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On the alienation of academic labour and the possibilities for mass intellectuality


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As one response to the secular crisis of capitalism, higher education is being proletarianised. Its academics and students, increasingly encumbered by precarious employment, debt, and new levels of performance management, are shorn of autonomy beyond the sale of their labour-power. Incrementally, the labour of those academics and students is subsumed and re-engineered for value production, and is prey to the twin processes of financialisation and marketisation. At the core of understanding the impact of these processes and their relationships to the reproduction of higher education is the alienated labour of the academic. The article examines the role of alienated labour in academic work in its relationship to the proletarianisation of the University, and relates this to feelings of hopelessness, in order to ask what might be done differently. The argument centres on the role of mass intellectuality, or socially-useful knowledge and knowing, as a potential moment for overcoming alienated labour.

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On the alienation of academic labour and the possibilities for mass intellectuality

  1. 1. On the alienation of academic labour and the possibilities for mass intellectuality Richard Hall ¦ @hallymk1 ¦ ¦
  2. 2. academic labour, alienation, higher education, mass intellectuality, proletarianisation, subsumption
  3. 3. An HE policy narrative with two functions: 1.the fetishisation of human capital; and 2.the proletarianisation of academic labour An HE policy narrative that: 1.frames the internalisation of performative responses; and 2.catayses academic and student ill-health or quitting, and in particular of a rise in anxiety.
  4. 4. Cyclonic (Dyer-Witheford, 2015) processes: •Money: student fees; •Data: NSS/LEO; •Governance: OfS; REF, TEF, KEF. Inside a policy framework: •HM Treasury Productivity Plan (2015); •Small Business, Enterprise and Employability Act (DBIS 2015); •HE and Research Act (DfE 2017); •Consultation on OfS (DfE, 2017).
  5. 5. competition instantiated through metrics and league tables dominates academic labour time, such that academics have increasingly little control over the surplus time that the University demands from them the social tyranny of exchange-value Wendling, 2009, 52
  6. 6. • technological and organisational innovation, and new services (e.g. learning analytics; corporate partnerships); • drive down the labour-time for assessing/teaching/publishing through performance management (c.f. Ball 2015); • precarious employment/driving down labour costs (e.g. CASA/3cosas); • changes in technical conditions of academic production; new accumulations of academic products form additional means of production (e.g. lecture capture, MOOCs); • surpluses that can be invested in estates and infrastructure projects (e.g. student recruitment, new markets); • monopolisation of production, circulation and accumulation of academic value (e.g. comparative league tables).
  7. 7. 1. reports of adjunct professors who “don’t even earn the federal minimum wage” (Saccaro 2014); 2. struggles led by postgraduate researcher-led committees in the form of fair pay and labour rights (CUPE3903 2017); 3. quitlit reports of academics leaving the profession (Morris 2015); 4. self-imposed overwork as a culturally-acceptable form of self- harm (Hall and Bowles, 2016; Turp, 2001); 5. reports of the suicides of those who are classified as precarious, or for whom status is being removed (Hall, 2017); and 6. networks reporting on casualisation (CASA 2017).
  8. 8. Hegel (The Phenomenology of Spirit, 1807): Entausserung or self- externalization or renunciation; and Entfremdung or estrangement (Spirit’s becoming other than itself in the realm of objectivity). Feuerbach (The Essence of Christianity, 1841): human’s projection of her own essence onto an imaginary deity.   Marx (EPM, 1844); Marx and Engels (German Ideology, 1846): Veräussern (Entäussern and Entfremden), on the state of being alienated , dispossessed, sold, or estranged; fremd (on its own, as in fremde Arbeit), focused on alien labour, or 'foreign', 'strange', 'unrelated', or 'belonging to another’. Lukács (History and Class Consciousness, 1923): “reification” (Verdinglichung, Versachlichung); labour activity confronts human beings as something objective and independent, dominating them through external autonomous laws.
  9. 9. [illness/precarity, labour rights, money, value/surplus-value, labour-power, private property, alienated-labour] alienated-labour as the key to understanding the ways in which capitalist society mediates our activity, with a focus on their overcoming In alienated labour a social relation between people appears in the form of the subordination of a person to a thing. This social relation is the relation of private property, in which the capitalist appropriates the means of production as his private property, so permitting him to subordinate the labourer to his own will. Clarke, 1991, 52
  10. 10. the alienation of the academic labourer from: 1.her labour-power, which is made precarious as it is sold in the market; 2.the products of her labour, which are financialised and marketised for their exchange-value rather than their social utility; 3.herself as she becomes a self-exploiting entrepreneur; and, 4.her humanity as a species-being, reinforced through global competition. Marx and Engels, 1846/1998
  11. 11. Weltschmerz world weariness that lies beyond anxiety, anguish or ennui a deeper sense of hopelessness about the academic project hopelessness connected to a loss of autonomy/freedom the cultural terrain reinforces within us a sense that we are not productive enough, and that this is a sin
  12. 12. When your ongoing employment hangs on the outcome of a fellowship application that has a less than 20% success rate, it’s easy to abandon self-care in favour of working nights and weekends to increase your chances. When moving interstate or overseas is the only way to pursue your vocation, it’s hard to maintain a relationship or a sense of self. Almost every academic I know is either overweight, living with a mental illness, or has an autoimmune disorder. O’Dwyer, 2016
  13. 13. The curriculum is white because it reflects the underlying logic of colonialism, which believes the colonised do not own anything – not even their own experiences. Implicit in the white curriculum is irrefutable evidence of white superiority as a matter of truth and objectivity, while crafting a world-view that judges anything that it could define as “non-white” or “other” as inferior. ‘Why is My Curriculum White?’ collective, 2015
  14. 14. racial battle fatigue as a theoretical framework for examining social-psychological stress responses (e.g., frustration; anger; exhaustion; physical avoidance; psychological or emotional withdrawal; escapism; acceptance of racist attributions; resistance; verbally, nonverbally, or physically fighting back; and coping strategies) associated with being an African American male on historically White campuses. Smith, W.A. et al., 2007
  15. 15. the accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital [machinery]. Marx, 1857/1993
  16. 16. As intellectual workers we refuse the fetishised concept of the knowledge society and engage in teaching, learning and research only in so far as we can re-appropriate the knowledge that has been stolen from the workers that have produced this way of knowing (i.e. Abundance). In the society of abundance the university as an institutional form is dissolved, and becomes a social form or knowledge at the level of society (i.e. The General Intellect). It is only on this basis that we can knowingly address the global emergencies with which we are all confronted [i.e. through collective work/in the social factory]. The University of Utopia. 2015. Anti-Curriculum: A course of action.
  17. 17. the possibility of struggle and emancipation lies in the autonomous organisations that exist within and between both the factory and the community with a focus on the forms of labour and the exertion of “working class power… at the level of the social factory, politically recomposing the division between factory and community.” Cleaver, 1979, 161
  18. 18. In developing social use-value in teaching and research: •extend democracy into/through the curriculum; •uncover alienated-labour: private property; the division of labour; and commodity exchange; •eliminate the social division of labour between owners and non-owners; •less harmful relations of production; •natural science fused with philosophy – inter-disciplinarity; •global educational commons and critical pedagogy.
  19. 19. Points of solidarity across the social factory: •the embodied toll that neoliberal restructuring and austerity takes on mental and physical health; •the control of life-activity through debt, precarious employment and performance management; •the reduction of life to entrepreneurship and employability; •the assault on social justice, and labour and human rights; •issues of crisis concerning poverty, climate change, on- going colonialism etc..
  20. 20. On estrangement That learning process comes easiest to those of us who also believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin. bell hooks. 1994, 13
  21. 21. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.