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.
This is the Q&A session from my book launch. For the opening conversation with Sarah Amsler, check out Episode 4.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
I spoke at the BERA social theory and education SIG symposium yesterday. My slides and initial thoughts are here.
These are the thoughts I had when statements and people stopped or challenged me during the day.
ONE. Analyses of neoliberalism enable us to position ourselves in terms of democratic engagement or the de-democratising of life-activity, in the face of mediations (and in particular the market). Such analyses offer neoliberalism as an omnipresent and omnipotent form of habitus. In return, we see neoliberalism as a threat to common sense, and we believe that if we can decode it, then we can move beyond its refusal of our humanity, and that we can move to less harmful social relations inside capitalism. This discounts the reality that neoliberalism is the latest (potentially) instantiation of the capital-relation – the latest instantiation of capital’s domination and exploitation of our labour-power. It needs to be addressed in such terms. Critique must be anti- or post-capitalist or it can offer no hope.
TWO. Neoliberalism is not a threat to common sense. It is the new, abstracted common sense that is the reinterpretation of capital, in order to maintain capital’s subjectivity and autonomy. If we are critiquing neoliberalism or seeking new ways of understanding it, we are moving towards a new common sense. A new common sense that reflects an alternative way of producing society. However, inside a totalising, hegemonic system the tendency is that such alternatives will be co-opted for the reproduction of that system. In imagining a new common sense, we have to situate this against the violence of abstraction imposed by capitalist social relations. Waged work reduces our activity to abstraction, through exchange, the market, commodification, division of labour, private property and the role of money. A new common sense is required that situates our life activity against these mediations, in order that we can describe and move beyond them. And, of course, we have examples of alternative forms of common sense, in autonomous centres in Latin America, in the little schools of the Zapatista movement, in the community work of the Black Panthers, in family inclusion groups in indigenous communities, in the co-operative movement.
THREE. Our work makes us ill. Our work makes us precarious. Our work dominates and exploits our lives. In our analyses of neoliberalism, and the ways in which they infect our educational relationships and settings, we must move beyond the analysis of symptoms. We must move towards a deeper uncovering of the bastardisation of social relationships, which exist in order to generate flows of surplus labour, time, value and power that can be commodified. Social or liberal democracy lies at the heart of this process. It is inextricably entwined with neoliberalism, as the development of the autonomy of capital. It will not save us, however deep our analysis of and resentment towards neoliberalism.
FOUR. If we are exemplary neoliberals, we need to examine how that relates to our academic or educational labour, in order to refuse that labour. This work must be done at the level of society, through intellectual work that refuses to fetishise specific forms of knowledge, or specific spaces for knowledge production, like schools and universities.
FIVE. This means that we can, of course, reflect upon how neoliberalism works to govern through ideas of market freedom and the individual autonomy of market actors, operating cybernetically through ready access to performance information. We can reflect upon how neoliberalism works to discipline us through our internalisation of self-government, responsibility, human capital enrichment and close attendance to our personal risk profiles. We can reflect upon how neoliberalism instantiates itself through discourses of impact, excellence, efficiency, employability, entrepreneurship, productivity, and so on. However, as we chase neoliberalism in its authoritarian, promiscuous, libertarian appearances, we risk losing sight of how it masks the deeper, substantive matter of the capital-relation.
SIX. So we need to engage with the history and heuristics of neoliberalism, as they relate to the circuits and cycles of capital, in particular in their historical development following the Nixon Shock and the end of the Bretton Woods agreement of the early 1970s, the role of oil and the development of the petrodollar, responses to collapses in the global rate of profit, the need to recalibrate global economic output in terms of services and manufacturing, changes in the technical composition of capital through the deployment of technology, the collapse of state socialism and a socialist market economy, and so on. Clearly, we also need to engage with the material and geographical differences in the deployment of, and responses to, neoliberalism, for instance in terms of resistance in Latin and South America, and the role of the State alongside transnational organisations in that process. We do this work because of what it enables us to hear, voice and see.
SEVEN. This historical, material, geographical set of narratives around the deployment of neoliberal governance and resistance to it, enables us to map the relationship between capital and labour, and to engage with issues of economic populism, in particular as they relate to the socio-economic core of specific economies/nations and their margins. This core and margin exist both inside the nation-state and globally for specific economies, and affect the ideological positions taken by populist leaders. One issue is how to bring these positions into the classroom/curriculum, in order that we move beyond demonising, and in order to show how these are vectors of exploitation on a global scale. This returns our educational relations to an engagement with capitalist social relations, and the relationship between work and surplus, capital and labour, autonomy and domination. This is a process of refusing colonisation by certain narratives, and of generating new forms of humanist identity.
EIGHT. Here, the intersections of race, gender, ability, sexuality and class are fundamental to any analysis of alternatives. Finding spaces (that are safe and which respect power-relations and asymmetries) to share is central to this process. Deliberation, taking time, being critical, being anti-algorithmic, being optimistic, confirming/legitimating/hearing others, are crucial. These disrupt the flows that reproduce capital through its subordination of labour. This is a deeply anti-capitalist, and post-capitalist approach, because it creates spaces that are against commodification, and which are rooted in the kinds of humanism denied systemically in the market. This is a risky strategy precisely because of the system’s ability to morph and reproduce itself anew. Here we may question whether there are responses to new repositionings of patriarchy. How do we engage with issues of agency and voice? How do we move beyond the fetishisation of salvation or redemption inside the system that is toxic to us? How do we find spaces to grieve and manage negative emotions or perception, rather than accepting the system’s desire to performance manage them to the periphery? How do we use grief as a step in a movement?
NINE. Is it possible to have hope inside institutions that are hopeless? Is it possible to have hope inside institutions that are abject? Is it only possible to hold Gramsci’s position of the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will? In particular, inside institutions grounded in manufactured and manufacturing consent, is it possible to develop critical hope, beyond market-based, ordered liberties? As we see our very selves colonised by the commodity, how do we generate hope and action?
TEN. So focusing upon a critique of neoliberalism(s) and its characteristics, as an explanatory critique of the state we are in, enables resistance to be minimalised, where we focus upon values like trust, or a return to social democracy and a better capitalism, or the hunt for new forms of democratic leadership, or where we think that a fight for autonomy inside the current system can be won. Instead, I am interested in engaging with those characteristics as heuristics that reveal the deeper reality of our sociability, or ability to reproduce society. Performance, market, competition, liberties/rights, cybernetic management of risk, governance theory, coercion, corporate parasitisation, shadow/parallel governance and finance structures, each point towards forms of revelation around illness, precarious employment, overwork, labour relations, and then onto issues to do with the way in which society is reproduced through the organisation of work. Here, we begin to think about critiques of power, domination and exploitation in the generation of surplus. Moreover, we begin to think about these symptoms and their causes as ontological or pedagogical at the level of society, because they place certain discourses at the heart of who we are.
ELEVEN. Movement is everything. Is our current appreciation of neoliberalism simply a light critique of capital? Might it be something more in using the visible, theorised characteristics of neoliberalism as a means to reimagine the capital-relation? Might it be something more in moving to a position where we can critique neoliberalism as a moment in a movement against capital?
TWELVE. What does this mean for education? What does this mean for the re-imagination of the curriculum? What does this mean for the relationship between student, teacher, administrator, bureaucrat, school, university, State and so on? What does this mean for the abolition of education, the abolition of status and bureaucratic educational structures, the abolition of the curriculum, such that intellectual work happens at the level of society, in order to move beyond the violence of abstraction and to address crises? How do we do this work humanely, when capital (whether in its neoliberal form or some other guise) seeks to eviscerate our humanity?
The day promoted me to consider some key issues for one of my PhD students who is working on the lived experiences of primary school communities under neoliberal policy. I wrote to her that “I think the following concepts/issues are interesting. I do not intend to unpack them here, rather to leave them as things for you to investigate or ignore. You are perfectly at liberty to ignore.” There is a shout-out here to the work of the Manchester School here, and especially Steve Courtney, Helen Gunter and Carlo Raffo. These questions/points are stream-of-consciousness and not fully formed. Like most of my work, tbh…
Courtney, S 2018, ‘Privatising educational leadership through technology in the Trumpian era‘ Journal of Educational Administration and History, 50.
Courtney, SJ & Gunter, HM 2015, ‘Get off my bus! School leaders, vision work and the elimination of teachers‘ International Journal of Leadership in Education, 18(4): 395-417. DOI: 10.1080/13603124.2014.992476
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Over at the Institute of Education, Tom Woodin is editing a collection to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Co-operative College. The collection is titled: Learning for a Co-operative World – Education, Social Change and the Co-operative College, and I have morphed my chapter away from higher education, to focus upon the relationship between platforms, cooperation and knowledge production.
Below I give an overview of what I have been focusing upon, with my reference list.
A kind of abstract or structure.
The struggle for knowledge
This struggle over knowledge production, and its commodification both of knowledge and the labour-power that produces that knowledge, is a crucial moment of re-imagination in the face of crisis. I question how this struggle enables individuals and communities to challenge the hegemonic idea of transhistorical, educational institutions, through their claims over knowledge, its production and governance, and the data that flow from it.
The value of co-operative knowledge
Value is fundamental in understanding the production, circulation and consumption of knowledge. Through the capital-relation, the production of knowledge is rooted in oppressive social relations, governed by the need to extract surplus-value in the production process, through an attrition on labour rights or the proletarianisation of that labour. Against the second-order mediation of our engagement with knowledge, enacted through private property, the division of labour and separation of disciplines, and commodity exchange, is it possible to liberate socially-useful knowledge?
The platform against knowledge production
However, this liberation (or the potential for reimagining) situates knowledge against ideas of communal production and solidarity on the global Commons, and forces us into a critique of the relationship between communities and technology, in part mediated through the idea of platforms. This critiques ideas and practices of technology-rich, co-operative knowledge production, in order to discuss whether they enable (only certain?) communities to reconstitute their own lived experiences, or whether Capital’s cybernetic control mechanisms simply reterritorialise these experiences for value, whilst marginalising or making invisible other lived experiences.
The knowledge potential of platform co-operativism
The political economy of the platform is a governance risk for societies where those platforms dominate the economic mediation of society by monopolising its hardware and software. One response to this points towards platform co-operativism, with co-operative principles and values shaping the governance, regulation and funding of the platform, such that knowledge infrastructures are shaped as collective rather than private goods. However, such open practices are often rooted in radical disintermediation of access to the Commons, and this risks ignoring the implications of structural forms of privilege and power, alongside differential knowledge and literacy amongst certain groups. It also risks ignoring how the structure of the Commons might act as a barrier to certain groups, in terms of governing principles, the lived experience of co-operation, sharing access to data, and the open sharing of the full range of knowledge, skills and capabilities.
Another world is possible
At issue is how we find co-operative mechanisms for dissolving knowledge production that has been enclosed inside institutions into the fabric of society, in order to enable communities to widen their own spheres of autonomy. This is important if the co-operative and open development of knowledge through platforms is to challenge intersectional injustice, rather than simply to replicate it. In this way, the development of the realm of autonomy requires that open and platform co-operatives prefigure the world they wish to see.
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