Review: “Neoliberalism, Militarization, and the Price of Dissent”

Godrej, Farah.  2014.  “Neoliberalism, Militarization, and the Price of Dissent”  In Chatterjee, Piya and Maira, Sunaina (Eds.), The Imperial University. (Pp.124-143) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 

Farah Godrej is the author of Cosmopolitan Political Thought: Method, Practice, Discipline (2011).  She is also an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside (2014: 358).  Upon reading her chapter on Neoliberalism, Militarization, and the Price of Dissent in the Imperial University (2014), it becomes immediately evident that Godrej is arguing against the very system within which she is intertwined; for she is an associate professor the the University of California, yet is arguing that the University has been not only involved but “committed” (125) to deliberately and systematically privatizing education.  Although many universities are doing the very same thing, Godrej focuses largely on her own University as she is familiar with the ways in which the University of California has been shifting, quite deliberately, from being a public education system to an increasingly privatized one since 2009 (125).  This, it would seem, is especially frustrating for Godrej as the University of California had previously been what she refers to as “one of the nation’s premier public education systems” (125).  In the process of privatization, the University has had to employ several dubious tactics in order to subscribe itself wholeheartedly to the neoliberal agenda while systematically suppressing academic dissent, and these acts of violence and repression are what Godrej focuses the bulk of her chapter on.

In many ways reminiscent of the events surrounding the 2012 Quebec student protests, Godrej writes about the strategic ways a University becomes privatized; namely this involves budget cuts, the enforcement of tuition hikes, and other “austerity” measures that are highly politicized (125).  This, of course, is bound to make people who realize what’s going on very angry, as it did recently in Quebec.  Godrej argues that the militarization and criminalization of dissent become powerful tools of control used to ensure that the numerous angry people who are being repressed don’t act up, thus infringing on the University’s neoliberal privatization agenda.  In placing an extremely high price on dissent (such as jail, being met with police violence, being publicly stigmatized, etcetera), further dissent is discouraged.

Similar to what we have seen discussed in the three previous chapters of The Imperial University (Bascara, Gonzalez and Oparah), Godrej is also concerned with access to University education and what this means to those who can not afford the high costs of a privatized education system.  Godrej argues that privatizing education creates a system within which access to education requires “wealth and privilege” (126).  This, she argues, is a deliberate scheme to further increase categories of class and race through an increasing widening of inequalities related to income, while simultaneously creating profits for banks and other private sector organizations  (Godrej 2014: 126).  Through the reinforcement of neoliberal imperatives, education is being reframed by those who directly profit from its privatization and commodification as a private good that must be therefore be paid for (126-127).

Not only is the price of education being called into question by Godrej, but also the high price of dissent.  Godrej argues that dissenters regularly face militarization, as well as criminalization as consequences of protesting against privatization.  Peaceful protests movements are often met with militarized violence, which is justified “through the use of rhetoric” that paints the protesters as “potentially dangerous and threatening” (128).  Of course by now we have all seen videos of peaceful protests that were met by police violence, and Godrej points to similar events on page 129.  However, what’s interesting is that she then goes on to emphasize the argument that in fact, the militarization of University campuses is decisively linked with the “privatization of public universities” (129). This link between privatization and militarization, Godrej argues, is being reinforced through police brutality which serves as a sort of administrative tool to enforce tuition hikes (129-130).  Another component of the enforcement strategy is criminalization, which Godrej argues serves to make the price of dissent incredibly high by systematically criminalizing those who speak out or protests against privatization (131). Interestingly, Godrej points to the bizarre logic used by city employees and university administration to rationalize militarized police violence and criminalization of those who dissent or protest (132-133).  In fact, because even the most peaceful forms of protest can be easily perceived as threatening, disruptive or confrontational, thus meriting violent intervention or causing the protesters to face costly criminal charges, it is probably best to just abandon any type of criticism and simply comply with what Godrej refers to as the “growing arbitrary power of the sovereign” (133).

In the conclusion to her chapter, Godrej points to the fact that despite the high costs of dissent, people continue to struggle against neoliberal privatization.  In light of Godrej’s arguments that point to the high costs of protesting, what can be done to address the increasing neoliberal privatization of education without placing oneself in danger or militarization or criminalization?  Is this, indeed, what Godrej is doing from within her position as an associate professor at the very University she is discussing?  Further, many protests movements do not gain public support because they are portrayed as disruptive of public life, and the protesters themselves are often represented as unemployed, homeless, generally not useful to society, and subsequently criminalized.  What are some ways in which protest movements could perhaps gain more public support?  This is particularly important in a time when post-9/11 neoliberal logic convinces people that there is a dangerous “other” just waiting to ruin everything for them (as discussed by Godrej on p. 137).  Could the use of force be justified by this logic?