Thursday, March 27, 2008

How The University Works

I recently read the introduction (pdf) to Marc Bousquet's new book, How The University Works, and this bit is really sticking with me:

"Degree in hand, loans coming due, the working partner expecting a more fair financial contribution, perhaps the question of children growing relevant, the degree holder asks a question to which the system has no answer: If I have been a splendid teacher and scholar while nondegreed for the past ten years, why am I suddenly unsuitable? Nearly all of the administrative responses to the degree holder can already be understood as responses to waste: flush it, ship it to the provinces, recycle it through another industry, keep it away from the fresh meat. Unorganized graduate employees and contingent faculty have a tendency to grasp their circumstance incompletely—that is, they feel 'treated like shit'—without grasping the systemic reality that they are waste. Insofar as graduate employees feel treated like waste, they can maintain the fantasy that they really exist elsewhere, in some place other than the overwhelmingly excremental testimony of their experience.

This fantasy becomes an alibi for inaction, because in this construction agency lies elsewhere, with the administrative touch on the flush-chain. The effect of people who feel treated like waste is an appeal to some other agent: please stop treating us this way—which is to say to that outside agent, 'please recognize that we are not waste,' even when that benevolent recognition is contrary to the testimony of our understanding ... The difference in consciousness between feeling treated like waste and knowing one’s excremental condition is the difference between experiencing casualization as 'local disorder' (that authority will soon rectify) and having the grasp of one’s potential for transforming the systemic realities of an actually existing new order. Where the degree-holding waste product understands its capacity for blockage and refuses to be expelled, the system organizing the inside must rapidly succumb."

I feel my excremental condition. Bring. It. On.

See also: Bousquet's How The University Works Blog and Tiziana Terranova and Marc Bousquet, Recomposing the University, Mute Magazine, 2004

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Blogger Jean-Louis Trudel said...

Naturally, I think there is a missing historical perspective here. The viewpoint of Bousquet or the bloggers of Rate Your Students seems to be that the natural condition of the worker is to enjoy decent wages and decent conditions matching his or her paper credentials.

Unfortunately, I'm pressed for time, or else I would explain why this seems like an unrealistic expectation to me, and how, in so many ways, that expectation fails.

But, basically, there is the problem. The reality may be shitty, but it is even shittier if you think you're entitled to more.

Strangely enough, without malice aforethought, I've arrived at the exact reverse of your Bousquet quote. Hmmm.

Anonymous Anne said...

Well, here's the rub: If we feel entitled, we're assholes. If we say we deserve it, we're self-righteous. If we believe we've earned it, we're naive. So where does that leave us? What *can* we expect? What can we hope for? What can we do?

And, wow, I'd not seen Rate Your Students before. My quick skim led me to conclude their attitude doesn't help matters. And I don't see Bousquet sharing that perspective - or one of entitlement...

Anonymous Allen Riddell said...

I think it's more of a pragmatic concern. If a registered nurse or a hotel worker is sick of the way they're being treated, they can work to build a union (at least in certain US states this is within the realm of possibility). And in such unionization attempts the language is (for the nurses, let's say): "the working conditions stink, they hurt us an our patients." There's no or less language of entitlement.

I worry that the discourse of entitlement distances academic workers needlessly (and perhaps harmfully) from other workers and might prevent people from seeking solutions (for example, unionization, look at those UMichigan grad students!) in hopes that someone, perhaps administrators, is going to recognize that there's some entitlement that is being ignored...

does this make sense?

Anonymous Larry Irons said...

PhD --- Not piled higher and deeper as so many think...rather, Prefers Her/His Dictum...

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