Beautiful Transgressions | And Still We Rise: On the Violence of Marketisation in Higher Education
Beautiful Transgressions, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Thursday, March 1, 2012 8:53 - 11 Comments
By Sara Motta
London Occupy, having just being evicted from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, have asserted their continued resistance to the violent logics of austerity, declaring that ‘This morning, the City of London Corporation and St Paul’s Cathedral have dismantled a camp and displaced a small community, but they will not derail a movement’.
The violence of marketised austerity attempts to eradicate spaces and times of possibility and, with this, criminalise and erase forms of being, acting and thinking outside of commodified logics. Yet practices of solidarity, democracy and community appear in the cracks and margins refusing to be eradicated from history.
Such violences are also being enacted throughout the University sector. In bearing witness to a part of this story from the perspective of an academic worker I hope to make visible some of the cruel realities of marketised austerity. I do so as a way of rupturing attempts at the eradication of being ‘other’ and in solidarity with all those attempting to create spaces and times against and beyond market logics.
‘We are a business now. We have to do our marketing intelligence and make a business case, see if it will work to students’ expectations for a high quality consumer experience. We have to bid for funds, we have to compete, we have to make tough decisions, we have to survive; we have to bring in money. This is the reality now. This is the new context. We have to be realistic and feasible and lucrative. We are a business now.’
How many times over the last few months, in different meetings and spaces in the academy, have I heard this discourse? There isn’t even the pretence that we are in a public educational space of inclusion which creates knowledge, that is meaningful for communities, embedded in society, open and democratic, facilitates the flourishing of ideas which are tools for social transformation and social justice, and which enables us to dream and turn the impossible into possibility.
The shift is powerful. It is an attempt at the final closure of the possibility of an education project, practice and subjects outside of marketised logics.
Such a discourse enacts a symbolic violence* of erasure of the possibility of thinking, acting and feeling outside of these dehumanising, individualising and impoverishing logics of market value. It turns all of us -from the liberal humanist to the revolutionary educator – into the unspeakable ‘others’ whose dreams, objectives and desires for a public, inclusive and critical education become incommunicable and non-sensical.
To speak in another logic and language is misnamed and misrepresented as “outdated”, “unrealistic”, not related to the “realities” of student desires, “disloyal” and “disruptive”. It is not just the naming that excludes and silences, it is the looks of incomprehension, the crossing of the arms, the looking at the watch, the exasperation and the moving on in the meeting. The possibility to even speak differently from this logic slips through the quicksands of marketisation.
The closure of political imaginaries and social practices spoken through those words are enacted upon the hearts, minds and bodies of the subjects who make up the academy. This is the ontological violence of non-being which silences possibilities of being, thinking and practicing otherwise.
The violence of non-being is constituted through multiple micro-practices of bureaucratisation and professionalisation. Through these practices, university educators are produced as particular disciplined subjects enacting particular performances of self with emotional repertoires and embodied enactments. The ideal type neoliberal subject is grounded in individualisation, infinite flexibility, precarious commitments, orientated toward survivalist competition and personally profitable exchanges.
This produces a space of hierarchy, competition and individualism through the eradication of spaces of solidarity, care and community. Some subjects and forms of behaving, feeling and embodying space are empowered and legitimised. Whilst others are delimited, disciplined and subjected to the dominant logics, allowing some to judge and others to be judged.
Imposed standards of excellence and quality are those to which the ideal subject is produced against and through. Her research, teaching and impact are ranked, categorised and evaluated in terms of their ability to bring in money by publishing in top-ranked publishing housing which produce hardbacks that cost £80 a copy or high ranking journals targeted at the few, as well as to maintain students numbers (to bring in money) and create relationships with non-academic users (the most valued of which are with the private sector and political elites).
Such standards push us towards the development of problem-solving theory which accepts the status quo, as opposed to critical theory which disrupts and denaturalises the market economy. It pushes towards meritocracy and populism in teaching and instrumental and elitist relationships with society.
If we do not perform to these standards we face judgements which are demoralising and shaming. If we do not perform to these standards it is becoming increasingly clear that many of us will face either being moved to the bottom of the pile in terms of workload, working conditions and precarity or losing our jobs.
The violences of marketisation are intensely embodied through the production of self-disciplining subjects articulated through abrasive dynamics of power against self and other. As Michalinos Zembylas has observed we must ‘regulate and control not only our overt habits and morals, but [our] inner emotions, wishes and anxieties’.
Under these circumstances subjects of the University may tend to discipline themselves by not questioning accepted beliefs and ways of acting but simply follow them in order to avoid marginalization. Such processes disconnect us from ourselves, and from joy, pleasure, meaning and creativity. They disconnect us from the very sources of knowledge from which we might derive our truths to speak against the dehumanising logics of market colonisation of being.
As Audre Lourde, Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist exposes so forcefully “This results in disaffection from most of what we do- the power of this system – excluding human need and physic needs, robs our work of its erotic value and power, its appeal and fulfilment, such a system reduces work to a travesty of necessities, or oblivion to ourselves or what we love and this is tantamount to blinding a painter and then telling her to improve her work, to enjoy the act of paining, it is not only next to impossible but it is also profoundly cruel”.
Yet as Maya Angelou reminds us
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
It is as the non-beings of marketisation that we speak to rupture the naturalness and normalcy of such an organisation of education to expose its faultiness and contradictions. In affirmation of Michelle Rowley, our critique “rejects and rebels against the acts of misnaming and misshaping [as a means to] produce a different set of parameters for what makes us minority subjects”.
Such a critique is enacted through rupture, disruption and transgression that reconstitute us as subjects on the historical stage, in the moments of meetings, in the spaces of classrooms, in the cracks of corridors, forcing our way up from the margins of marketisation. Yet our critique must also develop strategies for care of the self from the logics of isolation, silencing and de-legitimisation based in an ethic of love and recognition.
To rupture, disrupt and transgress takes the courage to embrace being the othered, the marginal and the outsider. This does not mean the marginalised should look for acceptance into the dominant frame. Rather as JanMohamed and Lloyd have suggested, it involves “the… attempt to negate the prior negation of itself” whereby individuals are reduced to a generic ‘status’ of being other, inferior, marginal. Such a political practice, within these conditions, is one of the most fundamental forms of affirmation. It enables the transformation of our scream of outrage into a dignified and powerful exercise of our voice.
To rupture, as the critical theorist and educator Sarah Amsler argues, the dis-utopia of marketised education, we can bring joy, laughter and play into our everyday practices. The work of the Yes Men is a good example from which we can potentially think through individual and collective strategies. They pose as top executives and convince organisers to allow them into business conferences. Once inside, they parody their corporate targets to wake up their audiences to the danger of letting greed run our world.
How might we parody the performances of the university conferences to which top business executives are invited? Of the training sessions in which we are taught how to be good disciplined professionals? Of the performance reviews at which are work is evaluated by imposed standards? The possibilities are endless.
Undoubtedly embracing and speaking from our otherness and marginality places critical academics in a very vulnerable and risky situation. Such practices will most likely not result in academic accolades from peers or acceptance and praise from managers. Yet, by daring to speak the unspeakable we transgress and liberate ourselves, however momentarily, from the individualised, commodified and hyper competitive performance of the university academic.
Humanising the educational space and experience challenges the taken-for-granted. It fosters the destabilising of the effects of power in our subjectivities, creating hybrid openings of possibility for imagining and being otherwise. These are the transgressive potentials of this practice.
However, rejection, derision, self-doubt, de-legitimisation and fear are also likely outcomes. Learning to embrace a desire to ‘always be’ other and marginal takes courage. Developing courage involves educating our fear collectively so that it can become a productive element of the on-going process of moving beyond ourselves and challenging marketised logics in the University.
Here an ethic of love through which we act with care towards our colleagues and with recognition of the painful complexities of our situations is a way to rebuild dialogue and connections from where we are. As critical educator and theorist Paolo Freire argued, “As individuals or as peoples, by fighting for the restoration of [our] humanity [we] will be attempting the restoration of true generosity. And this fight, because of the purpose given it, will actually constitute an act of love.”
Or as Bell Hooks, author, feminist, and social activist warns, “without an ethic of love shaping the direction of our political vision and our radical aspiration, we are often seduced, in one way or another, into continued allegiance to systems of domination”. The loving eye is a critical eye in that it creates the conditions for acts of kindness and solidarity through which we can re-build collectivity and political agency.
We cannot pretend there is not fear, nor underestimate the conditions of closure which produce this fear. Rather we can be voices who attempt to transform such emotions and anxieties into productive moments of courage. We can only do this by speaking our truth. Like this, “the more you recognise your fear as a consequence of your attempt to practice your dream, the more you learn how to put into practice your dream”.
Such practices of rupture when combined with an ethic of love create a radical disturbance of both ‘self’ and ‘other’ which may lead, as Claudio Moreira suggests, “to unanticipated, maybe even unspeakable, transgressions”.
Appearing as ethical and political actors from the margins of university marketisation, we rebel against the violence of non-being. We rebel against the violent logics of austerity which attempt to eradicate the possibility of radical education. We rebel by developing educational practices, ideas and relationships beyond commodification.
[* Franz Fanon and Simone De Beauvoir develop this concept in relation to the colonial experience and the experience of women. A beautiful analysis developing this concept, which helped shape this piece, Jumpstarting the Decolonial Engine: Symbolic Violence from Fanon to Chavez by George Ciccariello-Maher]
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