At the moment I am thinking through a series of questions which I hope to produce proper, well thought through blog posts on. Here they are:
Why am I for re-thinking some aspects of the university? Why am I for thinking about autonomous spaces? Why am I slightly disillusioned with the university system? Why am I concerned about increasing bureaucracy at universities, why am I concerned about corporatisation of the universities?
These stem from other, broader questions which I am also grappling with at present:
How can we create dialogue that does not alienate or exclude? How can we communicate on shared terms whilst still being conceptually ambitious? Is there a reason that our academic study stays inside the university system? How can we expand or extend what might be called “intellectual” or “academic” practices? In our own practices as ponderers, writers, readers and cultural analysts, how can become creative, take wild risks and explore new terrain with verve and ambition, all the while producing precise, honest and incredibly discerning work of integrity?
I want to bring all of you into a conversation about alter-academic practices. I use the word alter-academic because I want to refer to creative ways of doing “academic” things that do not immediately depart from the connection to education and scholarship. I want to try and conceptualise innovative and alternative ways of catalysing some of the (already pretty damn wonderful, in my opinion) things that we do as members of the broad university community.
Last night Thijs and I attended a seminar at the splendiferous Schijnheilig, somewhat ambitiously titled “Toward a Global Autonomous University.” The evening was centred around a group called Edu-Factory; this is how they are described on the Schijnheilig website:
Edu-Factory is a transnational collective engaged with the transformations of the global university and conflicts in knowledge production.
Several issues regarding the university system and capabilities for effective student movements were discussed…..
- For me what was most significant was the discussion about breaking down the false binary between anarchism and reform. One strategy which was mentioned, which I found quite thought-provoking, was to recognise that serious attempts to become completely autonomous might actually influence politics and law. What might initially seem like a perversion or contradiction (i.e. to link autonomous anarchist movements to legal reform is surely blasphemous) actually quite unexpectedly knits autonomous projects to a social fabric which is altered by these projects. This obviously involves complex questions about militancy and lobbying which I do not have the space to go into here.
- How do student movements connect with the working class, precarious workers, activists in other parts of the community? There was also a lot of discussion about precarity that actually really opened up the concept for me.
- What was also important was the remark (I cannot remember whose it was…) that in student movements and activism centred around the university there is often a nostalgia for something that never existed, or a project that we might think of as deeply problematic: an kind of Enlightenment institution producing rational, free-thinking beings. I certainly unwittingly subscribe to this Enlightenment rhetoric to uphold the university as a place of free thought and innovative education. What type of subject does the university produce and exclude? How does the university “construct” “free” thought? Is this bound up with a certain construction of authority, a certain type of “proper” academic practice? Do the two actually contradict each other? Does this combination of authority and free or analytical thought sever the university from its ties to community?
- A few audience members also mentioned that the point of critique of the university is not to claim that the university is not a valuable knowledge centre, but that the structuring relationship between university and society means that there is a whole sphere of knowledge that is denied. In relation to this, another question was asked: “What happens when events outside the university render it the institution ineffective or meaningless?” Do we need to reconceptualise the university’s role in relation to knowledge and society in order for the institution to actually become important and effective?
I also wanted to draw your attention to a program of lectures and events that I think is pretty interesting. A group that flies under the banner of The Usual Suspects: the Art of the Non-Lecture organise somewhat unorthodox sessions where the advertised plenary speaker [deliberately] never arrives, but a discussion is facilitated nonetheless. I think what these seminars try to “re-mix” is the somewhat false divide between speaker and audience in these kind of events – often the audience are as well-informed as the speaker, and have equally valuable perspectives and contributions. What happens when this is the case? Does the “Art of the Non-Lecture” program go some ways towards answering this question?
I think that we each have unique perspectives on the university generally, and on what we do at the Uva, or at ASCA, in Amsterdam. I would love to hear your perspectives and your thoughts on change, ideas for new possibilities, events, or research or education practices.