[iDC] DIY: nightmare for humanities, social sciences, media

Blake Stimson blakestimson at gmail.com
Thu Sep 22 06:48:24 UTC 2011

Very helpful analysis Brian, thank you for the way you flesh out the issues at hand so productively and the way you cut to the chase so decisively. Your opening salvo seems particularly useful:

> From my view, we live in a knowledge economy that never became a knowledge society. 

The only question I would pose is the knowledge-society-baby-in-the-knowledge-economy-bathwater or dialectic-of-enlightenment one. That is, the old notion of imminent critique assumed that institutions like church and state housed the potential for meaningful change in moral and constitutional laws like "do unto others" or "universal rights of man." We might take education's conventional maxim to house a similar aspiration: http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/graphicresources/history.php. Hannah Arendt puts this in context when she said: "The great danger arising from the existence of people forced to live outside the common world is that they are thrown back, in the midst of civilization, on … nothing but [their] own absolutely unique individuality which, deprived of expression within and action upon a common world, loses all significance." The question, in other words, is what role do you envision for institutions per se, if not those which have traditionally laid claim to universalism?

In this regard, I take you to be absolutely right when you say that,

> The universities have bloated along with the knowledge economy,

But I worry that you overreach when you say that,

> they are now almost as corrupt as Wall Street itself ... [and] simply [deny] the existence of society. 

It's not so much that I take you to be wrong--certainly it is broadly if not totally the case (although it might be worth noting that Wall Street is an exclusively economic institution in ways that education is not)--but I do worry about _whose_ autonomy will win out in this scenario:

> The institutions of knowledge production are overblown ... [and] are massively reproducing the corrupted basis of the knowledge economy. Autonomous education can help change that...

Universities are indeed overblown--just like post offices, trade unions, governments, etc. In short, universities suffer from bureaucratization and that needs to be challenged as many on this list are right to want to do. But it is also prudent to be mindful of the consistency between the bureaucrats in universities who support the neoliberal powers-that-be by being anti-university (and anti-knowledge-society) and what you refer to as a movement for autonomous education. Institutional critique is the ruling sentiment of our day and its cutting edge lies most fully on the right. Typically this involves one of two positions--either that of the savvy profiteer in it to make a killing or that of the under-educated resentment-filled enthusiast doomed to play the role of the perennial "fool and his money" (with the money at issue being not only her private educational savings account but also what is left of the public funding that would have supported the educational aims of she and her friends.) 

This, of course, is very different from the institutional critique on a list like this one with its valuable aim of rethinking the social role of education and imagining different ways that role might be realized. But it is also important to consider the ways in which our reimagining--as well-meaning and insightful as it is--may unwittingly be under the thumb of those with significantly more power to wield who have a very different future in mind, a future whose governing principles are those of the knowledge economy devoid of any glimmer of the great enlightenment dream of a knowledge society. 

"Let there be light."


On Sep 21, 2011, at 9:26 AM, Brian Holmes wrote:

> On 09/20/2011 11:41 AM, John Hopkins wrote:
>> Howard Odum, in his landmark (updated) book "Environment, Power, and Society
>> (for the 21st Century) The Hierarchy of Energy" (2007) demonstrates that because
>> information/knowledge requires energy for it to be captured, maintained, and
>> propagated, when a society (or other system) heads into an energy-poor situation
>> (versus the energy-rich 200-years we've been enjoying to date), the scope of
>> information AND knowledge available to the system decreases.
> That's an interesting recommendation, thanks, I will follow it up.
> From my view, we live in a knowledge economy that never became a 
> knowledge society. The digital communications and information-processing 
> system has developed as a form of financial governance serving, on the 
> one hand, to articulate the just-in-time production system, and on the 
> other, to prey on the pools of savings that have accumulated throughout 
> the world (from health-care funds to retirements via your home, bank 
> account, negative savings on the credit card, etc). The universities 
> have bloated along with the knowledge economy, to the point where they 
> are now almost as corrupt as Wall Street itself.
> All this is headed for a crash, not (yet) because of energy shortages, 
> but simply because finance is a lousy way to govern. Long-term 
> environmental determinisms should not distract from the actual trends 
> that push them. The present crash is real (check the daily papers) and 
> may become a lot worse as neglected ecological problems spur conflicts 
> in all directions. The last big financial crash led to fascism and world 
> war. This one may well lead to world civil war - a generalized societal 
> struggle of all against all.
> Over the last three decades, the university knowledge factories have 
> produced this economy, along with a neoliberal ideology (represented in 
> its pure form by so-called "public choice theory") that simply denies 
> the existence of society. Philosophers and other humanities, arts and 
> social-sciences profs have mostly gone along for the corporate ride, 
> especially at the top ends of the system where they are seduced into 
> inconsequence. As for the hard scientists, those who have stood up 
> against the instrumentalization of their disciplines are extremely rare. 
> Basically it is only the adjuncts who have made some efforts at 
> transforming all that!
> Of course, there are still a large number of thoughtful people out 
> there, who now feel quite uncomfortable at the way things have gone - 
> and not only at the potential loss of some of their prestige, perks, job 
> security, etc. George's concern about what will happen to the humanities 
> and social sciences is well founded. If they were to just disappear from 
> the residual public realm, no one in power would miss them. Rich people 
> will always be able to pay for their Shakespeare and their de Sade, and 
> corporations have their social sciences covered pretty well (they call 
> it "management"). The others will always have distance learning from 
> Phoenix. The result is a country where people are either careerist 
> egotists pursuing their private stars, or harried and debt-ridden 
> flextimers without a single moment for collective thinking and 
> organizing. In other words, a country just like the USA.
> Sorry, but the complaints about the fate of the humanities seem to me 
> just as shallow as the enthusiasms for DIY learning by computer. Either 
> we start a revolution in the knowledge factory, or we're screwed, my 
> friends! The institutions of knowledge production are overblown, but 
> clearly unable to respond to the current crisis. At this point they are 
> massively reproducing the corrupted basis of the knowledge economy. 
> Autonomous education can help change that, if it is not just an 
> imitation of the corporate model based on fragmented interactivity. We 
> need critique that is turned toward action. And it has to become 
> socially complex, which implies some kind of institutional form. A 
> response to the crisis from inside academia is still on hold - stopped 
> at the top by professors who will not risk becoming as political as 
> their right-wing counterparts already are. Without such a response, the 
> nightmare will not just be for your favorite humanities program.
> let's act toward another future, BH
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