Universities and Social Change: Matching actions with rhetoric

The increasing patterns of global inequalities that have been brought about by the global organizing of politics and economics on the basis of the ideology of the free market are empirically witnessed across global spaces. In a number of academic as well as think pieces (including pieces on this site), I have been writing about the evidence that documents the patterns of these inequalities, and the relationships of these inequalities with entrenched patterns of political and economic policies that have blindly favored deregulation, minimal state intervention, and the weakening of the public sector.

The University along with powerful think tanks has been a key site in the achievements of the neoliberal revolution. A brand of elite academics at elite academic institutions have played central roles as the mouthpieces of capitalism, offering philosophical frames, political theories, and economic ideas for the shaping of the world in the free market logic. In short, the academe has played a powerful role as a mouthpiece of global capital, uncritically, often unequivocally, and even more so unempirically offering conceptual categories that serve the dominant logics of concentrating power in the hands of the elite. What ironically has been most surprising to me is the fundamentalism in the pseudoscience of growth. This is not really surprising given the elite functions of most universities, the elite status enjoyed by them, and the elite privilege enjoyed by academics sitting within ensconced positions of power.

However, the global financial crisis has disrupted these elite logics of consolidating power manufactured through powerful sites of knowledge production in the University. A key element of the crisis is its disruption of the dominant academic theories of political and economic organizing in contemporary times, and in the precise interrogation of much of these bogus theories and the links they draw out. For instance, activist movements across North-South interrogate the simplistic linkages drawn between ideals of political liberty and economic liberty that form the foundation of neoliberal thought. These forms of alternative organizing across the globe point out the hypocrisies of liberalism, depicting the ways in which the language of liberalism has been deployed to achieve illeberal outcomes through illeberal processes.

It is in this landscape that the Universities are finding a new need to brand themselves as sites of social change. Social change has started becoming increasingly appealing as a marketing gimmic across University campuses. I have been amazed at the number of invitations I receive to give talks on social change and how often these invitations are persuasive gimmicks with littlle commitment to the reality of social change. Being an activist has become in and of itself a vita builder and Universities desire to purchase this label for their students to increase their market viability. I recognize that this personally has worked toward my own market credentials as an academic, crafting out a chic space of desire. In seriously thinking through the possibilities of activist politics and the role of academe in imagining other worlds that foster greater opportunities for a wide diversity of livelihoods, I must interrogate my own privilege within the academe and the ways in which that privilege might be intertwined with perpetuating the politics of the status quo.


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