Episode 12: in which I blather on about 2019, Raya Dunayevskaya, the pointlessness of football and the end of the end of therapy

I decided to dedicate a blogpost to my mate Jon Beech. If you want to make a donation or get involved with the Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network, you can do so here. The blogpost is not recorded in a café when I’ve forgotten my directional mics, and so the sound quality is better.

I discuss or make mention of 11 things that have catalysed important reflections for me in 2019. These are as follows.

Reading/thinking

Doing

  • My doubt over the value and meaning of my voluntary work, and its relation to organising around paid work.
  • My energy in relation to organising around paid work.

Being

  • The collapse of my love for football, and any meaning to be taken from it beyond friendships.
  • Caring for my Nan, and being myself in a particular place.
  • Internalising the ways in which Sunita Puri considers palliative care, and who is centred in any interaction we have in  this world.
  • Mourning and celebrating the end of therapy.

In peace.


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Episode 11: in which we discuss faith and hope in the pub

I met my friend and fellow Walsall supporter, Paul Trivett, in The Bell, Walsall, ahead of the home game with Macclesfield on Saturday 14 December. We discussed the differences between faith and hope, the relationship between hope and football as opposed to hope and University life, the ways in which institutions peddle hope, and the almost-impossibility of building coherent lines of resistance and struggle from where we are. Because, frankly, building such lines just isn’t what people want, or work they wish to undertake. Instead, we fixate upon the limited horizons of what we can imagine will help us to survive in the world.

And I just thought we were going to discuss away games we had loved, our favourite football podcasts, and the inability of football managers to find systems of play that matched the players they had at hand.

As usual, the music is provided by Rae Elbow and the Magic Beans.


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Episode 10: in which we discuss hope, purity and entanglement, whilst eating brownies

I met my friend Sarah Amsler from the School of Education at the University of Nottingham last Friday for a catch-up. We discussed issues of how hope is coded, which made me think about how it is eroded, Vanessa Andreotti’s metaphors of the hospice and the beach in relation to institutions and structures, Alexis Shotwell’s ideas of purity and entanglement in our everyday experiences, and the gloopy nature of brownies.

Our discussion took place in the Ugly Bread Bakery in Nottingham, and so there is a lot of background noise. This has made me tetchy, because I forgot my directional microphones. So, I apologise that you will have to turn up the sound and work hard to catch what Sarah has to say. I have uploaded the file anyway because if you ignore my constant interruptions and jibber-jabber (note to self: #stfu), you will hear how insightful she is.

The extra resources Sarah mentions are as follows.

Vanessa Andreotti: How can we hospice a dying way of knowing/being and assist with the birth of something new, still fragile, undefined and potentially (but not necessarily) wiser with radical tenderness? See also: Toward Alternative Futures in Uncertain Times.

Amsler, S. (2016). Learning hope: an epistemology of possibility for advanced capitalist society. In: Social sciences for an other politics: women theorizing without parachutes. Palgrave Macmillan.

Santos, B. (2014). Epistemologies of the South: Justice against Epistemicide. London: Routledge.

Shotwell, A. (2016). Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times. Minnesota, MN: University of Minnesota Press.


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Episode 9: in which I blather on about Christmas markets, bourgeois ideology and the protest of creativity

As threatened last week, I appear to have more energy for this again. So, I sat down with my compadre Rob Weale from DMU for some jibber-jabber about the process of making as a protest of creativity. Rob works as a learning technologist, and is a Leicester City fan, father, animal husband/chicken organiser, and a maker of sound art, soundscapes, organised sounds, digital compositions. He writes and makes as Rae Elbow and the Magic Beans, as has two albums out (the human species and ambivalence is no escape), with a third slated for next year. I am very pleased that Rob has gifted me (for the price of curry and a few beers) some sounds for this podcast.

In our conversation, we discussed: our experiences of Durham and Lincoln Christmas markets; the comparative pain of writing (text, digital artefact, sound, whatever); whether making was enough in a world of pain and what making means in the context of saying no!; the boundary between nihilism and activism; the anxiety surrounding the release of new digital and instrumental music if the track titles are not quite right; and, what to do when cynicism is ascribed to one’s work. Rob had a few things to say about hopelessness and the end of the end of history. Sadly, we did not get on to talking about our favourite Christmas films or records – maybe next year.


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Episode 8: in which I blather on about hopeless professors and abject universities

It’s been a while – my energy has been elsewhere, caring for my Nan (102!), reading Hegel, thinking about dialectical materialism and historical materialism, and philosophy and science, and trying to get my head around the next book project (The hopeless university: intellectual work at the end of the end of history). Anyway, my energy for this appears to be back, so let’s give it a whirl.

In this jibber-jabber, I set-up a few forthcoming episodes that I am hoping to record with some compadres, to discuss their lives inside the University and their practice, and to hear their take on hopelessness. I hope to start next Monday by talking to Rob Weale, who made the music I use on the podcast. Check out his work on SoundCloud, as Rae Elbow and the Magic Beans.

I also revisit some work I did with Kate Bowles, who works and exists over in Australia, on the idea of the University as an anxiety machine. In part, this has been kick-started because I spoke at an event on student mental health earlier this week, and the pivot was that paper. Connected to this, I call out professors whose own working practices reinforce the self-harming activities of the academic peloton. This includes those who overwork and those who cross picket lines, as examples of behaviours that damage academic and intellectual citizenship.

One of the things that has kept me from podcasting has been listening to other podcasts, and in particular my thinking and reading and writing and speaking have been influenced by:

I commend these to you.

Peace.


Episode 7: in which I blather on about coffee, documentary media and the boundaries between us

*Parental Advisory* between 17 and 18 minutes there is some swearing, as we discuss interactions following an English Defence League demonstration in Leicester in 2010.

It’s been a while, and I have been spending so much time marking essays that I felt the need to do something different. So, the two things I’m doing are: first, walking the streets of Leicester as part of Beat the Streets; and second, talking with John Coster about documentary media, storytelling, and the role of the academic. I’ve known John for a decade, and seen him develop expertise around citizen journalism, social media and documentary practice.

So in this episode, we discuss the relationship between citizen journalism/media and both local communities and national media outlets. In particular, we discuss how this gets affected or changed in moments of extreme stress, in this case the EDL demonstration in Leicester in October 2010. We go on to discuss the purpose of John’s documentary media centre, and how it engages with issues that cross apparently binary divides, or at least divides that appear to be becoming more polarised.

Throughout the episode I was trying understand the relationship between processes of community or documentary media and academic practice, and also to the relationship between those processes and the idea of the University. In particular, I’m interested in the role of the University at moments of stress, and also the boundaries between the University and specific events and the places in which those events take place.


Episode 6: in which I blather on about care, material relations, and the fact that being kettled is a pain in backside

This is the Q&A session from my book launch. For the opening conversation with Sarah Amsler, check out Episode 4. 

The Alienated Academic is available from the Palgrave site, or it’s a little cheaper via institutional access to Springer Link.

The questions that I was pre-emailed are appended below.


Would be interesting to hear you(se) talk about the tensions of publishing mainstream academic book in contexts of tyranny of contemporary neoliberal academic research, writing and publishing regime 

Here’s a question – open ended, really – about whether the possibility of mass intellectuality is possible without a degree of alienation and disfunction. I remember thinking when I read your and Joss’s book that there is a paradox there about inequality and alienation being a forcing ground for mass intellectuality e.g. the pensions strikes.

In the book you write: “Narratives from academics of colour, precariously employed academics, academics who have been made ill through overwork, marginalised academics with caring responsibilities, each need to be elevated and presented, in order to demonstrate how the system shames and needs to be dismantled”. I wonder how this might be achieved, especially in those universities where dissent on these matters is immediately quelled with charges of gross misconduct.

How for me your detailed blog about the book, especially first and last paragraphs, made a great link for me between the book itself and your proposal for a more personalised follow-up piece. I think you’ve it right there. And I think that too is the basis for a piece for the “lay” – non-Marxist – reader. (You remember how hard I had to work at the embedded conceptualisation!)

I love your courage in atomising the academy as you do in the book, and stitching your own personal (therapeutic) process into the weave.

The power of the work for me was mediated by (1) the Marxist conceptual tool-box (2) your capacity to work to a place beyond the analysis to a place characterised by care, “dignity as a new form of wealth”(p217), “indignation as a motive force”(p204)… Glad you gave us chapter 9!

Powerful also for me was your use of language (as far as I can tell) outside the Marxist toolbox: loved “the academic peloton”(p197), and even better somewhere the alliterative “professorial peloton”.

I’m intrigued by the piece on The Hopeless University, and as in Kleinian therapy, having to go into the depressive position to a new realistic integration.

I’m also intrigued by your passing allusion to “human essence” (p190) – tantalisingly undefined, and perhaps better so, but reminiscent of our conversations of something beyond, undefined, untouched even by the material conditions of our existences under capitalism.


Episode 5: in which I blather on with Sarah Amsler about the alienated academic, weltschmerz and purple-sprouting broccoli

So, in this podcast we have the first half of my book launch from last night held at DMU. I was privileged to be in conversation with Sarah Amsler from the University of Nottingham, with some friends and comrades in attendance. Sarah’s questions (and she names people who have emailed in questions of their own) focused upon the areas given below the line. I am grateful to John Coster for his help with podcasting, and Steven Lyttle for his ongoing support.

Next week, I will post the second-half of the book launch, which was the really engaging and fruitful question and answer session.

Over on my homepage, there are a few photos and a link to the PowerPoint that was playing during the launch.

In the podcast we don’t discuss alienated labour and the law of value in much detail, although that is central to the analysis in the book. For more on that check out TAA podcast episode 1.


FIRST. I think the concepts of social metabolic control, Weltschmertz and indignation are worth explaining and illustrating. I think if there are people who have not read the book or do not fully understand it, these would be useful and probably new conceptual tools to leave with. A micro-version of the ‘Marxist conceptual toolbox’ that Klaus appreciates.

SECOND. I would like to talk about how the analysis offered in the book is different from many of the other analyses you discuss in your literature review on ‘the crisis’, and why you chose to focus on alienation as your main lens. You say it is a heuristic (234) but I think in the book it is also an embodied condition or process. I think it would be educational to map out for people the particular conversations that you are involved in, with regard to Marxist theory and other theoretical schools (mentioned on p. 6). I would love to bring into greater relief the positive charge of the critique of separation: the life-blood of relationality, why it is lost beyond words when we are ripped apart from our individual and collective Being (187). To NAME this for what it essentially is would be progress.

To find ways of naming forms of power that are both ‘generalised and opaque’, as my friend Raquel Gutierrez has written. You do in the book; we don’t generally. I think this practice of naming might very possibly already abolish academic labour, because it can’t be done as labour (if it is labour, it is not itself) and it can’t be done in ways that are recognisable as strictly ‘academic’. So, Gordon’s question, about the tensions of publishing mainstream academic book in contexts of tyranny of contemporary neoliberal academic research. My view at the moment is that there is not a lot of tension – we are not censored as such at the moment as long as they can sell if for their price. So we either do or don’t.

I think what matters more is what else we do either instead or in addition, recognising the affordances and limits of different forms of making ideas collective. If we really want to talk about upending academic publishing then we have to be talking about taking over means of production or at least agitating and struggling to change economic policy – if we are going to do that, fine, but as far as I can see this is either not on people’s radar or not very interesting for them. I think this is where workaround as autonomy comes in… (233)

THIRD. There is much made in the editor’s forward about the value of this book to the (Marxist) ‘educator activist’ who wants to do something about the problem. There is in all of our work, I think, a longing for it to be possible to do something to change the situation, i.e., the organising logic of society. He argues that TAA both generates energy from this desire and recognises, in the true sense of the term, the contradictions, complicities and impossibilities that are inherent to this project. I am interested in discussing how a certain kind of ‘hope[ing] trumps hate to counter the violence of separation’ (xiv) in the context of the capitalised academy. This resonates with Liz’s question about whether alienation is necessary for mass intellectuality (a term I still genuinely don’t understand so am a bit reluctant to ask about frankly) – in so far as I do not think the revolutionary subject that peers through this book is simply ‘non-alienated’.

I think you argue that to aspire only to this mode of existence as an alternative to alienating remains a form of blind love and naïve optimism. Though you cite Cleaver twice on the idea of a ‘politics of alliance against capital…in a manner as to build a post-capitalist politics of difference without antagonism’ (256). I disagree with him, in so far as this is a desired aspect of struggle but that one of the limitations of academics in particular is that we cling to hope for liberal democratic processes that are not in fact antagonistic or struggles and thus can’t deal with antagonism fruitfully. Hence Liz’s question, hence the Kleinian depressive mode, hence cruel optimism, and hence your point in the book about ‘whitewashed academic norms’. It’s exhausting and suffocating. Once we become awakened to the ontological source of the crisis – the construction and colonisation of the law of value – what sort of becoming might we also be awakened to? What does it look and feel like to be indignant and autonomous? More, I love this: ‘to move beyond separation, divorce, false binaries, and social estrangement to define an alternative form of social metabolic control’ (204).

FOURTH. This sentence is important: we need to ‘understand our role in maintaining flows of oppression and domination through alienated labour’ (6). To Liz’s question about the individualisation of resistance, and what we can learn as workers from the struggles of people who can’t bloody expect that their risk-taking resistance will keep them safe and who don’t have any choice but to resist. Is the framing of ‘agency’ and ‘resistance’ that we often have (I don’t think so much in your book though) not the right one…I am currently feeling very excited by Elizabeth Povinelli’s ‘will to be otherwise/effort of endurance’ framework. I think the project of being and becoming otherwise in a dominant reality is different from seeking to revolutionise reality so that the otherwise is normal. I am not very far in my thinking about this but it feels already worked out for me somewhere…

 

 


Episode 4: in which I blather on with John Coster about Ming the Merciless, value in higher education, and my book launch

So, mid-week I have an invite-only book launch for The Alienated Academic here at DMU. I needed to test the AV kit that we are going to use for recording my conversation with Sarah Amsler from the University of Nottingham, and what better way than having some jibber-jabber with John Coster?!

John is a lecturer in media production here at DMU, but I have known him for 9 years through our engagement in community work and community media. John set-up and ran Citizens’ Eye and then the Documentary Media Centre, he coordinated social media cafés, reportage clubs, conflict-media discussions, and work at the Leicester Centre for inclusive Living.

John and I always find a space for discussing the relationship between theory and practice, and developing forms of praxis. In this podcast, we discuss the weather (because we are archetypally English), the colour of the sky, early-budding Magnolia bushes, whether I’m looking forward to the book launch, the judging of academics and their labour, and the ongoing obsession with value/value-added/value-for-money.

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.

Peace out, peaceniks.

Ooh, and FYI, there is an Open and Collaborative Spotify Playlist for TAA.


Episode 3: in which I blather on about failing, not-failing and liberal democracy as a circle

In this podcast I decided to try not to use the words interesting and important too often. Instead, I got a little vexed by listening to Sam Gyimah and Michael Barber at the recent WonkHE event, with their standard focus upon normalising the relationship between education and economic growth, competition, value for money, the imposition of methodological control through things like trust-based governance, and situating this inside a specific, positivist narrative of liberal democracy.

So I probably bang on a little bit too much about the circle of liberal democracy. My apologies if this seems a little snarky. But, you know, I wonder if this is the same liberal democracy that has bought us inequality, poverty of philosophy, food banks, debt-fuelled and consumption-driven economic growth, a disconnect between economic production and the planet’s health, geopolitics focused upon the petro-dollar, Hillsborough, Orgreave, Grenfell, UN reports criticising austerity as social engineering, and on and on and on.

In other news, this podcast is mainly focused upon answering a question from one of my first year students, Kate, who asked me:

Is politics and austerity an excuse for the alleged failings of the British education system? Is the British education system really failing the young people we have? Do we look at the positives of teaching? Best of all: is there a revolution brewing? [Whooooooa! #revolution #klaxon! NOTE: in the podcast there is also a #Marx #klaxon]

So I try to address that, and I mainly do this by not addressing it. I mainly raise lots of caveats, lots of problems and a few more questions.

However, I do try to connect this to my solidarity with my friends over in Brazil, struggling to make sense of the election of Bolsonaro, and to generate responses that make sense in this new environment. In particular, one of my friends told me:

At the moment, I attend carefully to important little things, moving even as I wait to see how it pans out.

So, I am trying to think about how we attend carefully to important little things, and how we do this cooperatively and collectively and with love and courage and faith and solidarity. And how do we do this in such a way that we widen our space for panning things out differently?

Finally, and quite importantly, my good friend and comrade Rob Weale has taken pity on me after my pathetic pleading in the last podcast for some music, so the bits and bobs you hear on this one are all provided by him. You can check him out over at his portfolio place.

I have also ripped the title track from Rae Elbow and the Magic Beans’ album the human species. This is available on SoundCloud.

Remember to love yourself so that you can love others. Peace out.