Contrivers’ Review Articles http://www.contrivers.org/articles/ Main site feed Copyright Contrivers' Review 2017 http://www.rssboard.org/rss-specification python-feedgen en Thu, 23 Nov 2017 00:07:53 +0000 On the Intellectual Question http://www.contrivers.org/articles/1/ Through a discussion of two important texts by Kant and Lenin, Luke Mergner explores how our ideas about public intellectuals are tied to different models of social and political authority. The public sphere is defined by the tension between democracy and intellectual authority. How can anyone claiming the role of the public intellectual find alternative critical languages when the egalitarian democratic spaces of the public sphere are withering away? <h2 id="introduction">Introduction</h2> <p>Justifying intellectual production in today’s environment is no easy task. There is, at once, the crumbling finances of the print word, which has defined the public sphere since the mid-eighteenth century. In its place has arisen a new digital paradigm forming not just new ways of communicating but restructuring, for the affluent West at least, new habits and practices of our daily lives. The Internet is a ubiquitous, heterogeneous, acephalous voice. In America, which forms the context of this essay, the ever increasing capacity for enlightenment immodestly implied by communicative technology is opposed by a reactionary suspicion of knowledge, expertise reduced to conspiracy. This is unsurprising, since, as the world becomes more interconnected, complex, and accelerating, individuals understand very little of the world and exert deliberate control over less. As always, technological progress makes a mockery of our ability to understand the consequences of our actions, and thus of our conceit to autonomy and informed choices. All of this is to say that the challenges of the modern world are not obviously ones solved by a new journal of ideas or a call for critical intellectuals.</p> <p>To believe that speech, written or otherwise, is the solution to the world’s problems is worldview particular to modern liberal societies. It is perhaps that humans have found few alternatives for resolving conflict other than speech; as Hannah Arendt suggested, speech is the counterpoint to violence.<sup id="fnref:arendt"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:arendt" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> Or perhaps our reliance on speech is because of its power to demand recognition from other, equally fragile beings. Here, speech threatens to subsume political action, which we might resist not because politics is primary or hegemonic, far from it, but because politics reflects the spaces where speech is most necessary, where the implicit social habits break down into disagreement. As a society, as political groups, as communities, and as neighbors, it is incumbent upon us to practice the art of sympathetic conversation, which might be the primary virtue of politics.</p> <p>Political speech is mediated by the public sphere and its questions of access, voice, equality, and power. Who speaks is as contentious as where speech appears. Just this year, the topic of the “intellectual” has arisen from surprisingly different contexts. Nicholas Kristof provoked the most public and contentious responses with his <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-professors-we-need-you.html">op-ed</a> accusing academics of absenting themselves from the public sphere. Elsewhere truncated discussions on twitter bemoan the diversity of access and voice in American media along gender and race. New journals, such as <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/"><em>Jacobin</em></a> or <a href="http://thenewinquiry.com/"><em>New Inquiry</em></a> represent the argument, at least on the Left, that intellectual discourse should be fostered. The question of “intellectuals” is surprisingly vibrant today. Oddly we use the word “intellectual,” or person who is educated, instead of the more appropriate term “intelligensia,” a group or class of intellectuals performing a social function. What is less clear is whether the model of intellectual participation in the public sphere championed by the early nineteenth century is possible or desirable today. Surprisingly, despite the vitriol of the responses to Kristof, no one thought to question the terms of the debate.</p> <p>Since the inception of the public sphere, it has been populated by intellectuals, though the latter term dates roughly from the <em>fin de siecle</em>. Two moments seem to mark watersheds in this history: The first appears in Kant’s <em>What is Enlightenment?</em> (1784) where the exhortation to think for yourself is balanced by the acknowledgement that the widespread enlightenment remains dependent on pedagogical practice of public intellectuals.<sup id="fnref:kant"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:kant" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> The second moment is marked by Vladimir Lenin’s work on revolutionary practice, <em>What is to be Done?</em> (1902). The vanguard party is nothing more than Marxist intellectuals whose knowledge makes them necessary leaders. Lenin’s party is the rule of the intelligensia.<sup id="fnref:lenin"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:lenin" rel="footnote">3</a></sup></p> <p>Today the situation is much different. In the intervening years, a history of questionable political alliances have left the authority of intellectuals much diminished. The intellectual has become a comic figure: a court jester of questionable political judgment; a moralizing huckster trading bromides for notoriety; or just an academic climbing the ivory tower. <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sartre/">Jean-Paul Sartre</a>, the 20th century’s most iconic intellectual, famously supported Stalinism well past 1956. Today, the popular examples are Malcolm Gladwell, Alain de Botton, or Bernard-Henri Lévy, less questionable morally perhaps but with an attenuated critical vision. This alone makes Kristof’s argument bizarrely historically myopic. Indeed, it begs the question: what <em>should</em> the relationship be between intellectuals, as a group or individually, and the public sphere?</p> <h2 id="the-enlightened-public">The Enlightened Public</h2> <p><em>What is Enlightenment?</em> is, for us today, a foundational statement in the sense that we read, wrestle, and reinterpret it, but never break with the discursive continuity established by the text (and by Kant’s critical project more generally). For Kant, as we will see, the intellectual is a shepherd of human teleology. </p> <p>His influence in political theory remains strongest where theorists most praise the virtues of the public sphere.<sup id="fnref:rawls"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:rawls" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> Kant never wrote a major treatise on political theory, though his essays on the subject have since been collected under that rubric posthumously. They are largely concerned with the extension of moral duty to questions of freedom, law, and history. Nevertheless, Kant exerts a strong influence on how we think about the role of public discussion in politics and ethics. He was deeply influenced by, and returns that influence to, classical political liberalism: we owe the importance of autonomy—self-legislation—to Kantian morality. For Kant, political freedom is not merely desirable in itself, it is a necessary precondition of moral action: we cannot act out of duty unless we are free to do otherwise. Kant’s point appears to militate against all forms of authority: who can be both free and accept the guidance of another?</p> <p><em>What is Enlightenment?</em> is traditionally presented as a story of individual development and taught as a call to individual self-cultivation. And it is true that while Kant was faithful to the traditional German value of <em>Bildung</em>, it would be a mistake to read Kant’s famous “Sapere Aude!” as merely an appeal to throw off the “ball and chain of his permanent immaturity.”<sup id="fnref:kant0"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:kant0" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> The broader context of Kant’s political essays clearly transfers that responsibility to society and to the <em>philosophes</em> responsible for promoting the moral progress of man. A public ostensibly self-sufficient remains under the watchful eye of the “scholar.” Jürgen Habermas, in his early study of the public sphere, explains: </p> <blockquote> <p>The position of this public was ambiguous. Being, on the one hand, under tutelage and still in need of enlightenment, it yet constituted itself, on the other hand, as a public already claiming the maturity of people capable of enlightenment.<sup id="fnref:habermas"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:habermas" rel="footnote">6</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>This is the fundamental tension at the heart of the Kantian enlightenment: The fulfillment of Kant’s call to overthrow the false authority of tutelage is accomplished only through the careful guidance of public intellectuals.</p> <p>Kant’s ideal egalitarian, critical public, sharing knowledge and judgment to lift themselves from ignorance towards enlightenment, is quickly tempered. Public reason was unlikely to lead to a general enlightenment without the intervention of an educated elite: “Such guardians, once they have themselves thrown off the yoke of immaturity, will disseminate the spirit of rational respect for personal value and for the duty of all men to think for themselves.” Kant, evidently, was a Leninist <em>avant la lettre</em>, a theorist of an enlightened vanguard injecting moral virtue into the consciousness of the masses. He was not sanguine about the reception of such an elitist pedagogy. He warned that the people are likely to reject the example of their “guardians”: a public, incited against their benevolent teachers, “may subsequently compel the guardians themselves to remain under the yoke.”<sup id="fnref:kant1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:kant1" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> </p> <p>Political philosophy is haunted by the story of Socrates and his treatment by the Athenian polis.<sup id="fnref:crito"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:crito" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> Philosophy unsettles the political order and asks uncomfortable questions; it is suspicious of authority. But the key historical opposition is not our modern “people versus power,” but a fear of the democratic masses pushing back against the benign rule of their intellectual betters. Hatred of democracy, to borrow the title of Rancière’s <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1781681503/?tag=contrivers-review-20">pamphlet</a>, has been a constant of political history. Kant echoed this tension. Intellectuals moderate the irrational political passions of the masses, as parents do for children. After the excesses of the French Revolution, of which Kant’s audience would have been all too aware, the celebration of the enlightened intellectual took a conservative, elitist cast. </p> <p>Kant’s formalistic liberalism explains the strange political message of the essay. It concludes its opening call for independent thought by stating: “Argue as much as you like, but Obey!” Indeed, Kant spends much of the essay insulating political leaders from criticism. Kant’s public sphere was not a source of political legitimacy in the same way that it is today. Instead, Kant viewed it primarily as a pedagogical space. His standard for legitimacy was hypothetical consent, requiring only a correct application of moral reasoning by an individual. Thus it occurs privately and not, as we are more used to today, through a vigorous public debate. The key distinction is between private reason, which may be limited without consequences, and public reason, which may not. Today, we consider private space protected from legislation, while our public lives are subjected to law. Further complicating the language game is that we hold a strong presumption that speech, public or private, is protected. For Kant, however, it is public, non-professional reason which is free, and not, as we might suspect, what he calls private, or professional, reason.<sup id="fnref:kant3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:kant3" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> Public reason is employed in the role of human, <em>homme</em>, or species; private reason, confined to the household or office, is employed in the role of bourgeois. In today’s terms, when academics are at home, in private, and <em>not</em> in their role as professional knowledge workers, their public interventions are allowed.</p> <p>There is the problem, no less relevant today, of alloying personal interest into a general will or public interest. In modern democracies, we assume that elections aggregate individual into group preferences. In the Kantian state, laws are legitimate if both legislators and citizens can imagine themselves consenting to those laws.<sup id="fnref:kant4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:kant4" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> The political legitimacy of the Kantian constitutional state relied on the existence, however imaginary, of public sphere wherein the general will arises and may be apprehended. The general will does not, for Kant, arise out of personal interest. Instead, public reason disqualifies the private, personal qualities—just as for many other theorists self-interest must be limited if politics is to serve the common good. Kant’s public sphere is several things at once: It is a really existing conversation in which the public gradually achieves enlightenment; it is an imaginary, “regulative” idea guiding legislators in crafting laws; and it is the intellectual guardians who mediate between the general will and self-interested masses. </p> <p>Kantian intellectuals practice disinterested reason. They are bodies without interests. Or in the language of Kant’s moral theory: they recognize their duty <em>despite</em> their particular interests. (Again, this is not a conceit unique to Kant.) Their existence is crucial to the function the public sphere performs in Kant’s political theory. They practice the stance of disinterest that both educates the masses of the correct political judgment. Secondly their disinterested participation creates the general will by which laws may be judged. </p> <p>For Kant, the general will was a tangible thing, because he assumed that the structure of reason was the same for each individual. I doubt today we hold that same faith. At the least, we have a healthier respect for pluralism and the central place of disagreement in modern politics. Modern politics is far too cynical to believe that anyone, intellectuals or politicians, leave their self-interest at home when they speak in public.</p> <p>Marx, writing a scant few years after Kant, criticized his predecessors for assuming that the bourgeoise could embody universal, disinterested consciousness, but he too imagined a world where one class or group was a cipher for the whole, the working class. The history of Marxism, though, is a history of the the failure of this vision—not because the Soviet Union failed, but because the working class has at every chance failed to seize control in the way Marx envisioned. </p> <h2 id="the-enlightened-party">The Enlightened Party</h2> <p>In many ways, Lenin is the antithesis of Kant: radical where Kant was liberal; violent where Kant is evolutionary; transgressive where Kant is normative; intellectually derivative where Kant is original. If Kant is celebrated as a quintessential philosopher of political liberalism, Lenin’s writing sneers at the pretensions of bourgeois freedom. He was a caustic polemicist who engaged in arguments with his contemporary socialists both in Russia and Europe, where he lived for decades in exile. The shrill power of his writing took full advantage of the public sphere that stitched the national parties into an international workers movement, then centered around the 2nd International dominated by stale, dogmatic ideas. His power, arguably even after 1917, rose from his ability to wield a pen against his opponents—to insult and cajole when reason failed. </p> <p>Marx and Lenin both agreed in many ways with Kant: that human progress and enlightenment was inevitable and desirable. They are enclosed within the eschatological circle of philosophical Christianity that promises a resolution to conflict and an answer to our existential questions. Lenin responded to the perceived shortcomings of Marx’s theory, but he did so by invoking the idea of the intellectual. According to Lenin, the working class in Russia failed to develop at the same level of sophistication as in Western Europe. If Marxism required workers to be brutalized by capitalism, Russia was underdeveloped economically and politically repressive compared to Germany. Lenin’s novel contribution to Marxism was to divest the workers of any autonomous development of self-understanding, of enlightenment, and transfer that potential to a group of intellectuals tasked with educating the masses. Here we find an unexpected consonance with Kant: Enlightenment is the goal, intellectuals the vehicle.</p> <p>Lenin’s reputation is deservedly tarnished by the history of the Soviet Union, but after 1989, it has been possible to revisit more soberly the life and legacy of Lenin. The European Left’s rehabilitation of Lenin rests on his status as a political leader, not as an intellectual or totalitarian dictator.<sup id="fnref:zizek"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:zizek" rel="footnote">11</a></sup>⁠ This is a selective, contestable appropriation, as is the one offered here.</p> <p><em>What is to be done?</em> is Lenin’s first defense of the vanguard party, the committed revolutionary core driving history forward. The Leninist Party solved a practical problem: how to educate and lead a revolutionary party with mass appeal without being arrested. If the working class, especially in Russia, could not achieve revolutionary emancipation, then a group was needed to shepherd them towards the goal. This was the role of the Leninist Party: to understand the ostensible truth of Marxism better than the people supposed to understand it intuitively. The intellectuals knew the truth of capitalist oppression better than the oppressed. The vanguard was Lenin’s term for the educated core of intellectuals who retained control of the party newspaper, congresses, and propaganda. They were the readers of the sacred texts of Marxism, the interpreters and teachers of its truths. The 1903 split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks was not over violence, but over the level of access and responsiveness between the party core and the workers. Lenin prioritized isolation over accountability. He makes several reasonable arguments for his position, pointing to the Tsarist secret police—who had already prosecuted and exiled him once—and the need to work in secret.</p> <p>Prior to 1917, Lenin was a writer, editor, and fundraiser. After his Siberian exile, for the high-crime of distributing a newspaper, Lenin moved in 1900 to Geneva where he served on the editorial board of <em>Iskra</em> for the next three years, along with several prominent Russian socialists. <em>WITBD</em> was written during this period. In 1902, when Lenin was editing foreign reports and writing his scathing denunciation of his Russian compatriots, there was no expectation of immanent revolution. Perhaps there was a small hope in Western Europe, but not in Tsarist Russia. After 1905, there is an element of comic intrigue to Bolshevik’s revolutionary activities. The reputation of Lenin as a masterful political tactician is retroactive, and despite the ministrations of Žižek, et al., largely apocryphal. But as a writer, a public intellectual, and a theorist of the intelligensia he is instructive. The central text in which he addresses this problem is <em>What is to be Done?</em></p> <p>Where Lenin referred to the tasks of his party core, he never refers to violence explicitly, though this changes in later texts. Subsequent events clearly demonstrate Lenin’s willingness to deploy extra-legal violence. But within the text itself, there is little trace of the Leninist putsch leader of 1917. The text is not a tactical handbook, nor even an organizational guide outside of Lenin’s rejection of democratic control. It is largely a polemic dismissal of fellow Russian socialists’ willingness to embrace German Social Democracy and its attenuated version of Marxist revolution.</p> <p>Instead, the translation reads “as theoreticians, as propagandists, as agitators, and as organizers.”<sup id="fnref:tucker"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tucker" rel="footnote">12</a></sup> This is characteristic of the essay: the primary task of the vanguard party is not violence, but propaganda. And the book contains not a manual of terror, but a call for an “all-Russia newspaper” edited, of course, by Lenin himself. In this text, the vanguard party is primarily an editorial staff committed to writing, printing, and distributing Marxist theory for the workers. Remarkably, for Lenin, this organ solves the two central problems posed in the text: It allows for relative autonomy and secrecy by the Party leaders, while at the same time it educates and coordinates the workers. Much of the text is devoted to supporting this conclusion. </p> <p>The problem of Leninism has always been the monopolization of knowledge and power implied by the Party. Only the party properly understands the science of Marxism and how to apply it.<sup id="fnref:polan"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:polan" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> Thanks to their special knowledge, the authority of Marxist intellectuals was, if not infallible, then sufficiently advanced as to be unquestionable. Their expertise made it impossible for the layperson to criticize their judgments. The intellectual authority of those leaders proved the far more dangerous legacy of Leninism. The consequences of this vision are profound and well-documented. It introduced a centralizing logic into a Marxism that had hitherto been diverse and heterodox.</p> <p>There is an aporia between the emancipatory utopia of Marx, which echoes Kant’s valuation of freedom and self-development, and the Leninist Party. The difference between Kant and Lenin is that Lenin has resolved the tension, identified by Habermas above, between the intellectuals and the masses in favor of the former. There is no longer the presumption that humanity can improve itself. Instead there is a subtle but powerful displacement of progress, moral and political, from the public or workers to a detached group of individuals, who because of their knowledge are uniquely suited to move history forward. Unlike Kant, Lenin has no need for consent to legitimate Party rule: the party already speaks in place of the general will and the mediating function of the public sphere is irrelevant. In his favor, however, Lenin has discarded Kant’s assumptions about detached intellectuals. The conceptual shift from intellectual to <em>intelligensia</em> marks a transition from an abstract liberal subject to a more nuanced sociological theory. The <em>intelligensia</em>, while not quite a class, nevertheless share common interests, are identifiable as a group, and have influence and ideas tied to that identity.<sup id="fnref:manheim"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:manheim" rel="footnote">14</a></sup> We can speak now of intellectuals as more than a disinterested individual reasoning in public. Intellectuals, like other groups in society, prove to be self-interested and their arguments reflect it. </p> <p>If Kant theorized the enlightened public sphere; Lenin complicates the story. Kant exerts a strong influence on our assumptions about publicity, political legitimacy, and social progress. Both our sense of how democracy is supposed to work and our assumptions about social obligations are, today, mediated through the “talking cure” of public discussion.<sup id="fnref:cook"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:cook" rel="footnote">15</a></sup> What we have failed to appreciate is how tightly coupled theory of the public sphere is with intellectuals. From the beginning, the process of enlightenment, and of forging political consensus, was one guided by an educated elite. The sort of intuitive practical knowledge that once resided in the people, then the public, is finally delegated to experts. This progression is certainly not a problem of Marxism or of the Left, but a general problem confronted by all political theory. It is a problem of democratic representation: how to represent the interests of the people, when such interests are obscure, contradictory, and poorly articulated by the people themselves. Kant and Lenin never posed the question in these terms, however, for both thinkers, the intellectual class, those who trade economic for cultural capital, function as the hermenuticists of the general will. </p> <h2 id="final-thoughts">Final Thoughts</h2> <p>Knowledge today is too specialized to find Kant’s general public intellectual very persuasive. We are paradoxically too close and too far from his world: We are closer to his public of educated interlocutors who, by leveraging communication technology, have largely assumed the guise of detached knowledge consumers, sampling widely but shallowly from history, criticism, art, or literature. We are farther from accepting the benevolent influence of “authoritative” intellectuals or any authority at all. Critical democratic theory has yet to unpack the consequences of the appeal to authority implicit in intellectual production. Our expectations for the public sphere increasingly resemble radical democratic equality that is instinctively suspicious of expertise of any kind. Habermas’ diagnosis of the disintegration of the public sphere remains relevant: “the public is split apart into minorities of specialists who put their reason to use non-publicly and the great mass of consumers whose receptiveness is public but uncritical.”<sup id="fnref:habermas2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:habermas2" rel="footnote">16</a></sup></p> <p>The critical intellectual is not dead. Perhaps, given the examples of Kant and Lenin, it is impossible to think the public sphere without the intellectual. However, the <em>space</em> in the public sphere has withered as society has embraced instrumental forms of knowledge. Prying open that space, and the possibility of alternative critical languages, must be the goal. The question of whether the intellectual is still relevant today can be translated as: from what place, with what linguistic resources, and with what authority, can we speak critically, reflexively about modern society, an object we are enclosed within?</p> <p>We should fear the loss of a sort of non-technocratic, non-economic thinking once considered the foundation of a developed human. America’s policy makers call relentlessly for educators to equal the math and science skills of our global rivals, forgetting perhaps that America more than exceeds its rivals in disregard for moral judgment, ethics, and respect for human life. In every aspect of life, our priorities speak to this consensus, so presciently diagnosed by Herbert Marcuse in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0807014176/?tag=lmergner-20"><em>One-Dimensional Man</em></a>, that progress is no longer moral but technological and nothing remains but the final reduction of human to tool. It is remarkable that philosophy began by marking the distinction between the master and tool and today all that remains is the final instrumentalization of the human tool. The Aristotelian relationship is reversed: our tools make us more than we make them, morally and otherwise. </p> <p>Such non-instrumental knowledge was once the purview of the liberal arts university. We do not want to waste time wringing our hands over the death of the humanities or the academy in general; others have done it better and with more competence. Suffice it to say that the crisis of the university again demonstrates the values of American society: defund state universities in order to pay for the police-surveillance state. Academics have, more often than not, followed decline of politics into administration and enlisted social science in the service of state power. The alliance between social science and the state after 9/11 has been especially problematic. Knowledge served torture and invasion. Political Science, my home discipline, has not sufficiently persuaded policy makers of the difficulties of creating stable democratic societies, mistaking the absence of states for the malleability of culture. And in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks a new genre of political theory appeared calling for an aggressive defense of liberal values, conveniently draping warmongering in more palatable cloth. A new iron triangle is forming from the passage of scholars from elite universities into government administration. In sum, it is not that the academy has disengaged fully from the public sphere, but that its contributions serve to enshrine more fully the status quo.</p> <p>If you will permit me a simple metaphor, that speech can be understood cartographically, then it is the loss of the intellectual space that is most significant. We can provisionally posit two troubling trends that shape that space today: On one hand, since the second World War, technology and science has achieved a hegemonic position as the arbiter of truth. Such hegemony has come to define not only our social values, but has increasingly structured subjectivity on an atomic level. How we think about ourselves, our role in the world, and our obligations to others is determined by technological and scientific practices. On the other hand, the growing specialization and professionalization of knowledge in the academy has left theoretical knowledge increasingly esoteric and disconnected from broader public life. As scientific values encroach on the traditional domain of the humanities, we are losing those counter-knowledges and practices that might, at one time, have provided society and its constituents with a way to think against the status quo. Today, one-dimensional citizens of a technologized, consumer society imagine a neoliberal future of frictionless communication between disembodied consciousnesses. Those that might have argued otherwise, relying on practices, knowledges, theories developed out of adventurous reimaginings, they have ceded the public discussion.</p> <p>In the past, the urgency of now motivated the task of theory. The fear of the lost moment, of missed eschatological resolution, pressed upon our theoretical conscious. Theory waited for its Finland Station. &ldquo;Philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed.”<sup id="fnref:adorno1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:adorno1" rel="footnote">17</a></sup> The disenchantment of modernity has finally colonized theory. Today theory is spectral: shorn of its relevance for political action, it is narcissistically consumed with its own impotence. We must relearn how to think utopia, to find potency in our theoretical diagnoses of society, and to translate that into political change. It is not that <em>theory</em> is mute, indeed in many ways theorists clamor more loudly than ever. But what is being said? What questions are being confronted, aside from the ever-present professional anxiety implicit in our new monetized universities? What habits and practices have been placed under our discursive microscopes? What subjects, counter-practices, resistances have been discovered and mobilized?</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:arendt"> <p>Hannah Arendt, &ldquo;On Violence&rdquo; in <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0156232006/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Crisis of the Republic</a></em>, (Mariner Books, 1972).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:arendt" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:kant"> <p>Immanuel Kant, <em>An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?</em> in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0521398371/?tag=lmergner-20"><em>Political Writings</em></a>. 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 54-60. Available <a href="http://www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/etscc/kant.html">online</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:kant" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:lenin"> <p>Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, <a href="http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/"><em>What is to Be Done?</em></a> in <em>Selected Works</em> vol. 1, trans. Joe Fineberg and George Hanna. Available online at the <a href="http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/"><em>Lenin Internet Archive</em></a>, part of the <a href="https://www.marxists.org/index.htm"><em>Marxist Internet Archive</em></a>&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:lenin" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:rawls"> <p>The best examples of Kant’s influence on political philosophy today are Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:rawls" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:kant0"> <p>Kant <em>Enlightenment,</em> 55.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:kant0" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:habermas"> <p>Jurgen Habermas. <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0262581086/?tag=lmergner-20"><em>The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere</em></a> (MIT Press, 1991), 105.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:habermas" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:kant1"> <p>Kant <em>Enlightenment</em>, 55.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:kant1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:crito"> <p>See the <em>Crito</em> and the <em>Apology</em> in <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0691097186/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The Collected Dialogues of Plato</a></em>. They are also discussed <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-ethics-shorter/#11">here</a>. The notion that politics and philosophy are inherently antagonistic is borrowed from the work of <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/strauss-leo/">Leo Strauss</a> from whom I otherwise mark my difference. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:crito" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:kant3"> <p>“The public use of man’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men; the private use of reason may quite often be very narrowly restricted, however, without undue hindrance to the progress of enlightenment” (Kant, <em>Enlightenment</em>, 55).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:kant3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:kant4"> <p>“It is in fact merely an idea of reason, which nonetheless has undoubted practical reality; for it can oblige every legislator to frame his laws in such a way that they could have been produced by the united will of a whole nation, and to regard each subject, in so far as he can claim citizenship, as if he had consented within the general will&rdquo; (Kant, &ldquo;Theory and Practice,&rdquo; <em>Political Writings</em>, 79).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:kant4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:zizek"> <p>Primarily found in Slavoj Žižek, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1844677141/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Revolution at the Gates</em></a> (Verso, 2002).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:zizek" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tucker"> <p>Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0393092364/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Lenin Anthology</em></a>, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1975), 52. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tucker" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:polan"> <p>On this topic, see A.J. Polan, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0520053168/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Lenin and the End of Politics</em></a> (University of California Press, 1984). &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:polan" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:manheim"> <p>This was developed by Karl Mannheim, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0156439557/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Ideology and Utopia</a></em>, and more recently by Pierre Bourdieu in several of his books.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:manheim" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 14 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:cook"> <p>I borrow the phrase from Deborah Cook, &ldquo;<a href="http://newleftreview.org/II/12/deborah-cook-the-talking-cure-in-habermas-s-republic">The Talking Cure in Habermas&rsquo; Republic</a>,&rdquo; <em>The New Left Review</em> 12 (2001).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:cook" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 15 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:habermas2"> <p>Habermas, <em>The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere</em>, p. 175. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:habermas2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 16 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:adorno1"> <p>Theodor W. Adorno. <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0826401325/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Negative Dialectics</em></a> (New York: Continuum, 1973), p. 3.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:adorno1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 17 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Luke Thomas Mergner) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/1/ Intellectuals Mon, 02 Jun 2014 16:50:40 +0000 The Essayist and the Intellectual http://www.contrivers.org/articles/2/ In this essay, Pete Sinnott, Jr. provides a short, but important, history of the form of intellectual production, the essay. Both the producer and the product are uncertain, historical artifacts. How we understand intellectual work today is bound up in that history: on one hand, of the author’s self-conscious introspection or lack thereof and, on the other hand, of the essay as it oscillates between science, art, and criticism. <p>Despite recent laments to the contrary, audiences seeking engaging writing, compelling non-academic philosophy, and spirited polemic, will find an abundance of material available to them. We live in a moment in which the essay and the intellectual are again being embraced by those who identify themselves with a tradition of leftist thought. Novelists are founding leftist literary magazines and transforming themselves <a href="http://www.vulture.com/2014/03/benjamin-kunkel-marxist-novel-utopia-or-bust.html">into Marxist political economists</a>, young Jacobites are recruiting <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2013/01/a-jacobin-primer/">the greatest mind of the socialist left</a> to write for their journal of culture and polemic, blogs where academics and non-academics discuss issues from wide-ranging perspectives, and major news outlets now offer opinions pages specializing in philosophy, law, and political science.<sup id="fnref:jacobinprimeretal"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:jacobinprimeretal" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> In short, it is a good time be a consumer of intellectual writing and discourse. </p> <p>However, reflecting on these changes in light of Irving Howe’s oft-cited 1954 statement, “When intellectuals can do nothing else, they start a magazine,” one cannot help but notice how what it means to be an intellectual and start a magazine have radically changed since the time Howe gave us these words.<sup id="fnref:howe"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:howe" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> Indeed, the technical and economic changes in publication are shaping intellectual discourse itself, as anyone with even a passing familiarity with the shift from print to digital publication can recognize. The volume of information, the speed at which it circulates, and increased access to both production and consumption have made it easier for more people than ever to write for a public. But individuals and groups have a more difficult time being heard and influencing their audience in any substantive way. Concepts like the economy of attention, currency of clicks, and the digitally-inflected culture of celebrity attempt to describe these dynamics, but more often than not they are inadequate. </p> <p>Digital technology is one of several social forces among many changing what it means to be an “intellectual,” and the figure appears to be undergoing one of its periodic facelifts. Today, intellectuals are neither the educated, cultured, bohemian “men of letters” that supposedly defined the term during the first half of the twentieth century nor the overly-specialized academics whose disappearance behind walls of unreadable jargon and obsessions with arcane minutia has been lamented by many over the last 30 years, most famously Russell Jacoby.<sup id="fnref:jacoby"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:jacoby" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> In the U.S. context, the former originated and was adapted from the worn-out template of Emile Zola and the Dreyfus Affair, a “literary,” educated, artistic individual who used the cultural capital of their art to speak to a broad audience. The latter, the academic, was a specialist and expert who exchanged the social capital created in his or her professional field to speak to the public.<sup id="fnref:collini"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:collini" rel="footnote">4</a></sup></p> <p>These two figures were never all that they appeared to be. Despite the outsider status they claimed was crucial to being an intellectual, the alienated bohemians were never alienated or independent enough to deny the patronage and recognition of their cultural capital, often a literary fame, which ensured their existence. Moreover, the idea of the intellectual disappearing in the Ivory Tower is simply another variant of a persistent myth as the historian Stefan Collini argues. In this myth, the intellectual is always a figure of times and places faraway from the fallen, Phillistine world from which the lamentations for absent intellectuals are uttered. Hence, Collini titles his book <em>Absent Minds</em>.<sup id="fnref:absentminds"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:absentminds" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> </p> <p>As applied to academics and the university today, this myth fails to reflect even the small view of reality it once projected and appears silly and ridiculous, not mythic or poetic. After World War II, society increasingly assumed that academics were taking up the role of the public intellectual, and, depending on one’s social status and political orientation, both the pedestal and pillory were seen as appropriate responses to these academic intellectuals. Now however, adjunct labor dominates teaching in the university classroom, faculty have less control over the curriculum, and fewer aspiring scholars have the opportunity to pursue the writing and research necessary to establish themselves in their professional field, let alone have the time or income to do whatever the intellectual does.<sup id="fnref:robin"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:robin" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> Today, grounding one’s authority in the specialization of scholarship is perhaps even more untenable than claiming affinity with a bohemian intellectual past. Given the technological shift from print to digital publication, it may also be true that writers face even grimmer odds of making a living at their craft than the odds faced by the intellectuals of print culture that dominated most of the twentieth century. </p> <p>Indeed, many of the most notable intellectual publications on the left today exist through a system of patronage and privilege, rely on a free or poorly compensated labor force to generate content, prioritize quantity over quality of content, struggle to find even local readerships; they face the same changes of information technology as large newspapers and magazines.<sup id="fnref:labor"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:labor" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> Yet as I stated above, a great deal of compelling writing and thought-provoking work is available, perhaps even more than what was at hand in the heyday of small intellectual journals and literary magazines. The support of small publications through patronage, privilege, and cheap labor is certainly not unprecedented, and it does not necessarily mean they are morally or politically bankrupt. However, the relation of the intellectual and intellectual publications to the market-disciplined university and the labor of writers in an information landscape dominated by digital technology leads to larger questions about the forms of value upon which they trade. These are not new questions, but they are worth revisiting if only as a first step in situating them in today’s context. </p> <p>In his review of Collini’s book, Bruce Robbins asks: &ldquo;Can one become an intellectual without trading on a capital amassed elsewhere, but simply by means of the work done on the premises as it were?&rdquo;<sup id="fnref:robbins"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:robbins" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> Robbins’ question draws attention to two ways an individual might procure an identity as an intellectual, exchange and work. You can either buy the identity or make it yourself. This emphasis on the intellectual identity as a kind of product leaves unquestioned what it means to do intellectual work in this fashion. If one can become an intellectual by “work done on the premises,” what is the nature of this work and how is it different from other forms of knowledge production? Is this figure simply a kind of celebrity, the packaging of cultural capital in a public persona? Or does “work done on the premises” produce some value that is not the same as the persona produced by exchanging “capital amassed elsewhere”?</p> <p>Ostensibly, the public intellectual attempts to address social needs that are different than the demand met by markets. While in practice social needs and market demands are not separate domains, the work of the intellectual is founded upon the assumption that the public sphere of moral and civic life is or should be different from the private interests of individuals and groups that constitute the marketplace. We might say that intellectual work aims to produce something that is useful but has no exchange value. In cultures dominated by markets and capital, work that does not produce exchange value or does not obviously reproduce the conditions that make work possible is a hobby and not production at all. If production, it is a contradiction in terms. In fact, taking the capital accumulated by productive, professional work and investing it in a place from which one can address others as an “intellectual,” is often, from the perspective of market value, a wasteful expenditure. Any secondary profit accrued in becoming a public figure is not likely to compensate for the time, energy, and money one could have allocated to the “real” work of a profession. On the surface, the work of intellectuals does not produce a form of use value that has any immediate exchange value.</p> <p>The expectation of use is made possible in the exchange of economic and cultural capital from one sphere of life to another, but if successful, the use value appears independently of any exchange. The gap between the usefulness of intellectual work and exchange value leads to one of two conclusions. First, those who believe that everything useful in life has a market or potential market simply dismiss intellectual production as useless. Second, intellectuals, particularly on the left, often see the gap between the usefulness of what they do and its exchange value as a way of creating or demonstrating uses that either exist outside market forces or at least are not completely dominated by them. In terms of the first point, the historian Richard Hofstadter offers an excellent if somewhat dated description of this perspective in his 1962 book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0394703170/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Anti-Intellectualism</em></a>.<sup id="fnref:hofstadter"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:hofstadter" rel="footnote">9</a></sup></p> <p>Hofstadter describes the perspective as a the anti-intellectualism of the businessman’s ethic and practical view of life: </p> <blockquote> <p>The contemporary businessman, who is disposed to think of himself as a man of practical achievement and a national benefactor, shouldering enormous responsibilities and suffering from the hostility of flighty men who have never met a payroll finds it hard to take seriously the notion that he [the businessman] always gets his way. He sees himself enmeshed in the bureaucratic regulations of a welfare state that is certainly no creation of his.<sup id="fnref:hof2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:hof2" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> </p> </blockquote> <p>Of course, today we might add the inventors of technology, entrepreneurs, and hedge fund managers to this description. Overgeneralizing a bit, one can describe this attitude as a supreme confidence in the combination of technological development and “free markets” to solve problems and a complete disdain for anything or anyone that might question this confidence, or even more outrageously, suggest that these forces might be part of the problem. </p> <p>To knowingly make a dubious investment in public life assumes that one is offering something useful or being useful in a way that cannot be defined by market values. In this sense, the model of intellectual work and the intellectual figure based upon the exchange of capital accumulated elsewhere is what Adam Smith called unproductive labor.<sup id="fnref:smith"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:smith" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> Unproductive labor is labor that one purchases but does not generate a commodity that can be exchanged for a profit. At an individual level, the person who goes to the theater employs unproductive laborers because he or she only has the experience of witnessing the actor’s performance, an experience that cannot be resold. At a societal level, doctors, lawyers, and teachers are all unproductive laborers because they are supported by revenue (public or private), not by the production of a commodity that can be resold. In both cases, one more immediately than the other, unproductive labor is paid from “the annual produce of the land and labor of the country.”<sup id="fnref:smith2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:smith2" rel="footnote">12</a></sup> This is often a matter of perspective however. As Marx describes it in his discussion of Smith in <em>Theories of Surplus Value</em> (1860), “productive and unproductive labor is here and throughout conceived from the standpoint of the possessor of money, from the standpoint of the capitalist, not from that of the workman.”<sup id="fnref:tsv"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tsv" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> The terms of productive and unproductive may not have economic validity, but they usefully describe the perspectives from which intellectual work is viewed. As a perspective and not type of labor, Marx and Smith, agree on the basic description: “unproductive labor produces for him [the purchaser of it] a mere use value, not a commodity.”<sup id="fnref:marx2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:marx2" rel="footnote">14</a></sup> This for, Smith, is a wasteful expenditure by definition, but unlike the practical businessman described by Hofstadter, Smith does not see such waste as necessarily bad. </p> <p>As a possessor of capital who exchanges it “a mere use,” intellectuals often consider the gap between use and exchange as an indication that they are creating a public use outside of capital. In the case of the intellectual who establishes his or her authority by exchanging the capital accumulated in another profession—the academic, the inventor, the scientist—they invest their capital under the very presumption that they are doing something useful and offering something that is of use first to a public and only secondarily, if at all, exchangeable on a market. This use is ostensibly consumed immediately, escaping capitalization in the commodity form. However, simply because such use may not have an immediate relation to market value does not mean it is not part of the larger economic system. As Marx says in his critique of Smith, unproductive labor can be as easily subsumed under capital as productive labor because it contributes or it aims to contribute to the reproduction of the social conditions of labor itself.<sup id="fnref:marx3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:marx3" rel="footnote">15</a></sup> This is in fact what it means to have a use. This reproduction is not damning <em>tout court</em>. For instance, there are conditions that allow us to critique and speak out against exploitation and injustice. However, to judge intellectual labor according to its immediate use value leaves unquestioned the social conditions which it aims to reproduce by its very nature. This is true whether one damns the intellectual according to some version of Hofstadter’s business ethic and practical view of life or nostalgically laments what intellectuals once contributed to the public good and what they could contribute again if they simply set aside their professional, specialized interests. </p> <p>This subsumption of cultural production by capitalist production is a well worn subject of criticism, and the idea that criticism itself has been subsumed is commonly accepted in the endlessly branching criticism of criticism. There is certainly truth to these dynamics, but in today’s media landscape we often leave unexamined the use value of a given intellectual work and concentrate on the object which assumes the exchange value, the persona or identity of the intellectual in question. This has been the case with some of the response to Thomas Picketty’s new book.<sup id="fnref:picketty"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:picketty" rel="footnote">16</a></sup> For the consumer of the product, the identity or figure of the intellectual that is consciously or unconsciously constructed in the work, and now in various media outlets, operates as the bridge between exchange and use. The content does not have an immediate use, but there is no such gap between the persona of the intellectual and exchange value because the previous creation and accumulation of capital testifies to the use-exchange relation of the intellectual as an identity. </p> <p>Ideologically, the public intellectual is a descendant of seemingly contradictory identities—the enlightened person of letters and the creative Romantic genius or Bohemian artist. The enlightened person of letters—a nominally a male category but in reality it included many women writers—gave voice to what was universal in all “mankind.” The Romantic genius emphasized the individual, unique self, defined by creative originality.<sup id="fnref:campbell"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:campbell" rel="footnote">17</a></sup> These identities in various combinations became something like a brand in which one invested time, money, and labor to create a profit of prestige or cultural capital as well a proper monetary profit. As their descendant, the identity of the modern intellectual operated in the same fashion. </p> <p>However, at the level of form, the essay—a mode of writing favored by individuals claiming all of these identities—puts those very identities on trial, questioning their value and existence. Along with these personae, the trials operate as the other half of a strange dialectic. The very assumption of an identity like intellectual, Enlightened person of letters, or Bohemian artist is the foundation for writing and speaking to publics in the first place. However, as soon as the figure is called to the stage to speak they submit themselves to a trial that seeks to expose their inner nature or determine whether it exists as anything but the play of light and shadow. Whether this dialectic of form undercuts the branding and capitalization of identities is not a yes or no question either across time or in any given text. The modern intellectual is certainly related to the enlightened essayist, Romantic critic, and Bohemian of previous centuries, but these are complex and contradictory relationships. Social media has certainly changed opportunities for personal branding, but the prominence of long-form journalism, social criticism, and examinations and reviews of cultural products are forms that overlap with the essay in important ways. I cannot hope to do justice to this complicated history, but I believe a cursory look is instructive. </p> <p>Taken from the French <em>assay</em>, the term essay suggests a process of testing and trying an object or person to determine its nature, an endeavor or attempt to perform a difficult task. As noun and verb, it suggests an activity of determining value, but an activity of determination that is often irregular. Consequently, the results of these attempts are often irregular themselves, undercutting the process of determining value as its defining quality. The irregular nature of the process and the lack of clear results set the term apart from what we think of as scientific experimentation. Admittedly, the OED does list some entries from the seventeenth and early eighteenth century that use the term to describe experiments with Robert Boyle’s air pump (new and exciting technology at the time) or chemical tests that might determine the difference in purity of gold mined from different locations. However, essay is more often associated with not knowing whether one has succeeded or failed in accomplishing an empirically verifiable objective or judging with certainty whether one’s actions are in accord with moral and ethical ideals. Francis Bacon, for instance, distinguished between the essay and method or experiment, even though he valued attempts at a deeper understanding found in the “meditations” that constitute essays as a form of writing. Essay was more closely tied to the the moral, political, and artistic results of human activity and thought than the knowledge of nature connected to the practices of the new science in seventeenth century Europe.</p> <p>At the end of sixteenth century, Michel Montaigne’s <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003YL3C6G/?tag=contrivers-review-20">writings</a> helped naturalize the link between essay’s meaning as a verb and as a noun denoting a written form of discourse. His writing has long exemplified the essay as a specific literary form, but Montaigne’s essays were defined by the unstable relation between authorial identity and the process of writing as a test or trial of this identity. Montaigne’s essays create an interesting, humorous authorial persona—the essayist—who judges both himself and the world around him. With numerous self-references, personal anecdotes, and meditations on his own thoughts, Montaigne certainly offered a model, much admired throughout western Europe, for identifying an author with a personality. He understood the capacity of prose to project the much vaunted “voice” of the author, but he also knew the distance between that voice and himself. Marking that distance became a way of questioning the representation and the object being represented, the author and the human being. </p> <p>For Montaigne the ego emerges as a secondary product of continual attempts to describe how the self is connected to the external forces that determine one’s life. However much the reader identifies the man with the essays, the writing is always an attempt or trial, and the success of this attempt is always called into question by two considerations: first, life is infinitely complex and even one, small quotidian event is made up a myriad number of moments that defy description. Montaigne sees his thoughts as “void of form, and incapable of “operative production.”<sup id="fnref:montaigne"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:montaigne" rel="footnote">18</a></sup> Second, the inescapable fact of death makes the very ideas of coherence and stability in any persona, identity, or ego, laughable at best. Vain writers “look upon themselves as a third person only, a stranger” and “building castles in the air,” are “charmed with their own knowledge.” Death is certain and knowledge of it uncertain. To this latter point, Montaigne wryly quotes the Roman poet Lucretius who said, “No one wakes who has once fallen into the cold sleep of death.”<sup id="fnref:montaigne2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:montaigne2" rel="footnote">19</a></sup> Montaigne does not think as Lucretius does that a soul with a specific identity, dies with the body, but he is certain that the passage of life to death remains unknown.</p> <p>Montaigne saw his writings as an attempt to communicate his knowledge of the “trade and art” of living, but believed these attempts were articulated weakly within the “airy body of the voice.”<sup id="fnref:montaigne3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:montaigne3" rel="footnote">20</a></sup> This voice was the one through which he wrote and addressed his readers, but his readers, both his contemporary as well as modern audiences, identify Montaigne with egoism and the creation of an authorial persona that seems distant from the weak identity described by Montaigne himself. Understanding is not gained by writing about oneself in the third person, approaching oneself as a stranger with a definite form, but by the continual attempt to give form to what is formless. This means attempting to see innumerable connections at any one moment and the process of time that frays these connections, ultimately resulting in death. He believes that a reader might find his personal stories useful as Montaigne himself finds telling them useful. The passages quoted so far are from an essay titled either “Use Makes Perfect,” or “Of Practice,” depending on the translation.<sup id="fnref:montaigne4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:montaigne4" rel="footnote">21</a></sup> This use however is fragile, and readers may be as likely to find the writing a “folly that will die with me” as anything useful. This idea belies Charles Cotton’s early translation of the title that pronounces that perfection can be achieved through use. </p> <p>Whether useful to the reader or not, Montaigne undermines the authority of the persona and the legitimacy he presumes in even writing: “No particular quality will make any man proud, that will at the same put the many other weak and imperfect ones he has in the other scale, and the nullity of the human condition will make up the weight.”<sup id="fnref:montaigne5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:montaigne5" rel="footnote">22</a></sup> Egoistic authors may offer useful lessons for the practice or art of living, or they may offer vain pronouncements of their own value. The finite nature of a human life renders the former a partial truth and the latter an absurd lie. Montaigne highlights the historical nature of all uses and needs because the “nullity of the human condition” marks the cessation of necessity and use themselves. Every use and every possibility is connected to the “nullity of the human condition,” a nullity that is both part of every identity and what destabilizes every identity. Montaigne’s drives this point home caustically, noting that Socrates was the only philosopher who perfectly “digested to purpose” the aim of self knowledge “by setting himself to nought.”<sup id="fnref:montaigne6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:montaigne6" rel="footnote">23</a></sup></p> <p>Late in the seventeenth century, John Locke would offer a form of the essay that connected the public usefulness of his work to the new sciences. The usefulness of this activity, however, is not a Montaigne-like exploration of oneself, the attempt to give form to the formless. A writer of a ground-breaking work in empiricism, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0140434828/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>An Essay Concerning Human Understanding</em></a> (<a href="http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10615">available online</a>), Locke famously says, an “under-labourer” to the “master builders” of the sciences like Boyle and Newton.<sup id="fnref:locke1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:locke1" rel="footnote">24</a></sup> Locke did not actually think his philosophical work to be subservient to the work of Boyle, his friend and colleague, or Newton with whom he was acquainted, but this comment ties the utility of his work to the objective knowledge found in the emerging natural sciences. Locke tells the reader in his prefatory epistle to the <em>Essay</em> that the vain author is one writes without intending any use for the public. “I shall always have the satisfaction to have aimed sincerely at truth and usefulness, though in one of the meanest ways,” and this meanest way is of course the essay.</p> <p>Despite emphasizing the utility of the final product, Locke maintained that the process of essay writing is useful in itself regardless of the result. He sees the essay as the natural arena for the understanding, a faculty whose exercise is “a sort of hawking and hunting, wherein the very pursuit makes a great part of the pleasure.”<sup id="fnref:locke2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:locke2" rel="footnote">25</a></sup> The aim of the essay writer is to “let loose their own thoughts and follow them in writing.” Locke’s <em>Essay</em> is read today as exemplifying the virtues of clear and intelligible philosophical discourse, and it is hard to remember its relation to the less certain and more precarious dimensions of the essay form. However, Locke combines belief in a public use that defines the writer’s goal and confidence in both the faculty of human understanding and scientific revelations of nature’s laws to create an authorial identity whose view of the world is outside the personal confines of every authorial identity. While the faculty of the understanding may differ in individuals like the palate, Locke says, all humans have the same faculties. Therefore, one can take one’s own understanding as an object of thought and learn something about the understanding in all human beings.<sup id="fnref:locke3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:locke3" rel="footnote">26</a></sup> This view of the thinking person taking him or herself as their own object allows Locke to approach his thoughts in the <em>Essay</em> from a third person perspective without the vanity of idealizing the merely personal as an objective truth, the very thing which irritated Montaigne.</p> <p>Essayists in the eighteenth-century would combine a unique authorial persona with the the certainty of an objective viewpoint. This was certainly true with Joseph Addison’s figure of the Spectator, the moral censor of society. Following Locke, Addison believed vision was the most “comprehensive” of the senses, and the idea of a universal vision allowing an observer to see objective moral truths within the cultural experiences shaping modern life.<sup id="fnref:lockeaddison"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:lockeaddison" rel="footnote">27</a></sup> From this universal perspective, Addison could diagnose social and moral ailments and prescribe the moral lesson of an essay as a medicinal concentrate administered in “a few drops.”<sup id="fnref:addison"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:addison" rel="footnote">28</a></sup> This “Chymical Method,” is a particular of essay writing. In descriptions of everyday life or moral allegories, Addison described a moral truth that went beyond the particular being described. He was confident that he could find and represent what was essential in the myriad connections of everyday life. Whether dealing with the financial world of exchange alley or the aesthetic pleasures of the imagination, the stable position of the Spectator guaranteed a regular process that ensured objective results. This was a point of view that assumed the universality of moral norms so it could judge any particular in terms of these norms and offer a cure. </p> <p>Samuel Johnson criticized this view and believed essay writing a capricious activity. For Johnson, the essayist’s mind was distracted with a “boundless multiplicity” of ideas and events. With no ordering process, he or she only manages to focus on a particular event “by accident or some cause out of our own power.”<sup id="fnref:johnson"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:johnson" rel="footnote">29</a></sup> In this paradigm, the authorial persona of the spectator is created not from a universal viewpoint that can see essential moral qualities but by stumbling across a topic randomly. The essay writer then performs intellectual contortions linking random choice to something grander. Johnson was a prolific and famous essay writer himself, and this doubt is a strong current in his thought, continually eroding the foundations of identity. For Romantics, the unknown in oneself, which in Johnson must be continually overcome, is the very source of creative energy and originality, sometimes configured in Christian or natural mysticism and other times resembling something like the unconscious.<sup id="fnref:campbell2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:campbell2" rel="footnote">30</a></sup></p> <p>In the nineteenth century, William Hazlitt praised Montaigne for exemplifying a writing process that is remarkably similar to the one Johnson describes in pejorative terms. This process does not aim at administering medicinal concentrates like Addison’s essayist-chemist, but produces something original and valuable because it is caused by something out of one’s power, at least conscious power.<sup id="fnref:hazlitt"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:hazlitt" rel="footnote">31</a></sup> The value of such a process comes from the fact that it is not determined by the aims of conscious thought. For Hazlitt, the essay allows Montaigne to communicate with “naked simplicity and force” whatever thoughts pass through his mind, and in this form of communication Montaigne becomes a “philosopher, wit, orator, or moralist.”<sup id="fnref:hazlitt2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:hazlitt2" rel="footnote">32</a></sup> For Johnson, Montaigne is &ldquo;an ingenious but whimsical French author.&rdquo; In contrast, Hazlitt places Montaigne in a Romantic paradigm that valorizes the process of creating one’s work as a writer and oneself as author by arguing that creating cannot be dictated by a predetermined use or ideal image of the product. </p> <p>Later in the nineteenth century, Alexander Smith, would take the ambiguous and capricious nature of essay writing further, discarding the need to claim the role of philosopher, moralist, or wit for the essayist. Smith defines the essay as an aesthetic experience, and the essayist as a “poet in prose.” He argues that the essayist cannot offer any apology for the lack of uses that his essay may or may not have.<sup id="fnref:alex"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:alex" rel="footnote">33</a></sup> He sees the essayist as jouster who “wears a lance, but he cares more for the sharpness of its point than for the pennon that flutters on it, than for the banner of the captain under whom he serves.”<sup id="fnref:alex2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:alex2" rel="footnote">34</a></sup> Here the essay is all process, defined by mood and the act of discovering the “suggestiveness of the most common things,” and texts.<sup id="fnref:alex3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:alex3" rel="footnote">35</a></sup> What he takes from Montaigne is the humbling knowledge of death, but Smith uses this as an excuse for self-indulgent individualism and isolation. It is not surprising that Smith cites Shakespeare’s character Jacques, whom Hazlitt called the “prince of philosophical idlers,” as his model personality for the essayist; he lies on the grassy banks of a river, amusing himself with thoughts shaped in a witty, misanthropic aesthetic.<sup id="fnref:hazlitt3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:hazlitt3" rel="footnote">36</a></sup> </p> <p>From Jacques one can step easily into the role of the aesthete who holds the illusion that aestheticism offers some form of escape from a corrupt society. Oscar Wilde raised the work of the critic above that of the artist and poet, locating the heart of aesthetic value in the critical not creative faculty; the former invents what is new whereas the latter can only reproduce what already exists, trapped in stale forms.<sup id="fnref:wilde"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:wilde" rel="footnote">37</a></sup> Wilde’s art is no longer a direct response to social ills. The point of criticism was to create a greater detachment from society by offering aesthetics and the contemplation of aesthetics as an avenue for escaping from the social world.</p> <p>According to Georg Lukács, Wilde, along with the German critic Alfred Kerr, merely popularized “a truth that was already known to the German Romantics [&hellip;] that criticism is an art and not a science.”<sup id="fnref:lukacs"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:lukacs" rel="footnote">38</a></sup> They fail to ask about the form of criticism, the essay, and what separates it from the forms of art upon which it comments as well as the sciences. In his exploration of the essay, “On the Nature and Form of the Essay,” Lukács distinguished and championed the essay as a form different from both art and science, although overlapping each. Science offers one standpoint, positivist philosophy another, art another but Lukács found each of these insufficient—in their pre WWI Germany and pre-revolutionary Hungary form—for grasping an essential part of life overlooked by art and science.<sup id="fnref:rees"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:rees" rel="footnote">39</a></sup> </p> <p>Essayists are the ones who merely writes on the words, images, and philosophy of others, but they do so only with false humility. The essayist’s false humility is an ironic stance that exposes the fact that the artist has as meager a relation to life as the essayist does to the artist. The essayist reveals “the eternal smallness of the most profound work of the intellect in the face of life.”<sup id="fnref:lukacs2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:lukacs2" rel="footnote">40</a></sup> Essays mark the artificiality and absurdity of social relations that endow prestige and status to some identities of knowledge producers while denigrating others. This is an unraveling of identity at the heart of the essay itself, and it is not at all surprising that Lukács takes Montaigne as the essayist who most adeptly and ironically adapted himself to that eternal smallness.</p> <p>Lukács’ use of the term irony here is an inadequate response to questions he poses about the essay as form. (Whether this inadequacy belongs to Lukács, our current concept of irony, or both, is an interesting question, but I cannot attempt to answer it here.) Despite this deficit, the questions themselves are compelling. He questions whether the essay is an independent form at all and if its standpoint and “the form given to this standpoint” can move it beyond the objectivity of science and subjectivity of art. He believes in the possibility of an affirmative answer to these first questions. His final question, however, is more complicated. “To what extent do they endow the work with the force necessary for a conceptual reordering of life, and yet distinguish it from the final perfection of philosophy?”<sup id="fnref:lukacs3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:lukacs3" rel="footnote">41</a></sup> </p> <p>Life itself, Lukács argues, has forms, which he defines as the “ideal demands of a certain kind of men and experiences.”<sup id="fnref:lukacs4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:lukacs4" rel="footnote">42</a></sup> He says that the more intensely one experiences the demands of life or the forms art, the more they appear as qualities of “natural effect and immediate usefulness,” which is to say they paradoxically appear without form. Art, literature, and philosophy “pursue form openly,” and consequently “a lesser intensity of critical capacity is needed to experience something formed than to experience something lived.”<sup id="fnref:lukacs5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:lukacs5" rel="footnote">43</a></sup> The very immediacy and apparent formlessness of these lived experiences require the critic, but even then forms of life can only appear obliquely through commentary on art and literature. For once form appears as form, one glimpses “a final, irreducible category of possibilities of experience.”<sup id="fnref:lukacs6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:lukacs6" rel="footnote">44</a></sup> This category is the boundless multiplicity for which Addison claimed to have covered with a universal identity, from which Johnson recoiled and was the source of his skepticism, which Alexander Smith naively celebrated, and which Wilde tried safely to isolate as a multiplicity of aesthetic possibilities with only a remote connection to the world of social experience. </p> <p>Potentially, such a glimpse gives the essay “the force necessary for a conceptual reordering of life.” Such a reordering may be insufficient by itself but important in any material, social, and political change. However, one can also succeed too well in creating a standpoint and form that engages “life as a whole,” hence Montaigne’s wry comment that Socrates was the only one to gain full self-knowledge by killing himself. The attainment of such knowledge is a Pyrrhic victory. Lukács certainly idealizes the ability of the essay to generate a critical standpoint that opens possibilities for new values, ideas, and concepts beyond the demands of the historical moment. </p> <p>I have cherry-picked my examples here, and my discussion should not be mistaken for a rigorous history or suggest a line of causality. However, these examples do point to an important tension between a form that expressed subjective perspectives on individual and shared experience as well as the objectivity inherent in the growing specialization of all knowledge production. Locke is an under-laborer to the master systems builders, Boyle and Newton. Addison found a niche as the moral legislator. The niche was created by the new print culture and rapidly changing ideas of “public” life in the early eighteenth century.<sup id="fnref:habermas"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:habermas" rel="footnote">45</a></sup> He opposed his essays to what was merely “news” and the work of Grub Street hacks who propagated scandal in tabloid fashion. Hazlitt argued that the essay was as important in gaining knowledge of morals as experiments were in the natural sciences. History seems to have sided with Johnson, however. He understood that the accidental and capricious nature of the form sowed it with doubt and skepticism, and knowledge with such parentage could never be as certain as the regular methods of science. To have an exchange value the essay needed to be comparable to other forms of knowledge. However, the form tended to turn the writer’s questions about the world back upon the questioner, and this made measuring the value of the essay in relation to other products an intractable problem. Alexander Smith begins to move the essayist away form the moral dimension of life and into the purely aesthetic, a move completed by Oscar Wilde among others. However, art for art sake or criticism as art has an inescapable insularity that undermines the form itself. The problem of value could only be overcome if the essayist embraced this tendency by either affirming themselves as a being with universal qualities or idealizing what was singular and unique in every accidental creation. The former validated the use of one’s own experience and life as a representative example for the inner moral life of every human being, and the latter Romanticized the creations of chance as a quasi-mystical production of original genius. </p> <p>As market value increasingly dominated social relations, the essayist faced fewer ways of understanding their value, and choosing identities of the Enlightenment or Romanticism became increasingly necessary. The aristocratic privilege that allowed Montaigne’s many trials gave way to relations of market value in explicitly economic terms, the discourse of utilitarianism, and the fields of aesthetics and high culture that centered on the accumulation of symbolic capital and social prestige. Pierre Bourdieu argued that culture is the market—really many interlocking markets—in which one can invest in the hopes of a profitable return and still maintain the illusion that the return is not a form of profit.<sup id="fnref:bourdieu"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:bourdieu" rel="footnote">46</a></sup> His point was that cultural capital offers an illusion that one can be productive in artistic, intellectual, or scholarly fields without supporting the same social relations as the economic sphere proper. From this perspective, we can see how intellectual production and consumption on the left today is creating a new hierarchy of value distinctions, but they are based on forms of identity still tied to the Enlightened observer and the Romantic genius. In addition, these internal value distinctions within the leftist/intellectual/literary field are shifting the relations to other fields of production such as the intellectual production supported by the natural sciences or technology, modifying C.P. Snow’s classic opposition between professors of literature and professors of science.<sup id="fnref:snow"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:snow" rel="footnote">47</a></sup></p> <p>Robbins’ question of whether one can become an intellectual by “work done on the premises” is an open one. However, the premises of this kind of work often seems to be based in forms of privilege ranging from one’s place in the aristocracy like Montaigne, the second generation wealth of the new capitalist class, the market viability of written work during the print-culture periodical booms of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries to the exchange of one’s status as expert for credibility with certain publics.<sup id="fnref:thegramsciexception"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:thegramsciexception" rel="footnote">48</a></sup> Intellectual critique still starts from a position of privilege, but it’s important to remember that privilege is relative. In most cases, there is always someone better or worse off somewhere, and judging the value of intellectual critique according to another’s greater or lesser cultural and economic capital has two outcomes: factions develop or all such work is judged valid or invalid without any other distinction being important. The time needed to do the work is purchased and constitutes a privilege. This is the very problem, but understanding this does not and should flatten differences in terms of how individuals pay for the privilege of using their time. Still, remembering that everyone must purchase their time as a privilege allows a perspective for seeing one’s own position and the position of others in more complex terms. </p> <p>This perspective might deprive the intellectual of any notion that they exist at the center of the world of ideas in which they operate. This is a notion perpetuated by the universalism of the Enlightened identity and egoism of the Romantic identity, but understanding the purchase of time as a privilege brings to the foreground the social relations that allow one to create such a world. The necessity of purchasing time also reveals the one, undeniable, natural quality of all human life, its finitude. Only with this view can one trade on the identity created in the essay form and engage in the trials which might reveal formlessness of that identity as Montaigne suggests and the formal qualities of life that feign the appearance of necessity and nature, as Lukács describes. </p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:jacobinprimeretal"> <p>Connor Kilpatrick, “<a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2013/01/a-jacobin-primer/">A Jacobin Primer</a>,” <em>Jacobin</em> Issue 9. The blog <em><a href="http://crookedtimber.org/">Crooked Timber</a></em> has contributors that seem to be a mix of political scientists, literary theorists, lawyers, historians and includes academics and professionals. <a href="http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/the-stone/"><em>The Stone</em></a> is <em>The New York Times’</em> philosophy blog and <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/"><em>The Monkey Cage</em></a> is <em>The Washington Post’s</em> political science blog.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:jacobinprimeretal" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:howe"> <p>Irving Howe, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0416000517/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Twenty-Five Years of Dissent</em></a> (New York: Methuen, 1979), xv.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:howe" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:jacoby"> <p>Russell Jacoby, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0465036252/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe</em></a> (Basic Books, 1989).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:jacoby" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:collini"> <p>My account here is indebted to Stefan Collini’s <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0199216657/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain</em></a> (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). For a book-length study of the United States, see Neil Jumonville’s, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0520068580/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Critical Crossings: the New York Intellectuals in Postwar America</em></a> (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), esp. ch. 1.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:collini" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:absentminds"> <p>Collini, 240-241.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:absentminds" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:robin"> <p>Corey Robin made these points in an editorial for <em>Al-Jazeera America</em>, <a href="http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/3/kristof-academicswritingpublicintellectuals.html">“The Responsibility of Adjunct Intellectuals”</a>. Rebecca Schuman has written extensively on the academic job market in <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/03/what_should_students_call_their_college_professors.html"><em>Slate</em></a>, <a href="https://chroniclevitae.com/news/491-is-the-vap-trap-worth-it?cid=VTKT1"><em>Viitae</em></a>, and her blog, <a href="http://pankisseskafka.com/"><em>Pan Kisses Kafka</em></a>. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:robin" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:labor"> <p>See section on Labor of Writing in the Further Reading/Miscellaney for this issue. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:labor" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:robbins"> <p>Bruce Robbins, “In Public, or Elsewhere: Stefan Collini on Intellectuals,” <em>Modern Intellectual History</em> 5.1 (2008), 172. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:robbins" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:hofstadter"> <p>Richard Hofstadter, <em>Anti-Intellectualism in American Life</em> (New York: Random House, 1963). &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:hofstadter" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:hof2"> <p>Hofstadter, <em>Anti-Intellectualism</em>, 235, italics original.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:hof2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:smith"> <p>Adam Smith, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0865970068/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations</em></a>, eds. R.H. Campbell and A.S. Skinner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976. Reprint. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981), 331, Bk. II. ch. 3 passim. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:smith" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:smith2"> <p>Smith, <em>WN</em>, 333. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:smith2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tsv"> <p>Karl Marx, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1573927775/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Theories of Surplus Value</em></a> (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2000), 158. Available <a href="http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1863/theories-surplus-value/ch03.htm">online</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tsv" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:marx2"> <p>Marx, <em>TSV</em>, 160.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:marx2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 14 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:marx3"> <p>Marx, <em>TSV</em>, 167.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:marx3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 15 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:picketty"> <p>See for instance, Sam Tanenhaus, “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/fashion/Thomas-Piketty-the-Economist-Behind-Capital-in-the-Twenty-First-Century-sensation.html">Hey Big Thinker</a>,” <em>The New York Times</em>, April 25, 2014. See Thomas Picketty, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/067443000X/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Capital in the Twenty-First Century</em></a>, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2014). &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:picketty" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 16 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:campbell"> <p>For information on the connection between Romanticism and modern market culture see Colin Campbell’s classic study, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1904623336/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism</em></a> (Alcuin Academics, 2005), esp. 183, 197-198. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:campbell" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 17 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:montaigne"> <p>The edition cited here is Michel Montaigne, <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=yvA5AQAAIAAJ"><em>The Complete Works of Michel Montaigne</em></a>, ed. William Hazlitt, trans. Charles Cotton (New York: Worthington, 1888), 199. I have checked the references against Donald Frame’s translation. See Michel de Montaigne, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1400040213/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Complete Works</em></a>, trans. Donald M. Frame (Everyman Library, 2003). &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:montaigne" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 18 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:montaigne2"> <p>Montaigne, <em>CW</em>, qtd. 195. For the modern translation of Lucretius see <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0872205878/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>On the Nature of Things</em></a>, trans. Margin Ferguson Smith (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001), p. 92, lines 928-930.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:montaigne2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 19 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:montaigne3"> <p>Montaigne, <em>CW</em>, 199.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:montaigne3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 20 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:montaigne4"> <p>The first is Charles Cotton’s translation and the second Donald Frame’s. M.A. Screech uses the same translation of this title as Frame in the <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0140446044/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Penguin edition</a>. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:montaigne4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 21 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:montaigne5"> <p>Montaigne, <em>CW</em>, 200.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:montaigne5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 22 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:montaigne6"> <p>Ibid. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:montaigne6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 23 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:locke1"> <p>John Locke, <em>An Essay Concerning Human Understanding</em>, ed. Roger Woolhouse (London: Penguin Books, 2004), 10.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:locke1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 24 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:locke2"> <p>Locke, <em>Essay</em>, 7.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:locke2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 25 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:locke3"> <p>See Locke, <em>Essay</em>, 9; 55-56.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:locke3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 26 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:lockeaddison"> <p>Locke, <em>Essay</em>, 144-145; Addison, <em>Spectator</em> 411 (1712). See, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312115970/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Commerce of Everyday Life, Selections from the Tatler and Spectator</em></a>, ed. Erin Mackie (Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1998).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:lockeaddison" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 27 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:addison"> <p>Addison, <em>Spectator</em> 124 (1711). In Mackie, <em>Selections</em>. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:addison" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 28 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:johnson"> <p>Samuel Johnson, <em>Rambler</em> 184 (1751). In Samuel Johnson, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1293928054/?tag=contrivers-review-20">*The Rambler *</a> vol. III, ed. G. Walker (1820). &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:johnson" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 29 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:campbell2"> <p>Campbell, <em>Romantic Ethic</em>, 184. Campbell characterizes this feature of Romanticism as the unconscious mind, but as he also acknowledges, this bears a remarkable similarity to M.H. Abrams well known distinction between the the mirror of enlightenment aesthetics and the lamp or inner fire of Romantic aesthetics. See Abrams, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0195014715/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Mirror and the Lamp</em></a> (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971). &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:campbell2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 30 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:hazlitt"> <p>William Hazlitt, “The Periodical Essayist,” in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000NDCX9A/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Essays of William Hazlitt</em></a>, ed. Frank Carr (London: Walter Scott Publishing Company, 1889), 5-6. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:hazlitt" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 31 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:hazlitt2"> <p>Hazlitt, “Periodical Essayist,” 3. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:hazlitt2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 32 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:alex"> <p>Alexander Smith, “On the Writing of Essays,” in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009YJZDRS/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Dreamthorp: A Book of Essays Written in the Country</em></a> (Edinburgh: N.R. Mitchell Co., 1881), 25. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:alex" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 33 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:alex2"> <p>Smith, “Essays,” 26. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:alex2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 34 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:alex3"> <p>Ibid.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:alex3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 35 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:hazlitt3"> <p>William Hazlitt, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1426411855/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays</em></a> (Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1818), 283.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:hazlitt3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 36 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:wilde"> <p>Oscar Wilde, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/%20B0082ZJBTG/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Intentions</em></a> (Portland, ME: Thomas B. Mosher, 1904), 113.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:wilde" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 37 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:lukacs"> <p>Georg Lukács, “On the Nature and Form of the Essay,” in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0231149816/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Soul and Form</em></a>, trans. Anna Bostock, eds. John T. Sanders and Katie Terezakis (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 17.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:lukacs" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 38 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:rees"> <p>John Rees, Introduction to <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1859843700/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>A Defense of History and Class Consciousness</em></a> by Georg Lukács, trans. Esther Leslie (London: Verso, 2000), 3. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:rees" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 39 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:lukacs2"> <p>Lukács “Essay,” 25. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:lukacs2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 40 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:lukacs3"> <p>Lukács “Essay,” 16-17.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:lukacs3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 41 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:lukacs4"> <p>Lukács “Essay,” 24. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:lukacs4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 42 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:lukacs5"> <p>Ibid.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:lukacs5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 43 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:lukacs6"> <p>Lukács “Essay,” 33.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:lukacs6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 44 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:habermas"> <p>The philosopher Jürgen Habermas drew upon this period in British history for <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0262581086/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere</em></a>, which popularized the public sphere’s conceptual importance to politics across many academic departments and disciplines. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:habermas" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 45 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:bourdieu"> <p>Pierre Bourdieu, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0674212770/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste</em></a> (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 102.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:bourdieu" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 46 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:snow"> <p>C.P. Snow, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1107606144/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Two Cultures</em></a> (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:snow" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 47 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:thegramsciexception"> <p>An important exception here is the intellectual work undertaken during incarceration. We can think of Gramsci and Antonio Negri in this line. These are important considerations, but fall outside the scope of this essay, which is already too long. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:thegramsciexception" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 48 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Pete Sinnott, Jr.) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/2/ Intellectuals Mon, 02 Jun 2014 16:52:01 +0000 Social Criticism and the Academy http://www.contrivers.org/articles/3/ What is the relationship between the professional academic and the intellectual, especially for those on the left? Rafael Khachaturian offers a possible answer to this question, exploring the vexed role Marxism played in the past and what answers it suggests for the future. The answer won’t be found in nostalgia for the old public intellectual, nor in the modern day “specialists without spirit,” as Max Weber called them, but in the re-emergence of social criticism. <p><span class='epigram'>“To be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant.” </span></p> <p>These words were written by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof last February in an op-ed that caused a mini-storm on social media. The piece, titled “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-professors-we-need-you.html">Professors, We Need You!</a>” was Kristof’s polemic against what is by now an easy target - the insular and esoteric nature of academia, including my own field, political science. For Kristof, some of the sharpest minds in America have marginalized themselves in academia by speaking in jargon, by publishing in gated journals instead of mass-oriented venues, by neglecting diversity (meaning any discipline too dominated by the academic left to be taken seriously in national debates), and by socializing aspiring graduate students into a culture of conformity.</p> <p>The message behind this lament? Professional academics should be more intelligible, more empirical and rigorous (more policy, law, business, and economics), more open to disseminating ideas through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. In other words, they should be less like medieval monks (Kristof’s designation) and more like public intellectuals. Just public intellectuals who, one can surmise, are also master stylists (intelligibility!), proficient in cutting-edge methods, and up to date on the latest academic literature.</p> <p>Maybe the irony was lost on Kristof that, as one of the leading columnists of the <em>Times</em>, which in turn is one of the leading venues for the ideology of technocratic progressivism in the US, he was calling for academics to fill the void left by the passing of the intellectual. Per Kristof, it’s not that we need less professionalization, as evidenced by his praise of quantitative disciplines that require a great deal of training. Rather, it is that these academics, as professionalized products of the university system, should also concern themselves with speaking to the broader segments of the population in the way that public-oriented intellectuals once could. </p> <p>What is the relationship between the professional academic and the intellectual? Kristof’s attack struck a nerve because, although closely linked, the mutual history of these figures over the course of the twentieth century has been the site of a tension. At stake was the nature of knowledge (specialized or public) and its place in the social order (placating or critical). Today, living with the outcomes of this historical development, we are forced to rethink the current relationship of professionalized knowledge to the public sphere, and whether a new form of social critique is possible in these current conditions.</p> <p>Today, the intellectual—that vague, amorphous, now faintly dirty designation—has also now almost entirely been transformed into a professionalized scholar. Once upon a time, as the mythos goes, he (and it was almost always a white he) was something like a moral compass for society—independent of existing institutions and specialized communities of knowledge, which he scrutinized from a distance. Occasionally, an intellectual could be in the academy, like Sartre or C. Wright Mills, but never of the academy. He may have had a doctorate degree, but academia never consumed and defined him; at best, it was tangential to his life when more pressing issues—writing, mobilizing, debating—were on the table. The intellectual’s efforts and focus were dictated by the political moment and the demands of the concrete situation rather than by the routinized life of the university campus. </p> <p>The independent scholar, inspired by a world that needed his input is a highly idealized picture. For every autonomous intellectual of the prominence of Sartre and Camus there was someone like Orwell who, while a literary giant in his own right, did not become internationally renowned until the last years of his life, living hand to mouth and supporting himself by an unending stream of writing. Yet despite the pervasive myth of the mid-century European intellectual, it is hard to deny that a structural shift took place during the postwar years, reducing the number of individuals capable of supporting themselves strictly through their writing, and thereby turning academia into the last refuge of intellectual life. For decades, as the increased opportunities for higher education in the postwar American welfare state led to the rapid growth of the university system and the proliferation of disciplinary knowledge, academia became the mirage of an intellectual haven—a space for the free exchange of ideas—as well as a near-guaranteed path to the security of middle-class life. </p> <p>Factoring most into this transformation of the intellectual into the academic has been the professionalization and growth of scientific knowledge. As fields of study have evolved into complex disciplines, each with its own research paradigm, scientific terminology, and set of internal debates, academic specialization has made it impossible to gain expertise in more than a very narrow sliver of knowledge. Even within a fairly circumscribed discipline like political science, every year, with each new book and journal publication, academic knowledge mutates, either through the carving out of new disciplinary and sub-disciplinary paths, or simply through the accumulative generation of knowledge within an existing paradigm. This process makes getting a handle on the field as a whole a daunting task even for specialists. For those few still aspiring and capable of life as an independent, general intellectual, it is impossible. The recent passing of Robert Dahl—a giant of twentieth century political science whose career aligned almost perfectly with the structural changes and the rise of specialized knowledge—in some ways marked the end of an era. Although Dahl was a product of the academy as well, earning a degree in political science from Yale, he was also one of the last political scientists to make intellectual contributions that spanned across all four main subfields of the discipline. It it is difficult to envision anyone accomplishing that again. The aging polymaths that remain, like Chomsky and Habermas, are links to a bygone past rather than role models for future generations of scholars.</p> <p>Alongside this specialization of knowledge, it has also become clear today that an academic career cannot offer the same security it once did, regardless of how specialized one’s research is. The same market pressures that originally pushed intellectuals into the academy have been colonizing academia itself, with <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/24/exploitation-of-adjunct-professors-devalues-higher-education">approximately 70% of instructors</a> at American universities now employed as adjuncts<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup>. It is possible that, in another generation, the current tenure track system might be unrecognizable. As tenure track positions become more scarce and recently-minted Ph.D.’s often have to choose between the precarity of short-term adjuncting or leaving academia altogether, professional scholars—especially those in the social sciences and humanities—have become casualties of historical circumstance, much like their predecessors, the intellectuals. </p> <p>Much has already been written about this crisis in academia, from articles by professors dissuading students from applying to graduate schools to first-hand horror stories about the job market. For academics it seems there are two choices: either to continue in much the same way while trying to slow the encroaching neoliberalization of the university, or to actively embrace Kristof’s vision of the academic as pursuing only research immediately “relevant” to policy-makers and the public at large. Certainly both can be argued as viable short-term strategies, insofar as they may temporarily create a new status quo beneficial to all parties. But in the long run, one has to wonder if either is the answer. In the absence of unions for adjuncts and teaching assistants, their percentages across universities and their workloads will continue increasing. On the other hand, buying into Kristof’s purely instrumental conception of knowledge would impoverish many fields, particularly in the humanities.</p> <p>The passing of the general intellectual and the current crisis of the academy are then two intimately linked developments in the broader history of the relationship of knowledge to the social order. Almost a century ago <a href="http://www.marxists.org/archive/gramsci/index.htm">Gramsci</a> pointed out that the intellectual is not an abstract category that functions in the same manner across all social and historical contexts; instead, his role and place is subject to the process of historical transformation. The mid-century intellectual was the remnant of an earlier era, the cultural inheritor of the “man of letters” that arose in what Habermas called the bourgeois public sphere of the eighteenth century<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup>.</p> <p>Today, the public sphere has morphed into new forms—most notably social media and the migration of print media to online venues. This process of democratization has been a double-edged sword. Critics see in it a decline of the potentials of public reason, in which the increased quantity of content goes hand in hand with its decreased quality. But at the same time, this democratizing effect has also opened new forums for voices that previously would have been difficult to hear. Whereas only a select few could once break into the ranks of highbrow publications like <em><a href="http://www.nybooks.com">The New York Review of Books</a></em> or <em><a href="http://www.newyorker.com">The New Yorker</a></em>, the ease of blogging and online commentary has given rise to a new generation of writers who are participating in the public sphere on their own terms. </p> <p>The real questions then are not so much whether social criticism is fated to disappear forever, but what shape will it take and what will be its future relationship to the academy? In other words, what potential consequences, if any, can we infer from the present situation once we read it in light of the promise of emancipatory politics?</p> <p>Historically, Marxism had been the most successful and influential critical discourse to penetrate the academy from the ranks of activists. But this turn away from the barricades and toward the university and academic respectability also led to its increasing isolation from the lives of the working classes it championed. As Perry Anderson noted in his classic work <em>Considerations on Western Marxism</em>, since the 1950s Western Marxism increasingly became a professionalized discourse within the academy.<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> Some of the most intellectually innovative strands of postwar Marxist thought were all products of the academy, more or less detached from the struggles of the working class. The political interventions that were made on the parts of philosophers like Sartre were less the organic outgrowths of revolutionary theory and more like appendages clumsily attached to often esoteric philosophical arguments. For Anderson, among Western Marxists, only Gramsci, an organic intellectual from a peasant background and a communist militant, was able to bridge this divide because his theoretical writings were simultaneously political interventions into contemporary crises.<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> </p> <p>Despite his incisive critique, Anderson held hope for the organic working-class intellectual. Riding a post-1968 wave of optimism regarding the reconciliation of theory and practice, he found solace in the anticipated emergence of mass movements outside of the organizational bounds of the Communist parties in the West. “In the long run,” he wrote, “the future of Marxist theory will lie with intellectuals organically produced by the industrial working classes of the imperialist world themselves, as they steadily gain in cultural skills and self-confidence.”<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> This passage is striking not only for the willful optimism that has characterized the tension between Marxism as politics and Marxism as theory. It is also ironic, coming a mere three years before Thatcher and five before Reagan. Anderson could not have anticipated these events, of course, nor could he have foreseen the magnitude of the structural changes undergone by Western capitalist societies and the industrial working classes. But today, facing a rather different set of circumstances, where can we locate a new standpoint from which to bridge critical scholarship with political practice?</p> <p>Recall Gramsci’s argument about the organic intellectual who is at the forefront of the critique of bourgeois society, and whose task is to articulate the new vision of the nascent working classes. In the past this metaphor could hardly apply to academics, who by virtue of their rank and education were the privileged organic class of the professionalized university system, which was itself an outgrowth of the postwar consensus and the welfare state. However, the current crisis of the system has threatened academics as a status group, at the same time creating the potential for a new kind of public engagement on their part. </p> <p>Much as modern academia took shape within the postwar welfare state that brought the intellectual into the ranks of the professionalized faculty, the crisis of that same system has the potential to push the academic, no doubt in a new form and maybe even unwillingly, back into the role of the critical intellectual. Insofar as the transition from the intellectual to the professional academic was one outcome of a much larger shift in the composition of advanced industrial societies, I think that today we are witnessing a slow and gradual inversion of this process, accelerated both by technological change and by the uneasy and precarious recovery of Western economies from the Great Recession. </p> <p>For the first time in over two decades alternative ways of thinking and acting to the neoliberal model are once again on the table. This time they appear not in the form of rigid party dogmas, but in an exhilarating jumble of social democratic, green, neo-anarchist, and neo-Marxist arguments. What links them together, despite their ideological and tactical differences, is a shared skepticism about the current order and its future direction.</p> <p>In these circumstances, the “return” of academics to the role of the public intellectual would not be led by the already-influential voices working in fields like economics and business “relevant” to policy making (the Piketty phenomenon notwithstanding),<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> despite Kristof’s imploring. Public engagement from the “new” standpoint of exploitation inhabited by the precarious academic would neither be like the general social critique of the bygone intellectual, nor specialized commentary on narrow, policy-relevant topics. Instead, it would touch upon a universal theme—the hardship of an unjust socio-economic order—that the academic now herself happens to embody and be in a position to effectively articulate. With the proliferation of new outlets creating alternative spaces for debate and critique, therein lies the promise that these will serve as the new venues for scholars on the margins—those who are precariously positioned within the academy, in debt and facing bleak employment prospects, or those who have decided to forego the academy altogether. The effect of their engagement would be to shift the dialogue by showing how the question of the “relevance” of scholarship masks the unfolding of another process—the pressure exerted by neoliberal policies across all domains of modern life, and not just the academy.</p> <p>This is only one possibility, of course. A new generation of critical intellectuals re-entering (and transforming) the public sphere does not by itself promise any kind of significant political outcome. Nor is it guaranteed that this migration to the public sphere will take place at all, although the encouraging signs are there in the proliferation of new magazines and the increasing willingness of graduate students to write openly about their own experiences facing the pressures of the academic crunch. These signs suggest that the time to rethink how economic pressures are changing the form and social function of professional knowledge is upon us. The answer won’t be found in nostalgia for the old public intellectual, nor in the modern day “specialists without spirit,” as Max Weber called them, but in the re-emergence of social criticism in a new and transformed sense.<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> </p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Both the <a href="http://www.aaup.org/report/tenure-and-teaching-intensive-appointments">American Association of University Professors</a> and the <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/">National Center for Education Statistics</a> have tracked data on employment in universities. See also the <a href="http://chronicle.com/article/On-Some-Campuses-a-Population/135484/">Chronicle of Higher Education</a>. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Jurgen Habermas, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0262581086/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere</em></a>, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), esp. ch. 4 passim. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Perry Anderson, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0860917207/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Considerations on Western Marxism</a></em> (London: Verso, 1979).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Anderson, <em>Considerations</em>, 45.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Anderson, <em>Considerations</em>, 105. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Thomas Picketty, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/067443000X/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Captial in the Twenty-First Century</em></a>, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Belknap Press, 2014). For a good summary of discussions by Picketty’s critics and supporters see Thomas B. Edsell, “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/opinion/edsall-thomas-piketty-and-his-critics.html">Thomas Picketty and his Critics</a>,” The New York Times, May 14, 2014. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Max Weber, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0140439218/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism</em></a>, eds. and trans. Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells (London: Penguin, 2002), 121.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Rafael Khachaturian) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/3/ Intellectuals Mon, 02 Jun 2014 16:52:30 +0000 Further Reading http://www.contrivers.org/articles/4/ A bibliographical essay on several recent conversations related to the theme of intellectual production and responsibility. <h2 id="table-of-contents">Table of Contents</h2> <ul> <li><a href="#introduction">Introduction</a></li> <li><a href="#the-kristof-kerfluffle">The Kristoff Kerfluffle</a></li> <li><a href="#a-brief-historical-excursus">A Brief Historical Excursus</a></li> <li><a href="#journals-of-note">Journals of Note</a></li> <li><a href="#some-comments-on-geography">Some Comments on Geography</a></li> <li><a href="#the-labor-market-in-online-publishing">The Labor Market in Online Publishing</a></li> <li><a href="#the-labor-market-in-the-academy">The Labor Market in the Academy</a></li> </ul> <h2 id="introduction">Introduction</h2> <p>There is a growing conversation about the value and responsibility of intellectual production today. Questions about access and voice grounded in socio-economic inequality continue to undermine the egalitarian aspirations of the democratic public sphere. A new, more critical appraisal is also developing around the question of economic inequality more generally. This debate—encompassing questions of voice, compensation, modes of production, and value—is ongoing. As Pierre Bourdieu said, “A central property of the intellectual field [is], namely, that it is the site of struggles over who does and does not belong to it.”<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup></p> <p>A rich history on the topic of intellectual production is certainly available. Unfortunately, this history is too often marked by the very failures in question today. While appreciating the intellectual publications of the past like <em>Dissent</em> and <em>The Partisan Review</em>, the editors believe that what was valuable in such writing from the first half of the twentieth century cannot be reproduced. Unfortunately, their elitism, factionalism, and pretentious nature is too easily recreated, even by the most well-intentioned. Therefore we can only count such publications as one influence among many and not a model for own work. How a mode of production—i.e. writing for small magazines—might both emulate and break from these examples is not yet clear, as some recent debates (cited below) demonstrate.</p> <p>What follows is more like a miscellany than a bibliography or review of the literature. In other words, it is not comprehensive and is not meant to be. The criteria of selection is more or less based on what we happen to read, and consequently this miscellany represents the context of our journal or where we see it fitting into the conversations and publications we read today. It also may speak to the patterns, or lack thereof, of content consumption that go along with the digital age. </p> <h2 id="the-kristof-kerfluffle">The Kristof Kerfluffle</h2> <p>A few months after we made the decision to focus on intellectuals and began writing and researching, Nicholas Kristof, apparently needing a quick column, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-professors-we-need-you.html">rehashed the lament for the public intellectual</a> lost to specialized world of the university. There was a flood of responses. We were afraid our first issue might become another drop in the ocean of outrage. Luckily, the Internet has a short memory. Also, luckily, <em>Contrivers’</em> goals do not include timeliness. After sifting through numerous responses, it also became apparent that many were just using the topic to generate content and attention for their own blogs, websites, opinions, etc. Not only is outrage abundant, but most is of a cheap, cynical quality. </p> <p>Corey Robin offered a broad-ranging, intelligent, and sincere response for <a href="http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/3/kristof-academicswritingpublicintellectuals.html">Al Jazeera America</a>. This was a follow-up to <a href="http://coreyrobin.com/2014/02/16/look-who-nick-kristofs-saving-now/">a post on his blog</a>. Robin rightly points out the numerous places one can find intellectuals writing for a broad audience, and he locates his discussion of intellectual writing in the context of the labor market in academia and the publishing world. </p> <p>More specifically, Kristof explicitly calls out the discipline of Political Science. In this case, the criticism is not unknown: the discipline has a well-earned identity crisis where professors truly want to be relevant in the political sphere. After all, many became academics out of an interest in the more vulgar, everyday politics that Kristof engages from the pages of the NY Times. It is interesting, however, that in order to argue that Political Science has abdicated responsibility in the public sphere, Kristof chose to rely on several well-known scholars to make this point for him. An argument can be made that it is not the university which has left the public, but the public which has left nuance and depth behind. </p> <p>More troubling is that Kristof has ignored the history of intellectual intervention. First, he ignores perhaps the single dominant trend in journalism today: the rise of technocratic journalism by savvy writers dedicated to translating the rarified world of statistical social science into the mainstream. Call it the Moneyball effect. This dynamic can be seen at sites like <a href="http://fivethirtyeight.com">538</a>, <a href="http://slate.com">Slate</a>, and now <a href="http://www.vox.com/">Vox</a>, and it constitutes perhaps the single most important change to the media landscape. In addition, this trend has transformed old media through the creation of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/upshot/">The Upshot</a> at The NY Times and whatever survives of <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/">Wonkbook</a> at The Washington Post. And journalists at these sites, unlike professors, have a financial interest in reaching a broad public. Certainly, online journalism is also influenced by less edifying sources such as Politico, Buzzfeed, or Gawker. But it is precisely the confluence of vulgarity and high-mindedness—of everything read through the lens of Game of Thrones, to name one of the cultural touchstone of the moment—that challenges Kristof’s point that there is a gap to be filled.</p> <p>Second, Kristof speaks as if Political Science specifically is absent from the public stage. Eric Voeten wrote <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/02/15/dear-nicholas-kristof-we-are-right-here/">the disciplinary defense</a>, significantly at <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/">The Monkey Cage</a>, a social science blog published under the auspices of The Washington Post. Perhaps the discipline lacks the popular organs or enthusiasm among the public, but it is, again, bizarrely myopic to think that political scientists are silent. Laura Tanenbaum <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/02/a-response-to-nicholas-kristof/">made the point</a> that all academics are, or should be, teachers and therefore exert their influence tangentially. This is both obvious and anodyne. The more relevant observation is to say that within the elite universities there is a revolving door between the federal administration and tenured professors. With that kind of access, it is unnecessary for scholars to influence the public, they already sit in the center of political power. Michael McFaul, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Jacob Hacker, and Joseph Stiglitz are four, ready-at-hand examples. In a very different mode, a close relationship has developed between the administration of the war on terror, both through <a href="http://essays.ssrc.org/minerva/">CIA funded research</a> and direct participation. Far from calling for a tighter relationship between politics and social scientists, we should instead be thinking more critically about the influence already wielded.<sup id="fnref:cf1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:cf1" rel="footnote">2</a></sup></p> <h2 id="a-brief-historical-excursus">A Brief Historical Excursus</h2> <p>Kristof’s op-ed illustrates a broader tendency towards historical ignorance in our discussions about intellectual production, especially recently. In the years following the 9/11 terror attacks, there was a growing consensus that terrorism should be met by an unflinching, confident international liberalism. Paul Berman’s <em>Terror And Liberalism</em> is exemplary of this genre.<sup id="fnref:cf2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:cf2" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> Published in 2004, it called for a robust, militaristic liberalism that harkened back to the resistance to Fascism and Communism. Where “liberalism” had come to mean respect for cultural difference, Berman’s argument seemed to substantially limit multicultural tolerance and prepare the American Left for the use of military force, especially in the Middle East. I doubt Berman would countenance the excesses of US counter-terrorism apparatus, with its torture, drone strikes, and thoughtless disregard for human life, but his book was a rallying point for liberals and created intellectual conditions that legitimated the use of force after 9/11. This is a lapse of judgment, in hindsight, as egregious as any committed by Sartre or Heidegger. <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Berman">Berman</a>, to remind you, is a tenured professor and oft-published author in the pages of several influential intellectual journals. His specific area of interest is the history of intellectuals.</p> <p>Berman’s muscular liberalism was not <em>sui generis</em>. We have not yet fully adjudicated the years between 1989 and 2001, the short, hopeful twilight of the twentieth century between communism and terror. Those were the ingenuous days of globalization, when economic optimism silenced all but the most pollyannaish of critics. By 2001, neoliberalism, understood as the global regime of democracy, human rights, and unregulated capitalism, was hegemonic. The end of communism did not, as the end of Fascism had, require a moral accounting of Western history. Thus today we lack the nuanced narratives that help ground ideology, neoliberal or otherwise, in concrete social and economic developments. French historian François Furet wove the intellectual histories of Communism and Fascism together as mutually reinforcing and <em>legitimating</em> ideologies in his masterful history of the short twentieth century.<sup id="fnref:cf3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:cf3" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> Can we not tell a similar story about the short liberal interregnum—that it is entwined tightly with its rhetorical other, terror?<sup id="fnref:terror"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:terror" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> Regardless of the story told, there is a social context to intellectual production as ideology, and also of moral culpability in the post-9/11 world, that Kristof and others blithely ignore when calling for more of the same.</p> <h2 id="journals-of-note">Journals of Note</h2> <p>When we investigated our intellectual antecedents, we found a remarkable continuity of purpose. This section of our miscellany does not contain a rigorous intellectual history, even of the United States. Too many forces interact for us to claim any rigor for our analysis. Instead, it is merely a reading of several texts, often author-less, that express a purpose, justify a project, and diagnose modern society. That the symptoms adduced in support of the production of sentences, an industry where supply surely outstrips demand, are so persistent over the twentieth century should give us pause—those of us, that is, who view writing, editing, and publishing as politically effective tasks. </p> <p><em>Partisan Review</em> was a fixture of the intellectual landscape from its inception in 1934, publishing literature, reviews, poetry, and criticism. Its aim was avowedly political. Its closure in 2003 left a hole in the public sphere that has not yet been fully filled. Boston University has made <a href="http://hgar-pub1.bu.edu/web/partisan-review">the full archive available online</a>, which is a boon for intellectual historians. Here is the opening paragraph of Partisan Review’s 1934 editorial statement, which is an interesting historical document, redolent with shades of Arthur Koestler’s pink decade. </p> <blockquote> <p>Partisan Review appears at a time when American literature is undergoing profound changes. The economic and political crisis of capitalism, the growth of the revolutionary movement the world over, and the successful building of socialism in the Soviet Union have deeply affected American life, thought, and art. They have had far-reaching effects not only upon the political activities of writers and artists, but upon their writing and thinking as well. For the past four years the movement to create a revolutionary art, which for a decade was confined to a small group, has spread throughout the United States.</p> </blockquote> <p>The editors boldly claimed for art a centrality to the struggle against capitalism and published in the early years more short pieces of fiction than theory. Art was the vehicle by which the revolutionary consciousness percolated through &ldquo;a small group&rdquo; into the wider American discussion. They might have imagined themselves as a sort of intellectual vanguard. In this, <em>Partisan Review</em> participated in the transformation from political Marxism into cultural Marxism, both as a gentle form of propaganda and, after the Second World War, as a critique of growing consumerism. </p> <p><em><a href="http://www.dissentmagazine.org">Dissent</a></em> was founded in 1954 by a circle of New York intellectuals. Though its influence has waxed and waned over the years, it is still published today. Recently, a younger cohort of writers engaged with the labor movement had augmented the traditional voice of the journal. The journal was, and is, somewhere on the social democratic left, situated uneasily between liberal capitalism and Stalinist communism. </p> <p>Its founding <a href="http://dissentmagazine.org/files/wordtoreaders1954.pdf">editorial statement</a> (PDF) is a remarkable document simultaneously announcing the need for organized intellectual intervention yet eschewing any specific prescriptions. Their “dissent” rejected “the bleak atmosphere of conformism that pervade[d] the political and intellectual life of the United States.” The statement also reflected an uncertainty about intellectual production: &ldquo;But DISSENT would be meaningless,&rdquo; they write, &ldquo;if in dissenting it did not also affirm.&rdquo; What exactly would be affirmed, however, is unclear, since <em>Dissent</em> would &ldquo;not have any editorial position or statements.&rdquo; While individuals writers go farther, the nameless editors limited themselves to the critique of culture.</p> <p>C. Wright Mills&rsquo; essay &ldquo;<a href="http://www.marxists.org/subject/humanism/mills-c-wright/letter-new-left.htm">Letter to the New Left</a>&rdquo; echoed several of the themes discussed in this issue. He agreed with both Karl Mannheim and Pierre Bourdieu when he wrote that &ldquo;the problem of the intelligentsia is an extremely complicated set of problems on which rather little factual work has been done.&rdquo; In other words, the discussion about intellectuals agrees with remarkable continuity that we lack a firm understanding of who intellectuals are and what they do. He denounced the false objectivism of &ldquo;the-end-of-ideology&rdquo; and cannily diagnosed the ideological underpinnings of the anti-communist liberalism.<sup id="fnref:anticom"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:anticom" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> What he provided was a clearer affirmative agenda to balance <em>Dissent</em>’s agnosticism:</p> <blockquote> <p>The Right, among other things, means—what you are doing, celebrating society as it is, a going concern. Left means, or ought to mean, just the opposite. It means: structural criticism and reportage and theories of society, which at some point or another are focused politically as demands and programs. These criticisms, demands, theories, programs are guided morally by the humanist and secular ideals of Western civilization—above all, reason and freedom and justice. To be “Left” means to connect up cultural with political criticism, and both with demands and programs. And it means all this inside every country of the world.</p> </blockquote> <p>Mills’ Letter was published in 1960 in the <em>New Left Review</em>, perhaps the closest thing to a journal of record for the scholarly Left. Several things are of interest in this passage. No mention is made of a struggle over the intellectual terrain of America. Instead, Mills suggests that social science—“theories of society”—provide the positive content of criticism. In this, Mills both returns the Left to the sociological heritage of Marx and Weber, but also points towards a generation of post-war academic social science. At the same time, Mills places social science within the tradition of the Enlightenment dream of emancipation through self-knowledge. </p> <p>The intellectual history of the Left is far more complex than the three moments outlined here. But it is a history marked by continual questions about the purpose and efficacy of progressive intellectual work. Every journal has faced the question: in what does intellectual work consist? Our inability to answer a question posed since Marx is telling. Intellectuals’ own uncertainty reflected in the statements of purpose meant ostensibly to justify their existence and value. It is also true that intellectuals have preferred cultural analysis over political organizing. Indeed the weakness must be located in American culture and its emancipatory potential, otherwise the weapon of change would not be intellectual work. Finally, it is a history that foreshadows the turn to critical social science—performed elsewhere by poststructuralism, the post-1955 generation of critical theorists, etc.</p> <p>Ultimately, however, Mills turn to social science is not wholly convincing either. The postmodern critique of the enlightenment, humanism, and science still remains powerful enough to destabilize the sort of normativity announced so casually by Mills. Thus, it appears that intellectual production will continue to be marked by the hesitation and uncertainly evinced by its predecessors. We are again thrust back upon dissent instead of affirmation.</p> <p>In the latest issue of <em>Jacobin</em>, the editors <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/06/power-play/">write in a piece on</a> “building a radical civil society”: </p> <blockquote> <p>[W]hat is the political role of socialists in the United States? How should we meet this moment to break out of the strategic impasse that we, some immediate triumphs notwithstanding, seem to be trapped in?</p> </blockquote> <p>The quote underscores the continuity of discourse on the intellectual Left. </p> <h2 id="some-comments-on-geography">Some Comments on Geography</h2> <p>We wish to remark especially on one final characteristic of intellectual life in America. Intellectual production is a product of a particular time and space, of a <em>milieu</em>. In spite of the Internet, proximity matters. With some notable exceptions, the flavor of American intellectual discourse is determined in New York. When the editors of <em>Partisan Review</em> wrote of the small group influencing the national culture, they were affirming an apparent truth: that the center of American culture, and of the Left, resides in New York City. It is worth asking how the centrality of New York, especially to the self-identity of participants, affects the intellectual scene today. </p> <p>Both <em>Partisan Review</em> and <em>Dissent</em> were associated with the rise of the New Left and the radical politics of the 1960&rsquo;s. The history of the New Left is well-documented. Several prominent scholar-radicals published in the pages of New York&rsquo;s journals, among them C. Wright Mills, Todd Gitlin, and Michael Harrington, part of a generation of writers who moved from the public sphere to university classrooms. With few exceptions, this generation remains in control of editorial boards at the major intellectual publications.</p> <p>Though most people reading this will already be aware, a new wave of intellectual journals has arrived in the last decade. The differences are both generational and technological. <em>n+1</em> was founded in 2004 still on the model of a print publication—they publish a physical issue three times a year—but have a far more developed digital presence than older journals. They have been followed more recently by <em>Jacobin</em> and <em>The New Inquiry</em>. All are a blend of old and new publishing paradigms with all the financial anxiety implied by the industry. As with their predecessors, culture is often the focus, delving into the American subconscious through movies, television, and music. It should be noted that all three are headquartered in New York. If the center has shifted, it is only from Manhattan to Brooklyn.</p> <p>This is, by the way, the most damning criticism of this latest incarnation of the Left public sphere: it is far too homogenous, exclusive, and Ivy League. We discuss <a href="#thelabormarketinonlinepublishing">problems of access and voice below</a>. <em>Contrivers’ Review</em> currently has two editors, both white males in their mid-thirties. We have little room to criticize diversity at the moment.</p> <p>The effects of geography are illustrated in a recent <em><a href="http://www.vulture.com/2014/03/benjamin-kunkel-marxist-novel-utopia-or-bust.html">New York Magazine</a></em> profile of Benjamin Kunkel, an editor and contributor to <em>n+1</em>. The occasion of the profile is new book on economic and cultural Marxism, published by <em>Jacobin’s</em> new imprint at Verso, which has, it is fair to say, been favorably reviewed by nearly every important organ left of center. In the article, Kunkel holds court:</p> <blockquote> <p>The other guests are mostly younger, and mostly associated with a younger and more stridently Marxist magazine called Jacobin&hellip; [They] are not his friends, exactly, but admirers and supporters, something like n+1’s stepchildren and part of a growing radical-intellectual caste&hellip;</p> </blockquote> <p>Kunkel is not just a self-proclaimed Marxist intellectual, but a mentor to the new generation of Leftist intellectuals. This sort of pollination is a product of shared space and time and it matters when we evaluate public speech. </p> <p><a href="http://lareviewofbooks.org/"><em>The Los Angeles Review of Books</em></a> (<em>LARB</em>) is one of the major publications that exists outside the New York fishbowl. There is an interesting dichotomy between a magazine like <em>LARB</em> and one like <em>Jacobin</em>. The latter is avowedly partisan, while the former is pitched to a broad audience of publicly minded readers. Neither model is intrinsically better than the other, but their generality allows <em>LARB</em> to indulge in an edifying eclecticism. This is cultural criticism, but of a nimble and self-conscious sort.</p> <p>In terms of the topic presented in this issue of <em>Contrivers&rsquo;</em>, <em>LARB</em> offered a <a href="https://lareviewofbooks.org/academic-activism/">series of essays</a> on the academic movement to boycott Israeli institutions of higher learning. The participants included David Palumbo Liu, Cary Nelson, Noura Erkat, Russell Berman, Colin Dayan, and others. They were given free reign to write on the topic, and the issue of academic associations’ and academic intellectuals’ roles in politics naturally came to the fore. This is not the time or place to discuss an academic boycott of Israel institutions, but what was notable was how the debate emphasized concerns over the proper role of academics in society, boundaries between the &ldquo;real&rdquo; world and the academy that should or not be transgressed, what it means to have strong and clearly articulated political beliefs, a public forum for those beliefs, and a professional career that has on the surface nothing to do with those beliefs. </p> <h2 id="the-labor-market-in-online-publishing">The Labor Market in Online Publishing</h2> <p>Writing as a journalist or intellectual essayist can no longer be considered apart from the labor market in digital publication. Writing for free or very little, whether as a hobby, political passion, or in service of the public good shapes the the labor market, often lowering the wages of those of those who write for a living. At the core, these are questions about the access and voice of class, race, gender groups.</p> <p>Yasmin Nair articulated this dynamic in forceful terms, describing as scabs those academics and other writers who contribute <a href="http://yasminnair.net/content/scabs-academics-and-others-who-write-free">freely to professional publications</a>. While we don’t unequivocally agree with everything Nair argues in her three most recent pieces on this problem, we certainly agree that writing as “a labor of love” and/or a hobby enabled by a privileged position cannot be considered outside the economics of publishing today. </p> <p>Evan Kindley critiqued Nair’s argument in a piece for <a href="http://avidly.lareviewofbooks.org/2014/03/17/moonlighting/">Avidly</a>, an affiliate site, of LARB. Kindley argues that small magazines and publications have always existed in part because they are labors of love, offering a venue for ideas and writing that would otherwise go without an audience. He acknowledges that now as in the past such labors are often made possible by relative positions of privilege, but that individuals and publications should not cease pursuing political and artistic ideals because the market they operate within is unjust. </p> <p>Kindley cites Nair’s expression of frustration and anger with her experience writing for the <em>Jacobin</em> as part of her failure to understand why small publications have vitality not found elsewhere in media. Nair wrote a piece for that magazine that was initially accepted and moved through the editorial process, but the piece was rejected right before it was to be published for being “ultra-left” among other reasons. Nair referenced this incident in one of her pieces on the labor market and <a href="http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=11520">wrote about it explicitly in a piece for <em>North Star</em></a>. In short, for Nair the “vitality” of the politics and writing of small leftist publications is undercut by their hypocritical exploitation of the writers, and for Kindley the political, intellectual, and literary vitality is ensured by the fact that publishing unpaid work often enables an editor to take risks on “work that goes against the grain.” Nair <a href="http://yasminnair.net/content/scabs-and-seduction-neoliberalism">responds to Kindley</a> by arguing that work as a “labor of love” is a form of rhetoric that enables exploitation. </p> <p><em>Jacobin</em> published <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/in-the-name-of-love/">a piece by Miya Tokumitsu</a> that dealt with this rhetoric, offering a fairly devastating take-down of the “Do What You Love” mantra. In Tokumitsu’s words:</p> <blockquote> <p>By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from the obligations to all who labor whether or not they love.</p> </blockquote> <p>This seems true whether one loves writing and publishing in the world of small online magazines like Kindley at <em>Avidly</em>, the editors at <em>Jacobin</em>, or one loves “inventing” iPhones like Steve Jobs who Tokumitsu cites in her essay. It’s true for this publication as well.</p> <p>See also <a href="http://contrivers.org/masthead/#digital-publishing-and-labor-ethics">our editorial statement</a>.</p> <h2 id="the-labor-market-in-the-academy">The Labor Market in the Academy</h2> <p>The United States is currently experiencing a crisis of confidence in higher education. Students are saddled with debt and it is less clear that graduates, even those employed, <a href="http://www.demos.org/what-cost-how-student-debt-reduces-lifetime-wealth">are better off in the long run than those that pass on college</a>. Coupled with an anemic economy and its stagnant growth for middle class wealth, this generation is likely to be worse off than their parents. </p> <p>What is less well recognized by the public is the real structural change in how universities provide education to undergraduates. This point is touched on by Rafael Khachaturian <a href="http://www.contrivers.org/article/3/">in his contribution</a> to <em>Contrivers&rsquo;</em>. Scholars once enjoyed a relatively smooth path from dissertation to a professorship and, eventually, to tenure. This job security underwrote much of the intellectual production during and after the 1960’s.</p> <p>Today, driven by new pedagogical technologies, for-profit colleges, and dwindling public finances, modern universities and colleges rely on an army of adjunct instructors. This labor force has little job security and often struggles financially, especially if they were forced to take loans out. As one frustrated job-seeker, Patrick Iber, <a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2014/03/10/essay-about-inability-find-tenure-track-job-academe" title="Patrick Iber, (Probably) Refusing to Quit, Inside Higher Ed">writes</a>, &ldquo;Yet of all the machines that humanity has created, few seem more precisely calibrated to the destruction of hope than the academic job market.&rdquo; This is far from a new development, as Thomas H. Benson&rsquo;s <a href="http://chronicle.com/article/Graduate-School-in-the/44846" title="Thomas H. Benson, Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go, Chronicle of Higher Education">frank and damning discussion</a> of graduate education in the Humanities makes clear: &ldquo;The reality is that less than half of all doctorate holders—after nearly a decade of preparation, on average—will ever find tenure-track positions.&rdquo; Obviously, adjuncts are far from the most vulnerable group in America. But their situation reveals yet another way in which the American dream has proven ephemeral and ideological. </p> <p>Finally, in his deconstruction of the intellectual, Salar Mohandesi <a href="http://viewpointmag.com/2014/3/27/between-the-ivory-tower-and-the-assembly-line/" title="Salar Mohandesi, Between the Ivory Tower and the Assembly Line, ViewpointMag.com">explores the relationship between the working and thinking classes</a>. His thoughtful essay criticizes our uncomplicated deployment of a single intellectual class and asks what we think is happening when intellectuals enlighten the working class, as Kristof implicitly suggests.</p> <blockquote> <p>But the question for us today is not how we can sup­port the strug­gles of the most “advanced work­ers,” or how we can best recruit them to our van­guard par­ties, but how we can link up with other strug­gles out­side the uni­ver­sity in a way that pre­serves the dis­tinct­ness, rec­og­nizes the strate­gic value, and respects the spe­cific needs of all these dif­fer­ent strug­gles, includ­ing our own.</p> </blockquote> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Loïc J.D. Wacquant, “For a Socio-Analysis of Intellectuals: On Homo Academicus.” <em>Berkeley Journal of Sociology</em>, vol. 34 (1989): pp. 1-29. <a href="http://loicwacquant.net/assets/Papers/BOURDIEUWACQUANT-FORSOCIOANALYSISINTELLECTUALS.pdf">Available online</a> (PDF).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:cf1"> <p>Jeffrey C. Isaac. &ldquo;Social science and liberal values in a time of war.&rdquo; Perspectives on Politics 2, no. 03 (2004): 475-483. <a href="http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&amp;aid=246588">Available online</a> but paywalled.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:cf1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:cf2"> <p>Paul Berman, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0393325555/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Terror and Liberalism</a></em> (Norton, 2004).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:cf2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:cf3"> <p>François Furet, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0226273415/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The Passing of an Illusion</a></em> (University of Chicago Press, 2000).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:cf3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:anticom"> <p>Hannah Arendt, who moved in similar circles in the New York intellectual scene, made a slightly different point about the vitriol of anti-communists during the McCarthy years. She wrote in 1953: &ldquo;Like the Communists, the ex-Communists see the whole texture of our time in terms of one great dichotomy ending in a final battle.&rdquo; Their worldview, she argued, was as ideological as Stalinism and at least as dangerous in its pursuit of its goal. Arendt was a member of a generation of exiled German intellectuals whose influence on American culture was profound. It included Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Thomas Mann, Bertold Brecht, Fritz Lang, “the father of the New Left&rdquo; Herbert Marcuse, among others. Though many returned to Germany after 1950, some, like Marcuse and Arendt, stayed and taught the post-War generation. I have ignored this history for the most part. For more on this topic, see Anthony Heilbut, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0520210980/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Exiled in Paradise</a></em> (University of California Press, 1997) and David Jenemann, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0816648093/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Adorno in America</a></em> (University of Minnesota Press, 2007). Arendt&rsquo;s &ldquo;The Ex-Communists&rdquo; was originally published in <em>Commonweal</em> (1953) and has been republished in <em>Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954: Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism,</em> ed. Jerome Kohn (New York: Schocken, 1994). &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:anticom" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:anderson"> <p>Perry Anderson, from <a href="http://newleftreview.org/II/85/perry-anderson-counterpuncher">his eulogy for Alexander Cockburn</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>Politically, on the other hand, the example Alexander set retains full force. The newest levies of the American left are in better shape, intellectually at any rate, than he may have realized. There, energy and imagination are not in short supply. It is enough to consider the three most impressive publications to emerge in the Bush–Obama era, n+1, Jacobin and Endnotes, each in its own register—respectively: cultural, social and economic—expressing a clear-cut rejection of the established order. Every generation has to find its own way to that break, be it by Kulturkritik, protest report, or value-theory. Striking, however, is the paradox of a common sensibility: what can be described as an apolitical anti-capitalism—deeply hostile to the system of capital, but largely mute before the embodiments of its power, and operations of its empire. CounterPunch makes no such nicety. In directing it with an inexpugnable refusal of any paltering or temporization, Alexander put politics in command. A Colossal Wreck stands as an inspiration to do likewise.</p> </blockquote> <p><a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:anderson" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:terror"> <p>On this topic, see Corey Robin, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0195189124/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Fear</a></em> (Oxford University Press, 2006) and Susan Buck-Morss, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1844675629/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Thinking Past Terror</a></em> (Verso, 2006).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:terror" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Luke Thomas Mergner) editors@contrivers.org (Pete Sinnott, Jr.) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/4/ Intellectuals Tue, 10 Jun 2014 15:06:59 +0000 Political Economy and the Novel http://www.contrivers.org/articles/7/ In Piketty's Capital, the novel is no afterthought. <p>As the intellectual event of the year, Thomas Piketty’s book hardly needs an introduction. It helped shape the growing political disquiet around inequality and the compromises that politicians make in pursuit of economic growth. Much of the critical reception of the book has focused on the data and models employed by Piketty<sup id="fnref:wsj"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:wsj" rel="footnote">1</a></sup>, but his discussions of novels in an otherwise empirical work have drawn attention as well. The novels are a form of evidence about inequality and the distribution of wealth, and as such further the larger project of comparing levels of inequality across different times and places. These comparisons in turn are meant to reveal the long term causes of inequality, but this project requires Piketty to make a parallel argument concerning how economic realities are represented and understood. The novels are crucial in this parallel argument concerning representation. Discussing Austen and Balzac<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> allows Piketty to extend arguments about representation to the field of economics and how data are represented in that field. If <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/067443000X/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Capital in the Twenty-First Century</a></em> was a novel, an inadequacy of representing economic realities would be a major subplot for the character of the economist. </p> <p>Most reviewers have missed the importance of this subplot. In <a href="http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/literature-second-gilded-age/">an essay for the <em>Los Angeles Review of Books</em></a>, Stephen Marche claims that “fiction is the living flesh on the mathematical skeleton of Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” Marche also says that “culture is the echo of economics.” While meant to be complimentary, Marche makes the same mistake as reviewers who praise the empirical data while dismissing the rest as ideology.<sup id="fnref:screed"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:screed" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> The conceit is that the economic data is the <em>real</em> information and the rest is surplus. <a href="http://davidharvey.org/2014/05/afterthoughts-pikettys-capital/">David Harvey</a> makes the same point, noting in an offhand comment how the novels are used to “spice up” the meat of the economic argument. The economic data is certainly necessary, but the use of other sources, especially the novel, is not mere seasoning. </p> <p>In <em>Capital in the Twenty-First Century</em>, Piketty offers a convincing reading of how Jane Austen and Honre de Balzac used annual incomes as a convenient shorthand for representing the levels of material comfort, social status, and financial security afforded by a specific amount of money. The relative stability of currency throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century allowed readers to immediately associate the degree of wealth with the specific sum of money. For instance, given an income of 1,000 pounds a year, it would be evident to Austen’s readers the type of house one could keep including the number servants, quality of food, and the kinds of transport they could afford. Piketty describes how these authors indexed wealth to income with great accuracy, and using historical records shows how this index remained fairly stable until the twentieth century when inflation became a substantial economic factor.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup></p> <p>If Piketty’s discussions of Austen and Balzac were limited to the fairly obvious and uncontroversial rhetoric of correlating a trope literature with historical data, then nothing essential would be lost if discussions of the novel were omitted. However, the novel does not simply serve as a useful tool to illustrate historical facts. He mines the novel’s of Austen and Balzac for depictions of inequality, which, he says, portray with “a verisimilitude and evocative power that no statistical or theoretical analysis can match.”<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> Showing a correlation between Austen’s use of specific sums of money is not only a way of supporting the facts of economic life in the early nineteenth century. Rather, this approach is another reminder that economic realities cannot be equated with bare facts and raw numbers. Such datum are inextricable from the political, moral, and cultural life of a society and balance the objective information with the subjective dynamics of emotion, desire, and the perspectives of individuals and groups. </p> <p>Economists value certain representations of the world more than others. Facts about income or trade can be collated into tables and operated upon with statistics. The mistake that some economists make is to take their models as reality itself, though Piketty understands that this error is not limited to economics. Hence he argues that inequality is a problem for “sociology, psychology, cultural and political history, and the study of beliefs and perceptions as much as for economics per se.”<sup id="fnref:3a"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3a" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> Marche and others ignore or simply misunderstand Piketty’s concerns over how the disciplinary division of labor in academia creates distorted models of the world. As an economist he is especially interested in how distorted models and practices determine which facts become relevant for economics. The novel for Piketty is a kind of corrective lens for such distortions. Novels offer one perspective on a complex economic reality from the nineteenth century, estate and tax records another. To understand a dynamic such as inequality, one needs both types of information. </p> <p>Within his tome, the contrast between forms of representation is not limited to the differences between narrative and quantitative studies. Piketty treats economic indices, tables, and official publications of economic data as types of representations. However, the type of information represented in novels and indices is strictly not comparable, but indices and tables within economics can be compared. In this way, the argument about representation also plays out in discipline-specific terms. </p> <p>Piketty critiques the Gini coefficients and Theil indices used in measuring income distribution. He argues that “by construction” these synthetic indices ignore important differences such as the “Different Worlds” of those whose income is in the top ten percent .<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">12</a></sup> Conversely, distribution tables allow one to see the very different social, political, and economic differences between members of the top ten percent and track changes to the different strata of this group over time. The top one percent receives most of their income from capital whereas the remaining nine percent receive their income primarily from labor. However, unlike the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century, today financial assets as opposed to land dominates this income from capital. Many doctors, lawyers, or restaurateurs may be in the top 10 percent but there is a big difference in their incomes and the income of CEOs earn at large firms.<sup id="fnref:4a"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4a" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> In terms of the changing social groups in the income hierarchy, high school teachers and skilled technicians came close to earning their way into the top ten percent during interwar years, especially late in their career. Now, one has to be “increasingly a top manager with a degree from a prestigious university or business school.”<sup id="fnref:4b"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4b" rel="footnote">14</a></sup> The bottom ten percent was once composed of farm laborers and domestic servants but is now made up primarily of those who work the service industry. </p> <p>Like the social tables of <a href="http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.597">political arithmetic</a> in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, distribution tables aim “to provide a comprehensive vision of the social structure” and “flesh and blood aspects of inequality.”<sup id="fnref:4c"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4c" rel="footnote">15</a></sup> In short, distribution tables allow one to discuss economic and social class in more precise and finer terms than the blunt distinctions of lower, middle, and upper class. There are important distinction within each group, and the distributions tables give specificity to the vague descriptions like “lower middle class”and “upper middle class,” which may reflect very different every-day realities. </p> <p>An economist might object that labeling an economic index of inequality a “representation” is at best banal—of course they represent something what else would they do?—and at worst misleading and inaccurate, the failure of a non-economist to understand the tools of the specialist. To a degree this is true; if you show me one of these statistical indices I couldn’t tell you what it says or how it is derived.</p> <p>However, Piketty shows that there is a great deal at stake in how specialists represent information to one another and to the public.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> While the indices may “claim to summarize” all the relevant implications of income distribution, he says:</p> <blockquote> <p>It is impossible to summarize a multidimensional reality with a unidimensional index&hellip; The social reality and economic and political significance of inequality are very different at different levels of the distribution [of income]&hellip; Distribution tables allow us to have a more concrete and visceral understanding of social inequality, as well as an appreciation of the data available to study these issues and the limits of those data. By contrast, statistical indices such as the Gini Coefficient give an abstract and sterile view of inequality.<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">5</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>The indices are useful sometimes but more often fail to grasp the social, subjective factors that operate on an intuitive and emotional level. </p> <p>According to Piketty, the synthetic indices common to the field of economics make it difficult for individuals to grasp their place in the economic hierarchy. Many Americans misunderstand basic economic realities, underestimating the scope of inequality and overestimating upward social and economic mobility. Instead, Piketty emphasizes how the economic position of economists, many of whom live in the upper levels of the class hierarchy, ignore the possibility of bias in their own position. A similar dynamic is at work in the class of so-called “supermanagers” in the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Australia—the uppermost echelons of income distribution—who justify inequality by claiming possession of superior skills that merit compensation for their labor despite little evidence supporting this claim.<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> Many groups at the top have an interest in ignoring the way “indices often obscure the fact that there are anomalies or inconsistencies in the underlying data.”<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> Ignoring such anomalies is not some nefarious cover up to ensure the poor stay poor, but a methodological failing that allows individuals to see what is convenient for them even if they act with a genuine desire for objectivity. </p> <p>For those like myself who are more familiar with novels than the Gini coefficient or the Theil Index, an argument for using tables over indices already seems like a journey into the sterile and abstract. However, the argument here is built on the same principle as that concerning novels. The tables and indices in question give rise to very different images of inequality. In particular, distribution tables implicate the social groups of income and wealth hierarchies, and identify these groups “in cash terms,” an identification that is easier to interpret than the “artificial statistical measures” of the indices that ignore important differences, especially at the top and bottom of society.<sup id="fnref:10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:10" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> </p> <p>I am not arguing for or against Piketty’s claim that distribution tables are superior to synthetic indices. Rather, by placing problems of representation at the the foundation of his argument, Piketty is consistently marking subjective variables as important considerations in economic analyses.</p> <p>I would argue that this emphasis on the subjective, the visceral—whether in novels or distribution tables—has motivated criticisms of his work as ideological, even when these critics praise his collection of empirical data. This is not to say that the empirical data is always considered apart from its representations certainly not by Piketty or necessarily his critics and proponents. However, the tendency has been to praise the aggregation of data in the World Top Incomes Database (WTID). Most have not emphasized his calls to change the forms of representing data whether through integrating sources not usually studied in economics or reviving and revising the “political arithmetic” used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. <em>Capital in the Twenty-First Century</em> suggests that only by thinking about how information is being represented while collecting as much data as possible can we begin to understand the “deep structures”<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> of economic systems. The novel serves as an ideal launching point for arguments about representation, but they also speak to the impact of economic activity’s “deep structures” in a way that indices and tables cannot. </p> <p>The literary influences, the confluence of subjective and objective knowledge, and the historical-philosophical leanings of the book tie Piketty to classical political economy. Some reviewers have commented upon this connection albeit along different lines; Piketty is linked to this tradition by more than a discussion of Ricardian theories of scarcity or Quesnay’s political arithmetic. Rather, he is connected to this tradition by those elements of his work that fall outside the highly specialized discipline of economics. Specialization in any industry or academic discipline has advantages and pushes the boundaries of our understanding. However, we may have reached a point where the disadvantages of continually narrowing our view of the world has outpaced the advantages of hyperspecialization. From roughly the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century, western political economists worked in a pre-disciplinary, pre-specialized world. Piketty cannot and I think would not go back to this time before modern economics, but he ambitiously seeks a model of knowledge that breaks the limitations of specialization. Perhaps this is why the book appeals to a general readership and has the tendency to infuriate the specialist. </p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:wsj"> <p>As an example, please see Chris Giles, “<a href="http://blogs.ft.com/money-supply/2014/05/23/data-problems-with-capital-in-the-21st-century/">Data problems with Capital in the 21st Century</a>,” and the first of several updates by Neil Irwin, “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/24/upshot/did-piketty-get-his-math-wrong.html">Did Piketty Get His Math Wrong</a>.”&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:wsj" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Piketty, 102-109. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Piketty, 2. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3a"> <p>Piketty, 333.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3a" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Piketty, 266-267. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>He repeatedly speaks of deep structures in economies, and I plan to write about this idea in another essay.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:10"> <p>ibid. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Piketty also references the television show <em>Mad Men</em>, James Cameron’s film <em>Titanic</em>, and other fictional works, but the works of Austen and Balzac are the primary cultural goods he examines. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:screed"> <p>Daniel Shuchman offers one of the more extreme critiques of the book saying it is “less a work of economic analysis than a bizarre ideological screed.” See Shuchman, “Thomas Piketty Revives Marx for the 21st Century,” <a href="http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303825604579515452952131592"><em>The Wall Street Journal</em></a>, April 21, 2014.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:screed" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Among other problems, Piketty notes how such indices are used in “official reports and public debates” (266). As he acknowledges, he is not the lone voice advocating change in these professional matters. He cites a report by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, on <a href="http://www.stiglizt.sen.fitoussi.fr">The Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress</a>. See Piketty, 603 note 25. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>See Piketty, chapter 9. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Piketty, 266, 278.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4a"> <p>Piketty, 277.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4a" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4b"> <p>Piketty, 279. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4b" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 14 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4c"> <p>Piketty, 270. Piketty cites Francois Quesnay’s famous <a href="https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/quesnay/1759/tableau.htm">Tableu Economique</a>, but see also William Petty, <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=7kdJAAAAYAAJ&amp;dq=inauthor%3A%22Sir%20William%20Petty%22&amp;pg=PA135#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false"><em>The Political Anatomy of Ireland</em></a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4c" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 15 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Pete Sinnott, Jr.) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/7/ Tue, 07 Oct 2014 10:48:32 +0000 Class Shock: Affect, Mobility, and the Adjunct Crisis http://www.contrivers.org/articles/8/Yasmin-Nair-Class-Shock-Adjunct-Crisis/ The language of class in the adjunct struggle needs to be reevaluated. Adjunct should work in common cause with workers, rather than expressing their goals as the restoration of privilege. <p>For years, academia was a hallowed portal into a magical way of life. </p> <p>Or, to be more realistic, it seemed to be one way towards class mobility that was secure, respectable, and relatively easy to obtain, or so most people thought. </p> <p>If you believe cinematic and televisual representations, all academics are professors who live in immaculately maintained houses glowing with the soft light reflected off antique wooden furniture, their rooms filled with never-ending shelves of books, sunlight dappling warm kitchens, and living rooms abounding with vases of fresh-cut flowers.</p> <p>It’s not that such scenarios no longer exist; there is a stratosphere of academia where such idyllic existences are still possible. But, as the mainstream public is quickly learning these days, a growing number of academics are in fact underpaid and overworked graduate students and adjuncts. The dreams of class ascension and mobility that academia once offered to many are being dashed.</p> <p>We are witnessing the adjunctification of the professorial class, as well as a highly spirited resistance to the same. Increasingly, adjunct activism points out that universities are insidious cogs in the neoliberal machine, and it highlights the extreme exploitation of teaching faculty. But as adjuncts organise and agitate, they tend to rely on a narrative that emphasizes their desire to restore a particular class structure, a desire often echoed by the established professors who support them. Considering these matters of class longing more deliberately requires us to critique the affective underbelly of organising efforts, and not just the manifestoes they issue. </p> <p>Consider the words of <a href="http://chronicle.com/article/From-Graduate-School-to/131795/">Melissa Bruninga-Matteau</a>: </p> <blockquote> <p>The media gives us this image that people who are on public assistance are dropouts, on drugs or alcohol, and are irresponsible,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m not irresponsible. I&rsquo;m highly educated. I have a whole lot of skills besides knowing about medieval history, and I&rsquo;ve had other jobs. I&rsquo;ve never made a lot of money, but I&rsquo;ve been able to make enough to live on. Until now.</p> </blockquote> <p>On the one hand, this does drive home the point that academic jobs like hers don’t pay enough, but, on the other hand, it also draws clear distinctions between people like Bruninga-Matteau and those <em>other</em> women, the presumably real welfare queens who are neither educated nor responsible. In a <a href="https://chroniclevitae.com/news/97-from-welfare-to-the-tenure-track">follow-up piece</a>, after she finally gets a tenure-track position, she notes with dismay the many negative responses to the initial report, “They harped on the fact that I’m a single mom, even though my child was born in marriage.” </p> <p>It’s not easy, sometimes impossible, to convey nuance in a medium that is often read quickly and for what is termed maximum impact. My point here is not to excoriate Bruninga-Matteau but to point to the construction of the good adjunct, the blameless adjunct whose upward class trajectory could continue, unsullied, without being pulled into the morass of the real and often unmarried welfare queens with children. </p> <p>The professorial class exists in the public imagination as a nostalgic image, of rumpled but well-off, white, male professors tapping away at keyboards in sunlit rooms. But the fact of that image being part of nostalgia and not reality is mostly only understood by those who have inhabited academia to some extent. When adjuncts begin to differentiate themselves from, for instance, “welfare queens,” they are simultaneously hooking into and trying to draw themselves up by that nostalgic longing, and they reinforce its various forms of privilege. And they are erasing the possibility of rethinking the terms on which we might move forward through the current crisis, which demands that we drastically rethink the terms of the debates. </p> <p>We, adjuncts and allies, need to stop apologising for the value of intellectual production and we need to stop rendering its value in terms of the class mobility and the raced and gendered privilege it can confer upon us. We might seize this opportunity to reconfigure the terms of academic success to signify a system that allows everyone opportunities to do the work they desire, without holding ourselves up to mythical standards of class empowerment. Yet, over and over, the most persistent narratives about adjuncts draw upon class nostalgia. </p> <p>When <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/education/2013/11/death_of_duquesne_adjunct_margaret_mary_vojtko_what_really_happened_to_her.html">Mary Vojtko</a> died as a 83-year-old penniless adjunct, her story made the news because it seemed so contradictory to the usual stereotypes about comfortable professors. <a href="http://www.post-gazette.com/Op-Ed/2013/09/18/Death-of-an-adjunct/stories/201309180224">Daniel Kovalik</a> wrote of his conversation with Vojtko’s caseworker at Adult Protective Services, and having to explain that she had been fired as a professor at Duquesne: “The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, ‘She was a professor?’ I said yes. The caseworker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.”</p> <p><em>Not the usual type of person.</em> While Kovalik goes on to point out that few people understand the differences between full-time and adjunct faculty, the caseworker’s response echoes that of not only those unaffiliated with academia in any way, but of adjuncts and their allies. </p> <p>Take, for instance, the slew of recent first-person accounts and reports designed to give intimate glimpses into adjunct lives. <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/one-professors-american-dream-teaching-turned-american-nightmare/">Arik Greenberg</a> writes, “I’m fully educated; I stayed in school. Two masters and a Ph.D. I’ve published a book. I’ve paid my dues. I’ve followed the rules to realize the American dream, but I am now living the American nightmare.”</p> <p><a href="http://adjunct.chronicle.com/why-buy-the-cow-an-open-letter-to-full-time-faculty/">Emily Van Dyne</a> expresses her feelings differently, “When people ask me what I do, I tell them, accurately, “I am a college professor,” and then hope, depending on the person, that they ask me nothing further. All of the pride that I take in the job that I do, and do, I have no problem freely stating, very well, is sucked from me…”</p> <p>Overall, reports and testimonies relating to adjuncts focus on such easily understood narratives of what amounts to what I call Class Shock: the feeling of inadequacy and anger that arises when one’s class aspirations have been trampled underfoot. </p> <p>Understanding class shock takes account of the misplaced and often gendered rage and anger that comes to bear upon adjunct struggles. There are vastly different constituencies engaged in adjunct struggles. But we might all easily recognise one particular body of adjuncts whose fire-breathing and rage has been especially noticeable: men, mostly white men, often married, whether straight or not, whose anger at having arrived at the Gates of Academe after years of amassing debt and degrees is palpable. Some of this is evident in Greenberg’s account, where he openly declares that he deserves a shot at the American Dream. The narratives of female adjuncts like Van Dyne and Bruninga-Matteau are similar in terms of class shock, but are more likely to reflect quiet desperation and a sense of shame. </p> <p><a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/is-academia-suffering-adjunctivitis/">A PBS report puts</a> such feelings of entitlement and shame even more bluntly, when it quotes Peter Brown, professor emeritus fighting on behalf of adjuncts, “Adjuncts are the lowest paid people on campus. They get paid less than the folks who come in at night to clean the classrooms.”</p> <p>This last statement is, of course, meant to be a damning indictment of the betrayal of the adjunct, saying, in effect, We pay highly-educated people with multiple degrees less than the uneducated slobs who clean up our trash. Bruninga-Matteau’s story circulated at a time when the press was highlighting the apparently shocking fact that a great many highly educated adjuncts were on food stamps. But, as is evident from the piece itself, so is a full 15 per cent of the US population. </p> <p>Similarly, Van Dyne’s shame echoes a larger cultural stigma towards those who fail to attain the class status that they spend a good portion of their lives pursuing.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> Van Dyne’s claiming the title of professor, even when she is not one, is typical among adjuncts. When I worked as an adjunct at the University of Illinois at Chicago and became a Lecture Representative, I refused to let my students call me “Professor.” I explained to them the differences between the various ranks of professors, and my own more tenuous position at the university, my teaching load, and how little I was paid. My reasoning was simple: if adjuncts were to agitate for fair treatment, it made no sense to simply pretend that we were exactly the same as the professorial class, when we simply weren’t. </p> <p>There were and are those adjuncts who endow themselves with the title of professor, betraying, as Van Dyne does, their class shock and class anxiety. But if matters are to change, it makes more sense to point how unequal the system is, and it’s impossible to do that when adjuncts insist on camouflaging themselves as professors to their students and, consequently, to the public.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup></p> <p>I learned, during my brief tenure as an adjunct, that the biggest problem with organising around labour issues in academia is that academics are loath to see themselves as labourers. In an example I use often, one of my fellow adjuncts responded to an organising email I sent out about possible unionisation efforts with a peeved, “Are you telling me that I’m no different from a truck driver?” The short answer was yes. The longer answer is that if we don’t realise we deserve to be treated as well as unionised truck drivers and janitorial staff, for whom this and other adjuncts displayed such contempt, we might as well just sit back and continue to whine about our poverty. </p> <p>The <a href="http://labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/wave-contingent-faculty-organizing-sweeps-campuses">extent of adjunct organising</a> on campuses country-wide indicates that matters have reached a point where it’s unionising or death. This is in some ways ironic because, in fact the only real way to solve the crisis is to begin to end adjunct hiring in the first place. But for now, organizing matters. More importantly, <em>how</em> adjuncts organize and the terms on which they make their case are critical. </p> <p>In the US, everyone pretends there is no such thing as class, but everyone’s biggest nightmare is facing a descent into a lower class category; it is unthinkable to make fun of people on account of their race, for instance, but it is practically a requirement that <a href="http://www.yasminnair.net/content/walter-benn-michaels-trouble-diversity-january-2007">we mock the “hillbilly.”</a> For years, academia has meant a form of class mobility for many (and it has also, at the same time, for many, been a way to maintain class hierarchies) but the rise in adjunct positions and the slashing of tenure lines, along with the increased contempt for the professorial class has meant, in effect, a dwindling of the possibility of entrance into a class position and, consequently, a wider sense of class shock.</p> <p>This is not to mock adjuncts wholesale, many of whom are well aware, I have no doubt, of the classed narratives that surround the lives to which they seek to gain access. But it is to highlight the affective underbelly of the adjunct crisis and to emphasize that, if we ignore the class narratives at play in all of this, we run the risk of only making incremental gains for a select few. Adjunct organizing has become more mainstream and has come to rely on the easier and more palatable narratives that most resonate with the public. This has meant appealing to wider class anxieties. </p> <p>That strategy will be successful in the short term, but as long as we, adjuncts and their allies, don’t interrogate and understand class shock and class anxiety as factors that hinder and hamper adjunct organizing, we will only be fighting for the status quo, and doing so in terms dripping with affect and desire of the professorial Golden Age. There is no returning to these real or imagined halcyon days when (white male) professors in tweed jackets peacefully toiled at their desks unencumbered by questions about their next meal; there is, indeed, much about that scenario that needs drastic revision. At the same time, substituting women and/or people of colour in that scenario in some neoliberal version of diversity will do us no good. Contemporary discussions about the value of intellectual work in relation to the marketplace tend to swing in the opposite direction, pointing to some equally mythical ideas about “relevance” when in fact, the question of relevance itself is weighted with standards that are impossible to meet, <a href="http://www.yasminnair.net/content/looking-math-and-science-everything-and-failing-see-arts">especially in the liberal arts</a> (studying poetry need not lead to making better physicists; it only needs to make for an understanding of poetry and, perhaps, better poets). </p> <p>Rather than insist that we need and want more places in a system that will reward the deserving with a privileged class position, we might want to argue, simply, that we deserve the rights of all workers, that intellectual production is labour, that teaching is not a noble calling but labour, and that we are fine with all the vivid forms of hell of our choosing, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdFmbTscRQc">the life of the mind</a>.</p> <p>Yasmin Nair is a writer, academic, and activist currently working on a book, Strange Love, about neoliberalism, affect, and social movements. She is also the co-founder of the radical queer collective <a href="www.againstequality.org">Against Equality</a> and a member of Gender JUST, a radical queer grassroots group in Chicago. Her work can be found at <a href="http://www.yasminnair.net">www.yasminnair.net</a>. </p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>The reality, of course, is that adjuncts are not simply after class status but very real benefits, including life-saving benefits ones like healthcare. But, in the US, such benefits are part and parcel of class status. Employment itself is seen only as a product of hard work (with no attention to the systemic inequalities produced by capitalism) and, consequently, benefits are seen as accruing to those who deserve them because of their greater devotion, their work ethic, etc. The connection between material benefits and social status is, in the US, a complicated one, and teasing it out more thoroughly is outside the limits of this piece. But suffice it to say that the perception of a failure to achieve class status <em>as a failure</em> doubly reinforces the link between material benefits and class status, instead of what should be a logical outcome of any real understanding of inequality: that everyone deserves benefits, regardless of class status. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>I’m well aware that there are in fact several different kinds of designations amongst adjunct lines, and that some of those do reflect varying pay scales and responsibilities. My point here is a more general one. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Yasmin Nair) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/8/Yasmin-Nair-Class-Shock-Adjunct-Crisis/ Academia Mon, 13 Oct 2014 14:08:47 +0000 Horizontal Publics: A Reply to Mergner http://www.contrivers.org/articles/9/ In a short response, Kovanda argues that there are viable examples of non-hierarchical public spheres. <p>Luke Thomas Mergner’s essay “<a href="http://www.contrivers.org/article/1/">On the Intellectual Question</a>” puts forth several arguments: 1) our conception of intellectuals and their social function relates to identifiable models of political authority, 2) “intellectual production” per se entails an appeal to such authority, and 3) the democratic spaces of the public sphere are withering away. The author offers brief discussions of Kant, Lenin, and a digitized public sphere to support his claims. While I sympathize with his readings of Kant and Lenin, my rejoinder highlights a distinctively interactive and dialogic approach to “intellectual production,” providing us with an important political viewpoint that Mergner ignores. This alternative defines intellectuals by way of their ability to cultivate and communicate with publics, political bodies whose members concern themselves with the well-being of their community as a whole.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> From this perspective, the notion of intellectual production speaks more to the mutual conditioning of empowering thought and concerted action than to the venue, subject matter, or social status of learned discourse. These considerations are significant insofar as they help us to distinguish two conflicting models of the relationship between intellectuals and their publics—one vertical, the other horizontal.</p> <p>The vertical model is that of the guardian: unidirectional, hierarchical, paternalistic, tending toward authoritarianism. The public sphere—the realm of debate, decision, and execution regarding matters of common concern—is here reserved for the few who, as bearers of an esoteric and/or edifying knowledge, are inherently worthy of authority. The unenlightened remain passive recipients of a knowledge found elsewhere, while their “political” existence is reduced to acting as a kind of unthinking executive organ. Even the liberal Kant calls for sheltering the sphere of political practice from the unruliness of the vulgar. “What is Enlightenment?” thus promotes a somewhat depoliticized “freedom” of conscience. Theory devoid of practice, disembodied thought: “Argue as much as you like… but obey!” </p> <p>Not only subtle paternalism, but an ambivalent approach to political life more generally ought to discourage us from embracing a Kantian conception of the public sphere, a conception that would have us think for ourselves, if only to rest content while others act on our behalf.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> Such ambivalence merely dilutes thought that is unapologetically committed to the practical nurturing of egalitarian social bonds. Calls for enlightened autonomy notwithstanding, guardianship fosters a dangerous dependency, deference to pre-existing authority, and homogenizing orthodoxy. Mergner rightfully locates this tendency within the Bolshevik monopoly on knowledge/power.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">3</a></sup></p> <p>The divergent, horizontal model of this relationship is characterized by a propensity for interactive collaboration, a relational dynamic wherein the circulation of knowledge/power subverts any static distinction between intellectuals and their publics. This model promotes collectivities devoid of an isolated stratum of leaders, communities where the responsibility for analysis and action is shared. An unemployed Argentine worker provides us with testimony to this kind of political experience:</p> <blockquote> <p>First we began learning something together, it was a sort of waking up to a knowledge that was collective, and this has to do with a collective self-awareness… [W]e began by asking one another, and ourselves questions, and from there we began to resolve things together. Each day we continue discovering and constructing while walking… [T]he practice of horizontalidad can be seen in this process. It is the walk, the process of questioning as we walk that enriched our growth, and helped us discover that strength is different when we are side by side, when there is no one to tell you what you have to do, but rather when we decide who we are… This is beyond revolutionary theories, theories that we all know and have heard so often, theories that are often converted into tools of oppression and submission. The practice of <em>horizontalidad</em> can give the possibility of breaking with this and creating something that gives us the security that we can self-organize, and do it well, and do so far away from those that try and tell us politics must be done in a particular way.<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">4</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>The respect these intellectually engaged members earn from their publics is not a consequence of privileged access to this or that body of knowledge. Rather, it flows from their exemplary commitment to communal well-being, their willingness to pose difficult questions and investigate politically significant phenomena, and their penchant for courageous action. There is no tension here between intellectual influence and democratic forms of self-organization. Such influence tends to derive from the affective resonance of one’s speech rather than from the speaker’s social status and its concomitant measure of political authority. </p> <p>This approach to intellectual production, one oriented around analyzing matters of common concern and acting accordingly, may foster a somewhat less pessimistic view of the supposed enervation of the public sphere, a perspective preoccupied by the ascent of technocratic modes of thought. While the preponderance of such thinking and the superficial propensities of the digital arena are undeniable, political bodies inspired by shared insight and egalitarian values continue their counter-hegemonic work, often in heroic if unheralded fashion. Such collectivities frequently exist on the margins of our society, occupying spaces regularly deemed unworthy of widespread attention. Foreclosed residential properties are merely one example, but one typically need not look too far to locate intellectually engaged communities working collaboratively to promote public well-being.<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> The intensity of their egalitarian ethos and the depth of their mutual commitment to a life in common determine the viability and political vitality of these democratic bodies.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>The relatively intellectualized life conditions of a post-industrial working class tend to render Gramsci’s distinction between “traditional” and “organic” intellectuals problematic. <a href="http://www.contrivers.org/article/3/">Rafael Khachaturian’s essay in Contrivers’ inaugural issue</a> speaks more or less directly to this topic. See Antonio Gramsci, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/071780397X/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Selections from the Prison Notebooks</em></a> (New York: International Publishers, 2008), pp. 5-23.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>This critique of Kant derives solely from <em>What is Enlightenment?</em>, an essay written in specific historical circumstances. The nature of the essay’s relationship to the rest of Kant’s oeuvre is an open question, one beyond the scope of this response. See Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0521398371/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Political Writings</em></a>. 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 54-60. Available <a href="http://www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/etscc/kant.html">online</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Michel Foucault draws attention to the mutual presupposition of power relations and knowledge generation. See <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0679724699/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction</em></a> (Vintage, 1990), pp. 97-102.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>The quote comes from author <a href="http://marinasitrin.com/?page_id=108">Marina Sitrin’s website</a>. Sitrin has written a book devoted to this topic, entitled <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1904859585/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina</em></a> (Oakland: AK Press, 2006).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>The <a href="http://chicagoantieviction.org/">Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign</a> and <a href="http://stopeviction.wordpress.com/">Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction</a> are examples of the publics to which I am referring.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Michael Kovanda) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/9/ Intellectuals Fri, 07 Nov 2014 16:45:22 +0000 Digital As Form http://www.contrivers.org/articles/10/ *Contrivers’ Review* is an online journal of theory and criticism. Though our first issue self-reflexively questioned the value of “intellectual” work, one crucial aspect of our description has yet to undergo much scrutiny—namely, the adjectives “online” or “digital.” <p><em>Contrivers’ Review</em> is an online journal of theory and criticism. Though our first issue self-reflexively questioned the value of “intellectual” work, one crucial aspect of our description has yet to undergo much scrutiny—namely, the adjectives “online” or “digital.”</p> <p>Today, the opposition between analog and digital lifestyles relies on a misnomer. Etymologically “digital” derives from the Latin word for the fingers. It’s unclear how it came to be an antonym for “analog,” which at the dawn of the electronic era referred to the smooth waveforms specific to audio and radio. The technical sense of “digital” means a stepped wave, usually audio, created by computers. It is likely the oppositional meaning arose when audiophiles insisted that older recordings were superior to the newer, digital versions offered on newfangled compact <a href="https://twitter.com/scearley/status/520047580298764289">discs</a>. It is nevertheless ironic that the slogan for resisting the assault of electronic communication technology is itself a technological term, not unlike insisting that flying in a single-prop airplane is more authentic than flying in a jet-powered aircraft. This opposition also fails to adequately describe the complex relationship between digital and traditional publishing formats. </p> <p>The recent, very public <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/inside-collapse-new-republic">implosion of <em>The New Republic</em></a> underscores the tension between traditional publishing and newer venues run as tech companies, where performance metrics trump content.<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> As the economics of the industry continue to evolve, can nuanced, intelligent, politically and morally courageous writing survive when every sentence must be monetized? Certainly, boutique web journals like <a href="http://www.nplusonemag.com"><em>N+1</em></a>, <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/"><em>Jacobin</em></a>, <a href="http://lareviewofbooks.org/"><em>LARB</em></a>, and even <em>Contrivers’ Review</em>, demonstrate a commitment to the essay. However, it is far from clear which strategies or institutions will survive the continued contraction of the industry at large. This is a time of change and experimentation. That this experimentation is driven by economic realities does not mean that these changes are detrimental. The challenge is to rethink how the web extends and complements the traditional essay form.</p> <p>The current answer to this challenge is to marry the technology of web logs to old media brands. Thus, <em>The Washington Post</em> and <em>The Atlantic</em> hire successful bloggers who continue their writing under the imprimatur of traditional media. In some cases, this model has proven successful; in others, less so. It’s clear, however, that blogging is a genre somewhat at odds with the essay, favoring timeliness and informality over structure and considered thoughtfulness. The industry is rethinking what it means to “publish” an “essay” when even staid academics have decamped to <em>Blogger</em> or <em>Tumblr</em>. And how should the labor of writers be valued in a market where the most profitable column space is unpaid and exploitative? There are no firm answers to these questions yet.</p> <p>Blogs developed originally as a sort of public diary. Each entry is independent. There was, and is, no easy way to represent revisions. Nor was there an easy way to group posts together.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> Content could be consumed only through the browser (or through now-neglected RSS feeds). Before the advent of tablets or e-readers, this lack of portability could be excused, and while services like <a href="http://www.instapaper.com">Instapaper</a> can provide some of this portability, many web sites are designed still to barricade content within rather than share it widely. Control over where we read content, after all, is how web sites make money. </p> <p>One core difference between <em>Contrivers’ Review</em> and other publications such as <em>N+1</em>, <em>Jacobin</em>, or <em>Guernica</em> is that we do not publish a print edition. Even <em>LARB</em> has recently started <a href="https://lareviewofbooks.org/qj/">a quarterly print journal</a>. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the smell of an old library book or the tactile act of penciling in marginal comments. However, we are skeptical of the economics of print publishing and doubt the long-term viability of investing heavily in that medium. Some publish online for publicity and to encourage subscribers to buy a print version. Without downplaying the challenges of monetizing—a dreadful term—online content, we do not assume that print has an ontological priority over the web.</p> <p><em>Contrivers’ Review</em> is committed to exploring the ways in which the web can extend and compliment the essay. Frustrated by the limitations of existing blogging platforms, we built our own content system from the ground up. Such a project is ambitious, but matches our belief that the existing paradigms are insufficient and overly beholden to existing genres. Content cannot be wholly divorced from form. Many of the features planned are “behind the scenes” or transparent to the reader. For the reader, it may not matter to you whether we’ve designed the database in a particular way. However, these design choices percolate up to determine what is ultimately displayed on the screen. Moreover, such technological choices reflect our editorial vision of considered, dialogic, theory-driven, long-format writing. </p> <p>Reading and writing has always been a deeply intertextual act. A writer always brackets many concerns in order to foreground and organize a particular argument. Understanding an argument depends on our proximity to its context, on our ability to unpack what is bracketed or implicit, to fill in the blanks. While this unpacking is more self-conscious the farther in time or culture we are from the writer, all reading involves a hermeneutic act. Without trivializing this practice, I would like to suggest that the hypertextuality of the web technology more closely models the referentiality of our reading practices than the printed page. </p> <p>Perhaps the most obvious design decision was not to include reader comments on articles. This was a conscious, deliberate choice on our part. In place of comments, we have the concept of “Responses,” which were inspired by <a href="http://www.slate.com/"><em>Slate</em>’s</a> letter exchanges and “Critical Exchanges” in the journal <a href="http://www.apsanet.org/perspectives"><em>Perspectives on Politics</em></a>. The goal is to foster an environment of collegial disagreement and conversation. We expect such conversations to span multiple submissions and authors, to thread and interrelate. In effect, the goal is to model the deep referential knowledge of a scholarly conversation in a digestible, navigable form.</p> <p>HTML was designed to be <em>intertextual</em>. The ability to embed metadata within a page or paragraph may be the most significant benefit over the printed word. Hyperlinks are far more supple references than the printed footnote or marginal note. Happily, the flexibility of the web does not force us to choose between such supplemental meanings, but allows the agile writer to leverage intertextuality directly. No new technologies are necessary to take advantage of this power, only writers and editors with sufficient know how.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">3</a></sup></p> <p><em>Contrivers’ Review</em> therefore is designed by us to suit our needs. It represents a wager about how the form in which an essay appears might augment the content. Over the next few years, we’ll see if <em>Contrivers’</em> can make good on this bet.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:3"> <p>From <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/inside-collapse-new-republic">Ryan Lizza’s article</a>: <blockquote>The editors were hardly opposed to giving greater attention to digital media, but they came to believe that Hughes was losing interest in the actual content of T.N.R.’s journalism and cultural criticism. “The only compliment Chris or Guy ever said about a piece was that it ‘did well,’ or it ‘travelled well,’ ” one of the staffers who resigned said. “If we had published Nietzsche’s ‘Birth of Tragedy,’ the only question would be, ‘Did it travel well?’ ‘Yes, Wagner tweeted it.’ ”</blockquote>&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:1"> <p>I would be shocked to learn than anyone made heavy use of tags or categories to browse content on blogs.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Two specific examples may make this clearer. First, <em>Contrivers’</em> supports footnotes. Considering the semi-academic writing we publish, this was essential. In the future, we hope to include other mechanisms by which our articles can be referenced by section, paragraph, or sentence. Secondly, our articles are fully “exportable” in the sense that they are (or should be) compliant with <a href="https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/Guide/HTML/HTML5">HTML5</a>’s semantic tags. Each article now features a menu bar with options to export a link to Twitter or Facebook, or add the entire article to your Instapaper reading list. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Luke Thomas Mergner) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/10/ Editorial Wed, 21 Jan 2015 17:58:22 +0000 Foucault and Neoliberalism Today http://www.contrivers.org/articles/12/ We see a situation in which neoliberalism has driven us into a brick wall and people are trying to find a way to get out of it. Foucault offers conceptual tools to those who are trying to change the world. In our contemporary conjuncture, attempting to mobilize Foucault’s name to shore up neoliberalism is perverse. <p>Late last year, a PhD student in Belgium, <a href="https://ulb.academia.edu/danielzamora">Daniel Zamora</a>, published a smallish edited collection of essays in French called “Criticising Foucault” (<em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QU246IY/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Critiquer Foucault</a></em>). <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/foucault-interview/">An interview</a> he gave in relation to the book was translated into English for the Leftist journal <em><a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/">Jacobin</a></em> and then widely shared on social media. This interview contains some interesting and worthwhile discussion, but the strapline of the English translation (absent in <a href="http://www.revue-ballast.fr/peut-on-critiquer-foucault/">the French original</a>) focuses on an allegation that Michel Foucault had an “affinity” for neoliberalism, and indeed it is this claim of Zamora’s that leads the subsequent interview. The interviewer sets up the claim that Foucault was a neoliberal as something new and shocking, but it has been aired in Foucault scholarship for a decade at least (not least in articles now reprinted in Zamora’s collection). Despite this, <a href="https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&amp;q=Foucault%20and%20Neoliberalism">search online</a> for “Foucault” and “neoliberalism” and it’s now this interview that pops up first.</p> <p>It is not so much that I have a specific gripe with Zamora—whose work I have not read, though I have read other work in his collection—but rather that I want to contradict both the likely impression that the allegation of neoliberalism against Foucault is some new scandal, and also that there is substance to that claim. And I won’t do the latter full-frontally, through point-by-point refutation. I will leave that to future scholarly work. I find these allegations almost entirely without merit and, here, I will explore the political motives and effects.</p> <p>The first time I encountered the accusation that Foucault was a neoliberal was at a conference in London in 2004. The accuser was an American graduate student from Harvard’s history program, Eric Paras, who would go on to publish a reading of Foucault, entitled <em>Foucault 2.0</em>, which cherry-picked the most extreme moments in Foucault’s output and assembled them to make him into a figure of wild contradictions.<sup id="fnref:paras"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:paras" rel="footnote">1</a></sup></p> <p>Like all the other readings of Foucault as a neoliberal that have proliferated since, Paras’s leans primarily on Foucault’s Collège de France lectures from 1979, <em>The Birth of Biopolitics</em>, which were only published in French just over a month after Paras’s talk, and in English in 2008. Before the publication, the only way to access the lectures was to access the tape recordings, which I hadn’t. At the conference in 2004, I was immediately taken aback by Paras’s conclusion, since it didn’t accord at all with anything in Foucault’s published writings at that time. I put it to Paras then that the lectures were intended as a genealogy (that is, a critical history) of neoliberalism, not to express support for it. Paras seemed to me to concede this point.</p> <p>Since publication in English, <em>The Birth of Biopolitics</em><sup id="fnref:biopolitics"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:biopolitics" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> has become a magnet for commentary. Indeed, it seems to me that it is currently the most widely discussed of any of the ten books of Foucault’s Collège de France lecture courses that have been published in English over the last decade. It has the second most citations of any of Foucault’s Collège courses according to Google Scholar: just over 3,000; the course with the most is <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312203187/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Society Must Be Defended</a></em>, with just over 4,000, but this was the first of the courses to be published, and has thus been in print in English almost twice as long as <em>Birth of Biopolitics</em>. This is, I think, symptomatic, inasmuch as it’s the singular course that can be used to best effect in neutering Foucault’s radical challenge and diverting attention towards neoliberal thinkers instead.</p> <p><em>The Birth of Biopolitics</em> comprises twelve lectures, the middle six dealing with neoliberalism, sandwiched between lectures on the history of liberalism more broadly. As a professor of the Collège de France, France’s highest academic institution, Foucault was required as his sole duty to give a series of work-in-progress lectures every year. As befits such a remit, much of the material in <em>The Birth of Biopolitics</em> comprises simply summaries of research on primary texts, with some preliminary interpretative gloss. Foucault moreover tried to discourage the public from attending these lecture series to the extent this was possible, and tried to forbid the posthumous publication of any of his work, including presumably these series.</p> <p>I’ve now read the book multiple times, written, and spoken about it.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> It seems to me that, notwithstanding its generic literary limitations, the <em>Birth of Biopolitics</em> represents an apposite or even prescient attention by Foucault in 1979 to neoliberalism as the most significant political-theoretical strand of the age. I simply see nothing in it to suggest any affinity of Foucault to liberalism in general or neoliberalism more specifically. It is certainly possible to go through the passages in which it is alleged Foucault aligns himself with neoliberalism and explain why I believe these show no such thing, though this kind of forensic scholarship is not the point of this present essay.</p> <p>There is a spectrum of views on the issue of course, between those who completely dismiss the notion of Foucault as a liberal and those who think he actually was a neoliberal. The existence of this spectrum, and the fact that readers of <em>The Birth of Biopolitics</em> in particular repeatedly and independently see some degree of sympathy in Foucault’s writing for the neoliberalism he describes, does stand as a challenge to those like me who deny it.</p> <p>If the claim that Foucault was a neoliberal is not a new one, the claim that Foucault might have had less than radical politics is much less novel still. Attempts to paint Foucault as a crypto-Right-winger date back to the publication of his <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0679753354/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The Order of Things</a></em> in 1966, which was attacked by Jean-Paul Sartre’s <em>Les Temps Modernes</em>, Satre himself denouncing Foucault as the “last rampart of the bourgeoisie.”<sup id="fnref:sartre"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:sartre" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> The essential stake of this discussion, and I think some of the continuing invective, is that Foucault was articulating a radical position that was explicitly anti-Marxist. Foucault has been consistently opposed by the more doctrinaire sections of the Marxist Left, who view his challenging of their dogmas as reactionary insofar as it stands in the way of the single path to revolutionary progress.</p> <p>Conversely, so too has Foucault been opposed by much of the right, including those who accuse him of being a “cultural” Marxist. Such criticism is to my mind closer to the truth than accusations that he is a conservative or liberal, inasmuch as Foucault <em>was</em> a Left-wing radical who had much in common with Marxism. Indeed, from the point of view of defenders of the status quo, Foucault might as well be a Marxist. There are some prominent laudatory comments one can find by Foucault about Marx, much more explicit than his supposed support for liberalism.</p> <p>Despite vociferous initial hostility, many in fact, on both Left and Right, have come to embrace Foucault’s name over the decades. The effect here is similar to that described by Lenin in relation to Marx:</p> <blockquote> <p>What is now happening to Marx&rsquo;s theory has, in the course of history, happened repeatedly to the theories of revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes fighting for emancipation. During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their <em>names</em> to a certain extent for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its <em>substance</em>, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">6</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>Now, it must be admitted that Foucault is not as unambiguously revolutionary a thinker as Marx. Indeed, Foucault refuses to privilege the revolution as the sine qua non of politics.<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> Nevertheless, I believe the same basic procedure of domestication of Foucault’s thought has occurred through the desire to appropriate his ideas in the service of the status quo. No one has done this better than Foucault’s own sometime assistant, François Ewald, who has for decades been a Foucauldian neoliberal apparatchik of French capitalism.</p> <p>Distortions of Foucault from both Left and Right serve to occlude his radical message, the one actually articulated in his published work. Foremost among Foucault’s radical lessons, I would place the idea that we need to understand specific effects of power, to analyse how power actually works, at the level of its “strategies.” This is to say, recognizing that human actions at a micro level combine together at a macro level to produce effects that may be unintended by the participants, but nevertheless shape our society and our lives. An example is the prison system, studied by Foucault in his 1975 book, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0679752552/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Discipline and Punish</a></em>, which is intended to reduce crime, but in fact objectively does nothing so much as produce recidivism and bring together criminals into a subculture.</p> <p>Such simple lessons of Foucault’s have been absorbed, in radical criminology in this instance, but are more often ignored in favour of inaccurate and platitudinous references to the less political of his writings, meaning primarily his later writings on Greek and Roman ethics. Admittedly much of Foucault’s output does lack explicitly political content. Indeed, the starkly political phase of his thought amounted to well under half his career, coinciding almost exactly with the 1970s. The <em>Birth of Biopolitics</em> lectures represented the tail-end, the fizzling out, of this political period, after which he moved on to studying Ancient texts for his remaining years of life, which would amount to less than five years.</p> <p>While it is possible to cast the lectures on neoliberalism as working notes in pursuit of the analysis of power relations, he went on to give years of lectures and publish two books thereafter, the <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0394751221/?tag=contrivers-review-20">second</a> and <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0394741552/?tag=contrivers-review-20">third</a> volumes of his <em>History of Sexuality</em>, which were extraordinarily apolitical. Still, there are mitigating factors: these books were rushed out when Foucault was on his deathbed and they represented a fulfillment of the <em>History of Sexuality</em> project, which found Foucault getting into increasingly antiquarian territory. It is impossible to know what he might have done had he lived past the fruition of that project; a return to the political themes of the 1970s was hinted at by him, and is a possible trajectory his work would have taken. But we can also suspect him of backing off from his own political insight, much as those who followed him did. He nowhere actively repudiated his earlier political insights, however, and he remained explicitly committed to the same intellectual project.</p> <p>A banal reason for Foucault’s retreat from politics was that he was moving with the times. He was politicized around the Events of May 1968, along with a significant segment of French society, and retreated from politics in the late 1970s as the movement inaugurated in 1968 faltered and the soixante-huitards merged into the French establishment. It should be noted however that he did <em>not</em> abandon his commitment to political activism, though some have questioned the trajectory of that activism in this period (specifically his enthusiasm for the Iranian Revolution and his support for the burgeoning discourse of human rights).</p> <p>Foucault found himself in the political doldrums—as did the entire West and, to some extent, the entire world—in the late seventies. This followed a series of extraordinary successes, such as the final victory of the people of Vietnam against colonialism, the Portuguese Carnation Revolution, and the increasing progress of social struggles against discrimination towards women, homosexuals, and ethnic minorities. These successes were balanced against a series of failures of militant movements for the abolition of capitalism that emerged in many countries in the West during the late 1960s but also encompassed, perhaps as its centre, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and included the Indian Naxalbari revolt. This ushered in the neoliberal era of economic and social laissez-faire, in which personal freedom was valorised within the framework of unfettered capitalism.</p> <p>Of course, many millions have kept revolutionary faith during these ostensibly post-revolutionary times, but, for a realist of Foucault’s ilk, the possibility for the sudden overthrow of the existing order vanished—his position on revolution being that it may or may not be appropriate as a form of resistance depending on the situation. In a non-revolutionary situation, one may indeed retreat into the recesses of scholarship in order to try to uncover the resources to change things in the present. In this relation, Žižek refers to Lenin reading Hegel while exiled in Switzerland as a paradigm of the kind of activity we should engage in politically fallow times.<sup id="fnref:zizek"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:zizek" rel="footnote">4</a></sup></p> <p>Should we then similarly attribute the tame banality of Foucault scholarship today as simply reflecting the political temperature of our times and hope that when things are ripe the political resources of Foucault’s thought will activate again? This clearly is too deterministic an approach: while it might be reasonable to engage in deep scholarship which informs political work, a characterisation that may be applied to both Foucault’s and Lenin’s philosophical writing, much academic writing that invokes Foucault is politically demobilising, even when it invokes his theory of power directly. Tepid scholarship not only reflects but contributes to the tepidity of the times. Foucault scholarship is an ideological battlefield, by which I mean not that it is a <em>Kampfplatz</em> where social forces meet in a sublimated form, but rather something more complicated: a <em>Kampfplatz</em> which has the possibility of generating new resources and perspectives that can change the wider war. In this, it is in fact no different from any literal battle, because wars, like everything else, are much more complicated than our binary imagination allows. Foucault Studies might seem to be an area of concern only to academics with little relation to the real world, but this is just what casting Foucault as a conservative tends to make it: it discourages people from reading his radical work or from reading his work as radical.</p> <p>Today, since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, there is a palpable sense abroad that we cannot go on like this, which is to say cannot go on with free market capitalism. This expresses itself in nebulous ways, because has tended to cohere in its opposition insufficiently to challenge neoliberalism’s institutionalized hegemony. Still, there are signs of a movement coalescing, for example in the emergence from the seemingly abortive evanescence of the Spanish <em>Indignados</em> of Podemos as a political party apparently capable of taking state power.</p> <p>At the point where such a party, like Syriza in Greece, actually forms a government, a number of practical questions are posed: will the party manage to break with previous styles of government; will it offer an alternative to both neoliberalism and previous forms of social democracy? In <em>The Birth of Biopolitics</em>, Foucault neatly summarises this problem by noting, in relation to the Left-wing coalition that was on the verge of winning state power in France at the time of the lectures, that there had never been a socialist form of governmentality.<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> That is, socialists have never had their own form of government appropriate to their aims, but rather in practice have either been liberal capitalist governors or had taken the route of the totalitarian party form of government also adopted by fascists. Some readers of Foucault’s lectures seem to have taken him here to be recommending neoliberalism itself as the appropriate governmentality for socialism. That such a view could be imputed to Foucault boggles the mind. He was clear enough that he thought the existing centre-right regime in France in the 1970s was already neoliberal: then as now, it is a socialist alternative to neoliberalism that is needed. The dual danger for Podemos and Syriza is that, on the one hand, they contain enough orthodox Marxists, particularly Trotskyists, that they will repeat mistakes of past attempts to govern in a socialist way, or on the other hand, that they contain enough political naïfs that they will simply fall into standard, which is to say neoliberal, ways of wielding governmental power. Of course, it remains opaque what it can mean to have a socialist governmentality: Foucault never provides us with a solution, only the means for analysing the problem.</p> <p>Still, we see a situation in which neoliberalism has driven us into a brick wall and people are trying to find a way to get out of it. Foucault’s intention in his political thought is to offer conceptual tools to those who are trying to change the world.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> In our contemporary conjuncture to attempt to mobilise Foucault’s name precisely to shore up neoliberalism, as some are doing, is perverse.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:paras"> <p>Eric Paras, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1590512340/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Foucault 2.0: Beyond Power and Knowledge</a></em> (Other Press, 2006).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:paras" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:biopolitics"> <p>Michel Foucault, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312203411/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979</a></em> (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/2020324016/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Naissance de la biopolitique: Cours au collège de France (1978-1979)</a></em>, ed. François Ewald (Paris: Seuil, 2004).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:biopolitics" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:sartre"> <p>Jean-Paul Sartre, “Sartre répond,” <em>La Quinzaine Littéraire</em>, October 15, 1966, p. 4.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:sartre" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:zizek"> <p>Slavoj Žižek (presentation at On the Idea of Communism, Institute of Education, University of London, March 13–15, 2009).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:zizek" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Mark Kelly, “<a href="https://www.radicalphilosophy.com/reviews/153-reviews">Alterliberalism</a>,” review of <em>The Birth of Biopolitics</em>, by Michel Foucault, <em>Radical Philosophy</em> 153 (January/February 2009): 46–9.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>V. I. Lenin, “The State and Revolution,” in <em>Collected Works</em> (Progress Publishers, 1964), vol. 25. <a href="https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/index.htm">Available online</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Mark G. E. Kelly, “Revolution,” in <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0521119219/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The Cambridge Foucault Lexicon</a></em> (Cambridge University Press, 2014).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Foucault <em>The Birth of Biopolitics</em>, 94.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Michel Foucault, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.fr/Dits-Ecrits-2-1976-1988/dp/2070762904/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Dits et écrits</a></em> (Gallimard, 1994), 2:523.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Mark G. E. Kelly) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/12/ Mon, 09 Mar 2015 19:50:02 +0000 The Indefensible Situation of Adjunct Laborers: An Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Bradley Rettele http://www.contrivers.org/articles/13/ Anyone attempting to shed light on the problem of adjunct or contingent teaching labor (as some prefer to be called) in the United States’s colleges and universities is fighting a lonely political battle with few allies and many opponents, both of whom have a stake in keeping this issue quiet. <p>Anyone attempting to shed light on the problem of adjunct or contingent teaching labor (as some prefer to be called) in the United States’s colleges and universities is fighting a lonely political battle with few allies and many opponents, both of whom have a stake in keeping this issue quiet.</p> <p>Higher education in the United States is foundering on the problem of labor, which threatens to undermine the pedagogical and research missions of higher education. An agreement to remain silent exists between administrations, tenured faculty, and the face of that problem, contingent faculty. It is in the interests of administrations and faculty to keep silent on this issue; adjunct faculty are cheaper for colleges and universities so employing them keeps costs down and, depending on the school, part-timers ensure that tenured faculty continue to have reasonable course loads, time to research, and the opportunity to teach upper-level and graduate courses. For those contingent faculty members, silence is coerced. They have no job security. As a result of this lack of security, a justified fear keeps them from demanding fair pay and benefits. In addition, the institutions’ ability to create a sense of shame and inferiority often inhibits the desire to even demand fair treatment.</p> <p>This silence has created a gap between how college and university teachers are viewed by the public and the reality of teaching in those institutions.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> Bradley Rettele worked as a contingent faculty member for eleven years, teaching anthropology in the California community college system. After the spring of 2014, he left academia to make documentary films. Now he is completing a documentary on the problems facing contingent faculty in California’s community college system. Rettele is <a href="https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/5420844/freeway-fliers-higher-educations-best-kept-secret">currently raising funds</a> to complete post-production work on his film, <a href="http://www.freewayfliers.com/">Freeway Fliers</a>, and we spoke recently, discussing the educational, cultural, and human cost of building educational institutions on exploited labor. The stories told in the film give lie to the notion that working diligently and quietly will &ldquo;pay off&rdquo; in the end, and Rettele has deep understanding of how the coerced silence which perpetuates this lie is tied to the larger effects of neoliberal policies and the privatization of social institutions.</p> <p>If you think that describing college teachers as “exploited labor” is hyperbole then Rettele’s film is a must watch. He is not interested in preaching to the choir, as he makes clear in the interview below, but wants to show the facts about the working conditions of college teachers, how these conditions degrade the quality of education for students, and how they violate our ethical and moral principles of equal pay for equal work.</p> <p>For the purposes of full disclosure, I should say that I went into the interview sympathetic with Rettele’s project and, in speaking to me, he was very much preaching to the choir. The problems of higher education are of particular importance to us here at <em>Contrivers’ Review</em>. As always, we invite responses to everything we publish. If you feel something was misrepresented here, please send us an email at <a href="&#109;&#97;&#105;&#108;&#116;&#111;&#58;&#101;&#100;&#105;&#116;&#111;&#114;&#115;&#64;&#99;&#111;&#110;&#116;&#114;&#105;&#118;&#101;&#114;&#115;&#46;&#111;&#114;&#103;">&#101;&#100;&#105;&#116;&#111;&#114;&#115;&#64;&#99;&#111;&#110;&#116;&#114;&#105;&#118;&#101;&#114;&#115;&#46;&#111;&#114;&#103;</a>.</p> <hr /> <p><strong>Bradley Rettele:</strong> What I discovered was in this film&mdash;as I start more or less in a random place&mdash;There’s a nationwide network that&rsquo;s loosely, in fact I&rsquo;ll say very loosely, organized and connected in response to the large numbers of adjunct, part-time, and contingent faculty that are teaching in our schools. Myself, I&rsquo;m a product of community colleges both originally as a student, then for eleven years as an instructor at multiple institutions. And specifically the focus of the film is on community colleges in California, which is the largest post-secondary educational institution in the US. So that&rsquo;s the specific emphasis.</p> <p>In the community colleges approximately, <a href="http://chronicle.com/article/OveruseAbuse-of-Adjuncts/143951/">75%</a> of the faculty&mdash;depending on who you talk to, some people have very strong views on the terminology you use&mdash;are either adjuncts, part-timers, or contingent faculty. More or less those terms are interchangeable and, more or less, mean the same thing. Some people are very opposed to the term &ldquo;part-time&rdquo; because the majority of instructors work multiple part-time jobs, many of them work more than a double or triple load of classes much of the time. Some people are opposed to the term &ldquo;adjunct,&rdquo; since the contingent faculty are the majority they&rsquo;re anything but adjuncts any more. They are the majority. And we have a situation specifically in the California community colleges [where] 75% of the teachers are adjuncts, depending on the school, and approximately <a href="http://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts">50%</a> of the courses are taught by so-called adjuncts. Again depending on the school or more specifically on the district in which they teach, they&rsquo;re compensated at about <a href="http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/sites/democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/files/documents/1.24.14-AdjunctEforumReport.pdf">33%</a> at the rate of full time or tenured faculty. And that&rsquo;s just in community colleges.</p> <p>My own story is that after eleven years of teaching at multiple schools and in multiple districts, and doing all the things one would hope that would result in a full time job&mdash;getting positive performance reviews, cultivating positive relationships with my peers as well as the support staff, etc.&mdash;I started looking at the data and came to the conclusion&mdash;and this has only been supported by the research I&rsquo;ve done since then&mdash;that neither myself nor the vast majority of adjuncts are ever going to get a full time job. Now one of the problems is that adjuncts in the community colleges at least and in many of the universities as well&mdash;some of this changes on a school by school case&mdash;but they can be fired or let go at any given time without any kind of justification or reason. What that means is that the majority of the adjuncts are reluctant to speak up or get involved in a serious way with union activities or activism because their jobs are so precarious. In fact, many of the faculty members refer to themselves as &ldquo;the precariat&rdquo;&mdash;they lead precarious lives.</p> <p>In fact, that&rsquo;s one of the interesting issues covered at a union conference that I went to a few weeks when we were discussing why the adjuncts don&rsquo;t participate in significant numbers in union activities. And that was one of the issues; they&rsquo;re afraid to. So for myself, for me to get involved as I have and cause as much trouble&mdash;if you will&mdash;as I hope to, I really had to be in a position where I didn&rsquo;t depend on that income or wasn&rsquo;t expecting at least to go any further or try to make a living. Again for the most part trouble makers are sent to Siberia. So I&rsquo;ve been working on this film since October along with two collaborators who are also adjuncts but, because of the precarious nature of their employment, they are remaining anonymous at this point and probably will remain so for a period of time because of the precarious nature of their employment so they&rsquo;re listed as Professor X and Professor Y.</p> <p><strong>Pete Sinnott:</strong> In the film you use the term working poor. <a href="http://www.contrivers.org/articles/8/">Other people that I&rsquo;ve spoken to</a> about this issue have said that when they try to get other people in activism or unions they often met with comments like. &ldquo;Unions? We&rsquo;re not truck drivers.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> And that&rsquo;s sort of one of the sticking points because these are people that are highly educated&mdash;they all have graduate degrees&mdash;and they like to think of themselves as members of an esteemed profession or as having jobs with social cache. So there is a reluctance by a lot of people to admit that they&rsquo;re hurting. I know from my own experience with my students, it was often times hard to admit or acknowledge where I lived.</p> <p>There&rsquo;s a story I&rsquo;ve told a few times of a student of mine, a young woman, who was moving out of her home and was looking for an apartment to live in. She expressed the fact that she was having a hard time finding a place she could afford. So I suggested a town that I was living in, San Clemente, and I told her that you could often find apartments there that were relatively affordable. And the next week, I asked her after class, &ldquo;How&rsquo;s the apartment hunting going?&rdquo;. And she said, &ldquo;Well, I found a place I could afford, but it&rsquo;s kind of in a dangerous neighborhood and the building is kind of run down.&rdquo;</p> <p>I said, &ldquo;In San Clemente?&rdquo; &ldquo;Yeah.&rdquo; So I asked, &ldquo;Well where is the place?&rdquo; And so she described the address and it turned out to be the very same building I lived in. So there is some reluctance&hellip; Sadly and basically without exception, adjuncts are living poorly from the material perspective and not in very comfortable situations, in beat-up apartments in rough neighborhoods and driving shoddy cars. Many of the adjuncts are able to qualify for the Affordable Care Act. Some of the adjuncts are able to qualify for food stamps. Most of them collect unemployment for portions of the year to augment their income.</p> <p>That&rsquo;s one of the interesting parts of the story: Many people, including those in academia will criticize Wal-Mart or McDonald&rsquo;s for funding their low-paid employees by augmenting their compensation with food stamps, but that&rsquo;s exactly what&rsquo;s happening in education. Colleges hold symposia on how you apply for and qualify for unemployment and one of the considerations that these adjuncts have told me, many of them, they often times weigh whether they should teach classes in the summer or apply for unemployment&mdash;which compensation will actually be greater.</p> <p>It really is a situation that&rsquo;s indefensible on multiple levels and that&rsquo;s just the human cost on the teachers. And lot of the people I know on social media would say, &ldquo;Well, these people should have pursued degrees in something where they could have gotten a real job&rdquo; or &ldquo;If they were so stupid to study&rdquo;&mdash;I&rsquo;ll use myself as an example here&mdash;&ldquo;anthropology or get a graduate degree in anthropology that&rsquo;s what they deserve.&rdquo;</p> <p>But the reality is that there&rsquo;s plenty of work. People are working, [but] they&rsquo;re just being poorly compensated for it. And it&rsquo;s not as if the market is holding the pay level down. It&rsquo;s an institutional and artificial condition of compensation for people who do the same work with the same qualifications and often times with the same amount of experience but they&rsquo;re compensated in such disparate ways.</p> <p>Another aspect of this that I&rsquo;ve discovered&mdash;and I know this from my own experience&mdash;is that most like what they do which makes them highly exploitable. They have a dedication to their craft and the vast majority of people I&rsquo;ve talked to put in way more work than really would be necessary to simply be competent. They put in a lot of time and effort, but, despite that, the students in most cases are getting short changed. In most cases&mdash;and in most districts in the California community college system&mdash;if you take a class with an adjunct, that adjunct doesn&rsquo;t have an office to begin with and is not compensated for office hours. So that’s a whole component of education that doesn&rsquo;t exist. For me personally, the people that got me through college were those professors that offered me extra assistance, or even more importantly put me together when I was starting to frazzle or would give me advice about what classes to take or where to transfer and all those bits of wisdom and information you don&rsquo;t get when you can&rsquo;t develop those relationships with your professors.</p> <p>So it&rsquo;s a pretty thick kettle of fish I&rsquo;ve managed to get myself into, and I had no idea I would be this deep in this stuff. But it&rsquo;s just layers and layers and there&rsquo;s so many people that are involved. </p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> In terms of the workplace environment, one person you interview in the film describes working as a contingent instructor&mdash;I&rsquo;m paraphrasing here&mdash;as a job with long hours, poor pay, and an environment in which you&rsquo;re humiliated every semester. I think that&rsquo;s one of those aspects of the job that a lot of people don&rsquo;t understand; how status plays such an important role in that workplace and what the status of a contingent instructor really is. How did that theme come out in the interviews and the film?</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> In that instance you’re referring to, he was specifically talking about the fact that at the end of every semester you&rsquo;re essentially fired. But also there’s the fact that you don&rsquo;t have an office&mdash;and of course this does depend on the institution&mdash;you don&rsquo;t have access to the same resources as full-time faculty members, and there&rsquo;s always constant reminders that you are an outsider which is one of the thematic devices that I&rsquo;m using in the film. Maybe you have access to a computer on campus, but you have to share it with scores of other people. You&rsquo;re not often not welcome to participate in governance: union activities, academic senate, or course curriculum development. Even when you are allowed to participate, you&rsquo;re not compensated for it whereas full-timers are compensated. But there&rsquo;s also the fact that a lot of people I talk to say that it&rsquo;s not uncommon to be referred to in your presence&mdash;like you&rsquo;re a child they&rsquo;re speaking in front of, a three year old who can&rsquo;t understand what they&rsquo;re saying&mdash;as subaltern or not deserving. They say &ldquo;You guys don&rsquo;t do as good of a job,&rdquo; and there&rsquo;s this idea that the meritocracy is working correctly, those that deserve it get the job, and those that don&rsquo;t deserve are destined to be bottom feeders.</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> One of the reasons that I brought this up is because, as I said, most people don&rsquo;t really understand the dynamics of this situation. Even students don&rsquo;t realize the difference between adjunct faculty and tenured faculty.</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> Absolutely. You know, I think they [contingent instructors] are reluctant to bring it up with students or be honest about it. It’s like saying, “Hey we all work here at Burger King but I’m getting paid one third less because… who the hell knows why?” Students are not hip to the system and the schools are not, generally, overt about expressing this. Imagine going online “Apply to this school you get great faculty. By the way, 75 % of them don’t have health insurance and 25% of them are on food stamps.” It’s something that academia is reluctant to acknowledge.</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> In some ways this has to do with the issue of governance that you bring up, and this is a really important issue that also escapes public notice because it deals with some of the more mundane, everyday things that faculty do—curriculum committees within departments or university-wide committees that deal not only with academic policy but seemingly boring stuff that like who gets to use what buildings or facilities. All of this is another, pretty practical way, that status is conferred and also determines the everyday qualities of one’s work environment in that more basic, practical sense…</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> You’re absolutely right, and that’s one of those things where you would think that the people who interact with the majority of the students, over 50% of them, should be involved with. Shared governance is a core part of being a faculty member and also important in terms of their significance. Now, the reality is that on most campuses you have the same 20 people, 20 full timers, that are on every committee. Even in the case of most colleges, it’s a relatively small percentage of the people that are actively involved in this stuff. But it is something all faculty should be encouraged, if nothing else, to participate in.</p> <p>Those full-time faculty when they participate in governance are compensated for it. That’s part of their job, along with grading and instruction and whatever else. But if you’re a part-timer, it’s all on your dime. And for the most part, getting involved can only draw negative attention unless you’re just a rubber-stamp member of the committee; they go along to get along sort of thing.</p> <p>And for promotion and tenure this is a big deal. Some of our most important academic principles are at risk when the majority of the faculty have to be extremely careful about what they say. Even disagreeing with the person that hires and fires them, the department chair, is a big deal. The faculty are now the “landlords,” if you will.</p> <p>One school at which I taught, two people were the chairs of four different departments, and one was also the grievance chair of the union and the other one was also the president. So if you had a conflict of any kind with your job, the person you would address that conflict with, take your complaint to, was the often the very person you had a conflict with. They got you by so many nooses that it’s silly. It’s sad but it’s silly.</p> <p>The thing that always galls me the most is that at the college, I’m in the social sciences division. So I’m hanging out with people that seem like or appear to be left of Fidel Castro on social issues. But when it comes down to their own department or their college, they’re somehow immune or don’t have to acknowledge that. They say, “Well I don’t shop at…” What is that arts and crafts store?</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/03/24/heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-hobby-lobby-case/">Hobby Lobby</a>.</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> Hobby Lobby and “I don’t shop at Wal-Mart and blah, blah, blah.” But when it comes to their own program they’re somehow immune, which I think it’s ironic to say the least.</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> They only have politics when it’s convenient.</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> Right. A lot of the people that I talk to that have been involved for a long time, at a certain point in time, at a certain age, they’re kind of stuck in terms of their professional options. So they don’t have very much choice but continue to slog away. One guy that I interviewed is a former priest that is an adjunct instructor in philosophy and has been for twenty years. And he says, “Retirement is not an option. I’m just gonna have to do this until I die because I’m never gonna be able to retire.” They’re a lot of them [contingent instructors] that are like that.</p> <p>That’s one of the reasons that I decided to leave the field. There are a lot of instructors that are pretty embittered by their experience and rightfully so. But that’s not how I want to interact with my family or my friends or the world in general, being a person that hates their circumstances that much. I’d rather be a poor flunky than a poor embittered person.</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons I decided to hang up my teaching spurs, so to speak.</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> Oh, you were an adjunct?</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> Nothing so dignified. My spouse’s job brought me out here to California while I was finishing my dissertation, and I taught at a for-profit, technical school. It was not a great experience. It was… Well, on one hand I loved the students there…</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> Exactly! That’s a big part of the problem; you do something because in the short term it’s good but in the long run you&rsquo;re participating in this terrible system.</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> Absolutely.</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> But teaching so much fun when it’s good.</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> And I was pretty good at my job. Some of the other part-time faculty were not, and given the pay, the ridiculous expectations, and what they [the school] thought your job responsibilities should include—some of these were unique to for-profits—it was tough to do a good job. But, I’m a good teacher and loved doing it, but at the same time I was helping legitimate that institution in the eyes of the students and by doing so I wasn’t helping them in the long run, because that place—for a lot of reasons that often had nothing to do with what went on in the classrooms, mine or other instructors’—isn’t a legitimate educational institution but this isn’t really the time to get into some of those reasons. I got to the point where I just couldn’t do it anymore even though I still loved teaching and really liked my students.</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> Right, and really—and we both know this though I haven’t mentioned it—the story isn’t really necessarily about education or post-secondary education. The real story is about privatization and neo-liberalism and generally structuring education, if not the entire economy [around privatization and neoliberalism]. So that’s the big picture, but I’m not equipped to make that film…</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> But you tell the stories you can tell, and this an important one. It’s part of that big picture. And this relates to what you were saying earlier about people arguing, “If you wanted a good job why did you study anthropology?&rdquo; or &ldquo;Why didn’t you do something useful?” But that attitude, that question, isn’t a real question because it’s a symptom of the larger problem you’re talking about here. What’s considered “useful” is only what you can make money off of, and that’s the only thing that’s valued.</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> And the emphasis is on the skills that will train people to be workers in the system. And if you don’t have a marketable skill in science, math, or engineering, then what good are you? Which again is part of that bigger story.</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> Speaking of that bigger perspective, you worked as contingent faculty for a while, and I’m curious whether you’ve seen the attitudes shift over time. And this question relates to the <a href="nationaladjunct.tumblr.com/">National Adjunct Walk-Out Day</a> that occurred recently. Is that a sign that perceptions have changed and that there may be a growing awareness of these issues? I’m curious as whether you’ve seen a shift in perceptions from the time you started working in academia to what’s going on now.</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> I think&mdash;this is my guess and my perception&mdash;is that there’s a relatively small number of adjuncts that are involved in any kind of meaningful way. They’re the ones that are making the noise and using social media, which is how that adjunct walk out day started. And I think that people are looking for any grain of hope because there is sort of a spirit of hopelessness that permeates the adjuncts after a certain time. So myself and most of those that are active like to think that there’s a change in the course of things. But at the same time they’re cynical enough and skeptical enough that they don’t want to have too much hope because they’re used to being disappointed.</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> How would you describe them?</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> They’re these really smart outsiders. They’re really hard-core, adamant, and organized and doing stuff outside the structure of the schools and outside the structure of the unions, and they really make me enthusiastic.</p> <p>On the day of the walk out, this group along with a union for other campus employees of colleges and universities <a href="https://www.upte.org/about/index.html">(UPTE)</a> instead of having a walk-out proper or a picket, you know wave your signs on the sidewalk, they were hip and savvy enough to arrange a dozen face to face meetings with staffers of California senators and assemblymen. They were engaged in legislative actions that unions just aren’t doing.</p> <p>That’s one of the lines I have to ponder, I guess, when I put this film together; my inclination is to be supportive of labor, but much of what I’ve discovered with unions is that they may be publicly supportive and make statements but—and maybe this is because of time and resources and all the challenges that face organized labor today—but they often don’t follow through with action. Again, I’m not trying to slam unions here and I want to be supportive of them, but there are some real limits to the kind of activities [in which] they often engage.</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> Just to finish up our conversation because we’ve been talking for a while a now and I know you’re busy, but what are your plans for distribution of the film?</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> The film is going to be available to stream online for free, and that’s both a practical decision and in the spirit of the film. The reality is that in the twenty-first century shipping out DVDs to everyone is a bad idea, a twentieth century idea. Even more importantly and slightly less practically… I’ve been basically working on this film full time and because I got so deeply into this, I’ve spent more time on it than I ever intended to. But, I feel strongly enough about the issues that film needs to be freely available to anybody and everyone that wants to see it. Not only would it not be practical to try to make money on the end of it, but it would be contrary to the what we’re trying to do, contrary to the spirit of the thing. This is stuff that parents need to know about, and people have asked me, who do you intend your audience to be? Well, I hope that film appeals to Fox News watchers in Orange County California. People that are anti-labor or that think teachers already have it too good. They complain that teachers only work five hours a day for nine months a year… My Dad, that’s who we’re talking about actually.</p> <p>If I’m doing my job correctly, the issues have to be relevant to those people who think that they hate educators for imposing liberal ideas on the minds of our children, instead of teaching them to love America they encourage them to question our country and American exceptionalism. Well, you’re familiar with the rhetoric…</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> I certainly am.</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> And a lot of my relatives, including my Dad, who I love and respect but don’t talk about politics with, are barometers of that perspective. They may be anti-labor or anti-union but if I can run these ideas by them and they’re willing to listen to the argument and see the facts, then I’m on to something.</p> <p><strong>Sinnott:</strong> To get beyond that rhetoric is important. In terms of what you were saying earlier about unions, there’s no doubt that there’s often problems with unions but that attitude you’re talking about basically, and sorry for the cliché, but it throws the baby out with the bathwater. Instead of thinking about what the unions are really for—ensuring safe working conditions, fair wages, length of the working day and so on—they just see the problems and conclude, “Well, industry will take care of those things.” If you’ve read any history though, you know that’s not true.</p> <p><strong>Rettele:</strong> Right. You reform it. But a good part of our population thinks that the magic hand of the free market fixes everything and that’s, again, part of that bigger story.</p> <hr /> <p>To learn more go to <a href="http://www.freewayfliers.com/">freewayfliers.com</a> and to support the documentary, please visit the <a href="https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/5420844/freeway-fliers-higher-educations-best-kept-secret">Kickstarter page</a>.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>In 2006, CNN’s <em>Money Magazine</em> and salary.com ranked college professors number two on their top <a href="http://www.salary.com/The-Best-Jobs-50-Best-Jobs-in-Amerca/">100 jobs list</a>. In 2013, <em>Forbes</em> published an article that counted college professors as one of the least stressful jobs in America. Neither <em>Forbes</em> nor <em>Money</em>/salary.com included contingent faculty in their stories, and Rettele’s documentary offers strong evidence that the stereotype of the easy life of the college professor persists. While the 2008 financial crisis certainly expedited the process, the steady increase of adjunct labor is a decades long trend. According to a <a href="http://www.aaup.org/report/contingent-appointments-and-academic-profession">2007 report by the American Association of University Professors</a>, non-tenure track faculty positions accounted for accounted for three out of five appointments, while exceeding that number in community colleges. Moreover, the same report states that enrollment may have increased since 1976 but “instead of increasing proportionately the number of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty positions needed to teach these students and mentor these graduates, since 1976 institutions have increased the number of part-time faculty by 119 percent and the number of full-time non-tenure-track faculty by 31 percent.”&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Bradley Rettele) editors@contrivers.org (Pete Sinnott, Jr.) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/13/ Academia Interviews Wed, 01 Apr 2015 23:24:18 +0000 Readings #1: Crisis http://www.contrivers.org/articles/21/ We inaugurate a new series with a discussion of two articles on the crisis in the Humanities. <p>&ldquo;<a href="http://thepointmag.com/2015/criticism/when-nothing-is-cool">When Nothing is Cool</a>&rdquo; by Lisa Ruddick from <em><a href="http://thepointmag.com/">The Point Magazine</a></em><br /> &ldquo;<a href="https://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/no-crisis-2">No, Crisis</a>&rdquo; by Evan Calder Williams from <em><a href="http://lareviewofbooks.org/no-crisis/">The Los Angeles Review of Books</a></em> </p> <p>As academic disciplines and areas of cultural production and consumption, the humanities have been in crisis for decades. Budgets have been slashed, tenure lines have dried up, and, since the heyday of the high theory and the culture wars, the public has responded to humanities scholarship with a collective yawn. There is little doubt that the tide of crisis is surging, yet again, as the university system as a whole is undergoing radical change. Consequently, today we are not so much flooded with self-reflective works on the state of the humanities as swim in self-critique like a fish in water. Constantly assessing the relationship of humanist inquiry to the world at large has become our medium of existence. There is nothing inherently lamentable about an abundance of self-critique and many institutions could use a steadier stream of it. However, it is fair and perhaps even necessary to ask who is the &ldquo;self&rdquo; doing all this self-reflection and self-criticism, especially if “self” is defined by one’s institutional status at a time when 70% of university courses are being taught by part-time faculty. The legacy of the culture wars, which tied the identity of the critic to the mode of critique, further complicates this picture. How do institutional affiliations (or lack thereof), identity, and critical discourses come to define each other in the midst of this ongoing crisis?</p> <p>The essays in this edition of “Readings” deal with these variables in very different ways. In her essay for <em>The Point Magazine</em>, &ldquo;<a href="http://thepointmag.com/2015/criticism/when-nothing-is-cool">When Nothing is Cool</a>&rdquo; Lisa Ruddick examines the intellectual and disciplinary trends that have shaped professional literary criticism over the last 30 years or so. She focuses particularly on the “progressive fervor” of the 1980s, and for her purpose, progressivism is identified with the anti-humanist trends of post-structuralism, deconstruction, and the other representatives of high theory. You might initially suspect that this is another reactionary piece condemning the excesses of theory, but to her credit, Ruddick is not interested in re-fighting the culture wars and acknowledges the vital contributions theory made in opening important lines of inquiry. Rather, she argues that one of the unintended consequences of theory’s heyday is the perpetuation of an inherently ruthless and narrow intellectual culture that dominates humanities departments, celebrating the destructive side of critique to the detriment of its creative and positive aspects. I find problematic the way Ruddick examines these intellectual trends in a vacuum, apart from the broader social, economic, and political changes that have affected the university in general and were part of the development of theory in particular, such as the policies of economic austerity and the trend of increasing the number of administrators and administrative control over the institution while decreasing faculty and faculty governance. Yet, she usefully argues that slapping a progressive label on the politics of your critical approach cannot obviate the unimaginative elitism and naked careerism associated with “anti-humanist one-upmanship.” In my experience such one-upmanship is not limited to the anti-humanists and during my time in graduate school, I found theory in both content and style to have little professional currency. However, personal experience is not a sufficient index for larger trends, and it is worth considering the lack of vitality in contemporary literary criticism and its relation to larger institutional dynamics.</p> <p>As part of <em>The Los Angeles Review of Books</em>’ (LARB) <a href="https://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/no-crisis-2">No, Crisis</a> series, Evan Calder Williams rejects the notion that the state of cultural and social criticism, which one could assume includes literary criticism, is any index of the vitality of humanistic inquiry. This not only puts him at odds with Ruddick’s arguments as I have provisionally positioned their essays, but with the No, Crisis editors as well, whose series aims to show that criticism is in fact flourishing in these years of crisis. Due to the politics of economic austerity currently threatening universities across the country, the cadre of tenured professors that practice “professional” criticism grows smaller every year. As a result, those who pay the bills by adjuncting or holding other forms of precarious employment while they write are more representative of the dominant critical trends. However, Williams does not naively believe that this means that criticism is flourishing. The criticism that occurs outside the university may indeed have a vitality lacking within professional scholarship, but it is so poorly remunerated that it will ultimately be unsustainable without the professorial salaries that have traditionally served as the foundation of this form of intellectual work. It is proper to note that much of Williams’ piece is a fitting encomium to his friend and fellow critic/theorist, Chris Chitty, who he uses as an example of a thinker who takes crisis not as something that criticism endures but as its starting point or <em>raison d’etre</em>.</p> <p>Williams’ description of the life and work of his friend centers on a critical heritage of deconstruction and poststructuralism that is diametrically opposed to what Ruddick sees as the legacy of critical trends in the university. These different readings of the legacy of theory are based on different assumptions about the self doing the self-critique; Williams places the critic outside the tenure lines of the university and Ruddick places the critic within those lines or at least a self that aspires to have that institutional status.</p> editors@contrivers.org (Pete Sinnott, Jr.) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/21/ Readings Tue, 08 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Readings #2: Trump http://www.contrivers.org/articles/23/mergner-donald-trump-election-2016/ In our second installment, we explore two questions surrounding the presidential election: Where is Donald Trump’s support coming form? Is Donald Trump a fascist? <p>Months ago, when the news broke that Donald Trump would be running for president, comedians celebrated their great fortune, and pundits scoffed. Today, no one is laughing. Donald Trump has amassed an insurmountable lead in the Republican Party primary election and the only strategy for stopping him seems to be a divided convention.</p> <p>Pundits, initially reluctant to take Trump seriously<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup>, have in the last few weeks begun to come to grips with the phenomenon. Before <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Tuesday">Super Tuesday</a>, speculation might have been premature. After all, who knows if the poll data would actually translate into electoral success. As of this writing in mid-March 2016, we are still well before the general election when Trump will have to tack painfully back towards the political center. In the meantime, there are two interesting questions that we might broach.</p> <h2 id="who-are-trumps-supporters">Who are Trump’s Supporters?</h2> <p>Political analysts are having another “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” moment. We—and I include myself—are trying to look inside the heads of voters. Political insiders must be similarly baffled by Trump’s apparent immunity to gaffes and controversy. </p> <blockquote> <p>One of Trump’s great successes is in attracting people who are otherwise alienated from the political process. The diehard Trump fans I encountered were mostly newcomers. &ndash; <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/01/the-duel-faceoff-ryan-lizza">Ryan Lizza</a></p> </blockquote> <p>Drawing a parallel between the economic populism of Bernie Sanders and Trump, <a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/02/why-donald-trump-and-bernie-sanders-were-inevitable-213685">Michael Hirsh</a> writes, “[t]he only wonder, perhaps, is that it took Trump and Sanders this long to get here.&rdquo; Equating Bernie Sanders with Trump seems wrong. Though they both represent the more partisan wings of their party, Sanders’ economic populism is a serious, and arguably moderate, policy platform; Meanwhile, Trump&rsquo;s platform appears to consist only of anti-immigration pandering, conspiracy-mongering, and clownish theatricality.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> And if Trump <em>is</em> channelling economic discontent, why are they coalescing around a candidate whose name is synonymous with ostentatious displays of wealth? </p> <blockquote> <p>Today’s voters are so mad they can’t see—or think—straight. They want simple solutions and simplistic slogans. &ndash; <a href="www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/authoritarians-agree-trump-for-president/2016/01/19/407f58ec-bef0-11e5-bcda-62a36b394160_story.html">Kathleen Parker</a></p> </blockquote> <p><a href="http://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism">Amanda Taub at Vox.com</a> has recently written that Trump supporters are authoritarians who express “a desire for order and a fear of outsiders.” The research recalls similarly themed post-War studies by <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0393311120/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Theodor Adorno</a>, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0156701537/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Hannah Arendt</a>, and <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0060505915/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Eric Hoffer</a>. However, such explanations seem pitched at the wrong level. Even if people are submissive and atomized, it doesn’t explain why Trump specifically benefits now. Nor does it address the rise of rightwing parties in Europe, which are unconnected to Trump and American attitudes. How did he become the “floating signifier,” to borrow Ernesto Laclau’s term, that coalesced into a reactionary populist movement? A full answer to this question would need a cultural history of the Right since Barry Goldwater.</p> <blockquote> <p>In Donald Trump&rsquo;s case, his language, his tone, his demeanor has brought so many people into the Republican Party that don&rsquo;t consider themselves Republican but they&rsquo;re voting for him because they believe that he appreciates their anger. &ndash; <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/news/face-the-nation-transcripts-march-20-2016-kasich-sanders-graham/">Frank Luntz</a></p> </blockquote> <h2 id="is-trump-a-fascist">Is Trump a Fascist?</h2> <blockquote> <p>When I see Fascism, I recognize it immediately. Donald Trump is a Fascist.” &ndash; <a href="https://www.facebook.com/vladimir.tismaneanu/posts/1548438632151517">Vladimir Tismaneanu</a></p> </blockquote> <p>The political question <em>du jour</em> is whether the best analogy for Donald Trump is Silvia Berlusconi or Benito Mussolini. As Trump’s support grows, the reaction from the Left and <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/article/430137/donald-trump-conservative-movement-menace">conservatives</a> has evolved from bemusement to concern to a full recreation of the Spanish civil war. Is this concern justified? We should be judging Trump by his words and actions certainly, but are these the actions of a proto-fascist demagogue, a clownish populist, or both?</p> <p>In my mind, this argument is too often accompanied by an ignorance of the ideological and social roots of Fascism. However, there remain troubling parallels.</p> <ol> <li> <p>Muslims and immigrants are threats to American prosperity. Trump’s rhetoric targets vulnerable minority groups and suggests an easy target for displaced white anger. To what extent are his supporters interpreting this coded language as a new <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stab-in-the-back_myth">Dolchstoßlegende</a>? To my knowledge, Trump has avoided the binary language of disease and health that was endemic to the Nazi depictions of Jews.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> However, <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/cover_story/2016/03/how_donald_trump_happened_racism_against_barack_obama.html">Jamelle Bouie’s recent article</a> is an important reminder of how race may be driving the electorate. </p> </li> <li> <p>Trump’s rhetoric contrasts weakness and strength. Weakness is political correctness; Strength intimidates enemies and friends (like <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/chris-christie-i-wasnt-being-held-hostage-by-donald-trump/2016/03/03/df734824-e181-11e5-846c-10191d1fc4ec_story.html">Chris Christie</a>). </p> </li> <li> <p>Strength implies the threat of violence. This is true in everyday personal interactions, which explains Trump’s exhortation to and defense of his cadre. But it extends to geopolitics, where Trump will cow China and Mexico with <a href="http://www.npr.org/2016/03/07/469209254/decades-later-spy-magazine-founders-continue-to-torment-trump">his virile masculinity</a>. In all aspects of life, strength acts in its own interests; weakness is mealy-mouthed pluralism and respect for difference. </p> </li> <li> <p>The political system, and the fourth estate that protects it, are corrupt. Trump’s outside-the-beltway status is a virtue insofar he has been able to tap into, and nurture, the sense that the political system is a tool of political elites. Distrust of the Federal government was an important part of the Tea Party movement, and it did not disappear. In this, Trump is simply capitalizing on 35 years of anti-government ideology on the Right. </p> </li> <li> <p>Violence against a corrupt system is a virtue. If there is a link between Trump and other, troubling developments in American culture, it is the affinity between Trump’s increasingly violent followers and, say, the Bundy-led occupation of Oregon public land, it is the dangerous equivalence between patriotism and violence. Widespread violence still seems like a remote possibility. More likely is a continued assault on the legitimacy and efficacy of the government. The United States is unique in the relative stability and faith in its political institutions. Trump’s success suggests that faith is weakening. </p> </li> </ol> <blockquote> <p>So the Trump candidacy has revealed both an ugly emotional undercurrent of hate-filled, incipiently violent rage and a serious but rationally explicable class cleavage between those whose livelihoods remain largely unaffected by globalization and those whose whole way of life is threatened by the disappearance of the industries that formerly sustained it. But it has also revealed something else, something less familiar than these two lines of analysis—the one economic, the other sociocultural—suggest. The third dimension of the Trump phenomenon is political: It is anti-democratic. &ndash; <a href="http://prospect.org/article/trump-l%E2%80%99oeil">Art Goldhammer</a></p> </blockquote> <p>Is Trump a fascist then? This isn&rsquo;t Weimar Germany. America is not in the midst of an unprecedented loss of faith in itself, despite Trump&rsquo;s rhetoric. There is no ideological enemy around which to coalesce.<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> America lacks the bizarre cult of youth, violence, and the military that was ideologically exploited by European fascist movements. Fascism was a form of reactionary modernism, not conservatism.<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> It sought to radically transform, social institutions not to preserve them. </p> <p>Treating Trump as a reincarnation of Hitler or Mussolini minimizes both what is unique about inter-war fascism and what is unique about this particular moment in American history. However, that&rsquo;s not to say that this moment isn&rsquo;t troubling nor that the situation won&rsquo;t change over time.</p> <blockquote> <p>Trump may soon depart the campaign trail in search of whatever life forms he must next consume to satisfy his titanic narcissism, he will leave behind a cadre of Americans—a solid core of whom are white, male, and not particularly well-educated—who harbor the notion that the world was once a better place for them and that those days are permanently over. - <a href="https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/02/11/what-is-scarier-than-donald-trump-gop-election-campaign/">David Rothkopf</a></p> </blockquote> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Mark Leibowich, “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/magazine/donald-trump-is-not-going-anywhere.html">Donald Trump is not going anywhere</a>.” <em>New York Magazine</em> Sept. 29, 2015. Leibowich discussed his own evolution in the sadly short-lived <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/podcast_for_america/2015/11/ben_carson_donald_trump_and_snl_will_the_entertainment_ever_stop.html">Podcast For America</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Jeffrey Herf, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0674027388/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Jewish Enemy</em></a> (Belknap Press, 2008).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>François Furet, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0226273407/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Passing of an Illusion : The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century</em></a> (University of Chicago Press, 1999).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Jeffrey Herf, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0521338336/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Reactionary Modernism</em></a> (Cambridge University Press, 1986).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>See Trump&rsquo;s <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2016/03/21/a-transcript-of-donald-trumps-meeting-with-the-washington-post-editorial-board/">interview with the Washington Post editorial board</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Luke Thomas Mergner) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/23/mergner-donald-trump-election-2016/ Readings Wed, 23 Mar 2016 07:00:00 +0000 Readings #3: Genre http://www.contrivers.org/articles/24/ Sinnott explores the relationship between form, genre, and expression of ideas. He compares two examples of writing that exemplify the possibilities that emerge when we stop insisting dogmatically on genre conformity. <p>Readers are not comfortable with the fluid nature of genres<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup>, wanting to see texts as conforming to a platonic and illusory ideal of a stable category. The tendency to understand genre in this way has its uses; stable taxonomies help us to quickly sort the world and ultimately make value judgments about what to take seriously and what to dismiss. However, the reification of genre collapses the difference between form and thought, and privileges form as the source of truth. Disciplinary writing is one example of this collapse. </p> <p>The late, great boogey man of high literary theory, Jacques Derrida, naturally did not think of genre as something stable: “In the code of set theories, if I may use it figuratively, I would speak of a sort of participation without belonging—a taking part in without being part of, without having membership in a set [&hellip;] a text would not belong to any genre. Every text participates in one or several genres, there is no genreless text, there is always a genre and genres, yet such participation never amounts to belonging.”<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> Not coincidentally, Derrida’s own work often elicits angry dismissals from those still endless fighting the culture wars.</p> <p>This is certainly the case in an article published in <em><a href="http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Glaciers-and-sex-8404">The New Criterion</a></em> that serves as a take down of theoretical work published by a University of Oregon history professor. It should be manifestly absurd that some still blame Derrida, Judith Butler, Frederic Jameson—the latter two being named in <em>The New Criterion</em> article—for the decline of belletristic values and even freedom itself. The problem is not that the abstruse and recondite prose favored by the practitioners of high theory is the best form for talking about the world. Rather, problems arise when we make ideas of how well a given text conforms to any given genre as the primary criteria for judging its value. When this standard becomes orthodoxy, it serves to exclude voices and protect the power of truthmaking. <em>The New Criterion</em> is only one in a long line of examples of this kind of orthodoxy, so it would be a waste of time to listen to the faint echo of the culture wars. Instead, let&rsquo;s consider two examples of what unorthodoxy might teach us. Both examples are not merely outside genre in the Derridean sense, but each, in its own way, operates as a narrative about genre.</p> <p>In an essay for <em><a href="http://thesmartset.com/anatomy-of-wonder/">The Smart Set</a></em>, Stephen Akey suggests something similar in a discussion of Northrop Frye’s magnum opus of literary criticism, <em>Anatomy of Criticism</em>. Frye and Derrida would seem to have little in common in their view of literature and genre, but they share the feature of being great stylists. No doubt this comment might raise eyebrows among those who still deride deconstruction as lacking substance, but the importance of form as substantive textual element is precisely what Akey is trying to highlight in Frye’s work. Re-reading <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0691069999/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Anatomy of Criticism</a></em>, Akey says that while it is a “formidable work of scholarship,” the reader, “may enjoy it even more if you’re not a scholar, which I certainly am not. When Frye says ‘critic,’ I think ‘reader,’ and as a reader I regard <em>Anatomy of Criticism</em> as a wonder, an astonishment, a spur to my imagination.” This idea leads Akey to a rather strange comparison, one odder than that of comparing Frye and Derrida. </p> <blockquote> <p>[It is a book] with a huge cast of characters (seemingly every writer who ever lived, from the tribal scribes of Mesopotamia to P. G. Wodehouse) moving in a dense network of interconnectedness in which every end is a new beginning, and genres as various as melodrama, farce, epic, satire, and romance live happily together on the same page. It’s rather like George R. R. Martin’s <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0345535529/?tag=contrivers-review-20">A Song of Ice and Fire</a></em> saga, but with good prose.</p> </blockquote> <p>The comparison to Martin may seem far fetched, but as Akey says, part of Frye’s argument was that value judgments are less interesting than understanding a work of literature on its own terms, to whatever extent that may be possible. Understanding Frye’s work in this sense means grasping the “beauty and coherence” of his work as a “system”—a genre its own right.<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> Understanding a work “on its own terms” does mean reading it outside of its historical or political context but only so that our current perspective on genre or form may limit our view of that text’s political and cultural history. </p> <p>This idea of participating in a new form has been explored in a very different manner recently by a very different writer than Frye, Derrida, or George Martin. While working as a senior writer for <em>The Atlantic</em>, Ta-Nehisi Coates has penned numerous articles on race relations in the U.S. including a meticulously researched and rigorous 15,000 word essay that makes the case that <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/">reparations</a> should be paid to African Americans. His book <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0812993543/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Between the World and Me</a></em> won the 2015 National Book Award for nonfiction. Most recently, Marvel Comics released <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1302900536/?tag=contrivers-review-20">the first issue of <em>Black Panther</em></a> written by Coates and illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze. As an interviewer at <em><a href="http://www.wired.com/2016/04/ta-nehisi-coates-black-panther-comics/">Wired</a></em> recently said, not many writers and intellectuals of Coates’ stature follow up a National Book Award and MacArthur genius grant, which he also <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/arts/macarthur-genius-grant-winners-for-2015-are-announced.html">won last year</a>, by writing a Marvel comic book. While almost universally positive, reviewers from <em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/03/movies/ta-nehisi-coates-helps-a-new-panther-leave-its-print.html">The New York Times</a></em>, <em><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/08/ta-nehisi-coates-black-panther-review-promising-subversive-start">The Guardian</a></em>, and <em><a href="http://www.vox.com/2016/4/5/11362636/black-panther-tanehisi-coates-review">Vox</a></em> all position the comic as a contest between a pop-culture medium and the serious politics of Coates’ other writing. For his part, Coates appreciates the different limitations and possibilities that belong to each form, but he does not feel the need to compare the value of his efforts in different forms of writing. For his part, he told the interviewer of <em>Wired</em>: </p> <blockquote> <p>I have a venue to express my political thought. This isn’t my chance to talk about <a href="http://blacklivesmatter.com/about/">#BlackLivesMatter</a> in comic book form. This is not a propaganda sheet. This is supposed to be exhilarating, fun to read. The politics are in the background.</p> </blockquote> <p>Explaining his reasons for writing the comic in his <em>The Atlantic</em> <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/all/2015/12/conceptualizing-the-black-panther/420759/">column</a>, he said:</p> <blockquote> <p>I took it on for the same reason I take on new stories—to grow intellectually and artistically. In this case it’s another genre—fictional, serial story-telling—one a good distance away from journalism, memoir, and essays.</p> </blockquote> <p>However, Coates does not see his efforts as a comic book writer as <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/thereturnoftheblackpanther/471516/">frivolous</a>.</p> <blockquote> <p>Despite the difference in style and practice of storytelling, my approach to comic books ultimately differs little from my approach to journalism. In both forms, I am trying to answer a question. In my work for <em>The Atlantic</em> I have, for some time, been asking a particular question: Can a society part with, and triumph over, the very plunder that made it possible? In Black Panther, there is a simpler question: Can a good man be a king, and would an advanced society tolerate a monarch? </p> </blockquote> <p>The belief that a comic book can be meaningful without being ridiculously didactic or overly pedagogic is tied to his childhood love of the <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/thereturnoftheblackpanther/471516/">form</a>. </p> <blockquote> <p>In the way that past writers had been shaped by the canon of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Wharton, I was formed from the canon of <a href="http://marvel.com/comics/creators/44/chris_claremont">Claremont</a>, <a href="http://marvel.com/comics/creators/9565/tom_defalco">DeFalco</a>, and <a href="http://marvel.com/comics/creators/184/louise_simonson">Simonson</a> […] All of the comics I loved made use of two seemingly dueling forces—fantastic grandiosity and ruthless efficiency. Comic books are absurd […] the absurdities of comics are, in part, part made possible by a cold-eyed approach to sentence craft. Even when the language tips toward bombast, space is at a minimum. </p> </blockquote> <p>No doubt the comparison between a canon of American literary luminaries and a canon of comic book writers would make the editors of <em>The New Criterion</em> scoff. After all, no comic book writer ever received one of their <a href="http://www.newcriterion.com/gala/">Edmund Burke Awards for Contributions to Culture and Society</a>. This is not to say that the high-theory luminaries like Derrida were above elitism any more than the editors of <em>The New Criterion</em> are.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> But, the knee-jerk dismissal of something simply because it participates in a certain genre reveals the reductive elitism of rigid notions about writing and form. </p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Not wanting to engage in a lengthy debate over the place of a vexed term in a vexed hierarchy, I am using genre in an expansive sense that is interchangeable with form, class, or genus. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Jacques Derrida, “The Law of Genre,” in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0415900573/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Acts of Literature</a>, ed. Derek Attridge, trans. Avital Ronell (Routledge, 1991), 227, 230. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>See Clifford Siskin, “Novels and Systems,” <em>Novel: A Forum on Fiction</em>, 34.2 (2001). <a href="http://www.jstor.org/stable/1346215">JSTOR</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Suzanne Gordon, &ldquo;<a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/04/deconstructing-paul-de-man/">Deconstructing Paul de Man</a>,&rdquo; <em>Jacobin</em>, April 24, 2014.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Pete Sinnott, Jr.) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/24/ Fri, 22 Apr 2016 17:19:07 +0000 The Work Dogma: An Interview with David Frayne http://www.contrivers.org/articles/25/Mergner-Frayne-Interview-Refusal-Work/ In an interview, David Frayne discusses his new book *The Refusal of Work*, the psychological and social costs of modern work, and the possibility of reform. <p></p> <h2 id="introduction">Introduction</h2> <p>In the United States, we&rsquo;re told unemployment is slowly declining from its high mark in 2010. In the meantime, however, a structural shift has taken place, moving the American worker towards <a href="http://qz.com/666311/why-americas-impressive-5-unemployment-rate-still-feels-like-a-lie/">more precarious, less stable, and less remunerative employment</a>. Must we accept these changes as the cost of survival? After all, we have debts to pay. Moreover, we wonder deep down, what are we if we don&rsquo;t work? </p> <p>These doubts lay at the heart of the new book, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1783601175/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The Refusal of Work</a></em>, by David Frayne. The book combines Frayne&rsquo;s own interview research with a deep engagement of social theory to produce a considered, timely intervention into <a href="http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/16/">the growing literature on &ldquo;work.&rdquo;</a> Where other writers elaborate the scourge of neoliberalism—surely an important and pressing topic—they are less clear about how we, as individuals and political movements, might begin to build alternatives. Addressing this lacuna, Frayne&rsquo;s approach is a refreshing addition to the conversation. </p> <p><em>The Refusal of Work</em> explores the deeply existential identification we have with <em>work</em>. Frayne is influenced by French existentialist André Gorz and the Heideggerian Marxist Herbert Marcuse. These influences lead Frayne towards a different, more pragmatic version of subjectification than we find in Deleuzean-Foucaultian critiques of neoliberalism. Rather than becoming ourselves &ldquo;behind the scenes,&rdquo; unknowingly formed by an opaque social system, our identity and values are products of the practical and discursive resources available to us. Work, after two centuries trapped in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_cage">the iron cage</a>, is the primary resource for our self-identity and sense of self-worth. Is it surprising that our first question upon meeting someone new is: &ldquo;What do you do?&rdquo; </p> <p><em>The Refusal of Work</em>, and the following interview, are an invitation to begin to think about how work frames and encloses our lives. What would it mean to &ldquo;refuse work,&rdquo; to refuse the double bind of today&rsquo;s economic relationships? Frayne argues for both the concrete possibilities present to individuals embedded in everyday life <em>and</em> the need for further collective efforts. </p> <hr /> <h2 id="interview">Interview</h2> <p><strong>LM:</strong> In the last few years, we’ve seen several serious books and articles questioning “work” in the context of modern capitalism. Some of these are the latest hand-wringing about life/work balance or the specter of automation or outsourcing… It seems like we complain about work quite a lot. But we’ve also seen several book length meditations on work from theorists and historians, who are very agitated about something presumably. If work is part of the pattern of our lives, and has been for quite some time, what has occasioned this intellectual crisis about the way society organizes its own reproduction?</p> <p><strong>DF:</strong> There are so many things fuelling this desire to critique work. One of the main things that prompted me to write is what some critics have termed the &ldquo;crisis of work.&rdquo; In our work-centered society, we have delegated so many important functions to work—how income is distributed, how people gain social recognition and a sense of identity—but we have reached a point at which work is failing to fulfil these functions. We see the endurance of mass unemployment and widespread underemployment, caused in part by the drive for automation. The orthodox response would be to continue expanding the rate of production and consumption in order to create jobs, but many have recognised that this is an ecologically disastrous route. I think a lot of contemporary social woes—poverty, social isolation, stress, prejudice against immigrants—can also be traced back to the fact that people depend for their livelihoods on scarce work. Hannah Arendt worried that we were becoming a society of &ldquo;workers without work&rdquo;—people who are primed to depend practically and emotionally on work, but for whom there are not enough decent jobs to go around. I think this is true, and it is a very inhumane situation.</p> <p>There is a lot to worry about, but one of the things that I think makes the critique of work such an interesting project is that the concerns of writers are always differently accented. In <em>The Refusal of Work</em>, I focus quite a lot on the Frankfurt School’s suggestion that modern society is forcing people to become more pragmatic and practical-minded, and that we are losing something in the process. Adorno’s short essay on &ldquo;free-time&rdquo; is a good introduction to this problem.<sup id="fnref:adorno"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:adorno" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> He argues that in modern society, most of what happens in so-called free-time is still shaped in certain senses by the activity of work. The standard working week fractures our free-time into shards—shards in which we often feel worn out by work—meaning we are often disinclined to do much other than escape and recuperate out of hours. For people with demanding jobs, it becomes impossible to do anything outside of work that would require an investment of time and attention, or community ties.</p> <p>The precarious nature of the labour market is also forcing people to think in more practical ways about how to spend their time. Under neoliberalism, we have each become personally responsible for mitigating precarity, which we do by working relentlessly at our &ldquo;employability&rdquo;—gaining the skills, qualifications and sensibilities that will be the most attractive to prospective employers. This shapes everything, from what subjects we choose to study, to what aspects of our personalities we deem as &ldquo;problematic&rdquo; and in need of reform. I think that work—whether we are employed or unemployed, at the workplace or at home—shapes our lives from every angle, and that we are losing a sense of spontaneity and reverie in the process. There’s this great quote from Bertrand Russell which I can paraphrase, about &ldquo;the modern man always doing one thing for the sake of something else, and never doing anything for its own sake.&rdquo;<sup id="fnref:russell"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:russell" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> He could almost be talking about ‘employability’ there.</p> <p><strong>LM:</strong> As you suggest in your new book, <em>The Refusal of Work</em>, “work” is ubiquitous—woven into the pattern of our everyday lives—and therefore difficult to see clearly. One way of rephrasing this is that “work” is a family-resemblant term, to borrow from Wittgenstein, with overlapping meanings and valences depending on the context. Another way might be to ask whether work is entirely goal-oriented, to borrow from Max Weber, and driven by financial gain. How should we be thinking about work so that we can gain leverage over it as a problem? </p> <p><strong>DF:</strong> I agree that &ldquo;work&rdquo; is a context-sensitive term, and very difficult to define. For some people ‘work’ might conjure very desirable ideas around craft, self-expression and creativity. For Marx, the fact that humans are able to envisage and then affect changes to the world through their work is what distinguishes us from animals. In artistic circles, the word &ldquo;work&rdquo; has a comparably attractive ring to it: it might be used in its noun form, &ldquo;my work,&rdquo; meaning the material embodiment of my efforts and my sensibilities. My work is the thing that people will remember me by when I am gone. It is a very auspicious thing.</p> <p>However, the difficulty with defining work comes when we recognise that, for most people, &ldquo;work&rdquo; is likely to have a much more mundane set of associations. If your job is to make sales calls, input data into a computer all day, or teach a prescribed curriculum to bored children, &ldquo;work&rdquo; is more likely to be associated with words like &ldquo;chore&rdquo; or &ldquo;burden.&rdquo; It is something we endure for eight hours a day when we would really rather be doing something else, something more aligned with our talents and sensibilities.</p> <p>In <em>The Refusal of Work</em>, I tried to recognise the overlapping meanings and valences of the term &ldquo;work,&rdquo; but also to resist becoming too preoccupied with this problem. It’s a bit of a rabbit hole. There is one definitional distinction that I do spend a bit of time on, however, because it is important for the book’s argument. This is Andre Gorz’s distinction between work as an economic activity and other forms of work, which are performed according to principles of reciprocity and mutuality, or perhaps as creative endeavours. Work in the economic sense is synonymous with what most people call &ldquo;jobs&rdquo; or &ldquo;employment&rdquo;—a contractual exchange of a certain amount of productive time for a wage—and it is this definition that is represented in what we know as the &ldquo;critique of work.&rdquo;</p> <p>I think it is essential to make this distinction in order to see clearly that the critique of work does not amount to a rejection of productive activity in any general sense. For the majority of work’s critics, quite the opposite is true, and the critique of work expresses a desire to realise human capacities more fully—to reclaim time to work for each other and perform activities according to our own autonomous sense of what is good and worthwhile. One thing I therefore wanted to make very clear in the book is that the critique of work is specifically a critique of paid employment. Critiquing employment is not about suggesting that work has no value, but is rather an attempt to suggest alternative ways of organising and distributing work, and to explore the possibility of alternative ways to experience the pleasure and solidarity that people have conventionally sought (often unsuccessfully) in work. At a time when work is very clearly in a state of crisis, I believe that this is an important project.</p> <p><strong>LM:</strong> &ldquo;Work / life balance&rdquo; is shorthand for the problem of balancing the increasing demands of the workplace against home or family life. It might be the most common idiom for our society to discuss the problems around work. Two recent books, by <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0745334865/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Peter Fleming</a> and <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0822351129/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Kathi Weeks</a>, also ask pointedly: &ldquo;Why do we work so long and so hard?&rdquo; Fleming’s somewhat tortured term for the phenomenon is “I, job,” which encapsulates how tightly our identity is tied to profession. In your book, you refer to a &ldquo;moral blackmail.&rdquo; Can you describe how this blackmail operates and what it means for workers? Why do we work so much?</p> <p><strong>DF:</strong> This is a complex issue, but my answer to the question of why we work so much really boils down to two sets of pressures. The first is material: we work hard because society is set up so that work is the main source of income. That is obvious enough, but there are also features of society that heighten this dependency on income, such as capitalism’s relentless commercialisation of needs, and the dismantling of the welfare state under neoliberalism. The choice that people increasingly face is to work or perish. </p> <p>The other pressure is the moral blackmail you describe. Here in the UK, the Prime Minister David Cameron is fond of championing &ldquo;hardworking families&rdquo; in his speeches, and there are countless examples news stories and so-called reality TV shows that caricature and stigmatise unemployed people. There is this sort of moral dichotomy being forced on the public, where you are either a worker or a shirker. It is not generally imagined that there are ways to make a social contribution or ethically orientate yourself in the world without doing paid work. </p> <p>Sometimes this moralisation of work is harder to spot because it is cloaked in the apparently more benign language of &ldquo;health and well-being&rdquo;—the idea that you should work because &ldquo;work is good for you.&rdquo; It does not matter if a job is badly paid and unpleasant; it is said that work in general is civilising and improves health. This idea has underpinned welfare reform for a while now, but here in the UK, the government intends to take things a step further <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/mar/02/activists-anger-scheme-embed-job-coaches-in-gp-surgeries">with a controversial new proposal to place job coaches in doctor’s surgeries</a>. As I explore in the book, the dynamics of this debate on the relationship between work and well-being are complicated because work really is in some senses important for health in a society organised to promote a dependency on work. It is only a moral attachment to work, however, that stops researchers from remaining open to the idea that the future could be different.</p> <p>The moral blackmail is also happening on an organisational scale. I am not familiar with Fleming’s &ldquo;I, job&rdquo; concept, but I have read some interesting studies on the way organisations increasingly mobilise the personality—including studies by Fleming on the phenomenon of enforced &ldquo;fun at work.&rdquo; These studies investigate workplaces where it is no longer considered enough to be amenable and competent at your job; if you want to be hired and retained, you also have to produce a display of genuine enthusiasm and commitment—to &ldquo;be yourself,&rdquo; in a manner of speaking. The Kathi Weeks book you mentioned argues that this requirement to completely align yourself with your job role was perhaps once associated only with the professions, but that we are now seeing these demands placed upon workers in low-status and badly paid jobs as well. In many jobs, it has become taboo not to completely throw yourself into it and give it everything. There is also a destructive enjoyment that people sometimes find in working around the clock, which I believe psychoanalytic Marxist theory accounts for. That’s a dimension that is perhaps missing from my account, and that I would like to understand more.</p> <p>But essentially, I think this moral pressure to work, and also to identify with and <em>like</em> work, offers another strong explanation of why we work so hard. One of the interesting things about the interviews I conducted as part of this project was that several non-workers were certain they were being negatively judged for not working, even though they were unable to specifically recall any negative comments made against them. My interpretation was that the judgements were coming from within. I think this shows the enduring power of the work ethic, even in today’s apparently more hedonistic, consumption-focused culture. The work ethic has been deeply internalised, and when we don’t work we feel ashamed. I was unemployed when I wrote <em>The Refusal of Work</em>, and often experienced this sense of shame. That is quite remarkable, when you think about it.</p> <p><strong>LM:</strong> The core of the book, as the title suggests, is an investigation into how individuals successfully and unsuccessfully &ldquo;refuse&rdquo; to conform to social norms about employment. From your interviews, this refusal is sometimes voluntary, sometimes not. It may come with an economic cost that may or may not be balanced by a cultural or lifestyle benefit. What I like about the discussion is that it is not &ldquo;all or nothing&rdquo; revolutionary social change, but focused on carving out individual and small-scale lifestyle strategies. Is resisting work possible and what institutional or cultural changes might facilitate it? Is it sufficient for us to resist work as individuals, or does there need to be more political organization to create change?</p> <p><strong>DF:</strong> The short answer is that there has to be more political organisation to create change. The book is deliberately very explicit about this because I felt a strong need to distinguish it from popular books promoting lifestyle changes like &ldquo;slowness&rdquo; or &ldquo;life simplification&rdquo; as solutions to the problems with work. We are seeing a lot of these books where the author is positioned as a sort of lifestyle guru, who is going to tell us the secret key to living well, and it is usually by working less, being less materialistic, and so on. I don’t think that people really benefit from being told this, and these books actually anger me to a degree, because they suggest that change is a matter of changing individual habits. If people ask me whether they should read my book, I sometimes feel a need to warn them that it does not contain any answers about how to live. Writing it has not helped me figure out a good relationship with work.</p> <p>Is resisting work possible? I believe that whether and to what extent a person can resist work will depend largely on her capacity to mitigate the two sets of pressures I mentioned earlier: the material and moral pressures to work. Without going into the specifics, I would say that some of the people I spoke to were more successful than others at doing this. Financial resources such as savings or the income of a partner are obviously going to help a great deal for people who want to work less. That is no great insight, but what is maybe more surprising is the extent to which people believed that working less allowed them to <em>save</em> significant amounts of money. Having more free-time had allowed people to be more careful with their spending and meet an increasing proportion of their needs without, or with less, consumption. For many, this sense of increasing self-reliance seemed to be a strong source of satisfaction.</p> <p>Steering around the moral pressures to work can be just as difficult. Often people would begin their interviews with a sense of pride and enthusiasm, only to admit feelings of doubt and shame about resisting work later on. Some said they were able to mitigate this feeling by reading critical literature and staying connected with people who had similar views. Others had found novel ways of evading and responding to that classic dinner party question: &ldquo;So, what do you do?&rdquo;</p> <p>At the start of the book I quote from Herbert Marcuse, who writes in <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0807014176/?tag=contrivers-review-20">One-Dimensional Man</a></em> that change is both impossible and possible – capitalism has a remarkable potential to contain and co-opt attempts to change, but forces and tendencies always exist that could theoretically break this containment. Marcuse cannot seem to make up his mind in this book, and <em>The Refusal of Work</em> is similar in this sense. There are passages of optimism and passages of pessimism. The book is a celebration of the power of self-direction: the tendency for people experience moments of clarity in their lives and then use their powers of agency to assert a need for autonomy. But the book also documents failure: the way that social forces militate against change and prevent us from resisting work.</p> <p>Thinking back over the book, I am tempted to say that failure is the more prominent theme, which is why I believe strongly that where to go next is a collective and not an individual question. This brings me to the next part of your question, regarding what institutional and political changes might facilitate a less work-centred future. The growing discussion around the Universal Basic Income is an interesting lead, because it promises to eliminate our dependency on work for financial survival. To see real change, I would also hope to see a society-wide policy of shorter working hours, coupled with a more equal distribution of necessary work, and a cultural shift to valorise the social and intrinsic value of activities outside the economic sphere. That is the dream. That is what I believe it would take to turn the productivity gains from years of capitalist development to humane ends.</p> <p>Perhaps one thing I should add is that the book is mostly concerned with convincing readers that questioning work is possible and worthwhile. The book is admittedly more reserved when it comes to talking about collective strategies for change—the question of where we go from here is left open, and the book’s interviewees represent less political subjects, than the embodiment of a latent dissatisfaction with work that has yet to find political purchase. I guess the dilemma is how to mobilise that latent dissatisfaction, how to give it form and articulate it in terms of a set of demands. I am still thinking through these problems, and there are a lot of issues to confront. To what extent, for example, does the call for less work conflict with or complement struggles for workers’ rights and the living wage? Can we rely on the conventional democratic channels to bring about a less work-centred society? A recent book by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, called <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1784780960/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Inventing the Future</a></em>, looks like it might be able to answer some of these questions. I am looking forward to sitting down with that one</p> <p><strong>LM:</strong> What distinguishes your approach on this question is that it is sociological. I mean this in two senses: first, it is sociological in the way it situates itself against a problem and within a particular literature—Gorz especially, but also Weber, Terkel, Hochschild, C. Wright Mills; second, it represents an empirical contribution to the problem. The second half of the book is comprised of several chapters based on a series of interviews. Can you describe your research: how many participated, how were they contacted, how diverse? What are the challenges involved in this approach and how does it illuminate the problem of work in a way that past research has not? Is there any evidence that the strategies employed to &ldquo;refuse work&rdquo; by middle-class, educated people are generalizable to poorer, less educated demographics? What about non-OECD countries?</p> <p><strong>DF:</strong> Great question. Perhaps the first thing to say is that I wear the label &ldquo;researcher&rdquo; lightly in this project. The book is politically rather than scientifically motivated, and my intention is for the interview data to act as a rhetorical device, to persuade people that it is worth questioning taken-for-granted norms about working. There are several such rhetorical devices in the book. One is the turn to history, which is an attempt to denaturalise the modern attachment to work by looking at the historical contingency of work values. Another device is the use of critical theory to articulate problems regarding our relationship with work in the present. </p> <p>What the interviews perhaps bring to the table is a sense of what factors are involved in the success or failure at attempts to resist norms about employment. How far can the individual go, acting alone? I guess the hope is also that putting a human face on resistance to work counteracts some of the caricaturing and stigmatising of non-workers that I described earlier. Whilst it is not necessary to like all of the interviewees or agree with everything that they say (I personally did not), I hope that the investigation will convince readers that people who resist work are less shirkers and deviants, than decent people with alternative ethical priorities—priorities which may be worth taking seriously and thinking about. I mentioned earlier that the purpose of the book is not to offer life tips, but I suppose I do also hope that if a reader has unarticulated doubts about the ethical status of work, they might experience a sense of recognition when they read the interview accounts.</p> <p>You asked for some information about the sample and research method. What is perhaps important to stress is that, for the most part, the people I spoke to did not see themselves as part of a cultural movement against work—they were regular folks, for lack of a better term. I spoke to approximately thirty people overall, over a period of about four years, interviewing them in their homes if it was possible, and in some cases accompanying them on a typical day. Interviews were usually long, often upwards of a couple of hours, and sometimes spread across more than one visit. The approach was semi-structured: there were things I went in wanting to know, but I also wanted people to talk freely about their worldviews, pleasures and problems. </p> <p>Since resisting work is taboo, I had to do some investigating to contact people. I found some via internet message-boards. An online group called The Idler’s Alliance provided a lot of leads, and I was also connected with people by friends and colleagues who knew about the research. I was quite satisfied that I got a good spread of people in the final sample—older and younger people, women and men, and people with different degrees of political consciousness. There were also people with different degrees of resistance—from small reductions in working hours to long-term refusals of work. And there were people with different levels of financial resources—from a wealthy early retiree, to a couple who had so little money that they were subsisting mostly on bowls of rice around the time of one interview.</p> <p>To what extent are the strategies employed by interviewees generalizable? I would like to dismiss the suggestion that these are all middle-class, educated people, because this was not the case. However, they were also by no means the poorest in society, and I doubt their situations are comparable to workers in non-OECD countries. I guess I would again stress that the capacity to resist work depends on having the resources to mitigate the material and moral pressures to work, described above. It is not an easy thing to do.</p> <p><strong>LM:</strong> Alienation is a key normative concept throughout the book. The book often contrasts personal meaning, value, and need with socio-economic priorities.</p> <blockquote> <p>We can define true, meaningful work as work in which people are allowed to carry out tasks in accordance with their own technical, aesthetic and social criteria, i.e., to work in accordance with their own ideas of efficiency, beauty, and usefulness.<sup id="fnref:frayne"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:frayne" rel="footnote">3</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>There is an important distinction to be drawn between arguments that accuse modern society of &ldquo;exploitation&rdquo; rather than &ldquo;alienation.&rdquo; In the former, labor is exploited <em>even if</em> the worker doesn&rsquo;t agree. To be alienated, however, is primarily a self-description. For historical reasons, I think exploitation has been a far more popular vector of critique, which makes your emphasis on alienation both refreshing and instructive. What does an interpretivist approach teach us about work? Why is psychological harm, for want of a better synonym, so important to the story? If we consider avoiding psychological harm to be as important as avoiding physical harm—which is at the core of the Millsian liberal contract—should we as a society be committed to the elimination of all alienation, even non-economic sorts?</p> <p><strong>DF:</strong> I am very influenced by Andre Gorz, who I think has been unduly neglected by sociology – at least outside of France. Gorz opens one of his earlier critiques of work, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0861043642/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Farewell to the Working Class</a></em>, by re-evaluating historical materialism and Marx’s faith in &ldquo;the objective tendencies of history.&rdquo; One of his criticisms is that Marx had an undue confidence in the capacity of the proletariat to see their latent potential as sovereign producers. I am simplifying, but Gorz essentially seemed to be arguing that there is more thinking to be done on where this supposed radical rupture—this felt need to oppose work and demand autonomy—really comes from. How does it end up asserting itself in the context of everyday experience?</p> <p>I am fascinated by this question, and think it necessarily involves moving beyond the concept of exploitation to think more about the experience of alienation which, as you say, is primarily a self-description and more about a kind of psychological harm. What precisely is it about modern forms of work that people are finding so intolerable, and what combination of factors has to come together for people to feel a need to act upon their dissatisfaction? In the book I try to approach this question with a brief history of alienation. There is a broad narrative here about how alienation has in some senses shifted since the heyday of industrial work—where it was more about a feeling of detachment—to experiences of the service economy and modern organisations, where alienation might be more about feeling overwhelmed by work. There is this sense that work is commandeering all aspects of the self.</p> <p>Something that Gorz also hints at in <em>Farewell</em> is that alienation by itself might not be enough to cause a rupture in people’s lives. What is also perhaps needed is some ideal model of autonomous activity to act as a personal reference point. It is only through experiencing some kind of ideal model of engaging and meaningful activity that a person really starts to feel the pinch of their alienation, which has deprived them of this model. Gorz’s argument is that labour has become so degraded for most people, that this experience of non-alienated activity is more likely to come from somewhere outside of paid work. When the interviewees try and make sense of their resistance in <em>The Refusal of Work</em>, they often attribute a lot of significance to things like the experience of being a student, volunteering, or undertaking a self-initiated work project. The sense of satisfaction and autonomy they experienced in these non-alienated activities had made their actual jobs harder to bear.</p> <p><strong>LM:</strong> <em>The Refusal of Work</em> avoids one of the stock narratives of the last few years: neoliberalism. One version of this narrative draws heavily on the French theorist Gilles Deleuze to describe <a href="http://libcom.org/library/postscript-on-the-societies-of-control-gilles-deleuze">a society that is controlled by an economic calculus</a>. To put it another way: the problem with work is neoliberal ideology. While you may agree with some of the diagnoses offered by anti-neoliberal theorists, you avoid explicitly reducing the problem to another symptom of neoliberalism. Was this a deliberate choice? Do you see advantages to avoiding neoliberalism as a framing narrative?</p> <p>​​ <strong>DF:</strong> This is an interesting question, partly because it was not a conscious choice to avoid neoliberalism as a framing narrative. It might be worth my time thinking about why the book turned out this way, because perhaps there really are weaknesses to neoliberalism as a framing narrative. Many of the problems of work that form the backbone of the book—alienation, the problem of workers without work and so on—do after all predate neoliberalism.</p> <p>I think neoliberalism does still represent an important backdrop for my discussion, however, both in terms of the policies enacted in its name (such as the reform of the welfare state around the activity of work) and in terms of what <a href="http://www.renatasalecl.com/">Renata Salecl</a> and others refer to as the ideal &ldquo;choosing subject&rdquo; of neoliberalism: the subject who mitigates against precarity and the stresses of modern life by taking personal responsibility. If you are struggling, neoliberal ideology says that you have made bad choices, and you must therefore begin the work of personal rehabilitation that will allow you to make the correct choices. The model neoliberal subject accepts this worldview and approaches the challenge zealously.</p> <p>It is this neoliberal subject that is invoked in the idea of &ldquo;employability,&rdquo; which the book discusses a lot, and which comes to the fore when the state is no longer deemed responsible for ensuring people’s future economic security. We have to do this ourselves by adopting a long-term project to remain flexible and attractive to employers.</p> <p>For me, the prominent discussion on work / life balance also coincides to some extent with this neoliberal ideology of individual responsibility, which is why I reject this framing of the problems with work at the end of the book. Although the research and discussion on work / life balance has been advanced by people who probably have the best intentions, as soon as we start talking in terms of &ldquo;balance,&rdquo; I worry that we are framing the problem as something that can be tackled on an individual basis. There is this pervasive idea that the problems with work can be mitigated if people just manage their time a little better, prioritise more effectively, or learn to cope with stress through relaxation techniques. As a conceptualisation, my view is that work / life balance is far too soft to get at the structural problems we are experiencing today. The universe of discussion that it opens up does not really have space to radically question what work is for and whether it can fulfil its societal functions; ‘work/life balance’ only allows us to ask whether we can work a bit less, usually to have time for other responsibilities such as childcare. It incorporates our dissatisfaction with the present system within that system. It is ultimately a neoliberal-friendly discourse, which is perhaps why it has endured the way it has. It poses no real threat to orthodoxy. In sum, I would say that neoliberalism is very much there in the background of the book, even if I do not use the word that much.</p> <p>Thank you Luke and <em>Contrivers&rsquo; Review</em> for some very interesting questions. This conversation was an enjoyable chance to reflect on the intentions behind the book.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:adorno"> <p>Theodor Adorno, &ldquo;Free Time&rdquo; in <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0415253802/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The Culture Industry</a>: Collected Essays on Mass Culture</em> (Routledge, 2001).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:adorno" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:russell"> <p>The full quote is: <blockquote>Man differs from other animals in one very important respect, and that is that he has some desires which are, so to speak, infinite, which can never be fully gratified, and which would keep him restless even in Paradise. The boa constrictor, when he has had an adequate meal, goes to sleep, and does not wake until he needs another meal. Human beings, for the most part, are not like this.</blockquote> Bertrand Russell, &ldquo;What Desires are Politically Important?&rdquo; (<a href="http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1950/russell-lecture.html">Nobel Lecture</a>, December 11, 1950).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:russell" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:frayne"> <p><em>The Refusal of Work</em>, 63.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:frayne" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Luke Thomas Mergner) editors@contrivers.org (David Frayne) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/25/Mergner-Frayne-Interview-Refusal-Work/ Interviews Work Mon, 02 May 2016 23:58:00 +0000 Readings #4: Turkey and the Currency of Democracy http://www.contrivers.org/articles/26/koseoglu-turkey-gezi-coup-democracy/ From the emotional highs of the Gezi uprising, to the recent failed military coup, Çağlar Köseoğlu surveys recent articles about Turkey and Turkish democracy. <p>The planned transformation of Gezi Park in May 2013 into a replica of an Ottoman military barrack was supposed to be just one of <a href="http://carnegieeurope.eu/2013/06/20/urban-transformation-in-turkey">the many projects of urban renewal</a> that the ruling party of Turkey, the neoliberal and Islamic AKP, had been realizing at a great pace. Instead, the top-down decision concerning one of the last green havens of inner city Istanbul lead to massive protests by people of very divergent cultural and ideological backgrounds, who endured deadly clashes with the police. During those days, <a href="http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/06/05/istanbul-uprising/">Ali Bektaş</a> put what was unfolding around Gezi Park and soon all over Turkey in a global context:</p> <blockquote> <p>It seemed as if the world had entered the age of the austerity riots. And then Istanbul erupted. Let there be no mistake, Istanbul cannot be lumped in with Athens, Barcelona, Lisbon or New York. What is happening in Turkey is the flip-side of the anti-capitalist coin. It is an uprising against development. It is a street battle for cities that belong to people and not capital. It is resistance against an authoritarian regime emboldened by an economic boom.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="https://roarmag.org/essays/roar-symposium-gezi-uprising-turkey/">Gezi&rsquo;s</a> utopian moments and demands sparked a new culture of urban protest against the government’s reckless disregard for public space and dissent. It is disheartening that today, roughly three years after the promising Gezi uprising, the AKP has effectively suppressed Gezi’s practices and values of plurality, autonomy, and direct participation. Erdoğan’s party has done so through its suffocating mix of authoritarian majoritarianism and excessive police violence.</p> <p>After this &ldquo;success&rdquo; of the AKP, Turkey quickly turned into a repressive and lethal mess of apocalyptic proportions. Erdoğan’s regime has become increasingly associated with violent and extralegal restraint of political opponents that <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/cihan-tugal/turkey-hard-totalitarianism-erdogan-authoritarian">recall the excesses of totalitarianism</a>. Turkey has meanwhile been plagued by a vicious sequence of <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/29/turkey-pays-price-erdogan-blindness-to-isis-threat">suicide bombings, murderous attacks</a> and <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/turkey-shoots-down-jet-near-syria-border-1448356509">diplomatic crises</a>. And, after <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/07/turkey-election-preliminary-results-erdogan-akp-party">the general elections of June 2015</a>, the government rekindled the war with the PKK and initiated a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/cemal-zkahraman/human-rights-violations-in-south-east-turkey-failed-peace-talks-followed-by-increasi">deadly military campaign against innocent Kurdish civilians</a>.</p> <p>Recent Turkish history, in other words, has been defined by political instability and warfare. This has lead, <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/turkish-militarys-influence-rises-again-1463346285">according to Dion Nissenbaum in May</a>, to the (re)emergence of the Turkish military as a powerful actor and ally of Erdoğan. Around the same time, Gönül Tol’s article <a href="https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-05-30/turkeys-next-military-coup"><em>Turkey’s Next Military Coup</em></a> drew attention to the tactical nature of this alliance and claimed that “the military is down, but not out.” The AKP has, indeed, never been concerned with consolidating democracy vis-à-vis the military, but instead regarded it alternately as a competitor for and enabler of power. <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/07/turkey-erdogan-coup-gulen-kemalist-kurdish-war/">As Cihan Tuğal reminds us in a recent interview</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>It is true that the AKP has carried out great purges (of alleged Kemalist-putschists) in the military, but this should not lead us to the impression that it is anti-militarist. Since Islamists do not have many military cadres, the party staffed the vacant positions with Gülenists. Erdoğan did not necessarily trust these people, but still resorted to them heavily in his fight against the Kurds.</p> </blockquote> <p>It appears that on July 15th, Turkey paid a heavy price for the AKP’s pragmatism regarding the military, when parts of the armed forces tried to take over the country. This involved horrific scenes in which civilians <a href="https://twitter.com/uumuutarslan/status/754130756574863360">were crushed by tanks</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/140journos/status/754088306204225536">fired upon by military helicopters</a>. With this repulsive coup attempt, Turkey has unfortunately entered a new, more dystopian era. The military’s unsuspected attack, leading to 237 (mostly civilian) deaths and leaving more than 2000 injured, has thoroughly shocked nearly everyone and aggravated the already poisonous dynamics of Turkish politics. Not surprisingly, the failed coup engendered a plethora of analyses in only a matter of days.</p> <p>A returning question involves the identity of those behind Turkey’s <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2012/04/20124472814687973.html">latest military intervention into domestic political affairs</a>. For Erdoğan and his followers it has been clear&mdash;from the very outset&mdash;that <a href="http://m.dw.com/en/real-and-imagined-threats-the-shared-past-of-akp-and-the-gülen-movement/a-19429199">his erstwhile ally and now political nemesis</a>, the Pennsylvania-based Islamist cleric Gülen, is behind the coup. Gülen’s long-standing, focused and highly anti-democratic efforts to acquire political power in Turkey did not involve acts of open violence so far, his strategy is one of <a href="http://www.turkeyanalyst.org/publications/turkey-analyst-articles/item/223-turkeys-new-deep-state-a-movement-without-a-mover.html">patient infiltration of key institutions by loyalist cells</a>. But at this point, there is some&mdash;not conclusive&mdash;<a href="http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2016/07/is-fethullah-g%25C3%25BClen-behind-turkeys-coup.html">evidence</a> that indicates a link between the putschists and the Gülen movement. Several commentators, in and outside of Turkey, have argued that Erdoğan might actually be right on this point, since, as <a href="https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/turkey-coup-erosion-of-law-by-dani-rodrik-2016-07">Dani Rodrik puts it</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>We know that there is a strong Gülenist presence in the military (without which the government’s earlier move against senior Turkish officers&mdash;the so-called Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases&mdash;could not have been mounted). In fact, the military was the last remaining Gülenist stronghold in Turkey, since Erdoğan had already purged the movement’s sympathizers in the police, judiciary, and media.</p> <p>We also know that Erdoğan was preparing to make a major move against the Gülenists in the military. A few officers had already been arrested for fabricating evidence in earlier trials, and it was rumored that a large-scale purge of Gülenist officers was in the works for next month’s meeting of the Supreme Military Council.</p> </blockquote> <p>According to Ahmet Şık, a prominent journalist and expert on Gülen, the Gülenist movement <a href="http://www.dw.com/tr/ahmet-%C5%9F%C4%B1k-darbeciler-birbirini-satt%C4%B1/a-19409115">might have cooperated with other factions</a> inside the Turkish military as it <a href="http://jiyan.us/2016/07/17/ahmet-sik-darbe-ittifak-dagildigi-icin-basarisiz-oldu/">does not possess enough power</a> in the armed forces to realize a coup by itself.</p> <p>Others, including&mdash;not surprisingly&mdash;Gülen and a considerable amount of people in Turkey on social media, have suggested that Erdoğan has executed an auto-coup or deliberately allowed the coup to transpire, offering him the ultimate pretext to implement his nefarious political agenda. Whether this is true or not&mdash;and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the latter turns out to be the case&mdash;it seems politically significant that even a coup attempt, which, among other things, involved the ruthless killing of unarmed civilians and <a href="https://theaviationist.com/2016/07/18/exclusive-all-the-details-about-the-aerial-battle-over-turkey-during-the-military-coup/">the bombings of the Turkish parliament, security headquarters, and presidential palace by military aircraft and helicopters</a>, can be causally traced back to its ultimate target: Erdoğan. In present-day Turkey, even the most profound and bloody disturbances of daily political life can be experienced as theatrical, with Erdoğan as puppeteer. Unsurprisingly, everyday politics practices a hermeneutics of conspiracy, fueled by Erdoğan’s opportunistic framings and distortions of developments in Turkey and abroad, in which he plays the roles of both victim and victor.</p> <p>Though for the moment &mdash;<a href="https://theotherrepublicblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/writing-turkish-history-after-15-july/">and perhaps much longer</a>&mdash; many critical questions around the failed coup remain unanswered, Erdoğan’s strategic retort to the recent events does not leave much to the imagination. As <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/18/opinion/turkeys-coup-that-wasnt.html">Roger Cohen predicts in <em>The New York Times</em></a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>A rapid push by Erdoğan to reform the constitution through a referendum and create a presidency with sweeping executive powers is possible. He now has a case to say only such powers will keep enemies at bay.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="https://roarmag.org/essays/turkey-coup-attempt-backlash-Erdoğan/">Jerome Roos</a> offers similar insight in <em>ROAR Magazine</em> when he argues that the coup attempt provides Erdoğan with “the popular support he needs for a long-coveted constitutional reform that would turn Turkey into a presidential republic.” And <a href="http://warontherocks.com/2016/07/welcome-to-the-turkish-winter-the-great-purge-is-just-beginning/">Burak Kadercan</a>, at <em>War on the Rocks</em>, speaks of:</p> <blockquote> <p>Erdoğan’s push for what can be referred to as “absolute presidency,” akin to the absolute monarchies of the age of Louis XIV. While Erdoğan remains president, the present Turkish constitution grants very limited powers to the office of the president. Erdoğan has been bending the constitution ever since he assumed office, but what he really wants is a constitutional change that would grant him his one wish: a presidency with absolute executive powers and no checks and balances from the judiciary.</p> </blockquote> <p>Indeed, there are presently no signs whatsoever, nor does Erdoğan&rsquo;s political record suggest, that he will build upon the united stance of Turkey’s four major political parties and the overwhelming majority of the population against a military coup by restoring faith in democratic institutions and practices. In fact, a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/22/biggest-witch-hunt-turkish-history-coup-erdogan-europe-help">frantic purge</a> has dominated post-coup Turkey, resulting already in tens of thousands of suspensions and arrests in various fields, including the judiciary, the security apparatus, and education. On July 20th, Erdoğan officially <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/20/erdogan-bans-academics-from-travel-holds-first-post-coup-security-meeting-ankara-turkey">declared a three-month state of emergency</a> after a nearly five hour meeting of the National Security Council. The next day, Turkey announced it will <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/turkey-coup-attempt-human-rights-president-erdogan-purge-turkish-military-a7148166.html">temporarily suspend the European Convention on Human Rights</a>. On Sunday the 24th of July, <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/07/turkey-independent-monitors-must-be-allowed-to-access-detainees-amid-torture-allegations/">Amnesty International demanded</a> that Turkey allow independent monitors access to detainees under torture allegations. On the 25th, the government <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/26/world/europe/turkey-cracks-down-on-journalists-its-next-target-after-failed-coup.html">shifted the focus of its crackdown to journalists</a>.</p> <p>Another troubling and ominous effect of the coup attempt and its subsequent abortion has been the emergence of a new political actor on Turkey&rsquo;s stage: a nationalist mob with Islamist imagery and chants, currently being elevated into the status of national heroes by the government. The people who stood up against the coupist soldiers were called to the streets by Erdoğan on national TV and hereafter unceasingly by the mosques across the country. (That this call originally came via FaceTime neatly reverses the narrative of technological protests.) They were rightfully angry and, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/spyros-sofos/turkey-of-coups-and-popular-resistance">as Spyros A. Sofos notices</a>, did not form a homogenous and unitary entity:</p> <blockquote> <p>First, where violent clashes took place, often next to the police forces, one could discern lightly armed angry mobs that, on occasion, relished in the spilling of the blood of their opponents. Then, among the defiant crowds who came out in the streets to express their opposition to the coup through their mere physical presence one could recognize government supporters, mobilized through the appeals of the political leadership of the country, either through the AKP or the mosque networks, or merely the calls of the imams from the mosque speakers and minarets.</p> </blockquote> <p>In any case, Turkey’s new era, inaugurated by the prevention of a military coup with a high likelihood of disastrous consequences, marks a distinct kind of authoritarianism that is directed towards and reproduced on the streets by its constituencies, all of them ready to &ldquo;defend the country&rdquo; and some of them to apparently lynch in its name.<sup id="fnref:fn1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:fn1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> All this, according to the nationalist, statist and religious principle of sacrifice. This seems to be more than what Ayşe Kadıoğlu calls &ldquo;authoritarianism with a populist streak&rsquo;&lsquo; <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ay-e-kad-o-lu/coup-d-tat-attempt-turkey-s-reichstag-fire">in a piece on openDemocracy</a>, where she compares the failed coup attempt to Germany’s Reichtstag fire. It would be a crude orientalist error to reduce the people, who responded to their leadership’s call to go outside, to mere unthinking and bloodthirsty fanatics. It would also downplay the sheer violence, trauma and death that the coupist soldiers unleashed that night. However, there is a direct and cozy link between the command from above and the demonstrated “national will,” which is now being fetishized by the AKP. And, one has to be watchful of the future possibility that Erdoğan or his party might mobilize some of their devout civilian militants against people who take to the streets to protest the misuse of power, extra-judicial killings, corruption, gentrification, oppression, or neoliberal policies&mdash;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/26/turkish-people-erdogan-democracy">people who do not embody the state-sanctioned national will</a>. Just a day after the coup attempt, there were dire reports of political and religious minorities being attacked in some neighborhoods of Istanbul, Ankara, Malatya, and Antakya.</p> <p>The streets, particularly after the Gezi uprising of 2013, have been the locus of political change for Turkey&rsquo;s left. The cities’ squares and many other urban sites were inscribed&mdash;through protests and claims about their public nature&mdash;with a progressive imaginary. During the past weeks this has painfully changed. With the President as well as the Prime Minister calling for their supporters to keep occupying the squares in order to protect and “celebrate democracy” and their rhetoric of the shroud (symbolizing the willingness to die), the streets have become a site that signifies sectarian and possibly lethal combat. <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/cihan-tugal/turkey-coup-aftermath-between-neo-fascism-and-bonapartism">As Cihan Tuğal observes</a> at the end of an analysis that attempts to make sense of this new relationship between the AKP and its supporters via the categories of Bonapartism and neo-fascism:</p> <blockquote> <p>Most of the pessimistic predictions about the aftermath of the failed coup have focused on how it will fulfill Erdoğan’s desire for an omnipotent presidency. The danger that awaits Turkey is much greater than that.</p> </blockquote> <p>The wicked paradox in post-coup Turkey is that the people who <a href="http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/07/turkey-coup-attempt-intelligence-agency-thwart.html">officially</a> prevented the undemocratic military coup are, in fact, supporters of a highly undemocratic regime. &ldquo;Democracy&rdquo; is, together with synonyms of &ldquo;Gülen,&rdquo; the most frequently employed term by the regime and its followers since July 15th. This does not hide the fact that the AKP’s conveniently limited understanding of democracy is fundamentally electoral. In the words of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/zeynep-gambetti/failed-coup-attempt-in-turkey-victory-of-democracy">Zeynep Gambetti</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>This is the politics of the ballot, where legitimacy as well as permissiveness is obtained from the mere fact of being elected. Without veritable debate, participation, or respect for minority opinion, political practices and discourses leave few options of exit: the electorate must either support the AKP or bear the burden of complicity in ploys to destabilize the country, negate national will, and hinder economic development.</p> </blockquote> <p>Turkey’s latest military intervention confirms that we were witnessing a highly unstable and superficial form of democracy under the AKP, of which now, after the coup attempt, only the most fragile remnants are left. The single positive thing about the coup attempt, next to its prevention, has been the fact that there was no popular support for it. Rightly so, for <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/07/turkey-military-coup-ataturk-erdogan-islamism/">as Djene Bajalan contends</a>, the Turkish armed forces do not and have not constituted a progressive force. And, contrary to what <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/07/15/why-the-coup-in-turkey-could-mean-hope/">certain foreign observers believe</a>, a military intervention does not all of a sudden mean hope when it happens to occur in Turkey. The attempted coup has inflicted a heavy blow against every kind and form of non-militarist politics (not just against the holders of power).</p> <p>There still exists a future for Turkey&mdash;of which Gezi offered a glimpse&mdash;that escapes both the abhorrent logic of the coup as a road to democracy and the empty, polarizing and vigilante discourse of democracy by the AKP. Yet for now this seems, even given Turkey&rsquo;s ever unpredictable trajectory, an all too distant horizon.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:fn1"> <p>There is <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRfxB8aMOps">video footage</a> indicating that a mob has lynched several soldiers on the Bosporus bridge after they had surrendered.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:fn1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Çağlar Köseoğlu) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/26/koseoglu-turkey-gezi-coup-democracy/ Readings Wed, 10 Aug 2016 22:11:06 +0000 Organizing Adjunct Labor: An Interview with Michael O'Bryan http://www.contrivers.org/articles/29/Watson-OBryan-Interview-Adjuncts-SEIU-WUSTL/ Kevin Watson and Michael O'Bryan discuss the goals of SEIU in organizing adjuncts as well as the structural and cultural challenges faced by faculty and universities alike. <h2 id="editorial-introduction">Editorial Introduction</h2> <p>On April 13th of this year, non-tenured faculty at Washington University in St. Louis <a href="http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/adjuncts-washington-u-approve-first-contract-office-space-part-deal">reached a tentative contract agreement</a> with the school that ensured wage increases, greater job security, access to office space, and funds for professional development. The contract was ratified on May 2nd by non-tenured faculty, a clear victory for those who teach over half the classes at Washington University and for contingent faculty across the country who teach over 70% of the classes at universities nationwide. </p> <p>Michael O’Bryan is an adjunct English instructor who helped represent non-tenured faculty in their negotiations with the university. Before the settlement was reached on April 13, Kevin Watson, an independent English scholar, conducted an email interview with O’Bryan for <em>Contrivers’ Review</em>. While Watson and O’Bryan have known each other since graduate school, they have different perspectives on what counts as a victory for adjunct faculty, and these differences come through in the interview. </p> <p>As someone who is currently employed as contingent faculty, O’Bryan feels an urgency to do what he can right now to address the low wages and lack of job security faced by non-tenured faculty. Watson holds a more conservative and, as he acknowledges, elitist perspective. He laments that the search for truth for its own sake, which defines the academic profession for Watson, has been denigrated, becoming a means to some other, more “marketable” end. Respect is Watson’s keyword, and both the necessity of Washington University’s contract and the fact that faculty of any kind needed to join the <a href="http://www.seiu1.org/2016/05/02/washington-university-adjuncts-ratify-historic-first-contract/">Service Employees International Union</a> are signs of how far scholars have fallen in the esteem of the public. The reader may think him a little too preoccupied with issues like job titles as O’Bryan does, but his concern for the devaluation of the life of the mind and scholarly work that may never be “marketable” speaks to an important and worrisome cultural shift. </p> <p>In the long run, improving compensation and job security may be a way of enshrining contingent faculty over tenured faculty as the new “norm” in American colleges and universities. As more than one <a href="https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/dear-parents-everything-you-need-to-know-about-your-son-and-daughters-university-but-dont/">commentator has suggested</a>, such a result would irreparably damage academic freedom, create a classroom environment where students are customers, and sap the creative vitality that has made American universities and colleges some of the best in the world. These arguments have their merits, but if the fate of the university hinges on whether or not non-tenured faculty join the SEIU, then higher education may be past saving and it is difficult to blame people for fighting for fair wages and job security. The differences between O’Bryan and Watson’s perspectives on the contingent faculty cannot be reduced to concerns with long-term over short-term goals but speak to a deeper divide about what role the university and university faculty should play in society. In addition to highlighting these differences, the following interview reveals the ground Watson and O’Bryan share in critiquing the status quo. </p> <p><a href="http://www.contrivers.org/authors/2/">Peter Sinnott, Jr.</a></p> <hr /> <p><strong>Kevin Watson</strong>: Can you tell us what issues were presented to the university in yesterday’s [April 12, 2016] negotiations , and what the difficulties are to resolving them?</p> <p><strong>Michael O&rsquo;Bryan</strong>: The current issues we&rsquo;re discussing are the last ones we need to reach agreement on before concluding the contract. There are a few administrative issues to work out, but the substantive discussion is about wages and benefits. We&rsquo;re adamant that adjuncts need to have minimum per-unit compensation raised to a living wage<sup id="fnref:WSJcompensation"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:WSJcompensation" rel="footnote">1</a></sup>, and to receive access to benefits in proportion to their teaching loads at the University. We can&rsquo;t reach agreement because the University so far doesn&rsquo;t want to raise course compensation even to a minimum that matches the minimums at other SEIU-organized universities, even ones with a tiny fraction of their financial resources, much less to a level that could be called just by any reasonable measure.</p> <p><strong>KW</strong>: I have read soundbite answers to the question &ldquo;why is this adjunct thing important?&rdquo;, perhaps because newspapers can&rsquo;t devote a page of text to the issue. But, to your way of thinking, doesn&rsquo;t the current status of adjunct/contingent faculty threaten the integrity (both philosophically and psychologically) of the academy; its ability to carry out its mission of education?</p> <p><strong>MO</strong>: Yes, the increasing dependence on adjunct labor is one sign, among many, of a swelling dysfunction in higher education (others being, off the top of my head: growing student debt, graduate programs with insufficient accountability for career placement, decreasing public funding for education, and attacks on the democratic governance of the university). Left unchecked, this is a dysfunction that is eventually going to have disastrous and wide-ranging consequences in our society. The most direct impact of &ldquo;adjunctification&rdquo; on education results from the heavy course loads that adjuncts are forced to take on, which limits their ability to advise and work with students outside the actual hours that they are in a classroom. This connects directly to compensation. Nobody teaches five or six college classes a semester because they enjoy being horrendously overworked—they do it because they have to do it to live.<sup id="fnref:AAUPcourseload"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:AAUPcourseload" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> And these terrible workloads, often at multiple universities, mean less time for appointments outside office hours, extra attention to projects, and general life and career advice that students need.</p> <p><strong>KW</strong>: How, as a movement, can the issues which illustrate the plight of adjunct/contingent faculty create a substantial presence in the national media?</p> <p><strong>MO</strong>: You know, if you look at where we were at just two or three years ago, I think this issue is getting a lot more traction in national media than it has had, and pretty quickly. Partly, I think this is because SEIU has had such success with adjunct unionization campaigns across the country. The issue is covered pretty consistently in education trade mags, but you&rsquo;re also seeing a lot more of it in more prominent sources: <em>Gawker</em>&lsquo;s <a href="http://gawker.com/is-it-really-too-expensive-to-pay-adjunct-professors-a-1765458115">Hamilton Nolan</a>, who does a lot of class stuff, has been writing about the adjunct labor fight recently, <em>Slate</em> has <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2016/01/brandeis_students_lobby_to_get_their_professor_a_tenure_track_job_will_it.html">Rebecca Schuman</a> writing education articles a lot, and I&rsquo;ve seen a lot of great coverage of the issue in <em><a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/09/income-inequality-in-higher-education-the-college-president-to-adjunct-pay-ratio/407029/">The Atlantic</a></em>, <em>The New York Times</em>, our particular campaign even got a sympathetic write-up in <em><a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/non-tenured-faculty-at-duke-university-vote-to-unionize-1458345199">The Wall Street Journal</a></em>, of all places.</p> <p><strong>KW</strong>: Rarely do articles in favor of adjunct faculty emphasize or even mention a distinction between graduate instructors and the contingent faculty member&rsquo;s possession of a terminal degree (e.g., MFA or PhD, etc.). It is contemporary fashion to be anti-elitist, but haven&rsquo;t those of us who are or have been adjunct/contingent faculty actually earned the honorific &ldquo;Doctor&rdquo; or &ldquo;Professor&rdquo;? Doesn&rsquo;t the degree actually say &ldquo;confer &hellip; the rights and privileges thereof&rdquo;?</p> <p><strong>MO</strong>: I don&rsquo;t know if I&rsquo;ve ever noticed this stylistic feature of reporting on higher education, but I don&rsquo;t know that I&rsquo;ve ever looked. Certainly, I think anyone who has a PhD is entitled to be called &ldquo;Dr.&rdquo; if they ask. But personally, I tell my students to call me by my first name anyway (which is probably partly a privilege of male instructors), and I make a point of calling senior colleagues by their first name now that I have the degree. So I guess I&rsquo;m one of those people following the trends of anti-elitism. Actually, in contingent faculty organizing, we often face this problem where people let informal social hierarchies with little practical meaning keep them separate from other groups with whom they share practical and substantive economic interest. So, as far as grad students and adjuncts being lumped together, in our bargaining unit specifically&mdash;and I think many of them&mdash;some grad students actually <em>are</em> adjuncts. But even when they aren&rsquo;t, the situations of grad students and adjuncts are closely related while also somewhat different in complicated ways. Those complexities are actually something not talked about enough in discourse around academic casualization. At any rate, what&rsquo;s much more important to me than if someone calls me &ldquo;Dr.&rdquo; is whether I get a living wage and some small measure of job security.</p> <p><strong>KW</strong>: To press the point a little further, aren&rsquo;t we obligated, because we are advocating for equality, to emphasize how we are equal?</p> <p><strong>MO</strong>: Yes, but couldn&rsquo;t you argue that stressing our academic ranks is a way of reinforcing inequality?</p> <p><strong>KW</strong>: The last two questions were inspired by <em><a href="http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/ranking-criteria-and-weights">US News and World Report</a></em> which lists student to faculty ratios in its rankings based on full-time faculty rather than including adjunct/contingent professors. Because it really is the only national publication about universities which is actually read, should adjunct advocacy groups start pressing the point of honesty in advertising? </p> <p><strong>MO</strong>: Those kinds of ranking should absolutely include several different stats about adjunct instruction at an institution. This is a part of the reason that many of our direct actions try to expose parents and students to the realities of how adjuncts function in a university system. I think another sign of our growing inroads with national awareness is that I&rsquo;ve seen savvier parents actually ask tour guides and administrators about the role of contingent faculty at universities. </p> <p><strong>KW</strong>: Are such publications complicit (along with the universities) in creating a new American under-class?</p> <p><strong>MO</strong>: I&rsquo;m not sure if you mean an underclass within academe specifically, or if academia is part of a broader social process of growing inequality. I mean, the answer is &ldquo;yes&rdquo; in either case. As for the wider question, yes, the adjunctification of higher education is part of a spreading trend of economic inequality across the country. There have been some fantastic articles about this recently&mdash;<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/higher-education-college-adjunct-professor-salary/404461/">Caroline Fredrickson</a> had one in <em>The Atlantic</em> I believe&mdash;about how the growing dependence on adjunct labor is really taking a page from the playbook of the casualization of many working-class occupations, like Uber drivers and FedEx employees. And now the trend seems to be spreading further into so-called &ldquo;white collar&rdquo; professions like the law where short-term contracts, misclassification as part-time, and wage theft become the norm. This is the world our students are graduating into, and it&rsquo;s one of the ways that adjuncts and their students share a community of interest.</p> <p>As for the more specific question, yes, <em>US News and World Report</em> and such rankings are complicit with university administrations in creating an under-class specifically within academia. Probably in a lot of ways, but I&rsquo;ll mention two. First, the rankings trawl for research productivity associated with a university&rsquo;s name when they evaluate it, but, so far as I know, they don&rsquo;t bother distinguishing whether the person who produced the research is a tenure-line faculty member. So you&rsquo;ve got all these adjuncts desperate to secure better academic employment at some point by pursuing their research agendas, and the rankings are rewarding the universities for it, but the universities aren&rsquo;t paying them for the work. We actually brought this up with the University&rsquo;s bargaining team in negotiations a few weeks ago, when talking about how adjuncts make substantial contributions to the University outside their teaching, but they aren&rsquo;t compensated for it. The response was &ldquo;but that&rsquo;s not what we pay you for, so if that&rsquo;s what you do, that&rsquo;s not our problem.&rdquo; And it&rsquo;s not their problem, but it&rsquo;s to their benefit. They get the reward for free, so why would they pay for it? That&rsquo;s the sort of ruthless logic we&rsquo;re up against.</p> <p>Second, there&rsquo;s a lot of blame placed these days on administrative bloat for rising tuition costs, and there&rsquo;s a decent amount of debate about the extent to which it&rsquo;s responsible, and what exactly constitutes &ldquo;bloat.&rdquo; Often, I run into people I know who have administrative functions, and they&rsquo;re like &ldquo;Do people mean me when they say that?&rdquo; And there is a lot of evidence that there is some inefficiency in university administration generally, but look, I was an accountant for a university between college degrees, and I know how necessary support staff can be. But university ranking lists can create this &ldquo;keeping up with the Joneses&rdquo; effect over all kinds of completely non-essential things: dorm amenities, athletic facilities, that kind of thing. And it&rsquo;s important to remember that the new gym with climbing wall, pool, and state-of-the art exercise machines isn&rsquo;t just a one time fee, it requires equipment managers, coaches, trainers, its own accounting staff, all kinds of overhead. And university administrations feel like they&rsquo;ve got to have these state-of-the-art amenities to stay up in the rankings and keep drawing students, and the only way they can pay for that is tuition increases and keeping instructor overhead down. And, on the one hand, I believe in worker solidarity and all employees having dignity, but, at the same time, there&rsquo;s something pretty perverse about a school that covers competitive rates for its world-class tennis coaches and classically-trained chefs by paying table scraps to over a third of its faculty.</p> <p><strong>KW</strong>: This question may go too far afield from the issue, but I feel it may be a contributing factor to the national antipathy towards education. Is the current spirit of anti-intellectualism (politically and socially) a stumbling block to the advocacy of equal respect for a once admired, albeit privileged, class? It is after all a common criticism that intellectuals sit in lofty lounges, in the comfort of ivory towers, contemplating the theory of navel dust.</p> <p><strong>MO</strong>: Well, I&rsquo;m hesitant about tacitly signing on to any jeremiad about the closing of the American mind, but yes, I do sometimes encounter enmity to our position in the general public. I do think this is because of poorly-grounded assumptions about the working conditions of a university instructor. It comes back to the growing economic under-class of the entire country, really. So many people have watched their professions decline for decades that there can be class resentment that kind of reflexively lashes out at people assumed to be better off. You know, I see plenty of people say to activists affiliated with us, &ldquo;hey, maybe adjuncts have it bad, but I&rsquo;d like to see more focus on actual low wage workers.&rdquo; But look, we&rsquo;re in the same union as most of the low-wage workers on campus. And an adjunct at Washington University in St. Louis teaching a three-course load every semester makes only a few thousand a year more than a custodian working full time at the University, and the custodians get health care whereas the adjunct doesn&rsquo;t. Both groups deserve more money, but they&rsquo;re also not that far off from each other. Fortunately, there&rsquo;s a pretty direct solution to this sort of objection, which is offer the facts of the situation, as I just have, and I find that often clears things up.</p> <p><strong>KW</strong>: Please explain how you and your colleagues intend to move forward in your advocacy and activism for adjunct/contingent faculty rights at Washington University, and what you hope for the movement in the future. </p> <p><strong>MO</strong>: Well, we have two more bargaining meetings scheduled, and we&rsquo;re really hoping that the University sees reason and offers a meaningful compensation increase. The adjuncts would very much would like to conclude this negotiation with an amicable agreement. But we&rsquo;ve already begun organizing efforts for a student walkout and adjunct faculty strike on 4/14, held in concert with the national day of action for low wage workers and in solidarity with a number of groups like Fight for 15. We&rsquo;ve begun collecting support signatures for that event, and we&rsquo;ve already cleared 800 with two weeks left to plan, so we&rsquo;re very optimistic about our support from students, alumni, full-time faculty, and other brothers and sisters in SEIU. But again, we actually would like to have an agreement before then. If we do, the movement continues in a few ways: SEIU is active at other schools, so there&rsquo;s still plenty of work to be done here on the adjunct campaign specifically, but we&rsquo;re also committed to standing in solidarity with other low wage workers in the community, especially the Fight for 15 and other low-wage workers in SEIU, both of whom have been very supportive of us.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:WSJcompensation"> <p>According to a March 20, 2016 <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/as-adjunct-professors-unionize-debate-sharpens-over-cost-to-schools-1458466208">article in The Wall Street Journal</a>, average pay per course for adjunct faculty is $2,700 and most adjunct faculty earn $22,000 per year. [eds.]&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:WSJcompensation" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:AAUPcourseload"> <p>A <a href="https://www.aaup.org/issues/faculty-compensation/compensation-and-workloads-2003">report by the American Association of University Professors</a>, <blockquote>defines the ‘maximum teaching loads for effective instruction at the undergraduate . . . level’ as a ‘teaching load of twelve hours per week, with no more than six separate course preparations during the academic year,’ and ‘[f]or instruction partly or entirely at the graduate level, a teaching load of nine hours per work,’ based on an academic year of not more than 30 weeks of classes.</blockquote> This amounts to three courses taught per semester or six courses in an academic year. In other words, teaching six classes a semester or twelve classes a year doubles the recommended workload. [eds.]&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:AAUPcourseload" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Kevin Watson) editors@contrivers.org (Michael O'Bryan) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/29/Watson-OBryan-Interview-Adjuncts-SEIU-WUSTL/ Academia Interviews Mon, 15 Aug 2016 20:43:51 +0000 Readings #5: After Bernie http://www.contrivers.org/articles/30/Kurtz-Bernie-Sanders-Reading-List/ Kurtz reminds supporters of Bernie Sanders of the "invisible" history of American socialism through a series of post-War texts. His hope is to rehabilitate this forgotten history, and to give Bernie supporters a common heritage for future organizing. <p>Thirteen million Americans voted for Bernie Sanders in this year’s Democratic presidential primaries&mdash;two and a half times the combined general election votes for all Socialist Party of America presidential candidates, ever&mdash;and hundreds of thousands volunteered for Sanders’ campaign. This is an astounding success for a socialist candidate in America. But the campaign is over. What follows?</p> <p>Harold Meyerson, <a href="http://prospect.org/article/long-march-bernie%E2%80%99s-army">writing in <em>The American Prospect</em></a>, argues that “Sanders’ campaign didn’t create a new American left. It revealed it.” The Sanders’s campaign, however, has not consolidated that new left&mdash;and, given a presidential campaign’s focus on short-term voter mobilization, it probably could not have done so. Meyerson writes:</p> <blockquote> <p>It’s not that the Sanders campaign itself has incubated some kind of permanent left formation…Leaders of unions, community-organizing groups, minority organizations and student groups, prominent environmentalists and Sanders activists, precinct walkers and online campaigners—some longtime allies, some total strangers to one another&mdash;are “all in one large, shifting conversation,” in the words of one such leader, to figure out how to build the Revolution once the Sanders campaign is done.</p> </blockquote> <p>That conversation seems to be focused, for now, on building organizations, but it ought to move, sooner or later, to reflecting on motives and ideas as well. Meyerson asks: “Who are all these people who now not only flock to Bernie’s banner but deem themselves socialists? What do they even mean by socialism?” He points out that public opinion polls have registered astonishing numbers of Americans who describe themselves as socialists (around 30 to 40 per cent of Democratic primary voters, in some recent polls) but have not asked “this newly hatched brood to define what they mean when they call themselves socialists.” Patching together a plausible answer to the unasked question, he points out that Sanders-style socialists “don’t counterpose socialism to a militant liberalism” and that they “mainly have in mind the social democratic policies&mdash;a decent welfare state, more power for workers, and diminished devotion to the gods of the market&mdash;of Western European nations.” Such a political stance is not entirely new in America. As Meyerson notes, American politics has included “the functional equivalent” of a European social democratic movement; as long-time democratic socialist leader Michael Harrington once wrote, the American labor movement and its allies (like the early-1960s civil rights movement) have at times served as an “invisible” movement for social democracy.</p> <p>If the Sanders campaign has, as Meyerson puts it, “revealed” what was previously invisible, then it would seem that something has changed not only for the public at large but also for the members of that newly-visible American social democratic current. If a movement is invisible, its members are not aware that they are members of a movement. They do not know the coherence that their efforts can have or the trouble they are likely to encounter. They do not know that they have a history from which to learn. Perhaps, at least dimly, those things have come into view for some Americans who had not noticed them before.</p> <p>One valuable thing, thus, that could follow from Sanders’s campaign would be a new moral or intellectual self-awareness among the members of the American democratic left. It is not just that Sanders’s supporters have not told pollsters what they mean by “socialism”: many of them probably are not sure yet what they mean. (Sanders himself, frankly, has not been much help in this regard: even in the <a href="https://www.georgetown.edu/Bernie-Sanders-at-GU-2015">November 2015 speech</a> at Georgetown University in which he explained what “democratic socialism” means to him, Sanders was much better at saying <em>how</em> he would foster social equality than at saying <em>why</em> he would do so.) The frenetic bustle of a presidential campaign needs to be followed by patient organizing if it is to yield new or stronger organizations; likewise, a campaign needs to be followed by patient reflection on the part of at least some of its supporters if it is to lead to new or better thinking.</p> <p>Here, then, is a small gift for “newly hatched” American social democrats: a short reading list surveying the often-unnoticed American social democratic tradition. Taken together, these half-dozen books sketch a lineage; they suggest the characteristic features and challenges of a political movement that has all too often been invisible to itself. Reading them would not be a bad start for those Sanders supporters who want to reflect on what they have begun.</p> <hr /> <p>Karl Marx has no monopoly on serious left-wing economic thought. There are alternatives: the work of a Depression-era immigrant New Yorker, for example, provides a classic social democratic account of economic life. A Hungarian exile from fascism who did his most important writing in Vermont and Manhattan, Karl Polanyi developed an economic theory that reads like a twentieth-century rewrite of Aristotle’s <em>Politics</em>. In <a href="(http://www.beacon.org/The-Great-Transformation-P46.aspx)"><em>The Great Transformation</em></a> (1944), Polanyi argues that political institutions and political decisions gave rise to, and can reign in, the modern market economy. The “great transformation” of the nineteenth century—the detachment of market economies from social or civic purposes—was a political decision, Polanyi argues, and thus can be reversed, or moderated, through politics. Reforms, like those of the New Deal, are socialist because they aim “to transcend the self-regulating market by consciously subordinating it to a democratic society.” Egalitarian policies, in other words, are valuable not because they raise standards of living but because they make possible a humane community. Keeping the market subordinated to democracy may be harder than Polanyi expected; nevertheless, his work frames the project that has occupied socialists like Sanders ever since.</p> <p>While Polanyi wrote <em>The Great Transformation</em>, thousands of members were resigning from the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas to support the New Deal and to build something like a labor party within and alongside the Democratic Party. The most prominent intellectual among the ex-Socialists of the 1930s and 1940s was the Protestant theologian (and Polanyi’s Morningside Heights neighbor) Reinhold Niebuhr. In <a href="http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/C/bo12091283.html"><em>The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness</em></a> (1944), Niebuhr makes a social democratic case for, and critique of, American democracy. The Lockean liberalism that influenced the American founders, Niebuhr writes, is naïve when it denies that we need protection against one another’s ambition and greed, and shallow when it ignores the human quest for community and “meaning.” Marxism is right to challenge capitalism, but just as naïve as liberalism when it suggests that a revolutionary government poses no dangers of its own. Those ideologies try to solve the problem of property “once for all,” but democracy, especially when it incorporates a spirit of “religious humility,” expects imperfection and requires continual reform. Democratic institutions are permanently necessary because of “man’s inclination to injustice”—and that, Niebuhr argues, is precisely why democratic principles should be extended to the economic sphere.</p> <p>If Polanyi provides an economic theory for social democrats and Niebuhr a moral theory, Bayard Rustin offers a strategy. A longtime aide to labor leader A. Philip Randolph (another ex-Socialist of Niebuhr’s generation), the architect of the 1963 March on Washington, and an advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr., Rustin did as much as anyone to shatter the somnolence of the 1950s. Rustin’s 1964 essay “From Protest to Politics”&mdash;republished, along with other valuable essays, in <a href="http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Time-on-Two-Crosses/Bayard-Rustin/9781573446334"><em>Time on Two Crosses</em></a> (2003)&mdash;is the classic statement of what Rustin and his friend Michael Harrington called the “realignment” strategy: if labor unions, civil rights organizations, and middle-class liberals could forge a durable alliance, bridging movement “protest” and ordinary electoral “politics,” Rustin wrote, they could reorient the Democratic Party toward an agenda of radical reforms.</p> <p>The escalation of the Vietnam War broke up Rustin’s coalition (and his collaboration with Harrington), showing&mdash;not for the first or the last time&mdash;how fragile a broad reformist coalition is likely to be, and how far from certain social democratic victories are. The idea of a labor-community coalition with an inside-outside approach survives today in efforts like Fight for 15 and the Working Families Party, but despite occasional, mostly marginal, reform projects like these, the past forty years or so have seen inequalities widen and solidarities erode. No writer shows half so well what it has felt like to be on the democratic left in America during these decades as has Thomas Geoghegan in <a href="http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/S/bo3632246.html"><em>The Secret Lives of Citizens</em></a> (1998). “When I was thirty and sick of D.C.,” he writes, “I thought: ‘Oh, go! Just pick out a city and be a citizen of it.’” Geoghegan picks Chicago, “our political city,” but&mdash;between Washington gridlock and busted unions and busted cities—being a citizen is not easy in the Carter-to-Clinton era. Geoghegan’s pensive memoir fits together noodle shops, planning commission meetings, votes cast and votes missed, the pleasures of the civil service, Chicago mayoral races, community organizing, a visit to night court, graphs of pay inequality. Geoghegan—a labor lawyer whose other books have described the travails of American unions and the advantages of European left policies—knows the frustration of trying to be a citizen in an uncitizenly time, but refuses to abandon the dream of seeing “the whole republic in a single glance.”</p> <p>Throughout the sad era on which Geoghegan muses, Michael Walzer has been the principal intellectual voice of American social democracy. A long-time editor of <a href="https://www.dissentmagazine.org/"><em>Dissent</em></a> and a prolific political theorist influenced by the works of Polanyi’s friend R.H. Tawney and by <em>Dissent</em> co-founder Irving Howe (who moved from being a left-wing critic of Niebuhr toward his own variety of social democracy), Walzer advocates “connected criticism,” a style of argument that operates inside the shared “moral culture” of the critic and the critic’s audience—recalling both the Biblical prophets and the American community organizing maxim “Start where the people are.” In <a href="http://yalebooks.com/book/9780300103281/politics-and-passion"><em>Politics and Passion</em></a> (2005)—the best introduction to his political thought—Walzer challenges the American tradition of Lockean individualism from within, revealing social democratic possibilities in American political culture. “Standard liberal theory,” he argues, makes “the struggle against inequality more difficult than it should be,” but liberal theory can incorporate a more realistic assessment of power and inequality, of the importance of the memberships to which we do not express our consent, of civil society’s need for support from the state, and of the role of passion—or “impassioned reason”—in helping us to answer the fundamental political question: “Which side are you on?”</p> <p>Walzer’s “connected criticism” is typical of social democratic thinking. Nevertheless, it is no secret that American democratic leftists—Sanders included—admire European, and especially Scandinavian, social democratic achievements. In <a href="http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/politics-international-relations/comparative-politics/primacy-politics-social-democracy-and-making-europes-twentieth-century?format=PB"><em>The Primacy of Politics</em></a> (2006), Sheri Berman shows why the American left often gazes longingly abroad. Drawing on Polanyi, Berman looks backward at the emergence of a new reformism in northern Europe between the 1890s and 1930s. While fascists of that time invented a new authoritarian nationalism, social democrats sought a democratic way to revive “politics” (in Aristotle’s sense: public decisions about shared concerns). The welfare state, a mixed and regulated economy, legal backing for trade unions: these policy innovations belied the economic determinisms of both classical liberalism (The market is always right!) and Marxism (You can’t reform capitalism!). At the same time, the cross-class coalitions forged by social democratic parties suggested that there is more to politics than class conflict. Most important for American readers is Berman’s sense that—unlike in America, where even supporters of social democratic policies have tended to ignore social democratic ideas—social democracy has been, at its best, an intellectual tradition: neither “watered-down Marxism nor bulked-up liberalism, but&hellip;a distinctive ideology…all its own.”</p> editors@contrivers.org (Geoffrey Kurtz) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/30/Kurtz-Bernie-Sanders-Reading-List/ Work Mon, 22 Aug 2016 13:47:24 +0000 November 8, A Garden of Forking Paths http://www.contrivers.org/articles/32/Mart%C3%ADn-Plot-2016-presidential-election/ Martín Plot reflects on the way the 2016 US Presidential election has fundamentally altered how Americans experience and understand their political reality, especially the perception of our shared possibles futures. <p>Election day. We are standing at a time right before voting ends and the combination of demographic data and exit polls starts feeding the television networks’ desire to “call” states for one or the other party before anyone else does. A time right before a generalized frenzy reveals beyond any doubt that an event is taking place as we speak. This time right before might be precisely the right time to engage in some reflections on the meaning of all that preceded the event. This might indeed be the right time because the event will reveal as much as it will hide. That is what all events do. They cancel innumerable possible futures, opened up by the preceding events; and by choosing one or a few of them they tend to make us believe that the other possible futures have been entirely cancelled out.</p> <p>That is not the way time unfolds, however. Time is an ocean: it has hidden currents, sedimented sands, surface waves and tsunamis. The event, however, by hiding and revealing—no visibility could operate otherwise—will not only make us believe that the other “possibles” have been entirely prevented but will in fact contribute to the permanent, or quasi permanent, sedimentation of a good number of those very possibles. So, before the event works its magic and gives birth to a new set of possible futures, making us forget for a while—until, and if, sedimented fragments of the canceled possibles get reactivated by a hidden current or an unexpected tsunami in the near or distant future—the complexity of the present, let us consider what has taken place so far in this election cycle. This will be, as any range of multiple possibles always are, unavoidably fragmented and sequential.</p> <p>The first thing to state about this presidential campaign is that it has been a long time since an election was this political. It is true that, if you have been following (who hasn’t?), the election seems to have been about anything but politics: race, sex, gender, manners, likeability (or, rather, “dis-likeability”). Leaving aside the fact that all these matters are obviously political in their own right, this election has all the chances of becoming the most important, strictly political event in a long time. And by political I mean an event that contributes to fundamentally changing the way a society perceives, structures, and thinks about itself. Although we reach this election day in a context in which the conventional wisdom says otherwise, this thing could still go either way. And this is of course what democratic politics looks like.</p> <p>It is just that we are not used to it. We have gotten used to highly choreographed affairs of 50-50, 51-49, at most 52-48 presidential election results. We have gotten used to heavy campaigning in four, five, maybe six so-called toss-up states. These are states in which people are lead to <em>hate</em> politics because of its overabundance—or rather, because of the overabundance of political campaigning. In the remaining 45 or so states, however, people are led to <em>ignore</em> politics instead—to ignore it due to its absence, or rather due to the absence of campaigning and thus of the very acknowledgment of the existence of politics. And this absence presents a picture of a country that seems to run by itself; or rather run by technicians, appointed by this or that candidate after the toss-up states&ndash;overdosed every four years with politics-understood-as-electioneering&ndash;make their periodic call in the name of us all. This self-understanding of American society and politics may no longer be tenable after this presidential campaign.</p> <p>In this fundamentally political year, events continually shook the highly choreographed and orderly pattern that were characteristic of recent American elections. Until the first of the two big October surprises that probably shook and upended the campaign for good—the “Access Hollywood” tape and the later-aborted FBI’s “reopening” of the email case against Hillary Clinton—events independent of the campaigns seemed to be the only thing that could help Trump win the election. And this was because of a sort of elective affinity between Trump and events. Since the primaries, Trump’s campaign seemed to be uniquely capable of responding to events—and not only because of its narrative of fear and decline, and thus its interpretation of terrorist attacks, racial conflict, etc. as signs of a decline that had to be stopped—but also because of the very nature of the candidate himself. Clinton’s campaign, on the other hand, heavily scripted, “steady and tested” as it claimed all along to be, seemed less capable of doing so.</p> <p>For the Democratic candidate, the country seemed rather to be a kind of well-oiled machine, a more or less predictable machine, a machine sufficiently on course and heading somewhere more or less predictable and good—not too good but “good enough”—and thus in the need of someone savvy, someone who knows how to operate that machine. Not that Clinton’s campaign did not invoke fear, but the fear it invoked was not of what will continue to happen unless we do something about it—Trump’s fears—but the fear of what would happen if we do something about it. <em>Been there, done that</em> seems to have been Clinton’s motto. Trump’s fear, on the other hand, was the fear of accepting, or of being forced to accept, things not as they are but as they are becoming, things as they are both in imagination and in reality, in that amalgam of being and becoming that reality is. Fear became indeed the central driving force of this election as approached by both the Trump and Clinton campaigns: fear of having forever lost the romanticized America that some—mostly, but not only, the white lower and lower middle class males—think they once had and fear of losing the romanticized America that some—mostly, but not only, the urban and suburban, both cultural and economic elites—think they have today.</p> <p>Playing with the central slogan of their campaign—“Make America Great Again”—during the Republican Convention, the slogan of the final night of the convention was “Make America <em>One</em> Again”. This slogan was not about unity just as the reference to “greatness” in the central slogan was not about accepting today’s America and making it great. The latter was, of course, about restoration of white supremacy, thus making America white, homogeneous again. Along the same lines, “Making America One Again,” was not about the unity of diversity, the democratic unity if you wish, but about the purifying unity that comes from purging the body-politic from “alien” elements. America can only be <em>One</em> in an imaginary way, or better, in a fantastic one. Being <em>One</em> is a horizon, not an actual possibility. The wall between the US and Mexico has the same meaning. It is not about being safe, great, one or white again, it is rather about creating a fantastic image of ourselves in which contingent and very much relational and historical dimensions such as safety, greatness, unity and of course the color of our skins are regarded as substantive, absolute, and defining the national identity.</p> <p>The problem is that this fear cannot be solely attributed to the instituting power of the populist, nativist campaign of Donald Trump. How disingenuous are members of the Republican Party—and even of the Democratic Party, who try to underline this perspective for political gain—in claiming that Trump is some kind of an anomaly for a Republican Party that represented peace and love until he came along. The establishment of both parties talk about the optimism of Ronald Reagan, the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush, the welcoming of immigrants by contemporary Republicans. It is hard to believe that they are serious in this claim. Reagan backed every dictatorship or right-wing dirty war in Latin America, Bush committed the “supreme international crime” of aggressive warfare and violated human rights by abducting and torturing an indeterminate number of suspects of terrorism, and the most recent presidential candidate before Trump, together with Cruz and most of the others competing with Trump in the recent primaries, were all openly in favor of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants years ago. The horizon of a nationalist and racist critique of liberalism from the right had been cooking for years within the Republican Party. And sadly, no matter what happens after today’s event, white nationalism will probably not go away; it will remain a strong horizon in American politics either inside or outside the Republican Party.</p> <p>Two very different things happened to the Republican and Democratic Parties—and thus to the political self-institution of society as a whole, since political parties are part of its central locus—in this presidential election: in the Republican Party, the establishment failed to coalesce around a single, anti-insurgent candidate; among the Democrats, the establishment managed to succeed in preventing Bernie Sanders, the democratic-socialist from Vermont, from taking over the party. What the future of these successes and failures might bring us remains to be seen though. What Trump achieved in the Republican Party and Sanders might have failed to achieve in the Democratic are mostly relative re-configurations of internal forces in the already existing composition of the parties. In either case, the change may be so radical that the coalitions will probably not hold together. As of today, it seems that it will be the Republican internal unity that will suffer the most. Although it remains to be seen what happens to the Democrats in power—if Hillary Clinton does win after all—and their ability to keep together the anti-Trump alliance of Sanders-Warren-Feingold progressives and Clinton and Party establishment plutocrats.</p> <p>Let me conclude with the issue of trade: both Clinton and Trump pandered during the campaign to the anti-free trade voters because there are a lot of them—they are the American poor, a group of people rarely addressed directly during the campaigns, but indirectly appealed to through this kind of populist invocation. Nevertheless, let me advance the hypothesis that neither Clinton nor Trump probably meant what they said. Trump, if he were to win, might cherry pick, here and there, where to mess with treaties, and would do so mostly for the nationalist appeal of it. Clinton, on the other hand, would probably not even do that. The question from an electoral strategy perspective thus was: who would win the code-talking language, i.e. “I don’t fully mean it” kind of talk? And in this particular matter, it was Trump that probably enjoyed a structural advantage, because the voters he needed not-to-lose-rather-than-win-over were traditional Republican voters who were mostly sympathetic to the idea of the government not messing with economic regulations. And code-talking is better for not losing voters than for winning them over.</p> <p>In other words, on the Democratic side, the voters Hillary Clinton needed not-to-lose were the traditional Democratic voters, who tend to be all for government regulation and redistributive policies and do not like the feeling of “I don’t really mean it” coming from Clinton’s speech. While the voters she needed to win over were those that are supposed to like the code-talking, something that has a lot less chances of succeeding. The bottom line is: Trump, on the one hand, was explicitly addressing the voters that normally do not vote for the Republican Party while hoping those who normally vote for it to get that he did not fully meant what he was saying. Clinton, on the other hand, was explicitly addressing the voters that normally vote Democratic (and many of them had a hard time trusting her on trade and free market issues) while hoping that those who normally do not vote for the party would just jump sides out of code-talking.</p> <p>Here we stand. Today’s event will reveal and hide different dimensions of the debates, conflicts and uncertainties that dominated the electoral campaign. Some of the “possibles” of today will seem to have never had a chance of becoming real in the first place only a few hours from now—but we know that this will be an optical, or rather an existential illusion. The truth is that multiple outcomes are possible today and that different times will conflate and fork in such a way that, close as we are to tomorrow, there is no way yet to predict what it will look like.</p> editors@contrivers.org (Martín Plot) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/32/Mart%C3%ADn-Plot-2016-presidential-election/ Tue, 08 Nov 2016 08:29:42 +0000 Identity and Equality in the 2016 Presidential Election http://www.contrivers.org/articles/34/Martin-Plot-2016-presidential-election-retrospective/ The party conventions in July staged for everyone to see that the Republican Party was not going into the 2016 election unified—what almost everyone missed was that a lack of unity would actually propel them to a win in November. <p>America has not reflected on its own democracy for a while. We used to assume that we knew very well what it means, what its main features are, what its origins and even its destiny are. Although we have experienced events in the recent past that should have made us more reflective of its currents status—such as 9/11 and its aftermath—2016 should not become a second missed opportunity for self-inspection. Eight years ago we were witnessing the clearest expression of an end-that-is-a-beginning you can think of: the Democratic Party primary season saw a young, inspiring African American political leader about to become the first African American presidential candidate and, just a few months later, the first African American president. </p> <p>But that was not all. Probably even more important than that, this first African American president was at the time the symbol of the rejection of a past and the embrace of a possible future: the rejection of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, of the illegality and incompetence of it all, and the embrace of a future of international cooperation and respect for its institutional forms. He was so much a symbol of all this that he even received a Nobel Peace Price as a down payment for that promising future! After this, how did we end up in 2016 with an election in which George W. Bush (all the Bushes, actually) and most of his foreign policy advisors and ideologues, the Neocons, openly or implicitly backing the candidate put forward by Obama’s party, the same party that was supposed to have symbolized the rejection of precisely Republican neoconservatives’ time in power?</p> <p>We have missed something important. During 2016, the party that pundits and even most serious analysts thought was in disarray and destined to defeat and decline ended up winning the election and will soon dominate all three branches of government; while the party that looked composed and orderly lost the election and will certainly face intense internal strife—and, hopefully, renewal. During the hard-fought internecine party battles of the year, the Democratic establishment suffered as much of a challenge within their own ranks as the Republicans, but the Democratic elite obtained a pyrrhic victory that contributed to their surprising ability to continue until the bitter end in denial of the anti-elitist discontent spreading around the country—both left and right.</p> <p>The party conventions in July epitomized what was going on: they staged for everyone to see that the Republican Party was not going into the 2016 election unified—what almost everyone missed was that a lack of unity would actually propel them to a win in November. During the Republican convention, the matrix that organized the schedule of days and speakers was: &ldquo;Make America &hellip; Again&rdquo;. If this matrix was able to be made meaningful by filling the blank in so many different ways—make America great, safe, one, white (or at least less colorful, or at least colorful in such a way that it becomes clear that one of the “colors” regains its preeminence,) heteronormative (that is, extending the same principle to sexual orientation: restoring preeminence while not completely rejecting the others or, better put, restoring hierarchy,) again—what that probably meant was that what mattered was much more the matrix itself than the multiple ways in which it could be given life. The whole meaning of the Trump campaign was that of a restoring revolution, one that could allow those formerly unchallenged in their dominance to feel safe, powerful and, most importantly, legitimate again.</p> <p>This is what generated the enthusiasm that the Democratic Party so sorely lacked, especially after having barely defeated the challenge posed by a socialist from Vermont who could have eventually offered an alternative to some of the potential supporters of the coalition of discontent. The nationalism, nativism, and racism, only partially disguised as a restorative revolution by the Republican candidate, offered a (re)entrance to political life and even (mostly xenophobic) joy to those who have increasingly felt forgotten by the widening gap between economic winners and losers—and taken for granted by the Democratic Party. And this happened mostly because this very party slowly became oblivious to the fact that equality cannot be reduced to an identitarian principle applied, in a particularist way, to each group that has a legitimate grievance against past or present injustices. Equality is a generic, performative principle that, when absent, might trigger a logic of (for now mostly cultural) war of all against all. Sooner or later one substantialized identity was going to feel excluded by the cherry picking of policies and language and was going to act accordingly.</p> <p>Not surprisingly, that identity became the historically and, according to most synchronic indicators, still dominant one. Perception, however, is never synchronic; it always takes a diachronic view of things. Thus the cultural and symbolic improvement of other substantialized and traditionally oppressed identities, with the still larger substantialized identity losing ground vis-à-vis the wealthy and powerful in the social pyramid, left many to take seriously the xenophobic, sexist, and racist promises of an <em>arriviste</em>. As I tried to underline in my previous contribution to this publication, the world of “possibles” opened up by this circumstance is multiple and indeterminate. Those possibles might be good, bad and who knows what else. Whatever the case, we must accept the fact that none of them is impossible and that we do not even know what they all are.</p> <p>In broad terms, we must accept the possibility that the worst tendencies might be deepened: the war on terror might radicalize its unchecked nature and metamorphose into even worse policies and actions implemented by our executive; social inequality might continue to increase; and current and future demagogues might continue to persuade large numbers of self-identified members of the largest substantialized identity (White Americans) to blame the weaker Others and other countries for their misfortunes. If all this happens, we will face a very dark and dangerous period of our unexceptional life. If the opposite happens, however, we might soon be witnessing the renaissance of a renewed Democratic Party that finally breaks with its plutocratic patrons and finds an egalitarian voice to express the legitimate grievances of those left behind by today’s America—and the Republican Party, controlling all branches of government, badly overreaching and worsening the conditions of us all, might unexpectedly facilitate this development. In any case, chances are that, whatever the future holds for us, this will reveal itself to be neither black nor white but rather some ambiguous shade of gray. Let us at least make sure that our intellectual arrogance and national pride do not get in the way of perceiving the subtle tones of what will be going on around us.</p> editors@contrivers.org (Martín Plot) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/34/Martin-Plot-2016-presidential-election-retrospective/ Election 2016 Tue, 13 Dec 2016 11:38:54 +0000 Seven Rules to Consolidate Whiteness in the US http://www.contrivers.org/articles/36/How-to-Consolidate-Racism-US/ How liberal politics reinforces racism in seven simple rules. <p>Adapted from Jacques Rancière&rsquo;s &lsquo;Sept Règles&rsquo;.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup></p> <h3 id="1-talk-incessantly-about-donald-trump-and-his-racist-policies">1) TALK INCESSANTLY ABOUT DONALD TRUMP AND HIS RACIST POLICIES.</h3> <p>The only subject of conversation since the election is THIS apocalyptic nightmare. It is important to talk about it today and tomorrow, so that the main frame of what is seen and what is not seen is established. Read your Facebook feed, share articles produced by Slate and Salon, and center all conversation within a discourse driven by the agenda of Trump administration.</p> <h3 id="2-show-your-indignation-that-trump-is-doing-this-or-that">2) SHOW YOUR INDIGNATION THAT TRUMP IS DOING THIS OR THAT.</h3> <p>Your anger achieves a triple effect:</p> <p>a) Makes racism banal by restricting it to one person.</p> <p>Watch with delight Jon Oliver&rsquo;s and Trevor Noah&rsquo;s shows. Because Trump is the angry target of ridicule and laughter, you feel good and laugh. You feel angry. Now you are doing something. Trump embodies everything that is bad. Aid in making racism ubiquitous by ignoring the structures and discourses that produce THIS one person and his administration.</p> <p>b) Disavows whiteness by taking pleasure in denouncing Trump.</p> <p>Meet your white liberal friend and complain about Trump’s racism and xenophobia. What Trump is doing is truly reprehensible. Feel the frisson of pleasure from the position of non-risk that only whiteness allows you. Enjoy the scandal of the Trump administration’s anti-Black, anti-immigrant racism that can only come through denunciation.</p> <p>c) Reproduces white supremacy through discussions about professionalism and empiricism.</p> <p>Re-watch Jon Oliver&rsquo;s show. Denounce conservative news as empirically false and categorize Trump as an exceptionally &ldquo;crazy&rdquo; and inarticulate president. You know the truth. Conservatives are liars. &ldquo;Fake news&rdquo; is factually untrue. Facts are irrefutable. Catch them with their lies. Once you have this valuable method you can show why Trump is unfit. He is crazy. It is evident. There is evidence. Facts and science cannot be racist, misogynistic, or classist. Neither can <em>The New Yorker</em>.</p> <p>Re-watch Trevor Noah&rsquo;s show. Feel shame about your president. By the way, shame can feel good. He, unlike Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu, is not a “professional” and can barely speak. Center professionalism at the heart of your critique, and in the process consolidate elitist hierarchies about who speaks in public. Put white professionalism at the heart of your anger. Update CV.         </p> <h3 id="3-talk-about-seriously-addressing-the-question-of-immigrants">3) TALK ABOUT &ldquo;SERIOUSLY &ldquo;ADDRESSING THE QUESTION OF IMMIGRANTS.</h3> <p>Meet your white friend. Tell them that you really hate Trump but that something needs to be done about immigration. Tell them that you believe we are “all immigrants” after all—except, oh yeah, indigenous people and the whole pipeline thing—and that something needs to be done. You sometimes believe the immigrant is a problem. Other times you love talking about immigrants as good, honest, hardworking people. There are “good” immigrants! And the children! Erase any histories of immigration and whiteness associated with it, primarily your role in benefiting from the immigrant scare. Consolidate the figure of &ldquo;the immigrant.” Demonstrate to racists that you can not come up with a solution to address it. Sign petition for sanctuary status in your town or city.</p> <h3 id="4-insist-that-racism-has-a-real-base-because-it-is-a-problem-of-globalization-and-lack-of-jobs">4) INSIST THAT RACISM HAS A REAL BASE BECAUSE IT IS A PROBLEM OF GLOBALIZATION AND LACK OF JOBS.</h3> <p>Read <em>The Economist</em> and <em>The New York Times</em>. They are factual. They are right, you say, white nationalism is caused by white people living in poverty because of globalization. What do you do? Instead of thinking about how global exchanges of commodities and poverty benefit rich people, talk about how white racism is rooted in poverty and ignorance.</p> <h3 id="5-insist-that-racism-derives-from-the-lower-classes-or-better-that-is-the-problem-of-the-white-working-class-that-needs-to-be-helped">5) INSIST THAT RACISM DERIVES FROM THE LOWER CLASSES, OR BETTER, THAT IS THE PROBLEM OF THE WHITE WORKING CLASS THAT NEEDS TO BE HELPED.</h3> <p>You know what happened during the last elections. Ignorant people were ignorant but you have the right solution. You are going to educate them and help them overcome their racist impulses. This rule is helpful because it shows that the so-called &ldquo;anti-racists&rdquo; have the same reflexes as racists. They locate the problem with a category of people: the white working class. Consolidate the rooted alliances between liberal &ldquo;anti-racists&rdquo; and racists by turning discussions back to saving the white working class from itself. Boycott Walmart.</p> <h3 id="6-call-for-politicians-to-denounce-racism-without-any-ambiguity">6) CALL FOR POLITICIANS TO DENOUNCE RACISM WITHOUT ANY AMBIGUITY.</h3> <p>Call on Democratic politicians to denounce Trump. Make Trump the honest voice, the one that tells the truth, by distinguishing him from the “real” and “normal” Republicans and Democrats. Help produce a right-wing that is the only force that can tell it &ldquo;like it is&rdquo; by exposing the motives of “real” politicians. Consolidate that distinction by asking good politicians to denounce racism because a denunciation of racism equates to its eradication. </p> <p>It is important that Trump and Steve Bannon become exceptions to the consensus, the ones that are victims of a larger liberal conspiracy. That will give them the certificate of anti-racists that will allow them to put racist legislation in practice.</p> <h3 id="7-ask-for-tougher-legislation-to-ban-racists">7) ASK FOR TOUGHER LEGISLATION TO BAN RACISTS.</h3> <p>Your anger about racism has reached the boiling point. Ask for punishments to ban racist speech. Consolidate racists as martyrs of liberty. Feel angry when actual people take risks and punch Nazis. They violate the decorum. They are extremists. The good fight is the one from a position of safety and control, when you can express your so-called &ldquo;anti-racism&rdquo; by distancing yourself from anything that is effective in anti-racist work.</p> <p>How can you spread white nationalism in the US?  Simply, denounce its vision at the rhetorical level so that racists become martyrs. Show that only the clean racists can help us save from dirty racists.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Jacques Rancière, &ldquo;<a href="http://www.bok.net/pajol/debat/presse/lemonde/ranciere.html">Sept règles pour aider à la diffusion des idées racistes en France</a>&rdquo;, Le Monde, March 21, 1997. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (The Anti-Racist Collective) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/36/How-to-Consolidate-Racism-US/ Work Sun, 26 Mar 2017 09:20:37 +0000