December 19, 2007

Procedures There is a sensibility, a mindset or orientation, committed to the view that matters of power can be handled fairly through the proper procedures. Getting the process right, carefully establishing the rules of the game, is what really matters. An example from academia might be found in establishing clear expectations for tenure cases and a transparent, fair process for determining whether these expectations have been met. Proper procedures are supposed to replace the "old boys network" wherein privileged white men tenured their own. To be sure, promotion based on merit enforces capitalist preoccupations with output: is the scholar productive? does she efficiently use her time? is she contributing to her college or university as a brand that will attract 17 and 18 year olds? is she enabling students to identify with the college or university such that they will be generous donors in the future? At any rate, clear and fair tenure standards are, for academics, a crucial concern. Establishing standards is something else entirely: it requires oscillating between different positions, positions of acceptance, tolerance, and curiosity, on the one hand, and of suspicion and skepticism, on the other. The first often appears as "we all know what good scholarship is." But the supplement of this kind of claim is the well-justified suspicion that the notions of we, good, and scholarship are exclusionary and contentious--if one's field is stodgy and key sites of battle involve transforming what counts as scholarship within the field, then the expectation that a candidate for...
More stupider The occupational hazards of academia are arrogance and stupidity. This is a dangerous combination (and can be deadly if its suffers move into politics). What or who is to blame? The students. Student writing is horrifying. Faced with one undergraduate paragraph, I nearly wrote that I could think of a couple of cliches that the student had not yet used. I've been "awared" (yes, I have a student who uses aware as a verb) that what matters is what one truly feels, that any definition is as good as any other as long as one feels it "very personally," and that the state of nature is not a lifestyle people like. But perhaps more horrifying than the writing is the unwillingness to acknowledge that texts and authors are making arguments that differ from the views to which they, the students, have become accustomed. If they read a critique of the mobilization of sentiment under neoliberalism, they assume that the author is arguing that people have "gotten away from what they really feel." If they are individualists, then so are the ancient Greeks. Their mindset is something like this: what is important is what any individual truly feels is important; that's all that matters, the intensity and authenticity of a certain affective attachment. This intensity means that individuals can define words, issues, concepts, etc, any way they want, as long as they "truly believe it." But, and here is the catch, the students tend to combine this intense subjectivism (or subjectivism...

Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is a political theorist.

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