Learning Drawn and Quartered

(With Stephen Turner.) From We Are the University, vol. 2 (Auckland: WATU, 2011) 6 (slightly edited here).

See also Excellent Universities, Here, There and Everywhere, The Idea of the University, and “Built Pedagogy”: The University of Auckland Business School as Crystal Palace.

The corporate university makes knowledge a matter of product and patent, performance and measure, technocracy and templates: a matter of knowledge marketing and management. The league tables that ensue make every university’s vision every other university’s vision; critical thinking and creativity become generic and fast-following. Accordingly, the University of Auckland positions itself at the hub of Auckland City’s Learning Quarter (LQ) as “open for business,” “actively commercialising research,” and part of an “innovation ecosystem” that unites “innovators,” entrepreneurs and investors in a capital consensus — or consonance [Learning Quarter Plan].

The real university is not so easily marketable or manageable: it is noisy and problematic. Critical thinking and creativity (those buzzwords of technocapitalism and immaterial labour) cannot be auto-tuned. Critical thinking problematises the world “as it is”; creativity constructs new worlds. They are divergent and dissident, and the dissonance they cultivate is the very basis of public life — of democracy. Thus, “[d]issensus,” as Jacques Rancière argues, “is not a confrontation between interests and opinions. It is the demonstration (manifestation) of a gap in the sensible itself,” the demonstration of a possible world (Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics [38; read]). Democracy lives in the gaps.

The reduction of the university’s “mission” to entrepreneurial investment in innovation will “create,” if anything, a social deficit. For-profit, for-credit knowledge suppresses the university’s critical-creative capacity to generate a social surplus in the service of a public or political good, in other words, to educate (from the Latin educare: literally, “to lead forth”). What we see in the corporate university is an abdication of the responsibility to educate all for a shared future, to provide a place of learning for all. We in the real university do not teach and learn for profit or for credit; we are not about skills and competencies or about producing portfolio people for a global market. We are about creativity and critical thinking, which for us is being public (see Negt and Kluge, The Public Sphere and Experience: Selections”).

The LQ needs to be occupied and the University’s mission reshaped by those who care about teaching and learning. Recovering the University’s critical-creative capacity is a matter of engagement in two senses: engaging other people in the noise and problematics of being public — not simply acting privately in public; and engaging the powers that be as guarantors of the order of things — what Rancière calls the “police” (Dissensus). Dissensus — real politics — resists consensus as “the reduction of politics to the police” (ibid. [42]). This is not politics or protest as usual, but calls upon the logic, says Paulo Virno, of jokes, which for him represent the “capacity [for] innovative actions, that is, actions which are capable of modifying established habits and norms” (“Anthropology and Theory of Institutions“; see also “From the Third Person Intruder to the Public Sphere“). What he calls jokes we call critical creativity. Such critical creativity embraces problematisation and construction, but also irony, mockery, contradiction, and so on. It is this that makes us “dangerous” (ibid., after Carl Schmidt, The Concept of the Political 58); it is this that makes us look like criminals to the police order of the LQ. But we would argue that the dissenters, the occupiers, are the University.

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One thought on “Learning Drawn and Quartered

  1. Pingback: The Curfew of Geometry « Te Ipu Pakore: The Broken Vessel

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