Re-engineering Education: the University as Anxiety Machine

Next Tuesday I’m speaking at the Safeguarding Students: Addressing Mental Health Needs Conference. My slides are available below, and from Slideshare.

The intention is to frame this around:



Social Epistemology: On Authoritarian Neoliberalism and Poetic Epistemology

I have an article accepted for publication in a special issue of Social Epistemology: a Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy that picks up on some work I have been doing previously on authoritarian neoliberalism (see presentations and notes from a BERA Special Interest Group symposium here and here). The article also attempts to maintain some momentum around academic labour, academic practice, knowledge formation and the critical terrain of decolonisation. In this, I explicitly connect to Audre Lorde’s work on life as a poetic existence.

The special issue as whole looks at the intersections of higher education and the University, neoliberalism as a contested terrain/heuristic, technologies and technocratic forms of management, and subjectivities. My abstract and references are appended below. The other contributors and pieces are as follows.

Robert Antonio: ‘Ethnoracial Populism: An alternative to Neoliberal Globalization?’

John Holmwood and Chaime Marcuello-Serovs: ‘Challenges to Public Universities: Digitalisation, Commodification and Precarity’

Elio di Muccio: ‘Core HR in British Higher Education: For a Technological Single Source and Version of the Truth?’

Justin Cruikshank: ‘Economic Freedom and the Harm of Adaptation: On Gadamer, Authoritarian Technocracy and the Re-Engineering of English Higher Education’

Liz Morrish: ‘The Accident of Accessibility: How the Data of the TEF creates Neoliberal Subjects’

Ross Abbinnett: ‘The Anthropocene as a Figure of Neoliberal Hegemony’

Jana Bacevic: ‘Knowing Neoliberalism’

ABSTRACT

As one response to the secular crisis of capitalism, higher education is being proletarianised. Its academics and students 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 geogra- phical 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 decolonisa- tion. 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.

KEYWORDS

Academic labour; authoritarian neoliberalism; decolonisation; poetic epistemology

REFERENCES

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Amsler, M. 2017. “Responsibilisation and Leadership in the Neoliberal University: A New Zealand Perspective.” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 38 (1): 123–137.

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. doi:10.1353/ff.2013.0006.

Azar, R. 2015. “‘neoliberalism, Austerity, and Authoritarianism.” New Politics XV (3). https://newpol.org/issue_post/neoliberalism-austerity-and-authoritarianism/

Barnett, R. 2016. Understanding the University: Institution, Idea, Possibilities. London: Routledge.

Bhambra, G., D. Gebrial, and K. Nisancioglu, eds. 2018. Decolonising the University. London: Pluto Press.

Bhambra, G. 2017. “Brexit, Trump, and ‘methodological Whiteness’: On the Misrecognition of Race and Class.” The British Journal of Sociology 68 (1): 214–232. doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12317.

Bruff, I. 2012. “Authoritarian Neoliberalism, the Occupy Movements, and IPE.” Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies 1 (5): 114–116.

Bruff, I. 2014. “The Rise of Authoritarian Neoliberalism.” Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society 26 (1): 113–129. doi:10.1080/08935696.2013.843250.

Bruff, I., and C. B. Tansel. 2018. “Authoritarian Neoliberalism: Trajectories of Knowledge Production and Praxis.” Globalizations. doi: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.

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Davies, W. 2017. “Elite Power under Advanced Neoliberalism.” Theory, Culture & Society 34 (5–6): 227–250. doi:10.1177/ 0263276417715072.

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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

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Hall, R. 2015. “The University and the Secular Crisis.” Open Library of Humanities 1 (1): p.e6. doi:10.16995/olh.15.

Hall, R. 2018. The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy inside the University. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harney, S., and F. Moten. 2013. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Brooklyn: Minor Compositions.

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): 330–345. doi: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/le/443898/Productivity_Plan_web.pdf

King, T. 2003. The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. Toronto: House of Anansi Press. Lorde, A. 2013. The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. London: Penguin. 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

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. 2018. “Self-Care for Academics: A Poetic Invitation to Reflect and Resist.” Reflective Practice 19 (2): 243–249. doi:10.1080/14623943.2018.1437407.

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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): 557–582.

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. T. 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.


Podcast episode seven and alienated knowledge production

Episode seven is up over on the podcast channel, I’ve been talking with John Coster about coffee, documentary media and the boundaries between us, with a particular focus upon academic work and public engagement.

I’ve also been speaking at Academics, Professionals and Publics: Changes in the Ecologies of Knowledge Work. My slides on alienated knowledge production are below. Next week, I will give a fuller write-up of this event, with my takeaways in terms of academic identity and the abolition of academic labour.


Conference call: Radical Pedagogies: Macpherson 20 years on

Radical Pedagogies: Macpherson 20 years on

Thursday 19th September 2019

De Montfort University, Leicester

#RadicalDMU19

Call for papers

In November 2018 the University of Kent hosted the first event organised by Radical Pedagogies: The Humanities Teaching Network in Higher Education. This group was established as “a forum for Lecturers, Educators, Administrators and students to share resources and discuss innovative pedagogy and praxis.”

It is with great pleasure that De Montfort University (DMU) will be hosting the second Radical Pedagogies event in conjunction with the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre and the Freedom to Achieve project at DMU. The main focus of the event will be on how radical pedagogies can be used to highlight and address issues relating to race and institutional discrimination. This event is not constrained by subject area, discipline or geographical location and is not just open to academics. We hope that researchers, PhD students, learning technologists, library professionals, academics, teachers, parents, students, educational activists and anyone interested in radical pedagogies, both within the UK and internationally, will consider contributing to and attending the event.

We are therefore looking for proposals for papers and interactive sessions (the more interactive the better!) or more innovative and radical session proposals for this one-day event.

On the 20th anniversary of the publication of Macpherson Report into the death of Stephen Lawrence, we are reminded that Macpherson made reference to organisations and areas beyond merely the police force when he was referring to the problem of institutional racism.  Paragraphs 6.54 and 45 state that:

6.54 Racism, institutional or otherwise, is not the prerogative of the Police Service. It is clear that other agencies including for example those dealing with housing and education also suffer from the disease. If racism is to be eradicated there must be specific and co-ordinated action both within the agencies themselves and by society at large, particularly through the educational system, from pre-primary school upwards and onwards.

45.15 There was a weight of opinion and concern in relation to two specific aspects of education. First the failure of the National Curriculum to reflect adequately the needs of a diverse multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. Secondly the number of exclusions from schools which were apparently disproportionate to the ethnic mix of the pupils.

What followed were recommendations 67 and 68:

67. That consideration be given to amendment of the National Curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism, in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society.

That Local Education Authorities and school Governors have the duty to create and implement strategies in their schools to prevent and address racism. Such strategies to include: that schools record all racist incidents; that all recorded incidents are reported to the pupils’ parents/guardians, school Governors and LEAs; that the numbers of racist incidents are published annually, on a school by school basis; and that the numbers and self-defined ethnic identity of “excluded” pupils are published annually on a school by school basis.

This event is an opportunity to explore and discuss issues such as (although not exclusively):

  • how far recommendations 67 and 68 have been implemented and had an impact, not just in schools, but across the education sector;
  • whether a focus on the curriculum goes far enough in addressing institutional racism in education;
  • has the focus on working class white boys shifted the attention/discourse away from institutional racism in education?
  • what needs to be done to close the attainment gap?

We therefore welcome proposals for sessions which address some of the above broad themes. Other indicative areas are:

  • Anti-oppressive teaching practices;
  • Punk pedagogy;
  • The role of the marketisation of Higher Education on radical pedagogies;
  • Critical Race Theory, intersectionality and pedagogy;
  • The role of radical pedagogies in reducing attainment gaps;
  • Institutional discrimination and radical pedagogy;
  • Student experiences in the classroom; and
  • The role of parents/carers as educational activists.

The aim of this event is to encourage participants to push the boundaries of current educational and pedagogic practices.

Please submit a 500-word abstract, or a 2-minute video clip by the 19th June 2019 to RadicalDMU@dmu.ac.uk

This event is a free, one-day, event.  Travel bursaries are available. Please contact us for further details.

Radical Pedagogies Call for papers


Slides for Bath Spa Presentation: The Alienated Academic

On Wednesday I’m presenting at Bath Spa in an open discussion of my book, The Alienated Academic.

The slides are appended below.

NOTE: I will only speak for 20 minutes but wanted to present a full slide-deck.


alienated academic book review

Over at the new PostDigital Science and Education journal Joss Winn has a review of my monograph, The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University. Joss plays around with the review style, in order to highlight some of the alienating realities of academic (over)work and time. He makes several important points about the book that resonate for me as follows.

  • Categorical critique: “Where Hall’s book differs from much of the literature on the marketisation of higher education and threats to professional identity, is his thoroughgoing, relentless attempt to explain what is happening at a categorical level that cuts through (i.e. intersects) the differences in professional experience in order to find what is common among us.”
  • The hopelessness of labour: “The alienation that Hall identifies at work goes beyond estrangement and hopelessness and is rooted, he argues, in the critical category of labour. In fact, to see the problem as marketisation, metrics or managerialism is to mistake the manifestation for the cause of our problems. Such an approach tends towards an unreflexive resistance to our own objective conditions and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. That helplessness breeds hopelessness, a recurring theme throughout Hall’s book. What is required (and this is key to the whole book) is a categorical critique of academic labour; one which perceives labour in the university through the basic critical categories of wage labour.”
  • A productive synthesis: “The Alienated Academic is structured in three parts over nine densely written and heavily referenced chapters. It covers a lot of ground in 270 pages, drawing widely from contemporary Marxist theory as well as an extensive engagement with Marx’s original work. It provides a useful survey of the concept of alienation and argues for the continuing and contemporary relevance of Marxist theory and its basic categories of labour, value, the commodity, subsumption and so on. What is likely to make this sometimes difficult book both intriguing and more broadly appealing is that Hall extends his contemporary Marxism with the literature of feminism, (de)colonialism, identity politics and intersectionality. It is a productive synthesis that is set in the context of contemporary changes in English higher education, while recognising that the alienating features of English university life can be found across the world. For these reasons, this is a unique and ground-breaking monograph in the field of critical university studies.”

I think that it is only right to thank Joss for this very kind review, and to accept that it is densely written and heavily referenced, drawing upon a range of theoretical positions. A friend who has engaged with the book questioned whether it was to0 theoretical, although in the acknowledgements I do point to a range of primers and readers about Marxist theory, and the book is part of a Marxism and Education series. One of the reviewers also argued that it was perhaps over-referenced, whilst another wondered whether my voice got lost in my citation of others.

What interested me in the process of writing was my attempt to understand my own work and academic practice. I could not do this without accepting and drawing upon a range of positions. This is why the literature on feminism, critical race theory, identity politics and intersectionality were so important. It is nice to read that this is received by some as a productive synthesis when I feel that I am simply trying to find my way by listening to a range of alternative positions, and in so doing hopefully enabling others to do likewise. However, in order to find my way I had to read a lot of things, and it feels only right to cite those authors who shape my own position.

One of the critical issues for me now is to think through how a categorical critique of academic experience, practice and work, rooted in the estrangement of the person employed as an academic or fractured as an academic, from her academic self, her academic identity, her academic community, and her academic products, can enable us to overcome the hopelessness of labour. How can sitting with and processing a hopeless position enable us to develop useful alternatives? How can accepting the hopeless university enable us to reimagine and reignite our humanity in the name of another world?

I’ll be speaking about the book at Bath Spa on 23rd January, and also at a University of Sheffield Ed.D. residential on 15th February.


on abolishing the academic’s number one fetish: their own world-historical importance

There has been so much discussion of potential job losses across institutions; there has been so much discussion of how negotiations over the USS Pension Scheme will play out; there has been so much discussion of the impacts of the ONS review of the decision of how to treat student loans in the public accounts; there has been so much discussion of the impact of the Augar Review of post-18 education. There has been so little discussion of what this means politically for academic labour.

That isn’t to say that there has not been an on-going statement of how academic work is adversely, toxically, negatively disassembling what it means to be human inside the University. For instance, a recent tweet from an academic at Leeds, liked almost 5,200 times, points to the impact on mental health of the apparent disregard that management have for their academic labourers.

Only, in the thread that follows, academics are not regarded as labourers, rather their fetishised status as privileged knowledge workers takes on the usual, depressing and reified narrative in which individuals who have worked for doctorates are commodified as assets. This represents an ongoing failure to engage with the political economy of academic work, and to see it for what it is: the everyday, coercive re-sale of alienated labour-power, which results in the everyday estrangement of the individual from herself and her community. This community includes the students whom she must sort and separate and grade, her peers against whom she must compete for status and privilege and resources, and her Commons whom she must use as an asset or develop as a market for knowledge transfer or exchange.


Describing the depressive position of academic life is one thing; analysing and moving beyond it demands socially-useful theory, rooted in the ongoing reproduction of alienating capitalist social relations. Academic impact and the public good are socially-useful for capital, and demand a different kind of analysis. Instead praxis demands that rather than fetishising academic labour, we see it for what it is – brutally alienating. As Ansgar Allen wrote in his review of The Alienated Academic, my argument is a:

critique of the academic’s number one fetish: their own world-historical importance, its role in their enslavement to a work ethic built on alienation, and their participation in wider flows of capitalist destruction. Though many in the academy may think otherwise: another world is not possible, at least not a world that issues from the labour of the current academic, however radically inclined.

Thus, my opening chapter focuses upon the academic labourer becoming awakened.

This is a book about estrangement and alienation in academic life; about being a stranger to the nature of your own scholarly work, to yourself and to your peers. This is a book about moving beyond the surface perception of academic work as a labour of love or privilege, in order to understand its essence inside increasingly alienating contexts.

Hall, R. 2018. The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University. London: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 1.

In expanding upon this idea that work is a withering form of living death rooted in personal losses, and that academia is not privileged and that it is not a labour of love and that in the process of fetishising it we diminish ourselves, I argue that this stops us from seeing the inability of the University to address global emergencies.

Proletarianisation renders institutions hopeless spaces for addressing the wider ramifications of the crisis of value. The University framed by a secular crisis of the value-form remains unable to address fundamental global problems like climate change, because its interaction with the world is mediated through the market, the division of labour and commodity-exchange.

It is increasingly unclear how these institutions and their curricula enable global societies to adapt through collective, educational repair. This is precisely because HE institutions are limited to their ability to coerce individuals in placing their labour-power for sale in the market.

ibid., p. 57

This idea that academics fetishise and universalise their own labour as an objective, public good does nothing but cripple any hopes of self/social-care or renewal.

Academics have been nudged towards accepting these forms of crippling enslavement by focusing upon the alleged privilege of working in education, and the self-sacrifice of public service. This has been a way in which capital has been able to compel overwork and exhaustion across a social terrain… Estrangement from the self emerges from the loss of subjectivity and sensuous, creative practice, inside relations of production with increased technical composition.

As a process of reproduction the labour process forms a motive power underpinning the expanding circuit of alienation, A-A’. This expansion shapes subjugation, because the potential of the labour-power inside each individual labourer cannot be realised except through the objective conditions of capitalist work for value.

Ibid., p. 169

The question is then possibly Lenin’s, what is to be done? Or perhaps Nietzsche’s what next? Later in the book, I argue that individual academics must confront alienating conditions of work that reproduce estrangement across social and personal terrain, at the level of society.

As a growing surplus population drags the experience of exploitation and immiseration from the margins of academic society into its core, through performance management and precarious employment, there is potential for indignation and degradation to be generalised. At issue is how to place transformation of the mode of production at the heart of the matter, rather than amplifying hopelessness. As practices from the racialised, gendered, disabled, homosexual and queer margins of the global North and the global South move back to the centre of production, engagement in survival programmes as a precursor to dismantling the mode of production, are crucial for academics. Academic privilege and hegemonic, alienating academic norms need to be checked by learning from alternative life experiences. This demands a new war of position in the name of survival pending revolution, rooted in co-operation and accepting of the reality that Keynesian, welfare capitalism cannot be reinstalled. Instead, academic hopelessness needs to stimulate an alternative social function as the basis for abolishing wage labour.

Ibid., p. 181


It is not enough to discuss academics as a homogenous group or with an ability to work collectively to confront their conditions of production, in order to challenge the relations of production that are so clearly toxic to so many. It is clear that academics exist in a range of constantly shifting, determinate conditions, which are re-shaping the ways in which academic labour functions through the application of new forms of organisation, precarious employment, rounds of voluntary severance and reorganisation, the imposition of new technologies, policy edicts which drive competitive demands, and so on.

Moreover, these conditions are different for a range of sub-groups and communities of whatever academia is or might be. Where the experience is defined by norms set against the idea of the successful White, male, heterosexual, able Professor, the rest of the academic peloton is forced to recalibrate itself will be recalibrated by this privilege. What this then means if you are an academic of colour, female, have a caring responsibility, are ill, whatever, is that you have to suck it up or take that next course on mindfulness or resilience, or decide that perhaps this isn’t the place for you.

This means that uncovering political composition needs more attention by academics as they try to work for solidarity and collective action. This composition is effectively the ways in which labour organises and resists the labour process itself, in part generated through struggles over pensions or workload or whatever, and which is aimed at refusing the imposition of a new technical composition of capital across the terrain of academic work, which can only ever aim at reproducing exploitation. This technical composition is the ability of capital to annihilate the costs of labour-power whilst enforcing productivity gains or longer working hours upon those who remain. It is no wonder that we see an increase in the academic gig-economy, increasingly technological performance management, a rise in the reserve army of PhD labour with no apparent future, and a narrative that fetishises human capital development with the risk owned by the individual academic.


Of course, one of the issues here is that labour-power is the source of value inside capitalism, and so by annihilating labour capital undermines itself though a crisis of profitability. Yet in order to overcome the political composition of labour, capital has constantly to innovate its technical composition. Is it possible then to use this as a moment to challenge alienating work? Is it possible to analyse the political composition of academic labour, in order to refuse a technical recomposition designed to extend the universe of value?

The theory of class composition restates the problem of power in a perspective where recomposition is not that of a unity, but that of a multiplicity of needs, and of liberty.

Negri, A. (1979). Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse. London: Pluto Press, p. 14.

The problem with not being able to do this analytical work, is that the academic has no starting point for refusal, other than a lamentation or a scream against the latest indignity. One result is that there may be anger, but there can be no indignation. For whilst Marx argued that the individual worker would only ever become “an appendage” and mutilated or fragmented, with her family thrown under the juggernaut of capital acting as a werewolf or a vampire, too many academics still cling to the ideas of status and privilege are themselves underpinned by hope rather than hopelessness. This means that there can only be space for anger rooted in powerlessness at the latest excellence framework or demand for impact or research audit or student evaluation or workload plan. And anger rooted in powerlessness leads to a depressive position.

And so the question becomes how to decompose academic labour. How do academics analyse their own social organisation in relation to capital? How do they unpack the conditions and relations of production, where they are employed inside the University acting as a means for the production of value, in concert with transnational finance capital, global educational technology/publishing firms underwritten by venture capital, and policymakers working in partnership with transnational bodies like the World Bank or IMF, and where their work is conditioned by student debt? It is important that this work is done, because the particular situation of the academic is her starting point for analysing the lack of solidarity amongst academics as a group, and for realising the relative solidarity between sub-groups of academics who continue to be made marginal inside the system of hegemonic production. Moreover it is a starting point for realising the relative solidarity between subgroups of academics and a movement beyond the University of groups and individuals made marginal.


Here, class is not enough. As a result, it is important to look at the differential conditions of labour for: Professors; tenured staff; professional services staff; students; postgraduate teaching assistants; precariously employed staff; and to do this in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and so on. Because it is clear that in order to leverage change inside the Academy, as a moment of prefiguring change outside the Academy, or perhaps where change inside the Academy is immanent to change outside, some people have too much to lose. Too much privilege, too much status, too many resources, and for some, the process of proletarianisation has not impacted enough to spark their solidarity.

It is the proletariat who, for Marx, with a revolutionary class, and the potential for change then stems from those (academics) with nothing left to lose. This means that such a workerist analysis of the condition of academic work needs to consider how that work is integrated into capitalist social relations and relations of production. It needs to consider the divisions that exist between academics, and how those divisions or separations are maintained. This includes disciplinary separations reinforced through league tables and excellence frameworks, as well as separations of status and privilege.

Moreover, such a(n academic) workers’ enquiry might connect academic labour to the idea of autonomous activity outside the University and whether they offer moments of subversion or transgression against the value-relation. Do they enable hegemonic social relations to be subverted? Moreover, is there space for decomposing academic labour, such that the divisions noted above might be dissolved as a stage in moving towards the abolition of that labour, rather than its fetishisation and accompanying hopes that a Utopian state can be restored? Instead, this recognises that academic labour, like all other forms of labour, is not privileged. It is always in a process of being dominated, exploited, reengineered and repurposed for-value, as capital struggles to annihilate its own dependency upon labour-power. This demands that academics see their conditions of labour as continually-changing, and that the only redemption lies in accepting the hopelessness of a compact with a system of exploitation.

The power therefore lies in attempting to see that individuals working collectively makes the world, and need to be alive to both its historical and current, material realities, in order to develop new forms of struggle. Capital’s ongoing struggle to decompose and recompose academic labour means that there can be no Happy New Year, in which a system of exploitation governed through competition and mediated through private property (in the form of knowledge), the division of labour, commodity-exchange and the market, is given away by those with power-over us. There will be no Happy New Year, which is better for our fragmented physical and mental health, precisely because just like the old year, the New Year will be built upon alienated labour-power. Understanding the political economy of academic work is a starting point for establishing our own power-over the world, our own weaknesses, our own associations and spaces of solidarity, such that we might decide what next or what is to be done?

However, this cannot be disaggregated from wider struggles in the world to decolonise, or for gendered rights, or for disability rights, or for environmental rights, or for whatever. This means that different forms of organisation might be needed inside the University and beyond, which also recognise the historical and social specificity of those contexts, whilst working towards dissolving the boundaries between them. This dissolution is the recognition by the academic that she is a socialised worker, and that in this dissolution lies her ability for self-actualisation as a form of self-mediating activity not conditioned by competition, excellence, impact, entrepreneurship, employability, the market, whatever.


If you have no engagement with political economy, good luck with that, because the system wishes to reduce you to your alienated labour-power. And what is worse, it wishes to annihilate the value of that labour-power in every moment of every day, through competition with others on your administration, teaching, assessment, scholarship, research, public engagement, impact, excellence, unemployability, and it wishes to do this transnationally. It is no wonder that your physical and mental health is fragmented, commodified, made toxic.

labour increasingly struggles to be integrated into a global, alienating, social metabolic control, with ramifications for domination and subordination. Thus, a primary aim for revolutionary practice rooted in revolutionary pedagogy is not simply to overthrow capital, but to abolish it as the means of regulating society.

The critical moment for alienated academic labour, is to treat the University as context for radical research that might produce living knowledge capable of revolutionary practice at the level of society (Roggero 2011). It has no revolutionary moment beyond this position, and instead can only act for the recuperation and reproduction of the capital relation. An academic, workers’ enquiry is a departure point for enabling ‘the worker to develop the capabilities of [her] species’ (Marx 2004, p. 447), which will dissolve the capitalist mode of production inside a new, non-alienated mode.

Without such a theorisation it becomes impossible to negate the capital-relation through the expansion of the realm freedom and autonomy. Instead, the focus becomes about issues of free speech, academic autonomy, resistance to casualisation, and other tactical reforms of an otherwise brutalising system. [Revolutionary praxis] entails a focus upon the production of the self as a pedagogic moment grounded in self-mediation as the key organising principle for life.

Ibid., pp. 232, 234, 248

Merry Christmas.


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.


Book launch: The Alienated Academic in conversation with Sarah Amsler

On Wednesday, I had the privilege of holding a book launch for The Alienated Academic at DMU. Over on my podcast, there is a recording of the first half of this event, in which I was in conversation with Sarah Amsler from Nottingham. There is a second podcast, which focused upon the Q&A with the audience.

The slides that were rolling in the background can be accessed on my Slideshare.


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…