Category Archives: ALFS presentation

Language corruption, “public choice,” and more

I had almost finished a very good post and it was lost. In it, I had talked about some pieces of LARR 40:3 (2005), a great issue of the journal but that I am going to put in the café bookshelf because not only do I have electronic access to it but also, the wonderful pieces in it that I had been keeping it for are not central to me now. There is a piece by Juliet Hooker on mestizo nationalism in Nicaragua, that even today works to limit the political inclusion of people darker than mestizos (actually this is a GREAT example for the Ferreira da Silva piece), and an article on violence and difference in the short stories of Mistral. Then there are a lot of useful review essays, including one by Jorge Duany on identity in Puerto Rico, one by Marc E. Prou on Haiti, and one by Nancy Appelbaum on post-revisionist scholarship on race. The “revision” to which she refers is the critique of “racial democracy.” What can still be said? A fair amount, she shows, by looking at case studies like Jerry Dávila’s Diploma of whiteness.

Important: by 2005 Appelbaum no longer thought racial democracy needed critique; that work had been done. Then: there is an essay by Virginia Higginbotham on (then) new work on cinema, still useful. There is also an essay on Mayan identity, by anthropologist Les W. Field, that criticizes identity discourse. This is very interesting. 1/ It is capitalist economies which have organized social stratification around axes of race, class and gender, conjugated in ways that reproduce hierarchies again and again. 2/ In the last 3 decades or so of the 20th century many social movements were created on the basis of these identities. 3/ Anthropologists used these as analytic devices — thereby misunderstanding or misrepresenting these categories as scientific or always relevant/germane.

The other and arguably more important discovery is a point in Nancy MacLean’s book. “Buchanan was the leading light in what has become the public choice movement, which uses the concept of choice to undermine public belief in a broader common good and public interest.” To get support for this or at least compliance, it was necessary to use “a level of language corruption.” For instance, you promote the idea of school choice when you are actually aiming to dismantle public education.


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Kropotkin and more.

I really should have spent all the time I wasted reading Marxist and other Left theory, simply for the sake of mental health — although it would have been good intellectual exercise as well, and a good political education. Here’s an article on Kropotkin, mutual aid and anarchism that is worth reading. Here is a good book-length study of Kropotkin, and here is a key paragraph from it.

I bought the biography of Victor Arnautoff, although I should not buy non-essential books. And my essay on the language of neoliberalism will start, I believe, by pointing to Kezar’s observations (which are also mine), including the fact that we do not seem to know where we are. And one of the reasons we do not is language.

(I want to come alive again, that is, I seem to be coming alive again after decades of sleepwalking and rare flashes of light.)


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Adrianna Kezar

On the commercialization of higher education. Kezar says the three books she reviews offer oversimplified solutions to the commercialization problem. She says commercialization must be studied from a systems and cultural perspective.

1. What is the public good, and how is commercialization threatening it? None of the authors say a great deal about the notion of public good itself. Bok (one of the authors) published an earlier book that did address this.

2. In the 60s many attacked HE for not meeting the public interest: it was too exclussive, too involved with classified research related to defense; not involved in international humanitarian efforts, and not engaged enough politically. Bok says universities should be involved in community activities beyond teaching and research but not activist.

3. Slaughter and Rhoades (Academic capitalism) explain commercialization and commodification of HE well. They don’t say a great deal on how to fix it or navigate it; Kezar says understanding it helps navigate it.

4. How does the new university serve the public good, though? Bok, in his newer book (2003), says academic capitalism does not have to be laissez-faire. We just need to make sure profit-making enterprises such as athletics, research partnerships, and online learning don’t lead to a decline in general quality of teaching and research. We should stop taking kickbacks (dream on, my man — N. Ed.).

5. The third book Kezar discusses (Zemsky) makes similar recommendations — with the right policies, quality will not be eroded. These are superficial recommendations that do not address the gravity of the problem.

6. Bok and Zemsky say the problem is the decline in state and federal funding; Slaughter and Rhodes say the issue is the neoliberal philosophy that underlies this, and that has reshaped societal and institutional culture. It is fundamental to consider the societal and policy environment in which institutions exist, and in which they and individuals act (and may not be strong enough to counteract).

7. Underconceptualized are commercialization as a systems issue, and the depth of the change. We need recommendations and a framework for management that actually takes the problem as a systems issue into account. Disciplinary societies, for instance, need to work to develop codes of conduct around these issues. (The review goes into some detail on the systems analysis and its points are important.) We also need to incorporate a cultural perspective, as the changes are deep and pervasive; we need to figure out how to navigate them.


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August 3-11

It is in August, then, that I will create the reserve list for that class and construct Moodle sites for all my classes. In July I will still read for them. Today I was supposed to start writing — write for an hour, not read — that article. There are all these tantalizing ways to start. One would be a reference to the caged children: we have them in camps (and may start “euthanizing” for all I know) because they are foreign … so racial categorization is not passé regardless of anything anyone says. (I need to stop writing prefaces and write the text, though.)

Also in August, of course, I will visit the ASUC Store and REI.

For my other piece, Max Alvarez has an interesting podcast, that I will listen to. And for class, I am going to retrieve this book from Dad.

Right now, though, it is time to get rid of a few very old notes. These are from a file that had been started on race, hybridity, and coloniality, and they are old.

One of the points they make is that Blackness is not the same thing everywhere, is not experienced the same way everywhere, and so on. Correct, diasporas are hybrid, to refer to “home” is essentializing, and so on. But where I am still uncomfortable is that these points do NOT mean there isn’t such a thing as white supremacy, even when WHITENESS isn’t uniform.

Gilroy’s idea of a Black Atlantic would be a kind of middle ground, say Gordon and Anderson (1999). This might be a good piece to cite as something from the past … but all the other articles in the folder are too passé.


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Research universities and the public good

I would buy this book if it were less expensive, and if it were in a library I would check it out.

Countering recent arguments that we should “unbundle” or “disrupt” higher education, Jason Owen-Smith argues that research universities are valuable gems that deserve support. While they are complex and costly, their enduring value is threefold: they simultaneously act as sources of new knowledge, anchors for regional and national communities, and hubs that connect disparate parts of society. These distinctive features allow them, more than any other institution, to innovate in response to new problems and opportunities.


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Psychopolitics 1: the crisis of freedom

I learned about this book from Clarissa’s blog and am now reading it as well. This post is an aide-mémoire, not a full discussion.

a. The exploitation of freedom.
“Freedom will prove to have been merely an interlude.” It is felt when passing from one way of living to another, until this too turns out to be a form of coercion and gives way to renewed subjugation. “Such is the destiny of the subject; literally, ‘the one who has been cast down.’
* We no longer consider ourselves subjugated subjects, but rather projects…the change may seem liberating but the result is a more efficient kind of subjectivation and subjugation
*  The “achievement-subject” absolutizes bare life and labor, which form two sides of the same coin.
* Being free means being among friends. These two words have the same root in Indo-European. That is why academic freedom and collegiality go together; freedom signifies a relationship and a real feeling of freedom occurs only in a fruitful relationship — when being with others brings happiness (3).
* The neoliberal world, however, leads to utter isolation. As Marx indicates, individual freedom is a ruse, a trick of capital. Individual freedom sets capital, not people free. It degrades individuals, who are used to propagate capital, and become its genital organs.

b. The dictatorship of capital
* Industrial capitalism has mutated into neoliberalism. There has not been the struggle that would lead beyond capitalism, pace Marx; “capitalism can always escape into the fugure precisely because it harbours permanent and inherent contradiction” (5) … so we have entered a post-industrial, immaterial mode of production where we are all auto-exploiting entrepreneurs, master and slave in one; class struggle is now an inner struggle against oneself
* There is no multitude, pace Negri; there are only self-combating entrepreneurs. Therefore the cooperative Multitude will NOT throw off the parasitic Empire. This is a complete illusion.
* We are in a regime of auto-exploitation, so aggression is turned against the self. So the exploited do not rebel, but get depressed. We do not work to satisfy our needs, but those of Capital; it generates needs of its own, which we mistakenly perceive to belong to us. “We are being expelled from the sphere of lived immanence — where life relates to life instead of subjugating itself to external ends.” (7) Capital replaces religion as the transcendent order. In this situation politics becomes the handmaiden of Capital.
* Before God we are all debtors: guilty. But debt, or guilt, destroys freedom. Politicians today say high debt rates limit their freedom. Free from debt, we would truly have to ACT. Do we run up debts so as not to have to … so as not to be free, or responsible?
* Benjamin said capitalism was a religion. He noted that it created guilt but not atonement. People seize on the cult of capitalism not to atone for guilt but to make the guilt universal, he said!

c. The dictatorship of transparency
* Thanks to the Internet we are in this panopticon; this has implications.
* Neoliberalism turns citizens into consumers and politicians into suppliers. The demand for “transparency” from politicians is NOT a political demand, but a consumerist one.
* In the past there was surveillance; now we are actively steered.



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The critical university

My other friend(s) said this and I have to make the point explicit in my talk: “It’s important to recall why higher ed is important in the first place, imho. Namely: as a site to cultivate and protect and project critical thinking about the burning issues in our world.”

ETA: My other friend said: “[S]omething that we face as a real problem writ large, is the fact that we have lost our ability to recognize the larger scope of history and to see what was done in the past, as neoliberalism has done an absolutely fantastic job of making the present seem like the past, in that they make what is now ‘common sense’ seem like the historical reality for all of history basically.

That last is key for my other article. The landscape has changed and we are told it has not, and old gestures are called new when they are not, yet when performed do not mean in the same way, and old language is used in new ways, yet said to mean the old things.


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