describe the university and what it means to be an academic today calls for a completely different set of coordinates. Hall takes up this theoretical challenge and sets out with clarity and force how this might be envisaged from a Marxist perspective (the book is the most recent publication in Palgrave Macmillan’s Marxism and Education series). The result is a thought-provoking and genuinely fresh perspective on the nature of academic work and the politics of contemporary HE.

It has an urgency of tone and frank passion which marks it out as different from many of the other lamentations about the decline of the university. Hall is pinning his theses on the door of an institution which he believes can no longer see what it does and that it in fact stands in the way of freedom.

However, Fergal also makes a very valid points about: how I might have used alienation as a bridge between critical moments and critical tendencies (including the work of Friere); the need for empirical detail (which I have forsaken for a while because my mind has been in a more abstract, philosophical space); the messiness of higher education (I guess that I set up a straw person for the purposes of the argument); and the relationship between class and the University (rendered secondary to a fuller, intersectional and humanist analysis).

In particular, this point that Fergal makes has stuck with me:

These gaps reflect the fact that TAA does not address class (de)composition and class formation – and the role of HE in these processes – in enough fine-grained detail.

I am hoping that I can begin to address this issue in the book upon which I am currently focused, which takes the University as its unit of analysis (as opposed to academic labour, which was central to TAA): The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at The End of The End of History.

Given what I have been reading and writing about, and my own struggles as a union negotiator and also in our institutional, decolonising project, I would not now have written TAA as I did then. Of course, this seems a little obvious, but much of my thinking recently has been about the structures/forms, cultures/pathologies and activities/methodologies of the institution, and the ways in which status, privilege, alienation, ill-being and so on accelerate class decomposition, and the possibilities for new class formations.

I also feel that I had a particularly naïve view of alienation, and hadn’t engaged with Hegel enough. Alongside critical theorists and radical pedagogues, this would also be a gap. In my defence, I feel that I had to curate my reading in particular ways, and I wanted my argument to take a particular route.

The very valid points Fergal makes about TAA have given me some stimulation towards re-engaging with The Hopeless University. I have a journal article forthcoming on this in Postdigital Science and Education, and I think my voice/writing are shifting (a function of a more confident position), including the nuance he speaks of around the messiness of the University. I had lost some momentum on this, And needed to sit with our current conjuncture, in order to make sense of myself in this space and time. I hope to use his words to kick-start my thinking again.

 


Praktyka Teoretyczna: Has the University become surplus to requirements?

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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