There wasn’t much to wax romantic about in the Detroit music scene at that time. The culture industries were undergoing a restructuring for the immaterial age. Vinyl was no longer moving. Local radio and local music venues had gone corporate, squeezing out local music. DJs who wanted local gigs had to play Top 40 playlists in the suburban megaclubs instead of the native styles of electronic music that had given Detroit mythic status around the world. Many had given up on record labels entirely. Everyone looked to the internet as the saving grace for record sales, promotion, networking – for everything, practically. Some of the more successful artists were attempting to license their tracks for video games. Almost everyone had other jobs, often off the books. I wasn’t embedded within this community, as an anthropologist would be. Instead, I made the 90 minute drive to Detroit when I could, and spent the time interviewing artists in their homes or over the phone.
If TED took a turn to leftist (or any) critique, Žižek, the professor of “toilets and ideology,” would be the keynote speaker. The irony of the animated lecture, “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce,” is that a diatribe on “global capitalism with a human face” would get over 900,000 views on YouTube. With YouTube’s help, the academy where Žižek’s persona was born is an increasingly visible terrain of so-called “cultural capitalism.” The last decade has witnessed a revolution in open courseware, a source of short-circuit consumption in which anyone with a computer can drink elite university Kool-Aid without earning credit. The movement has been so explosive – the Hewlett Foundation, which provides the mother lode of funding for university initiatives, supported a whole book on it, Taylor Walsh’s 2011 Unlocking the Gates – that one wonders how long the political economy of education that it anchors, contra Žižek’s hipster-friendly fantasies of consumerist dystopia, will last.
A standard feature of the hand-wringing associated with the crisis of the university is a fixation on the humanities. After all, for those of us in the so-called creative and critical fields, illustrating, visualizing and – dare we say it – branding the crisis is a new and unique opportunity to show off. This is what we went to school for, isn’t it? Take a recent event at Cornell University, which dramatized the question with the following thought experiment: after some sort of maritime disaster (details are scarce), a group of undergraduates commandeers a life raft. As luck would have it, they have a bit of space left – but, tragic twist of fate, the only people left to save are professors. Instead of giving up the seats to their elders, our clever young narcissists make the professors present a case as to why they deserve the remaining spot on the life raft.
The movements of the unemployed, which first emerged in Argentina in the mid-1990s, challenge traditional representations of the unemployed as lacking political agency and revolutionary potential. While many Marxists and labor organizers have maintained the latter position, Argentina’s recent history paints a different picture: the militant organization of the unemployed across the country was instrumental in overthrowing the neoliberal government in 2001 and steering the course the country would take following the economic crisis. Movements of the unemployed in Argentina are redefining work through their organizational practice, discourses around labor, and active creation of different forms of production and reproduction.
The movements of the unemployed in Argentina • Humanities and the university crisis • The TEDification of higher education • An interview with Gopal Balakrishnan • Dance, music, and protest • Radical ethnography and cultural studies • Modern crises and the vernacular • Translations of Alisa Del Re, Michel Foucault, and Louis Althusser
We’re passing through a low phase in Northern California – a lull that partially parallels those facing organizers from Madison to New York. The rebellious energies so evident recently seem scattered these days, dormant. The universities are quiet. And the forces that had gathered in city parks and squares, most massively at Oakland’s Oscar Grant Plaza, are largely absent. The encampments are broken up, the assemblies dissolved.
It took a little while for the student struggle in Quebec to gain traction with activists outside of the province. The strike began in February, but it probably wasn’t until late March that activists in Ontario paid it much mind, and not until late April or May that large numbers of people began pouring across the borders into Quebec to demonstrate alongside the Quebecois, to talk to Quebec activists, and to learn from their organizing tactics and struggles so that we could push the movement beyond the confines of the Francophone province and into the rest of Canada.
We’re living in a revolutionary situation. We could reformulate the classical definition in the following terms: the ruling elites of the global capital cannot live as in the past; the workers, the precarious, the students, the poor, the living knowledge refuse to live as in the past. In the global crisis, the transnational struggles – from the North Africa insurrections to the acampadas in Spain or Syntagma Square, from the Chilean university movement to Occupy and the Québec uprising – are composed by the convergence of a downgrading middle class and a proletariat whose poverty is directly proportional to its productivity. In this context, the university is a key site.
Though the basic course of events in Quebec over the past several months has been widely reported, I want to address two questions that might be of greater interest to those struggling in and around universities elsewhere. First, I want to look at how the Quebec student strike articulates, on the one hand, the conflict and interplay between the socialist aspirations and corporatist realities of a public university system, and on the other, the pressures put on that system by the dreams of dollar bills floating through the heads of administrators and the “austerian” belt-tightening of governments. Second, I want to ask, very briefly, whether this analysis has any traction outside of Quebec.
Though my article “The Actuality of the Revolution” centered on Lenin and 1917, it was really about the present. I think this became clearer as the debate on the article progressed, encompassing questions within the Occupy movement. For this reason, I’ve decided not to quibble over details, but rather to review the history in a way that more clearly shows how this debate, and the role the Bolsheviks played in 1917, speaks to our current historical conjuncture. Since the pressing question, the one that tied all these articles together, was actually the question of the party, I will try to clarify and elaborate my analysis of the function of the party form, responding to the three critiques of my original argument.