photo by SG

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sites of Struggle?

Been considering the location of the university in society. I've heard lots of different arguments about its centrality in conflict, class or otherwise, and I'm interested to hear what others think about it.

Here are two perspectives that I've heard:

Higher education is not a central location for struggle, it just seems that way because so many academics write about it and desperately want it to be a site, so that they can participate. I think this is a pretty valid criticism of a lot of things. (I contend that the popularity of post-modernism is similar.) There's kind of a feedback loop where academics want the university to be an important strategic location, so they find evidence that says it is, everyone sees these papers about the importance of the university and then everyone in the university begins to struggle because they have told themselves it's important.

The University is centrally important because it involves so many other sectors of the economy, while also producing a kind of value that doesn't appear in other settings. This seems pretty popular with the kind of post-workerist set, Negri and such. I think its got some solid ideas. Students often live in basically ghettos, contending with the same kind of landlords as in poor neighborhoods. There's an immense number of people on campuses who do work, from all different sorts of trades. It takes an enormous amount of energy, physical and environmental, to make a university function. Plus, there's something to be said about the value produced by the university itself. This perspective made most sense to me after I helped with the U of M strike last year. I realized exactly how many pressure points and connections existed in the university and beyond it. I remember hearing that the U is one of the largest employers in the state.

So maybe these represent the two extreme arguments, but they're both worth considering. As I do my best to get the hell out of academia as soon as possible, I keep hearing arguments that suck me back in and keep me hooked in with groups like SDS. So what is the role of the university in terms of struggle? Is it central, secondary, merely peripheral? And once we answer that question, we can only begin to ask the next one, which is "So how do we organize it?" I'll leave that one for another day.


William said...

"Students often live in basically ghettos, contending with the same kind of landlords as in poor neighborhoods."


Setanta said...

Actually, I just asserted that with no evidence outside of hearing lots of stories. It'd be more productive if either of us had proof here.

Nate said...

It's not central and the post-operaismo type arguments made by Negri et al are based on some serious overgeneralization and a pretty bad understanding of the epoch that they believe has ended (fordism/modernity/whatever). We'd end capitalism way faster by a strike of all the longshore worker than by all the education workers.

That said, the non-centrality of academia is no reason not to organize there. The reason to organize there is because we work there. My job is pretty peripheral to the economy, but I sure as hell need organization - I can't really live on what I get paid and the stress is atrocious.

I also think that the search for one central location is premature given where we're at today: we're in no place to even dream of taking over and shut down/seize some key sector of the global or national condition.

take care,