Episode 5: in which I blather on with Sarah Amsler about the alienated academic, weltschmerz and purple-sprouting broccoli

So, in this podcast we have the first half of my book launch from last night held at DMU. I was privileged to be in conversation with Sarah Amsler from the University of Nottingham, with some friends and comrades in attendance. Sarah’s questions (and she names people who have emailed in questions of their own) focused upon the areas given below the line. I am grateful to John Coster for his help with podcasting, and Steven Lyttle for his ongoing support.

Next week, I will post the second-half of the book launch, which was the really engaging and fruitful question and answer session.

Over on my homepage, there are a few photos and a link to the PowerPoint that was playing during the launch.

In the podcast we don’t discuss alienated labour and the law of value in much detail, although that is central to the analysis in the book. For more on that check out TAA podcast episode 1.


FIRST. I think the concepts of social metabolic control, Weltschmertz and indignation are worth explaining and illustrating. I think if there are people who have not read the book or do not fully understand it, these would be useful and probably new conceptual tools to leave with. A micro-version of the ‘Marxist conceptual toolbox’ that Klaus appreciates.

SECOND. I would like to talk about how the analysis offered in the book is different from many of the other analyses you discuss in your literature review on ‘the crisis’, and why you chose to focus on alienation as your main lens. You say it is a heuristic (234) but I think in the book it is also an embodied condition or process. I think it would be educational to map out for people the particular conversations that you are involved in, with regard to Marxist theory and other theoretical schools (mentioned on p. 6). I would love to bring into greater relief the positive charge of the critique of separation: the life-blood of relationality, why it is lost beyond words when we are ripped apart from our individual and collective Being (187). To NAME this for what it essentially is would be progress.

To find ways of naming forms of power that are both ‘generalised and opaque’, as my friend Raquel Gutierrez has written. You do in the book; we don’t generally. I think this practice of naming might very possibly already abolish academic labour, because it can’t be done as labour (if it is labour, it is not itself) and it can’t be done in ways that are recognisable as strictly ‘academic’. So, Gordon’s question, about the tensions of publishing mainstream academic book in contexts of tyranny of contemporary neoliberal academic research. My view at the moment is that there is not a lot of tension – we are not censored as such at the moment as long as they can sell if for their price. So we either do or don’t.

I think what matters more is what else we do either instead or in addition, recognising the affordances and limits of different forms of making ideas collective. If we really want to talk about upending academic publishing then we have to be talking about taking over means of production or at least agitating and struggling to change economic policy – if we are going to do that, fine, but as far as I can see this is either not on people’s radar or not very interesting for them. I think this is where workaround as autonomy comes in… (233)

THIRD. There is much made in the editor’s forward about the value of this book to the (Marxist) ‘educator activist’ who wants to do something about the problem. There is in all of our work, I think, a longing for it to be possible to do something to change the situation, i.e., the organising logic of society. He argues that TAA both generates energy from this desire and recognises, in the true sense of the term, the contradictions, complicities and impossibilities that are inherent to this project. I am interested in discussing how a certain kind of ‘hope[ing] trumps hate to counter the violence of separation’ (xiv) in the context of the capitalised academy. This resonates with Liz’s question about whether alienation is necessary for mass intellectuality (a term I still genuinely don’t understand so am a bit reluctant to ask about frankly) – in so far as I do not think the revolutionary subject that peers through this book is simply ‘non-alienated’.

I think you argue that to aspire only to this mode of existence as an alternative to alienating remains a form of blind love and naïve optimism. Though you cite Cleaver twice on the idea of a ‘politics of alliance against capital…in a manner as to build a post-capitalist politics of difference without antagonism’ (256). I disagree with him, in so far as this is a desired aspect of struggle but that one of the limitations of academics in particular is that we cling to hope for liberal democratic processes that are not in fact antagonistic or struggles and thus can’t deal with antagonism fruitfully. Hence Liz’s question, hence the Kleinian depressive mode, hence cruel optimism, and hence your point in the book about ‘whitewashed academic norms’. It’s exhausting and suffocating. Once we become awakened to the ontological source of the crisis – the construction and colonisation of the law of value – what sort of becoming might we also be awakened to? What does it look and feel like to be indignant and autonomous? More, I love this: ‘to move beyond separation, divorce, false binaries, and social estrangement to define an alternative form of social metabolic control’ (204).

FOURTH. This sentence is important: we need to ‘understand our role in maintaining flows of oppression and domination through alienated labour’ (6). To Liz’s question about the individualisation of resistance, and what we can learn as workers from the struggles of people who can’t bloody expect that their risk-taking resistance will keep them safe and who don’t have any choice but to resist. Is the framing of ‘agency’ and ‘resistance’ that we often have (I don’t think so much in your book though) not the right one…I am currently feeling very excited by Elizabeth Povinelli’s ‘will to be otherwise/effort of endurance’ framework. I think the project of being and becoming otherwise in a dominant reality is different from seeking to revolutionise reality so that the otherwise is normal. I am not very far in my thinking about this but it feels already worked out for me somewhere…

 

 


Episode 4: in which I blather on with John Coster about Ming the Merciless, value in higher education, and my book launch

So, mid-week I have an invite-only book launch for The Alienated Academic here at DMU. I needed to test the AV kit that we are going to use for recording my conversation with Sarah Amsler from the University of Nottingham, and what better way than having some jibber-jabber with John Coster?!

John is a lecturer in media production here at DMU, but I have known him for 9 years through our engagement in community work and community media. John set-up and ran Citizens’ Eye and then the Documentary Media Centre, he coordinated social media cafés, reportage clubs, conflict-media discussions, and work at the Leicester Centre for inclusive Living.

John and I always find a space for discussing the relationship between theory and practice, and developing forms of praxis. In this podcast, we discuss the weather (because we are archetypally English), the colour of the sky, early-budding Magnolia bushes, whether I’m looking forward to the book launch, the judging of academics and their labour, and the ongoing obsession with value/value-added/value-for-money.

There will be an edited version of the book launch uploaded as a podcast towards the end of this week, hopefully. Or maybe early next. Actually, probably early next.

Peace out, peaceniks.

Ooh, and FYI, there is an Open and Collaborative Spotify Playlist for TAA.


Episode 3: in which I blather on about failing, not-failing and liberal democracy as a circle

In this podcast I decided to try not to use the words interesting and important too often. Instead, I got a little vexed by listening to Sam Gyimah and Michael Barber at the recent WonkHE event, with their standard focus upon normalising the relationship between education and economic growth, competition, value for money, the imposition of methodological control through things like trust-based governance, and situating this inside a specific, positivist narrative of liberal democracy.

So I probably bang on a little bit too much about the circle of liberal democracy. My apologies if this seems a little snarky. But, you know, I wonder if this is the same liberal democracy that has bought us inequality, poverty of philosophy, food banks, debt-fuelled and consumption-driven economic growth, a disconnect between economic production and the planet’s health, geopolitics focused upon the petro-dollar, Hillsborough, Orgreave, Grenfell, UN reports criticising austerity as social engineering, and on and on and on.

In other news, this podcast is mainly focused upon answering a question from one of my first year students, Kate, who asked me:

Is politics and austerity an excuse for the alleged failings of the British education system? Is the British education system really failing the young people we have? Do we look at the positives of teaching? Best of all: is there a revolution brewing? [Whooooooa! #revolution #klaxon! NOTE: in the podcast there is also a #Marx #klaxon]

So I try to address that, and I mainly do this by not addressing it. I mainly raise lots of caveats, lots of problems and a few more questions.

However, I do try to connect this to my solidarity with my friends over in Brazil, struggling to make sense of the election of Bolsonaro, and to generate responses that make sense in this new environment. In particular, one of my friends told me:

At the moment, I attend carefully to important little things, moving even as I wait to see how it pans out.

So, I am trying to think about how we attend carefully to important little things, and how we do this cooperatively and collectively and with love and courage and faith and solidarity. And how do we do this in such a way that we widen our space for panning things out differently?

Finally, and quite importantly, my good friend and comrade Rob Weale has taken pity on me after my pathetic pleading in the last podcast for some music, so the bits and bobs you hear on this one are all provided by him. You can check him out over at his portfolio place.

I have also ripped the title track from Rae Elbow and the Magic Beans’ album the human species. This is available on SoundCloud.

Remember to love yourself so that you can love others. Peace out.


Presentation on the Co-operative University and anti-technocracy

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.

  • What is the relationship between the proposed Co-operative University and the regulatory environment predicated upon competition between providers, at the level of the individual, the subject and the institution?
  • How might the historical and material reality of co-operatives unable this relationship to be critiqued? How might the historical and material reality of co-operatives generate lessons for the Co-operative University?
  • What is the governance and management relationship between the proposed the Office for Students as the regulator, the Co-operative University, and any federated curriculum delivery organisations?
  • Is it possible to align the hopes and aspirations of the staff and students committed to the Co-operative University, who are brutalised inside the academic peloton, to the reality of an organisation that has to compromise with/exist within this competitive environment?
  • What is the role of technology in enabling such an alignment? In particular, what is the relationship between platform co-operativism and the Co-operative University?
  • How might the experiences of actually-existing co-operatives, and the example of the Co-operative University, enable us to dismantle and then abolish the University?

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.


On authoritarian neoliberalism and poetic epistemology

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.

Structure

  • Authoritarian neoliberalism and academic labour
  • Authoritarian higher education in the global North
  • An emergent appreciation of more humane knowledge
  • Dismantling knowledge production in higher education

Abstract

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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on therapy and praxis and critical hope

Elsewhere, I write:

it is meaningless for me to separate out my work inside and outside the University from the work I continue to undertake on myself. It is meaningless for me to separate out my labour as something unique in the practice of my life.

After a decade in therapy I am moving to sessions every other week. For a long time I was having weekly sessions; for a long time I was having twice-weekly sessions; for some time I needed three sessions a week. The memory of all of this resonates; remembering why I needed this resonates. Who I was is who I am is who I will be.

I have written about this here, and here, and here, and here, and in all my writing about anxiety and the anxiety machine and alienation.

So it feels important to mark this agreement to move to sessions every other week. I feel compelled to sit with the importance of this. It is a very significant moment for me in my movement towards myself, and it carries with it all sorts of emotions, rooted in loss, grief, possibility, hope and peace. I see the early years of therapy about discovering or recovering or witnessing my courage and faith in myself, with the middle years doing some things that were focused upon finding justice for myself, and it is now that I can work through hope towards finding some peace. And this is repetitive in new ways and is never linear. In all this I continue to draw from my stories, and the emotional, relational, spiritual and cognitive knowledge they enable, as a well. I continue to reproduce those stories and new knowledge about myself in the world.


I also want to recognise the mutuality of this – I am very mindful of sitting with, and respecting my therapist’s position, care and love. I am mindful that there is a strong relational accountability between us. I am mindful of how this resonates across my relationships. Increasingly, I feel that I can recognise and respect this mutuality and solidarity, including with myself. I feel that the core of me lies in being accountable to my relations where that is possible, and that is a very beautiful thing.

I feel that there is a different moment of reconnection between me and the world. I see this in terms of the stories that have emerged through my work on myself. I also see this in terms of the places that I have sat in, the lanes that I have walked down, the roads that I have cycled, and the music that I have listened to, amplified in the last decade. This reconnection demonstrates to me that my work, practice, customs, values, life is not linear and that they are moving away from their assumptions.

Because I am letting go, I see the futility in my previous attempts to re-inhabit my own soul with the idea of being better or well; a newly-enclosed or commodified self. Rather, I understand why that belief or assumption was necessary for me for a while, in order to survive, but now I want to let go of my past assumptions and fetishes, and instead to think about myself in my relationships to me and others. There is something here about my sovereignty over my own story. There is also something here about my wanting to understand other people’s sovereignty over their own stories, and to try to learn from those. In this I take great strength from (indigenous and non-indigenous) stories and struggles for decolonising and dismantling and being inside-and-against-and-beyond (settler) colonialism.

So much of the therapeutic relationship is imminent to my life, my writing, my everyday practice, and the values that I carry forward. The decision to change the frequency of sessions has amplified this for me. To respect my position and my self-understanding, alongside my engagement with the complexity of the world and the communities/friends that I live and work alongside; I think that is enough.


I come back to stories because I remembered this quote from King (p. 32):

the truth about stories is that that’s all we are. You can’t understand the world without telling a story. There isn’t any centre to the world but a story.

I love this, because it articulates the validity of our own experience (and I am in acceptance of mine), and also what we have to learn from other people’s stories – it helps to understand our incompleteness and to create a richer, more storied relationship, rooted in dignity. This is trust in the sacred nature of journeying with others – to accept the risks, anxieties, possibilities. To honour relationships where possible; and also to accept that some relationships cannot work, and that I cannot be accountable to or in them.

And this is inextricably tied to my work as I consider my teaching. I will be working with first-year undergraduates on a new module, on evidenced-based teaching and learning.

In treating this module as a process, as being and becoming, I hope that we can generate new stories for people that respect the humanity of their places, philosophies, practices/practise, values and epistemologies.

I hope that the process we engage in will be focused upon knowledge production from the ground up, as lived experience, which connects people, stories and places in concrete ways.

I hope that we can understand how people and place form relationships that are accountable to each other in some way, which is constantly in negotiation rooted in care, dignity, duality, respect and responsibility.

I hope that we can engage with forms of thinking, acting, and being that emerge in relationship with decolonisation, so that we can imagine and embody our humanity, rather than enclosing and severing ourselves inside abstracted relations of domination.

I hope that we can generate thinking that refuses the assumptions of linear history, and of teleological, positivist narratives of development. In this, I hope that we can give voice to the ebb-and-flow between the past, present and future, and understand how this is rooted in ideological positioning that needs to be decolonised before it can be abolished.

I hope that we can create a module as a process that resonates with our lives, giving participants the power to make change, and to refuse the colonisation of other people’s lived experience, in particular through the imposition of idealised, white, male, able, cisnormative positions.

I hope that we can reflect on how our thinking and activity carries the possibility of care and/or harm, and potentially silences or gives voice to individuals and groups who are included/othered.

I hope that we are able to draw attention to dominant positions and modes of power, the ways in which hegemony is reproduced and recaptured as an ethical moment, so that we can hold a mirror up to power. This involves an engagement with knowledge, language, relationships, culture, so that we recognise our responsibilities as intellectuals, our positioning and that of others, so that intersections of privilege and non-privilege can be outed and reworked.

I hope that I am able to do the work necessary to enable my students to understand my story, in terms of this module, and that I am able to do the work necessary to understand their position. It is not good enough for us to demand that our students must do the work of travelling to our position. It is enough for us to engage with our students on their own terms, and to help them to find their own pathways that intersect their past, present and future.

I hope that we can be against utopian readings of the world. I hope that we can push towards “the next now”, which itself prefigures a better world. I hope that we can bear witness to each other’s legitimate movement in this process.

I hope that we can situate the reciprocity of relationships, and a variety of cultural positionalities, through storytelling and a recognition of the non-neutrality of language in its relationship to power and domination. Some of this is about memory and remembering; some of it is about generating new stories as we experience the module as a process.

I hope that we can experience the module as a decolonising pedagogic praxis; as a journey that refuses the inhumane reduction of our relationships to a risk-based approach to commodified pedagogic development.

I hope that we can develop epistemic range rather than epistemic enclosure, and enable each other to produce and recognise knowledge with the whole of our being – emotion, cognition, experience.

I hope that we can refuse deficit thinking about ourselves and others.

As Castenell and Pinar argue (p. 4):

we are what we know. We are, however, also what we do not know. If what we know about ourselves – our history, our culture, our national identity – is deformed by absences, denials, and incompleteness, then our identity is fragmented. Such a self lacks access both to itself and to the world. Its sense of history, gender and politics is incomplete and distorted.


My therapy playlist is here.

The bibliography that underpins this post is rooted in my attempts to appreciate narratives for decolonising and of indigeneity.

Ahmed, S. (2012) On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Arday, J., and Mirza, H.S. (eds 2018). Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bhambra, G. (2017) Brexit, Trump, and ‘methodological whiteness’: on the misrecognition of race and class. The British Journal of Sociology, 68 (1): 214-32.

Bhopal, K. (2018). White Privilege: the myth of a post-racial society. Bristol: Policy Press.

Byrd, J.A. (2011). The transit of empire: Indigenous critiques of colonialism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Calderon, D. (2014). Speaking back to manifest destinies: A land education-based approach to critical curriculum inquiry. Environmental Education Research, 20 (1): 1-13.

Clark, I. (2018). Tackling Whiteness in the Academy. https://tinyurl.com/yct8qvp8

Goeman, M. (2013). Mark my words: Native women mapping our nations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

The Human, Social, Political Sciences (HSPS) Cambridge Graduates and Current Students (2018). Decolonial Reading List (2018-2019). https://tinyurl.com/yd2se387

Joseph, Tiffany and Laura Hirshfield. 2011. ‘Why don’t you get somebody new to do it?’ Race and cultural taxation in the academy. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34 (1): 121-41.

Salmón, E. (2012). Eating the landscape: American Indian stories of food, identity, and resilience. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Smith, L.T. 1999/2012. Decolonising methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Lyndon: Zed Books.

Steinþórsdóttir, F.S., Heijstra, T.M. and Einarsdóttir, P.J. (2017) The making of the ‘excellent’ university: A drawback for gender equality. ephemera: theory and politics in organization, 17 (3): 557-82.

Tuck, E., and Guishard, M. (2013). Un-collapsing ethics: Racialised sciencism, settler coloniality, and an ethical framework of the colonial participate treat action research. In T.M. Kress, C.S. Malott, and B.J. Portfilio (eds), Challenging status quo retrenchment: New directions in critical qualitative research. Charlotte: information age publishing, 3-27.

Tuck, E. And Yang, K.W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society, 1 (1), 1-40.

Tuck, E. And Yang, K.W. (2018). Series Editor’s Introduction. In Tuhiwai Smith, L., Tuck, E., and Yang, K.W. (eds), Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View. London: Routledge, x-xxi.

Tuhiwai Smith, L., Tuck, E., and Yang, K.W. (eds 2018). Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View. London: Routledge.

Wilson, S. 2008. Research as ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Blackpoint: Fernwood Publishing.


The practicalities and pedagogies of adult learning co-operatives: the case of Leicester Vaughan College

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.


neoliberalism, the capital-relation and education

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…

  1. Is neoliberalism the new common sense? Or is it a threat to common sense? Check out the work of Stuart Hall on this. Is neoliberalism anything other than promiscuous capital, able to reshape and reproduce itself depending upon historical and material conditions of production?
  2. How does neoliberalism (if there is such a thing), and its contested characteristics (if there are such things), relate to capitalist social relations?
  3. Our communities simply exemplary neoliberal structures for governance?
  4. What does individual autonomy, in particular in relation to constitutional rights and market-based liberties/freedoms, mean?
  5. In terms of community, what does disciplinary control, responsibility and self-government mean in practice?
  6. How is the lived experience of primary school communities affected by economic populism (Brexit, Trump etc)? How does this affect the relationship between race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and their intersections?
  7. Can community ever be a safe space? How can new narratives be developed that challenge patriarchy?
  8. Does neoliberal feminism(s) affect your research?
  9. Do communities struggling inside neoliberal governance have any space for hope? Or are they simply hopeless? Is there a place for critical hope, in particular in relation to school cultures, choices, governance/governmentality, managed consensus and manufactured consent?
  10. What is the role of teacher professionalism and pupil agency in the creation of neoliberal subjects, or their refusal?
  11. Under neoliberalism, what does voice mean inside/outside the classroom, or inside/outside the curriculum? How does voice relate to the commodification of the community and its activities?
  12. What does it mean for communities to be simply coping and surviving rather than thriving, inside a mediated life-activity, governed by performance management, competition in the market?
  13. How do communities interact and interrelate with algorithmic-control mechanisms and the domination of performance data? How do cybernetic forms of control enable, disable, reform and deform communities? Are they simply vectors for colonisation?
  14. Our explanatory critiques of neoliberalism simply means for reproducing a refined neoliberal project, in which resistance can be minimalised?
  15. In terms of understanding the lived experience of communities, how does internalised performance management and self-governance do the job of the State?
  16. How do we explain the bastardisation of values in the face of value as it is enabled through neoliberal governance? How is trust dehumanised in the face of risk? How is generosity dehumanised in the face of the commodity and commodity-exchange? How is courage dehumanised in the face of competition in the market?
  17. What is the relationship between accountability and autonomy, when policy is affected by transnational activist networks operating as geographies of neoliberalism, encompassing policymakers, educational leaders, finance capital, credit ratings agencies, educational publishers, and so on?
  18. Is it possible to repopulate and re—agent spaces for alternative imaginings of society?
  19. Is it possible to humanise our managers? Or must they all go?
  20. Neoliberal leadership in all its forms (relational, distributed, heroic) is simply the operation of governance at a distance, and the imposition of managerial discipline. How does this impact the lived experience of primary school communities? How does this relate to school refusal, homeschooling, deschooling?
  21. What is the impact of corporate school leadership, infected by the corporation, with its imposition of signature pedagogies, performance management, performance data and cybernetic control, on the school community?
  22. Is the primary school community curated by or a curator of neoliberalism? Is the market at the core of who/what the community is and stands for?
  23. What would a post-neoliberal primary school community look like?
  24. Steve Courtney spoke about being on or off the bus – those who fit in, and are common/shared travellers on a neoliberal journey can stay on the bus. What does this mean for communities that most fitting, fall off or fall out of the bus? How do bodies ensure that they are aligned with the local delivery of national reforms, rather than being wilful in refusing those reforms?
  25. Can we see neoliberalism as an habitus, comprising vectors of choice and non-choice, voice and non-voice, value and non-value, core and periphery?
  26. Where is it possible to intervene? Or are we being ontologically reshaped by forms of neoliberal engagement that are pedagogical and operating at the level of society?
  27. How do you relate your lived experience of primary school communities that are English and rooted in the global North, albeit containing individuals and cultures from the global South, to conceptually a morph is definitions of neoliberalism?
  28. To what extent does neoliberalism depend upon our conviction that positivism, which is theory free and evidence-based, and inside which certain voices are sanctioned, is the most appropriate response to the politics of austerity and the crisis of value?
  29. How is this maintained through the politics of desire? (c.f. Spinoza) How does the characterisation of leadership maintain desire? How does the fetishisation of desire_the fetishisation of leadership?
  30. What is the relationship between the lived experience of primary school communities and macroeconomic trends?
  31. Steve Courtney spoke about the role of theory, and in particular the relationship between functionalist and social critical theory. The former is designed to remove dysfunctions, to be based on “science” and “evidence” cometary positivist, cybernetic and theory-free. The latter relates to power, context and theory. Here we see the rise of the leadership industry, which maintains a harder distinction between leaders and followers – see work on network governance and governing networks. This enables functionalism to do the discursive work of neoliberalism in maintaining impact, excellence, efficiency, entrepreneurship, in the face of educational values. This is the triumph of marketisation and authoritarianism.
  32. What are the roles of the subaltern and subordinate in this analysis?
  33. How do we use this analysis, embedded in critical social theory, to render visible the differential and differing effects of power? How do we use theory to expose power, in order to recontextualise and in order to avoid ontological or epistemological closure?
  34. How do we engage with the reality that neoliberalism offers the promise of mobility and individual/familial agency, in the face of narratives of welfarism that stress its disabling effects?
  35. What metaphors does the individual/community used to describe itself? What metaphors does the individual/community use to describe the educational setting?
  36. Is it possible to dismantle neoliberalism without coming into asymmetrical relation with capital? Is a focus on neoliberalism a safe option, which denies the ability to decode the capital-relation?

References

Burman, E & Miles, S 2018, ‘Deconstructing supplementary education: From the pedagogy of the supplement to the unsettling of the mainstream‘Educational Review.

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

Courtney, S & Gunter, H 2017, Privatizing leadership in education in England: The multiple meanings of school principal agency. in D Waite & I Bogotch (eds), The Wiley International Handbook of Educational Leadership. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc., pp. 295-310.

Davies, J 2011, Challenging governance theory: from networks to hegemony. Bristol: Policy Press.

Raffo, C & Gunter, H 2008, ‘Leading schools to promote social inclusion: developing a conceptual framework for analysing research, policy and practice’ Journal of Education Policy, 23(4): 397 – 414. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680930801923799

Rayner, S, Courtney, S & Gunter, H 2017, ‘Theorising systemic change: learning from the academisation project in England‘ Journal of Education Policy. DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2017.1327084

Rowlands, J & Rawolle, S 2013, ‘Neoliberalism is not a theory of everything: a Bourdieuian analysis of illusio in educational research’ Critical Studies in Education, 54(3): 260 – 72. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2013.830631

Social Theory Applied: https://socialtheoryapplied.com/


authoritarian neoliberalism and the alienation of academic labour

I will be developing some of my thinking about HE at a British Educational Research Association symposium, Debating theories of neoliberalism: New perspectives and framings in education research tomorrow.

My abstract and references are here.

The flyer can be downloaded here.

My slides are appended below.


The argument I intend to make pivots around the following points.

Note that references are also appended below.

I will be developing some of my thinking about HE at a British Educational Research Association symposium, Debating theories of neoliberalism: New perspectives and framings in education research tomorrow.

My abstract and references are here.

The flyer can be downloaded here.

My sides are appended below.

The argument I intend to make pivots around the following points.

ONE. The recent history of academic labour articulates its re-engineering in order that it can reproduce value, or at least become productive of value. This history demonstrates the ways in which academic labour has been conditioned to that end, through the disciplinary apparatus of the State, in the form of the deployment of a militarised apparatus (for instance on demonstrations against fees, or with the increase of cops on campus), and in terms of secondary and primary legislation rooted in finance capital. This is a disciplinary reimagining of the University.

TWO. Here, we remember that Marx and Engels wrote that the State is a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. In our academic context, this forces us to imagine the transnational networks that act as a structure for maintaining the circuits and cycles of capital, which act as flows of power. The whole bourgeoisie incorporates vice chancellors, finance capital, credit ratings agencies, educational publishers/service providers, policymakers and so on. In a post-crisis world, the university is being repurposed such that it acts as a vector for the extreme tensions between conditions of production and the forces of production. This incorporates technological and organisational changes, which are materially affecting the technical composition of academic capital. Here, the State represents the normalisation of specific forms of administration that rest upon a legacy of domination, and the exploitative nature of capitalist social relations.

THREE. It is, therefore, important that we remember how the state militarised against student and staff protests in the UK in 2010-11. This is a marker, a backstop, a baseline for what the orderly application of liberties looks like. It describes the refusal of rights.

FOUR. There are certain heuristics or modes of analysis that emerge from literature on authoritarian neoliberalism, which serve to illuminate the relationship between the State and academic labour.

The first is Stephen Ball’s work on the neoliberal terrain for global education, including its philosophical underpinnings and ways in which the state rolls-back existing narratives and structures, ahead of a re-modelling of/as desire. A pivotal moment in this is the maintenance of order, with its focus upon liberal or social democratic interpretations of engagement with mediations like the commodity, the market and the division of labour, which in turn form ordered liberties that maintain risk profiles. These are not the same as a struggle for rights.

A second is Ian Bruff’s focus upon a cultures, relations, work, activities and so on that are for the market. The market mediates flows of power, through flows of surplus, and yet market is not necessarily free. This inevitably focuses upon coercion in maintaining specific risk profiles and in generating forms of data and information, which themselves generate non-democratic ways of working through policies of inclusion and exclusion or marginalisation that reinforce inequality. We are connected to Raewyn Connell’s analysis of social relations that are immanent to the market, such that narratives are framed continuously in asymmetrical relation to the market.

Third, we are reminded of the corporate parasitisation of the State, such that the latter becomes a vector for the former, in particular in terms of the governance, regulation and financing of State-sponsored activities and infrastructures. These are often viewed in pragmatic terms, as a new normal that simply reinforces existing structures, or as forms of elite power that reinforce and are reinforced by specific mediations. Here I refer to the work of Bob Jessop and Will Davies.

A fourth, critical point is about how these activities reinforce marginalisation for specific bodies that are unable to move through social structures, because of the abstract way in which those structures are reproduced for value. Here, the work of Sara Ahmed, Gurminder Bhambra, and Janet Newman on issues of gender and race (and the intersection of those issues) highlights both the ways in which marginalisation is reproduced (and to what ends), and also enables us to analyse how the processes of marginalisation are infecting segments of society previously inoculated, through the politics of austerity.

Finally, we remember how the state creates a disciplinary infrastructure through gag laws, C51 in Canada, by enabling institutions to prohibit demonstrations, through the use of kettling, and so on. This forms a precursor to policy-related authoritarianism. This policy-related restructuring of academic labour includes accountability regimes, focused upon the minutiae of academic work such as Reform’s criticism of grade inflation, alongside the fear generated by immigration regimes. This is a process of enabling forms of autonomy as types of controlled liberty, rooted in risk profiles that relate to the generation of human capital.

FIVE. The experience of crisis, as the violence of abstraction, creates a new normal or a new form of common sense, which is rooted in the desire to make previously unproductive sectors of the economy productive of value. Productivity is everything. Thus, as Marx and Engels understood, universities are at risk of market exit and under the pressure of new market entrants, as well as being forced into competition for new, overseas markets as a new colonialism, and through performance management in debt are forced to exploit existing markets more thoroughly. This includes the exploitation of their own labour force, who are made responsible for the risk to their own position.

SIX. The State defines its relationship to academic labour through a policy narrative that serves a pedagogic function at the level of society. This focuses upon the reification of human capital, which offers a particular mode of attention or orientation from academic labourers made responsible for enriching their own skills, knowledge and capabilities. Moreover, they are made responsible for generating surplus through productive activity. However, this sits in tension with capital’s drive to annihilate the labour component of work, as a result of which that work tends to be proletarianised. Finally, the implementation of policy through league tables and performance management tends to internalise responsibilisation as a form of discipline that stands against wilful behaviour.

SEVEN. The subsumption of HE and the University as a radical restructuring of academic labour serves to generate new forms of competition, as institutions strive for competitive advantage (relative surplus value). However, the implementation of policy through, for instance, the role of the Office for Students, places the academic and the student (and her family) in an invidious position as they are forced to internalise performance, and the generation of data about performance, alongside a liberal perception of the value of learning for its own sake – even though the latter is marginalised. As a result, deep levels of cognitive dissonance erupt, framed by the contention that trust-based relationships can only be mediated in the (unfree, unequal, coercive) market. Moreover, we are told that these relationships can only be mediated inside a properly-functioning market calibrated by meaningful performance data, and this reinforces the transnational activist networks of educational service providers/publishers, policymakers, non-governmental organisations and so on, which act to crack the sector for value. Our lives are folded into these moments, for value.

EIGHT. A crucial set of responses, as stories from inside the University, emerge, pivoting around casualisation/precarious employment, ill-being and ill-health, suicide and quitting. These demonstrate the deep levels of estrangement and alienation at the levels of: academic labour-power; products of academic labour; academic communities; and the individual academic’s humanity. It becomes important to strip away the layers in which such estrangement or alienation are revealed: illness/overwork; precarity and the attrition on labour rights; the role of money; the extraction of value/surplus-value; the control of labour-power; the mediation of private property; and the reality of alienated-labour. From here emerge anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness, loss, and our restricted ability to grieve.

NINE. There is a critical point about the differential impacts of this upon different bodies, and the ways in which those differences are reinforced intersectionally. Analyses of the power and privilege of certain bodies enable the alienating whole to be revealed, whilst also enabling narratives of overcoming involving decentring, refusing responsibilisation, solidarity in the face of coercion, listening to/refusing to accept the silencing of certain voices, and the instantiation of humanity/self-actualisation.

TEN. Moments of listening form a movement towards self-actualisation and also focus upon de-fetishising academic labour, in order to re-focus upon its abolition at the level of society. For Marx and Engels, the crucial moment is the reintegration of intellectual work at the level of society, with a focus upon undermining the violence of abstraction and instituting a new form of common sense. This stands against the outsourcing of solutions to boffins or experts or scientists, because those solutions and that expertise exists at the level of society, in forms that have been seized by the authoritarian State acting for capital.

ELEVEN. We need to be against what the University has become. We need to be against what academic labour has become. We need to imagine a new movement that erupts as abolition.


References

Ahmed, Sara. 2012. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ball, Stephen. 2012. Global Education Inc. New Policy Networks and the Neoliberal Imaginary. London: Routledge.

Bhambra, Gurminder. 2017. Brexit, Trump, and ‘methodological whiteness’: on the misrecognition of race and class. The British Journal of Sociology. 68 (1): 214-32.

Bruff, Ian. 2014. The Rise of Authoritarian Neoliberalism. Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society. 26 (1), 113-29. https://doi.org/10.1080/08935696.2013.843250

CASA. n.d. A home online for casual, adjunct, sessional staff and their allies in Australian higher education. http://actualcasuals.wordpress.com/

Clarke, Simon. 1991a. The State Debate. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Clarke, Simon. 1991b. Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology: From Adam Smith to Max Weber. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Connell, Raewyn. 2013. The neoliberal cascade and education: an essay on the market agenda and its consequences. Critical Studies in Education, 54 (2): 99-112. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2013.776990

CUPE3903. n.d. Representing, Organizing and Activating the Contract Faculty, Teaching Assistants, Graduate Assistants, and Research Assistants @ York University, Toronto, Canada. Accessed April 27, 2018. http://3903.cupe.ca/

Davies, Will. 2017. Elite Power under Advanced Neoliberalism. Theory, Culture and Society. 34 (4-5): 227-250. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276417715072

DBIS. 2015. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act. London: HM Stationery Office. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/26/pdfs/ukpga_20150026_en.pdf

DfE. 2017a. The Higher Education and Research Act. London: HM Stationery Office. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/29/pdfs/ukpga_20170029_en.pdf

DfE. 2017a. Securing student success. Government consultation on behalf of the Office for Students. London: HM Stationery Office. https://consult.education.gov.uk/higher-education/higher-education-regulatory-framework/

Dyer-Witheford, Nick. 2015. Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex. London: Pluto Press.

Engels, Friedrich. 2009. The Condition of the Working Class in England. London: Penguin.

Gabriel, Deborah and Shirley Anne Tate. 2017. Inside the Ivory Tower: Narratives of women of colour surviving and thriving in British academia. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.

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

Hall, Richard and Kate Bowles. 2016. Re-engineering higher education: the subsumption of academic labour and the exploitation of anxiety. Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor 28: 30-47. Available: http://bit.ly/2dQMx8X

HM Treasury. 2015. Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation. London: HM Treasury. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/443898/Productivity_Plan_web.pdf

Jessop, Bob. 2016. The heartlands of neoliberalism and the rise of the austerity state. In: Springer, Simon, Birch, Kean and Julie MacLeavy (eds). The Handbook of Neoliberalism. Routledge, London, 410-421.

Marx, Karl. 1993. Grundrisse: Outline of the Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1998. The German Ideology: including Theses on Feuerbach and Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. New York: Prometheus.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 2002. The Communist Manifesto. London: Penguin.

Morris, Amanda. 2015. The Rise of ‘Quit Lit’: What It Is and Why It Matters [Opinion]. Noodle.com. http://bit.ly/2dAimp9

Narayan, John. 2017. Huey P. Newton’s Intercommunalism: An Unacknowledged Theory of Empire. Theory, Culture and Society. [Online first] Accessed April 27, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276417741348

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Wendling, Amy. 2009. Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation. London: Palgrave Macmillan.


writing about/against/beyond the alienated academic

You have to know what’s wrong before you can find what’s right

Toni Morrison. Song of Solomon.

as far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.

Carl Jung


A book against academic labour

I have just submitted my final draft of a monograph for Palgrave Macmillan, in their Marxism and Education series, entitled The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy inside the University. This book reflects my work inside and outside the University over the course of the last decade. In this time, we have witnessed the re-engineering and repurposing of higher education, and the impact this has had on academics, professional services staff and students. In part this catalysed my engagement in a range of protests and occupations in 2010-11, alongside my work in co-operatives like the Social Science Centre in Lincoln and Leicester Vaughan College, and with the Open Library of Humanities. This stitches my thinking and my practice into other co-operative movements for dignity, and against the indignity of capitalist work.

However, my thinking and my practice have also been challenged personally, through a decade-long commitment to therapy. On one level, this work represents my attempt to understand, manage and move beyond manifestations of depression and anxiety, including their displacement or appearance as overwork. On a deeper level, it has been fundamental in enabling me to understand my own essence, in terms of how and why I have, at times, been estranged from myself and the world. This book encapsulates a moment and a movement in my recovery of myself in the world.

In terms of the themes of the book, it is meaningless for me to separate out my work inside and outside the University from the work I continue to undertake on myself. It is meaningless for me to separate out my labour as something unique in the practice of my life. As a result, it forms an attempt by me to engage with Marx’s conceptions of estrangement and alienation, in particular focused upon being and becoming, dignity and indignity, objectification and subjectivity, and the possibility for recovering autonomy.

As a result, this is not a book that describes academic life from the perspective of academic labour, in order to recover some idealised or utopian notion of the University. Rather, it is against academic labour, as a case study of the exploitation, expropriation and domination of labour by capital. Rather than reifying or attempting to recover academic labour, I attempt to situate the academic labour process, academic knowledge production, the academic self and academic communities against Marx’s conception of alienation, in order to look towards its abolition. This is influenced by Moishe Postone’s work on capital as a totality that is constituted as the automatic subject through social labour, and in particular the duality of abstract and concrete labour. This refuses the fetishised notion that labour is capital’s opposite and nemesis.


Alienated academic labour and the law of value

I am not using academic labour to critique the crisis of higher education (as a strand of the secular crisis of capital). Rather academic labour is the object of this critique, in order to work towards its abolition. Central to this is an understanding of academic labour in its relation to the structuring reality of the law of value. Understanding how value mediates social reproduction is crucial in understanding whether an alternative form of self-mediation beyond value, rooted in humane values, is possible. Here the work of István Mészáros, Peter Hudis and Simon Clarke are important in enabling me to understand the relationship between alienated labour and second-order mediations that appear to structure the world. This enables us to take a negative dialectical approach, in order to strip back the manifestations of our alienation in anxiety, ill-being, overwork and so on, and to work through their relationship to money and the market, and beyond that to the production of surplus-value, surplus populations and surplus labour, rooted in the division of labour, commodity-exchange and private property, which themselves emerge from alienated labour.


Indignation and dignity

However, in the book I am increasingly drawn towards the relationship between indignation and dignity as a response. Here, the work of John Holloway is important to me as is work around the Zapatista movement. This enables us to connect academic practice to societal, intellectual practice, including that fought for by academic and student activists in occupations and social movements. This is a key connection, and stitches my thinking into intersectional struggles for dignity. As a result, I have been trying to challenge my white, male privilege throughout the book, by connecting to a range of activists fighting for justice. These include: Sarah Amsler; Joyce Canaan; Melonie Fullick; Karen Gregory; Liz Morrish; Sara Motta; Kehinde Andrews; Sara Ahmed; Gurminder Bhambra; Kalwant Bhopal; George Ciccariello-Maher; Nathanial Tobias Coleman; Ana Dinerstein; Emma Dowling; Akwugo Emejulu; Silvia Federici; Priyamvada Gopal; bell hooks; Tressie McMillan Cottom; and Heidi Mirza.

I constantly question whether my thinking, writing and practice has done these inspirational people justice. This also forces me to question constantly my own naïveté in understanding by the positions. Attempting to connect in this way is not a moment of co-option, rather a moment of solidarity. It is an attempt to stitch my own practice into a wider tapestry of refusal, or of the indignation that emerges from capital’s subsumption of our lives and its denial of our dignity. Developing a front of understanding, rooted in a richer understanding of the differential experience of exploitation and domination, is crucial in developing empathy and solidarity, as a movement towards autonomy.


Beyond recent work on the crisis of higher education

This is important because recent work which offers a perspective on the crisis of higher education has tended to focus on the mechanics and ideological underpinnings of marketisation and financialisation, which are often in defence of the ‘public university’ or attempts to discuss public funding, regulation and governance. In general, these focus upon the education sector of the economy, the HE sector as a whole, or make the University the unit of analysis, and several focus on the mechanics or roll-out of neoliberalism. However, there are few books that focus on the academic and her labour as the unit of analysis, and none that do so in the context of the critical terrain of alienation.

Thus, I use a critical social theory of alienation (which has a rich analytical tradition that serves as a heuristic for critiquing academic identity and academic labour). This is a way into a discussion of the abolition of academic labour and the role of public intellectuals in the generation of mass intellectuality, and is framed by the work of Mark Cowling, John Holloway, Peter Hudis, Marcello Musto, Sean Sayers, and Amy Wendling, among others.


The structure of the book

The argument is broken down into three sections and nine chapters. These are as follows (with chapter abstracts).

Chapter 1: Awakenings (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter scopes and situates academic work against the key themes that underpin that work as alienating practice. It begins by addressing how the idea of academic labour as privilege blinds its practitioners to their estrangement from the products and process of work, alongside the relationships that emerge there, both in terms of the self and with peers. The chapter argues that academic being and becoming is stunted through the divorce of the academic from her labour, which is then overlain by a series of fetishes, including the student experience and ideas of educational value-for-money. This emerges from alienated labour, which is itself hidden by second-order mediations like private property, commodity exchange and the division of labour. This catalyses processes of proletarianisation through commodification, which are addressed in relation to the extant literature on the crisis of academic work.

Section 1: the terrain of academic labour

Chapter 2: Crisis (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter details the mechanisms through which the secular crisis of capitalism is restructuring academic labour. This is in terms of policy that shapes a competitive environment, the financialisation of academic work through student debt, bond markets and so on, and through the commodification and marketisation of the outputs of academic work. Here, I describe how the incorporation of academic labour into the self-valorisation process of capital through research and pedagogic innovation enables a critique of the proletarianisation of the University.

Chapter 3: Alienation (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter situates Marx’s analysis of estrangement, alienation, fetishisation and reification against academic labour. It does this through a focus on the activity of production, in its relationship to material and philosophical conceptualisations. As a result, a dialectical understanding of the layers of objectification, separation, mediation and identity-development emerges. This categorical analysis enables an unfolding of capitalism’s mode of social metabolic control, and its relationship to individual essence, human capital theory, and the reality of being othered or negated inside the system. This develops an analysis of the expanding circuit of alienation (A-A’), and the potential for its overcoming through a focus on the richness of human experience.

Section 2: the terrain of academic alienation

Chapter 4: Knowledge (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter analyses the alienation of the products of the academic’s labour, as teaching or research, which are commodified and marketised for their exchange-value rather than their social utility. This is related to the competitive restructuring processes of research and teaching impact measures. Critical here is a connection to the internalisation by the academic of the disciplinary force of performance management, in the production, ownership and distribution of the products of academic labour. Marx’s conception of the general intellect as a form of alien knowledge and property, and its relationship to the separation of subject curricula and research, is important in describing capitalism as a naturalised system. Here the relationship between subjectivity and objectification, use and exchange, and the potential for new forms of humanism related to the functions of academic knowledge are developed.

Chapter 5: Profession (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter frames a discussion of whether it is possible for academics to move beyond fetishing their own labour-power as privileged. I ask whether it is possible to reflect at a social-level on the alienation of academic labour-power in terms of the alienation of labour-power in general? The chapter focuses upon the mediated conditions of work, in order to unpick the proletarianisation of academic labour-power. As a result, it becomes possible to describe the autonomy of capital as opposed to labour, and to uncover its ideological basis.

Chapter 6: Weltschmerz (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter develops the alienation of the academic from herself, as she is increasingly made and re-made as an academic entrepreneur whose labour only has worth where it is value. As a result, the internalisation of specific behaviours that are disciplinary becomes a key outcome for the system of production, with concomitant manifestations of physical and psychological distress. Here ideas of anti-humanism and dehumanism, linked to melancholy, anxiety and ill-being are analysed in relation to the proletarianisation of the University as an anxiety machine. The chapter addresses how formal and real subsumption, in terms of the re-engineering of the governance of higher education and the reproduction of academic labour in the name of value, feed off and into alienation.

Chapter 7: Identity (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter address the alienation of the academic from her species through the iron law of competition, reinforced through global academic labour arbitrage, research and teaching metrics, and performance management. The argument connects academic labour to the hierarchical, globalised forces of production that shape capitalist social relations, in order to discuss the form and the organising principles under which academic labour is subsumed for value. The chapter argues that academics have a tendency to reify their own labour such that it becomes something that they struggle for, rather than against. However, repeatedly adopting this approach can only lead to a sense of helplessness and alienation from other forms of globalised labour. By refocusing on the form of labour in general, rather than the specific content of academic labour, it becomes possible to move beyond reification towards struggle.

Section 3: the terrain for overcoming alienation

Chapter 8: Indignation (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter focuses upon the role of intellectual labour in a range of transnational struggles for an alternative form of social metabolic control. Pivoting around counter-hegemony and anti-power, the focus is upon the movement of dignity in the development of revolutionary subjectivity. This chapter discusses the possibilities for autonomous action by academics, which in-turn demonstrates solidarity or association with a range of struggles against labour.

Chapter 9: Autonomy (structure here)

Abstract

In this chapter, autonomy is critiqued in light of the duality that: first, capital is the automatic subject searching to secure permanent self-valorisation; and second, that our search for autonomy-beyond-labour is the crisis of capital. This struggle pivots around emancipation from labour, and for self-mediation as the key organising principle for life. The chapter focuses on the role of academic work and intellectual labour in developing the realm of autonomy/freedom and reducing the realm of heteronomy/necessity. Here there is a focus upon the richness of human life and the development of alternative forms of social metabolic control. The argument regards alienation and its revelation as a necessity in the transformation to life under communism. Thus, the chapter discusses the potential for the social, collectivised use of academic labour, through the liberation of socialised skills, practices and knowledge from inside the University.


The process of writing as a movement of becoming

The process of writing the book demonstrated to me how far I have come from my PhD, undertaken back when Methuselah was a boy. A year of reading about: academic labour; the labour theory of value; alienation in Marx and Hegel; academic knowledge production and the academic labour process; academic identity and academic being/becoming; and intersectional analyses of labour and the academic experience. This year of reading was distilled down into 300 pages of notes, on top of my already existing, published work on alienation and mass intellectuality. One crucial angle to this was to reflect on my reading through a series of conversations with academics about injustices rooted in (dis)ability, gender, race and sexuality.

This was then distilled down into the nine chapters. I was originally going to have eight, with the last two stitched together. However, I wanted to push myself beyond my usual focus upon explaining (and obsessing about) the crisis through negative critique, and instead to focus upon the possibilities for an alternative mode of becoming rooted in a movement of dignity pointing towards autonomy.

Structuring and restructuring the chapters took a month and underpinned a writing process that mirrored my PhD process – effectively hoover up as much research and reading as possible, structure the notes very closely into a potential argument that speaks to my soul, and then write obsessively. This meant that each chapter was written in around a week, beginning at the start of January. Since then I have written 70,000 words, with two re-drafts/re-readings. In part, using Dragon Naturally Speaking to write/speak/dictate the book has altered the process.

In this moment, I have had to think long and hard about self-care, in the balance between writing and life, and between work and life. Walking and music have been crucial to me.

The scariest moment has been in asking people I trust, including a couple of people I have not met but whose expertise and way of being in the world is an inspiration, to read and provide feedback. This is a moment of high anxiety, to the extent that I tweeted:

You know that moment when you decide to send something to someone who you really admire to read/comment on, when you feel you aren’t fit to lace their boots (professionally)? And that gut-wrenching anxiety? Well that.

This is a moment of baring my soul, of extreme vulnerability, of hope and the fear of despair. As much as I try to sublimate the fear of despair, it often ruptures my being. However, it is important to note that whilst researching and writing I have come off anti-depressants and begun the process of leaving therapy. This is a moment of taking ownership of my life – a movement for autonomy.

It is also important to note that this has happened whilst holding down my role at work, and also attempting to support those leading the Leicester Vaughan College project. This has meant having to work weekends and evenings – there is a conversation here about whether this says something about my estrangement from my wider life. It clearly says something about the integration of my work with my life; the integration of my thinking about my life beyond my labour.

In many respects this has also been a very difficult time for me, and my thinking around alienation has been reflected in my everyday life. A friend asked me what I would do once the book was submitted, given that it has taken up so much of my existence and helped me to redefine myself. She acknowledged that it had helped me to work through and beyond some difficulties, and that it had also served as a distraction. She is right that there is a moment of grief in its submission, and one that mirrors the loss involved in leaving therapy. A loss of the self and my relationship to a fetishised or reified other, to which I have projected bits of myself. However, through this mirroring, there is also a moment of reclamation – of reclaiming my life, potentially with a renewed way of examining it, and the ability to move beyond those things that we fetishise in the world.

A moment of pointing towards values rather than value. This is the real movement.


Music

In the process of writing the book, I have obsessively listened to the following whilst writing and walking and thinking. Maybe they tell us something about the contours of the book.

  1. Mogwai: Every Country’s Sun.
  2. Mogwai: Quay Sessions.
  3. Everything Everything: Night of the Long Knives.
  4. King Creosote: Astroman Meets Appleman.
  5. King Creosote: Diamond Mine.
  6. Jen Cloher: Jen Cloher.
  7. Sharon Van Etten: Glastonbury 2015.
  8. Wild Beasts: Smother.
  9. Wild Beasts: Two Dancers.
  10. Joe Goddard: Electric Lines.
  11. Public Service Broadcasting: Every Valley.
  12. Phoenix: lollapalooza 2013.
  13. This Is The Kit: Moonshine Freeze.
  14. This Is The Kit: Where It Lives.
  15. Sampha: Process.
  16. Shostakovich: symphonies number five, seven and nine.
  17. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie and Lowell live.
  18. Bon Iver: live on NPR.
  19. Hot Chip: live at Pitchfork, Paris.