Monday, 25 May 2015

The End of the University

In her splendid and pithy recent book Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution (2015), the American political theorist Wendy Brown argues, in dialogue with Foucault's 1979 College de France lectures on the 'birth of biopolitics', that neoliberalism is not merely a set of economic arrangements, but a form of rationality itself.  This helps to explain neoliberalism's extraordinary success in attaining almost global hegemony.  It is not, and has not been, simply a set of ideas or practices derived from Friedman and Hayek, or from the governments of Reagan and Thatcher.  Rather, in the fullest senses of Gramscian hegemony, it has succeeded in inserting itself into the full range of human activities, experiences and values.  It has succeeded in convincing most of us that the values of our often plutocratic/bureaucratic/corporate masters are actually our own, and that they answer to and express our own most fundamental interests.  It is this strength-in-depth that has permitted neoliberalism to emerge from the recent economic and financial crisis - which it helped to produce - apparently almost unscathed.  Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, as Philip Mirowski put it in an eponymous study of the durability of conservative economic thought.  The solution to the crisis of neoliberalism has been, it would seem, more neoliberalism.

Nowhere more than in the western university, as this blog has noted on several occasions.  The strength of Brown's book is that it shows how the value-system of neoliberalism has suffused higher education - particularly in America, but in Europe also.  Not only does this work to compromise the pure good of learning, but it also, in fact, threatens our democracies.  Universities are not just knowledge factories, but arenas where political subjectivities are developed and refined.  Universities help to produce and inculcate ideas of the public good, of how to live what Aristotle called 'the good life', and, as a consequence, of democracy itself.  The hollowing-out of our universities by neoliberal rationality is at the leading edge of the hollowing-out of our democracies.

And here is yet another example of the ugliness of the corporate university.  Various Western higher education institutions have been induced - presumably mostly by money - to set up branches and units in various of the Gulf emirates.   New York University, located in Manhattan mostly around the West Village and Washington Square, has been constructing a campus in Abu Dhabi.  There, it has happily turned a blind eye to the corrupt and often racist work practices and conditions for labourers on its sites in this princedom.   Here, on the Jacobin website, Jonah Walters, an undergraduate student at NYU, writes cogently and bravely about his own university's implication in a complex of power, corruption and abuse which is the antithesis of the university's professed humane values:

The Exploitation University



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