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COVID-19 and the idea of the University


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Slides for DMU Education Research seminar on Covid-19 and the idea of the University. Abstract available at:

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COVID-19 and the idea of the University

  1. 1. Covid-19 and the idea of the University: intellectual work at the end of The End of History Richard Hall ¦ @hallymk1 ¦ ¦
  2. 2. Categorical critique: explanation at a level that cuts through (i.e. intersects) the differences in professional experience, to find what is common among us. The hopelessness of labour: to mistake the manifestations for the cause of our problems breeds helplessness and hopelessness. An intersectional synthesis: connecting contemporary Marxism with the literature of feminisms, (de)colonialities, identities. What is to be done? How do we get ourselves out of this mess?
  3. 3. bell hooks Audre Lorde Angela Davis Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Sara Motta Sarah Amsler Vanessa Andreotti Joyce Canaan Linda Tuhiwai Smith Eve Tuck Eli Meyerhoff Nancy Fraser Fred Moten Nick Dyer-Witheford Karl Marx John Holloway Raya Dunayevskaya Gargi Bhattachariyya Krystian Szadkowski Joss Winn
  4. 4. Subjectivity is shaped by University structures that reveal its shifting forms (TANs), cultures that appear as pathologies (CASHAs), and activities recalibrated as methodologies. mediations act as cover for managerialism that refuses and alienates the humanity of intellectual work, because the meaning of the University is generated through a desire for value, realised as surplus or profit. This value is anti-human and is predicated upon an idea of University work that can be validated through individual, subject- based and institutional performance management.
  5. 5. • Commodification of time and activity for-value; • increased workloads; • demands for knowledge exchange, research impact and commercialisation; • internationalisation strategies aimed at opening up new markets; • casualisation and precarious employment; • intersectional inequalities in promotion and tenure; • attacks on pensions and wages; • demands for more innovation in (online) teaching; and • the sanctity of data and algorithmic control in setting strategies.
  6. 6. The platform University • desire for enriched monitoring or tracking of performance; • data flows reveal networks or ecosystems of external actors; • flows of data enable new quantifications of University work for profit or rent; • fusing new technologies and technocratic modes of organising work creates new forces and relations of production; and • fusing technologies, flows of data and quantification, behavioural science and algorithmic governance reinforces white, colonial and patriarchal hegemonic norms.
  7. 7. flexploitation amplified through the crisis: academic work made precarious and entrepreneurial. crises of capital, in the form of underconsumption (e.g. of courses), overproduction (e.g. of PhD graduates) or falling rate of profit (e.g. weak net cash inflow for investment), shape the symbolism of the University. Debt, debt covenants and surpluses. This is an institution seemingly shaped only in relation to crisis.
  8. 8. Covid-XX illustrates our difficulty in escaping the symbolic power of capitalist social relations and the gravitational pull of the universe of value. Yet, it reveals the return of History.
  9. 9. Hysteresis: competition drives institutions at the core of HE sectors to accumulate or compensate for lost income at the expense of institutions at the periphery already over-leveraged against specific student or debt markets; over-leveraged institutions then work to replace more expensive university labourers with those who are cheaper, and to deploy more technology; For University workers, the result is further anxiety in an age of heightened uncertainty and risk, a fugitive existence, or cynicism about the academic project.
  10. 10. Amplified by Covid Cultures revealed as pathologies of overwork, self-harm and self- sacrifice. Activities of teaching, learning, research and administration that describe methodologies for control and performance management. Inside these forms, the pathological and methodological content of the institution is internalised by the University worker and their ego- identity, thereby diminishing the potential for mutuality.
  11. 11. Differential levels of proletarianisation militate against common ground between University workers or struggles for humane work. These include: struggles over course closures; graduate student wildcat strikes; protests against debt and cops on campus; struggles for decolonization; movements against sexual violence on campuses. Yet the University is still painted as a liberal institution that simply needs reform, rather than transformation or abolition. The search for status damages mutuality in the academic peloton/anxiety machine.
  12. 12. At The End of History, the University is emblematic of the collapse in the symbolic power of humans to reimagine the world. Yet we are at the end of The End of History.
  13. 13. Hopelessness: • the inability of the University to address crises other than in relation to value; • capital structures and disciplines the labour of love inside the University, negating its humane possibilities, and as a result breeds despair, depression and melancholy [Weltschmerz] as a space beyond anxiety; • increasingly, those who work inside universities have either to become self-exploiting or self-harming or to deploy enough cognitive dissonance to overcome the lack of authentic hope that another world might be possible.
  14. 14. hopelessness has a layered complexity linked to an inability to consider future positives, such that a negative miasma or contagion generates vulnerability. Inside highly competitive environments, vulnerability also tends to shape a deeper relationship between defeat, entrapment and depression. A systemic treatment of hopelessness places the individual, her environment and her society into asymmetrical relationship, rather than focusing upon the individual’s learned helplessness or psychological deficits.
  15. 15. At the end of The End of History, the hopeless University is a flag bearer for a collective life that is becoming more efficiently unsustainable. • How are we to centre meaningful responses to the re-emergence of History, beyond unilaterally declaring business-as-usual in the face of Covid-XX, or noting a climate emergency whilst remaining implicated in the consumption of fossil fuels, or whatever? • When the abstracted power of capital has revealed its annihilation of systems of life and living, how do University workers widen the horizon of possibility beyond algorithmic solutions to insoluble, structural and systemic positions?
  16. 16. We are entangled. In respecting the unity of our difference, we can ask ‘the only scientific question that remains to us…: how the fuck do we get out of this mess?’ (Holloway 2010: 919). • How do we know our work? (singular, particular, universal) • Can we forgive the University? (essence, appearance, existence) • Can we hospice the University? (a new quality of life) • Can we compost how we feel about our work and lives? (negation of the negation)
  17. 17. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.