Three reflections on regeneration and the university

The regeneration of the University might be imposed or enacted; stultifying or emancipating.

Pedagogy

‘It is remarkable how quickly all strata in public universities — staff, faculty, administrators, students — have grown accustomed to the saturation of university life by neoliberal rationality, metrics, and principles of governance.’[1]- Wendy Brown

To demand the regeneration of pedagogy within the university is to reject the current models of ‘education’ that the standardised, marketized university offers. As the university digitalises and rationalises, what we are offered as consumer-students is the ceaseless, perfect communication of ideas and technical knowledge from anonymised lecturers, performing to equally anonymous lecture theatres of passive (pacified!) students. Such a regime of education is identified by philosopher Jacques Ranciere as an explicative order– the teacher as omniscient and the student as an empty, unknowing vessel for transmitted wisdom. Conveniently, such a model maps onto the ‘neoliberal university’ of purchased and exchanged education, neatly packaged and seamlessly delivered.

This consumerist, explicative order ensures the disappearance of a university community committed to collective learning and experimentation, and the hegemony of unquestioned, atomised experience.

To demand the regeneration of pedagogy is to demand the return of confusion and disagreement in learning. Against the explicative order, we must learn to revive and heroize the figure that theorist Byung-chul Han calls ‘the idiot.’[2] This figure refuses to simply be informed by those who instruct them, and rather learns from failure and necessary experimentation. To embrace idiocy in learning is to will ignorance and questioning - to strive for miscommunication, debate, and the failed transmission of pre-packaged knowledge. Idiocy allows for the revival of agency in both student and teacher, as learning becomes directed by gaps in knowledge and zones of ignorance.

‘The neo-liberal system converts students, faculty, administrators, and policy makers into specific kinds of social actors: meritocratic strivers who seek to climb the ladder of success higher and faster than their direct competitors. These neo-liberal persons together interact to produce a university system in which all are instrumental strivers constrained to follow tracks laid out for them. This is the death of higher education, not a reform of a system.’[3] Jemielniak, D., & Greenwood, D. J.

Community

‘Students must come to see themselves as the problem, which, counter to the complaints of restorationist critics of the university, is precisely what it means to be a customer, to take on the burden of realisation and always necessarily be inadequate to it. ‘

Fred Moten and Stefano Harney,[4]

The regeneration of a student community might unfold in a number of ways; it might amount to a totally-administered procedure of pre-ordained, purchasable student ‘experiences.’ While marginalised student groups remain alienated and ignored, the formal institutions of the university are concerned only with profitability and false-prestige gained through regeneration projects like the Futures Institute. Shadowy millions flow into an institute designed for future-oriented ‘innovation’, while mental health and support services of the present-day decay. Increasingly distant staff-student relations are abandoned, with the logic of a consumer contract seized to ensure hostilities.

A counter-regeneration, however, is possible and already occurring. Against the aggressive monotony of university, student occupations, staff strikes, decolonisation workshops, and queer art collectives can disrupt and revive communities within the university. Campaigns of dissent and transformation refute the enforced process of university life as a mere transitory stage prior to immersion (and immiseration) into career-living.

Students can come to identify directly as a problem of the university governance, subverting the models of marketized education and a depoliticised student community and problematising a structure that treats students as both commodity and consumer.

Site

‘…Could it be more than an ideological training camp, a carceral institution?’[5]To answer Mark Fisher’s question regarding the potential utility of higher education – is it more than a site for global capital to reproduce itself? – we might think of the how the university regenerates itself as a porous location; to which communities does its labour and knowledge flow? Which communities does it exploit? The regeneration of the university as a creative site might possibly arise through the so-called Futures Institute; ever-closer union with the interests of finance capitalism, management, and big-data offer one path to regeneration. The university might become porous to the world around it through allowing cognitive labourers and innovative bureaucrats to flow out freely. It might allow specialists within the current paradigm to ask how ‘How can studying management relieve the refugee crisis?’[6]without questioning the political, causal reality of refugee camps themselves, or to ponder ‘on the Future of Capitalism and the Corporation.’[7]

Conversely, we might regenerate (perhaps for the first time!) genuine, non-patronising links with the Edinburgh community; instead of becoming porous with new global elites, but with the working people who reproduce the university and city itself. The people of Edinburgh have all the right to reject such prospects for closer unity with a university that is actively facilitating gentrification and destruction of its community sites. Despite ceaseless campaigning to prevent more of Edinburgh disappearing into an inferno of profitable blandness, perhaps the hopes for regenerating or building a university-city community are already lost. Increased relations via struggle and amplified mutual sharing of knowledge, and the elimination of the University’s vampiric[8]practices regarding property and labour, provides the only way out.


[1]Brown, W., 2015. Undoing the demos: Neoliberalism's stealth revolution. Mit Press.p.198

[2]Han, Byung-Chul. Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and new technologies of power. Verso Books, 2017.p.60-63

[3]Jemielniak, D., & Greenwood, D. J. (2015). Wake Up or Perish: Neo-Liberalism, the Social Sciences, and Salvaging the Public University. CulturalStudiesCritical Methodologies, 15(1), 72–82.

[4]Moten, F. and Harney, S., 2013. The undercommons: Fugitive planning and black study. Wivenhoe, UK & New York: Minor Compositions. P.29

[5]Mark Fisher,K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisherp.165

[6]See the pseudo-slick, pseudo-profound advertisements for the Futures institute along Lauriston Place.

[7]‘The Future of Capitalism and the Corporation’ event ‘https://www.facebook.com/events/2518060454874902/’

[8]To steal Marx’s own evocative phrasing – Capital, Volume One, Part III Chapter 10


*Illustration by Nick Springthorpe*

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