There will be an edited version of the book launch uploaded as a podcast towards the end of this week, hopefully. Or maybe early next. Actually, probably early next.
A couple of weeks ago I presented at the Contemporary Philosophy of Technology seminar series, at the University of Birmingham. My talk was on the idea/reality of the Co-operative University and anti-technocracy. The issues that I was interested in raising were as follows.
- What is the relationship between the proposed Co-operative University and the regulatory environment predicated upon competition between providers, at the level of the individual, the subject and the institution?
- How might the historical and material reality of co-operatives unable this relationship to be critiqued? How might the historical and material reality of co-operatives generate lessons for the Co-operative University?
- What is the governance and management relationship between the proposed the Office for Students as the regulator, the Co-operative University, and any federated curriculum delivery organisations?
- Is it possible to align the hopes and aspirations of the staff and students committed to the Co-operative University, who are brutalised inside the academic peloton, to the reality of an organisation that has to compromise with/exist within this competitive environment?
- What is the role of technology in enabling such an alignment? In particular, what is the relationship between platform co-operativism and the Co-operative University?
- How might the experiences of actually-existing co-operatives, and the example of the Co-operative University, enable us to dismantle and then abolish the University?
The slides for this are available on my SlideShare.
There is a recording over at the CPT YouTube channel. This is too depressing for me to watch, so I won’t watch it. If it’s full of factual inaccuracies let me know and I’ll make amends. Promise.
Over on the podcast channel, there’s a new podcast. It features some lovely music, which is licensed under Creative Commons as attribution, share alike, non-commercial. The tracks are as follows.
The podcast opens with: Tha Silent Partner, Roses (Intro), from the album Platters, Act 7: Tha Anniversary Plate. This is available on free music archive. Tha Silent Partner, Gregory Davis has a Tumblr that you should check out.
The podcast closes with: Rae Elbow and the Magic Beans, there is no…? from the album the human species. This is available on SoundCloud.
In this podcast I blather on about the interrelationship between UN Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education, and the recent IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. It’s a fun listen for a Friday afternoon, although it is a little too long at 33 minutes (with six minutes of music), and features me saying the words “interesting” and “important” far too often, and forgetting to pronounce the letter “t”.
There are also shout outs to Sarah Amsler, Sara Ahmed, Audre Lorde, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Warren Pearce, and Rob Weale.
Back in June I spoke at the BERA social theory and education SIG symposium about authoritarian neoliberalism and the alienation of academic labour. My focus was on authoritarian neoliberalism as a heuristic for analysing the idea of the University, and in particular knowledge production as a means of reproducing the capital-relation, and the possibility for developing alternative conceptions. These alternative conceptions erupt from an analysis of voices made marginal inside the capital-relation, including indigenous communities. This leads towards a set of spaces and histories composed by methodologies that are new and challenging and exciting to me.
This work is also new and challenging and exciting to me, because it demands an engagement with the literature around the problematic of neoliberalism, and the imposition of authoritarian modes of coercion and discipline, which are punitive on specific communities, individuals and bodies. My focus in this has tended to be on the capital-relation, picking up on the work of Simon Clarke in his neoliberal theory of society. However, my focus has also been shaped by my engagement with the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at DMU, including its focus on governance and austerity, and resistance and mobilisation under austerity.
My conversation with participants at the BERA symposium was followed by an invitation from Justin Cruickshank at Birmingham to contribute to a forthcoming special issue for Social Epistemology: A Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy, on neoliberalism, higher education and technology. This was the first major thing I had written since I submitted my manuscript for The Alienated Academic, and it forced me to re-engage with the process of research and writing. It was an important step, to take a breath and refocus, and to consider how to move my thinking in a fresh direction.
I am really grateful to Justin for this invitation, because since I submitted The Alienated Academic I had been all played out. This was a function of needing to recalibrate my institutional role and repositioning myself as an academic, but also the fact that for 15 months I had been reading, researching and then intensively writing 70,000 words. In that time I had been trying to get my head around intersectional issues and narratives, the work of Hegel and Feuerbach, the eruption of literature around alienation in the 1960s and 70s, and the relationship of each of these to both Marx and academic labour. By the time I’d submitted in early May I was dreading the peer review process, partially because I was scared of what would be said about my work and partially because I simply didn’t have the energy to rewrite chapters, sections or even paragraphs.
Yet, this new work on authoritarian neoliberalism enabled me to develop some thinking about knowledge production and the use of knowledge, the role of higher education, and some emergent and naïve engagement with indigenous and aboriginal methodological approaches. It has coincided with the emergence of some new energy, for teaching, for educational practice, for my work outside the University, the podcasting, and for writing. It may be happenstance or coincidence that this invitation came at this point; but I’m grateful nonetheless.
The structure for the article is noted immediately below, and is followed by the abstract and references. I hope that the article is good enough, but I wanted to celebrate both the process and the community that supports it.
- Authoritarian neoliberalism and academic labour
- Authoritarian higher education in the global North
- An emergent appreciation of more humane knowledge
- Dismantling knowledge production in higher education
As one response to the secular crisis of capitalism, higher education is being proletarianised. Its academics and students, increasingly encumbered by precarious employment, debt, and new levels of performance management, are shorn of autonomy beyond the sale of their labour-power. One heuristic for analysing this response is authoritarian neoliberalism, imposed as a means of enacting disciplinary practices in the name of the market with an anti-democratic rationale. This has a distinctly technocratic focus, rooted in techniques of performativity, including audits and assessments of teaching, research and scholarship, grounded in productivity, the management of time and value-creation. However, there are a range of intersectional and geographical responses to such an imposition, through which it is possible to describe alternatives to these architectures of subsumption. In particular, a second heuristic emerges which challenges the restructuring of the University in the global North, erupting from struggles for decolonisation. Here, Audre Lorde’s invocation to an integrated, poetic existence that situates bodies in places, and respects feelings and emotions as the site of epistemological development and understanding, underpins the possibility for dismantling hegemonic knowledge production. The article examines whether humanist narratives of solidarity, in particular from marginalised voices, might help academics and students to analyse their alienated labour and to imagine that another world is possible.
Ahmed, S. 2012. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Ahmed, S. 2017. Living a Feminist Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Amsler, M. 2017. “Responsibilisation and leadership in the neoliberal university: a New Zealand perspective.” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 38 (1): 123-37.
Andrews, K. 2018. Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the Twenty-First Century. London: Zed Books.
Arvin, M., E. Tuck, and A. Morrill. 2013. “Decolonising feminism: Challenging connection between settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy.” Feminist Formations, 25 (1): 8-34.
Azar, R. 2015. “Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Authoritarianism.” New Politics XV (3).
Aztlán, A. 2017. “Trumpism, Authoritarian Neoliberalism, and Subaltern Latina/o Politics.” Journal of Chicano Studies 42 (2): 147-64.
Ball, S. 2012. Global Education Inc. New Policy Networks and the Neoliberal Imaginary. London: Routledge.
Barnett, R. 2016. Understanding the University: Institution, Idea, Possibilities. London: Routledge.
Bhambra, G. 2017. “Brexit, Trump, and ‘methodological whiteness’: on the misrecognition of race and class.” The British Journal of Sociology. 68 (1): 214-32.
Bhambra, G., D. Gebrial, and K. Nisancioglu, eds 2018. Decolonising the University. London: Pluto Press.
Bruff, I. 2012. “Authoritarian neoliberalism, the Occupy movements, and IPE.” Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies 1 (5): 114-16.
Bruff, I. 2014. “The Rise of Authoritarian Neoliberalism.” Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society 26(1): 113-29. doi.org/10.1080/08935696.2013.843250
Bruff, I., and C.B. Tansel. 2018. “Authoritarian neoliberalism: trajectories of knowledge production and praxis.” Globalizations. 10.1080/14747731.2018.1502497
Canaan, J. 2017. “The (Im)possibility of Mass Intellectuality: Viewing Mass Intellectuality Through the Lens of the Brazilian Landless Movement.” In Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education, edited by R. Hall and J. Winn, 69-80. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
CASA. (n.d). A home online for casual, adjunct, sessional staff and their allies in Australian higher education. http://actualcasuals.wordpress.com/
Connell, R. 2013. “The neoliberal cascade and education: an essay on the market agenda and its consequences.” Critical Studies in Education 54 (2): 99-112. 10.1080/17508487.2013.776990
Davies, W. 2016. “The New Neoliberalism.” New Left Review, 101. https://newleftreview.org/II/101/william-davies-the-new-neoliberalism
Davies, W. 2017. “Elite Power under Advanced Neoliberalism.” Theory, Culture & Society 34 (5-6): 227 – 50. 10.1177/0263276417715072
DBIS. 2015. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act. London: HM Stationery Office. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/26/pdfs/ukpga_20150026_en.pdf
de Sousa Santos, B., ed. 2007. Cognitive Justice in a Global World: Prudent Knowledges for a Decent Life. New York: Lexington Books.
DET. 2016. National Strategy for International Education 2025. https://internationaleducation.gov.au/International-network/Australia/InternationalStrategy/Pages/National-Strategy.aspx
DfE. 2017. The Higher Education and Research Act. London: HM Stationery Office. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/29/pdfs/ukpga_20170029_en.pdf
Dinerstein, A. 2015. The Politics of Autonomy in Latin America: The Art of Organising Hope. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hall, R. 2015. “The University and the Secular Crisis.” Open Library of Humanities 1 (1): p.e6. 10.16995/olh.15.
Hall, R. 2018. The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hall, R. and J. Winn, eds 2017. Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Harris, K, A. Schwedel, and A. Kim. 2012. A world awash in money. http://www.bain.com/publications/articles/a-world-awash-in-money.aspx
Hillman, N. 2016. “The Coalition’s higher education reforms in England.” The Oxford Review of Education 42 (3): 330–45. 10.1080/03054985.2016.1184870
HM Treasury. 2015. Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation. London: HM Treasury. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/443898/Productivity_Plan_web.pdf
King, T. 2003. The truth about stories: a native narrative. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc.
Lorde, A. 2013. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. London: Penguin.
Marginson, S. 2016. Higher Education and the Common Good. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Press.
Marx, K., and F. Engels. 2002. The Communist Manifesto. London: Penguin.
McGettigan, A. 2015. “The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment.” Political Economy Research Centre Papers Series 6. www.perc.org.uk/perc/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/PERC-6-McGettigan-and-HE-and-Human-Capital-FINAL-1.pdf.
Moten, F., and S. Harney. 2013. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Brooklyn: Minor Compositions.
Motta, S. 2018. Liminal Subjects: Weaving (Our) Liberation. London: Rowman & Littlefield International.
Newfield, C. 2016. The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Newman, J. 2012. Working the Spaces of Power: Activism, Neoliberalism and Gendered Labour. London: Bloomsbury.
O’Dwyer, S., S. Pinto, and S. McDonagh. 2017. “Self-care for academics: a poetic invitation to reflect and resist.” Reflective Practice 19 (2): 243-49. OECD 2018. Public Financial Management: An overview. http://www.oecd.org/dac/effectiveness/pfm.htm
Pasquale, F. 2016. “Two Narratives of Platform Capitalism.” Yale Law and Policy Review 309. https://ylpr.yale.edu/two-narratives-platform-capitalism.
Pasquale, F. 2018. “Tech Platforms and the Knowledge Problem.” American Affairs II (2). https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2018/05/tech-platforms-and-the-knowledge-problem/.
Roberts, M. 2018. The Long Depression: How it Happened, why it Happened, and what Happens Next. London: Haymarket Books.
Steinþórsdóttir, F.S, T.M. Heijstra, and P.J. Einarsdóttir. 2017. “The making of the ‘excellent’ university: A drawback for gender equality.” ephemera: theory and politics in organization 17 (3): 557-82.
Styres, S. 2018. Literacies of Land: Decolonising Narratives, Storytelling, and Literature. In Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View, edited by L. Tuhiwai Smith, E. Tuck, and K.W. Yang, 24-33. London: Routledge.
Tansel, C.B. ed., 2017. States of discipline: Authoritarian neoliberalism and the contested reproduction of capitalist order. London: Rowman & Littlefield International.
Tuck, E., and K.W. Yang. 2012. “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society 1(1): 1-40.
Tuhiwai Smith, L., E. Tuck, and K.W. Yang eds 2018. Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View. London: Routledge.
Wilson, S. 2008. Research as ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Blackpoint: Fernwood Publishing.
A few people have contacted me about the cost of my book with Palgrave, the alienated academic. I raised this with the publishers who replied:
I would advise that your colleagues check if they have access to the book via Springer Link through their institution as this will allow them to download it for free. We are now also able to offer the book as part of the Springer My Copy service. This means that the book is available as a paperback immediately after publication to those whose institutions have access to the book via SpringerLink. This edition is priced at £24.99 and further information is available here.
This is a companion piece to something I wrote last year for WonkHE on the rise of academic ill-health. It picks up on the first chapter of my book on awakenings, and later chapters on identity and Weltschmerz. The abstract of those are located here (scroll down).
There is a collection of blog posts, and some other bits on this site under the alienation tag.
Elsewhere, I write:
it is meaningless for me to separate out my work inside and outside the University from the work I continue to undertake on myself. It is meaningless for me to separate out my labour as something unique in the practice of my life.
After a decade in therapy I am moving to sessions every other week. For a long time I was having weekly sessions; for a long time I was having twice-weekly sessions; for some time I needed three sessions a week. The memory of all of this resonates; remembering why I needed this resonates. Who I was is who I am is who I will be.
So it feels important to mark this agreement to move to sessions every other week. I feel compelled to sit with the importance of this. It is a very significant moment for me in my movement towards myself, and it carries with it all sorts of emotions, rooted in loss, grief, possibility, hope and peace. I see the early years of therapy about discovering or recovering or witnessing my courage and faith in myself, with the middle years doing some things that were focused upon finding justice for myself, and it is now that I can work through hope towards finding some peace. And this is repetitive in new ways and is never linear. In all this I continue to draw from my stories, and the emotional, relational, spiritual and cognitive knowledge they enable, as a well. I continue to reproduce those stories and new knowledge about myself in the world.
I also want to recognise the mutuality of this – I am very mindful of sitting with, and respecting my therapist’s position, care and love. I am mindful that there is a strong relational accountability between us. I am mindful of how this resonates across my relationships. Increasingly, I feel that I can recognise and respect this mutuality and solidarity, including with myself. I feel that the core of me lies in being accountable to my relations where that is possible, and that is a very beautiful thing.
I feel that there is a different moment of reconnection between me and the world. I see this in terms of the stories that have emerged through my work on myself. I also see this in terms of the places that I have sat in, the lanes that I have walked down, the roads that I have cycled, and the music that I have listened to, amplified in the last decade. This reconnection demonstrates to me that my work, practice, customs, values, life is not linear and that they are moving away from their assumptions.
Because I am letting go, I see the futility in my previous attempts to re-inhabit my own soul with the idea of being better or well; a newly-enclosed or commodified self. Rather, I understand why that belief or assumption was necessary for me for a while, in order to survive, but now I want to let go of my past assumptions and fetishes, and instead to think about myself in my relationships to me and others. There is something here about my sovereignty over my own story. There is also something here about my wanting to understand other people’s sovereignty over their own stories, and to try to learn from those. In this I take great strength from (indigenous and non-indigenous) stories and struggles for decolonising and dismantling and being inside-and-against-and-beyond (settler) colonialism.
So much of the therapeutic relationship is imminent to my life, my writing, my everyday practice, and the values that I carry forward. The decision to change the frequency of sessions has amplified this for me. To respect my position and my self-understanding, alongside my engagement with the complexity of the world and the communities/friends that I live and work alongside; I think that is enough.
I come back to stories because I remembered this quote from King (p. 32):
the truth about stories is that that’s all we are. You can’t understand the world without telling a story. There isn’t any centre to the world but a story.
I love this, because it articulates the validity of our own experience (and I am in acceptance of mine), and also what we have to learn from other people’s stories – it helps to understand our incompleteness and to create a richer, more storied relationship, rooted in dignity. This is trust in the sacred nature of journeying with others – to accept the risks, anxieties, possibilities. To honour relationships where possible; and also to accept that some relationships cannot work, and that I cannot be accountable to or in them.
And this is inextricably tied to my work as I consider my teaching. I will be working with first-year undergraduates on a new module, on evidenced-based teaching and learning.
In treating this module as a process, as being and becoming, I hope that we can generate new stories for people that respect the humanity of their places, philosophies, practices/practise, values and epistemologies.
I hope that the process we engage in will be focused upon knowledge production from the ground up, as lived experience, which connects people, stories and places in concrete ways.
I hope that we can understand how people and place form relationships that are accountable to each other in some way, which is constantly in negotiation rooted in care, dignity, duality, respect and responsibility.
I hope that we can engage with forms of thinking, acting, and being that emerge in relationship with decolonisation, so that we can imagine and embody our humanity, rather than enclosing and severing ourselves inside abstracted relations of domination.
I hope that we can generate thinking that refuses the assumptions of linear history, and of teleological, positivist narratives of development. In this, I hope that we can give voice to the ebb-and-flow between the past, present and future, and understand how this is rooted in ideological positioning that needs to be decolonised before it can be abolished.
I hope that we can create a module as a process that resonates with our lives, giving participants the power to make change, and to refuse the colonisation of other people’s lived experience, in particular through the imposition of idealised, white, male, able, cisnormative positions.
I hope that we can reflect on how our thinking and activity carries the possibility of care and/or harm, and potentially silences or gives voice to individuals and groups who are included/othered.
I hope that we are able to draw attention to dominant positions and modes of power, the ways in which hegemony is reproduced and recaptured as an ethical moment, so that we can hold a mirror up to power. This involves an engagement with knowledge, language, relationships, culture, so that we recognise our responsibilities as intellectuals, our positioning and that of others, so that intersections of privilege and non-privilege can be outed and reworked.
I hope that I am able to do the work necessary to enable my students to understand my story, in terms of this module, and that I am able to do the work necessary to understand their position. It is not good enough for us to demand that our students must do the work of travelling to our position. It is enough for us to engage with our students on their own terms, and to help them to find their own pathways that intersect their past, present and future.
I hope that we can be against utopian readings of the world. I hope that we can push towards “the next now”, which itself prefigures a better world. I hope that we can bear witness to each other’s legitimate movement in this process.
I hope that we can situate the reciprocity of relationships, and a variety of cultural positionalities, through storytelling and a recognition of the non-neutrality of language in its relationship to power and domination. Some of this is about memory and remembering; some of it is about generating new stories as we experience the module as a process.
I hope that we can experience the module as a decolonising pedagogic praxis; as a journey that refuses the inhumane reduction of our relationships to a risk-based approach to commodified pedagogic development.
I hope that we can develop epistemic range rather than epistemic enclosure, and enable each other to produce and recognise knowledge with the whole of our being – emotion, cognition, experience.
I hope that we can refuse deficit thinking about ourselves and others.
As Castenell and Pinar argue (p. 4):
we are what we know. We are, however, also what we do not know. If what we know about ourselves – our history, our culture, our national identity – is deformed by absences, denials, and incompleteness, then our identity is fragmented. Such a self lacks access both to itself and to the world. Its sense of history, gender and politics is incomplete and distorted.
The bibliography that underpins this post is rooted in my attempts to appreciate narratives for decolonising and of indigeneity.
Ahmed, S. (2012) On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Arday, J., and Mirza, H.S. (eds 2018). Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Bhambra, G. (2017) Brexit, Trump, and ‘methodological whiteness’: on the misrecognition of race and class. The British Journal of Sociology, 68 (1): 214-32.
Bhopal, K. (2018). White Privilege: the myth of a post-racial society. Bristol: Policy Press.
Byrd, J.A. (2011). The transit of empire: Indigenous critiques of colonialism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Calderon, D. (2014). Speaking back to manifest destinies: A land education-based approach to critical curriculum inquiry. Environmental Education Research, 20 (1): 1-13.
Clark, I. (2018). Tackling Whiteness in the Academy. https://tinyurl.com/yct8qvp8
Goeman, M. (2013). Mark my words: Native women mapping our nations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
The Human, Social, Political Sciences (HSPS) Cambridge Graduates and Current Students (2018). Decolonial Reading List (2018-2019). https://tinyurl.com/yd2se387
Joseph, Tiffany and Laura Hirshfield. 2011. ‘Why don’t you get somebody new to do it?’ Race and cultural taxation in the academy. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34 (1): 121-41.
Salmón, E. (2012). Eating the landscape: American Indian stories of food, identity, and resilience. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Smith, L.T. 1999/2012. Decolonising methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Lyndon: Zed Books.
Steinþórsdóttir, F.S., Heijstra, T.M. and Einarsdóttir, P.J. (2017) The making of the ‘excellent’ university: A drawback for gender equality. ephemera: theory and politics in organization, 17 (3): 557-82.
Tuck, E., and Guishard, M. (2013). Un-collapsing ethics: Racialised sciencism, settler coloniality, and an ethical framework of the colonial participate treat action research. In T.M. Kress, C.S. Malott, and B.J. Portfilio (eds), Challenging status quo retrenchment: New directions in critical qualitative research. Charlotte: information age publishing, 3-27.
Tuck, E. And Yang, K.W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society, 1 (1), 1-40.
Tuck, E. And Yang, K.W. (2018). Series Editor’s Introduction. In Tuhiwai Smith, L., Tuck, E., and Yang, K.W. (eds), Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View. London: Routledge, x-xxi.
Tuhiwai Smith, L., Tuck, E., and Yang, K.W. (eds 2018). Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View. London: Routledge.
Wilson, S. 2008. Research as ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Blackpoint: Fernwood Publishing.
I have a new monograph out with Palgrave Macmillan, entitled The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University
The book’s abstract is as follows: Higher education is increasingly unable to engage usefully with global emergencies, as its functions are repurposed for value. Discourses of entrepreneurship, impact and excellence, realised through competition and the market, mean that academics and students are increasingly alienated from themselves and their work. This book applies Marx’s concept of alienation to the realities of academic life in the Global North, in order to explore how the idea of public education is subsumed under the law of value. In a landscape of increased commodification of higher education, the book explores the relationship between alienation and crisis, before analysing how academic knowledge, work, identity and life are themselves alienated. Finally, it argues that through indignant struggle, another world is possible, grounded in alternative forms of organising life and producing socially-useful knowledge, ultimately requiring the abolition of academic labour. This pioneering work will be of interest and value to all those working in the higher education sector, as well as those concerned with the rise of neoliberalism and marketization within universities.
I have written about this project, including the abstracts for each of the nine chapters here.
If you would like a copy for review, please contact Palgrave Reviews and/or drop me a line. Equally, if you would like me to come and discuss the book at seminars/workshops, students or staff, or with union representatives/members, please let me know. There will be a book launch here at DMU in the autumn.
On Sunday I had the deep privilege of attending the funeral of Joyce Canaan. This was a service of celebration led by Joyce’s family who were held in the embrace of her friends as they carried her body to rest in the earth, whilst her heart, soul, dignity, courage, faith, perseverance, care and love are carried through us into new spaces and times. I have never been to a more beautiful and dignified funeral; one which celebrates the individual in the collective; one which enables a fuller and deeper engagement with the lifelong process of mourning; one which reminds us of the pain we are collectively able to bear, and the love we are collectively able to share.
I first met Joyce in 2013 at a critical pedagogy conference that she was keynoting in Edinburgh. For some time I had been reading her work at the intersection of neoliberal higher education, critical pedagogy, protest, developing alternatives and critical hope. At this conference I was speaking about the relationship between technology and the proletarianisation of academic labour, alongside our options for resistance. Her questions to me were also an invitation to conversation – what might we do to move beyond the current state of things? Is another world possible? It was only later that I realised we had been on the same marches and had tried to avoid the same kettles, and that she, like I, was probably ‘a thug’ in the eyes of the establishment.
Her questions formed an opening far removed from others who have asked me subsequently to describe this new world I wish to see, as if we already have the answer. Joyce refused to occupy this fatalistic position and instead saw that we must be indignant about and refuse injustice, and in the moment of refusal, we must also prefigure and then ask questions about how we reproduce our world. In my own thinking and practice, Joyce’s invocation to think prefiguratively has been transformative, and rooted in years of struggle against the same white, male, heterosexual, ableist voices that have brought us to the brink. Joyce helped to open my heart to the violence of silencing, and in the process to the range of voices and experiences that empower our collective search for alternatives.
Joyce amplified my engagement with alternatives from the margins, howsoever these are described, through a rich description, analysis and connection with narratives of dispossession, rooted in the material of our individual and collective identities. As she fell ill, I had the great pleasure of being able to help her prepare her chapter for our edited collection on mass intellectuality and democratising higher education. She was writing about the educational experiences of the Brazilian landless movement, from her first-hand engagement. She was writing about the problems of interpretation and meaning between the marginalised (in this case in the global South) and those with power (those seeking to reinvent life experienced from the global North). She was writing about new forms of critical engagement between people and their material existence, in order to generate knowledge that could challenge and abolish power.
It was a joy to be able to help her finish this chapter, and to be acknowledged in its notes. It was only later that I made the humane connection between our engagement on this writing and why I felt drawn to visiting Joyce as her cancer took hold of her body. It was in several visits to her home and her time in the hospice that I realised what a gift our relationship was to me. This may have developed had she not been ill, or had we met earlier. However, I am not left with the regret of this as a missed opportunity because of the visceral sense of solidarity and justice that flowed between us. This was the sense of being held in a relationship and of being heard. She told me that whilst we had not known each other very long she felt that she knew me; for me this is rooted in the dignity of listening, and the empathy and compassion that emerges where there are tendrils of separate existences that share certain characteristics. It had solidarity at its core. Those visits to see Joyce felt like seminars, as we discussed the crisis of higher education, the alienation of academic labour, and the spaces for critical hope. They felt like moments of breaking bread with a friend, as we discussed family, love and life.
Even whilst she was in the hospice, Joyce was fighting to understand the opportunities for a cooperative existence, which were only ever amplified for me in witnessing the number of people who wanted to sit with her and her family at this time. The last time I saw her in the hospice, she spent the first hour sleep as I tried to understand what it means for us to sit with each other at every stage of our lives; for us to understand our mortality. After she awoke, we spent two hours together and I cannot remember for the life of me what we discussed. What we discussed is irrelevant – the only thing that matters was the relationship, and the connections through that relationship that continue to sustain me. The other relationships, which in-part through Joyce, continue to sustain me. As I reached the door of the ward at the hospice something in my soul overtook me and it became very important to turn and tell her “I love you”.
Over the months that I came to understand Joyce a little more fully, I came to see a cussed, argumentative, wilful, courageous, faithful, anti-fascist seeker of justice, who was so devoted to her family and friends. She struck me as someone who was full of humane contradiction; a woman who reminded me how flawed we all are, and how beautifully human that very fact is. Always challenging in her indignation, she was also a reminder of the possibility for dignity.
This interrelationship between indignation and dignity, played out across society and with those closest to us, never simply emerges from a single life, rather it flows between lives as moments of love and solidarity. Joyce’s funeral demonstrated this fact. The humanist celebration of her life, led by her family, was an absolute joy to attend. A celebration in word and with song; a celebration of memory and adversity and hope; a celebration of cartoons in Chicago; a celebration of “fuck Banner Theatre”; a celebration of climbing hills; a celebration of demonstrations and protests; a celebration of being a partner, an out-law, a grandmother, a friend.
It felt so important that her natural burial was undertaken by those who loved her. That we could each take turns in laying her to rest. The sound of the Earth hitting her coffin as her family and friends sang and shovelled was heartbreaking just as it was energising. The ownership that we took of her body, and the deeply spiritual nature of the moment, mirrored the deep interconnection that her life had with so many others. It was a beautiful moment of dignity, respect, justice and peace. I cannot imagine holding and caring for someone you love in any other way. I cannot imagine being more in touch with one’s own soul, whilst holding those of others, as we collectively suture our broken hearts in the act of both burying and releasing our love. I thank her family for this – the demonstration of their strength, perseverance, love and care was natural and normal and every day. To witness this, and to be accepted as a part of it, was such a gift.
It feels important to me to write this not only to honour Joyce and our relationship. It feels important to write this because her work and her practice brought me to share a very spiritual place with several people who have also been inspirational in my own life and work. Mike, Sarah, Gordon, Joel, Elio and Alpesh have each and collectively been with me in the struggle for a better world, and in prefiguring more humane ways to engage in education. It was a privilege to share Sunday with them, and to be reminded of our shared humanity.
On Monday I found out that my monograph on academic alienation had been published. I like to think that Joyce would have wanted to read it, and to challenge me about my own position and preconceptions, and to call me out about my interpretation of power and privilege and what to do about it. And I would have told her to fuck off because I don’t know. And then we would have discussed it. I know that she would have done this from a position of care, faith and love, and so would I. Because relationships are complicated, but there is always critical hope.
In reflecting on the intersections in time of Joyce’s funeral and the publication of my book (happenstance, I know), I have been forced to consider my own sense of self and self-identity. My friend Michael asked me whether I was pleased with my book, and wanted to use it to help change the world. I rather scornfully said that the book was written for me, so that I could be heard, and that I didn’t care if it was read because the world is fucked and what could I do? I’ve been talking about this stuff for years, protesting for years, doing voluntary work for years, and the world is still borked. Moreover, after a decade in therapy I am tired of fighting. So all I can do is be a good man on an everyday level, and mourn the fact that my writing won’t change anything because collectively we lack the will.
But this isn’t the case, and I apologise to my friend who pointed to the light, although I couldn’t see this until Sunday. I have been forced to consider how I accept myself in the world and how I am connected to others. I have been forced to consider whether this is a closing of sorts – of old and unhelpful ways of thinking about myself rooted in an unkind past – a past in which I was unkind to myself. I have been forced to consider whether this is an opening of sorts – of recovering what I want to keep about myself, and reflecting on the kind of person I want to be, flaws and all. I have been forced to consider how we might believe that another world is possible, and to prefigure it.
Perhaps this is what the commune of the living and the dead teaches us.
Postscript: my friend Gordon noted that I always have a soundtrack for things, and he is right.
There is a collaborative Spotify playist here.
My initial soundtrack for all of this is as follows.
King Creosote: Bats in the Attic
Sufjan Stevens: There is No Shade in the Shadow of The Cross
LUMP: Late to the Flight
Mogwai: Ratts of the Capital
Bon Iver: 33 “God”
Bon Iver: Calgary
Bon Iver: re:stacks
Jon Hopkins: Everything Connected
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds: Jubilee Street
Let’s Eat Grandma: Falling Into Me
Everything Everything: Ivory Tower
Floating Points: Peroration Six
The Future Sound of London: Plazmatical
Underworld: Two Months Off
James Blake: I Need a Forest Fire
Massive Attack: Unfinished Sympathy
PJ Harvey: The Whores Hustle and The Hustlers Whore
Pulp: I love life
Queens of the Stone Age: … Like Clockwork
Sharon Van Etten: Afraid of Nothing
Alison Kraus: Down to the River to Pray
I’m presenting tomorrow at the SCUTREA 2018 conference on Lifelong Learning and the Pedagogy of Hope at the University of Sheffield.
I am presenting on the development of governance and pedagogic practices of Leicester Vaughan College, which is a Community Benefit Society.
The conference paper, co-written with Malcolm Noble who is also a director of the College, is here.
The slides for my talk are here.