what might be done in the name of peace?

Perhaps the Western academic swallows their shaky voice for fear of their academic positions, careers, future salaries, and social standings. Nevertheless, there must be a greater reward for this complicity. There must be a greater sense of self-importance and collective realization. Perhaps it is a collective insistence by Western academic institutes to maintain the ‘Middle East’ at an arm’s length (or much farther) so that they can continue to study it from a distance and to plant in the geographies, bodies, and literatures of those children of darkness a utopia, a dream, an orientalist heaven. Perhaps because a liberated Palestine, a liberated Arab World, would have nothing exotic, nothing grotesque, nothing inaccessible, nothing dreamlike, nothing nightmarish, nothing pathetic, nothing victimizing, nothing criminal, nothing far-removed about it that would be worthy of study.

Thus, much of the West’s academia collapses categorically. It proves at this critical point in liberatory and decolonial history that its sole goal is to accumulate, archive, enumerate, pile, regurgitate, reproduce, and further take up space. All the while, it is granting those academics bigger paychecks, higher positions, retirement plans, and an illusory social status that the popular intellect rivals against and easily triumphs over. Its complacent and fatal silence has wholly hollowed out the term ‘decolonization’. Decolonization in those academic contexts morphs into an empty shell, a space filler, a standby trend, a conversation starter, and occasionally a means of self-congratulation. It does not attempt to interrogate white ‘humanity’ or white ‘morality’ or overall white blindness, which kills. It sits in the corner and watches until the severed Palestinian bodies have been removed, the blood cleaned, and the reports brought to the table. Then, after a long slumber, the West’s academia goes back to accumulating, archiving, enumerating, piling, regurgitating, reproducing, and further taking up space.

Sanabel Abdelrahman. Whose Humanities? Western Academia’s Persisting Complicity.

Achille Mbembe argues that Western/Northern/Capitalist academia can only reproduce ‘codified madness’, or disciplinary cultures, structures and practices that make it impossible to imagine, let alone enable, alternative stories and archives, unless they are curiosities. And for Mbembe the struggle is to demythologize this violent mundanity, and as a result, to demythologize whiteness.

Whiteness is at its best when it turns into a myth. It is the most corrosive and the most lethal when it makes us believe that it is everywhere; that everything originates from it and it has no outside.

Instead we might witness whiteness, not in its extraordinary violence as we scroll our phones over coffee, but by naming it as unfolding settler-colonial practice, or by naming settler-colonialism as the unfolding practice of whiteness. Naming a practice of zoning and enclosing for capital, ratified by the institutions of the North and their disciplines. Naming the violence of these ratifications of a particular History, alongside the archives that house its very particular endorsements.

Reproduced inside universities for impact.

The archives of ratification remind us, as Gargi Bhattacharyya simply states, that the ruling classes assemblages of extraction are proliferating. And in limiting our ways of knowing the world to the profanities housed inside those Northern archives, we enable reactionary whiteness to degrade all life for everyone. These archives are unable to label the emerging, unspeakable conditions for the degradation of not just work, but also of life. And the intellectual, University workers who tend to the archives of the North maintain their tendency to quiet acquiescence, even as a long material history of trauma unfolds through the masochism of vengeful nationalism, externalised as a terrible sadism.

These are the current, material conditions for University work. To consider whether monetising a genocide in the making, through future impact and public engagement, or to ignore it in order to reproduce value now. Or to use that impact case study or knowledge transfer or monograph or whatever as a form of cognitive dissonance and deflection and safety blanket. And this prompts a return to Eve Tuck’s asking of how shall we live?

How shall we live?

And sitting with this question makes me reconsider the material conditions and possibilities of protest and No! In all those eruptions of student protest in 2010-11, were a few of us just playing in a space that had widened, but which we couldn’t drive into fully out of fear of losing privilege and prestige? Had too few of us lost enough to find a level of mutuality with those students being kettled and batoned and taken into custody? Were we kettled by our commitment to a particular, settler-colonial archive? So, whilst we spoke about co-operative higher education and mass intellectuality and tried to build alternative forms, were these just curiosities? Just three or four-star curiosities?

I feel the qualitative difference in the emergent and insistent energy of being on demonstrations and vigils for Gaza and for ceasefire and for the return of the hostages. In vigils for murdered children and healthcare workers. In reading and hearing and holding the names of the murdered, and in remembering the dead in Gaza-Israel, we share an insistence on a new archive. An archive that refuses settler-colonial truth, built on an insistent energy that teaches me that this man-made world is unspeakable and horrific and beyond fucked-up. But it could be otherwise.

Those vigils and demonstrations remind me of the borders of the University. Because they are not taking place within the University, and there is no reason why they should, except that we want the freedom to hold them there. In those alleged bastions of liberal thought. Although we have seen that at times this cannot be tolerated, because these places are simply a representation of settler-colonial ideas and ideation. Because the prestige economy and its discipline-specific ontologies cannot tolerate them.

And this is one foundation of the problem. Our reaction to atrocity, and to the real time reporting of the slaughter of the innocents, is conditioned by our struggle for prestige as our primary motor. As if genocide in the South exists as evidence for future impact and world-leading outputs in the North. It is as if we can only organise around the unfolding of prestige and the wage and the pension, even whilst capital and its institutions reproduce a degraded idea and ideation of our prestigious, waged work.

So, we are condemned to remain trapped inside the University’s seductive promise of inclusion. And our compromise is our silence, and our living death. For Achille Mbembe in Critique of Black Reason, this ‘new fungibility, this solubility, institutionalized as a new norm of existence and expanded to the entire planet, is what I call the Becoming Black of the world’ (emphasis in the original).’

What does this Becoming Black of the world’ mean for us and our settler-colonial pedagogies and research agendas and disciplines and institutions?

How shall we live? How shall we live with ourselves?

And Ruthie Wilson-Gilmore insistently confronts us with the reality that abolition and transcendence requires that we change one thing, everything. This cannot be the safety for some of the gravitational pull of prestige and the homeliness of simply resuscitating comfortable problems. It has to be a new, mutual unfolding of a new war of ideas from within the University. A new war of ideas that reframes our work from where we have potential strength in the machine: our relationships and our pedagogies and our ways of knowing.

We cannot, we must not, carry on as if we can continue to turn the human and non-human waste of the unfolding genocide in the making into value. As value turns humans and non-humans and environments into waste.

In reminding us of this deep connection between value and waste, Ali Kadri confronts us with the valueless value of the university, whose ideas represent the class position of its top performers. And he reminds us, in the tendency towards silence around atrocities and genocides in the making, that academic ideas are the weapons that reproduce the system. And they underpin the technologies and bureaucracies and processes and chemicals and histories of a settler-colonial system that feeds off the waste of other human and non-human lives.

And what is the materiality of our ideas? The decomposing and recycling of other people’s waste, commodification and death. These are the ideas that reproduce the conditions for and relations of genocide.

How shall we live (with ourselves)?

Fred Moten reminds us of MLK’s insistence on the ‘fierce urgency of now’, which, of course, is situated inside a complex vision of the local/global in relation to matters at hand. He reminds us that this is about Gaza and not Gaza, now and not now, and that we have to inhabit these contradictions intellectually and ethically. And our work is developed in relation to a system that cannot be proportionate as it generates and feeds of human waste and the waste of human life.

And Fred Moten forces us to consider a new question: how do we give up our prestige in order to help make History? Because we cannot simply feed off it for impact. And if we can let go of our conditioning, how do we use that capacity to make History to renew anti-colonial struggle, now? Because Gaza is everywhere and everything, and we have to work from where we are.

His words quietly reveal that we don’t need the University to validate our stance against genocidal intent, even if we might want it to, so desperately. Instead it would be better if we were to realise and to accept that its colonial intent is so instilled and taken for granted that the University doesn’t care what we teach or research. Moten reminds us that the University and its system reproduces its colonial intent not in what we read and discuss, beyond culture wars, but rather in its extraction of value from our allegedly radical intent.

In our impact, and excellence, and commercialisation, and self-exploitation, and on, and on.

Yet its colonial intent is such a given that we also have leeway in the classroom and in the agendas that we set. Especially where we do this with mutuality and reciprocity as our intent. We have to talk among ourselves, as our working from where we are, in order to name and to label. Beyond the foreclosure of the discipline and the institution, our talk amongst ourselves is to build a front of struggle that takes insistent energy from the naming of the murdered and the kidnapped at vigils and on demonstrations. In the naming of the trauma, in the hope of moving with and through the trauma, we must refuse the ontological violence of our disciplines and institutions.

How shall we live? How shall we live with ourselves?

Our work must be anti-colonial. We must insist.

So, I continue to ask myself, how do I mobilise to support those who are adjunct or working on the margins or in anti-colonial (Palestinian) content? How do I demonstrate the courage to open-out the classroom so that it is anti-colonial? How do I radicalise my pedagogy such that it names and refuses genocidal intent? How do I radicalise my research such that it is clearly anti-colonial, and that it turns its gaze on that intent.

Because in this moment, teaching and learning and scholarship and research and knowledge transfer and whatever else the University does in society is meaningless if it is not about naming a genocide in the making, and asking what might be done in the name of peace.

What might be done in the name of peace, as a means of making peace? A peace in the making.

And this requires that we think about our disproportionate and asymmetrical relationship to structures, cultures and practices that reproduce ontological brutality.

And in the war of ideas this relationship cannot be built upon the colonial intent of the University. Rather, a human intent that asks, how and where might intellectual workers mobilise now? What practices do we urgently need to enact now? Because, reflecting on Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten clearly states that we have to radicalise our spaces so that we can meet this crisis rather than react. We need an urgent refocusing of attention now, to name this genocide in the making, and to work together to prepare for the brutality that will come.

Peace be with you.

on the violence of academic silence

Eve Tuck elevates and centres the question, “how shall we live?”, in her 2018 talk, “I Do Not Want To Haunt You But I Will: Indigenous Feminist Theorizing on Reluctant Theories of Change.” This is available to watch here. She takes the question from the conversations of Daniel Wildcat and Vine Deloria Junior. You can read their work on Power and Place: Indian Education in America, here.

Her centring of description over abstraction is hugely important, as we consider environmental, political, social, cultural catastrophes unfolding within and across ecosystems. And as we remember those communities and ecosystems that have already suffered, resisted and survived. Eve Tuck argues that the question has an almost unbearable agency. And that it is pedagogical. And it makes me question how it might be applied to our organisations and ways of organising,

And in thinking this through, and the ways in which the control and violence of structure has been deliberately migrated into culture, my friend and colleague Mike reminds me of DuBois’s Peace is Dangerous. In thinking about “how shall we live?”, peace is dangerous. And so is silence.

How shall we live? How shall I live? As men bomb children. As vengeful men bomb the children of others. Men unable to contain their own toxicity; unable to process and compost their own shit.

Men, unable to demonstrate courage and care and love. Men faced by the impossibility of reconciling themselves to difference. Men with no dignity.

Men. White men. Settler-colonial men. Addicted to settler-colonial violence.

Men with power, so abstracted from their humanity that all they have is the desire to kill the children of others. And to throw their shit around because they cannot contain their shit. They lose their shit and children die. Wantonly.

Purposeful in their wantonness.

And I feel that all I have is lamentation. The energy of my sorrow, pain, confusion and desolation. What can I do with this energy of lamentation? My incandescent energy of lamentation?

In this moment, how shall we live? How shall I live? How can I live? How can I answer that email, or draft that report, or write this proposal, or think about the next project, or whatever this academic work demands? How can I live this work, which feels so pointless, and so antithetical, and which looks to take the energy I need to lament this genocide? And then to act, somehow.

Tomorrow, how shall we live? How shall I live? How can I live? When I look at my calendar, and see what is planned, in the project review, the review of the committee, the induction session? How can I find the energy for that work, which feels so pointless in the face of this genocide?

How can I work in these times? I cannot face the bureaucratic, functional, operational, humdrum, whilst genocide plays out in the phone on my desk. Whilst genocide plays out in my pocket whilst I ride or walk. Whilst vengeful men bomb the children of others.

And I wonder, how can I work in these times, when I cannot face the business-as-usual? I cannot abide the business-as-usual, and the demands it makes of me.

I cannot bear the silence of those around me, and those who pass for our leaders or who claim leadership of our universities. I cannot bear the ignorance of those around me. I cannot bear the cognitive dissonance of those around me. Whilst genocide plays out.

But what can we do? What can they do?

Not this. Anything but this. Silence.

The violence piled upon violence piled upon violence. The trauma piled upon trauma piled upon trauma.

More than anything, I cannot bear the silence of those around me.

The silence blackening our souls.

Look at what they make us give, in order to survive.

The silence emblematic of the ways in which our academic work feeds into the militarisation, securitisation, authoritarianism of states and corporations around the globe. The ways in which our academic work reproduces policy and practice that enable technologies and techniques and bureaucracies of control. And worse. And the ways in which we hide behind public engagement, impact, knowledge transfer or exchange, and build careers on the back of work inside a system that contributes to living death. And worse.

How can I work in these times?

I cannot bear the inhumanity of the unfolding and never-ending culture wars. The ways in which the Government seeks to double-down on its brutalisation of those with less privilege. The ways in which the Government seeks to colonise our responses to the trauma of watching, hearing, feeling settler-colonial, vengeful men bombing the children of others.

And in response, the silence of those who claim leadership in academia.

And our unwillingness and inability to disinvest from the supply chains of trauma.

The unspeakable horror. Perhaps that is why we are silent. It is unspeakable, and this leaves us with the unbearable silence.

And this feels like I am hungover, in a trance, or in some terrible fever dream. It must be so, because this unspeakable horror cannot be, can it? Our silence cannot be, can it? The lack of collective protest and the lack of a collective scream of rage and the lack of a collective, “No!”, from inside and across our universities.

So I must scream and rage, “No!” elsewhere. I must march on Saturday, and think about the march, instead. Because I cannot demonstrate anything inside the university and inside the sector. I protest our silence. And try to begin conversation. And still the inertia of the university and the sector is claustrophobic. Seeking to bury me alive in its silence.

The violence of its silence.

The unspeakable horror of its silence. Mirroring the unspeakable horror of vengeful men bombing the children of others.

I cannot be still and I must scream. “No!” And I must do that somewhere that is not here. Somewhere that will exhume me from the silent tomb of academia.

A line from here to there. A line of flight for my scream of “No!” A scream against the pointlessness of any of this work; of any of my bureaucratic, functional, operational, humdrum, everyday work, whilst genocide plays out 2,298 miles away from here. How can I justify my work on equality, diversity and inclusivity, race equality, decolonising, whilst genocide plays out 2,298 miles away from here? Whilst here is silent about there.

And I know that it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair after 7 October, and all the death, and all the trauma. And it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair as vengeful nationalism seeks to punish indiscriminately. The vengeful nationalists who have the tools to be forensic, but instead who realise their desires through general and careful, genocidal carelessness. And it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair as this trauma is folded inside the inhumane re-election narratives of what passes for political leadership in these days.

Trauma unfolding through trauma. So that our Alpha and our Omega are death, and death alone. Living death, emotional death, corporeal death. When what we need are acts of love.

And I know that it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair at the realisation that we have been silent in relation to the Uyghurs, Yazidis, in Nagorno-Karabakh, and countless other traumas. That these traumas point us towards further, historical traumas, visited against countless other, indigenous cultures and communities. And our inability to see those traumas in our here-and-now, makes me question the authenticity of our truth and reconciliation with the screams of the past. In our academic work on equality, diversity and inclusivity, on race and gender equality, on decolonising.

And I know that it will continue to take me some time to work with and through my despair at the realisation that countless authoritarian regimes around the planet are using these days to test our limits and our boundaries. In the face of their inhumanity, what we will bear? What will we bear as climate catastrophe unfolds, and as more people need mutuality and reciprocity and care? What will we bear as climate catastrophe unfolds, and as our ecosystems need mutuality and reciprocity and care?

And I wonder, will the university ever give us the space and time to scream, “No!”? Without, at the same time, asking us to distil its impact, or its exchange-value, or its knowledge transfer.

How will we bear witness, when we cannot bear these unspeakable horrors?

How will we bear witness, when our organisation inside our organisations is so compromised?

Where will we bear witness, and move our scream of “No!”?

Move our scream towards something more generative.

Is it possible to move our scream towards something more generative inside our higher education, and inside our universities?

And I know the answer, as these unspeakable horrors unfold.

Peace be with you.

Beyond the Limits of Solidarity in the Post-Pandemic University

I have a new paper accepted in a forthcoming Special Issue: Organisation in the (Post)Pandemic University, of Work organisation, labour & globalisation. The paper is titled Beyond the Limits of Solidarity in the Post-Pandemic University. The abstract is appended below.

This article challenges a liberal analysis of HE inside an integrated system of economic production, and instead critiques: first, how UK policymakers sought to re-engineer English HE during and after the pandemic, through governance, regulation and funding changes predicated upon accelerating a discourse of value-for-money; second, the institutional labour reorganisation look followed, and which placed complete class fractions of academic labour in a permanent state of being at-risk; and third, how in continually demonstrating that it cannot fulfil the desires of those who labour within it for a meaningful work-life, the University must be transcended. In addressing the entanglement of precarity and privilege, it argues that, if the University is unable to contribute to ways of knowing, being and doing that address socio-economic, socio-environmental or intersectional ruptures, then it must go.

It is structured as follows:

  • Introduction: precarity and competition inside higher education (HE)
  • A policy of value-for-money
  • Labour reorganisation in the pandemic University
  • Conclusion: labour organising beyond HE

This might usefully be read alongside my Notes on leaving UCU.

for whom do we write as the world burns?

This is the text of the talk I have just given at the Symposium, Little Acts of Decolonization. I am very grateful to Juliet Henderson, Bally Kaur, Amrita Narang and Sayan Dey for their support. It erupts from some indignation in The Hopeless University. This symposium has been a gift.

A premise: for whom do we write as the world burns?

Where our writing is supposed to be excellent. Graded as 3* or 4*. Impactful. Entrepreneurial. With a tempo set externally. Regulated externally. Governed and measured externally. And that recalibrates our institutions and disciplines, or the subjects that discipline us. So those subjects and institutions discipline us epistemologically, ontologically and methodologically. To perform in particular ways.

And we might ask whether our being, doing, knowing and writing are simply reproducing, in and through the text, a collective life that is becoming more efficiently unsustainable.

Our knowing, doing, being and writing are shaped inside institutional and disciplinary structures, cultures and practices that are hopeless; hopeless in giving us the freedom to address crises of capitalism. Rather than helping us to imagine or reimagine the creation of a liveable environment for humans and non-human animals, our practices are designed to enable capital to reimagine itself. Moreover, we believe that our knowing, doing, being, and writing are a labour of love, which enable new forms of freedom, self-actualisation, social wealth or public good. Yet, they take place inside spaces of self-exploitation, self-harm, overwork, anxiety, dissonance. And these are amplified by the harassment, marginalisation and discrimination felt by certain bodies; amplified by methodologies that reproduce settler-colonial and racial-patriarchal cultures of silence as another violence. 

Some questions: So, we might ask: How do we write, not against what the University and its discipline(s) have become, but beyond the University and its discipline(s)? What would a society look like that no longer needed to write-up the University and its discipline(s), in order to justify those as its intellectual containers? What would intellectual work/practice look like in this society that no longer needed to write for-or-against the University and its discipline(s)? Could we write-down or write-off the debts that are attributed to us, inside the capitalist University?

In this, we might consider what do we need to negate, abolish and transcend inside ourselves, in order to write-up and tell-out our being-beyond the settler-colonial and racial-patriarchal University?

Some values

I am reminded that, in Living a Feminist Life, Sara Ahmed speaks for a being, doing and knowing that might also shape my writing. This is a plural mode (a pluriverse) that:

  • does not mean adopting a set of ideals or norms of conduct;
  • might mean asking ethical questions about how to live better in an unjust and unequal world (in a not-feminist and antifeminist world);
  • asks how to create relationships with others that are more equal;
  • asks how to find ways to support those who are not supported or are less supported by social systems; and
  • questions how to keep coming up against histories that have become concrete, histories that have become as solid as walls.

The archive

How do we write-up or write-down a new archive? This forces us to consider what has been written-off as invalid or unreliable. It forces us to consider for what kind of archive do we yearn? Achille Mbembe reminds us of the importance of expanding the human archive beyond what is deemed particularly valuable, and making richer, many-sided interconnections within it. Many-sided connections that reflect our humanity beyond the systemic desire to repurpose our lives as valuable, estranged, one-sided; as labour.

And here, the University cannot be transformed through the replacement of the archive of the high-performing, white man, whose privilege is based upon particular logics of intellectual and social reproduction, with that of another, particular, social subject.

Instead can we enact a process of writing-up a new sociability and relationality, which are ontologically and epistemologically plural? Unfolding. Composting what is, grieving what we have lost, imagining what might be.

Writing the Undercommons

And I am reminded that in this 10th anniversary of The Undercommons, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten spoke of acts of cultivation, and of cultivating Black study, possibly as a kind of fugitive planning. Such study is not what the University wants. Particular modes of study are what the university wants us to cultivate.

As Jack Halberstam wrote in the preface to the Undercommons (The Wild beyond: With and for the Undercommons) ‘the projects of “fugitive planning and black study” are mostly about reaching out to find connection; they are about making common cause with the brokenness of being, a brokenness, I would venture to say, that is also blackness, that remains blackness, and will, despite all, remain broken because this book is not a prescription for repair.’

He goes on to note that ‘we cannot be satisfied with the recognition and acknowledgement generated by the very system that denies a) that anything was ever broken and b) that we deserved to be the broken part; so we refuse to ask for recognition and instead we want to take apart, dismantle, tear down the structure that, right now, limits our ability to find each other, to see beyond it and to access the places that we know lie outside its walls.’

We want to write it off. We need to write-up another archive. The archive for which we yearn. An archive that refuses our enforced estrangement from, and competition with, each other.

Writing with-and-for

This is the general antagonism of expression; of writing-down the debts that they demand are repaid through academic work as a measurable, impactful, 4*, excellent labour of love. This general antagonism is not critique, but is study beyond what-is, in order to experiment with what-might-be.

And I remember that Subcommandante Marcos argued that our intellectual work needs to show ‘how the world was born and show where it is to be found’, and in this our yearning is to write-up our stories, and not as those stories form the University’s data-points. Co-opted by the University as objective data points, denying subjectivity, reproducing alienation and hopelessness.

Our with-and-for is not this. No.

We write-up and through our stories to end the world that refuses them. This is study with-and-for each other, and not with-and-for or inside-and-against the University and the discipline. The University and its discipline.

This with-and-for refuses the reality that our disciplines discipline us to write as if we are in a hostile world that needs to be tamed. It refuses a militarized and securitized writing-up of the world. It refuses a foreclosing of who we might be, and of our being and becoming. Our storytelling, dreaming, weaving, each refuse the desire of the institution to foreclose upon us; to reduce us to impactful, entrepreneurial, whatever. Or that we must be, in the words of Harney and Moten, finished, passed, completed.

Written-up as valuable; our insurance against the fear of being amortized as a cost that needs to be written-off.

This is antagonism against what Harney and Moten call the ‘deadening labor for the university, and beyond that, the negligence of professionalization, and the professionalization of the critical academic’.

Instead we might consider how we write to develop a mode of living together; a mode of being together that cannot be shared as a model, or a blueprint, or a utopia, but which shapes and cultivates an instance. An instance that is cultivated by study, in spite of one-sided, academic labour. How do we rupture this so that we can write from the standpoint of no standpoint, of everywhere and nowhere, of never and to come, of thing and no thing?

As The Undercommons closes out, Harney speaks of our ‘beginning with, and acting out, what [we] want’, as ‘a deepening of scale and the potentials of scale.’ He says ‘the further I get to the with and for, the happier I am.’

This is not our writing-down our one-sidedness, as a form of accounting and justifying. It is our writing that off. Writing that off as we write the world otherwise; acknowledging the debts that we have to each other. The many-sidedness of our knowing, being, and doing, as reciprocal debts and gifts.

The reciprocity and mutuality and dignity and telling-out of our souls.

Our ability to breathe in the world.

Our ability to imagine the world otherwise.

A richer archive for us to study, with-and-for.

Weaving other worlds with, against and beyond Marx

Back in December 2021 I began working with Inny Accioly (Fluminense Federal University, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and Krystian Szadkowski (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland), on a Palgrave International Handbook of Marxism and Education. We hope that the Handbook will be published in late 2023.

Our overview noted that:

The Handbook to Marxism and Education is an international and interdisciplinary volume, which provides a thorough and precise engagement with emergent developments in Marxist theory in both the global South and North. Drawing on the work of authoritative scholars and practitioners, the Companion explicitly shows how these developments enable a rich historical and material understanding of the full range of education sectors and contexts.

The manuscript has now been delivered, with 30 chapters that seek to weave together stories, critiques, ways of knowing, and potential lines through, which address the starting point, in our introduction:

What is the role of education in the reproduction of the world? What is its role in capitalism’s valorization process? How do educational structures, cultures and practices reproduce the ways in which capitalism mediates everyday life for-value, through private property, commodity exchange, the division of labor and the market? In response to the alienating realities of twenty-first century life, how might we reimagine education for another world? These questions have gestated inside a space and time of polycrisis, or interconnecting crises of capitalist reproduction, ecosystem collapse and climate forcing, and misrepresentation and marginalization for some communities. In response, there is a renewed need for critiques that can unfold authentic and humane educational possibilities, beyond the commodity form.

Our intention has been to respect and reflect traditions of Marxist humanism, through the rich diversity of interpretation and applications of Marx in differing contexts. As a result, the chapters weave through the following.

  1. Core organizing and explanatory categories used by Marxists, including: abolition; abstract labor; abstraction; accumulation; alienation, class struggle; commodification; competition; dialectics; exploitation; expropriation; general intellect; historical materialism; human capital; labor-power; reproduction schemas; social reproduction; socially-necessary labor time; struggle; and, valorization.
  2. Theoretical and conceptual discussions of: the abolition of higher education; adult education; alienation and education; academic labor; the classroom; critical pedagogy; decolonizing the school; dialectical materialism; the educational Commons; educational reforms; feminist pedagogies; financialization of education; fixed capital and infrastructures; green Marxism, eco-socialism and pedagogy; Liberation Theology and education; Marxist-Humanism and women of color; measurement in education; needs in the capitalocene; onto-epistemologies and world changing; polytechnic education; queer Marxism as pedagogy; redistribution and public policy; research and commercialization in education; student movements; subsumption of education; workers’ education; and, value in education.
  3. Contextual discussions from Australia, Bhutan, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, England, Finland, India, Latin America, Mozambique, Poland, Romania, South America, Spain, and the United States of America.

I. In: Marxist modes and characteristics of analysis in education

A set of 12 chapters that develop thinking around core terms like dialectical materialism, value, subsumption and alienation, and which set those up theoretically, or in relation either to specific areas of practice, like liberation theology and adult education, or to Marxist authors, like Althusser. 

  1. Introduction: the Relevance of Marxism to Education (Richard Hall, Inny Accioly and Krystian Szadkowski)
  1. Marx, Materialism and Education (Richard Hall)
  1. Value in Education: Its web of social forms (Glenn Rikowski)
  1. Breaking bonds: How academic capitalism feeds processes of academic alienation (Mikko Poutanen)
  1. The Class in Race, Gender, and Learning (Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab)
  1. Foundations and challenges of polytechnic education (Marise Nogueira Ramos)
  1. Liberation Theology, Marxism and Education (Luis Martínez Andrade and Allan Coelho)
  1. Marxism and Adult Education (John D Holst)
  1. In-Against-Beyond metrics-driven University: A Marxist critique of the capitalist imposition of measure on academic labour (Jakub Krzeski)
  1. Classroom as a site of class struggle (Raju J. Das)
  1. Science Communication, Competitive Project-based Funding and the Formal Subsumption of Academic Labour Under Capital (Luis Arboledas-Lérida)
  1. Commodification, the Violence of Abstraction, and Measuring Socially Necessary Labor Time: A Marxist Analysis of High-Stakes Testing and Capitalist Education in the United States (Wayne Au)
  1. The reproduction of capitalism in education: Althusser and the educational Ideological State Apparatus (Toni Ruuska) 

II. Against: Emerging currents in Marxism and education

Chapters that place critique in context, as being Against: Emerging currents in Marxism and education. These chapters develop their analyses globally or regionally, in relation to key themes like financialization, decoloniality and Green Marxism or Environmentalism, and also by queering our engagement with Marxism or focusing on student movements.

  1. Critique of the Political Economy of Education: Methodological Notes for the Analysis of Global Educational Reforms (Inny Accioly)
  1. The beginnings of Marxism and Workers’ Education in the Spanish-speaking Southern Cone: The case of Chile (María Alicia Rueda)
  1. Commodification and Financialization of Education in Brazil: trends and particularities of dependent capitalism (Roberto Leher and Hellen Balbinotti Costa)
  1. Critical environmental education, Marxism and environmental conflicts: Some contributions in the light of Latin America (César Augusto Costa and Carlos Frederico B. Loureiro
  1. Green Marxism, Ecocentric Pedagogies and De-capitalization/Decolonization (Sayan Dey)
  1. Indian Problem to Indian Solution: Using a Racio-Marxist Lens to Expose the Invisible War in Education (Linda Orie)
  1. Re-reading socialist art: the potential of queer Marxism in education (Bogdan Popa)
  1. Making sense of neoliberalism’s new nexus between work and education, teachers’ work, and teachers’ labor activism: Implications for labor and the Left (Lois Weiner)
  1. Contemporary Student Movements and Capitalism. A Marxist Debate (Lorenzo Cini and Héctor Ríos-Jara)

III. Beyond: Marxism, education and alternatives

Chapters that focus our attention Beyond: Marxism, education and alternatives. These chapters lead us into dialogue with human needs and the idea of social reproduction, and thinking about these issues in public policy and HE. We deliberately end by discussing the world otherwise, in relation to feminist counter-geographies from the South, decolonial feminisms, and a deep, relational activism

  1. Revisiting and revitalizing need as non-dualist foundation for a (r)evolutionary pedagogy (Joel Lazarus)
  1. Reproduction in Struggle (David I. Backer)
  1. State and Public Policy in Education: From the Weakness of the Public to an Agenda for Social Development and Redistribution (Felipe Ziotti Narita and Jeremiah Morelock)
  1. Marxism, (Higher) Education and the Commons (Krystian Szadkowski)
  1. Marx, Critique, and Abolition: Higher Education as Infrastructure (Abigail Boggs, Eli Meyerhoff, Nick Mitchell, and Zach Schwartz-Weinstein)
  1. Toward a Decolonial Marxism: Considering the Dialectics and Analectics in the Counter-Geographies of Women of the Global South (Lilia D. Monzó and Nidžara Pečenković)
  1. The (im)possibilities of revolutionary pedagogical-political kinship (m)otherwise: The Gifts of (Autonomous) Marxist Feminisms and Decolonial/Abolitionist Communitarian Feminisms to pedagogical-political projects of collective liberation (Sara C. Motta)
  1. Marxism in an Activist Key: Educational Implications of an Activist-Transformative Philosophy (Anna Stetsenko)

There is also a Series Editor’s Afterword: weaving other worlds with, against and beyond Marx (Richard Hall).

Whilst the Handbook criticizes capitalist education, and attempts to present the reader with perspectives for overcoming its alienating realities, it is also subject to its effects. In inviting authors and curating the chapters, sickness and work overload have disproportionately affected women and groups systemically made marginal. It grieves us that these invited voices are not present, because of the everyday realities of survival inside capitalism. This reiterates the importance of the work that we must undertake, of liberation through mutuality and dignity in action. It reiterates the importance of material and historical solidarity, as a pedagogical process emanating from within and across society.

A more diverse spread of chapters was commissioned but proved impossible to deliver. This would have included more work: from national liberation struggles in the Middle East and North Africa; in theory generated from Sub-Saharan Africa; in the praxis of community struggles in alternative cultural systems, like that of India; and, from the development of Marxism in China. Such analyses would also have drawn in thinkers not represented here in detail.

However, as editors, we encourage readers to engage with our Handbook as a contribution to the rich archive detailing how Marx’s work has been infused with concrete, material struggles. In so-doing, we ask readers to reflect upon their own work in relation to what Marx and Engels called communism, which, as the infinite process of critique, is ‘the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.’

In reflecting upon the gift of sitting with these 30 chapters, I infer that they offer a consensus that our ontological, epistemological and methodological horizons must push against the law of value. Yet they also unfold myriad ways of analyzing with Marx how we might move through intellectual work in society, such that a new form of becoming accepts and shapes the individual as a many-sided being (in dialogue with other, many-sided beings). At the heart of the matter then is our ability in-common to tell stories of dignity and mutuality that generate the courage and faith to imagine and make concrete the voices of the dispossessed:

Everything for everyone. Until this is true, there will be nothing for us.

Ill-Being and the Hopeless University

Image of lichen-covered nodule on tree branch.

On June 14th, 2023, I presented an Ends of Knowledge reading group and seminar.

The blurb for the event is pasted below, and you can sign-up via Eventbrite. But I wouldn’t. That time has passed. But the slides are appended below the blurb. Thanks so much to Jamie Rákóczi and Harriet Cooper for their support and encouragement in this work.

Ill-being and the Hopeless University

Faced by the realities and lived experiences of intersecting crises, the University has become hopeless, in two respects. First, it has become a place that has no socially-useful role beyond the reproduction of capital, and has become an anti-human project devoid of hope. Second, it is unable to respond meaningfully with crises that erupt from the contradictions of capital. Thus, in its maintenance of business-as-usual, the University remains shaped as a tactical response to these contradictions. 

In spite of the uncertainties of life inside the pandemic, these demands increasingly reproduce precarious and proletarianised working conditions. Alienation, anxiety, estrangement unfold inside University workers, through their work, their relationships and their very selves. Whilst institutions focus upon well-being through symptomatic responses related to resilience, mindfulness and well-being. Yet, this is entangled with the reality that University work, like all labour, tends to catalyse ill-being.

Through crises of finance or epidemiology, or at the intersection of both, it is possible to trace how the intersection of socio-economic and socio-environmental crises both enable the structural adjustment of sectoral and institutional structures, and damage bodies and psychologies. As institutional forms develop high plasticity, cultures become pathologies, and activities are defined methodologically, individuals and communities are scarred. In the pandemic, the scars are made visible, in terms of reports of overwork, self-sacrifice and feelings of precariousness, underpinned by a sense of hopelessness and Weltschmerz, with physical and psychological manifestations, including headaches, fatigue, anxiety and depression. In spite of the pandemic, the University demands the internalisation of specific behaviours that become culturally-acceptable, self-harming activities. These subsume the humanity of intellectual work under economic determinations.

This anti-humanist terrain and its resulting, widening circuit of ill-being, serve as an opening for discussion.

Sign up link here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ends-of-knowledge-richard-hall-ill-being-and-the-hopeless-university-tickets-603704575637.

Required Reading:

The Slides that I did not use, but that form the backbone to this work are available below.

You might also be interested in the stuff on mental health, ill-being, anxiety, depression, weltschmerz, elsewhere on this site. I share this as a form of eldership.

Notes on leaving UCU

I joined NATFHE in 1994. When it merged with the AUT and formed UCU, I migrated across. I had never not been on strike when called. I had never not picketed. Even on my own. Even in the rain. Even with senior managers walking past and telling me what a good job I was doing.

After being put at risk through a restructure under a new Pro Vice-Chancellor in 2005, I joined the UCU committee and became a health and safety rep. I stepped down in 2009 as my emotional health worsened. However, I remained on the committee. For the next few years, alongside caring for my Mum before she passed away and continued work, I was involved with the committee, occasionally in meetings with management. At that time, I was much more involved with student social movement activity, through occupations, and in a range of alternative education projects, detailed at http://www.richard-hall.org/beyond-work/

I miss those days. Somethings felt possible.

In 2018, my own position in University came under renewed stress, as a new Pro Vice-Chancellor looked to co-opt an Institute I was directing for a different purpose than that which we had agreed institutionally and previously. This was the most incredibly messy and stressful experience I have had in my working life. The conduct of this was inexcusable. However, I remain grateful to two members of senior leadership in the institution at that time who gave me incredible support.

This is also a period in which I finalised The Alienated Academic. And that gave birth to The Hopeless University.

In my description of this, my own trade union, UCU, is missing. The limitations of union power within a branch and an institution became very clear to me at this time. Whilst caseworkers and members were sympathetic, there was an overwhelming sense of powerlessness should I be threatened with redundancy. I remember other professors who were members expressing dismay in their fear that this could be visited on them. It was clear that this was a branch with limited organisation, which had to focus resources upon being service-based, and that, in extremis, one was on one’s own.

NB the limits of labour solidarity is also the lesson that I take from my Dad’s work in precarious circumstances on factory floors. Note – this is not human or civil solidarity, or that in social movements (well, not necessarily, although it might be), but the limits erupting from within the compulsion to resell one’s alienated labour day-after-day within a prestige economy. At this time, I was supported by wonderful and beautiful people from the ground, like Sarah Amsler and Liz Morrish and Mike Neary and Keith Smyth.

In spite of these limits, or despite them, I became much more involved as an activist once the Vice-Chancellor at the time left their position. I authored DMU Renewed: a Manifesto, which drew upon work from the Branch Solidarity Network. I was involved in trying to renew and preserve the committee, as it tried to find its balance with an influx of new members. Again, this work was incredibly, emotionally trying and tiring, because it was haunted by egos and competing strategies and agendas. In hindsight, any meaningful articulation of change always felt secondary to tactical engagements with management.

And I was culpable. Up to a point.

And sometimes, when you work at the intersection of pragmatism and libertarian communism, the only answer is ¡Que se vayan todos! But that isn’t always clear at the time.

NB egos and competing strategies and agendas. These are lessons that I also project onto UCU nationally.

¡Que se vayan todos!

As the union branch became more active, I undertook casework (2018 – 22), and some negotiation, especially during Covid-19 (2019 – 22). This was a time when I was adjusting to having left long-term therapy (after a decade), and was also caring for my Nan, who passed away in April 2020, and then my Dad, who passed away suddenly in January 2022. I had intended to step down from the committee in late 2021, but was persuaded by some committee members to stay on. As a result, I was heavily involved in negotiation and casework during proposed redundancies in late Spring/Summer 2022. As with many union activists, and as was the case since I joined the committee, I had no time for this work allocated.

So, as with so many others, it took over evenings and weekends. And hearts and souls. And tended to be de-generative, and rarely re-generative. Alienation, reproduced over-and-over.

NB I must note how amazing the caseworkers and negotiators were during this dispute. I salute them. I remember discussing with the other negotiators how vulnerable we all felt. And how we had to return to negotiate, because what else was possible?

And, I should have been grieving my Dad.

I stood down from the committee in Autumn 2022. I had served on it in one form or another (often limited) since 2005, had always been active in meetings, had always been on strike and picketed, had written and negotiated and undertaken casework, had done work on health and safety. When I stood down I had one email from a current committee member thanking me for my time and energy. I had a second from a regional official. I am so grateful for their messages.

They also throw into stark relief that I had no other recognition of this work. Nothing from the committee or its officers. This local silence resonates with how I view the union nationally.

NB I understand the cry that this is thankless work, and that mine is just another representation of the weakness of (white, male, straight)(academic) egos. Yes, maybe. I have to sit with that. And yet, it was not thanks that I thought might be appropriate. Rather, an acknowledgement, a nod, a wish to go well. Something.

On New Year’s Eve I was in a local pub that was closing that evening. With friends, I was celebrating what the pub had meant to me/us. The evening was recalibrated when an angry former colleague confronted me about some casework that happened whilst I was caring for my Nan.  In the crucial moment for that part of the story I was bedridden with a migraine. And in that moment in the pub I was reminded that, during that case, a senior, national UCU activist had slandered me on email. I remember that nothing came of this following conversations with region. And I remember how overworked that office is as well.

What a mess the alienation and estrangement and egos of this labour makes of us, and of our relationships. What a mess it makes of our histories, presents and futures.

And this in the midst of the current dispute. I remember feeling uneasy that our branch, like others, had no discussion about the dispute in late summer 2022, and that I felt that we were bounced into a ballot for industrial action. Moreover, our branch was tired from a struggle over redundancies, which for some staff was still ongoing. There was an issue of organisation. And energy, both emotional and physical.

However, there was also an issue of our not having built an organisation around the 4 Fights nationally, in particular since the collapse of the (in hindsight) pointless action of 2020. Here, it is interesting to see the comments of national negotiators when analysing the recent UCEA/UCU negotiations, in which they did not take part as a group. Did we now understand what our disputes meant, or what winning meant inside the institution/nationally? Was this simply a campaign around pay, for which we would have no public support? Were post-92s being bounced into a struggle where the power/core dispute was over USS Pensions?

NB of course, that pensions dispute is fundamental and needs to be won. It deserves the support of all University workers, working (directly) democratically to liberate these deferred wages/benefits. To liberate future time. Future free time. For these workers.

I felt that aggregating the vote was risky for some institutions that remain less well-organised, and appearing to connect 4 Fights and Pensions, whether the disputes were separate on the ballot paper or not, was a problematic strategy. Moreover, when the ballot result came out and there were triumphalist statements made about an 80-odd per cent vote for strike action, based upon a low 50 per cent turnout, my heart sank. This meant that less than half of members had said they would take strike action, and this in a sector with relatively low union density, and next to no history of militancy.

Strike action and next-to-nothing else. Except our usual ASOS. Whatever that is, in such an ill-defined role that is never a trade. Where the labour of love trumps all else. And union legal notes said that National would support branches if management docked 100% pay, but which also reiterated that they could do so. And in places they have. All the pressure back on exhausted branches and individuals. And in-fighting and factions and vanguardism increasingly apparent when what we needed was leadership.

And anyway, we stop nothing with those numbers taking action. Or saying that they will take action. It is impossible to reimagine the university with those numbers.

Of course, it is difficult to know what we actually do stop, given that we are not a trade. Given that we are deeply stratified and fragmented, set against each other in a positional war of prestige operating at the institutional, disciplinary and individual-level. Given that we tend to overwork, and make-up lost time and activities in our own precious time. Given that we are brutalised (self-harm) inside our labour of love. These aren’t train services or postal deliveries. And it’s almost time for the NSS.

I also felt dispirited that our only apparent connection with sister unions, like Unison, was to ask them to contribute to our strike funds. The labour of academics is predicated upon of a range of professional services staff. The lack of cross-union solidarity, reinforcing privilege and hierarchy, goes on and on and on.

And all I could see was, at a National level, the Union maintaining a financial analysis that neglected the restricted and limiting financial health of individual institutions in any pay claim, and instead making claims about the reserves of the sector as a whole. As if they could be deployed equally. Moreover, there was a disengagement from the political economy of higher education, and the funding, governance and regulatory terrain upon which academic labour is forced to compete. Unless I had missed something, without any renewed funding settlement, and without any commitment for cross-sector bailouts, individual institutions were at risk from unfunded pay claims.

I ask myself, is that Russell Group institution down the road really going to bail us out when the shit hits the fan?

So what was the strategy to be? For academic labour across competing institutions?

This remains compounded for me by a lack of national organising and strategy that can resist the demands of transnational capital, and it is reinforced by a disconnect between national organising and horizontal, branch-based organising. A disconnect with sister unions. A disconnect with wider struggles in communities and society for other social goods. With factionalised, national decision-making exacerbating problems in the aggregation of separate demands (like pay equality, workload, and pensions), employers appear increasingly able to set class fractions of University labour in opposition. Operating in this context feels increasingly hopeless, with branches tending to build transactional rather than relational organisation locally.

Yet, I tried to remember that, for instance during the pandemic, University labour was increasingly placed at-risk, through proposed moves to fully-online degrees, or proposed salary cuts and promotion freezes for staff. There were also reports of significant lay-offs for fixed-term contract staff across the sector. I know that local branches did amazing work at this time.

Amazing work.

At the same time, I see that nationally we appear to have learned nothing from past struggles. We appear to have learned nothing from 2018 or 2020, and that latter capitulation in the face of epidemiological crisis. As we headed into this new struggle, it appeared clear that we did not have the base, the networks of solidarity, nor the strategy, to define what winning might look like, in particular for those made most marginal.

This point feels hugely relevant to me. In my lifetime inside institutions, I have never been involved in a project struggling for equality, in relation to gender, disability, race and ethnicity, or decolonising, that has been catalysed by trade unions. These have tended to come from individuals inside institutions defining or leading projects, or from pressure from without (for instance, in relation to sexual violence on campus). As a result, it is increasingly clear to me that trade unions cannot add meaningful momentum or energy into these struggles in a generative way, precisely because they are locked into and limited by a particular understanding of, and focus upon, labour relations.

NB I come back to this issue of what is generative, below. However, my engagement in the 2010s in alternative education projects offered possibility. My engagement with trade unions throughout my working life should have been relational, and instead it was transactional, based upon an idealised, universal and reductionist conception of workload, casualisation and pay.

At a national level, the reproduction of the struggle appeared to pivot over the form in which decisions might be made, and upon which strategy might be set, based upon the desires of competing factions. I found this overwhelmingly demoralising. I know that this is set into a personal, post-pandemic context in which I am carrying a lot of grief. However, it feels like union members have no agency, or are kettled by constitutional/communicative designs that (deliberately?) limit agency. Of course, the work of, for instance, comrades from Notes from Below, helps us to see the possibilities and horizons for more democratic, horizontal working. I just don’t see how it is enacted. Co-opted, yes. Enacted, no.

This feels stymied by the claims made by Higher Education Committee and counter-claims made by those around the General Secretary about who has a democratic mandate, and what form that mandate might take. It is exacerbated in manoeuvring around who has a mandate to negotiate, and what is the role of branches, and the relentless use of social media to make up for a lack of an organised base. I increasingly felt the abject pointlessness of that manoeuvring in my soul. How was this actually going to provide material solutions or even possibilities for marginalised workers?

NB I was also, at this time, in solidarity with members of Unite at UCU who were in dispute over pay.

I wouldn’t mind if those asserted democratic mandates were based on significant turnouts, and gave an appropriate platform/foundation for the decisions that have been made. But I just can’t see that they do. Whether it is claims for 18 days of strike action, or for such action to be indefinite. Constant, direct democracy is needed. And is apparently impossible. Instead, I have seen posts about procedures by members of Committees, about why they voted as they did. All this simply highlights the broken politics of the union. And It is utterly dispiriting to watch.

Moreover, I know that strategy and organisation in the post-pandemic University, has enabled management to place more and more workers at-risk or potentially surplus to requirements. This has become an explicit management weapon in the class conflict now normalised across academia. During 2022-23, we have seen a range of redundancies proposed, alongside the ongoing use of casualised and precarious contracts for staff. Of course, this gave energy to long-standing campaigns against casualisation (#coronacontract), and significant local organising, which led to anti-casualisation agreements at the University of Bath, the Open University, and Sheffield Hallam University amongst others.

I salute these.

However, against the pandemic shock doctrine and struggles in the post-pandemic institution, it appears almost impossible for University labour to develop a counter-hegemonic project that pushes back against the transnational, capitalist and activist networks that oppose them. University labour, fragmented, with weak strategy, disorganised, and lacking wider solidarity, lacks the power to push back against finance capital as it associates with Vice-Chancellors, consultancies, venture capitalists working in educational technology, credit rating agencies, bond markets, and so on.

Increasingly, University labour appears unable to address: first, the divisions between fractions of that labour working in a prestige economy and looking to accrue intellectual capital; and second, the lack of class solidarity between academics, and both professional services’ staff and students. As Marx (1873) noted, ‘while the class struggle remains latent or manifests itself only in isolated and sporadic phenomena’, capital will maintain its power. This is particularly the case where capital acts as a joint-stock company or association of capitals, able to mobilise significant resources in any class conflict.

And I am aware of autonomous struggles that erupt from within these divisions, demonstrating the deep antagonism between University labourers and their institutions and sectors. These include trade unions. However, and crucially, mirroring the teacher strikes in Chicago and Wisconsin in the last decade, we have witnessed unionised labour taking action from below and democratically, in spite of tentative agreements with management by union leadership. Having to take action autonomously, and horizontally, and democratically.

We have seen solidarity actions at the University of East Anglia. We also continue to see brilliant work against outsourcing, for instance in IWGB struggles at the University of London. Elsewhere, graduate students at the University of Michigan and Temple University in the USA are demanding living wages, in spite of tentative agreements with management by unions. We have also seen a range of student occupations protesting rent increases, and demanding cost-of-living support for students and staff. We have also seen movements against sexual violence on campuses, including the work of the 1752 Group based in the UK, which catalysed regulatory changes.

NB here, I remember and show solidarity with the Survivors Justice UCU network, who campaigned for an independent investigation and justice for the victims of sexual harassment at UCU, including in the handling of their Rule 13 complaint on sexual harassment within the union.

Rather than a reliance upon historic and formal, labour organisations, increasingly I see generative actions that point towards the validity of organising as a social movement. For generating networks that reinforce relations of mutuality and dignity between plural individuals and groups, engaged in struggles within the same terrain. I simply cannot see how the bureaucratic hegemony and privilege of the University itself can be challenged by the bureaucratic hegemony and privilege of the trade unions that claim to oppose it.

This thread by Working Class History, demonstrates the limitations of unions that “are not pure organisations which represent the will and economic interests of their members. They are large, bureaucratic organisations, which exist within capitalist economies and within legal frameworks built by capitalist states.” That is their condition. I can work with it if we are working beyond it. But we aren’t.

In this, and in spite of claims that student learning conditions are staff teaching conditions and labouring conditions, there has been much less evidence of activist forms of mutuality between academic labourers and students. I remember going on demonstrations in 2010 and 2011, and being kettled, alongside a minority of academic teaching staff. I remember going on demonstrations against austerity, alongside a minority of academic teaching staff. I remember being in alternative education projects, alongside a minority of academic teaching staff.

And in spite of the global education struggles of the early 2010s, the strikes occurring in UK higher education since 2018 have produced limited anti-capitalist content, and almost no discussion of what might lie beyond labour relations in the toxic University. In this, the abolition of the University, and of (academic) labour inside capitalism is nowhere on the agenda.

Increasingly, I cannot see how the structures, cultures and practices of the labour organisations open to me, which are so entangled with the alienating realities of the capitalist University, make it possible for University workers to imagine another type of institution, let alone another world. The transactional nature of unions militates against a deeply relational, alternative way of producing knowledge. It appears increasingly to me that trade unions, like universities themselves, merely reproduce hopelessness.

And this is my current position. It is not a permanent position. All positions are conditional and open. As Subcamandante Marcos argued, ‘[a]ll final options are a trap.’ When I reflect back now, in all my years of trade union activity, it never felt generative or possible, or opening out of a new horizon of possibility. The spaces and places that have felt possible have been outside the University and outside of labour unions, in the struggle within social movements that seek to imagine the world otherwise. These spaces and places have felt relational, rather than transactional.

I come back to that, because it is how I feel about how I have been treated in relation to the free labour that I have given to my union over the years, which went unrecognised as it passed. If we are going to treat each other transactionally, rather than relationally, as we claim that the university is ours, and if we refuse to honour the care and dignity that individuals bring to their work, then we are lost. A university that is not grounded in the mutuality of dignity as an act of love is not enough. Never enough.

And I write this in response to a committee member having a student whom I was teaching deliver me two UCU stickers, on a strike day. Not handing them to me directly. But sending a student as a messenger. Carrying the equivalent of a white feather, perhaps. Of course, this person didn’t know that I had left the union a month before. This person didn’t know that I could not cross the picket line whilst I was a member of the union, and that I was so utterly dispirited by how this campaign and this dispute were being run, and the claims made about it. That I was so dispirited by how I saw previous failings being replicated over and over and over again.

Of course, I recognise and still process that I was part of one UCU branch and its committee for years. Make of that what you will. Clearly, some of those failings are my failings, in particular, in our inability to build something predicated upon mutuality, solidarity and relationality.

And in this, I am reminded that Notes from Below remarked:

We hope this scrutiny is accepted as a good faith attempt to build a better, more equitable union that is run from its roots.

I am also reminded of the words of a very dear friend who said to me back in 2018:

I bloody love trade unions. I just don’t like them very much.

I will try to hold these entangled positions as I find my way. For now, that cannot be within UCU.

Peace be with you.

A conversation at the Documentary Media Centre for #16DaysOfActivism

I spoke with John Coster yesterday (yeah, yeah, I know it was a UCU strike day) for Day 6 of #16DaysOfActivism from across the Parallel Lives Network. The programme takes a look at the range of takes on activism and what it means in practice. It runs from Friday 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – through to Human Rights Day on Saturday 10th December.

Our discussion focused on hopelessness and hope in-and-against the University. It spoke to issues of voice, grief, hospicing and abolition, in our intellectual work. It reminded me that when I wrote about courage, faith, justice, hope and peace, those values and their interrelationships are still important to me. You can access the full programme from the Parallel Lives Network site, and our discussion is available for Day 6, or below.


Online seminar and slides: on alienation, hopelessness and the abolition of the University

On Wednesday October 5th, 2022, at 15-18.00 (EEST) and 13-16.00 (BST), I’ll be facilitating an online session on:

“The Alienated academic and the Hopeless University with Professor Richard Hall”

My slides are appended below and available on my Slideshare, with a focus on alienation, hopelessness and abolition.

The Zoom link for the event is at: https://tuni.zoom.us/j/66510029426?pwd=MzVRQW1aaitYS1RXdjZqemkwUmo5QT09

The session is being hosted by the research group of Assembling Postcapitalist International Political Economies (POSTCAPE), at the University of Tampere, Finland. For more details about the event, see the POSTCAPE site. The group’s background to the event is given below.

I am very grateful to Mikko Poutanen, who is a PhD researcher in Political Science at Tampere, for this invitation ands his support, and for his ongoing work on academic and intellectual alienation.


The research group of Assembling Postcapitalist International Political Economies (POSTCAPE) welcomes you to join us in an online seminar with professor of education and technology Richard Hall from De Montfort University Leicester (UK). Professor Hall has written extensively on the changes of UK higher education from a distinctly critical point of view, noting that academics are becoming alienated. Academic work as a “labor of love” is increasingly commodified, not only challenging but arguably damaging the conditions of intellectual work.

Writing in the context of the United Kingdom, Professor Hall’s work argues that the neoliberalization of universities has already progressed to the point that the university has become “hopeless”. Yet, within this hopelessness, there is also radical potential for new imaginaries for future intellectual work and mass intellectuality. Only when academics are ready to acknowledge the university is hopeless, can we begin salvage work of the university which is not and cannot be looking back for solutions.

The new imaginary for a university and intellectual work in general has to address questions of economic, gendered, racialized and environmental problems that the current university, mired in late-stage capitalism, is able to identify but to do very little to solve.

In this combined lecture and seminar, Professor Hall will first outline his diagnosis of the alienated academic and the hopeless university, and potential ways forward and then open for questions and comments in a seminar discussion. There will be a break between the lecture and the seminar.

Relevant works

Hall, Richard & 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.

Hall, Richard. 2018a. “On the alienation of academic labour and the possibilities for mass intellectuality.” tripleC 16(1): 97-113.

Hall, Richard. 2018b. The Alienated academic – The struggle for autonomy inside the university. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hall, Richard. 2019. ”On authoritarian neoliberalism and poetic epistemology.” Social epistemology 33(4): 298-308.

Hall, Richard. 2021. The Hopeless University: Intellectual work at the end of The End of History. Leicester: Mayfly Books.

Decolonising the PGR experience: resources

I am privileged to have been asked to speak today at the University of Exeter, Decolonising Research Festival.

NB I owe a huge debt to Drs Lucy Ansley and Paris Connolly who have made huge contributions to this work. It’s a partnership with them.

As is usual when I get a fee for speaking, I will be donating to a local rape crisis centre, so that the money stays in the local community. 

My slides are available from slide share and can be accessed below. There are some other, research-related resources, as follows.