A bunch of decolonising stuff

I’m pleased to be contributing to a Decolonising Critical Thought Workshop on 5 May. My position statement is given below.

Through my own practice as research and evaluation lead for the Decolonising De Montfort University (DDMU) project, I am drawn to your question on: What are the risks of institutionalisation, co-optation, etc. and how can they be avoided?, and a related question: what is the purpose of the University in an age of intersecting crises?

DDMU attempts to make sense of EDI work (e.g. Race Equality Charter), in terms of more radical movements. This brings the University into relation with individual and communal issues of whiteness, double and false consciousness, and behavioural code switching. Inside formal structures, built upon cultures and practices with historical and material legitimacy, engaging with such issues is challenging. The tendency is for formal accreditation, managed through established methodologies, risk management practices and data reporting.

I am interested in how we might open-out discussions that situate the communal articulation of the institution against the development of authentic relationships as a movement of dignity. This connects to post- and anti-colonialism, making visible subaltern or subordinate identities, black power and indigeneity, and critical race or anti-racist studies, alongside critiques of education, including critical university studies and the abolition of the University. At the intersection of critical for and decolonising, I am interested in thinking through whether another University is possible, or even desirable.


In other news, I have a co-authored paper forthcoming in a special issue of Teaching in Higher Education,  on Possibilities and complexities of decolonising higher education: critical perspectives on praxis. Our paper is a critical analysis of the work of DDMU, in relation to the structures, cultures and practices of universities. The abstract and structure are given below.

Hall, R., Ansley, L., Connolly, P., Loonat, S., Patel, K., and Whitham, B. (2021). Struggling for the anti-racist university: learning from an institution-wide response to curriculum decolonisation. Teaching in Higher Education, Special Issue, Possibilities and complexities of decolonising higher education: critical perspectives on praxis. DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2021.1911987 and https://dora.dmu.ac.uk/handle/2086/20773

Abstract: Increasingly, institutions are amplifying work on race equality, in order to engage with movements for Black lives and decolonising. This brings universities into relations with individual and communal issues of whiteness, white fragility and privilege, double and false consciousness, and behavioural code switching. Inside formal structures, built upon cultures and practices that have historical and material legitimacy, engaging with such issues is challenging. The tendency is to engage in formal accreditation, managed through engagement with established methodologies, risk management practices and data reporting. However, this article argues that the dominant articulation of the institution, which has its own inertia, which reinforces whiteness and dissipates radical energy, needs to be re-addressed in projects of decolonising. This situates the communal work of the institution against the development of authentic relationships as a movement of dignity.

Keywords: Black Lives Matter; critical race; decolonising; institutional change; whiteness; university

Structure: Introduction: an intersecting critique; Decolonising DMU: a critique of the University; Cultures of whiteness; Structures of dissipation; Practices of inertia; Decolonising the idea and practice of the University.


With Raj Gill and Sol Gamsu, I am working on A paper for a special issue of higher education, entitled Higher Education in the Eye of the COVID-19 Storm. Our paper has the working title:

‘Whiteness is a moral choice’: The idea of the University at the intersection of crises.

The proposed abstract is below.

Since the acceleration of a commodified higher education environment in England under the Coalition and successive Conservative governments, funding, regulation and governance of universities has become a contested terrain. Such contestation reveals a rupture in the very idea of the University, which makes clear the contingencies underpinning both the student-as-consumer in a deregulated market, and a renewed, fetishized, public university. These symbolic ideas of the institution have been cracked by the everyday realities of a confluence of crises.

Beyond existential crises like climate forcing, specific ruptures have led to a fundamental questioning of social institutions, cultures and practices. In particular, the conjuncture of Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matters have exposed the limitations of dominant and alternative imaginaries of higher education, which tend to be framed by whiteness. At a time when university workers were already engaged in industrial action over #fourfights, this conjuncture highlighted deep, intersectional injustices at the centre of these institutions, in spite of institutional engagement with standardised forms of accreditation, like Athena Swan and the Race Equality Charter. Struggles against structural inequalities erupted at the intersection of: first, differential workload, casualisation and pay; second, the marginalisation of black communities and communities of colour, in social outcomes through Covid-19; and third, the ongoing brutalisation of black communities and communities of colour, when they address state institutions.

Working through documentary and policy analyses, this paper articulates the ways in which these injustices are imminent to the idea of the University. This questions how this allegedly liberal institution is reproduced through whiteness as a site of othering. As a process of separation, divorce, alienation and estrangement between people, othering pivots around whiteness as a moral choice. As a result, this paper describes how the idea of the University has been explicitly revealed through this conjuncture as a means of distorting the subjectivities of all those who labour inside it, for inhuman ends. In critiquing, for instance, the Department for Education’s recent Restructuring Regime, this argument highlights the ideological positioning of economic value, productivity and surplus as mirrors that make certain bodies, cultures and practices visible and reinforces structural inequalities. Yet, in an age of crisis, this ideological positioning is in conflict with new social movements pushing to break the mirrors of whiteness and look for alternative pathways. Here, we question whether the University is able to move beyond the reproduction of structural inequality, in order to contribute to the abolition of the present state of things?


Ill-being and the University

I’m presenting on Ill-being and the University, at the NNMHR Congress 2021: Medical Humanities: In(Visibility)

My abstract and slides are appended below. My work will build upon some thoughts in my forthcoming book on The Hopeless University, connected to work on the reproduction of hopelessness in the University in this article in post digital science and education.

For some earlier work on ill-being, the University as an anxiety machine, alienation and Weltschmerz, see the list available at this post on the rise of academic ill-health.

Felicity Callard’s keynote has helped me to remember my own experiences of cycles of chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety. Her conversation took me back to feel the edges of my grief, and how the duality of my forgetting/remembering remains entangled with my soul. It was a stark reminder of how the individualised experiences of life through illness are related to the dominant political economy that demands overwork and productivity as culturally-acceptable self-harming activities. It was a stark reminder of the need to share individual lived experiences, in order to generate a collective front against capital’s social metabolic control, which dehumanises and wastes lives.

My remembering is detailed in a blogpost on academic and life, which also links to other posts at the intersection of corporeal, cognitive and psychological breakdown. The trauma of my remembering makes me want to puke. It brings me to tears. It is an echo.

Abstract

Covid-19 has amplified feelings of alienation amongst those who learn, teach, provide professional services, and research inside the University. In spite of the uncertainties of life inside the pandemic, institutional demands for the maintenance of business-as-usual increasingly reproduces precarious and proletarianised working conditions. Whilst institutions focus upon resilience, mindfulness and well-being, this is entangled with the reality that University work, like all labour, tends to catalyse ill-being. Through the pandemic, it is possible to trace how the intersection of socio-economic and socio-environmental crises both enable the structural adjustment of sectoral and institutional structures and damage bodies and psychologies. As institutional forms develop high plasticity, cultures become pathologies, and activities are defined methodologically, individuals and communities are scarred. In the pandemic, the scars are made visible, in terms of reports of overwork, self-sacrifice and feelings of precariousness, underpinned by a sense of hopelessness and Weltschmerz, with physical and psychological manifestations, including headaches, fatigue, anxiety and depression. In spite of the pandemic, the University demands the internalisation of specific behaviours as culturally-acceptable, self-harming activities. These subsume the humanity of intellectual work under economic determinations. This anti-humanist terrain and its resulting, widening circuit of ill-being, will be sketched in this paper.

Keywords: anxiety; hopelessness; ill-being; pandemic; University


The Hopeless University

It looks likely that my next monograph, The hopeless university: intellectual work at the end of the end of history will be out with MayFly Books in early May.

There is a synopsis here.

There is a podcast here.

I presented some ideas, with a recording and Q&A here.

There is a published article here.

There is music by Rae Elbow and the Magic Beans here. NB a wonderful, full album in partnership with Rae Elbow will be released with the book. It’s a multimedia sensation.

Endorsements

In defining his position as a Marxist, Raymond Williams wrote that the most formidable task of all is to show the connections between “the formations of feeling and relationship which are our immediate resources in any struggle”. In Hopeless University Richard Hall takes up this task seriously. He helps us to understand how the current “university-as-is” relies on the universalization of anxiety and the spread of alienation. They are means through which it sustains its reign during the very last of its days, literally, at the end of the End of History. Moving from hopeless hierarchies, elitists privileges, widespread pathologies of the capitalist academic workplaces to ineffective positivist methodologies that lay at the core of the contemporary university, Hall criticizes the widespread culture of self-harm, imposed precarity, senseless competition, to address the contradictory essence of the hopeless institutions. We are dwelling in this contradiction. It makes our days unbearable; it makes us dire and dull; it prevents us from breaking the vicious circle of hope and despair. However, we know all too well that hope is no plan for liberation from this condition. Hall suggests that to escape it, we need to find the strength in what we have and who we are – in our daily practices of solidarity and mutuality, in our acts of self-care and kindness. By these means, we can finally face the call to starting the exodus from the tight walls of our “sausage factories”. The Hopeless University is the first and necessary step on this long path.

Krystian Szadkowski, Institute of Philosophy, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland.

In The Hopeless University Richard Hall builds on his previous book The Alienated Academic as he argues against the University in its current form. While already exploring hopelessness and the corresponding Weltschmerz academics feel towards their place of work in his previous works, he delves deeper into the idea of refusing what the University has become; an anxiety machine responsible for its workers’ ill-health, PhD students’ anxiety and depression and even academics’ and students’ suicides, for the sake of producing labour power and capital. Not only does the book reflect on the circumstances of those involved, it also situates the University within the socio-economic and socio-environmental crises that are currently taking place on a global scale. In doing so, Hall includes a critique of the University’s response to events such as the Black Lives Matter movement or the Covid-19 pandemic, highlighting its incompetence to offer solutions and position itself as anything but an anti-human project that puts profit before people. Casual workers have become more casualised, those with caring responsibilities are left to carry the burden, and work life further intrudes into private life through increased workloads that are to be done from home, resulting in a constant connection to the institution. Hall reiterates the non-neutrality of the University and its complicity in the reproduction of inequality and inequity, as those in precarious position are further exploited when they are gendered, racialised, disabled and/or queer. Thus, he does not treat these groups as an afterthought, despite him not facing the same challenges, making this book a good reminder for those who occupy “safe” positions within the academy to remember their privileges and continue to challenge their institutions on behalf of those who might not have the same degree of freedom. Towards the end of the book, Hall calls for the abolition of the University as we know it, for steps to be taken that are impossible in the hopeless institutions that currently exist. His critical analysis throughout the book leads Hall to conclude that only when the forces and relations of production are dismantled, another University, one that fosters community and promotes solidarity not just within the elitist walls of the institutions but also outside by joining working class organisation, can be possible, if at all.

Svenja Helmes, PhD student at the University of Sheffield and co-author of Life for the Academic in the Neoliberal University.

At the end of The End of History, we urgently need brave voices to tell us that, no matter how fervently we might hope, we must confront the stark truth that everything may well not turn out all right; to confront ourselves in and of this truth; and to begin the necessary process of grieving this truth. Richard’s forensic deconstruction of the capitalist university, and the senses of hopelessness and helplessness it generates, leaves us unable to deny this truth any longer. Yet, it is Richard’s unflinching commitment to a dialectical materialism that enables him to reveal how the transformative power of truth takes seed when we finally and fully allow it into our hearts. It is in this heart-centred dialogical process of reintegration within and reconnection without that he locates not just the healing power of sharing our stories, but the first stirrings of a movement. It is a movement of negation of the Hopeless University’s own negation of our difference and denial of our being; a movement of the deepest, most essential yearning for our personal and collective authentic becoming; and, therefore, a movement with the capacity to imagine, explore, and organically establish modes, cultures, and even institutional forms of knowing that can birth a new system of social metabolism beyond capital’s tyrannical reign.

Each page of this wonderful book is filled with vulnerability, courage, wisdom, and, above all, love. Richard combines all four of these qualities in his refusal to offer any strategic blueprint for an alternative post-capitalist university and in his invitation to us to sit – to sit with ourselves and with each other, with our wounds and our pain, to sit with the bewildering but beautiful entangled messiness of our lives and our world, and to sit attentive at last to a present that can integrate and be fertilised by a past in order to conceive a new dawn yearning to be born.

Joel Lazarus, University of Bath.


Research and the COVID-19 crisis: International Day of Education

I’m speaking at DMU’s panel session on: Research and the COVID-19 crisis – International Day of Education.

My talk is on: Covid-19 and the idea of the University

The idea of the University is being challenged at the intersection of crises, including those of finance and epidemiology. As a result, the public value of the University is continually questioned. This talk will uncover how, at the intersection of crises, those who labour in universities might recover their historical agency, and reimagine higher learning. 

My slides are available on my Slideshare.


Submitted: The hopeless University

I have finally submitted my manuscript for The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the end of The End of History. I blogged about my initial proposal here, and spoke about it on this podcast. It builds upon this article from June of this year.

The contents are currently structured as follows.

Chapter 1: A terrain of hopelessness at the end of The End of History

  • Introduction: the value of the University
  • The value of the University-in-crisis
  • Structural adjustment and hysteresis
  • The University at The End of History
  • The reproduction of hopelessness inside the University
  • Dialectics of hopelessness
  • The University at the end of The End of History

Chapter 2: Hopeless struggle in the anxiety machine

  • The University as an anxiety machine
  • A meritocratic framing of hopelessness in the anxiety machine
  • The immoral economy of the University
  • The political economy of hopelessness
  • The commodification of hopelessness
  • The institutionalisation of intersectional hopelessness
  • A hopeless struggle

Chapter 3: Forms of hopelessness

  • Introduction: hopeless ventures
  • Flows of hopelessness
  • Restructuring the concrete reality of hopelessness
  • Hopeless associations and joint ventures
  • Financialised abjection
  • Metabolic unfreedom
  • Venturing beyond hopelessness

Chapter 4: Pathological hopelessness

  • Introduction: surplus everything
  • The pathology of the anxiety machine
  • University ill-being
  • The University peloton
  • Reification and social metabolic control
  • For infinite humanity?

Chapter 5: Methodological hopelessness

  • Introduction: socially-useful hopelessness
  • The dialectics of the University
  • The University and negation
  • Assemblages of separation
  • Socially-necessary labour time
  • The University-in-itself, for-value

Chapter 6: A Movement of the Heart

  • Introduction: moving with hopelessness
  • A dialectical movement
  • Entangled subjectivities
  • Composting the anti-human University
  • An indignant movement of dignity

Chapter 7: Beyond the University at the end of The End of History

  • Introduction: is another university desirable?
  • Forms of antipathy
  • Cultures of antipathy
  • Practices of antipathy
  • The place of intellectual work at the end of The End of History

 


Covid-XX and the idea of the University

Yesterday, I spoke at a DMU Education Research seminar. The slides and the paper upon which I based my talk are available here.

I made a subsequent recording of my presentation, which can be accessed here. Please note that this is an hour-long. It is overlong. I apologise. One day, I will learn.

Anyway, following the session, I copied the text chat/questions, and I have pasted those with my responses below.

Peace and love.


Q: Another metaphor – panopticon?

A: yes, potentially. In particular, in relation to the reality that our relations of production are estranged and separated during the pandemic, as we all work at home or in our offices, mediated by screens and through masks. It becomes easier for institutions and networks/associations to monitor us against particular modes of performance and behaviours. It is easier for those institutions to measure us against norms that are morphed and shift through the pandemic, but which are always shaped through dominant perspectives. The Panopticon in all its forms, managed in the image of white men with no or limited caring responsibilities and symbolic access to means of production, reinforces what Foucault argued were signalisation and dressage.

Q: It would be interesting to hear more on alternative that you did not want to talk. I still wonder what suggestion you have for alternative. Actually, what alternative do you propose at the face of covid-19? If you do have then how and with what means to utilise to materialise that alternative?

A: I am not interested in finding alternatives or utopias or blueprints. I am interested less in the future, and more in the present, and in a focus upon both questioning and moving or mobilising. I like the idea of “asking, we walk” or preguntando caminamos. I like the idea that we make our own history and our own paths through collective dialogue and questioning, and that this demands engagement with alternative ways of knowing the world and doing or making the world, and therefore being in the world. I am against the idea that white men with privilege define alternatives.

Q: Can you say something about the university and the State, perhaps the university as an expression of State hopelessness?

A: Marx and Engels argued that the state is an organising committee for the bourgeoisie, which emerged as a governance and regulatory power following the Treaty of Westphalia, and that there is no reason why it should be seen as transhistorical. Mariana Mazzucato has argued extensively about the ways in which the state creates an infrastructure for capital. I see a deep interrelationship between capitalist institutions, be they State-funded, cooperative, governed as charities or companies limited by guarantee, or whatever, the State that creates the terrain from which the universal value can expand, and how we feel about our lives and their possibilities. So, yes, in my argument the university is an expression of a wider state of hopelessness, and in response, I want to discuss intellectual work at the level of society. I want to discuss the potential for mass intellectuality at the level of society. I want to discuss how we liberate our ways of knowing and doing, in order to respect the ways in which we have built the world and how that building has been co-opted and taken from us. This enables us to see how hopeless things are, and not to outsource solutions to boffins, or wonks or the State, but instead to see our own agency at the level of society. I want us to dissolve the institution and its hopelessness into the fabric of society.

Q: Yep, to that need to move beyond both capitalism and the nation state – and the need to appreciate the positioning of the university as an institution within that state-corporate nexus?

A: yes – there is a need to understand the relationship between value and value-production, institutions of the state, corporate forms, and transnational organisations. Then, there is a need to engage with our own individual and collective agency, in order to enable/imagine the potential for new forces and relations of production, beyond the universe of value. This agency is historical, but it must be now.

Q: You paint a very gloomy picture and I wonder what you would say to our younger colleagues and those just entering the profession as to what they can do to remain positive about themselves and their work and their relationships with students?

A: you should try living with me. It must be awful. I would say I am sorry that it is constructed in this way with these pathological cultures and these methodological ways of working. I would say seek solidarity inside the institution, and look to make common cause, whilst keeping yourself safe. This means the ability to put food on the table and pay rent, without overworking and becoming ill. Social reproduction, values, humanity, dignity are so important and need to be protected. I would say try to find ways to limit the necessary labour of the bureaucracy of the institution, in order to widen your freedom for the work that energises you, potentially in relation to public engagement, your particular field/discipline, classroom-based engagement. I would say try to find ways of making your work useful in society, rather than valuable in the market.

Q: It seems to me that the concept of value is at the heart of this discussion, but value is almost always in the eye of the beholder. Our students and their future employers will inevitably define value differently, as will we. What I struggle with at present is the tendency for too many universities to destroy their value proposition by tactics that damage institutional reputations that took decades to build. The damage is caused in several ways that include reducing course entry requirements (for fee income) and making it harder to find time or resources for research. Can we spend more time exploring the nature of our value as academics? I guess we’d all feel less hopeless if we felt more valuable.

A: my problem is that the concept of values defined specifically in relation to capitalism, in terms of being a productive worker from whom surplus-value can be extracted. This is an exploitative arrangement, and it denies the ways in which we might mediate our lives directly between us as different individuals who share a common humanity. Instead, value enforces second-order mediations, like the market, divisions of labour and so on. Too often, value is defined in relation to excellence, satisfaction, money, impact and so on. I would say that we need to discuss whether the institutions inside which we live our fit-for-purpose, in engaging with intersecting crises, which materially affect people’s ability to live. As part of that we can discuss value or values, but we need to play on our terrain and build a narrative around our needs.

Q: We are so privileged, and we work so hard to get here, surely we greatly value the university and all that accrues to us through it. While we need to be guarded against the dreadful concerns and threats and that you very eloquently outline and explain, surely there are more reasons to be cheerful. 😎

A: there are so many contradictions that flow through the institution – it is beautiful and it is damaging, it enables and disables, it is a labour of love and it causes us ill-being, we see work intensification and precarious employment and at the same time many of us gain promotion and tenure. All labour is exploitative, and it tends to expropriate many lives, and extract resources from across the globe. My own take is that a limited number of our global society are able to access that privilege, which is made scarce and commodified, and the status of those roles and their appearance as high-status, reinforces exploitation, expropriation and extraction. At issue is, what is to be done? The reasons to be cheerful that I see are the potential for revealing hopelessness and sitting with it, in terms of the lived experiences of those who are denied privilege. From there, we might discuss mutuality, dignity and solidarity.

Comment: I agree that we are very privileged to be able to earn a living discussing and analysing in detail the subjects we care about with young (usually) and enthusiastic learners. Those of us who do research love the feeling of generating new knowledge that benefits mankind. However both our teaching and research are always under attack from micromanagers and bureaucrats who seem to insist on measuring and counting it all. Theirs (the micromanagers) is a hopeless task but they expect us all to join them in it. We must resist, for the sake of our students and our own humanity.

Q: The university and education are part of the superstructure supporting the dominant ideology of capitalism, in this sense, it is what Malcolm X suggested the chicken coming home to roost. Unis have been a place of privilege and actually within that excluded groups. The market has always been oppressive the minoritized have always know that, it is not unexpected that the mode of production turns it focus to HE and I am wondering if people are feeling oppressed by it and clutching at straws for hope. We all become the petty bourgeoise even if they don’t want to admit it and display false consciousness.

In the end it is our humanity and inter personal relationships that cannot be marketized everything else will.

A: thank you. Here, I returned to the idea that alienating conditions have been experienced differentially, but now the experiences of those of the periphery are being generalised amongst those with privilege and status. The system seeks to colonise all of our lives, and to make our lives, hopes, cares, relationships unliveable by commodifying them, or by squeezing out the time we have to develop them. Hope, if such thing exists, is an act of love for ourselves and each other, which recognises the asymmetrical relations we have to the autonomy of capital.

Q: Cussed = the pedagogy of arsiness 😉 Much needed form of such?

A: Mike Neary once asked that our struggle is not for the University, but against what the University has become. In this, we need different strategies.

Q: Diane Fassel wrote in 1990 “Everywhere I go it seems people are killing themselves with work, busyness, rushing, caring, and rescuing. Work addiction is a modern epidemic and it is sweeping our land.” Doesn’t sound like much has changed in 30 years (if not longer). Matthew Fox addressed the potential to reinvent work – back in 1994; Frederic Laloux with “Reinventing Organizaions” in 2014; and many other. As you’ve mentioned this stuff goes back well further into the past, yet we’re highly resistant to any change. Do you think the same conversations today be heard in 2060 (if we don’t kill each other in the mean time)?

A: I do not know. However, precisely because the intersection of crises is making the world unliveable, we need to discuss our work and our intellectual engagement in society, in relation to a collapse in the nitrogen cycle, climate forcing, austerity governance, the pandemic, or whatever. This feels hopeless, and indeed, inside capitalist social relations, it is hopeless, but new ways of existing or new paths are opening. We need to believe that we have the power to make those paths together.

Comment: I help my students by reflecting the Tao Te Ching: “Do your work then step back. The only path to serenity… He who clings to his work creates nothing that endures. If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go.”

Comment: It is the humanity we need to hold on to totally agree…. our humanity as staff and students

Comment: I came across this: carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/public-policy-and-the-infrastructure-of-kindness-in-scotland can universities be ‘kind’?

Comment: I felt less hopeless by engaging in the hopelessness of it all.


slides for Covid-19 and the idea of the University

My slides for tomorrow’s Education Research seminar at DMU are available below from my Slideshare.

Drawing upon my recently published article in Postdigital Science and Education, on The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the End of the End of History, I am presenting the first in a new series of Education Research Webinars.

Date/time: Wednesday 28 October, 2020, 1.30-2.30pm

Access: via Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, https://eu.bbcollab.com/guest/f5220dae6a104f46bae508215ef4a844

Abstract
The University is being explicitly restructured for the production, circulation and accumulation of value, materialised in the form of rents and surpluses on operating activities. The pace of restructuring is affected by the interplay between financial crisis and Covid-19, through which the public value of the University is continually questioned. In this conjuncture of crises that affect the body of the institution and the bodies of its labourers, the desires of Capital trump human needs. The structural adjustment of sectoral and institutional structures as forms, cultures as pathologies, and activities as methodologies enacts scarring. However, the visibility of scars has led to a reawakening of politics inside and beyond the University. The idea that History had ended because there is no alternative to capitalism or its political horizon, is in question. Instead, the political content of the University has reasserted itself at the end of The End of History. In this presentation, the idea that the University at The End of History has become a hopeless space, unable both to fulfil the desires of those who labour within it for a good life and to contribute solutions to socio-economic and socio-environmental ruptures, is developed dialectically. This enables us to consider the potential for reimagining intellectual work as a movement of sensuous human activity in the world, rather than being commodified for value.


COVID-19 and the idea of the University

Drawing upon my recently published article in Postdigital Science and Education, on The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the End of the End of History, I am presenting the first in a new series of Education Research Webinars.

Date/time: Wednesday 28 October, 2020, 1.30-2.30pm

Access: via Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, https://eu.bbcollab.com/guest/f5220dae6a104f46bae508215ef4a844

Abstract
The University is being explicitly restructured for the production, circulation and accumulation of value, materialised in the form of rents and surpluses on operating activities. The pace of restructuring is affected by the interplay between financial crisis and Covid-19, through which the public value of the University is continually questioned. In this conjuncture of crises that affect the body of the institution and the bodies of its labourers, the desires of Capital trump human needs. The structural adjustment of sectoral and institutional structures as forms, cultures as pathologies, and activities as methodologies enacts scarring. However, the visibility of scars has led to a reawakening of politics inside and beyond the University. The idea that History had ended because there is no alternative to capitalism or its political horizon, is in question. Instead, the political content of the University has reasserted itself at the end of The End of History. In this presentation, the idea that the University at The End of History has become a hopeless space, unable both to fulfil the desires of those who labour within it for a good life and to contribute solutions to socio-economic and socio-environmental ruptures, is developed dialectically. This enables us to consider the potential for reimagining intellectual work as a movement of sensuous human activity in the world, rather than being commodified for value.


Fergal Finnegan of The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside University

I am pleased that, over at Power and Education, There is a review by Fergal Finnegan of: The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside University. Fergal’s review was very generous and insightful, and connects to those of Joss Winn and Enja Helmes. He notes:

To accurately describe the university and what it means to be an academic today calls for a completely different set of coordinates. Hall takes up this theoretical challenge and sets out with clarity and force how this might be envisaged from a Marxist perspective (the book is the most recent publication in Palgrave Macmillan’s Marxism and Education series). The result is a thought-provoking and genuinely fresh perspective on the nature of academic work and the politics of contemporary HE.

It has an urgency of tone and frank passion which marks it out as different from many of the other lamentations about the decline of the university. Hall is pinning his theses on the door of an institution which he believes can no longer see what it does and that it in fact stands in the way of freedom.

However, Fergal also makes a very valid points about: how I might have used alienation as a bridge between critical moments and critical tendencies (including the work of Friere); the need for empirical detail (which I have forsaken for a while because my mind has been in a more abstract, philosophical space); the messiness of higher education (I guess that I set up a straw person for the purposes of the argument); and the relationship between class and the University (rendered secondary to a fuller, intersectional and humanist analysis).

In particular, this point that Fergal makes has stuck with me:

These gaps reflect the fact that TAA does not address class (de)composition and class formation – and the role of HE in these processes – in enough fine-grained detail.

I am hoping that I can begin to address this issue in the book upon which I am currently focused, which takes the University as its unit of analysis (as opposed to academic labour, which was central to TAA): The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at The End of The End of History.

Given what I have been reading and writing about, and my own struggles as a union negotiator and also in our institutional, decolonising project, I would not now have written TAA as I did then. Of course, this seems a little obvious, but much of my thinking recently has been about the structures/forms, cultures/pathologies and activities/methodologies of the institution, and the ways in which status, privilege, alienation, ill-being and so on accelerate class decomposition, and the possibilities for new class formations.

I also feel that I had a particularly naïve view of alienation, and hadn’t engaged with Hegel enough. Alongside critical theorists and radical pedagogues, this would also be a gap. In my defence, I feel that I had to curate my reading in particular ways, and I wanted my argument to take a particular route.

The very valid points Fergal makes about TAA have given me some stimulation towards re-engaging with The Hopeless University. I have a journal article forthcoming on this in Postdigital Science and Education, and I think my voice/writing are shifting (a function of a more confident position), including the nuance he speaks of around the messiness of the University. I had lost some momentum on this, And needed to sit with our current conjuncture, in order to make sense of myself in this space and time. I hope to use his words to kick-start my thinking again.

 


Decolonising DMU

I direct the evaluation for the Decolonising DMU Project.

With Kaushika Patel and Chris Hall (no relation), I am presenting on the project at the Advance HE Learning and Teaching Conference next week. If you have registered for the conference there will be a recording (.mp4) available. However, the slides are here.

You may also be interested in the project’s draft working position on building the anti-racist university, with which I was heavily involved. This connects to our research question: how does decolonising (its symbolism and reality) impact the idea of the university?

We are also presenting on Building the anti-racist University at a forthcoming event at the University of Bradford. The movement is (hopefully) growing.

Afterword

At Bradford I spoke about white privilege, and my own role in a process of decolonising. I argued following.

  1. Gurnam Singh spoke about white allyship Requiring an openness to building sustainable, democratic partnerships. I echoed this, in terms of horizontal forms of democracy, and building from below is a movement of dignity.
  2. I pointed back to a statement that Gurnam had made at the Radical DMU conference last year. He asked, how is it that in the most liberal institutions in the land in 2019, we are having to ask what it means to build the anti-racist University, or to decolonise? In fact, he forces us to ask whether these institutions can ever be described as liberal, and, if they can, whether that is a badge of dishonour that furthers particular forms of privilege.
  3. I argued the importance of challenging how structures/forms, cultures/pathologies, and activities/methodologies inside institutions, mirror governance, regulation and funding of the sector. The UK Conservative Government’s new Restructuring Regime for institutions in financial difficulty, reinforces the hegemony of the market and of human capital in dehumanising educational experiences.We have to find ways of refusing these pathological methodologies simply reinforce the power of people with no caring responsibilities, who over-perform, and who represent white, male, able power.
  4. In particular, we need to do this because University is implicated in a series of global crises, through the networks inside which it operates, its pathological search for surplus, its reinforcement of the performance ideals of the global North. It symbolises particular forms of life. It does not enable us to address climate forcing, a collapse in the nitrogen cycle, austerity governance, global poverty, whatever, unless those modes of addressing can be mediated through the commodity, the market, private property and money.
  5. Therefore, decolonising is a challenge to myself and my white, male privilege, just as it is a challenge to the very idea of the University grounded in the status and power are people who look like me. The voices that got us into this mess are not the voices I wish to centre as we build dialogue and look for potential routes towards another world or set of worlds.
  6. I see the process of decolonising not as the description of a utopia, rather as an attempt to situate this institution as a transitional moment, centring care, hope and dignity beyond the market, and focused upon equality rather than liberal tropes of equality of opportunity. It centres dialogue and reflection, and it grounds the University in its communities and its place.
  7. Peace be with you.