For some time I have been writing and speaking about academic alienation. This has taken a Marxist-humanist approach to understanding academic work, and the alienation of academic labour-power. I have always been interested in the lived experience of alienation, and its implications for: first, the things we make like knowledge, relationships, research outputs and so on; second, the way in which our work is constructed and governed; third, our relationship with ourselves; and fourth, our relationships with our peers in departments, institutions, and across the sector.
Anyway, this has led to the production of a monograph called the alienated academic: the struggle for autonomy inside the University, with Palgrave Macmillan. I have also written an opinion piece over at WonkHE on working in higher education as an alienating labour of love. This work is detailed, with further links, here.
For some time I have been considering the place of voice in all this, and how I reinforce or challenge or amend or break or hack the theoretical positions I have taken as a heuristic for understanding my own experiences across the higher education sector. One crucial way of doing this is by listening to other people and trying to understand their positions, in particular those who have been made marginal inside an alienating system of capitalist production that is in crisis. The idea is that this process might enable me to challenge my own position, and to reimagine my world.
So, I’m planning a series of podcast episodes that engage with a range of people on issues to do with the lived experience of life inside academia. This might include experiences that are intersectional, precarious, (m)othered, indigenous, indentured, or that are framed by ill-being or ill-health, or which point towards decolonisation as a moment in dismantling the University as a precursor to its abolition. I am also interested in discussing experiences that are framed by dignity, but which may start from indignation, in order to point towards alternatives beyond the present state of things. I am also interested in discussing the impact of specific research/teaching/knowledge excellence frameworks, or discourses of student-as-purchaser, the reified student experience, entrepreneurship, employability, excellence and impact.
As a result I will wonder whether we can move towards or beyond recovery and the idea of recovering the University. What do other service sectors that are being reengineered have to offer in terms of examples and solidarity? What is the role of unions? What is the role of solidarity with professional services staff and students? What is the potential for a workers’ enquiry, both inside the institution and that the level of society? What agency do we have already?
Here I recognise that there is a fear of voicing and a fear of being disciplined or punished for speaking and therefore for existing. There is a fear of voicing one’s own wilfulness. I also recognise that silence is a weapon or a defence for some. However, I hope we can explore the possibility for voicing and generating dignity around our lived experiences of alienation.
So in this first podcast I lay the ground for what might follow, by discussing the book and my hopes for the stories we might hear. It’s 17 minutes, or something. I hope those that follow will have less of my jibber-jabber, and more from others. And that there will be some levity – because who wants to hear someone from the Black Country banging on about the end of the world over-and-over?