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.