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The Post-Corporate University: Discussion

Page history last edited by Gary Hall 14 years, 11 months ago

Nick asked if the number of characters in the 'Add a Comment' sections can be increased. Apparently, it's a feature of the design of the particular wiki tool we're using, PBworks, that it cannot. However,the number of characters in the pages themselves does not have the same kind of limit. So we've pasted the discussions on The Post-Corporate University so far here on a special Post-Corporate University: Discussion page. Anyone can post a message on this page using the 'Edit' tab above. This will enable people to post longer messages. But feel free to begin a new page altogether if you have something longer to contribute.


Strand 1 

Gary Hall said

at 9:26 am on Jun 11, 2009

Nick Knouf has sent Clare and I the following mail. We’ve agreed with Nick that we’ll talk about it on the Liquid Books wiki.


Nick wrote:"I am very interested in the "Post-Corporate University" Liquid Books project. I am currently a graduate student at Cornell University in information science exploring the interstitial spaces around digital art, critical theory, and science and technology studies. One of my present projects is called MAICgregator (http://maicgregator.org), a Firefox extension that aggregates information about the military-academic-industrial complex (a longish statement about the project can be found here: (http://maicgregator.org/statement). I'm not sure if [this will] fit in with the goals of the ['Post-Corporate University' Liquid Books] project, but if I can help out with it I would be interested in doing so."



Gary Hall said

at 9:29 am on Jun 11, 2009

Hi Nick,


Thanks for the offer of help. That's very generous of you. I already knew about your MAICgregator project actually, and have been meaning to write to you about it in relation to a not-so-very-dissimilar project that I'm working on. 


But I’m also wondering if we can connect it to Davin’s ‘Post-Corporate University’ Project in some way. Maybe Davin will have some ideas about that. 

In the meantime, I'd be interested in learning more more about what happens to the information about the military-academic-industrial complex that is aggregated by MAICgregator? Could you say something about that?


For example, from the point of view of thinking about the ‘post-corporate university’, about performing an alternative to it, and also about the kind of things Clare and Davin have been talking about in relation to public pedagogy and hope, and 'where democratic struggles can take place and what it might mean to create the affective conditions for students and others to want to engage in such struggles in the first place’ (Giroux), I guess it would be useful to have you say more about things like: What is happening to the radical cartography that is produced by the MAICgregator? Is the only way to access this information to see it when it appears as a replacement or overlay on academic websites? Is any of this information being gathered together, collated, analysed, written up, published anywhere? Is anyone doing any analysis of and with this information?


I realise this is perhaps not necessarily the point of this particular project, that I’m in danger of taking it a little bit away from net.art and more toward treating it like cultural studies or critical theory. But one of the things that’s exciting about your project, for me, is that it does seem to be operating in the intersections between digital art, critical theory and science and technology studies, as you say. 


As for the project I’m working on, it comes out of a piece I’ve just written for the June issue of Against the Grain (http://www.against-the-grain.com/d - if anyone wants a copy let me know). In it I'm making a proposal for something called 'The Open Scholarship Full Disclosure Initiative'. This advocates the establishment of an initiative whereby all academic editors and publishers are asked to make freely available details of both their sources of income and funding, and of all the sources of financial income and support pertaining to the journals they run. Furthermore, as part of this initiative, I'm proposing we set up an equivalent directory to the DOAJ and SHERPA/RoMEO directories - only in this case documenting all these various sources of income and support, together with information as to who the owners of all the different academic journals in our respective fields are and, just as importantly, the other divisions, subsidiaries and activities of their various companies, organisations, institutions and associations.


The piece demonstrates why this might be an interesting thing to do with an example provided by Ted Striphas: that of Reed Elsevier, one of the main journal publishers in both the ‘hard’ and social sciences. Striphas reports that until as recently as 2007, Reed Elsevier was facilitating the global arms trade through its event planning arm, Reed Exhibitions, who ‘staged the annual Defense Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) event in the London Docklands, and similar events worldwide’. 


My argument in the above piece is that a campaign for ‘full-disclosure’ would be of huge assistance in furnishing scholars and researchers in all areas, with the knowledge that will enable them to make responsible political and ethical decisions as to who they want to publish with or undertake peer review for - and thus who they want to give their free labour to. For example, as a result of this initiative and the information obtained some scholars may take a decision not to subscribe to, publish in, edit, peer review manuscripts or otherwise work for academic journals owned by multinationals involved in supporting the military - which takes in Taylor and Francis, who publish some 68 cultural studies journals, including Cultural Studies, Continuum, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, etc.


I was wondering, could the MAICgregator or something like it be used or adapted to help with establishing such a directory or database in some way? Or establishing an ‘alternative’ kind of directory?


nick knouf said on 22 June 2009, 


I have to apologize for taking so long to respond to your important queries; I've just started attending a summer theory school here at Cornell and what appeared to be an open summer has now become quite closed by requiring me to bury my head in Derrida.  But enough with the excuses, on to the responses...


I am saving some of the data I collect over MAICgregator, but not all of it due to the need for excessive amounts of data storage (and, consequently, the decreased response time that would come with the aggregation of more and more data).  Data from Google News and the press releases are updated on the order of a day, wiping out the previous day's results.  (For performance reasons, this only happens when someone requests results for a particular school; I don't automatically update all the schools in the database in a wave at night).  Data from government sources does not need to be updated as regularly (I use the last complete fiscal year's data, as I am not tracking the data for the present fiscal year, although one can do so through the publicly available sources from the government).  Historical government spending data is easy to get for the last 5-8 years or so.


Right now the only way to access the information is through the extension itself.  However, I am working on releasing a public interface to the data shortly.  (If you read code you can use the interface already by seeing how I make the requests to my server :-) )  The main issue is that I want to ensure that the system is stable enough for extended use.  But once I've opened this up it'll be much easier to see how others decide (or not) to work with the information.  (One of my principles here, however, is that I do not track by IP who access the website using the software.  I find the fact that websites save IP address by default to be relatively useless to me as a site administrator and potentially very dangerous.  For reasons why this might be, see this article about one of my colleagues, "City Subpoenas Creator of Text Messaging Code", http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/30/nyregion/30text.html .  Right now all I can find out is which schools are being searched for the most, which of course does not necessarily link with particular users at those schools.  For the month of June, New School, University of Chicago, Case Western Reserve, Berkeley, and University of Minnesota are in the lead.)  Indeed, I am as interested in use of the application as I am in its relationship to net.art, as well as its relationship to theory.  I've touched on these issues in the statement (http://maicgregator.org/statement) but I am working on expanding upon that piece for later publication somewhere as I work through some of the responses over the summer.  (If there are any of you on liquidbooks who have used the software and want to talk to me about, feel free to send me an e-mail.)


I'd definitely be interested in your paper and I find the initiative quite intriguing.  One of the difficulties that I've been faced with in developing MAICgregator, and one of the reasons for working on it in the first place, is the shadow that is placed over academic funding.  While researchers in the sciences and engineering are required to acknowledge their funding sources in their papers, they appear as strings of seemingly meaningless numbers and letters that can be connected to concrete NSF/NIH proposals, but would be a quite difficult task to do at scale.  (From a technical standpoint, it is hard to find these information in the unstructured data of the web, and finding it within the PDFs of the research papers themselves is slightly easier, but again difficult to do at scale.  I wrote about some of these issues regarding MAICgregator in the FAQ: http://maicgregator.org/FAQ .  While these are technical issues indeed, they also suggest key problematics about search, aggregation, and surveillance.  As well, it points to interesting questions about epistemology and representation, and how the "binary" representation of data does not make it any easier to find it, as the extensive research in fields like "machine learning" attest.)  Your reference to Elsevier is telling as I have discovered similar things concerning those who give money to Cornell.  For example, alumnus Sanford Weill has given hundreds of millions of dollars to Cornell to help fund its medical school.  He was also the longtime-chairman of Citigroup, a conglomerate with a subsidiary accused of helping to fund a rebel group in the Congo (see http://www.business-humanrights.org/Documents/Vuyelwa-Kuuya-on-UN-Expert-Panel-DRC-Nov-2008.doc) where coltan is mined, a key mineral used in parts for high performance electronic devices such as computers and mobile phones.  These links are hard to make without deep investigative research and/or journalism.  Something like your initiative would certainly help out and, given access to the data within the initiative, would be easy to integrate into MAICgregator.  (I'll leave the technical details aside for the moment...)


But I guess my concern would be with the perennial issue of enforcement: would it be a requirement?  How would the claims be verified?  Who decides what is an important donation/grant/contract and what isn't?  What level of granularity?  And how does it relate to movements towards accountability and "transparency"?  This is not to discount the initiative by any means, it is only to raise some questions about this and similar databases---like MAICgregator.  Because as I was developing it I came to realize troubling similarities between my project and the move towards audit culture, of my potentially putting-forth an idea of "faux" transparency.  And for me I had to ask these questions: now that I know these links, know what sorts of programs are being run these universities, so what?  What do I do now?  How can I respond?  How can I move from a stance of _responding_ to one of active creation that does not always take the university as the agent that determines my move?  There was a sense for me that I was beginning to fight a battle of "information against information", one that seemed too close to a rationalist concept of discourse, that I was perhaps trying to play within the (existent?  non-existent?) public sphere of the University.  And this seems to me to be a time-consuming endeavor with little chance of success (meaning the radical reconfiguration of the university as institution). 


I am not trying to be a nihilist here, but rather to try and think what alternatives might be, what might be my next step after developing a project like this.  And I have been moving to think about the space of action being in the pedagogical relationship itself, not in the reconfiguration of the University-as-institution.  Not that those activities are useless and/or not needed; they are and they should be pursued.  But perhaps to focus energies on them _in their entirety_ is to potentially miss other alternatives.  This is of course not a new idea, as people from radical pedagogues to the Situationists have been discussing these issues for years.  But it is perhaps to reorient the discussion from a focus on the structure of the University---a behemoth whose edges might be mutable, but whose center appears to be fixed and set in concrete---towards the edges themselves, meaning the classrooms, the relationships in office hours, the places of mutability and where surveillance is only slowly beginning to take hold.  Thus this approach is both tactical and strategic in endeavor.


Gary hall said on 27 June 2009,  

Hi Nick, 


Thanks for this. It’s really interesting and helpful. 


I want to address your comments about how your MAICgregator and ‘The Open Scholarship Full Disclosure Initiative’ I’m proposing might relate to similar moves toward accountability and transparency. However, to do that, I feel like I need to go back to those questions you put to Davin earlier:  


why do we put so much energy into fighting for the University as an institution, especially since it has never really been known as a progressive space/place in the first place? What makes us spend so much time trying to reform or radicalize the University, since it has often been used as a tool for the promotion of the nation-state, for the development of the ideal of an Enlightenment-style humanist subject, for the development of militarized workers (in the sciences or engineering), or, today, for the promotion of a neoliberal agenda?


 I’ve been thinking about this in relation to both Davin’s project and yours. In this respect, any answer I might put forward to these questions would begin something as follows...   


I agree, the university has often been used to promote all the discourses and philosophies you describe. Still, I’d be wary of saying that these discourses and philosophies – neoliberal, humanist and so on – however dominant they may be in any particular time and place, completely exhaust what the university has been or is today. (Which is not to suggest I think this is what you’re saying: clearly you’re not, as your thoughts on Lyotard, performative writing, and how we might respond/redevelop/reinvigorate the neoliberal university via the lens of the libidinal, demonstrate.) 


 As your questions very much imply, the university is not one; it’s more than one. (I saw someone using ‘multi-versity’ the other day. Would that be a better word than university? It’s perhaps a little awkward, but would it help us to move away from the emphasis on the self-identical and the unification of knowledge implied by ‘uni-versity’?)  


In this respect it’s also worth making the point that there is not just ‘The University’. In many ways we should perhaps be talking about, and trying to understand, ‘Universities’ in their different historical, cultural, economic, geographic and political contexts – especially as I’m aware there are people registered as ‘users’ of Liquid Books from the Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, Lebanon, the UK, Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand, among other places (sorry to anyone I’ve left out). 


Anyway, back to the question: why should we spend so much time on the university? There are a number of answers one might give to this question, alongside those connected to desire and the libidinal you mention. They include:  


a.      Institutions, including universities, don’t merely block political possibilities; they are also important players in enabling them too. This is why institutions are a vital part of hegemonic politics for Laclau and Mouffe, to provide just one example. (I might add that institutions do this not just at their ‘edges’, but at their ‘centres’, too - although I’m slightly wary of the risk such talk of centres, edges and rejects runs of maintaining the very kind of centre/periphery model it’s often trying to challenge.) 


b.     It’s important to understand the institutions in which we operate, not least so we can be aware of the politico-institutional forces that go to shape and control our own situations and practices. That way we can hopefully be less prone to being unconsciously shaped and controlled by them. And one of the places in which a lot of those who are likely to be reading this wiki work is of course the university, and what Davin is referring to as the corporate university at that. 


c.      The point made by Jacques Derrida, in an essay which is precisely on ‘university responsibility’ (‘Mochlos; or, The Conflict of the Faculties’): that all reading and interpretation ‘is only produced by simultaneously proposing an institutional model’. He goes on to add – and perhaps this connects to the comments you made on your own situation regarding the pedagogical relationship, office hours, classrooms, teaching and in fact the teaching of Derrida  – that when ‘I read some sentence from a given text in a seminar... I do not fulfil a prior contract, I can also write, and prepare for signature, a new contract with an institution, between an institution and the dominant forces in society. And this moment... is the moment for every imaginable ruse and strategic ploy.’ So another university is possible on this account. Indeed, for Derrida, the ‘strongest responsibility, for someone attached to a teaching or research institution, is perhaps to make this political implication, its system and its aporias, as clear and thematic as possible’.


d.       The central role universities play in the global economy: both in producing knowledge that can be commercially exploited; and in educating and training the workforce needed by this economy. In the UK, the     government dept. that dealt with Higher Education was recently scrapped and replaced with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It is this dept. that is now responsible for universities, which sends out a clear signal as to UK government’s attitude toward universities. The edu-factory collective even maintain that whereas in the past ‘the factory was a paradigmatic site of struggle between workers and capitalists’, today it is the university that is a ‘key space of conflict, where the ownership of knowledge, the reproduction of the labour force, and the creation of social and cultural stratifications are all at stake’ (edu-factory.org manifesto. Available at: http://www.edu-factory.org.)


     Now I’m not sure I would quite agree with this last point – at least not to the extent of regarding the university as now ‘paradigmatic’ or ‘key’. I think there are other institutions, discourses, practices and texts it’s extremely important to look at as well. To focus solely or primarily on the university would be to miss out on other potential alternatives and moments for the adoption of ‘strategic ploys’. Still, the above hopefully goes some way toward explaining why, for me at least, it’s important that we do put some energy into struggling over the University as an institution. This is why I think initiatives such as those of yourself, and Davin, are so valuable. 


As for relating to movements towards accountability, transparency and audit culture, you’re right, that’s a real issue, one that needs to be taken very seriously. However – and staying with the idea of adopting ruses for a moment - I quite like the idea, on occasion, and where appropriate, of following the logic of these cultural currents through to the end, to the point where the logic of accountability and transparency turns against itself, as it were.  I certainly think that’s one way in which your MAICgregator project could be read (although I’d find it helpful if you could say more about what you have in mind when you talk about moving from a stance of responding to one of active creation in relation to what your next step might be as regards the space of action). That said, I’d be a little nervous about attempting to provide such a reading of your project here, writing relatively quickly like this, in case it comes across as if I’m being somewhat ungenerous toward it/you at any point. That wouldn’t be my intention - still, I’m aware these things can easily be misinterpreted online. After all, it’s one thing for you to say you worry about putting forward an idea of faux transparency, quite another for someone else to appear to suggest your project might be doing so, albeit for perfectly good strategic reasons. So - because I think it’s important not to try to answer these kinds of questions purely in the abstract, as if free from all social, political, economic and historical factors - let me use another ‘live’ example with which to illustrate my point.  


One of the issues the Culture Machine editorial team have been discussing along with editors from a number of other interdisciplinary journals in the humanities (http://www.journalofvisualculture.org/network-editors-interdisciplinary-journals.html), is the way in which interdisciplinary journals often tend to fair quite badly in journal ranking and classification systems, such as that of the Australian Research Council. (The ARC is currently in the process of establishing a ranking system with which to judge the quality and importance of scholarly journals: the journal rankings can be found here: http://www.arc.gov.au/era/journal_list.htm; that for journals in Humanities and Creative Arts specifically is here: http://www.arc.gov.au/xls/hca_journals_complete.xls). 


Given this situation, we’ve been considering what our response should be. Should we just accept it? After all, maybe a lot of the journals that are given a low ranking in these kinds of things aren’t actually particularly ‘good’. That would be a little easier to accept, if it wasn’t for the fact that, along with other discrepancies, those journals that are given higher classifications in the ARC rankings and other such systems appear in many people’s eyes to be predominantly those that are owned and published by major international (and profit-intensive) conglomerates or their subsidiaries. (These journals also tend to be more expensive to subscribe to, and tend not to be open access for both authors and readers.) Journals that are independently owned and published tend on the whole to do rather less well in the likes of the ARC’s system; and all the more so if they are interdisciplinary and, God forbid, free, open access and online only. Of course the ARC claims that their rankings are the result of rigorous consultation and peer-review. However, for a lot of people such rankings often seem to be saying less about the quality of a particular journal and its contents, and more about who it’s owned by and how its published (i.e. being corporately owned and/or paper and/or discipline specific improves your chances of getting a good rating; being independent and/or online only and/or interdisciplinary hampers them). 


So, as editors of interdisciplinary journals should we lobby against these low rankings? (I know of one such journal that has done so with regard to the ARC - successfully as it turns out, since it resulted in the journal in question being moved up to the second highest possible rank. Does this mean we should we all start doing this?) Apart from the fact that, for some us, it doesn’t feel quite right somehow to lobby for our own journals (although we understand why people do it and wouldn’t criticise them for it), if we were to lobby would that mean we would in effect be sanctioning the likes of ARC’s classification system, since we wouldn't be arguing against the process per se, just disputing the particular order of rankings? 


But if we decide not to get involved in lobbying in the case of the ARC, can we afford to adopt this stance with regard to all the other ranking and classification systems: that of the ERIH, the Web of Science and so on?  Although it’s a very tempting thought, wouldn’t that be a little naive? Wouldn’t it mean that our journals would end up mainly publishing scholars who were either so senior in the academy, or so marginalised from it, that they don’t need to care about such rankings? While the rest – particularly those in the earlier stages of the careers, who need to publish in what are deemed the right sort of places in order to get jobs, promotion and tenure and so on – would not be able to afford to publish with us at all? 


Yet if the likes of the ARC really are going to privilege those journals that are discipline specific and published on paper by major corporate publishers, does that mean the likes of   Culture Machine are in the end going to have to more or less mimic, if not actually become, such a journal, if they are going to have any realistic chance of acquiring and maintaining a high ranking?


Now I would see something like ‘Open Scholarship Full Disclosure Initiative’ as perhaps enabling us to make a creative response to this situation, one that does have at least the potential to reconfigure part of the institution, albeit perhaps on a modest scale. To this end I would see one of its uses as being to serve as a strategic ploy, designed to level the playing field a little bit on behalf of non-corporate interdisciplinary journals (although this is not the only or even the main reason I’d want to support such an initiative), by using the neo-liberals’ own discourses of accountability, transparency and perpetual monitoring against them. 


For instance, one of the ways this privileging of corporately owned journals over independents is frequently justified within the university and academic publishing is by claiming that the former’s independence is actually a source of weakness, as it opens up many such journals – especially those which are less established or run by ‘younger’ scholars - to being positioned as functioning on an amateur, shoe-string basis, almost as cottage-industries. Compared to a journal produced by a more ‘professional’, corporately owned press, they are thus far more vulnerable to being accused – unfairly in my view, but then perhaps I would say that – of being unable to maintain consistently high academic standards: not just in terms of the quality of their production procedures, the marketing and distribution services they can offer, their ability to be picked up by prestige-endowing indexes, and all the other add-on features they can offer; but also in terms of their editing and peer reviewing processes. However, one way of intervening strategically in this state of affairs in order to redress the balance in favour of journals produced by publishers who are independent of the profit-intensive, multinational conglomerates would be to simply enquire where the money is coming from to fund and support these supposedly more professionally run journals, not to mention what other activities their parent companies are connected to?


When approached from this perspective, the very ‘independence’ of these journals and their publishers, far from being a weakness, begins to look like a significant source of strength. For example, it means they are far more likely to be published on a non-profit basis and run (indeed it is often a necessity) by scholars who perform their editorial functions for free as a ‘service to the profession’.  Intellectually, this makes it easier for independent journals to adopt risky strategies when it comes to publishing highly specialised, experimental, inter- or trans-disciplinary research that does not always fit into the kind of neat disciplinary categories and divisions with which for-profit publishers like to order their lists and catalogues; research which, in challenging established disciplines, styles and frameworks, may also fall between the different stools represented by the various academic departments, learned societies, scholarly associations, and research councils, but which may nevertheless help to push a given field in exciting new directions and generate important new areas of inquiry.


This lack of emphasis on the generation of financial profit in turn means their editorial and peer review processes are less likely to be comprised by financial considerations. In the ‘Full Disclosure Initiative’ article, I cite Ben Goldacre’s point that it’s already common knowledge that, when it comes to research in medicine, industry-funded studies are ‘more likely to give a positive result for the sponsors' drug'.  Goldacre goes on to refer to recent research which draws on data from the Web of Science to reveal that the impact factor for industry-funded studies in medicine is more than twice that of government-funded studies; and that 'studies funded by the pharmaceutical industry’ are far ‘more likely to get into the bigger, more respected journals' than are studies funded by government. All of which leads Goldacre to conclude that an unkind commentator might put forward at least one reason as to why industry trials might be more successful with their submissions, for all the supposed rigour of the system of academic peer-review. Namely, that many ‘journals are businesses, run by very huge international corporations, and they rely on advertising revenue from industry, but also on the phenomenal profits generated by selling glossy “reprints” of studies, and nicely presented translations, which drug reps around the world can then use'.


The very ‘independence’ of these independent journals also means that they are less likely to be owned by a publisher whose parent company is involved in activities that many academics, if they knew about them would not feel comfortable about continuing to donate their time and labour to support: by editing journals for them, or publishing in them, peer reviewing manuscripts or otherwise working for them.  So, as I say, one of the examples Ted Striphas provides is that of Taylor and Francis/Informa, whose cultural studies list features Cultural Studies; Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies; Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies and 65 others.  It may come as something of a surprise to many in cultural studies to learn that:


One of Informa’s subsidiaries, Adam Smith Conferences, which is indeed named for the patron saint of economic liberalism, specializes in organizing events designed to open the former Soviet republics to private investment. Other divisions of the company provide information, consulting, training, and strategic planning services to major international agricultural, banking, insurance, investment, pharmaceutical, and telecommunications corporations, in addition to government agencies. Take Robbins-Gioia, for instance. The United States Army recently tapped this Informa subsidiary during an overhaul of its command and control infrastructure. The firm was brought in to assess how well the Army had achieved its goal of ‘battlefield digitization’. The United States Air Force, meanwhile, tapped Robbins- Gioia when it needed help improving its fleet management systems for U-2 spy planes.


This is what I mean by using the neo-liberals’ own discourses of accountability, transparency and perpetual monitoring against them.


Does this mean that all projects which adopt discourses of accountability, transparency and perpetual monitoring are interesting or ‘progressive’. No. No more than open access is always interesting and politically and ethically progressive. For me open access can also be neo-liberal, humanist, conservative, moralistic... It depends on the particular instance in question, the situation and context, the other actors involved, the tactics and strategies adopted, the decisions that are made in relation to it and so on. So I can see where you’re coming from when you say you’re concerned about going along with the move toward audit culture and transparency. Nevertheless, I would be willing to argue that MAICgregator is one interesting strategic use of such information gathering – although I agree when you say it needs to be more than simply a battle of ‘information against information’.  And of course I’d like to think the OSFDI has the potential to perhaps be another. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see.



Davin Heckman said

at 4:58 pm on Jun 11, 2009

Nick, I think your work is ideally suited to a project such as this. In a practical sense, the MAICgregator reveals the hidden priorities of our educational institutions. This isn't to say that these very same institutions cannot and do not have other priorities, many of which are quite straightforward and commendable (For instance, Chomsky does great work from MIT). But I think being able to sort through these relationships and at the very least ask whether or not these things have ethical implications. It is absolutely stunning that a student can get an education which emphasizes things like feedback, interdependence, and globalization, while ignoring the ethical responsibilities that these imply. And while most institutions officially stress "ethics," what does it really say when you talk about ethics in broad ways, while studiously avoiding any personal, practical engagement with ethics? It says that "ethics" is simply another strategic resource, a PR technique, by which maximize the reach and impact of your ambitions while minimizing critique and dissent.

At the very least, an account of your work and the rationale behind it would be a great addition. But, if you wanted to go further (perhaps developing a list of resources or a set of challenges), we could work on a chapter that deals with the issue of funding, the issue of transparency, critical aesthetic responses, or something else entirely.

On the matter of authorship, I would be more than happy to see you develop a chapter of your own, which we could split off into an independent project, if it needs to be one. We could co-author something. We could simply pose some questions and see where the conversation goes. Maybe you want to write with a group of friends. I'm uninterested in inhibiting your interest.


Davin Heckman said

at 5:05 pm on Jun 11, 2009

Gary, I had heard of another scandal involving Elsevier, this one was an entirely fake journal published to promote products made by Merck <http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55671/>. It would be very interesting to see similar analysis of various publications, in particular, specific articles that come out of the public/private "partnerships."


Strand 2

Clare Birchall said

at 4:17 pm on Jun 2, 2009


Thanks for initiating this experiment, Davin. I've found Henry Giroux's implementation of the term 'public pedagogy' very helpful for thinking about how my students come to me already thoroughly neo-liberalised. But Giroux also says that "revelation guarantees nothing". So, it's not just a case of academics exposing the ideological nature of the neoliberal moment. Giroux might not be thinking along these lines, but his suggestion that ideology critique is outmoded as a pedagogical tool is a nice way to support your call for a turn to theory for thinking through the university beyond corporatism. Giroux writes, "we need to make pedagogy and hope central to any viable form of politics engaged in the process of creating alternative public spheres and forms of collective resistance. The question of agency cannot be separated from a concern about where democratic struggles can take place and what it might mean to create the affective conditions for students and others to want to engage in such struggles in the first place." Again, Giroux might be thinking of less philosophical journeys, but I'm hoping that this experiment might contribute to these conditions...



Davin Heckman said

at 8:28 pm on Jun 8, 2009


This is a great article. Thank you for the recommendation... and I wonder if there might be value in working on a chapter on "public pedagogy" in general.

An interesting synchronicity, I suppose, is that I have a half-written paper on "conspiracy theory subcultures" which deals essentially with the kinds of organic response to late capitalism that you deal with in your own work. I am interested in, of course, a lot of the post-9/11 theories on the right and the left (in the United States, a common rehash of old 19th C theories is that Mexicans are working for the Jesuits to destabilize the US... but the post 9/11 variety usually includes apocryphal stories about prayer rugs in found in the southwestern deserts.) I am also interested in the popularity of stories like the DaVinci Code.

I wonder if it might be fruitful to assemble a bunch of research on vernacular approaches to some of these very questions. Aside from (often overlapping with) conspiracy theory are a variety of subcultural movements, from gaming cultures to religious cultures (from Five Percenters to Left Behinders).



Clare Birchall said

at 12:39 pm on Jun 10, 2009


Yes, a repository of work on pop-knowledges would be great.

I was interested in your idea that: "even if the absurd promises of neoliberalism weren’t so pervasive, the sheer lack of compelling ideas about how one ought to live leaves students vulnerable to just about any system of knowledge which can offer some set of stable meanings. Is it any wonder that large numbers of people are willing to dedicate their lives to video games? The admiration of pop stars? Membership in paranoid political movements? The zealous belief in bizarre conspiracy theories? The participation in pyramid schemes? The collection of fast food promotional toys? Indeed, neoliberalism has the uncanny ability to both facilitate the proliferation of such lifestyles and, finally, to appear as the rational alternative to them, at once creating the illness and offering the cure. It affirms the unstable character of value systems and offers the market as the nexus through which these systems can be unified."

I've never quite thought of neoliberalism as creating the conditions for popular knowledges like conspiracy theories partly because they seem, as you say, to offer an alternative to more clearly neoliberal models of knowledge like those promoted through the "knowledge economy". But it's helpful. I wonder how your comment that neoliberalism might create the illness and offer the cure relate to Derrida's idea of the pharmakon as both poison and remedy. Of course, he's using it in reference to writing and thinking an ideology along these lines is difficult, not least because it would suggest we have to take seriously the idea that there is an undecideability about the operation of neoliberalism (when of course most left academics have decided on its damage).... Just thinking aloud....



Davin Heckman said

at 3:52 pm on Jun 10, 2009


Thank you for pointing to this point. I do think, following Jameson, that conspiracy theory functions as "a poor person's cognitive mapping" (a point which you visit in your essay, "Just Because You're Paranoid..." In this case, neoliberalism creates the need for "cognitive mapping," and thus invites conspiracy theory as a response.

But on a deeper level, neoliberalism is "conspiratorial" in its practice. The turn away from popular governance, privatization, and the relationships between lobbyists and legislatures means that much is determined behind closed doors, in secret, and for the benefit of a few. Derrida is relevant because conspiracy theory is like the pharmakos. It is the pariah, who holds the key to understanding the contemporary pharmakon, but who is absent from the discussion. Conspiracy theories are plausible because they resemble the way that control societies are operated. At the same time, conspiracy theory is treated with ridicule.

The creation of conspiracy theory responds to the crisis of democracy. Its scapegoating serves as a nervous defense of threatened democracy. This ambiguous quality "works" in the privatized "public" sphere. Marxist critiques of capitalism, questions about the Iraq War, media studies, calls for more oversight for big pharma and agribusiness, problems with electronic voting machines, outrage over political coverups--all these can be shuffled off stage and into the box with space vampires and the nephilim. Meanwhile, speculation about the Barack Obama's birth certificate, links between Iraq and al Qaeda, or the nefarious plans of Mexican immigrants--these are treated as legitimate concerns.



Clare Birchall said

at 10:23 am on Jun 11, 2009


Well, I'm not sure that neoliberalism necessitates cognitive mapping more than other ideologies (it might, but I'm not sure we can say it does without exploring that). And yes neoliberalism has seemed to evolve in conspiratorial terms (although I'm sort of wary of narratives which have Milton Friedman plotting away in a room somewhere without thinking about the way that those ideas/values become institutionalised) but not more than certain manifestations of fascism or communism, surely? Or even other forms of capitalism and democracy. Conspiracy theories have always been a part of the political scene in America, for example, way before neoliberalism (of course they certainly have a particular character these days, as your examples suggest). But I like your point about how leftist critique gets dismissed through proximity to popular knowledge while conservative popular knowledge becomes legitmated. In my paper that you mention, (available http://culturemachine.tees.ac.uk/Cmach/Backissues/j006/Articles/birchall.htm) I am trying to think through how cultural studies can use a connection with conspiracy theory to highlight the undecidability of all knowledge.

Anyway, I wouldn't want all this talk of conspiracy to stop anyone from picking up other, more general points from your thought-provoking chapter...



Davin Heckman said

at 5:34 pm on Jun 11, 2009

I am kind of using neoliberalism as the economic underpinning of postmodernism, following Jameson's critique of late capitalism. But I suppose I should draw some sharper definitions. And, yes, you are absolutely right, at the level of theory, neoliberalism isn't a product of conspiracy... theory itself, with its ontological implications, is going to have "undecidable" or speciously "teleological" components--which provides that affinity between conspiracy theory and cultural theory.

My comments were more mundane. I meant that shift towards privatization has facilitated a particular type of secrecy, such that decisions which are in the public interest (energy policy, drug research, access to space and information) can be offered up as for the public good, but can quickly be snatched back into the "private" sphere when people want to understand them better. A great example in the US has been the treatment of code for electronic voting machines--an important public act is administered by private companies who refuse to release their code because it is considered "proprietary." A consequence is that conspiracy theory naturally thrives in this setting, not because people are paranoid, but because it IS conspiratorial to have private collaborators working to regulate the public with no oversight or accountability.

But, you are right, my claim here is not well grounded. (I can get polemical... and drift into melodrama). And I don't want to distract from other points... (Maybe we could have a discussion about conspiracy theory subcultures someplace else).



Clare Birchall said

at 4:06 pm on Jun 12, 2009

Thanks for the clarification. Your example is a great one. I think it's really helfpul (and depressing, of course) to think about how this push and pull between private property and public interests creates/supports/contributes to a certain kind of secrecy. Jodi Dean's book, Publicity's Secret, deals with some of these issues, particularly in relation to how they relate to the Internet (rather than neoliberalism), but there are some crossovers. I wonder if it's possible, given how we are focusing here on the university, to think about the relationship between secrecy and pedagogy; and/or secrecy and the university as an institution. It seems to me that the neoliberal university survives on the obfuscation of certain elements (not least the idea that education might serve other needs than those of the market).

p.s. I'm not against polemics or melodrama!



Davin Heckman said

at 4:50 pm on Jun 12, 2009

Secrecy has the potential to develop into a great article/chapter. (How administrations operate. What teachers say and do. How students interact. Attitudes towards cheating and punishment. Etc.)

There is a flourishing of this attitude that professors should not share their opinions, that education should be strictly concerned to the facts and skills needed to get a job.

If a student asks "what I really think," I usually am going to share it, provided the timing is right and the articulation of my view is not going to overwhelm the discussion. In general, I tend to personalize my classes in a way that would make many people uncomfortable... but as a first generation graduate dealing with a bunch of other first generation students... a fair amount of my time is spent helping my students understand the role of the liberal arts. Many students arrive with the view that opinions, even informed ones, especially on race, class, gender, religion, ethnicity, etc., are best kept secret.

One view is that civil society requires certain barriers of politeness and privacy, especially in the workplace.... but on the other hand having a "public sphere" demands that people are allowed to exist in that public sphere without being overwhelmed by fear. The University, as a place where these things play out, becomes a place where the larger political dramas get played out on a personal and psychological level.

A flipside of looking at micropractices of discretion in the corporate university would be the practices of surveillance, crime, and punishment (plagiarism, cheating and the efforts to police them), which in a sense might parallel the ethics of the larger economy.



nick knouf said

at 9:06 pm on Jun 14, 2009

Thanks Davin for starting this project and continuing the necessary discussion about the university and why we might want to fight for it. For me I have been focusing on that last question recently---why do we put so much energy into fighting for the University as an institution, especially since it has never really been known as a progressive space/place in the first place? What makes us spend so much time trying to reform or radicalize the University, since it has often been used as a tool for the promotion of the nation-state, for the development of the ideal of an Enlightenment-style humanist subject, for the development of militarized workers (in the sciences or engineering), or, today, for the promotion of a neoliberal agenda? Where does this _desire_ come from? And it is a discourse about desire that I think is lacking from many of the present conversations about the University. While indeed we need to consider the political economy of the University, I also think we need to expand this to consider the _libidinal economy_ as well, to use Lyotard's term. I think there can be a useful dialogue between Lyotard's later text on the University, _The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge_ (and there seems to be a tendency to reduce his book to a statement on the "incredulity of metanarratives" in the _preface_, rather than remembering that it is a text written regarding the status of Universities themselves), along with his earlier and much maligned text _Libidinal Economy_ that attempts, much as Deleuze and Guattari did, to come to terms with the failure of a synthesis of Marx and Freud. _Libidinal Economy_ offers, through its performative writing, a way of approaching desire that I think is necessary to keep in mind as we continually discuss the "crisis" of the University.



One thing that I want to caution against, however, is falling into the trap of again espousing a rational, Enlightenment-style subject. Not that I think you are doing so, Davin, but it is something that I have seen in Giroux's work, as well as to a certain extent in Bousquet's recent book. Indeed, "revelation guarantees nothing", as Giroux says, and so we have to consider how ideology critique can co-function with more performative and transformative activities.

With regards to the orientation of students towards pop culture, I've found Stephen Duncombe's latest book, _Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy_, quite useful in coming to terms with how progressives or activists can understand the "admiration for pop stars". In it, Duncombe argues that people valorizing celebrities or buying into advertisements is a means of projecting and/or displacing latent desires of their own. Who wouldn't want to have health care like a celebrity, or be able to spend time with their children like in a McDonald's commercial? Duncombe suggests that activists, instead of demanding that people disengage with these aspects of pop culture, see them for what they _might_ be, an opening onto a form of progressive politics that can tie into people's lived experiences. So, we might be able to consider ideology-critique-as-performance whereby we examine pop culture through a lens that then enables us to move quickly into a discussion of alternatives and/or positive actions.



Duncombe's book also suggests that progressives need to move beyond a purely rationalist account and take seriously the power of fantasy and dream. There seems to be a fear amongst many on the left that aestheticizing politics, and considering desire, is too close to the techniques of facism---thus the focus on rationality and Enlightenment humanism. But I think we ignore people's desires at our own peril, especially when it comes to the university. Thus, in considering the neoliberal university, and how we might respond/redevelop/reinvigorate it, I'd argue we need to be careful to not only examine it from the lens of the political but the libidinal as well.



Finally, as you've intimated a bit in the text Davin, I think the key here is to focus on the pedagogical relation itself---the one-to-one, the one-to-many, the many-to-many. Here is where the real change occurs, not via the changing of university structures themselves (while that might help, it often hurts, at least these days it seems). For me I am less interested in reforming the University-as-institution, but rather focusing on the "structural rejects" (as one of my colleagues Irving Goh has written, following Bataille) within the University itself---those of us here who are concerned about the pedagogical "mission" of the University. I'd like to consider new forms of pedagogical experiments that can still be done within the neoliberal university but might be able to foster that kind of thinking and action that (ideally) would be the purview of an (ideal) University. (This is not to discount the import of activities such as faculty/student/staff organizing, fighting against the continual outsourcing of key university functions (like e-mail and the library), but rather to suggest that we cannot stop there.) There is a lot that we can consider here---Freire, Boal, collectives like Colectivo Situaciones, hackitectura, Precarias de la Deriva, and many, many others---that might help us think through some concrete practices that we can use in our daily interactions.

(sorry to do that...is there any way to change the comment length to something more than 2000 characters, which really is nothing?)



Davin Heckman said

at 4:43 pm on Jun 15, 2009


Thank you, Nick, for your generous comments.

I will make a few of my own:

1. I agree entirely with the critical importance of addressing desire... and not as something which is simply a given... but as something which must be cultivated in the context of community. Students arrive with a set of desires, but often these desires are restricted to those desires which are an accepted form of our "libidinal economy." Where, I think, earlier discussions of the libidinal economy have circulated around the potential of such critiques to liberate, I think that Foucault's "governmentality" can help to situate the potential of such explorations under neoliberalism. And, I think it is also important to move beyond the strong "erotic" connotations of desire that tend to reduce these libidinal forces to flat, almost transactional, relationships. But, yes, desire is a critical component of "education," in particular, learning new types of desire, new engines of desire, new relations of desire, etc. I often think of the libidinal character of Pablo Neruda's work... which I have always characterized as rather torrid... but which expresses a love that is deeper and personal, but it is the love of the one for the many.



2. On the manner of the Enlightenment subject, at this point, I'd like to keep it open for debate. I, personally, don't believe that it is the "natural state of man" or anything like that.... It is one way of being, it is a learned way of being, and it has its strengths and weakness. It may be superior for the pursuit of certain types of knowledge, for certain political projects, and for certain notions of rights. And, importantly, it is a way of being which emerged with the University, so it can serve as a powerful point of discussion.

3. I like this idea of "structural rejects." In many ways, I think this is what it might come down to, in terms of doing the work of the ideal University. On the other hand, I know enough people who home school their kids or who participate in experimental cooperatives, that I believe it might be possible for people to create institutions based on affinities or theories. And, certainly, there are people who are trying (Like EXCO in the Twin Cities). What kind of institution could be made by institutional rejects? And, more importantly, how do we create more institutional rejects? I do think there is utility in being pragmatic about what we can expect a University to do... but at the same time, I'd also like to think that the world could be fundamentally different, not in my lifetime, but maybe 100 years down the road, if enough people put in the work now. The Chicago School of Economics certainly changed the world in a short period of time.


Strand 3: Metroversity


Davin Heckman said

at 10:51 am on July 17, 2009

Stefano!  Thank you for this generous contribution on the Metroversity.   I suppose the next step is to imagine where this discussion should go.  Claire, Gary, Stefano, Nick, in your opinions, would you suggest splitting this off into its own chapter?  And, how should we situate it, elaborate on it, or modify it?  Should we split it into sections that should be bundled with other discussions?  For instance, I could see the discussion of "the business school" as an entire chapter in itself.  Or should we keep Stefano's piece, more or less, as an essay, as one would find in a reader?  Or should would add more material to the piece to make it more comprehensive? 



Gary Hall said 


Hi Davin,  


I guess one of the things we’re interested in, alongside developing new kinds of publishing models, is the issue of how theory (for want of a better word) is written. Can the kind of theory that interests many of us reading/writing this be written ‘collaboratively’?  


To date, wikis seem to have been used most successfully to produce rather general, information-based resources (Wikipedia being the obvious example). When it comes to theory, even though a text may be available under open editing and free, libre content conditions, it’s my impression (and not just from the Liquid Books project) that most of us still feel quite hesitant about getting too closely or substantially involved in collaborating in its creation, development or modification. We’ll provide feedback and post responses, thoughts, comments and so on (the kind of thing McKenzie Wark/The Future of the Book encouraged/allowed with GAM3R 7H30RY). But that’s often as far as it goes. It’s as if we’re all so used to theory being perceived as the personal expression of individuals who claim the right to be identified as it sole author(s), that we have difficulty responding to such texts in any other fashion (for all we may have read Barthes, Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, Deleuze, Butler, Kittler etc. on the deconstruction of the humanist subject). 


Even the way blogs, Facebook and Twitter tend to be used by academics (including academics associated with theory) seems to encourage and sustain this state of affairs as much if not more than it challenges it.  Which is one of the reasons I personally don’t blog and I’m not on Facebook –although how long I’m going to be able to maintain this stance is an interesting question, given the latter’s plans for a Facebook Search to rival and indeed exclude the likes of Google, since Google won’t have access to Facebook’s proprietary social search networks which will allow you to search according to who your friends, ‘influencers’ and ‘taste-neighbours’ are. (I must admit I am experimenting with using Twitter relatively anonymously at the moment, just because I’m interested in exploring the ambient aspects of it. I’m trying to do so without getting involved in that whole ‘cult of me’ culture it seems to foster. However, it’s not easy to entirely overcome these limitations as it is set up very much as a ‘look at me; this is what I’m doing’ project.) 


But does theory have to be the work of the clearly identifiable, individualised author or even group of authors? I know it can sometimes appear as if the whole of academia is working against those of us who may wish to explore this question. After all, can we really afford to do so, nowadays more than ever? Especially when it might mean we won’t get our names on any such collaboratively written text as one of its authors? (It is often harder, although not impossible, to ask of a digital text such as that published on a wiki the kind of questions that are generally still asked of an academic text, such as who wrote this, when, in what context, why?) Chances are we won’t get any citations, RAE submissions, esteem factors, success, promotion or recognition that are going either (unless we somehow make it known we are behind such a collaboratively written experimental text). But none of that means we can’t be interested in the question; or that we can’t have a least some spaces in which to explore it. Perhaps this could be one such space? Maybe Stefano’s contribution is a step down this road? Is this even one of the possible forms a post-corporate university might take?  


We don’t necessarily have to resolve or even explore all of this right here right now with ‘The Post-Corporate University’. There are of other ways and texts with which we could do so. At the moment we’re happy for you to edit the overall text as you (and others) think best and feel most excited about. If that takes the form of positioning Stefano’s contribution as a new chapter in such a way that it encourages further development, elaboration and modification, and/or makes the text more comprehensive, then great. We can always add to, change or modify it afterwards anyway. 


I really like the idea of something substantial on the business school, too.







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