AtHQ: Jennifer Bajorek

AtHQ session 14 May

What I tried to say and would say again:

1. On the Centre as a disciplinary entity versus the Centre as inserted in an institution

I was happy to hear from Luciana that we are done talking about interdisciplinarity! I take this to mean that it is no longer helpful to think about what we do in the Centre or in/as Cultural Studies in terms of disciplinarity either. Maybe we’ll still have to say these words from time to time, in contexts void of actual thought, but they won’t have meaning. This would be the place to open a parenthesis on who we are, as many of “us” will not ever be in these contexts (academic job interviews, writing grant and book proposals, etc.), and so a parenthesis on the divide between “the teachers” and “the students,” to which we should try to be as attentive as possible without succumbing to delusional fantasies that we can make it go away. I was grateful to Luciana for making this clear and to all the others who affirmed after she spoke and in the pre-event posts.

Indeed (on the divide again for one second), it became clearer to me as I was going on about the Nigerian delegation that there may be some static or dissonance around what staff and students experience on precisely this question of a happy post-discipline life. I have this vague impression that students are more likely to feel that they “chose” a discipline and a degree programme with a proper name attached to it whereas I as staff have the luxury of feeling, most of the time, that I have been chosen and even rewarded (or punished…depending on the day) for my refusal to cave to disciplinary protocols. This is partly idiosyncratic but it’s an idiosyncracy clearly shared across the Centre staff. What I’m trying to remind us of here is that what is at stake in commitments to a discipline will be, basically for structural reasons, something pretty different depending on whether one is looking at the thing from the perspective of student or staff. This is part of what gets picked up in the conversations I have sometimes overheard about our relationship(s) to “British Cultural Studies.” Our relationship(s) to it apart from being it (which is the reason, or one of them, I take it why John located our discussion “in the UK”). If the 19th century university gave us these disciplines, that is, these little boxes to shut ourselves up in, it was clearly important for British Cultural Studies to undo all that: the compartmentalization of knowledge, particularly of knowledge as specialization and all of the attendant scientific rationalizations of power.

That moment is dead. We inherit from this project and and we reap the benefits, but the forms taken by these rationalizations are changing all the time and so the responses must also change. We do and we don’t inherit this project. I take that to be the point of the Attack in the first place.

I’m new to the UK. This is part of what I meant when I said I don’t actually know what the institution is. I also meant—and this is what I wanted to say about the Nigerians with whom I met for several hours Thursday morning—is that none of us can afford to be too complacent about knowing or understanding what the institution is. You may think you know what the institution is, but whatever it is it’s going to change on you—and fast. There are proposals getting shot around the College in every department and every centre every day that are similar in intention. Not all the proposals are equal, which is why it is worth thinking about how we can be involved at the proverbial decision-making level. I am not proposing we have to accept the analysis handed down to us (for example, that increasing enrollments and particularly enrollments on the MA programmes is the future and the only way to go), but it does mean we need to be thinking a bit about what the consequences of some of these decisions will be and on a more general level about what is going on. (We could also mention those baloney (Bologna?) accords that will radically change the way our MA courses are taught, and not for the better.)

2. Show me the money

Someone said something during the session about the “stultifying power” of institutions. Maybe they stultify in the sense of make us stupid. But even if this is the case, there is no outside of institution(s) (as the “Critique of Violence” session was basically screaming). I would suggest that institutions are not about stasis per se but rather about the vesting and protection of vested interests. Goldsmiths–if we can accept this name for one level of institutional insertion we share, even if it is not the only one–is under pressure to divest and reconfigure its institutional-libidinal-economy in some pretty radical ways. Students experience this pressure, which is obviously financial but which can be expressed, despite this obviousness, via all kinds of weird displacements, and they respond by lamenting (rightfully) the lack of books in the library or the lack of face time with professors. We as staff experience it in all of these ways, and students are very good about reminding us, and more.

One of the things I have been getting told that my students clearly have not (at least not yet)—and I had just been told it three times in one week by higher-ups in College administration before walking into Thursday’s session—is that the college needs to generate a 2.2 million pound surplus by the end of this year. This in order to maintain status quo. Students can complain to me all day about wanting a smaller seminar, more face time, etc., and I can turn around and try to talk to my “line manager” or to the big boss. No matter what I say, I will get told to go make some money.

We need to think collectively about our future as inserted in (an) institution. Our response could take a thousand different forms and ought to take place, it seems to me, on a thousand different levels. It was helpful, by the way, John, to have that clarification of the Centre’s historical position in terms of staying under the radar. This moment is, or should be, behind us also.

3. There is not only the institution and/or where is the decision-making level?

We are also always more than, or in excess of, institution. Luciana’s reminder about Graham and the projects he is working on with the local Congolese community was about this. There are other institutions, and new ones, in play in that work, and when I told my students in the Text and Image lecture (think it was Hegel?) that knowledge always gets produced in connection with institutions, this doesn’t mean that the institution comes first and the knowledge gets made in it, or that knowledge is appropriated by institutions or whatever. This can be a very loose “in connection with,” and it can remain unknown, or up for grabs, or totally labile.

This is why I cast the meeting with the Nigerian delegation as a possible index of change or as a marker of institutional lability. There could be something there, in that particular instance, to seize or be seized. But it was more as a marker of other possibilities, possibilities that might be invented, to think and work more radically on, or through, the forces (the violences) that also produce the horrible things. At the very least, it serves as a reminder that some things can change within the institution at lightning speed. Perhaps only where people are chasing the surplus, or think they are chasing it. Maybe we decide we can work with this, on it and through it, without compromise, for a different agenda. Maybe we decide we can’t, and we take a different position.

Where is the decision-making level? Is it actually on top? Is it ever really there? Isn’t this just swallowing exactly “what they want you to believe”: hook, line, and sinker? The culture of student passivity (the fear of speaking we touched on) makes me utterly despairing here. The fantasied contact between some of the highly compartmentalized spaces I work in—the things that happen in the meeting rooms of the delegations AND the things that happen in the classroom—is about this. I walk into one room and see totally labile structures, everything on fire, and five minutes later I walk out again and into the next room and see total paralysis. Sometimes the second room is the classroom sometimes it is the first.

That’s the truly excellent thing about AHQ. That it is getting these spaces into contact. Thank you all (and my apologies for being late and unprepared in the moment: we did a session swap thanks to pathogens).