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.


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:



the new politics of education: radical visions for further and higher education

Next Tuesday, 24 September, I’m chairing a discussion at the Labour Party Conference Fringe. The session is a joint UCU and Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) event that emerges from some work that I undertook with Sol Gamsu of Durham University on A New Vision for Further and Higher Education. This was commissioned by CLASS, and we also wrote about it for WonkHE with a focus upon better policy-making through democratic renewal.

Participants at the session include: Jo Grady, the UCU General Secretary; Faiza Shaheen, the Director of CLASS; Vicky Duckworth, from Edge Hill University; Rob Smith, from Birmingham city University; and Emma Hardy MP, who is a member of the education select committee.

The discussion is titled: the new politics of education: radical vision is for further and higher education.

It takes place at 10.30-11.45am, in the Victoria Terrace of the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

There are further details on the Labour Party conference fringe website.


a dialogue on issues in higher education: authoritarianism; neoliberalism; and technocracy

The Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective (SERRC) invites a dialogue on issues in higher education involving the audit culture, authoritarianism, neoliberalism, and technocracy. These issues are addressed in a special issue of Social Epistemology (33 (4): 2019), “Neoliberalism, Technocracy and Higher Education,” edited by Justin Cruickshank and Ross Abbinnett (https://bit.ly/2OBNhWV).

If you want to reply to any combination of an article or articles in the special issue, or to Cruickshank’s “The Feudal University in the Age of Gaming the System”, or to add your thoughts on relevant articles and issues, the Collective ask for pieces of 1,000-2,000 words with streamlined scholarly apparatus.

In the spirit of equitable exchange, they encourage participants to respond to one another’s work. The SERRC will host the dialogue. The dialogue will be integrated into an article or series of articles and, if desired, may serve as a basis for a book in the Collective Studies in Knowledge and Society Series (Rowman and Littlefield).

If you are interested in participating, please contact Jim Collier by 2 September 2019. Jim can also help sort access to the articles for you.

Details of the Special Issue can be located here.


Better policymaking needs democracy

Over at WonkHE, Sol Gamsu and I have a piece on better policy-making through democratic renewal. This connects to our recently-edited collection for the Centre for Labour and Social Studies on A New Vision for Further and Higher Education. In the WonkHE piece, we argue:

It is time that the politics of education was created by the grassroots – it is time for staff and students to recognise their collective potential and push for democratic renewal. 

Authors from the report will be discussing the horizons of possibility for this vision at the Labour Party conference with Jo Grady (UCU General Secretary Elect) and a Labour Party MP on Tuesday 24 September in Brighton.


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

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New book project: The hopeless university

In other, exciting news, I have agreed with Mayfly books, based in Leicester, to produce a new monograph on academic life. Mayfly are extending their work on critical university studies, and have also published Ansgar Allen’s The Cynical Educator and Toni Ruuska’s Capitalism, Higher Education and Ecological Crisis. Mayfly also publishes the journal ephemera: theory and politics in organization.

Working with Mayfly is important because I am particularly interested in supporting radical publishing houses that are open, or that resist the subsumption of academic work by corporate publishers. Transparent, democratic engagement is very important to me, and in my role is something I can help celebrate and support. It is why I have been a trustee of the Open Library of Humanities.

Anyway, the book has the working title:

The hopeless university: intellectual work at the end of the end of history

The book will integrate some thinking I have been doing since the publication of The Alienated Academic. I guess its starting point is that I want to tell my story beginning from the last story I told. So, it continues to develop some of the common themes I play around with, including: hopelessness and helplessness inside the University; University as an anxiety machine; the almost overwhelming sense of Weltschmerz felt inside educational institutions; the University predicated upon alienated academic labour-power; and, the University as an abject space, unable to engage meaningfully with crises of social reproduction. It asks whether it is possible to refuse the University as is, as a trans-historical space that can only exist for capital?

I want to think through the re-emergence of engagement with ideas of hope, and their relationship to progressive politics and horizons of educational possibility. In part, I do this because I believe the current situation to be hopeless. I have written about this here. Or you could also read the chapter on Weltschmerz in The Alienated Academic. Or check out some of my other writing here.

So, the structure will focus upon: terrains of hopelessness; hopeless struggle; forms and structures of hopelessness; cultures and pathologies of hopelessness; practices and methodologies of hopelessness; hopeful despair; and the potential for hope at the end of the end of history.

I have shamelessly stolen the idea of the end of the end of history from the guys at Aufhebungabunga: The global politics podcast at the end of the End of History. From a left perspective. The idea of the end of the end of history exposes the fraud at the heart of narratives of the end of history, and of the inevitable, timeless, transhistorical victory of capitalism. This is a narrative generated from a North Atlantic context, which lays out space-time as a capitalist entity, and forecloses on all possible historical, material futures. No new history of struggle or resistance can emerge, precisely because all such struggles and resistances are subsumed as Capital, and its institutions re-purpose all of social life in the name of value, production, profit and surplus. In this subsumption of social life, the University is a critical node precisely because it provides a constant funnelling of individuals into a normalised existence framed by debt and work. In this way, it is hopeless to imagine any other form of historical and material existence beyond the freedom offered through an individual’s sale of labour power in the free market. Beyond the institutions of capitalist society, life has limited meaning.

Yet, in analysing the place of the University at the end of history, we note that it is situated inside a terrain of global, socio-economic and socio-environmental crises, which have been amplified during the ongoing secular crisis of capitalism. Once more, capitalism as a means of social organisation is under threat from ruptures both inside and outside of work, grounded in intersectional, temporal and geographical injustices that erupt from points of labour and points where labour touches society. A range of indigenous resistances, struggles grounded in race, gender, disability and class, emergent revolts against toxic ecological policies, resistance to economic and political populism, each place the institutions of capital in stark opposition to the everyday, lived experiences of individuals and communities struggling for life. The historical and material realities of existence, of social reproduction, of struggle, have returned with a vengeance.

So, the plan for the book is predicated upon the following precepts. This is its current direction of travel. Although I have some Hegel and Marcuse to read first, alongside a bunch of stuff on rage, courage, justice, faith, and solidarity movements that are indigenous, identity-driven and intersectional. I have to revisit some stuff on hope too…

  1. The University has become a place that has no socially-useful role beyond the reproduction of capital, and has become an anti-human project devoid of hope. It projects and protects a condition that is irredeemable. It is hopeless in all senses, and this reflects its inability to respond meaningfully with crises that erupt from the contradictions of capital, including that between capital and climate. Yet in its maintenance of business-as-usual, the University remains shaped as a tactical response to these contradictions.
  2. The book describes and analyses this position against the terrain of higher education (HE) in the global North. It does so in relation to the ways in which the University has been re-engineered in relation to the law of value. This process of subsumption situates the University inside a transnational geography of accumulation. This changes the very idea of the University, and what it means to work inside the Academy, such that they are emptied of political, democratic content, and instead reorganised around surplus. The University has become a key site for reproducing the separation of polity and economy.
  3. The fixation on surplus, efficiency, enterprise, excellence, impact, and so on reinforces a turn away from intellectual practice as a use-value for individuals, such that it has a focus upon the creation of commodities that have exchange-value. This relentless process can only be met by hopeless struggles inside the University, or a retreat into helplessness by academics and students, in the face of authoritarian performance management.
  4. These hopeless struggles are analysed in terms of: first, forms of hopelessness imposed by institutional structures: second, the diseased, pathological hopelessness that the University represents through its normalisation of cultures of ill-being, overwork and privilege; and third, the methodological, process-based hopelessness engendered by everyday academic practices that are enforced by toxic managerialism.
  5. Emerging from an analysis of the intersection of these forms, pathologies and methodologies of hopelessness is a moment of hopeful despair, grounded in the ability of labour to awaken to its predicament both inside a crisis-driven institution, and at the level of society. In this way, the book calls for the dissolution, dismantling or detonation of institutions that engender hopelessness and helplessness, including the University.
  6. The book closes with a discussion of the idea of hope, and its intersection with institutions of formal HE or informal higher learning, at the end of the end of history. The realisation of the impossibility of recovering stable forms of capitalist accumulation, the collapse of socio-environmental systems, widespread forms and structures of inequality and inequity, and the rise of political and economic populism, have foreclosed upon our collective inability to imagine that another world is possible. We are no longer living at the end of history. Rather we need to imagine the idea of the intellectual work at the end of the end of history.
  7. Therefore, the book addresses the following questions. How have we been betrayed by the University? In this sense, what is the University not capable of becoming, being, knowing and doing? Can mapping the University as an anxious, abject, hopeless space, distorted and exploited by Capital, enable us to define a counter-cartography? Is another education possible?

A New Vision for Further and Higher Education

With Sol Gamsu, I have co-edited A New Vision for Further and Higher Education, published by the Centre for Labour and Social Studies. Launched at the recent UCU conference, the report is available from the CLASS website.

The abstract is as follows.

Our systems of further and higher education are no longer fit for purpose. After decades of marketisation and years of austerity cuts, recent high-profile strikes in the education sector signified a service at breaking point. But what to do? How do we pursue education, not as a commodity, but as ‘the practice of freedom’?

How can we dismantle the elitism of higher education, the degradation of further education and create a system that promotes the values of justice, hope and solidarity? There are no easy answers but this collection of essays hopes to start a conversation about how we move forward.

The report was discussed at a recent West London Socialist Educational Association meeting. A report of that meeting, entitled Education and Wandsworth Transformed, can be found here.


Paperback version of Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education

I’m really pleased that a paperback version of Joss Winn and my 2017 edited collection, Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education is now available. This makes this important work on re-imagining HE much more accessible.

For more details on the book, including the key features and chapters see: https://bit.ly/2UaoI0G

For details on how to get hold of a copy, see: https://bit.ly/2toybqZ


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.