Archive for March, 2007

Foucault, “specific intellectuals” and the university

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

foucault.jpgFoucault distinguishes between two figures of intellectuals, correspondent to an historical rupture. The one, is the spokesman of the universal, in the capacity of “master of truth and justice”. The other, a “specific” intellectual emerging after WWII, one who has learned to combine theory and practice, the expert situated in specific contexts, and therefore aware of specific struggles (all quotes below from M. Foucault, Truth and Power. In Paul Rabinow (ed) 1984. Foucault reader. New York: Pantheon Book).

On the “universal intellectual

(67) “For a long period, the “left” intellectual spoke and was acknowledged the right of speaking in the capacity of master of truth and justice. He was heard, or purported to make himself heard, as the spokesman of the universal. To be an intellectual meant something like being the consciousness/conscience of us all.”

In traditional Marxism,

“Just as the proletariat, by the necessity of its historical situation, is the bearer of the universal (but its immediate, unreflected bearer, barely conscious of itself as such), so the intellectual, through his moral, theoretical, and political choice, aspires to be the bearer of this universality in its conscious, elaborated form. The intellectual is thus taken as (68) the clear, individual figure of a universality whose obscure, collective form is embodied in the proletariat.”

This figure, has been supplanted by another one, the “specific” intellectual as opposed to the “universal” intellectual. This, according to Foucault, has emerged since the Second World War, but intuitively, I would suggest, has found much development from the 1970s. (more…)

Training day at the University Inc.

Monday, March 12th, 2007

complaints.jpgWhat does an international Airline, a global bank, a transnational retail corporation, and a British University have in common? Well, they all have to “compete” on the global marketplace to survive, they all have “customers” prone to litigiousness to appease and mollify, and they all have the need to defuse staff questioning managers priorities and practices. So, few weeks ago I found myself in “a three-line whip” training course — that is a compulsory course that all academic staff had (supposedly) to take. The compulsion was designed to be a gentle “peer” compulsion, a subtle way to compel the individual that avoid direct confrontation between senior management and the individual academic staff: the University center would have fined your school £50 if you did not attend. The title of the day course was odd enough: “challenging academic decisions” — and it dealt with training staff in dealing with the challenges that the “costumer” base of the university — its students — would put forward. I heard that the same exact training was given to non academic staff under the title: “dealing with difficult customers”. I also been told by our trainer - and I document below — that the stuff we have “learned” in the training which we received either as academic or support staff in dealing with “students-costumers” would be applicable with little or no modifications to all situations of conflict within an organisation along its hierarchical scale or between company-costumers relations. In other words, the way we were about to be trained to deal with our students when they raise some problem, is the same way that our senior managers are trained to deal with us when we raise problem. Revealing! I overcome the boredom and I eagerly staid for the entire day, with my hear ready to steal their secrets! (more…)


Friday, March 2nd, 2007

governance.jpgGovernance as governamentality is about the “management of flows”, as Foucault puts it (see my paper on this), and “flows” are social practices and their feedback mechanisms, all types of these practices. This means that governance is about the management of values, that is of the meanings, often contrasting, given to those practices (as anthropologists remind us, value is the meaning given to action, see this article by David Graeber) . . .with governance the issue is not so much the definition of goals (more the classic realm of politics) but about the management of practices. For example, we look at the wastelands of east end of London in the late 1990s, and it is difficult to disagree with the fact that it needs a sort of “regeneration”, (good housing, green space, community spaces, etc.) and that livelihoods needs to be reproduced in this city . . . how are we “regenerating”? this question implies the coupling of the pursuits of values defined by a multitude of desiring subjects (on environment, housing, etc.) with the pursuit of money for money sake, accumulation, that is the pursuit of money through “competitiveness”. If you look at the UK government sponsored ”sustainable communities” plan for this area, you will encounter a continuous tension to couple the pursuit of contrasting values, that of a multitude of subjectivities with needs and desires, and that of capital, the need for accumulation and “competitiveness”. (more…)

the “signori

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

signori.jpga woman behind her bar, in her seventies, sipping her tea in a cappuccino cup, telling my friend and me what she things of the fall of Prodi’s government, in an empty bar in an empty village of the Apennines . . .”the issue is work, if there is no work, nothing is good. . .isn’t true? and where one can get work if there are no i signori . . .i signori . . .isn’t true . . .the signori are those who give you work . . .I don’t care who goes to government, berlusconi, prodi or whoever, as long as there is work . . .” and then she went on, with us two sipping a beer at the table, telling us a story that we heard so many times from our parents and grandparents: “after the war, when there was no work, we went to Milan, we gave milk to the infants of i signori, we worked for them, because around here there was nothing, no roads, no water, no food, no work . . .”

for i signori, obviously, the lady had something very concrete in her mind, some concrete signore with money who employed her and her family back then, when she needed a job, someone with a particular life-style, someone who entered particular relations to her and her family, maybe kind, or maybe not, maybe abusive and bossy . . .but I kept thinking, this is not why i signori were important in her story, they were important not for who they actually were, but for their function, for the fact that they had power to command labour . . . because “if there is no work, nothing is good. . . isn’t true?” . . .the power to command labour, that is all there is, the power to command the doing, its aims, its modes, its rationales, and how much of it . . the rational kernel of “i signori” is simply this, their function . . .but there has been, there are and can be so many forms of this function, isn’t it? even the power to “command” labour, the doing, it aims, the shapes of its relational modes . . .the key political question is how can we all be “i signori” and exercise the power to command our own labour, our own doing? And surely an answer relevant for a new world is not an individual strategy, to be your own boss in competition with others. . . the commons for us are the horizons of our own communal command over our own labour . . .