She is now a student again.
This is where I work, Although not in any of the nice buildings. S
In the spirit of this,
Fred Inglis “Today’s intellectuals: too obedient?” Times Higher, 28 Aug 2014
somebody also wrote this.
These days I do ask a lot of questions before acting. ‘Restructuring’ of universities is one of a couple of issues that never ceases to amaze me. Whole groups of friends, Departments, teaching, professional staff, all decimated to raise prestige or to save costs. The current situation in Australia is catching up with the UK’s situation very fast. This is not good:-
I graduated with a degree in Human and Physical Geography from the University of Reading in 1985, which is 29 years ago. This UK summer I returned to the campus for my first proper visit, to attend the Norma Wilkinson Memorial Lecture. I have forgotten who Norma Wilkinson was, but lots of well known geographers have given the lecture over the years, including David Harvey. Returning was a strange experience. I attended the University in 1982 after having got an “E” (the lowest pass) for geography in my British school A-levels in 1981, and therefore working in a factory during a gap year. I retook the A-level at a crammer college in London with much greater success. Without that effort and expense I could not have gone to Reading and not become an academic later on. The first year at uni was miserable, but the second and third were great, and I learned enough to set me up for life – initially in urban consultancy in London at PMA, and then a PhD program in the USA. You can read one of my undergrad student essays here – a rather un-radical but empiricist account of contributions to public policy written in 1984. For the geographers among the readership, I was taught by John Short, Andrew Kirby, John Townshend, Andy Millington, Sir Peter Hall who died just a week ago, Mike Breheny, John Soussan, Paul Longley, Sophie Bowlby, John Silk and several others. There were fieldtrips to Tunisia, the Netherlands, Dorset, and various freezing and waterlogged quarries and ‘exposures’ of sediments around south east UK. If this cast of characters was submitted to the UK’s contemporary infernal ‘research ranking exercises’ today (The RQF), I am sure the Department would come out very well. Hall seemed to produce a major work almost every year, Mike Breheny too. John Short has continued to do so. The physical geographers were excellent and most moved to top positions elsewhere. At the time, Cambridge was dominant as a geography Department in the UK but it focussed on cultural and historical work and the various lecturers, whose work we absorbed in our own seminars, were too scholarly for my interests at the time. Oxford was still teaching old-school regional geography – the Department was later reinvigorated considerably. Reading’s work was more contemporary than these, akin to Leeds or Bristol – understanding contemporary change in the white heat of S.E. UK’s technologically driven industrial change (Reading was situated in the middle of it) and there was a good deal of applied work on sustainability issues and international development. As students, we went to the Library (yes the physical library show right – it is still there) and I became expert at pulling references and ideas together for essays and reports, and ‘surveying a field’ of study and what is going on within it. Useful skills, 30 yrs later, and reflected in the fact that I still work on many things at once. I attended all the lectures over the three years, bar about two. I did all the readings. I felt part of the Department, even as an undergrad. I got a first class degree, much to my surprise. I was one of three from that cohort to go onto a PhD. Return to place is always bittersweet. I vary rarely go down memory lane – it is cluttered and bypassed. On campus, I discovered the basic layout of the place unchanged. Some rather objectionable 60s-80s buildings are still there (like this, the
Lego building) I went to the old Geography building I remember well, but it was deserted – Geography has just moved out to relocate elsewhere on campus (I think the Geog building opened in 1983 next to Geology, because in my first year we still had some portacabins). There are more shops and cafés on campus (we did not have much in the 1980s except a Student Union with a beer-stained carpet and a shop) and it seems there are plans for more construction. The Norma Wilkinson lecture was held in the old Geology building (Geology was a Department that was later axed at some stage), in which I had to take lectures on regional science back in 1983. Little had changed in the theatre – it still had an overhead projector and whiteboard, and uncomfortable seats. I reflected that my own university in Australia is far better endowed, with some excellent teaching facilities, for which we are grateful. It is also much larger and has high fees, of course. None of my former lecturers are currently on the permanent staff. The Professoriate in the Department today were promoted far younger than the people I remember there from the 1980s, except Peter Hall (who was a Professor at 37!) –– and I am sure they are doing a good job and probably re-inventing whatever ‘traditions’ the Department had from previous decades – if these are even acknowledged. I wish them well. They do make me feel old, though. My overwhelming sense is of misplaced memories. As an undergrad, the campus seems large, super-modern, and situated at the centre of things in SE England. We really thought we were in some sort of ‘core’ location. Today the university feels smaller to me and less central, and the town centre, which was never very nice, has grown in its density and capital investment. Certainly the university has had to cut back – closing Schools, Departments and even campuses over the years (all phrased positively as ‘consolidation’, of course). The town now has many more commercial office developments and high street shopping, and the railway station on the main line to the West Country and London has grown massively in size. The town still feels like an unfinished project – still some building sites and empty offices. But it has changed in other ways – I noticed a Bike Kitchen, a voluntary sector phenomenon I have been studying elsewhere, and a ‘Global Cafe & Bar‘ linked to a social solidarity centre – countercultural elements we did not have in the 1980s at all. The hastily built housing estate where we rented a place in in Lower Earley seems to have survived (Woodmere Close, where a group of us had a variety of decrepit vehicles, upsetting the upwardly mobile neighbours – I even started building a Dutton kit car in the garage). What I took from Reading, I suppose, was a combined interest in assisting equitable transitions in the world (this entered the field of applied geography we were taught in those days, but not all we learned in the 1980s was actually progressive) and international environmental and development in Africa. Lectures were detailed and well prepared. I’m grateful for what I learned, and I actually saw through the sentiments gained through study in my own projects later on. Life may have been very different without having gone there. Having parked my bike on memory lane for an afternoon in July, it is now time to head back to the present.
In an excellent article published in The Guardian on 16 July 2014, Robert Manne neatly sets out the current state of play here in Australia around climate policy (or lack of policy). While he has the luxury of being able to shout loudly about this (he is, after all, one of the top public writers and intellectuals in Australia, and recent retired from La Trobe University), there is a lot of sense here.
Reading Manne’s article reminded me that people from my corner of Europe often ask me why I moved to Australia. They hear about exuberant and unsustainable resource extraction, anti-environmentalism and the ripping up of environmental policies, the poor treatment of asylum seekers, and such matters. This happened when I left a tenure-track job at a top US university in 2004 for the Antipodes, to move to a city that many Americans actually thought was a small town in Florida (Melbourne) and many British thought was too far away (and clearly wasn’t Sydney, the favourite destination for British emigration to Australia). The fact that Melbourne actually has 4m people and has a university in the world top 40, did not seem to cut it.
When I arrived in Melbourne, within weeks I realised the rather desperate state of national politics – a Howard-driven parochialism, coupled to a belief in the absolute necessity of economic growth had already gutted many of the policies of previous administrations. Attending a ‘not happy John’ rally downtown eased my pain – locally, Federal policies were seemingly not popular at all. The ease of existence my wife had experienced in Australia back in the 1980s , with excellent support to its citizens and progressive policies on gender equality, workplaces, health, education and retirement, seemed a distant memory. But state politics in 2004 in Victoria showed more concern with redressing inequalities and environmental degradation (two of the things I teach about and care about) than the Feds did. I also met more interesting people in a short space of time than would have been possible where I was based in the US, some great university students, and the ‘liveability’ of Melbourne rubbed off on the family. The country then experienced a mining boom, more embarrassing Federal refugee and asylum seeker policies, and eventually the election of a Labor government in 2007 that seemed to offer some better global accountability on climate change, if not on immigration. This was not to last.
Manne, in his article, refers to the current political era, where national politics has again shifted to extreme right-wing denialism on environmental issues, an austerity budget following the end of the economic boom, and the end of the innovative carbon tax. Efforts are being made to rescind the tax on mining, too. Following a change in State government we also have a local ‘roads’ obsession’ with a multi-billion dollar un-necessary project going in near where I live, largely to supply easy access for trucks.The money would be better spent of trains of course, as most other cities of this size have already realised.
Much of what is going on politically represents an absence of knowledge among the majority of voters that decide the election. I do not have to go far to enter the Australian suburbs, where most of Australians live and voting patterns are really split between Labor and Liberal – currently biased towards the latter. Suburban preoccupations are quite often the Australian vision of the ‘good life’ – people support policies that bring ample services, decent jobs except in recession, home ownership, an affordable meat-rich diet, sports facilities and schools, and a generally comfortable existence from which to view the world and its quite distant problems. Environmental worries are not high on the agenda for many people, outside the stalwart activists and in certain professions. Says Manne: “… it is hardly surprising that over the past decade climate change denialism quickly sunk deep roots here.” But, often, it is also a lack of knowledge.
In the (increasingly less edgy these days) inner city the political dynamic is a bit different, despite its increasing affluence. Where I live the minority Green party, favouring concerted emissions reductions, polls over 25% of the vote, despite having far less history and policy coherence than the Liberals or Labor – but this is still a small group of people. We have urban gardens, ‘transition towns’, progressive local councils, sustainability policies, etc. But this does not disturb Federal policies very much.
Manne paints Australian policy on climate change as an international embarrassment, and letting down future generations. “History will condemn the climate change denialists, here and elsewhere, for their contribution to the coming catastrophe that their cupidity, their arrogance, their myopia and their selfishness have bequeathed to the young and the generations still unborn.” Indeed. Not that other countries have necessarily risen to the challenge much better, but here we seem to specialise in avoidance of fundamental scientific truths. The reason I stay here is that millions in Australia actually think differently, and higher education offers one locale for supporting this.
But sometimes I wonder.
Sorry that this has displaced radical geography as the most recent posting, but last night Judy and I went out in Melbourne and saw Joan Baez play. She has not toured Australia for 28 years. For me, everything came together when she played the Paul Kelly track, “From little things big things grow” about the Gurindji strike and Vincent Lingiari’s role in fighting for Indigenous Australian land rights in Northern Australia. Now 72 and very much on form, Baez has her own repertoire of well known songs, and this was not usually one of them. But we had here a conjunction of conviction and politics spanning the US and Australia (Baez supported Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights movement, played at the March on Washington in Aug 1963, went to Sarajevo in 93, has been arrested many times for her convictions), social and economic justice in Australia, and the work of two great songwriters and performers. I was expecting Kelly to leap on stage (he is Melbourne’s best known contemporary singer-songwriter by far) but sadly, no.
“That was the story of Vincent Lingiari
But this is the story of something much more
How power and privilege can not move a people
Who know where they stand and stand in the law
From little things big things grow….”
(please cite it if you use this essay) We can usefully redefine what radical scholarship is in the contemporary period where universities are financially challenged, and changing their roles considerably. It is possible to hold to radical ideas of social and environmental justice as a scholar and academic, and to thrive within the university environment? Perhaps in the 1950s and 1960s, hard. The author of the map above, Bill Bunge, was such an example. Today, yes. But now there are multiple aspects of being ‘radical’. These include vision and personal politics, adapting to a changing audience, to different media in the internet age, and working in a rapidly changing political economy. I concentrate on three aspects particularly pertinent to scholarship. The third of these is relatively new in such debates. I think we need to break down ‘radicalism’ in the university context into three areas. The first is externally focussed research to promote and support justice. The ‘external’ mission (i.e. dealing with issues outside one’s immediate academic demands and surroundings) for a radical scholar, has evolved since the 1960s. The period has seen the decline of state socialism and the rise of neoliberal regimes that seek the maximization of utility, rather than equality. The work of radical scholars, opposed to free market capitalism, has anchors in several traditions of thought, particularly political economy. But in practice it includes supporting the vulnerable, environmental causes, justice in many forms, attacking corrupt regimes and institutions, and exposing hypocrisy particularly in capitalist regimes. The reaction to the McCarthyism in the US in the early 1950s (the second Red Scare with accusations of communism in US life), the civil rights movement, anti-War protests, and the other liberative social movements of the 1960s aided the introduction and acceptance of radical ideas towards the end of the decade. These included Marxism and feminism, that have worked their way into the universities where they have stayed and enriched them (Casenave 1988). This tradition is ongoing, strong, and while perhaps too concentrated in producing academic outputs (ideas in books, journals etc.) rather than in creating “spaces of hope” and better policy in society itself, it still has a great importance. A generation of radical scholars have practiced what Paul Robbins calls “wielding the hatchet” – exposing the darker secrets of colonialism, capitalism, greed and inequality. As Alastair Bonnett (2011) says, since the last 1960s “radicalism has survived by becoming institutionalised. This has allowed academic radicalism to become culturally self-sufficient, with little need to seek popular approval.” One thinks of scholars like Noam Chomsky, Don Mitchell, Henry Giroux and David Harvey, the latter still an unrepentant Marxist and yet the most highly cited human geographer. The strength of their messages about the arms race, the hypocrisy of western governments, capitalism and environmental violence is combined with erudite scholarship. Giroux and Harvey have – sometimes against criticism – offered visions of how the world could be, not just how it shouldn’t be. These messages and arguments, and the people who produce them, only endanger their careers if they hit too close to home – attacking potential university funders, which can include industry and government. Otherwise, these and hundreds of other radical scholars tend to pursue successful academic careers. Alistair Bonnet again (2011) : “Institutionalisation does not mean evisceration. But it does have consequences. One of these is having to dance to the tune of an increasingly managerial academic culture.” In my own discipline (geography) this is most certainly the case. Radical geographers publish, obtain research grants (this is the dancing part!), and proceed up the academic hierarchies quite nicely. Many get serious accolades. Those mentioned above, and others like them, rarely had their careers blocked because of their beliefs or actions, and neither did they divert away for long periods into activism. This is because as Don Mitchell says, the academic metier is generally limited in its practical engagement, unless you choose to interpret it in radical ways as a few, like Jean Dreze have done (Mitchell 2008).* The second dimension is about increased relevance and engagement(Stoddart 1975). Michael Burawoy, the Berkeley sociologist, theorised that sociology can no longer restrict itself to the academic realm. He begins by noting “The dialectic of progress governs our individual careers as well as our collective discipline. The original passion for social justice, economic equality, human rights, sustainable environment, political freedom or simply a better world, that drew so many of us to sociology, is channeled into the pursuit of academic credentials.” (Burawoy 2004: 5). The same could be said of many disciplines. “Public Sociology endeavors to bring sociology into dialogue with audiences beyond the academy, an open dialogue in which both sides deepen their understanding of public issues. Working with the public rather than studying them, liberates the academic discipline and provides new and progressive avenues for change. He includes students as partof the public constituency. ” Somewhat predictably, in the university “…advocacy of public sociology has generated much heat in many a cool place”. Indeed it has (Watts 2001 and Clive Barnett’s comments on ‘British critical geography’ 2013). The debate about relevance and application of scholarly ideas is something I treat in a forthcoming book, but the gist of the argument is that, following Burawoy, it is perfectly possible to pursue classical scholarly work (“professional” in Burawoy’s terms) while doing much more – working with constituencies outside the university completely, designing initiatives together, and committing to practical rather than only to in-theory concepts of justice. This does not demean the academic profession, and indeed outside certain rather goal-oriented Departments, this can and does occur across the social sciences. But if engaged and public work does not result in referred outputs and lucrative grants, it again troubles the neoliberal university model where we use metrics to judge the faulty based on research output. As Dick Peet said (AAG, 2013), frankly a lack of research output can put a radical scholar in trouble with the university and emperil jobs. But a focus on engagement is quite radical in its own way, and its practitioners do not have to be formenting revolution to be deemed ‘radical’ . This point is debated (Castree 2000). The third dimension of radicalism today is one that scholars are far less anxious to talk about. It is about ” the ethics by which and toward which knowledge is produced” (Michael Coughlear, EAnth listserv, February 25, 2013). Scholars are nested within departments,within universities. Their practices in this space can be radical, politically conservative, helpful to others, or selfish. We are no longer in the situation where radical scholars feel constantly hounded, oppressed, marginalised, and attacked in the university (at least not in western countries, in those with relatively liberal employment regulations). We need to redefine what radical scholarship is in this context. A radical scholar is a term that now includes something more than a certain type of scholarship, I think. It is also about rejecting conformity with the behavioral norms that neoliberal, cash-strapped universities have forced upon us. It is about solidarity with those in the university sector that are oppressed – e.g. low wage, those threatened with dismissal, and the thousands scraping a living on adjunct status. But it is more than that – it is also about doing what the neoliberal search for cash tends to marginalize – teaching, helping others, niceness/goodness, and selflessness (Cahn 2010, Martin 2011). I almost never see these latter behaviours linked to radical scholarship – commentators on this blog (below) think this comes from a different tradition. On this latter point, I find some of my colleagues in the higher education sector (at research institutions) are so driven by publication and research (some of it radical, of course) that the other things that are required in our contracts – teaching and service, including reviewing the work of others, supporting younger scholars, etc., working in the community – are avoided or certainly marginalised. This, of course, leaves much of that work to other people prepared to step up (usually those with the shorter cvs and the nicer and more helpful dispositions), or to adjuncts. Every time a teaching/research faculty member gets a higher research percentage in their contract, or refuses to do something that they are best placed to do, others have to cover the work (permanent people in some cases, poorer paid adjuncts in others). So, while teaching brings in far more money that research in almost all cases in the social sciences (despite being less prioritised or ‘prestigious’) and doing it is for the greater good and for that of the students, it sits in the second tier of responsibilities among many radical scholars. This is not universally true, but my experience since 1995 has been in research universities, where it almost always is. Teaching is one forum capable of imparting some radical and challenging ideas – e.g. a forensic analysis of corporate behaviour or the capitalist state. But ‘writing time’ is what faculty always complain is lacking, not teaching time. In addition, writing academic tracts that are narrowly read and often inaccessible behind paywalls is part of the old publishing order that will hold back debate and marginalizes the social sciences (I develop this here – academic publishing decisions also have a social conscience). ‘Service’ is a North American term that encompasses the glue that holds universities together. Some of this is best done by academics – from sitting on committees to recruiting students. It also includes refereeing the work of others to enable publication, and generally assisting students and fellow faculty (despite these things being less prioritised for individual advancement). Avoiding these things is not comradely, but depends on your stage of career. The new managerial class in universities – those who are not coming through the academic ranks – are often annoying to radical scholars. But in order to require less of those people, the radicals actually have to do a fair bit of that work themselves. You will actually see some radicals in top university positions, and this is a good thing. ” Being oriented to helping is a counter to the usual self-interested preoccupation with workloads, status and personal advancement, and is likely to contribute to a greater sense of satisfaction” (Martin 2011: 54) The problem, to sum up this third point, is that many full time research/teaching academics like me are hired to do a multi-task job, but spent a lot of time preferring to escape from certain tasks to focus more on others (usually research – evidence of 20 years of conversations and observing). They are also set within a system that generally facilitates this, while actually asking for teaching as well, for financial and symbolic gain for the university, causing junior people to work very long hours on both. So a radical scholar that is good at both can go very far. The question raised above is whether they have to push anybody out of the way to do this. Focusing on personal advancement in the university sector is not actually radical or helpful when it has negative effects on others. Inger Mewburn from ANU on her blog writes about the problem of academic “assholes”. These are the selfish people. You know who they are…..it is all about personal status maximization for these guys, and “Some ambitious sorts work to cut out others, whom they see as competitors, from opportunity” she says. Since the neoliberal research university prioritizes research performance and grant income, above all else (followed by teaching) and if that is what you do, some find it tempting to act in a cut-throat and non-collegial way to protect their research area or their time. And in most circumstances you get away with this, especially if your research fame is established – basically you will not get fired to being rude and unpleasant. Especially if protected by tenure. Some people in university cultures are just guilt free and unpleasant in this way, as an article in the THES 2013 says. There are other options too – think of Ted Trainer in Australia as well as Jean Dreze in India, both of whom keep one foot in the university sector while pursuing radical and exemplary lives outside of it (see forthcoming book when out). As Ben Wisner pointed out to me (6/4/13), the argument needs to recognise life stages – early career scholars have to scramble to an extent, while a middle career stage, perhaps with family, may necessarily involve less activism and more do-able research and teaching tasks. The need to do everything drops away at retirement. Conclusion Academic radicalism is now situated in an altered social context from the period of its formation. In the context of the mainstream neoliberal university today, assisting others in and outside the sector and doing your share, is actually progressive, even radical. While research and writing is a vital part of what we do, and provides the evidence to support social change, it does not make you a progressive or radical scholar to behave unpleasantly while carving out the time and space to do it. If this hurts others, or leads you to ignore them or any sense of obligation to them. This is the case even if your substantive research is ‘radical’ or progressive in its content. If you are rude and selfish, drop the radical label. You don’t deserve it. I have begun to think about where ‘radical and critical’ geography sits in all of this. Among people with secure teaching and research jobs, I actually think we should redefine it to include dimension two and three (radical internal) rather than just dimension one (radical external). So I think doing your teaching and service commitments while fully employed, and engaging more widely as well is actually radical, in a neoliberal university. But there are very few examples. You can do ‘radical’ research as part of your job for sure, but the other side of this is retaining commitment in the workplace while you are actually doing that work. If personal radical research projects went slower because of the publically engaged nature of scholarship or a lack of ‘writing/research time’, I think this would illustrate a greater commitment to social justice. To change the status quo, which discourages people from being nice and radical at the same time, we need better leadership and new norms. We need institutional recognition that working hard on other things is equally as valid as research and revenue-raising. This means redefining the criteria for academic promotion, for those who are in such positions (many are not). Although I am not a great supporter of the tenure system in North America, because it is exclusionary, a fourth criteria could be added to tenure criteria – some measure of goodness or collegiality (the current three are research, teaching and service). This is not unproblematic (watch candidates for promotion, who have been told to do more service or to help others, suddenly step up, then drop off again once promoted!).** Outside the constraints of the 6 year-to-tenure model in America there is more freedom to redefine these criteria for advancement and to embed these as a process, not as a hurdle. We actually have a weak version of this at my own university, where there are multiple criteria of performance assessed annually including ‘engagement’, and a workload model in place. This does not exhaust the discussion. There is much more to say about radical teaching initiatives for example (one of which I ran for 3.5 years) and ‘occupy’ campaigns. A fuller assessment the role of the radical academic in mainstream western society is not offered here. I am happy to debate this ‘new radicalism’ idea or take any suggestions. In the meantime, avoid the assholes, radical or not (and they usually are not) if you can! * Dick Peet suggested to me (AAG meetings, 2013) that when Dick Walker finally achieved tenure at Berkeley in 1982 was a moment at which time radical geography entered ‘the US academy’, if not the mainstream, in a more obvious way. He is right – Walker himself said “Leftists had never gotten tenure at Berkeley before my peer group, the 1968ers, came along. Michael Burawoy, Michael Reich, Ann Markusen and I were all up at the same time and we were the first to break that barrier” (Walker 2012). But the shift from ‘outsider’ to ‘insider’ was for many people not so obvious – I wonder if it was simply a transition aided by civil rights, the Vietnam war, and other global movements in which more radical positions moved more to the centre. (this was stressed by several people at the AAG meetings). **Note this very suggestion came up in a June 2013 report by US academics.
“To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing”
-Raymond Williams (1921-1988)
Castree N, 2000. Professionalisation, activism, and the university: whither ‘critical geography’? Environment and Planning A 32(6) 955 – 970.
Cazenave, Noël A..1988.From a committed achiever to a radical social scientist: The life course dialectics of a “Marginal” black american sociologist.The American Sociologist19, 4, pp 347-354 Martin B. 2011. On being a happy academic. Australian Universities’ Review, 53, 1, pp. 50-56
Mitchell D. 2008. Confessions of a Desk-Bound Radical. Antipode 40 (2008), 448-454.
Cahn SM. 2010. Saints and Scamps: Ethics in Academia. new edition. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Stoddart, D. 1975. Kropotkin, Reclus and ‘Relevant’ Geography. Area: 188-190. Walker, R. 2012. From the Age of Dino-Sauers to the Anthropo-Scene: Reminiscences of life in Berkeley Geography, 1975-2012. Retirement talk, Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley, April 25, 2012 Watts, M.J. “1968 and all that…” Progress in Human Geography 25: 157-188. (book mark – read this http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/jun/15/univeristies-radical-academics-jobs-training and this http://theoccupiedtimes.co.uk/?p=4533)