Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

Why is Academia no place for anarchists?

+7 votes
edited to add tags
asked Mar 28, 2010 by Saint_Schmidt (2,230 points)
edited Jan 28, 2016 by dot

3 Answers

+8 votes
 
Best answer
i was just listening to a philosophy professor talk about fear (mostly in the context of fear as a tool of politicians) and he mentioned that while one would think that universities are a place where fear is less of an issue, professors (he included himself) were some of the most timid people he's ever spent time with. (he went on to say that the academy is a place where people are always watching, always competing, and always threatened by what can be taken away--or not given in the first place). professors are the people who have shown that they are willing to abide by the rules set up to contain and restrict creativity (to color inside the lines).
i could leave it at that, but i will continue... :)
the academy is like politics in the sense that people who are anarchists or anarchist-friendly are frequently tempted to combine their anarchist ideas with getting a job, or working within the system.
but the academy is a deeply hierarchical and authoritarian system, one that is designed to co-opt new ideas and integrate them into first the academy and then the larger society (capitalism runs on edgy new things to sell to people who are dissatisfied, and sustains itself partly by integrating new behaviors and ideas instead of resisting them).
 
universities operate as a) screens to winnow out uncontrollables, b) training camps for acceptable thinking, c) think tanks for corporations and statists (think about the vast amount of information that exists in all those theses and projects and who actually uses that information).
answered Mar 30, 2010 by dot (52,000 points)
edited Mar 30, 2010 by dot
i would say graduate students/academics of all sort get criticized more because their job is inherently a criticism, as dot says, they teach you how to think, where is there isn't much ideological thought that goes into making lattes...besides 21st century nihilism that exists in all jobs
–4 votes
I am contributing some quotes from the anarchist.academics listserv on this topic:

Dana Ward: "Obviously there is room for burrowing from within academia as well as for assaulting the ramparts, but my guess is that from a practical and rational point of view, there are significant advantages to burrowing from within. Is there a better anarchist recruiting ground among youth anywhere other than academia? ... In my view, anarchist-academics, through our teaching and research, can expose a far wider audience to anarchist ideas than any other fora I can think of, and out of that activity many more will join us in the streets than could be produced from any other activity. ... First of all, let's not forget that anarchist-academics are also anarchists and most no doubt are involved with all sorts of agiprop. Our academic responsibilities surely impinge upon the time available for activism, but we're mostly activists in addition to being academics. Furthermore, we can struggle within academia to bring it more in line with anarchist principles, principally by how we interact with students. But without Food Not Bombs, Critical Mass, AK Press, the Prapopoulou squat, and a host of other anarchist spaces, our efforts within academia will be fruitless. So we need to create more and more anarchist spaces so they can be populated by generations of anarchists who never would have been exposed to anarchism had it not been their encounter with an anarchist-academic. "

Salvatore Engel-DiMauro: "Why is academia often regarded, at least implictly, somehow as outside other kinds of capitalist workplaces? The question of anarchist academics is the same as the question of anarchist workers (employees) in general. Is an anarchist fatally compromised by seeking a wage, by paying taxes? Academia is, in the end, another job in a capitalist system, even if it differs qualitatively from other types of jobs (and does not every job have its own peculiarities anyway?). So, I would encourage everyone to think a bit more broadly here, and not single out one type of worker position from the rest. It also means seeing academia as part of the capitalist system (which is inextricably statist), with all the pitfalls and/or advantages that other forms of employment have. And why is an anarchist press any more or less compromised than any other endeavour within a capitalist system? Is an anarchist running a business a fatal and irrecuperable flaw? Would Freedom Press or any other, for instance, continue to be operational without paying taxes, without seeking funds through sales? And is a squat possible without using statist legal frameworks (e.g., to avoid being evicted, probably by force), without electricity and water supplies run by government and/or firms, without resorting to fund-raising (where does the money come from)? Those resources, including food, are overwhelmingly produced through capitalist relations, and life-undermining ones, more often that we might wish to think (think of coal-generated electricity killing or diplacing people in Kentucky, West Virgina, etc.)."

Nathan Jun: ".. I - and many others like me - are not in a position to do anything else except 'burrow within.' When I was a graduate student, I completely took my situation for granted; I never gave much thought to the possibility that I would end up living and teaching in a place like Wichita Falls, Texas, where there are no anarchists (let alone socialists, let alone progressive Democrats) and so no preexistent opportunities for radical activism. But now that I am here, in just such a place, I might as well make the most of what I have -- which is a tenure-track position in philosophy at a small, public liberal arts university... one that pretty much gives me carte blanche to do what I want."

Salvatore Again: "Well said Nathan, Ben, and Dana. I found other workers doing something similar towards me as an education worker (and considering myself an education worker in training was what has kept me sane through graduate school; regarding academia as any other capitalist work place was and is to me very useful in getting beyond the nonsensical dichotomy of what constitutes work). The work-intellect dualism is an important ideological process to keep in mind and against which to struggle, since it is also used to reproduce justifications about menial workers deserving to have less resource access (i.e., wages, etc.) because they are less intellectually capable."

Nathan again: "When pressed on this, most everyone will disavow it as rubbish. But then
again, I have personally been 'dissed' many, many times by comrades
(mostly of an insurrectionist or post-left) persuasion) for being an
"intellectual," "bourgeois," and - yes - even a "sell-out" for working
in a university (and before that, for being a graduate student).
Somewhere or other Foucault says that the first lesson of modern
politics is that everyone is a hypocrite, but once we abandon the New
Left politics of authenticity, we don't even need to think in such terms
any longer. If what we do AS academics is a form of anarchist activism
in its own right (what Dana calls "burrowing within"), then we don't
need to make apologies for it, nor should we be "dissed" for it. Once I
realized this I became a much happier person."

Here are a few ways that academic anarchists respond to this charge. I am also 'burrowing within' the university, but I do not identify as an academic. In fact, I always introduce myself as an anarchist studying academia (for possibilities, etc.). I also have problems, like Jun, with 'counter-cultural' things, but that does not mean that I embrace a supposed "social" anarchism (to be distinguished from what? An egoist, worth the name, would not, can not, oppose the social -- rubbish!); so I am not of the mind that there is some nice world outside of academia that I can run to. Most of the people that critique me for being an academic have more privilege, have more stability in their lives, run businesses or work for them, and exercise a certain amount of power that I lack. My preference is to 'begin from the beginning', which means that I explore my options and seek the one that is best for me at any given time. Academia gives me the best (of the worst) options in life right now, admittedly, I don't get any money, I get evicted for not paying rent at least twice a year, and I struggle to eat -- but I have a creative outlet to 'think' the things that I need to think so that I can go out in the world and act these thoughts (which I do).

I will never understand why academia gets disproportionate criticism. I suspect that much of it derives from jealousy. And who could blame them?
answered Apr 1, 2010 by Saint_Schmidt (2,230 points)
we seem to be talking at cross-purposes. i have no problem with people who view school as a job.  i know one professor with politics i trust (who just got laid off, btw), who views it as exactly that.
this is roughly in line with what salvatore says in your post.
my issue is when anarchists or students-interested-in-anarchy extol the virtues of academia as the job to have, as a valuable organizing position, as a way to make change. and with how anarchists/students-interested-in-anarchy (regardless of their motivations and the purity of their desires) both feed information into the system that is against us (to the extent that anarchy informs their studies), and frequently use the anarchist scene as fodder for their professional lives.
i don't see how much money you make is relevant. i hear your point that you are sacrificing in order to live more of the way you want to live, but am not sure how that speaks to the issue of academia's role in society and how anarchists in general get sucked into thinking it's good.

and, jealousy? seriously? you're funny.
Dot, yes. Absolutely, I agree. You can't really see this, but this is exactly what many of the folks on the anarchist.academics listserv have been saying (that it is a way to make change). I don't believe that it is and I wouldn't dare argue that. Still, though, I always feel the backlash (especially from my post-left friends) for being within academia. Anything I say or do is reduced to the academic identity (an identity I despise). Great comment, thank you.
i'm not sure why you get so defensive about people's/my frustration with pro-academia arguments, when your comment above acknowledges that academics promote a very self-serving and blindered vision of the institution as one that can promote anarchist practice.
and as for people who criticize or acknowledge that you sound like you come from where you do, actually, come from (your conversations and terminology are *of course* affected by who you spend your time around, regardless of whether you agree with them or not), i'm not sure how to respond to that. there can be a wavery line between a) good-natured ribbing and b) getting unnecessarily poked in the eye and c) being reminded of difficult facts (reality-checked). that line is harder to recognize when we're assuming that everyone is against us.
i am a firm believer in not being limited by the intentions of the people we're talking to, and i encourage us all to take whatever is useful from what people say to us, no matter the distractions.
easier said than done, of course.
I get defensive because everything I say/do gets reduced to an academic identity. It is sickening to say the least and far from creative -- a very structuralist/deterministic conception of identity. It is one the things that really puts me off from the post-left crowd. Yes academia sucks, but I'll never understand why it sucks anymore than any other stupid job/part any one of us plays in the system. I understand that its important to be critical of academia, but we live in a world of power that lacks a pure outside radical space from which to mount an attack. Any one of us are as guilty of another. When I write anonymously nobody calls me an academic and ignores my argument. When people know the authors, things change.
well, of course, getting pigeon-holed and/or ignored is very aggravating.
but in the course of this debate on this site, you have been slow to get the point of what i'm actually saying because you've been so distracted by the issue and your history. (because of course my writing is always completely clear! ;) ) surely you have some leeway for others who have similar kneejerk reactions, only in the other direction. surely you have some sympathy, some actual gut reaction, not just an intellectual understanding, that allows you insight into people's frustrations with this particular institution, which directly influences so much anarchist theory?
i don't have many conversations with red anarchists, so i don't talk a lot to people who praise work-as-work, but i have had extended conversations with anti-political folks and various anarchists more of my ilk, who strongly defend the place of higher learning and its capacity as a format-for-change. so the starbucks conversation is obvious and doesn't need to be had. the academia one should also be/is obvious, but still needs to be had.
when people complain about the police, isn't it clear that police are not the only or even main issue, but that people have direct experience with them, and so have an urgent response?
and i'm not defending people who are sloppy thinkers and cogent-argument-avoiders. i don't remember the anews interaction we had that well, but i believe that i started out as poking you because of the language/assumptions that i thought i read into your post - the distance that you assumed (or your language assumed) from whatever the topic was, and then continued the argument because you seemed to be defending academia (your place in it, perhaps) without just acknowledging that yes, it's fucked.
we all do have places in fucked up institutions. attempting to defend that place *especially to people who don't know us*, just makes us sound like apologists. a context needs to be created before the deeper conversation(s) can be had. i almost always avoid responding to anonymous posts for exactly that reason.
Check James C. Scott and Carlos Taibo. There are also some works based in anarchy. Although more for others.

In part, I think because of the lack of anarchist experience and the need for summary in time, history and doctrines. Also, the nature of public academia (state) and private ones (mostly business).
hey whask, thanks for taking on a few answers. this one here is not really an answer though. first you send people to names (and don't explain your understanding of how what they say and who they are is relevant to anarchists) and second what you say in your second paragraph is so vague as to not be saying much at all. i suggest either making this a comment or fleshing out both parts.

just my .04.
fucking inflation!
+3 votes
Not that I am a fan of Freud, but there's a well known concept in his work called sublimation, which claims to explain how socially unacceptable impulses are transformed into useful ones (useful, that is, to the society you live in). One of the examples I remember him using is a young boy obsessed with capturing small rodents and snakes to take them apart and see what their innards are like. He doesn't do this in the manner of a proper dissection - it's just creepy. But of course when he grows up he gets put on the right path somehow, and becomes a surgeon.

Something I have noticed about academia is that it has an amazing way of siphoning people's energy back into itself. It seems like that a lot of the most successful (in a professional way) academics are already good at making all their passions useful for their writing, and even people who don't do this, end up doing activism that concerns the campus where they live, or going out to get drunk or high mainly with students and professors, or in some other way their energy seems to flow back towards the school or their career.

To me, that's why one might especially object to academia as being kind of a trap for people interested in radical ideas, one that converts their passions into something useful (or, let's be honest, sterile).  It's much different in that way than other jobs, where typically your work doesn't take over your whole entire life and you might well be able to do several other things at the same time, maybe even with more intensity.

I wouldn't say that it's no place for anarchists, necessarily, or at least I would be hesitant to single it out as such. What would be the place for anarchists? I ask this seriously -- is there any place where an anarchist should feel comfortable and at home? My intuition is that there is no such place, even that there can't be one - although this is something we could talk about.

I am actually desperate to get into academia. I've begun to stake a lot of myself, self-regard, etc., on the outcome of the admissions procedure for graduate school, which is horrifying, and probably only the start of it.  I can tell it's mutilating me before I even really begin.

However, I still think it has one possibility that dot doesn't credit. Suppose you take this kind of fucked up arrangement to its extreme. You withdraw from everything, like really everything, so as to focus all your energy on just one problem, which you know the exact dimensions of and the appropriate instruments for and so on. So that the weight of everything you worry about is pressed down on one narrow point.

Most of the time I feel like my consciousness is cloudy. It has strength but no hold, no pressure, no sharp blades. Do you know what I mean? People look for blades where they can. I don't blame myself, at least not for that.
answered Mar 13, 2016 by asker (7,900 points)
edited Mar 13, 2016 by asker

asker: i'm not sure if you were using a shorthand that i am ignorant of (quite possible), but: is fascism the only thing you think research (or other academic pursuits) should be useless for? what of capitalism, communism, democracy, social conformity, production/consumption, etc? 

no doubt that most would want things (eg, research) to be useful for their own purposes. enumerating what such things should not be useful for would seem to require a much larger laundry list. 

have i completely missed something?

I don't think you missed anything, funkyanarchy. I take it that Benjamin is using 'fascism' as a shorthand for many things. at any rate that is how I would like to use it.

I prefer not to enumerate because I think it's actually really hard to do. with shorthand you don't run such a risk of excluding things.
interesting, asker. i'm not sure that it's possible for any idea to be useless to any ideology.

at the very minimum, talking about ideas informs our enemies as to how we're thinking and what we're thinking about. (even society of the spectacle, for example, which i think was written in epigrammatic style partly as a way to avoid being a tool of debord's enemies, has been successfully integrated into the spectacle.) that doesn't mean we want to make it easy for people to twist our ideas, but it does make the conversation more difficult, harder to gauge the appropriate means, and for sure the consequences. (how would one even measure consequences? when and how does one say "this. this happened because of that and only that and nothing else past or future will be held to be relevant...")

signed,

dot, disappearing into her own navel this morning

ps: shorthand excludes many things that clarity/definitiveness does not. it's too bad that people are attacked more for clarity than we are for vagaries.
hmm:

I do agree that you can't know in advance how the things you say and do will get taken up in the future...

to me this is a reason to be cautious, to think about what you are going to do in advance and as you are doing it, and also after it's done

but not a reason to never act or never write anything down
i think what dot is trying to say is that it's next to impossible to know how words will effect other people, and it's common for people in political/activist circles to want to be able to predict that. The conclusion that many have come to (especially the people on this forum) is that fight is totally hopeless...
...