REVIEW: CITATION AND CENSURE

Puar, Jasbir. (2014). “Citation and Censure: Pinkwashing and the Sexual Politics of Talking about Isreal.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University (pp. 281-297). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Flowing along nicely with the general theme of The Imperial University; Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent, Jasbir Puar’s chapter on Citation and Censure is centered around her experience of being completely misinterpreted, and thus quite unfairly criticized for an article she had published in 2010 entitled “Israel’s Gay Propaganda War”.  Shortly before she was to give a talk at a conference, Puar found out she was being accused of anti-Semitism based on her critique of the Western construction of the Muslim “Other”.  Even more upsetting, however, was the fact that she found out another scholar had very publicly made derogatory comments about her, and her work, stating in an interview that Puar was not only essentially insane for viewing Israel as a totalitarian state but also implied that she was ridiculous for basing her analysis on her activist work.  This negative experience, as Puar expresses in her chapter, quite clearly illustrates the ways in which academic freedom is contested.  This is particularly true in cases, such as Puar’s, where the scholar’s dissent is based on a critique of Israeli State oppression that doesn’t hold in line well with powerful forms of imperialism, such as the United States.

This chapter, which is based on a lecture Puar eventually delivered at Humboldt University, is concerned with conveying the ways in which the Israel-Palestine conflict is related, often in incredibly complex ways, to debates regarding gay and lesbian rights. Essentially, Puar is arguing that the framing of sexual rights has implications on regional politics within the Israel-Palestine conflict, but that these implications also extend across the globe to the United States and to Canada.  As an example of the ways in which global politics can indeed be affected by regional politics, Puar points to the Brand Israel campaign. Within the clever realms of this campaign, she argues, pinkwashing is produced as a means for Israel to reiterate the terms of Palestinian occupation by ensuring that it is well-established on a global scale that Israel is civilized while Palestine is barbaric, uncivilized and even homophobic (287).

In strategically branding Palestine as unfriendly toward gays, Israel is creating and perpetuating an image of Palestine that allows it to be deemed as increasingly backward and unsavory in the eyes of the world’s more liberal and progressive (or, powerful) countries in the West.  By casting Israel as the more gay-friendly and democratically free country, the Brand Israel campaign strategically targets international events that are set in very large global cities, such as film festivals, in order to further perpetuate the image of Israel as superior to Palestine, and in hopes of gaining more international support in their crusade against Palestine.  Thus gay rights are simply a framing mechanism being used by Israel as a means to further continue to oppress Palestine, as Puar argues.

Further, Puar refers to her previous works on what she has termed as “homonationalism”, and argues that homonationalism is a powerful force which serves to reinforce US colonial interests by evaluating nations based on their treatment of women and homosexuals.  The perceived oppression of women and/or gays then serves as a powerful means to “justify imperialist violence” (283) based on the nation’s failures to live up to contemporary neoliberal expectations of so-called equality. Therefore, Puar is illustrating the ways in which gay and lesbian rights are linked to political oppression, but more importantly to the politics of colonial control on the part of the West over nations that are deemed as uncivilized. When looking at it in that way, one can see how the issue of colonial oppression and control on the part of the West is not one that has been squelched at all in modern, supposedly egalitarian neoliberal times.  Rather, it has simply been reframed in ways (such as through the Israeli gay rights movement) in which nations that are perceived not to convene with contemporary standards of acceptance are made to appear as completely uncivilized and backward. This appearance of being unable to convene with contemporary neoliberal expectancies thus creates a climate in which the seizing of imperial control over them is framed to be deemed as acceptable, or even necessary.

Indeed, Puar’s chapter clearly illustrates the ways in which widely accepted notions of cultural superiority are often used as a very effective means of domination and control.  Further, although Puar was accused of anti-Semitism, she argues that what she is offering is not anti-Semitism at all, but rather an analysis of the ways sexual and state politics can be linked. Therefore, the accusations of anti-Semitism that Puar was faced with are reflective of the ways in which dominant neoliberal ideas can be used as a means to suppress dissenting voices.  Through including her own struggles with academic censorship in her chapter, Puar’s piece not only discusses gay and lesbian rights as they are framed in the Israel/Palestine conflict, but also the ways in which dominant neoliberal ideas can be used as an effective means of control from within academia as well.

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REVIEW: TEACHING BY CANDLELIGHT

Prashad, Vijay. (2014). “Teaching by Candlelight.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University (pp. 329-341). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Should questions particular to the university – and just representation of the opinions of all members therein – focus solely on the issue of “academic freedom,” or something more? For Prashad, democracy within the university extends beyond this notion, and includes, for instance, an understanding of those factors that prevent some individuals from pursing a post-secondary education. Focusing on higher education in the United States, Prashad alludes to popular opinions on its problems (i.e. high cost of tuition), and how these lead to the narrowing of student opportunities to “enjoy the world of ideas and seek solutions to planetary problems and opportunities” (2014: 332), ultimately converting the university into a place of vocational training, rather than one of intellectual stimulation. Attention is also given to income inequality between university presidents and those occupying other positions therein, further transforming the university into something of a corporation, and justifying the use of liberal practices particular to this institution as being for the “pursuit of truth” (337). The author concludes with a call to action – a call for free higher education, a call for more cooperation and equitable resource allocation, and less hierarchy and militarism.

One term that, perhaps, could have been further unpacked in this text is that of ‘academic freedom.’ For Prashad, the concept is rooted in the ability of an academic to be protected by the university as a member of the tenured professoriate. As a tenured professor, one can, as Prashad demonstrates, teach a course for which the dean of one’s faculty disapproves, or retain a job when confronted with allegations of wrongdoing. Here, one notes this notion of freedom, then, is a right specific to the person that is the ‘academic.’ Yet, further on, Prashad alludes to a claim made by former University of Washington president Dr. Raymond B. Allen, who said only those engaged solitarily in the pursuit of truth should be granted academic freedom (337). This presents an interesting paradox for the notion of ‘academic freedom.’ After all, an academic might indeed be free to pursue any ‘truth’ they so desire – the fact that a couple or so of ‘radical academics’ exist in many university departments, as highlighted by Prashad, speaks to this effect. But that there exist means of force, which may be used to protect an academic’s freedom, suggests that when these particular means see their place questioned by the vast majority of academics (rather than by simply a minority of radical academics), even if these questions have been obtained through the ‘pursuit of truth,’ then the use of force might be curtailed such that ‘freedom’ becomes restricted. Furthermore, ‘academic freedom’ as Prashad has presented it suggests that it is solely those academics that have been protected by the university that are truly ‘free’ to research as they wish: yet, this overlooks factors, such as the types of research funded, which might limit a tenured academic’s ability to truly express themselves ‘freely.’

Finally, attention must be given to the comparison made of the US higher education system with that of other advanced industrialized countries, for Prashad’s comparison brings the issue of affordable higher education closer to home (i.e. Canada). Having a highly subsidized, public higher education, in and of itself, while a great step, cannot be the best, and certainly not the only, means of making higher education more accessible and affordable, as recent student strikes in Quebec have shown. There, higher education is a public good, and the government pays, according to Prashad, somewhere on the order of 55 to 70 percent of college bills: even so, numerous student strikes concerning tuition fees have occurred in Quebec. Here, one might something more than material considerations – be they government subsidies or otherwise – is necessary for proper democracy in the context of higher education. While it might be said Prashad has Marxist inclinations (i.e. because of the desire to teach a course on Marxism) – and thus roots notions of democracy in material affairs and capital –, one should also note that in this case – and, more specifically, in the case of the Quebec student protests –, perhaps attention should be given to the importance of ideology in the construction of an equally accessible system of higher education.

Review of De Genova’s “Within and Against the Imperial University”

Nicholas De Genova. 2014. “Within and Against the Imperial University”. In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.). The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 301-328). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

In this chapter, Nicholas De Genova analyzes a critical juncture in his career, when, on March 26th, 2003, he spoke against the U.S. invasion of Iraq at an antiwar teach-in at Columbia University. His comments at the teach-in were covered by mass media and interpreted as a death wish for the thousands of U.S soldiers participating in the Iraq war, with grim consequences for both his personal and professional life. De Genova’s chapter consists of two parts. In the first part, De Genova explains the context of his remarks at the antiwar teach-in that generated the media controversy in the first place. In the second part of the chapter, he describes multiple events and encounters triggered by his remarks, and what these reactions reveal about the present reality of academic freedom.

De Genova contextualizes his speech by highlighting the “hysterical mania for war” prevalent in 2003 which was propagated by the mass media with “a jingoistic craving for the death of the Enemy” (p. 302). In response, he argues, the antiwar movement had to articulate an uncompromising, equally confrontational and incorrigible position critiquing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In addition, De Genova emphasizes that when speaking at the antiwar teach-in he had to confront his audience with the fact that “if it was death that the prowar mob was seeking, then it was death indeed that they would reap” (p. 302). De Genova’s rhetoric was partially inspired by the events that occurred in Mogadishu, a city in Somalia where eighteen U.S. soldiers died during a military operation whose failure instigated the retreat of U.S. military forces from Somalia in 1993. Encouraged by the U.S. failure in Somalia, De Genova declared during his teach-in speech that he would welcome “a million Mogadishus now” in the hope of the same scenario to occur in Iraq, which would consequently enable the political self-determination of the Iraqi people (p. 303).  De Genova further contextualizes his comments by evoking the violent history of U.S nationalism and imperialism responsible for multiple forms of colonial conquest, genocide, slavery, racism and warfare. Considering the violent history of the United States, De Genova argues that all forms of American patriotism perpetuate the global domination of the American empire. For this reason, De Genova argues for the necessity of a discourse in the American antiwar movement which should be unconditionally unpatriotic, anticipating a world in which “the United States would have no place” (p. 303). De Genova concludes that the logic of an anti-imperialist position necessitates the endorsement of political scenarios in which the United States ultimately suffers a military defeat.

In the second part of the chapter, De Genova discusses how university officials, faculty members, members of Columbia University community, the media, members of congress and multiple other actors responded to his speech. De Genova argues, for instance, that the statement made by Columbia University’s president in response to the “a million Mogadishus” comment demonstrated empathy towards soldiers and their families, instead of innocent Iraqi civilians who are subjected to the violence of the U.S. military. In his own response, the chair of the anthropology department condemned any statements that would support violence against soldiers or civilians. In response, De Genova argues that both administrators fail to recognize the violent role of American soldiers in inflicting “the most devastating harm” on Iraqi civilians (p. 305). Overall, the administration of university denounced and publicly ridiculed De Genova while maintaining that he was nonetheless protected by the First Amendment and could not be fired, as demanded by 104 U.S. congressmen and filmmaker Steven Spielberg among many others. De Genova also received countless death threats, which caused numerous disruptions in his work and personal life, since his security and the security of his family had to be constantly considered on daily basis.

De Genova did receive some unconditional support from some colleagues and students at Columbia University. At the same time, however, there were also faculty members who argued that even though De Genova had the right to express his point of view, he, nonetheless, should also be accountable to a larger antiwar movement at Columbia. Rosalind Morris, for instance, argued that De Genova had to acknowledge the predicament and the damage that his infamous teach-in speech created for the antiwar movement at Columbia and in the United States. De Genova concludes that the dispute between faculty colleagues revealed the tacit responsibility tied to “permissible” free speech at Columbia as well as the boundaries of what is acceptable for an academic to say. The dispute reinforced a tacit code of conduct, demonstrating the limited conditions under which departmental collegiality would be upheld. De Genova further maintains that in such departmental circumstances he became treated as an object of toleration whose right to speak was frequently invoked, and yet who was ostensibly kept silent through his ongoing exclusion from the debates concerning his own speech. According to De Genova, the initial portrayal of his character as an outside agitator who acted irresponsibly by failing to stay within the unstated boundaries of acceptable academic “free speech,” instigated an institutional mechanism that sought to make him into an actual outsider. As a result of these processes, De Genova was never invited again to speak publicly at Columbia and his tenure promotion was eventually denied, in spite of his exemplary research and publication record.

Although the reaction of Columbia’s president and the more conservative U.S. congressmen and actors seem to be predictable, I found the discussion that was generated within the department and within the antiwar movement interesting and stimulating, producing difficult questions. For instance, does the use of polarizing antiwar arguments concerning the U.S. patriotism empower or disempower antiwar movements? In the case of U.S. military intervention in Iraq, should American antiwar activists, as David Scott put it, “talk about ‘patriotism’ as an obfuscation” while underlining and elaborating on the injustice of the war? (p. 312). Can the utopian vision of the world where the United States has no place be useful to the antiwar efforts of American activists? Personally, even though I understand the context of De Genova’s comments, I think his case demonstrates the importance of nuance when discussing political positions. The scholarly ability of articulating nuanced arguments is precisely what can keep academic work from being co-opted by the dominant powers. As the case with De Genova’s comments demonstrates, there is not always an adequate platform that will allow an academic to expand on the meaning of his or her initial comments, regardless of his or her willingness to engage in further debate on the topic. This is a pessimistic lesson, but it demonstrates how the university can function, in response to which antiwar activists and academics need to develop new strategies.

Review of Gumbs’ “Nobody Mean More”

Alexis Pauline Gumbs. 2014. “Nobody Mean More: Black Feminist Pedagogy and Solidarity”. In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.). The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 237-259). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

In this chapter, Gumbs offers us a beautifully written discussion on the politics of solidarity from within the imperial university. She uses a palimpsestic approach to do so, hence mixing the form and the content to demonstrate the links between poetry, solidarity and the critical discourses on becoming and relating as decolonizing tools. A palimpsest is an old document on which the original writing has been erased and replaced by a new one. Hence, I think that what Gumbs means when she says she is using a palimpsestic approach, is the fact that she uses archives of writings of Audre Lordre and June Jordan, both very important black feminists form the 60s/80s decades, to make a link between the possible analogies of both these experiences and contemporary issues (and analogies, there are!). She is then trying to think about what it means to be, or to become, nobody in a university whose purpose is to produce assimilated bodies consenting to empire. This is not an argument that she is making, but rather an observation, based on the requirements one has to fulfill in order to climb the hierarchical stair of the academy, but also the transformations one as to go through in order to fit in those spaces. We can talk of a phenomenological process of discipline, à la Foucault (2014), where one is shaped and is shaping others relationally. She argues that Lordre and Jordan’s teaching was queer because “it interrupted the reproduction of existing norms for a new population of students perceived as deviant to the city and to higher education. They practiced what Glissant would call a “counterpoetic” approach, using spaces designed in service of the colonial project to protest that same project, with varying levels of success” (242). In that way, they refused to contribute to the policing and management of the postindustrial underclass, when they were hired specifically to teach them English composition, or rather composition in the sense of moulding those “new bodies” entering en masse higher education and colleges in order to assimilate and participate in the imperial society, “the lettered city” (Rama 1996).

In order to contextualise the work of Lordre and Jordan, Gumbs frames their experiences in the wider context of population control (or racial management, as we read earlier in Pulido’s chapter) that happened simultaneously through the education system and the prison industrial complex (including police brutality). Why? Because the racialized population in New York, for example, where “not at all composed” (243) and related to the state through protests and education. Hence, to order the disorder, the administration of the city created an open admission policy that changed the demographic of the schools (even the Police School, leading to the employement of Lordre), but also of the prisons. Because “integration” in the imperial society or schools does not come without a cost. And more often than not, it comes with police brutality (and other kinds of policing and disciplining) in order to impose the public ecology to the “deviant bodies”.

Gumbs discusses different specific event or experiences where the poetry of both teacher created space for new pedagogy and for anti-imperialist solidarity work. I sadly will not have the space to write about all of them, but I would like to underline one part. It is the murder of 10 years olds Clifford Glover, in 1973 in Queen, by Thomas Shea, a white police officer  who shot him in the back while saying in his radio “Die you little motherfucker” (245). Shea was later acquitted in his trial. That story (nearly made me cry) led her to write the poem Power and to reflect on police brutality, loyalties and relations, when she herself teaches in the school that formed Shea. But “what is composition in the face of genocide?” (246), says Gumbs. A powerful answer will come from Lordre’s solidarity work during the Grenada’s US invasion. Gumbs reflects on it in a very inspiring way : “It does mean recognizing when we are nobody and when we are somebody in relationship to imperialism” (251), because relations of (and to) power are incredibly complex.

Gumbs is calling for dialogic discourses of the construction of race, where she privileges “becoming black” vs. “being black”, because it acknowledges the process and distances itself from the discourses of purity and of an “official narrative” (255). That opens for a politics of accountability of black women to Lebanese and Palestinian in front of US imperialism and colonialization, because “Becoming Palestinian is an acknowledgement of the fact that the discourse through which racially different groups of people become expendable is a discourse with a shared precondition” (255). It also opens the door to Jordan’s creation of Black English classes when she argues that the act of poetry can “produce the people” (253) and (try) to overcome centuries of traumas and structural violences.

Their proposition is to work toward the creation of new ways of relating, not mediated through object, but rather through poetic and magic, being able to create a “we” and to moving toward home, as in a collective transformation of being and relating. What does that mean for anthropologists today? Like I said in my previous review of Oparah on this website, it means that we have to transform ourselves in “negative workers” (Schepper-Hughes 1995), but also that we actively (materially and discursively) challenges the relations of power in which we are embedded, by being race, sex and class traitors. As Ignatiev (1997) once put it, “the point is not to interpret whiteness, but to abolish it”.  That doesn’t mean to be able to “check our privileges” or to police ourselves into the politically correct way of writing and speaking. This discussion is not meant to gain more social capital by gaining activist, ally or purity points, but like Gumps argues it is “to enable the becoming of the world we want to share” (251). Concretely that means inventing new ways of being, of becoming and of relating to (interpersonally and structurally), but also to oneself. For scholars and anthropologists, it also means creating knowledge production tools that are accountable and reflexive. This is not an easy path, it takes time, and implies a lot of pain, hard work and discomforts – and we are not even sure of potential results -, but I do believe that the path is worth it since alongside it we may learn and experience incredible adventures and friendships.

Work Cited

Foucault, Michel. 2014 [1975]. Surveiller et Punir. Naissance de La Prison. Paris : Gallimard.

Ignatiev, Noel. 1997. “The Point is not to Interpret Whiteness but to Abolish it”. Cambridge: Race Traitor – Journal of the New Abolitionism.

Pulido, Laura. 2014. “Faculty Governance at the University of Southern California”. In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.). The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp.148-165). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Rama, Angel. 1996. The Lettered City. Durham: Duke University Press.

Schepper-Hughes, Nancy. 1995. “The primacy of the ethical: proposition for a militant anthropology” Current Anthropology 36 (3). 409-420

THE POLITICS OF CONSENT: A REVIEW OF STEVEN SALAITA’S “NORMATIZING STATE POWER: UNCRITICAL ETHICAL PRAXIS AND ZIONISM.”

Salaita, Steven. 2014. “Normatizing State Power: Uncritical Ethical Praxis and Zionism.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 217-235). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Along with the chapters by Pulido and Abowd already discussed on this blog by my classmates Basile and Poulin, and as pointed out by the latter in her post, the chapter by Salaita speaks to the issue of academic containment. Drawing from his own experience of having had his tenure application denied on account of his controversial political engagement, Salaita locates containment in the normative structures which tacitly support the economies of academic professionalization, which function as a transparent means of socializing “faculty into particular modes of thinking” (p. 218). These structures – which work through anything from professional advancement and publication to academic funding mechanisms – tie researchers to the imperatives of institutional legitimacy, and as such render the academic environment vulnerable to state interests. Central to Salaita’s discussion are the interests of the Zionist cause, whose advocates he understands as being “without question the largest impediment to the development of justice oriented intellectual communities in American universities” (p. 224).

The leitmotiv that runs through Salaita’s discussion is how, in the course of his tenure evaluation, his work was qualified as “political.” The implication he resents, and which he identifies as the principle mechanism by which the boundaries of acceptable academic activity are policed, is that there can be a such a thing as a neutral, non-political space from which to judge the degree of objectivity and validity of politically engaged academic work. By naturalizing one particular political arrangement, the institution can then effectively discipline any threat to its legitimacy while retaining the apparent impartiality of its commitments. As such, the most pernicious form of policing is not located in overt political contest – which would make visible the university’s colonial affiliations – but works through the more liberal proponents of academic freedom who delineate a realm of proper academic conduct, the transgression of whose bounds is then critiqued as “political” – i.e. un-academic. The author is unequivocal in his statement that any use of the term “political” to qualify the controversial character of one’s scholarship “inevitably” comes from individuals who are “in the thrall of state power” (p. 221, emphasis added).

Part of what this makes clear for the author is that there is an important gap between the discursive performance of academic subjects – in publication or otherwise – and their actual engagement in the communities in which universities are embedded. This gap between scholarship and activism is where he locates the sort of controversies that have inhibited his own professional advancement and those of many others. In the current political climate where security discourse has distinct ethnic overtones, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – itself almost a euphemism for what the author understands as a near-genocidal settler-colonial project – is virtually anathema. Crucial to the political interests which muzzle academic dissent in this case is the picture of Israel as a prototypically modern, enlightened, and civilized frontier within a sea of barbaric, irrational, and archaic terrorists (see also Puar’s discussion of “pinkwashing,” in this volume). Such a normative depiction precludes the possibility of critique, and as such legitimizes the colonial violence exercised by Israel – or indeed the United States – as a necessary defense of the fruits of civilization – progress, liberty, democracy (see, for example, Fukuyama and Bloom (1989) and Huntington (1993) for well-known representatives of this sort of argument). The dynamics of naturalization and legitimization of this geopolitical project function in very much the same way as those within the imperial university. What the author calls “the global dictatorship” is “enforced by the interchangeable axes of American imperialism, Zionist colonization, neoliberal economies, and corporate warfare” (Salaita 2014, p. 233). Within this constrictive environment where unspeakable crimes are committed, Salaita argues that academia needs to be “unaffiliated to institutional power,” which otherwise puts limits on both the pursuit of knowledge and that of justice, and that academics focusing on controversial issues should have protection to do so.

To be sure, Salaita’s argument for an academic environment free from imperial influence where scholarly inquiry and commitment to social justice can flourish is uncontroversial in itself. What remains unaddressed – aside from fending off the virtually all-pervasive corruptive Zionist influence that the author so diligently denounces – is how exactly this freedom and justice is to be achieved. Underlying Salaita’s discussion is the expectation that justice is a right rather than a relational quality that is to be achieved and maintained through continual work. As such, his politics reproduce the extractive, polarizing interactional modes that can be found across the spectrum of institutional power: identify, target, and remove the enemy. What is excluded from the equation is the manner in which political intervention works to shape the political opponent and the possible outcomes of the encounter. To give the most obvious example – but one à propos to Salaita’s discussion – Israeli military intervention against Palestinian “terrorists” – or more generally US anti-terrorist intervention worldwide – while meant to eliminate subversive elements, also works towards perpetuating the conditions that foster armed resistance. Contrary to Salaita’s assumption, there is a wide spectrum of political intervention whose quality can be assessed aside from whether it threatens the legitimacy of the establishment. So even though his argument about the normatized disciplining of scholarly activity is a valuable one, the manner in which he conducts his critique – which by painting a binary, Manichean political field, is polemical indeed – closes down its own set of possibilities, much like his opponents do, which in the end weakens his argument. And this is the point. If we start from the principle that our social existence is necessarily and always already constituted of political relations, then the goal of activists concerned with social justice might be more to tailor their interventions to the environment they inhabit in order to make them more fruitful and productive – and as such incrementally work towards fostering a more just environment – than to perform their uncompromising ethical obligations, regardless of the outcomes. As one seminar participant pointed out, there is no pre-political world to which we may aspire – academic knowledge is itself a form of power that can never exist in a free and unproblematic way. Power, and the social inequalities it produces, is everyone’s domain, and it serves us little to demonize, two-dimensionalize, and exclude those who hold it at the moment from our utopian visions of the future.

Work Cited
Abowd, Thomas. 2014. “The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement and Violations of Academic Freedom at Wayne State University.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 169-185). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Fukuyama, Francis. 1989. “The End of History?” The National Interest.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1993. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, 22–49.

Puar, Jasbir. 2014. “Citation and Censure: Pinkwashing and the Sexual Politics of Talking about Israel.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 281-297). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Pulido, Laura. 2014. “Faculty Governance at the University of Southern California.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 145-168). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Academic Containment: Laura Pulido’s “Faculty Governance at the University of Southern California.”

Pulido, Laura. (2014). “Faculty Governance at the University of Southern California.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 145-168). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Laura Pulido’s chapter “Faculty Governance at the University of Southern California” utilizes personal experience and observations to better understand the dynamics of neoliberalism and its link to the hierarchical power structures that exists within the imperial university (p.146-150). The theorist’s reflexive approach enables readers to identify the mechanisms and consequences of academic containment, one of the conceptual frameworks presented by Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira, which functions to support the economic, racial and ideological logics that maintain U.S. imperialism from within the boundaries of the academy (p.13-25). By investigating one of the many possible forms of academic containment, the tenure process, Pulido identifies how faculty governance is stifled and controlled within an increasingly privatized university culture (p.150-154). Pulido’s inquiry of the University of Southern California’s tenure process, which reveals issues concerning transparency and suspected racial and gender discrimination, is an opportunity to understand the multifaceted nature of academic containment and how the complicity or restriction of faculty governance maintains the ongoing commodification of universities and their relationship to U.S. imperial power (p.157-160). The graduate students of ANTH 630 were encouraged to critically evaluate the status of faculty governance within the context of the imperial university and, as Pulido appeals, how faculty governance, or the lack of it, influences the academy as a whole along with the production and dissemination of knowledge (p.146).

Pulido contextualizes her investigation of the University of Southern California’s tenure process by identifying the growing trend towards the privatization of U.S. academic institutions (p.145-146). According to the theorist, private universities are recognized for establishing an academic standard, which public institutions aspire to emulate by replicating “the policies, practices and philosophies of private elite schools” (p.146). Pulido argues that the University of Southern California, in an effort to become more academically competitive with private universities, established “an extremely hierarchical institution with very limited faculty governance” (p.148). In this hierarchical structure, faculty only have the opportunity to make recommendations to the board of trustees and senior administration, the governing bodies that manage the academic and administrative operations of the university (p.148-149). According to Pulido, the composition of the upper echelons of this hierarchical governing institution “illuminates a larger culture characterized by backroom deals, a lack of transparency, no real faculty governance, a commitment to avoiding a paper trail, and a merciless drive to become a top-ranked institution” (p.150). The lack of faculty governance and the secretive quality of the university’s hierarchical governing institution, has directly affected the academy’s tenure process (p. 150).

Pulido explains to readers that in order to increase the academic standing of the university, tenure standards were reformed, an alteration the theorist supported. Pulido’s anxiety, however, concerns the tenure process, which she believes should be characterized by transparent decision making and consistent standards (p.150-153). Through a variety of case studies from the University of Southern California, the theorist demonstrates that transparency, consistency and overall professionalism were not respected during the tenure process, as demonstrated by the delay tactics utilized by the university’s governing body (p.151-153). By further investigating the discrepancies of the university’s tenure process and even contesting tenure denials made by the university’s administration, Pulido identifies that the incongruities of the tenure process supports evidence of gender and racial discrimination (p.154-160). By avoiding transparency and limiting faculty governance, Pulido argues that the administration of the University of Southern California was able to successfully engage in “racial management and social control” (p.156).

When Pulido’s findings are examined through the lens of Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira’s concept of academic containment, which can be understood as the various ways in which scholars and the types of knowledge produced within the academy are policed by hegemonic powers within the U.S., it is possible to understand Pulido’s conclusions and how privatization, limited faculty governance and the tenure process of academic institutions maintain U.S. imperialism (p.21-22). When academic containment is contextualized within what critics identify as culture or class wars, the privatization of universities is a method for U.S. dominant powers to restrict “the new, increasingly racially integrated middle class” from accessing higher education and producing knowledge that could potentially dismantle the logics that support U.S. imperialism (p.25). As discussed amongst the seminar participants, in order to secure the profitable and imperial qualities of privatized academic institutions, various methods of academic containment develop. Pulido’s work specifically demonstrates that limited faculty governance and a secretive hierarchical administrative organization, facilitates the ability for imperial powers to maintain their status by regulating scholars and their scholarly work. In addition, the tenure process ensures that junior faculty remains cooperative with the multiple forms of academic containment promoted by the university administration, potentially manipulating junior faculty to adopt a lifelong habit of silence and complicity (p.154-157).

Pulido’s observations and experiences from the University of Southern California demonstrates to readers that academic containment is multi-layered and combines economics, class, and race with academically sanctioned forms of knowledge. Sadly, Pulido concludes that her evidence demonstrates that universities within the U.S. strive to adopt a privatized structure, and cannot conceptualize of their institutions being academically competitive and characterized by racial and gender diversity simultaneously (p.162). As seminar participants reflected on their own academic experiences and locale, along with Pulido’s statement that diversity is only acceptable in academic institutions if “its politics can be contained”, it was found that academic containment requires a degree of tenured faculty compliance to function (p. 162). Pulido comes to the same conclusion and despite her criticism of administration, the theorist finds fault with tenured faculty for “not regularly challenging the administration in any substantive or collective fashion” (p.154). As Victor Bascara demonstrates in his chapter on colonial universities, established scholars have access to the language and ideologies of the imperial power and can utilize them to successfully engage in scholarly dissent (p.57). In a similar tone, Pulido encourages scholars to consider the condition of faculty governance and their role within academic containment and the imperial university (p.146).

Pulido’s observations and experiences from the University of Southern California was an opportunity for seminar participants to understand the diversity of structural mechanism and actors involved in academic containment. The theorist’s chapter required seminar participants to reflect on the structural and academic composition of their previous and current universities and consider how cohorts of the administration, faculty and student population benefited or were disadvantaged by academic containment. Pulido reveals a disconcerting reality and as scholars this is an issue that we must acknowledge and individually and collectively decide how to respond.

References:

Bascara, Victor. (2014). “New Empire, Same Old University? Education in the American Tropics after 1898.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 53-77). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Chatterjee, Piya, and, Maira, Sunaina. (2014). “The Imperial University: Race, War and the Nation-State.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 1-50). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

REVIEW: “THE BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT AND SANCTIONS MOVEMENT AND VIOLATIONS OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM AT WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY”

Abowd, Thomas (2014). “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement and Violations of Academic Freedom at Wayne State University.” Chatterjee Piya, and Sunania, Maria (Eds.) The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 169-186). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Thomas Abowd was a member of Wayne State University’s anthropology department from 2003 until 2009, when his employer decided not to renew his contract. In that time, he organized ten campus events protesting Israel’s policies towards Palestine, taught nineteen classes, of which he estimates one third dealt with the same issue,  and received zero complaints from his students regarding the way he was presenting that conflict. However, he found that his point of view was incompatible with a minority of the school’s administration, (p 178) who embarked on a campaign of harassment that ultimately lead to his dismissal.

Abowd’s article is a personal narrative, but it also gives a parallel account of the BDS movement from its inception. Abowd espouses BDS because of its origins in the  anti-apartheid campaign of the same name, which he believes had a major effect in defeating South Africa’s system of institutionalized racism. He provides the genealogy mostly to provide supporting examples of how similar programs have faced hostility and harassment. Columbia’s program was considered a success and had a great deal of support among the student body, but it was publicly disowned by the school’s  own president nevertheless. (174)

Abowd details the success of BDS at Wayne State, noting that the movement was mostly faculty-led although it was heavily supported among the student body, whose council voted in favor of BDS during the first year he was on the faculty. Abowd portrays the administration as hopelessly out of touch with the will of its students, who are 20-22% Arab (176), favoring instead the minority view of the campus’ tiny Jewish community- Abowd says (and specifies that he means this in a literal sense) that the number of students and faculty combined who publicly endorse a pro-Israel point of view can be counted on one hand.

Abowd ultimately found himself facing a disciplinary action which was corrupted from the very beginning by the administration attempting to deny his contract-guaranteed union counsel, and which devolved from there into an overtly racialized display of hostility. One particular faculty member would badger him on several occasions over his ethnicity and religion, which he refused to disclose during the hearing. Abowd, however, left the hearing without a reprimand and with his job. Then the next year, Wayne State declined to renew his expiring contract, this following an incident which Abowd describes as ” a series of clumsy violations of [his] union contract by the dean of the college…” (182) I found this anticlimax to the story strange and opaque. Abowd offers no explanation of what the alleged violations were, or how they connected to the campaign that was waged against him by the unnamed Zionists in the school’s administration who had aligned themselves against him and his activism. One wonders if he withheld details due to an ongoing legal action, or even a non-disclosure agreement? If nothing else, it muddies the waters of his relatively clear and unambiguous narrative of harassment.

Dr. Abowd’s story certainly evokes sympathy and exposes an abusive campus culture, where the opinions of students and faculty are trumped by minority interests in the administration. However, he also mars his account in several glaring ways. First of all, when he detours to discuss Israel-Palestine as a conflict (arguably unnecessary in itself) , he demonstrates a tendency to use almost comically whitewashed language. Palestinian opposition to Israeli occupation is ” brilliant organizing of Palestinians revolting with stones and direct action…” (171) and he goes out of his way to clarify that Palestinian militancy “[poses] no capacity to win back one inch of Palestinian land…” (170). Both of those quotations refer to the First Intifada, which was an armed uprising against Israeli occupation by Hamas, PFLP as much as it was a campaign of demonstrations. It seems Dr. Abowd feels that he cannot present the uprising as both just and violent. One does not need to deny the disparity in military power between Hamas and the IDF, or the hopelessness of armed struggle against a vastly superior foe, to endorse Palestinian liberation- but Abowd still presents a strange, neutered version of Palestinian resistance, intended to be compared to over-the-top references to f-16 fighter jets being unleashed on civilian targets. The facts speak for themselves without being manicured, and a struggle against academic censorship looks weak when it is besmirched with this brand of cherry-picking.

Secondly, Abowd shows no capacity for self-reflection or criticism. All opposition to his point of view is the work of racists, right-wing agitators and other conspiratorial forces. He identifies a cabal of “shrill…anti-arab racists and right-wing Zionists” (176) as his malefactors on campus, and never considers that there could be a legitimate campus interest in pro-Israel policy. He says that Hillel events were ill-attended, and that Jews were a vanishing minority on campus. He neglects, of course, that Israel has many supporters in America who are not Jewish- conservative protestants being overwhelmingly pro-Israel, for instance.

Furthermore, he seems willfully ignorant of the fact that minorities with unpopular views will of course minimize their public presence. If the student body truly is so overwhelmingly anti-Israel, it would seem natural for individuals on the opposite side of the issue to keep their opinions discrete in public. The point, of course, is that the majority of the campus was probably on his side, but it does not make minority opinion inherently invalid. None of that excuses the cruel, unreasonable and likely illegal manor in which the WSU administration treated Dr. Abowd, but he weakens his own position by treating his political opponents as though they were his enemies. Academia can only suffer from such a rigid, exclusionary point of view.

Review of “Militarizing Education: The Intelligence Community’s Spy Camps” by Roberto J. Gonzalez

Gonzalez, Robert J. (2014). “Militarizing Education: The Intelligence Community’s Spy Camps”. Chatterjee Piya, and Sunania Maria (Eds.) The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 79-98). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

In his article Militarizing Education: The Intelligence Community’s Spy Camps, Roberto Gonzalez walks his readers through some of the attempts that the US intelligence community has been making to create inroads into the recruitment of students at American schools and universities. Through the creation of “Spy Camps” and Intelligence Community Centers, the US government has been working to recruit and train a new of generation of intelligence operatives who, to quote House Intelligence Chair Jane Harman, will “look like their targets” and “speak the dialects the terrorists use” (Gonzalez, 80).

To this end, these programs have been targeting beleaguered and chronically underfunded schools whose student bodies are primarily visible minorities. By dangling enormous sums of money in front of administrators in return for cooperation with the program, they have managed to establish themselves in countless universities and colleges throughout the United States.

Gonzalez identifies 3 of the primary methods which are being employed by spy agencies to build these inroads and gain a foothold in universities and colleges in the United States.

The first approach Gonzalez discusses is that of curriculum development. Intelligence agencies have sought both to provide their activities with an academic under-girding and to generate interest in careers in the intelligence industry through the creation of “Intelligence Studies” as an academic field, graduate programs focused on topics relevant to said agencies, and classes taught in languages “deemed important to US Security” such as Arabic and Mandarin (Gonzalez, 83).

The second method by which intelligence agencies can be seen to be increasingly moving into the academic sphere is through the organizing of events such as academic conferences and guest lectures which, in many instances, can be seen to function as recruitment pitches for spy agencies.

Lastly, Gonzalez points to the proliferation of numerous scholarship and travel abroad programs such as the “Intelligence Community Scholarship Program” which sees students taking courses relating to matters of intelligence so as to facilitate study abroad programs and internships with spy agencies. Once students accept these scholarships they are forced to take jobs with US intelligence agencies once they graduate – under pain of having to repay all of the money given along with interest rates that in some cases are set at three times the legally permitted amount (Gonzalez, 84).

A major concern here is that when education is funded by the military, universities open themselves up a process wherein knowledge becomes militarized and militarization becomes normalized. Military assumptions and means towards ends are taken increasingly as common knowledge and the ability for people to be openly critical of such institutions is severely compromised. To quote Hugh Gusterson, this militarization of knowledge makes it possible for “the military [to] further define the basic terms of public and academic debate” (Gonzalez, 85).

Gonzalez goes on to describe his experience looking into an IC Center program at the primarily Chicano University of Texas, Pan American, a university he worked for in the past. Like those at many other universities, UTPA’s humanities and social science departments have long struggled with funding issues. The $2.5 million dollars over 5 years offered by the Director of National Intelligence to UTPA for the creation of an UTPA IC Center was seen as too good to pass up by many of UTPA’s faculty and administration. Voices critical of the program and its potential to compromise academic freedom and place military interests over the interests of the students were largely ignored.

Gonzalez goes on to describe what he views as the primary dangers of these kinds of activities. Of particular concern to Gonzalez is the fact that the kinds of programs described above speak nowhere of the human right violations, terrible violence and torture and egregious manipulation committed routinely by organizations like the CIA (In Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Indonesia, El Salvador, et al.), and the FBI (the example of COINTELPRO comes to mind). This effectively sanitizes the shady history of these organizations in the eyes of a new generation of students. Moreover, institutions and faculty who cooperate with these programs and “tow the line” are given funding, and those who speak against them and their progenitors see their funding cut.

Lastly all this is even more concerning insofar as many of those targeted are children who are perhaps somewhat naive or impulsive and might not be fully aware of the long term consequences of working for the military or accepting military funding. The danger is not just for themselves in the terms of potentially doing dangerous front line work for years at a time, as well as being potentially saddled with crippling debt should they decide they do not want to pursue intelligence work as a career, but it also concerns the consequences of what they will be used for by the American state and the potential for inflicting harm on the people of other nations and even members of the communities from which many of these students hail.

While Gonzalez does us all a service by highlighting these activities, most of this should not come as that much of a surprise. Many have had experience with police “guest speakers” in grade school. Under the guise of educating youth about issues such as the “war on drugs”, there is a degree of propaganda and a subtle flavor of recruitment in such talks, especially when they are directed at young and impressionable minds. In many ways, “Spy Camps” and “IC Centers” are the logical next steps on an agenda that seeks to normalize militarization.

Although Gonzalez’s article was first published in 2010, the issues he raises about academic complicity in such projects is as relevant as ever. The continued streamlining of education and research and development towards military purposes and the high cost paid for it by intellectual freedom and academic integrity are issues that still have much traction today.

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?

Review “Challenging Complicity” In The Imperial University

Oparah, Julia C. 2014. « Challenging Complicity: The Neoliberal university and the Prison-Industrial Complex » In Chatterjee, Piya and Maira, Sunaina (Eds.), The Imperial University. (Pp.99-121) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Julia C. Oparah, a feminist activist and a professor at the Ethnic Studies department of the Mills College (and also a member of the collective Critical Resistance), is arguing in this chapter that a symbiotic relation has arisen between the academy and the prison-industrial complex. She is calling for anti-imperialist scholars to pay greater attention to the challenges and complicities of this alliance, in order to “work toward the abolition of the academic-military-prison-industrial complex” (99).

She begins by stating 4 ways in which carceral dependency ties university to the political economy of prisons. First, When universities receives money that are linked to the prison-industrial complex, it benefits all the institution, not just the department to which it was given. Second, the role of US higher education in spreading the mass incarceration model across the globe, as a result of (cultural and material) imperialism. Then, the legitimization of state killing and violence as a rationale in front of threat, with “retributive justice” in wars, which reframes dissent as crime and prison as servicing the empire. Finally, “universities and colleges educate a global knowledge elite who will become the “prison wardens” – literally and metaphorically- of the nonuniversitied majority and produce technological advances that permit the use of incarceration on a massive scale as a solution to the social ills and unrest caused by the globalization of capital and military repression worldwide” (108). Obviously, enrollment in the academia is not a protection and if you revolt or critique, your privileges will be revoked and you will too enter the “criminal class” (let’s just think about the 4500 students, teachers and others who were arrested during the Quebec’s 2012 student strike. Their trials are just beginning now.) She adds that schools and prisons are mutually reinforcing by the culture of discipline, surveillance, and presence of army recruiters in schools that often results in a “school-to-prison” (109) or “school-to-war” pipelines for young people of color in US.

Finally, she analyses the academic-prison-industrial complex by presenting 4 functions that creates a mutually reinforcing relationship between higher education and mass incarceration. A) Universities often have investments in the prison system, hence more prisoners mean more profits for shareholders. The corporatization of the academia embeds it to the political economy – because of their relations with private services that also works in the prison systems (like Sodexho that are well-known in the Quebec’s cafeterias).  B) Universities produces an educated work-force for the prison-industrial complex. C) Prisons are often used as a source of data for universities and academic research, whereas prisoners are still very much used as objects of research and experiments rather than being the subjects of their own narratives. D) Universities are a major (re)producer of the carceral logic (by producing knowledge that legitimizes penal technologies or tries to make it more “humane”), hence academics may not be just complicit with, but are also sometimes a very constitutive part of it (even if overlooked).

If I hadn’t been sick last friday, I was to ask in class two questions that are great topic of discussions amongst scholars. First, what should be the role of the scholar? Is it enough to produce knowledge or should we acknowledge that scholars are not “outside of the world” and then that they should take action in it. But then, an action towards what? Participating in the context of our ethnographic research or actively engaging in the transnational/international/larger global political context (I don’t think this is an either/or question)? What does it mean? How do we avoid an interventionist approach putting the scholar in the “savior” spotlight to rather take the position of the “negative worker” (Schepper-Hughes 1995) in order to, as Oparah suggests it, confront the complicities of academia with systems capitalizing on the incarceration and surveillance of racialized of marginalized populations. Second, there is now a great popularity with the idea of a collaborative anthropology. Working with the people… but its methods or ethics are not thoroughly defined. With whom shall we collaborate and at what end? If we frame the research designs or our project with collaboration, where does it stop? Collaborating with our participants, with activists… but what about the FBI? Or in the context of the prison-industrial complex, what if we are already collaborating with a structure that is at the same time working to incarcerate a part of the people with whom we work? How do we challenge complicities and collaboration? Should we stay blind to this reality to keep the scholar privileges that may be helpful elsewhere, but then, what will be the ethical value of this work?

Towards a post-carceral academy and the abolitionist movement

Following this idea, Oparah is calling for a post-carceral academy and the abolition of the academic-military-prison-industrial complex. But, she says, the solution is not just the production of more radical knowledge, since after all knowledge is just another commodity. Her position, coming from an abolitionist perspective, is to challenge the materiality of the militarization and the prisonification of the academia (meaning, not just confronting ideas, but political stands, divestments, challenging some collaborations, etc.), which involves also the confrontation of the corporatization of the academia and its links with the neoliberal economy (well represented in Quebec by the political project of the “austerity measures” and budget cuts in the public services). That asks for a) a material collaboration with insurgent/activists and community organizers, b) an anti-racist democratization of higher education and c) the use of our scholar privilege for radical collective transformation.

Those are very interesting propositions, and I hope they can materialize, but it is easier to say than to do. For example, a major social strike movement against neoliberal measures and the “austerity project” is currently under organization in Quebec, but Concordia is very slow in following the movement. Especially when our student association – SAGSA – refuses to hold political general assembly or that the administration refuses to send an invitation to the anti-austerity Concordia Teach-in (2-7 February) to the department (http://solidarityconcordia.org/2015/01/22/monday-feb-2-to-saturday-feb-7/).

Ps. For those interested by Oparah’s proposition, please attend the events of the Month against Prison in Montreal (until feb. 7th) to meet other abolitionist activists: https://cobp.resist.ca/en/evenements/mois-contre-les-prisons-calendrier-des-activit-s).

 

References:

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1995. “The primacy of the ethical: proposition for a militant anthropology” Current Anthropology 36 (3). 409-420