Category Archives: ALFS presentation

Republican and economic modernity

These are two different things and they don’t go together. That is important to note. I was going to write a blog post on that, as applied to the university.

1/ Where are we now? My university is one of the most neoliberalized (I think) although it mixes that with a certain homespun quality. We are not good at shared governance.

2/ Common wisdom is that people who are not active in shared governance are too demoralized, too busy, or too disengaged / self-absorbed. Many use the excuse that the world to which it corresponds is over now. Is that an excuse, or is it true?

3/ Colleague: our university was founded in 1999 as a corporation, and sought an identity. This is why old traditions had to be stopped and new ones brought in. Student: university since 1999 makes it clear to all that it wants students’ money first. Education is a secondary concern. This is impersonal, and disconcerting.

4/ The ideals of the 18th century revolutions: we would be democratic republicans, citizens of nations. My questions: is that possible if the nation state is ending, and must nations be culturally or racially homogeneous?


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The common good

We don’t know, of course, if anyone believes in the common good, or the public good any more, but here are some fragmentary notes from a conversation we had.

1. We should talk much more about research. In class. College has to become more interesting – we cannot allow it to be further redefined as rote credentialing. We need research at lower levels.

2. We need a description of the “academy” from an academic point of view. Everyone else is saying what college should be but what do we say?

3. If the university is a public good, it should be supported by public revenues – not special interests.

4. As a public good, the university has non-pecuniary benefits, and these have value even if it is not measured in gold.

5. The liberal arts – intellectual discipline, intellectual agenda, sets intellectual agendas.


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Des feuilles

I am still going through my files and it is shocking – so many quite good and almost finished papers I set aside, or that got swept aside in one storm or another.

I have the Racial Order book, which is focused on the U.S. It talks about field theory (Bourdieu). Can race be a field? Like class, a field is “not a thing” — it is a set of relations, a set of overdeterminations; the field concept and formation theory have much in common.

There is someone called Kim Schneider who has written on the tragic mulata and the tragic muse, the mulata and the Jewess; I must look this up.

Subalterns used the language of rights to promote their inclusion in nation states, and Toussaint used the concept of rights — although he soon learned he was on the other side of modernity (his experience is a good example of the modernity/coloniality dyad). In the late 19th century the concept of RIGHTS collapses as Western industrial modernity becomes dominant.

***Completely different: if the student is customer and the faculty employee, what is civil society? Other vocabulary words: students are learners and faculty are customer service. But do people actually want to reject the neoliberal model? It is not just a question of whether we will have academic freedom and shared governance, but whether we will have a critical university and a democratic one. What about the patron-client relationships here: everything is Can I trust you? and Do I like you? What about mendacity, irrationality, incompetence — what if the actions of the administration are fraudulent, dishonest, manipulative?


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The neoliberalization

Who said it? Market incentives lower the value of college to both individuals and the public. Defunding chips away at both the public good and the private benefits to students. Faculty should unite on the concept of public good, and senior administrators should articulate it. Privatization has a price (and is not an improvement).


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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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