Imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy? No kidding.

This post began as a reflection on why the term ‘imperialist-white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy’ isn’t funny. I attended a conference session on gender violence and inequality in universities in which the term got a good laugh. It was nearly inaudible amidst the noise of sexual assaults and harassment on high school and university campuses, the complicity of institutional management in silencing gender critique, persistent racism–sexism in the academy, gendered precarity and inequalities in pay, and institutionalised and legitimised patriarchy throughout the educational system. There have been advances. Earlier this year, campaigners in the UK (including high school students Jessy McCabe and June Eric-Udorie) overturned a government proposal to remove feminism from the A-level curriculum – although with many reports on the campaign emphasising the inclusion of Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt, Rosa Luxeburg and Ayn Rand, it remains to ask #whyismycurriculumwhite.

But one report of this campaign from January of this year caught my eye just after I returned home. Continue reading “Imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy? No kidding.”

Building the co-operative university

Exciting developments in the project to conceptualise and lay foundations for the co-operative university

PAPER: ‘Beyond public and private: a framework for co-operative higher education’ (Joss Winn & Mike Neary, 2016)

Universities in the UK are increasingly adopting corporate governance structures, a consumerist model of teaching and learning, and have the most expensive tuition fees in the world (McGettigan, 2013; OECD, 2015). This paper will report on a 12-month project funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) to develop an alternative model of knowledge production grounded in co-operative values and principles. The project has been run with the Social Science Centre (SSC), a small, experimental co-operative for higher education established in Lincoln in 2011 (Social Science Centre, 2013).

PROJECT: Co-operative higher education leadership

The aim of this research is to explore the possibility of establishing co-operative leadership as a viable organisational form of governanceand management for Higher Education. Co-operative leadership is already well established in business enterprises in the UK and around the world (Ridley-Duff and Bull 2016), and has recently been adopted as the organising principle by over 800 schools in the United Kingdom (Wilson 2014). The co-operative movement is a global phenomenon with one billion members, supported by national and international organisations working to establish co-operative enterprises and the promotion of cooperative education.


This detailed reading of the 2016 Higher Education and Research Bill, in which Dan Cook analyses the affordances for establishing co-operative governance.

Recommended reading together with Richard Hall’s ‘On resistance to the HE White Paper’ and his exemplary response to the ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ [sic] with reference to the Alternative White Paper which is being discussed at a Convention on 30 June in London.

The passion of despair

In the first chapter of The Highway of Despair: Critical Theory after Hegel (2015), Robyn Marasco opens up a whole new field of possibility, or ways of thinking it — through despair.

‘Against a familiar ghost story that warns of the spectre of despair haunting radial political vision and the knight of resignation that follows in its path, I will venture an argument that the “negative passions” can enrich the political imagination and enliven political praxis’ (p. 6).

It is such a lightening read. Marasco challenges both the customary critique of despair as a problem of political depression, melancholia, response to trauma or form of resignation, on the one hand, and the customary – and presently fervent – investment in hope as a promise of political emancipation, social transformation and peaceful co-existence. In place of these ‘comfortable’ theorizations, she argues that despair properly understood as a critical political category is

‘the refutation of the end of history: it is that dynamic and restless passion that keeps things moving as earthly projects and purposes fall into disrepair’ (p. 13), in times when ‘things come undone and there is no way out suggested by reason or faith’ (p. 3).

Highlights of the chapter include…

Continue reading “The passion of despair”

Practices of possibility in neoliberal social systems

2015–16 Independent Social Research Foundation
Mid-Career Fellowship

Following is a brief summary of the research I will be undertaking this year. To read the full version of the proposal, visit the ISRF website. Check back here for developments, links to the project website (forthcoming) and ways to get involved!

The thesis to be interrogated in this project is that theoretical and practical resources for democratising contemporary social institutions – for a ‘politics of possibility’ – exist in everyday thinking and practice, but that we need interdisciplinary methods of philosophical, sociological and critical-practical research in order to disclose them. This project develops an interdisciplinary methodology of practical philosophy that is designed to deepen understandings of how particular forms of power and powerlessness in neoliberal institutions foreclose possibility, and to identify practices through which they can be challenged and transformed. While we now have a good understanding of how neoliberal rationality is learned in institutions, this has not been matched by philosophically credible studies of the limits and possibilities of how it may also contribute to the formation of alternative forms of reason. Most conceptual studies of neoliberal rationality are therefore separated from the strategies and struggles of professionals and activists to generate new possibilities for action in everyday life.

This project will bridge these bodies of work by examining how different articulations of neoliberal rationality create and inhibit specific forms of possibility. It grew out of a concern that social science, critical philosophy and action research are often more successful at diagnosing the ‘crisis of hope’ in contemporary society than enabling active responses to it, particularly amongst people who work in key socialising institutions. It develops work by critical theorists who attribute the contraction of human and environmental possibility to the expansion of neoliberal and technological rationalities throughout everyday life, and who argue this structurally forecloses spaces for political agency. This research also builds on a rich tradition of educational research which suggests that critical pedagogies can be possibility-enabling practices, but rarely explores what possibility actually is or focuses on how specific practices generate specific kinds of possibility within particular neoliberal contexts. The research will produce an integrated philosophical and empirical picture of how possibilities ‘contract’ in neoliberal society and evaluate the effects of this knowledge-in-use in its application in different institutional contexts. It brings philosophical concept development, empirical sociological research, and methods of participatory action research together into an integrated study which is designed not only to produce new knowledge in each dimension, but to understand the knowledges that we use to connect them in practice.

This project challenges the segregation between philosophies of possibility, theories of political rationality and everyday practice in neoliberal institutions order to address two ‘real-world’ problems. One is that educators working in neoliberal institutions who are not academics or activists have little access to philosophically and empirically robust knowledge about how possibilities for critical agency are foreclosed and enabled in this context. The second real-world problem is that while theories of power, powerlessness and empowerment in neoliberal systems are shaped largely by academic social scientists, many lack insight into (or experiences of struggling with) how this conceptual work is confirmed, mediated by, or challenged in practice. This project therefore does not so much challenge incumbent critical theories and political practices as seek to heal their broken relationships, and to strengthen the potential of their cross-fertilisation for enabling praxis. Its methodology unites the conceptual rigour of critical philosophy with the empirical texture of qualitative methods and the emergent, practice-oriented methods of action research to create practical-critical knowledge about the ‘contraction’ and ‘expansion’ of possibility in neoliberal institutions. My hope is that this act will contribute to the construction of what Ernst Bloch once called an ‘architecture of hope’ which can substantively challenge the hegemony of hopelessness in neoliberalised social institutions today.