24 August 2012 § Leave a Comment
Mark Fisher’s excellent Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Zero, 2009) is now available in pdf at libcom.org.
9 June 2012 § Leave a Comment
Stephen Turner, “Settler Dreaming,” Memory Connection 1.1: The Memory Waka (2011): 115-26. Available here.
Augustus Earle, Distant View of the Bay of Islands, New Zealand (c.1827-28).
Rex Nan Kivell Collection, The National Library of Australia (nla.pic-an2820815).
This article focuses on collective memory in a place that has been radically transformed by settlement and where memory itself is part and parcel of the make-over. Remembering isn’t passive or received but active, and forms a process of settlement too. For visitors, says Walter Benjamin, a new country is exotic, and the object of an exoticising gaze, whilst for natives the place is perceived through layers of collective memory. The problem for settlers is that the place they come to consider their own is originally exotic to them. They now have a memory of a place made-over in their own exotic image of it — at first a picturesque landscape occupied by a disappearing indigenous people. Just how an exoticised experience of landscape and its indigenous inhabitants became “us” New Zealanders is forgotten today in declaring settler nature — “our” identity and character — to be of nature, now primordial and pure, and quite organic. Benjamin’s formulation suggests a corrective to cultural organicism and the constructed public memory of popular national identity.
The exotic place of settlers’ perception, even when familiarised and domesticated, is the lens though which settlers view history. Their collective remembering makes- over the place in terms of the experience of its difference to them, not in terms of Maori experience of European difference to Maori. The gap in perception is foreclosed by the make-over, which itself constitutes national popular memory. The remembering activity of settler culture makes all the more real a made-over place while occluding its making over. An industry of historians, or memory machinery, is needed to support settler place-making, working to shape and contain memory, and to secure it against real knowledge of the making over of place. I will explore how it does so by explaining three components of national popular memory: re-enactment, remediation, and cultural plagiarism.
John Barr Clarke Hoyte. The Bay of Islands (c. 1873). Watercolour. Christchurch Art Gallery: Te Puna o Waiwhetu.
My wing is ready for flight,
I would like to turn back.
If I stayed timeless time,
I would have little luck.
Mein Flügel ist zum Schwung bereit,
Ich kehrte gern zurück,
Denn blieb ich auch lebendige Zeit,
Ich hätte wenig Glück.
‘Gruss vom Angelus’
A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating [my emphasis]. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (257-58)
Paul Klee. Angelus Novus (1920). Intaglio printing with acidic watercolor on drypoint. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
5 June 2012 § 1 Comment
Simon Critchley, “Mystical Anarchism,” Adbusters, 1 June 2012.
Politics is perhaps no longer, as it was in the so-called anti-globalization movement, a struggle for and with visibility. Resistance is about the cultivation of invisibility, opacity, anonymity, and resonance.
25 April 2012 § 2 Comments
A draft of an essay with Stephen Turner. See the finished version at Inquire.
University of Auckland Owen G. Glenn Building (a.k.a. the Business School)
We are asked to address the university today in the local context of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, where we live and work. On the one hand, this is an educational setting at the ends of the earth, exotic and exciting (perhaps); on the other, and rather more apropos, this is a university much like any other. Very much wanting to be Melbourne, it is probably also rather more like Minnesota (no disrespect intended). In any case, the difference between all three, in terms of their globalising design-drive, is negligible. The league tabling of universities worldwide has produced an uncanny genericity — universality, even — of aims, objectives and outcomes, which is to say, university mission statements (UMSs): excellence, enterprise and efficiency. And it has greatly increased the importance of the measures (“econometrics”) that assure us that these ends, to which all who work in universities are now thoroughly devoted, willingly or not, have been achieved.
Econometric education (what David Weinberger calls “accountabalism”) is often couched in terms of the word “experience,” as the emergent property of the three E’s, so to speak, and as if it too were simply measurable (and as if universities actually cared about their clientele). It describes a “good” at our university in the same way that the word permeates the prospectuses of our (league-table) poor city cousins AUT University and Unitech: that is to say, our “experience” is better than yours because league tables say it is so — or, rather, make it so. Actual experience of an institution, a community and a place is systematically devalued. Class warfare has not so much migrated to the tertiary sector as embedded and enhanced age-old discrimination. The trick is that “discrimination” today refers to “improved” systems of measure — their increased ability to slice and splice space, time and value (see Hoskin and Frandsen on “space/time/value machines” [p. 1]) — rather than to social status, so making university environments appear class-free. (The capping of student intakes — by raising entry criteria — at our university has greatly nonetheless affected the ability of those most poorly-off in our society, in particular, indigenous Maori, to participate.) What we can report, therefore, is that our university here looks very much the same as your university there and indeed universities everywhere. This sameness, for us, spells the death of education in any non-cosmetic sense of “enhancement,” which is to say transformation by collective imagination, or “democracy” (Rancière 2010 45ff.). The word enhancement itself is now metricised (as are many of its synomyms: “improvement,” “growth,” “evolution,” etc.). Imagining itself is subject to systems of measure, such that it is difficult to imagine things being different; this is the ascriptive force of systems of measure at work: what isn’t measured, or strictly measurable, doesn’t count for anything.
Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man (c. 1487)
If anything, the New Zealand university is more generic in the world-excellent sense, though this may be special pleading (New Zealanders are notoriously modest in their narcissism). Our colonial past, however, makes us super-globalisers (settlers are avant-garde in their capitalism): we act out the historical design-drive of globalisation in our “fast-following” tendencies — our inherent slavishness to metropolitan models (Skilling and Boven 40-41) — and consequent genericity and “B+-ness.” The Occupy movement, and accompanying student unrest at the University of Auckland throughout 2011, which ran alongside a protracted dispute between unionised academics and our corporate-minded Vice-Chancellor, begs the question of the deeper “occupation” of the country by Pakeha (non-Maori) settlers and its radical transformation by colonising capital. In the context of on-going educational “reforms” (a.k.a. restructuring of university units and programmes for the sake of greater efficiencies), it cannot be surprising that Maori stand to lose most. What connects our colonial history to globalising imperatives of enterprise and has affected universities everywhere is a logic of replication that is as old as the nation itself but that now assumes a pedagogical guise. Given that knowledge itself, or more properly information, has became the commodity of commodities, and immaterial labour has displaced material labour, colonisation today takes the form of pedagogical “enterprise,” with the university as its flagship.
A little history is unavoidable if we are to understand the local development of the university, and not simply replicate the imperatives of globalisation (enterprise, excellence and efficiency). Historically, the globalising design-drive of settler capitalism initially worked to subsume the long history of indigenous inhabitation to the short history of the settler’s make-over of place (Turner ); we inhabit its continuous present (or future anterior: its always-already-will-have-been [Hill 193]). To retool some Marxist terminology, “formal subsumption” may be considered the formal alignment of the new country with the capital interests (in land, population and export) that its settlers represent, and the extension in and through their enterprise of an imperial economy (see Marx 1019-38). Those “forms” include land titles, property rights and wage relations. “Real subsumption” makes such forms the actual content of lived local relationships. So settlers replicate the propertied society of the mother country, but also, over time, adopt a local identity in terms of which the interests of the colony and the metropole have been fully aligned. (That settlers consider themselves not to be English simply masks the unexceptional nature of their settlement, and the fact that local public culture largely comes from other Anglo-settler societies, with Maori called upon to fill the local uniqueness deficit [Fairburn].) The result is a political economy of identity — an identitarian economics — in which to be a “New Zealander,” or “Kiwi,” itself signals the success of the enterprise of settlement. Local universities are not just determined by this logic but are its flag bearers.
Today, the logic of replication drives the production of local knowledge, and explains the country’s highly generic fast-following tendencies, albeit masked by our Asia-Pacific branding. The transformation of the older brick and mortar university (the Oxbridge University 1.0) into the steel and glass — and fibre — university (the transnational University 2.0) has been enabled by the new econometrics of knowledge. The technical capitalism of “improved” measure, delivered by a raft of business school devices (like Total Quality Management), drives the “universalising” of world-excellent universities. Due to the new infrastructure of managerialism, the content of education — indeed the very “idea” of the university — has undergone a process of abstraction, making enterprise the sole horizon of human possibilities, and thereby limiting different imaginings of our collective future. It is not that the economy has become more productive but that systems of measure have reoriented its operation, likewise the mission of universities: academics are incentivised to research rather than teach, to network globally, and to post outputs in world-leading journals, mostly outside New Zealand, while students are incentivised to gain the transferable skills that match openings in the market. Teaching merely ensures that the aims, objectives and outcomes of courses, properly aligned with those of the department, discipline, faculty and university — the nested capitalism of its micromanagement — are ticked off by student evaluations. Altogether more important — for universities and other “stakeholders” at least — is the national measure of academic performance (PBRF or the Performance-Based Research Fund), which has us academics competitively discriminating and counting outputs, googling for peer esteem — and discounting non-countable activities.
This kind of join-the-dots education fulfils the design-drive of techno-capitalism and obscures our ongoing colonialism. In this context, it is difficult to appeal to “critical” and “creative” thinking, as this is precisely what the world-excellent university says it does. We prefer vocabulary that sits less comfortably with mission-statement speak, and which suggests a renewed role for such off-mission “arts” like wisdom, charity, idleness, chance . . . just talking. As opposed to the capitalistic consonance (“consensus”) of the “creative”/entrepreneurial class ecosystem, we prefer the democratic dissonance of noise (“dissensus” [Rancière 2010 37-38]) and privilege the classroom as the site of its production. In a university whose architectural template is the “built pedagogy” of its flagship Business School (Sturm and Turner), which also has a one-billion-dollar building programme, which also sits within a Auckland City’s newly devised “learning quarter,” which also dovetails with Auckland City’s vision, which also reflects the National government’s management of the country as investment space, we teach, above all, the university (see Williams).
Against research, at once utopian and utilitarian, we emphasis the enduring value of the classroom, the “factor[y] of the future” (Flusser 49-50) and producer of “publics and counterpublics” (Warner). The pedagogy of corporate capitalism, and its arsenal of econometrics, makes of the university a combat zone. In our own teaching, we cross the science-arts divide that has crippled and isolated “literarity” (Rancière 2000 115), or literary reflexivity (language about language, we stress, doesn’t stop at “literature”). We advocate Writing Studies as an ur-discipline that takes in the entwined history of writing technologies and accounting; we teach “seismotics” rather than semiotics (with a view to our earthquake-ridden local landscape and the recurrent shocks of the world finance), an alertness to the way place and its peoples are shaped by geopolitical rumblings from afar. We have no room here to detail such initiatives, but we are concerned to reclaim place from colonisation: it is our claim that people live in a place, not in the air, or airport lobbies, or the airy conference centres of “transcendental capital” (Hage 2001 4; see de Cauter 273). We are particularly interested in occupying these techno-spaces to pervert their protocols and confuse their logics. To use against itself the apparatus of econometric education, haloed as it is by global technophilia, we seek the commotion of thinking together using whatever technological means our world-excellently equipped classrooms provide.
de Cauter, Lieven. “The Capsular Civilization.” The Hieroglyphics of Space: Reading and Experiencing the Modern Metropolis, ed. Neil Leach. London; New York: Routledge, 2002. 271-80. Print. [Available here.]
Fairburn, A. R. D. We New Zealanders. Wellington: Progressive Publishing Society, 1944. Print.
Flusser, Vilém. The Shape of Things: A Philosophy of Design. London: Reaktion, 1999. Print. [See Google Books.]
Hage, Ghassan. “The Incredible Shrinking Society: On Ethics and Hope in the Era of Global Capitalism.” Weekend Review: The Australian Financial Review 7 Sep. 2001: 4-5. [Available in edited version here.]
Hill, Christopher L. National History and the World of Nations: Capital, State, and the Rhetoric of History in Japan, France, and the United States. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. Print.
Hoskin, Keith, and Frandsen, Ann-Christine. Where is Strategy? APIRA 2010 Conference, University of Sydney, 12-13 July 2010. Web. [Available here.]
Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 1. Middlesex: Penguin, 1976. Print. [See Amazon.]
Rancière, Jacques. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. Steve Corcoran. London: Continuum, 2010. Print. [Available here.]
Rancière, Jacques (w. Davide Panagia). “Dissenting Words: A Conversation with Jacques Rancière.” diacritics 30.2 (Summer 2000): 113-26. Print. [Available at Academia.edu after login.]
Skilling, David, and Boven, David. We’re Right Behind You: A Proposed New Zealand Approach to Emissions Reduction.New Zealand Institute Discussion Paper 2007/2. Auckland, NZ: NZI, 2007. Print. [Available here.]
Sturm, Sean, and Turner, Stephen. “ ‘Built Pedagogy’: The University of Auckland Business School as Crystal Palace.” Interstices 12 (2011): 23-34. Print. [Download.]
Turner, Stephen. “Make-Over Culture and the New Zealand Dream of Home.” Landfall 214: Open House (2007): 85-90. Print. [Download.]
Weinberger, David. “The Folly of Accountabalism.” Harvard Business Review 10 Feb. 2007: 24-25. Print. [Available here.]
Williams, Jeffrey J. “Teach the University.” Pedagogy 8 (2008): 25-42. Web.
24 September 2011 § Leave a Comment
I was alerted to the first of three great essays on the implications of semiocapitalism for embodied communication from Franco Berardi (Bifo) by Mark Fisher in a piece from New Left Project called “The Privatisation of Stress” (7 Sep. 2011):
- “I Want to Think: POST-U,” E-Flux 24 (Apr. 2011) [pdf];
- “Cognitarian Subjectivation,” E-Flux 20 (Nov. 2010) [pdf];
- “Biopolitics and Connective Mutation,” trans. Tiziana Terranova and Melinda Cooper, Culture Machine 7 (2005).
From “Cognitarian Subjectivation”:
Semiocapital puts neuro-psychic energies to work, submitting them to mechanistic speed, compelling cognitive activity to follow the rhythm of networked productivity [a.k.a. automatism — or the digital reprogramming of sensibility]. As a result, the emotional sphere linked with cognition is stressed to its limit. Cyberspace overloads cybertime, because cyberspace is an unbounded sphere whose speed can accelerate without limits, while cybertime (the organic time of attention, memory, imagination) cannot be sped up beyond a certain point — or it cracks. And it actually is cracking, collapsing under the stress of hyper-productivity. An epidemic of panic and depression is now spreading throughout the circuits of the social brain. The current crisis in the global economy has much to do with this nervous breakdown.
For a useful review of Bifo on such matters, see Michael Goddard’s review.
For the implications of semiocapitalism (“automatism”) for labour relations (“autonomy”), see Bifo’s essays
- “Info-Labour and Precarisation,” trans. Erik Empson, Generation Online (10 Feb. 2009), and
- “Welfare State and Democracy: Getting Free from Illusions,” . . . ment 1 (2011): 6-12.
Franco Berardi Bifo is a contemporary writer, media-theorist and media-activist. He founded the magazine A/traverso (1975-1981) and was part of the staff of Radio Alice, the first free pirate radio station in Italy (1976-1978). Like others involved in the political movement of Autonomia in Italy during the 1970s, he fled to Paris, where he worked with Felix Guattari in the field of schizoanalysis. During the 1980s he contributed to the magazines Semiotexte (New York), Chimerees (Paris), Metropoli (Rome) and Musica 80 (Milan). In the 1990s he published Mutazione e Ciberpunk (Genoa, 1993), Cibernauti (Rome, 1994), and Felix (Rome, 2001). He is currently collaborating on the magazine Derive Approdi as well as teaching social history of communication at the Accademia di belle Arti in Milan. He is the co-founder of the e-zine rekombinant.org and the telestreet phenomenon [of pirate mini-TV stations].
See the Wiki also.
For more essays, see Generation Online. His most recent book in English is Precarious Rhapsody: Semocapitalism & the Pathologies of Post-Alpha Generation, ed. Erik Empson & Stevphen Shukaitis; trans. Arianna Bove et al. (London: Minor Compositions, 2009; New York: AK Press, 2011) [pdf].
18 April 2011 § 4 Comments
In an interview with Alexei Penzin, amongst many other insights, Paolo Virno argues that the kind of micro-collectives characteristic of post-Fordist production, i.e., immaterial labour (see Chukhrov), “socialize the entrepreneurial function” to foster the kind of “social cooperation” that works against the monopoly of the state (86-87):
Micro-collectives, workgroups, research teams, etc. are half-productive, half-political structures. If we want, they are the no man’s land in which social cooperation stops being exclusively an economic resource and starts appearing as a public, non-stately sphere. (86)
In other words, such groups work together to make stuff, but they also work against (↑) the state monopoly on power (↓).
If examined as productive realities, the micro-collectives you mention have mainly the merit of socializing the entrepreneurial function: instead of being separated and hierarchically dominant, this function is progressively reabsorbed by living labor, thus becoming a pervasive element of social cooperation. (ibid.)
Entrepreneurship ceases to be a way for the state to drive workers (↓) — and the prerogative of enterprising individuals — and instead enables them to work together (↑ or rather ↔).
We are all entrepreneurs, even if an intermittent, occasional, contingent way. But, as I was saying, micro-collectives have an ambivalent character: apart from being productive structures, they are also germs of political organization. What is the importance of such ambivalence? What can it suggest in terms of the theory of the organization? In my opinion, this is the crucial issue: nowadays the subversion  of the capitalistic relations of production can manifest itself through the institution of a public, non-stately sphere, of a political community oriented towards the general intellect. (86-87)
The model for such micro-collectives are artists’ collectives, artists being the “virtuosos” of immaterial labour, exemplifying what Penzin calls “the flexible, mobile, non-specialized substance of contemporary ‘living labor’” (81).
- “institution”: “Institutions constitute the way in which our species protects itself from uncertainty and with which it create rules to protect its own praxis” (85); the State has no monopoly on institutions.
- “general intellect” (a.k.a. the “social brain”): the human capacity for “public or interpsychical” cognition through communication (“thinking with words”). It is the “main productive force of matured capitalism” (84), i.e., work is now virtual — hence the phrase immaterial labour. It could also constitute the “foundations of a [non-stately] republic” (84).
In order to allow this subversion, the distinctive features of post-Fordist production (the valorization of its own faculty of language, a fundamental relation with the presence of the other, etc.) demand a radically new form of democracy. Micro-collectives are the symptom — as fragile and contradictory as they may be — of an exodus, of an enterprising subtraction from the rules of wage labor. (87)
This “radically new form of democracy” is non-representative. It doesn’t work through a parliament but through soviets, i.e., workers’ councils, as “tools for democratic self-organization” (82) [soviet, совет, Ru. "council, advice, harmony, concord"]. It suggests the possibility of a “democracy of the multitude,” of a “public sphere that is no longer connected to the State” (90). So,
the monopoly of decision making can only really be taken away from the State if it ceases once and for all to be a monopoly. [Thus, t]he public sphere of the multitude is a centrifugal force. (90)
Of course, we must avoid “the cancerous metastasis of the State,” i.e. bureaucratization, centralization, and “the glorification of labor,” i.e. collectivization, that happened in Soviet Russia (90). Communism need not signal a massification (→ a people’s revolution). And we must remembers that micro-collectives represent “both a danger and a salvation”: they could signal a fragmentation of society (-) or its politicization (+). Communism can instead signal a democracy of the multitude (→ the soviets of the multitude)
Chukhrov, Keti. “Towards the Space of the General: On Labor beyond Materiality and Immateriality.” E-flux 20 (Nov. 2010). Web.
Lazzarato, Maurizio. “Immaterial Labour.” Trans. Paul Colilli and Ed Emery. Generation Online. 6 Mar. 2008. Web.
Penzin, Alexei. “The Soviets of the Multitude: On Collectivity and Collective Work.” Interview with Paolo Virno. Mediations 25.1 (Fall 2010): 81-92. Web.
15 March 2011 § Leave a Comment
A conventional narrative of the evolution of civilization suggests that society has gone from a highly collective, as it were, centripetal society to a less collective, centrifugal one: “the centre cannot hold,” etc, etc. — hence narratives of modernity as individualizing, increasingly multicultural, relativist.
For example, in Liquid Modernity (Wiki) Zygmunt Bauman elevates “individualization” to the defining principle of modernity, describing it this way:
“individualization” consists of transforming human “identity” from a “given” into a “task” and charging the actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the  consequences (also the side-effects) of their performance. In other words, it consists in the establishment of a de jure autonomy (whether or not the de facto autonomy has been established as well). [. . .] Needing to become what one is is the feature of modern living — and of this living alone. Modernity replaces the heteronomic determination of social standing [via "estates," i.e., "locations of inherited belonging"] with compulsive and obligatory self-determination [via "classes," i.e., "targets of manufactured membership," in the first wave of modernity or roles in the second wave]. (my emphasis; 31-32)
This principle is a symptom of a larger historical movement of de- and reterritorialization, of uprooting and transplanting:
Early modernity “disembedded” in order to “re-embed.” While the disembedding was the socially sanctioned fate, the re-embedding was a task put before the individuals. (32)
Bauman remains skeptical about his re- or the trans-: in “second” or “reflexive modernity,”
no “beds” are furnished for “re-embedding,” and such beds as might be postulated and pursued . . . often vanish before the work of “re-embedding” is complete. There are rather “musical chairs” of various sizes and styles as well as of changing numbers and positions, which prompt men and women to be constantly on the move and promise . . . no satisfaction of “arriving,” of reaching the  final destination, where one can disarm, relax and stop worrying. (33-34)
Nomadism — ethnicity, tribalism, and other loose or minimal collectivities — becomes the norm in modernity. Or, to switch the metaphor from solids to liquids, we moderns are taught to value liquidity: solvency, fluidity, rhythm — the dissolution of (old) bonds and the permeation of barriers.
To extrapolate (and to put a little pressure on the metaphor), a liquid tends to seek its level: it is “democratic.” But it can be pressurized: a steady state — like a ideal loose collectivity — tends to be transient (if that’s not a contradiction in terms).
But what if civilization were evolving in reverse? What if the drive to individualisation, etc, in modernity were just a reaction to the increasingly collective and centralized nature of society? The principal force in modernity would be connectivity — and thus collectivity.
Marx and Engels called it interdependence:
In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence in every direction. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. (The Communist Manifesto, sec. 1)
Leaving aside the not-so-implicit colonialism of this assertion of a connective commons, perhaps we moderns, then, would be better to value entanglement: networks, evolution and involution, threads — the forging of (new) bonds and the enfolding of layers. If entanglement is the sine qua non of interdependence, whether it is seen to emerge from independence (like the “mastery” of the old West — or the newly mega-rich) or dependence (like the slavery of its Others — or those other than the mega-rich), we cannot ignore it, so we might as well embrace it.
23 December 2010 § Leave a Comment
Inaugural lecture of the University for Strategic Optimism held by Dr. Etienne Lantier at Lloyds TBS, Borough High Street London on November 24th 2010, 11:45am.
A university based on the principle of free and open education, a return of politics to the public, and the politicisation of public space.
Thanks to Mark Taylor for this link.
19 December 2010 § 4 Comments
John Rapkin, Map of New Zealand (1852)
New Zealand as settler state is — or, rather, was — a state of inception:
not (or not just) a state of exception, in which the suspension of laws in response to supposed crisis becomes a prolonged state of being (or, in terms of Inception, a place where memories [history as taonga or the "true" history of the place] are stolen, i.e., extracted or excepted [→ an untrue, or truly frontier history of the place] — although that might seem to be how New Zealand works),
but (or but also) a state of inception, in which laws of all kinds except constitutional law is applied to forestall crisis (or, in Inception‘s terms, a place where memories are implanted, i.e., incepted [→ an untrue, or truly foundational — or "found-national" — history of the place], which is in practice how New Zealand works).
The etymologies say it all: frontier — the vanguard of settlement; foundation — the grounding of the settlement.
frontier: from O.Fr. frontier, “prow of a ship, front rank of an army [i.e., the vanguard]” (13c.), from adj. frontier, “facing, neighboring,” from front “forehead, brow,” from L. frontem (nom. frons) “forehead, brow, front; facade, forepart; appearance.”
foundation: late 14c., “action of founding,” from L. fundationem, “a founding [i.e., a or the grounding],” from fundare, “to lay the bottom or foundation of something,” from fundus, “bottom, foundation.”
New Zealand as state of inception has always driven to ground itself in the place as a “steady state”: hence the Treaty, the Act of Dominion and other legislative moves, to provide a legal footing; hence the public education, health and other systems to administer its social arm — the “steady as she goes” welfare state; hence, even, the fetish for general histories, historical epics, etc., to voice the steady state history that is its back story. In effect, these are moves to assert a psychic sovereignty: a homeostatic home.
However, whether we see New Zealand as state of inception or exception, settlement comes down to making money by harnessing the psyche (as in — and as is — Inception).
(Note that I wrote New Zealand “is — or, rather, was — a state of inception” because I think things are changing as “we” seek to ape the US, the font of frontier capitalism. “We” are transforming New Zealand from settler utopia back into settler frontier — except that now it is the vanguard of a new settlement.)
6 November 2010 § 1 Comment
An excellent essay about how the corporate/neoliberal university works (from http://www.ianangus.ca/corpu.htm) . . .
Ian Angus’s four (modern) universities:
- elite: training administrators/bureaucrats (imperial)
- public: educating citizens (social)
- corporate: training/credentialising individuals for the government-corporate nexus (economic)
- democratic: resisting the government-corporate nexus (political)
The essay (annotated, reformatted and slightly edited):
The university has historically played many distinct roles — elite, public, corporate — and has been perpetually haunted by another possibility — the democratic university. These roles have defined the relation between university and capitalist society.1 However, university structure and functioning does not simply mirror the social-economic environment with which it must come to some accommodation. Similarly, politics within the university does not straightforwardly mirror politics outside. Their complex articulation sets the framework within which a democratic politics can today be carried on within the university.2
How does one define the university? It serves many functions — economic, political, ideological, etc. — and undertakes many activities — research, instruction, etc. In today’s climate it is tempting to define the university “materialistically” [economically] as a private (corporate)-public (state) joint economic institution producing training and credentials (and therefore defining others who fail or do not attend as untrained and without credentials) recognized in the global corporate economy or the national bureaucracy. This is not wrong; indeed it is the reality of the contemporary corporate university which those who work and learn within it must address in some fashion or another. For many, it is simply the environment within which they go about their daily business and thus as natural and unquestionable as any other such. But given the still relatively recent transformation of the public university into a corporate environment, and given the still incomplete nature of this transformation, a memory of other practices and legitimations survives. During the era of the welfare state the publicly-funded university was understood to play a public role in developing citizenship and social awareness that shaped and over-rode its economic function. This memory serves to make many others uncomfortable with the new corporate reality of the university. University culture is now torn between the memory of better days that leads to a narrative of decline and despair and a new “realistic” resignation to the “fact” that the university is simply an economic institution no different from any other except insofar as making shoes is different from renting high-rises.
There was always a minority for whom the corporate function and even the citizenship function were questionable as such. The university after the Second World War continued the function of social criticism that has always hung around those who ask basic questions about human being and social organization. [a.] The socially critical activities of individual faculty were more or less tolerated in the 1960’s, but when faculty and students tried to align the university as an institution with democratic forces outside in opposition to the government-corporation nexus — such as at Simon Fraser University or the London School of Economics — the possibility was soon closed down by the police. [b.] The critical minority was more acceptable within the public university than it is within the corporate one, though there were always limits. Thus, there is a tendency for radical critics to succumb to the liberal and social democratic narrative of decline, forgetting that [c.] the public role of the university in the welfare state was an interlude in a longer history in which university education was a key ideological and practical preparation for a career in the imperial adventure. The British Empire — or French, German, etc. — needed administrators and bureaucrats as much as soldiers, informants and head-breakers. The Canadian state continued to play this role within its own borders. The public university was itself a transformation of the traditional role of the elite university [viz., educating imperialist administrators/bureaucrats].
Such a materialistic definition provokes discomfort in those of us who work and study in the university. Not because it is wrong but because it is right. Nevertheless, [d.] it fails to capture that for which we struggle when we teach and learn — the ability to think meaningfully about one’s experience that allows a deeper judgment of the current situation and brings one’s future actions into question — that one can still perhaps call for short (without implying any specific allegiances) “enlightenment.” The struggle for enlightenment in its individual, social and biological dimensions has never by any means been limited to the university, but the dignity of the university’s role has rested on its claim to a link with the project of enlightenment. It is this claim that unsettles the purely materialistic definition of the university. Thus the “idealistic” definition that the university is “a community of scholars” resurges when one attempts to articulate the project that animates learning. It is all too easy to document the failures that prove that this definition does not capture the everyday practice of university life. It is more difficult to abandon it entirely in the face of an inquiring student or one’s own struggle to confront despair or madness.
The university is an institution of thought. Thus, its economic and political functions are pervaded by a practice whose distinctiveness consists in its attempt to transcend those functions by inquiring into their justification and their place in the wider social order. The university has been most itself when it has approximated in practice this struggle for enlightenment. Must this definition remain “idealistic,” that is to say, must it ignore the realities of economy and politics? Is it only an ideology that dissimulates? It would seem so if the struggle for enlightenment were severed from its practical base in the encounter that produces education. However, even the most mundane practices of the university appeal to legitimations that refer to the moral and social significance of education. While such legitimation contains a perennial slide toward becoming a comforting ideology that merely masks a rude reality, it can never become entirely so due to the specificity of education as a practice. It is this specificity that accounts for the fact that there was always a minority for whom the corporate function and even the citizenship function were questionable as such. Thus, in this sense the critics are well-placed. Their criticism is rooted in a practice that cannot be entirely dissipated as long as any distinction remains between education and selling shoes.
The practical and organizational core of the institution of thought is the seminar room with its interchange between younger, beginning thinkers and one or more older, experienced ones. This encounter is not an exchange of information (which produces nothing new) but precisely an encounter, an event. The event of embodied reflection animates the struggle for enlightenment. It is no wonder that [a.] the corporate university in the most wealthy countries in the world cannot find sufficient resources to fund encounters in seminar rooms. [b.] While the public university of the welfare state was more accommodating, it also contained a tendency toward imparting information to serve purposes decided elsewhere. Both citizenship [public] and corporate models prefer the lecture hall with its many listeners and few experts to the common struggle of the seminar room. Lectures can be learned and witty. They can be benign, taken in moderation, but the core of the university is the search for a not-yet-discovered understanding, a still-elusive formulation. This search produces enlightenment, not the supposed possession of knowledge itself which could be transmitted to the largest possible number of adherents. To define the university in this manner is not necessarily “idealistic” in the sense of ignoring the material realities which make the university possible and invade its practices. It is simply a definition through the best of what the university does, based in a specific activity which the university did not create but to which it has given form, which concretizes enlightenment as the most fundamental and universal human task.
Thus, the core of the university is the encounter between students and faculty and it is their responsibility to undertake that encounter in a spirit of enlightenment. Otherwise, what they do could be done better elsewhere. A community engaged in the search for knowledge enacts critical thinking. The justification for academic freedom is in the activity of critical thinking. [a.] Genuine searching requires criticism of received truth and constituted powers and demands the mutual criticism of students and teachers based in the quality of their ideas rather than their social positions. [b.] Criticism is of the idea, not the person, and is not only compatible with mutual respect of persons but demands and reinforces such respect. [c.] Despite its embodiment in the seminar room, this activity cannot be confined to the university. It has a wider importance which provokes a critique of all those forces which prevent enlightenment and which entrench domination and ignorance. Occasionally, thinkers who have taken this project seriously have been drawn to articulate in the public realm as social criticism the ethic that is built into the practice of university teaching and learning. For this, they have often been stigmatized by the powerful in university and society as “outspoken academics” wandering outside their supposed academic specialties without understanding, or even repressing, the ethic that is embodied within all such inquiries, specialist or otherwise. The socially relevant critical thinker has no guarantee of truth — any more than any other human — but the corrective for this is in an expanded sphere of critical thinking not in its curtailment. One must ask who is really outspoken in the society in which we live. Corporations, government, media say long and loud what they have to say. They shout from all corners and are impossible to avoid in today’s propagandistic consumer environment. When these powers stigmatize an academic for being outspoken, the intent should be clear. It is to keep public awareness and debate from extending to these powers and their social role itself. University-based thinkers are not the only ones to raise such issues but they are one crucial source for social criticism.3
A conception of the university based in the educative encounter which holds social relationships up to critical inquiry necessarily finds itself in conflict with entrenched powers. The public university gained a certain autonomy by accepting the legitimacy of the corporate economy outside its gates and confining its criticism to the classroom. This bargain was possible through a conception of “spheres of society” in which different principles prevailed. While the university was dedicated to critical thinking, the economy was dedicated to profit-making. One has only to remember the outrage that was visited from all corners when this separation was breached. In the 1960’s the student movement expected “the critical university” to play a social function also and thereby drew the wrath of both public powers and university administrators whose distance from economic powers was thus threatened. But it is important to remember that the separation was not first breached by the student movement: it was the role of the university in war research, anti-union activities, job-training for the corporate elite and its technical lieutenants such as engineers and personnel department flunkies, corporate funding of technological developments, and the failure of its critical function that provoked the student movement’s rejection of the separation of spheres. Indeed, the “spheres of society” seemed only to apply to a restriction of the critical function of the university and not to its increasingly strong ties with corporate and warfare powers. It was an uneasy conception at best, though it offered more independence than the subsequent corporate university ever could. During the 1960’s, in a period of expansion of the universities due to the requirements of a more scientific-technical, bureaucratic capitalism protections of academic freedom became more widespread and extensive. For a short moment, professors were in demand and could expect greater protection of their role.4 The senior faculty in universities now had their expectations of tenure, peer review, and academic freedom of inquiry and expression formed during this period.5 [N.B.] It is hard for us to resist a narrative of decline, but [a.] one element of resistance must be to understand the greater university freedoms institutionalized in the 1960’s as a specific period of gain rather than the natural state that it has often been assumed to be. [b.] We must also keep in mind the exclusively individual nature of academic freedom thus understood, though the gains in democratic self-government within the university were of a more cooperative nature.
The corporate university has been waging a battle for some years now against those aspects of the public university that are rooted in the gains of the 1960’s. The major means of this battle has been fiscal. In the same way that right-wing governments at the provincial and national levels have begun their re-structuring with the claim that there is not, or no longer, sufficient money to sustain current social insurance/welfare practices, [+] university administrations have justified their re-structuring with the claim that governments are no longer willing to support the public university and that they have no other option but to seek funding from other sources. This is by no means an empty claim. Public funding of universities has consistently fallen for two decades now and major issues about the functioning and purposes of the university must be addressed. University administrations, on the whole, have avoided addressing such questions directly and have presented the new fiscal environment as an inescapable force that has turned them toward corporate sources of funding. Dedicated funding, grant money, distance education money grabs, etc.: the university is no longer a unity that can define its own priorities; funding of specific functions prevails and the whole is simply the sum of its dominant parts. Increasing corporate funding has supported some aspects of the university at the expense of others and ultimately transformed the public university into the corporate university with barely a word of debate. Mainly, this has been done without dismantling procedures and practices directly but by simply voiding them of real content. All debates are cut off with reference to fiscal Realpolitik and the priorities of the Dean or higher adminstration. The corporate university has thus come into being in concert with the undermining of democratic decision-making in the university and the rise of the power of administrations responsible only to government and corporate sources of funding and not to the internal core of the university based in the educative experience. [a. critical thinking] Suppressing of genuine debate about the function of the university and its social role has been key to this transformation. [-] While fiscal abandonment by a waning welfare state is certainly a reality, the absolute necessity of a corporate transformation is not. The absence of debate on this crucial fact has spread throughout the corporate university as a virus: we are now confronted with discourses of necessity and decline on all fronts. But this helplessness is a product and not a fact. The tail is now wagging the dog: adminstrations and administrators run the university; there seems no alternative to corporate funding — which means corporate priorities — and the university’s critical function has become vestigial. Those who keep it alive are used as window-dressing that others may not see what’s going on [!].
Academic procedures are the mediation between the actual functioning of the university and the corporate world. These procedures are the result of a history of the university, which has always accommodated itself to the capitalist environment, but at previous stages gained a certain independence from that environment. The history of academic freedom struggles is one major component of this; another is equity struggles. The present demands of corporatization pressure for an erosion of this hard-won independence. Thus, [b. procedure] the administration voids procedures and rules of self-government within the university and, when it cannot do this, violates them altogether. Thus, one current task is to defend the rules and procedures within the university that limit the administration’s version of corporate rule and also to extend the democratization of the university in light of the principles that led to academic freedom in the first place. All this is based in the educative encounter of the seminar room that animates those with a vision of the democratic university.
What happens when the corporate university violates academic freedom (as they are likely to do in the process of establishing the corporate agenda on the remains of the public university)? It is not for nothing that recent years have brought us a number of academic freedom cases that go to the heart of the functioning of the corporate university. Well, they don’t come down to your office and announce that that is what they are going to do. Since there are still vestigial procedures and rules that make such violations look bad, their actions must be rationalized in another way. Since they are, obviously, responsible administrators doing a necessary job, then the fault cannot be theirs. If fault is not theirs, it must lie elsewhere. Thus ensues a frantic search for others at fault. [c. scapegoating, i.e., individualisation] Finger-pointing at “troublemakers” who “do not play by the rules” is essential to the administrative diktat of corporate rule. This phenomenon has emerged in all the recent cases of violation of academic freedom in Canada — Nancy Olivieri, David Healy, David Noble. All have been transformed miraculously and instantaneously from respected academics worthy of high-ranking jobs and research grants into irresponsible troublemakers and charlatans. The logic of the scapegoat underpins the violations essential to the corporate university’s transformation of the purpose of the university. If critical thinking is out, then ritual blaming is in.
Here is the logic: The university has procedures which, theoretically at least, rule out non-academic grounds and “old-boy” connections and rumours. If the administration wants to make a decision based on such rumours, old-boy connections or non-academic grounds, then it must interfere with the procedures. Then, if anyone points this out, they must defend themselves from wrongdoing. (After all, even if rules were broken, they were only doing what’s necessary in the current corporate environment.) If they are not wrong in interfering in this way, then someone else must be culpable: the people who pointed out the violation, the committees that made the overturned decisions, most of all, the person whose academic freedom has been violated. The violated one is transformed in an instant into a powerful source of wrong-doing, thus justifying the “special means” that were necessary to avoid this error. Expel the outside agitator! Then our nice and peaceful university will function smoothly again.
Such expulsions do not only occur in the publicized cases. [d. maintaining disciplinary boundaries] They occur also where students and faculty overstep the bounds of a narrow specialty to ask more general and universal questions. Keeping everyone within defined and safe boundaries ensures that difficult questions will not be asked. The corporate university cannot address openly such difficult questions, thus it must make sure that they do not arise. Thus, it promotes and polices a confinement of inquiry to technical questions within pre-established boundaries that violates not only the procedures, but the function and rationale, of the university as an institution of free inquiry. It is a university in name only, and then only because the right to so name is vested exclusively in the government. The culture of compliance that prevails today allows the corporate university to veil its usurpation of the name. The first task is thus to over-step these boundaries, to raise the larger questions, to make the issues public and thus to fulfil the social task of the university by bringing critical thinking to the public outside the university.
Contemporary society is pervaded by knowledge-based innovations of all kinds. Medical research, new drugs, technical innovations, etc. affect millions of people daily. Government institutions of regulation and testing, such as Health Canada and Environment Canada, have been seriously degraded by underfunding such that they often have to rely on privately funded testing to make their decisions. [-] Without an independent body capable of testing the claims of such knowledge-based innovations, the public is left vulnerable. I take it as obvious that corporations who test their own products, from which they intend to make huge profits, are not genuine sources of independent assessments. [+] University-based researchers, on the other hand, have both the expertise and the independence to make assessments in the public interest. Moreover, they are able to raise questions concerning the larger social context and consequences of such innovations (if not hampered by being confined to delimited technical questions). Thus, the corporate agenda both needs university-based research because it has a greater purchase on the public trust due to its independence and also must undermine its independence because it tends to raise questions that their agenda doesn’t want raised. A politics of the democratic university in the corporate age will have to address this contradiction and, to do so, will have to take its critique and agenda beyond the university faculty to the students whose education compromised by corporate-dominated research and the public whose welfare is sacrificed to it.
This point is perhaps easy to see in the case of medical and technical innovations, but it is no less pertinent to those who study the social sciences and humanities. [. . . and . . .] Relevant thinking about social structures and practices, their history and their prognosis, is required by a democratic society which relies on informed citizens capable of sensible decisions. There is an important role for academic freedom in a democratic society and a defence of the democratic university cannot prevail unless it reaches the active citizens with which it has a common interest. Social democratization and the democratic university, while not exactly equivalent, can ultimately not prosper without each other.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers’ policy on academic freedom recognizes this connection. It begins “The common good of society depends on the search for knowledge and its free exposition. Academic freedom in universities is essential to both these purposes in the teaching function of the university as well as in its scholarship and research. . . . Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the individual. Rather, academic freedom make commitment possible.”6 Its logic proceeds from the good of society, to the search for knowledge, to the necessity for free inquiry in the search for knowledge, to the necessity for individual commitment and expression in this search. Thus far, my argument is nothing more than an independent and somewhat more extended statement of this logic. But note: the CAUT policy ends “Academic freedom carries with it the duty to use that freedom in a manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base research and teaching on an honest search for knowledge.” Again, no disagreement. But the policy on academic freedom ends with the defence of freedom of inquiry. It defends only [y] the individual freedom of academics and extends [n] neither to democratic decision-making within the university nor to the social responsibility of the university institution as such. At no point does the CAUT policy return to its point of departure in the concept of social good. In this respect my argument suggests more. Society as a whole, through its dominant powers, always makes decisions, not only about inquiry, but about the application of knowledge. Health and technical innovations, and also social-political ideas, have social applications. One should investigate them freely, but should one remain silent about their application? Is their no concept of academic freedom that pertains to the evaluation of whether the products of free inquiry are being properly and sensibly applied? Such evaluation always takes place. Powerful institutions such as corporations, governments and the media engage in such evaluations regularly. If academic freedom does not extend to the evaluation of knowledge-based applications, then it completes just half its task. The question of “what is a social good” must be raised in universities and outside them. This is the connection between the democratization of the university and the democratization of society. Academic freedom in the corporate university is a wizened, empty shell capable in practice only of justifying the freedom of researchers to accept the large grants proffered by private interests. It is sustained by the logic of the scapegoat. A democratic society demands a lively conception of academic freedom. Its logic is one of free inquiry and expression complemented by responsible evaluations of the social good.
This possibility of a democratic university respecting individual academic freedom but also enacting an institutional social freedom through democratic decision-making within and socially-responsible activities outside haunts the recent history of the university and its contemporary situation. The corporate university currently undermines academic freedom and self-government entirely. Recalling this history should establish the importance of defending those gains made at an earlier period, but it should also avoid the narrative of decline. [Yet:] The public university repressed, no less than the corporate university, the democratic possibility that is rooted in the respectful give-and-take of cooperative learning in the seminar. This possibility cannot be kept alive without raising basic questions about the meaning and function of the university in a corporate environment and pressing for the greatest possible cooperative autonomy that will sustain criticism of that environment. Nothing less befits the institution of thought.
1 The pre-capitalist medieval university and its ancient progenitor, the Academy, are outside the scope of this essay, which will not reach any further back than the 19th century.
2 My involvement in such matters has been, until recently, only through daily university politics. The motivation for trying to think more systematically about them derives from the recent (since 2001, as yet unresolved) controversy over administrative violation of academic freedom in the proposed hiring of David Noble by the Department of Humanities at Simon Fraser University. Documents relevant to this controversy can be found at www.ian-angus.ca
3 Another important source, which also often stimulates research questions for academics, is social movements. I have discussed the impact of social movements on democracy and public debate in Emergent Publics: An Essay on Social Movements and Democracy (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring, 2001) and Primal Scenes of Communication (Albany: SUNY P, 2000).
4 Michael Horn, Academic Freedom in Canada: A History (Toronto: UTP, 1999), ch. 10.
5 One other aspect of this expansion was the entry of a large and dominant number of U.S. professors into the Canadian university system. While the politics of such professors was by no means uniform, this had the effect of marginalizing specifically Canadian issues and traditions of thought, calling forth the report The Struggle for Canadian Universities (Toronto: New P, 1969) edited by Robin Mathews and James Steele. The argument that Canadian universities need to be rooted in Canadian society in order effectively to address its problems retains its relevance even though the more recent government regulation concerning hiring has altered the U.S. predominance. University culture often opposes such regulation because it is committed to a free-floating idea of excellence rooted in that 1960’s dominance and which has had a huge impact in muting the critical potential of Canadian universities. See my discussion of Canadian nationalism in A Border Within: National Identity, Cultural Plurality and Wilderness (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s P, 1997), ch. 2.
6 CAUT-ACPPU, Policy Statement on Academic Freedom (approved by the CAUT Council, May 1977), available at http://www.caut.ca/english/about/policy/academic freedom.asp.