The Citadel Has Been Blown Up. Hurray! Next? A Response to Hobson

This is the second post in a symposium on John M. Hobson’s new book, The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics. The series began with a post by the author summarising the argument of the book and laying out some provocations for sympathetic readers. In the next few weeks, we will have further posts from Srjdan and Brett Bowden, followed by a reply from John.

Update: Srdjan’s post and Brett’s post are now up.

I was at an IR event last year where the speaker jovially declared that they just did not care about being, and being accused of being, Eurocentric. At the time, I found it both a little shocking and depressing that they could see fit to dispense with that fig leaf of serious acknowledgement that often accompanies discussions of Eurocentrism.  And indeed I thought, glumly, that it perhaps reflected many scholars’ underlying attitudes to the issue – a tokenistic practice of acknowledgement underpinning a wider apathy or disconnection. What only struck me later was also the possibility that the speaker also didn’t really understand the issue which was batted away so carelessly. Indeed, it is unclear that many ‘mainstream’ IR scholars truly understand the problem of Eurocentrism, given the mythologised twin deaths of colonialism and scientific racism in 1945 (or so).


So, Hobson is knocking at the door more loudly, with a bigger stick, and much more paperwork.  Continue reading

What We Talked About At ISA: From #occupyirtheory to #OpenIR?

A write up of my comments at the #occupyirtheory event in San Diego. The event itself was both hope-filled and occasionally frustrating, not least for the small group of walk-outs, apparently ‘political’ ‘scientists’ lacking in any conception of what it actually means to engage in the political (note: this bothered me especially, but was a rather minor irritation in the grander scheme of things). Despite the late hour, there were between 40 and 60 people there throughout, and a number of very positive things have come of it. It looks like there’ll be some gathering at BISA/ISA to discuss further, and we’re pitching something for the Millennium conference on some of the themes addressed below, and there will of course be ISA 2013 too. In the meantime, there’s the Facebook group, the blog, and a mailing list. The term OpenIR is owed to Kathryn Fisher, and seems to several of us to be a better umbrella term for the many things we want to address in the discipline and the academy. I also just want to give a public shout-out to Nick, Wanda, Robbie and Meera for doing so much on this.

The #occupy practice/meme has antecedents. Physical manifestations of a ‘public’, horizontalism, prefigurative politics and more can be traced in all sorts of histories. One such lineage is the foreshadowing of Zucotti Park in recent struggles over education. Take the slogan in March 2010 over privatisation at the University of California, which was ‘STRIKE / OCCUPY / TAKEOVER’. Or Middlesex, where students resisting the dismantling of the Philosophy Department in that same year unfurled a banner during their occupation, one that proclaimed: ‘THE UNIVERSITY IS A FACTORY! STRIKE! OCCUPY!’.

I want briefly, then, to think about the space of the university in our discussions of #occupy. There have been rich and suggestive calls to re-politicise ourselves as academic-activists, to look again at our work and its claims, and to turn our abilities, such as they are, to projects of resistance and transformation. But we risk a displacement. When we talk of ‘the street’, or politics enacted in the reconfigured space of #occupy, or of the ‘real world’ that we must be relevant to, we already miss the university itself as that factory in which we labour. We are tempted by a view of ourselves as leaving ivory towers to do politics, instead of seeing those towers themselves as spaces of politics. As if our institutions and practices were not already part of the world.

Whether you see #occupy as transformational or nor, or whether you simply prefer a different vocabulary, I think a demand remains: a demand to politicise our own positionality. This politicisation can have many dimensions, but I want to suggestively highlight four, each being a sphere in which we should be diagnosing and transforming our own practices.

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Renounce Spoonfeeding!; Or, What’s Wrong With International Relations Textbooks Anyway?

Term is upon us, and with it new cohorts of students eager for the accumulated wisdom of IR condensed into textbook form. e-IR recently promoted two such texts, and I took gentle exception.

But what’s so wrong with textbooks anyway? It’s not so much the simplification itself. All theory (including some much-lauded high theory) does that. Nor is it any particular problem with the qualifications of the authors (the contributors to Baylis, Smith and Owens, for example, are pretty well the dominant names in their respective sub-fields).

Still, textbooks do seem to take on a strange epistemic authority, at least in undergraduate study. Confused by the relationship between ethics and self-interest in Morgenthau? Settle it with some bullet-points! IR is a young discipline, and none of its canonical texts approach the difficulty of, say, political, social or cultural theory proper. Any competence is going to come from understanding those texts, so why not do it sooner rather than later? Moreover, the relentless simplifications of the ‘paradigms’ debates (can we drop the mutilation of Kuhn yet?) provide an easy tool for obliterating complexity. This is not unrelated to a patronising attitude towards students, gently shepherded through the early years before being told harsher truths.

Textbooks, especially ones recommended at the start of courses as the intellectual crutches of choice, reinforce those dynamics. But it gets worse. Textbooks also lie.

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Grayling’s Eminence; Or, For That Kind Of Money, I Would Demand A Team Of Live-In, Round-The-Clock Tutors, Ready To Fill Me In About Renaissance Art Or Logical Positivism At The Snap Of A Finger.

I do feel somewhat sorry for A.C. Grayling. Following his sudden exit from the Birkbeck scene, former colleagues sent a short but apt letter to The Guardian, expressing appropriate levels of dismay and resistance to the innovation of the New College of the Humanities. They raised basically two objections. First, that the New College is for-profit, substituting the business of teaching in place of the vocation of research. And second, that it is in the ‘vanguard’ of efforts to link education to wealth, partly via a leaching of public resources.

Although many prominent names were used to unveil New College, few seem in sight now that it is under sustained attack (Peter Singer, where are you?). And Grayling, somewhat to his credit, keeps replying to the antiquated nay-sayers desperately clinging to the sinking ship of public provision. Perhaps the fullest public defence has come in response to the Birkbeck letter. Although garlanded by academic niceties (“with respect”; “I would be very grateful”), the ultimate conclusion is that his critics lack some basic faculties of reason: “I have seen only an emotional case for scapegoating our project”.

Surely, then, there are firm responses to the proliferating critiques? Grayling’s fuller case for New College turns primarily on the idea that students are being under-charged rather than over-charged. The relevant comparisons? That an MSc in Finance at LSE for an overseas student costs almost £26,000 (with many other programmes charging in the £15-21,000 range) and that a DPhil in cardiovascular medicine at Oxford will set you back nearly £27,000 if you’re not from the EU. The point being that high fees for some already subsidise lower fees for others. Now, you’ll notice what has been done here: £18,000 for an undergraduate degree for all students is being justified on the grounds that you can find a handful of prominent programmes elsewhere that charge more than this for masters programmes for non-EU students.

As an argument for justice it has some merits (Why the disparity here? What are the ‘real’ costs of educating a doctor or financial specialist?). But as a defence of New College as prosaic rather than parasitic it doesn’t stand up to much. And I’m sure there’s a latin term for this kind of fallacy. A direct comparison with liberal arts funding in the US would have offered us more, but that would have required admitting that there is something new about the New College in the UK setting. You’ll recall that, before people starting off letting flares at Grayling’s talks, this was very much the selling point of New College. Its online welcome still announces: “New College of the Humanities is a new concept in university-level education”.

Lots of the new then, which makes it worth thinking through some of the older ideas of the university, as Steve Fuller did so wonderfully back in February. But there is something yet more damning in Grayling’s reply. He says that his project can’t be vanguardist. In a repeat of the AHRC debacle, apparently bright people conclude that you can’t be complicit if the Minister didn’t call you directly and tell you to do something. Grayling clarifies that he is under no compulsion of Government and has no love for the current reconstitution of UK higher education, as if that matters. Moreover, “we cannot be in the vanguard of what has long been happening”. This is the crux of a claim made before: that New College is simultaneously following an economic pathway outside of its control and that it will have no detrimental impact outside of its own halls.

Other engaged in privatised education do happen to think that the New College will accelerate some market openings. But notice that Grayling can’t have it both ways. His argument against allegations of vanguardism is that New College is too small and insignificant for anyone to follow its lead. But his argument for an £18,000 fee compares New College to comparatively small and unrepresentative courses which charge more than he intends to (about 80 people take that MSc in Finance at LSE). An accidentally immanent critique, this mode of argument illustrates exactly how a vanguardist framing works, and has worked over the last years. Find an institution that charges more than you do and has a good reputation. Point out that you could do more, and do it better, if you had their money. Campaign for that outcome while ignoring or dismissing arguments for higher levels of public investment. Repeat. Change the discursive and economic landscape in a series of comparative expansions.

Grayling suggests high fees elsewhere as justification for his high fees, but then expects us to believe that his high fees (which are much more clearly comparable with undergraduate provision than are the courses he cites) won’t be used by anyone anywhere to militate for a further uncapping or greater move to student debt and ‘consumer-led’ education over equal access and public goods. It is hard to see the logic in such a position, not least when it already provides indications of how such an appeal by others would run:

Note one thing: the deafening silence of the vice-chancellors in the controversy over our college project. Why? Because as the individuals most acutely involved in battling with impossible arithmetic, they understand the realities.


Andrew McGettigan’s excellent and much circulated analysis points out that marketisation requires the softening up of older providers via the introduction of one or more exemplars of new learning: 1) independent, non-profit providers like the University of Buckingham; 2) private, for-profit providers like BPP and now NCH (perhaps owned by people like Apollo); 3) Edexcel in relation with colleges; 4) Cameron’s planned ‘Big Society University’; and 5) globalised multi-nationals. New College has to be viewed in this context and not, as Grayling wants, as some minor footnote. Here’s McGettigan:

The new market conditions must first be created. A significant amount of intervention is required to bring about a ‘level playing field’ in which new, more commercial, operations can compete successfully to drive down costs. The first steps here have already been achieved. First, the complete removal of central funding to arts, humanities and social science degrees exposes the established provision to potential competition in a manner that gives the lie to Willetts’s claim that the cuts have been ‘scrupulously neutral’. (No new provider is currently planning to offer STEM degrees, which are expensive to run and require large overhead and start-up costs.) Second, students at private establishments have already been granted access to the student loans and grants…Third, when viewed in conjunction with the new visa restrictions on overseas students (a political decision affecting an otherwise independent and substantial income stream) and the cuts just announced from HEFCE for the 2011/12 budget, we can conclude that universities are being softened up. Prior to a major reorganization of higher education these cuts are punitive and part of a concerted effort to destabilize the sector for the entry of new agents… What is proposed does not simply benefit small, niche operations but creates the conditions for ‘creative chaos’ similar to that to be unleashed on the National Health Service.

On Objecting to the New College of the Humanities; Or, Who Would Pay £18,000 a Year to Listen to this Outdated Victorian Rationalism When They Could Buy Themselves a Second-Hand Copy of John Stuart Mill?

Yes, this is more comment on the New College, a.k.a. Grayling Hall, a.k.a. Grayling’s Folly, a.k.a. North Oxford in Bedford Square (NOBS), a.k.a. The Ultimate Scab University.

It won’t have escaped your notice that there has been a flurry of disgust, disbelief, protest and rage at the announcement of the New College of the Humanities (an aside: ‘of the’ Humanities? Why not ‘for the’ Humanities?). There have also been a number of responses that pretty much add up to ‘meh’: to wit, there are some bad things, but also some good things about Grayling’s Folly. And then there has been some welcoming of this project, and its ‘chutzpah’. Since we are in a downward vortex of vanishing funding and academic status, why not expand where we can? And why damn the entrepreneurial? As Brian Leiter puts it:

NCH is just the natural continuation of the elimination of 75% of government funding for higher education and 800% increases in tuition in the space of a few years. If the Brits can’t even keep the Tories out of office, and if their party of the Left is now in bed with the Neoliberals, it’s really hard to see why one should think “petitioning” the government for more government funding for higher ed will produce any results. The battle to be won is at the polls, and NCH is just a symptom of the battle already lost.

All this makes me think it’s worth clarifying the case against, and the potential mitigating factors. Continue reading

The New School for Privatised Inquiry

UPDATE (5 June): Now crossposted at Campaign for the Public University and at Critical Legal Thinking. The New College of the Humanities has already been called The Ultimate Scab University. I should have titled the post that.

Nina Power also has a call for boycott up and a running info post exposing, amongst other things, that many of the Professors involved have bought shares in the New College. A strange kind of workers’ management, but one apparently meant to incentivise its intellectual labourers through the lure of profits on thought. See also the expanding discussion at Leiter Reports and A.C. Grayling’s defence (in reply to the Birkbeck Student Union Chair).

In 1919, John Dewey and others founded The New School for Social Research, intended to offer a democratic and general education for those excluded by existing structures. On the faculty side, this meant a staunch defence of academic freedom in the face of increasing censorship and a climate of intellectual fear. For students, it meant evening classes, an open structure of instruction and the ability to engage in inquiry despite exclusion from the other universities of the time. A fascinating legacy even before it became a refuge for forces of critique fleeing Fascist Europe.

Now there is a new New School. A New College in fact. A.C. Grayling, Richard Dawkins, Ronald Dworkin and Peter Singer (yes, Peter Singer), amongst others, have inaugurated this new space for privatised inquiry. Tuition fees will be £18,000 a year. While the original New School aimed for “an unbiased understanding of the existing order, its genesis, growth and present working”, the New College gives you the skills “needed for success in this complex and competitive world”. There will be courses in how to do slick presentations and on effective working-with-others. Ironically enough, there will also be instruction in ‘applied ethics’ and ‘critical thinking’ (will education and the public good be topics of study I wonder?). The TV-friendly, rent-a-theory Professoriate glistens, although it seems unlikely that many classes will actually be taken by Niall Ferguson and Steven Pinker (visiting Professors only). Many other stars already hold other posts. And a closer look indeed reveals that ‘conveners and other teaching staff’ might bear somewhat more of the teaching load than advertised.

Four heads of major private schools sit on the Advisory Board. Intriguingly, the formal academic entry requirements seem rather low. Some funds are available for those from more deprived backgrounds (news reports suggest around 20% of entrants will get some kind of ‘assisted place’), but otherwise there is just some loose talk about ‘using a tuition fee loan’, although I assume this won’t be on the preferential rates and deferral plans available through the more antiquated public institutions. As Martin McQuillan intimated, it also seems that Grayling et al. have some inside info on the forthcoming White Paper, at least enough to calculate that their fees-and-hand-outs combination will not be penalised by standards on access and equality for degree-granting institutions (since it also seems that qualifications from the New College will count as endorsed by the University of London).

This is the hour for the experiment; and London is the place…

Which is all by way of saying that New College represents a new stage in business ontology. Today the public provision of humanities is framed again and again as unsustainable, unproductive and antiquated. London Met, which educates more black and ethnic minority students than the whole Russell Group combined, is facing the closure of 70% of its undergraduate courses, predominantly drawn from its humanities and arts provision, all overseen by a political elite who received their free educations in cognate subjects. UK higher education is systematically and chronically under-funded thanks to a governing class that has been spending less on schooling and free inquiry than any of its ‘competitors’ for several decades now. There is nothing natural about the emergence of a market which will bear the dubious pricing of Grayling’s project, and no objective need for the fresh sources of private investment that he cites as somewhere in support of the endeavour. We do indeed need ‘a new model’, but not this one.

Administrative Offences; Or, In Terrorem, University of Nottingham Branch (The Sequel)

Like Ryan Giggs, the University of Nottingham is by now learning something of the Streisand Effect, where attempting to hide information and silence critics inadvertently leads to much greater levels of discussion and critique than would otherwise have been the case. Recall that Dr Rod Thornton was suspended in early May for a paper he wrote for the BISA conference (an academic gathering for those working on all matters ‘international’, from foreign policy to anti-globalisation). But the story isn’t going away and now the paper itself is available at Scribd (or in pdf if you prefer). It’s 112 pages of description and analysis which, among other things, charges named senior staff at the University of Nottingham as implicated in breaches of law and good conduct.

Particularly of interest is the disclosure in the paper that much of the documentation drawn on to build Thornton’s case is already in the public domain, having been the subject of a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests in the years since the arrests. Much of the most damning material comes from a comparison of emails, reports and other documentation that has been released under FoI, or which is linked to written documents that Thornton says he possesses, and so which could be easily checked in a court of law. There is reference to meetings, but even here quotes are linked to transcripts. All of which rather puts into question Nottingham’s contention that defamation was a serious threat. Moreover, Thornton makes a good defence of naming names on other grounds – which is precisely that he is not seeking to bring the University into disrepute, but to single out those most responsible for a calumnious series of events.

It turns out, for example, that Thornton has been subjected to a series of investigations since 2008, apparently of increasing triviality. At one point he was charged with providing faulty reading lists on the grounds that he did not add his office hours to the front page and included too many essays on a module guide. The fallout for Hicham Yezza and Rizwaan Sabir has been somewhat more serious – in addition to continual stops-and-searches after the incident, both have been listed on Home Office documents enumerating ‘major Islamist plots’ against the UK.

But what of the trigger for the arrests in the first place? We might assume an innocent misunderstanding occurred, with regrettable consequences. But:

what were these three documents that had ‘no valid reason whatsoever…to exist’ [as the University Registrar described them to the police]; documents which were ‘utterly indefensible’ for Yezza (and, later, for Sabir) to have, and documents which count not be sent via the university’s computer system? Well, two were articles from the journals Foreign Affairs and the Middle East Policy Council Journal, while the other was a publicly available document downloaded from the United States Department of Justice (US DoJ) website.

It’s hard to say anything positive about anyone who thinks work published in Foreign Policy is illegal. Criminal in some slighlty different sense, perhaps, but not illegal. As Thornton dryly comments, you can buy it in airports. Sadly, it gets worse: Continue reading

The Poisonous Drivel of Dr Denis MacShane MP

UPDATE (31 May): Crooked Timber have picked up the issue too. And MacShane has replied (in the comments at openDemocracy). His riposte is aptly characterised by Michael Otsuka as a “simulacrum of a genuine apology”. In short, having called into question the intellectual faculties of an LSE Professor and described her views as poisonous drivel (not that they were her views you’ll remember), MacShane now claims he meant no offence. Having taken words out of context, mis-attributed intentions and views to Phillips and not considered the conditions in which the question was posed, MacShane now complains that he is taken out of context, that the complainants don’t understand his views and that they haven’t considered the conditions in which his question was posed. Yes, really. Readers can surely decide for themselves, although we should not think too highly of a rear-guard ‘apology’ which begins “Gosh, well it makes a change from the BNP and Europhobes having a go” and ends “I just wish I was 100 per cent certain that…there is not a scintilla of concern out there in academistan that rather than posit an either/or argument a stand might be taken”. Yes, academistan. And in case you’re puzzled by what the ‘scintilla of concern’ refers to, it’s not the academic freedom issues raised by the Association for Political Thought and it’s not about elected Members trawling reading lists for cod-incriminating questions with which to verbally bash named academics. Instead what is meant is that by protesting his error, we supposedly signal that we’re not that bothered about the wrongs of sex trafficking and prostitution. What to say about such logic? Concerned members of the Association for Political Thought can apparently add their names to the statement by contacting Elizabeth Frazer (Oxford):

UPDATE (30 May): Happy to see that this issue has been picked up by Liberal Conspiracy, openDemocracy, Feminist Philosophers and others. There’s now a statement with signatures from members of the Association for Political Thought condemning Denis MacShane in appropriately harsh terms (although I think it’s a tad hard on Fiona Mactaggart who, after all, was responding off the cuff to an unsolicited intervention, and did somewhat trim her comments by talking about ‘sufficient challenge’ to all views). People certainly keep following links here, more than a week on. I’m not aware of any response from MacShane himself, although I know from several readers that his office has been contacted about this matter. He certainly hasn’t tweeted about it. Perhaps these new developments might convince him of the need to correct some of his own views.

LSE-bashing is certainly in vogue. Following the travesties of GaddafiGate, some are eager to find further fault. Enter the Rt Hon Dr Denis MacShane MP (PhD in International Economics, Birkbeck, 1990). During a Commons debate earlier this week on human trafficking, he responded to the citing of an LSE report on the treatment of victims thusly:

Mr MacShane: My hon. Friend mentioned the London School of Economics. Is she aware of its feminist political theory course, taught by Professor Anne Phillips? In week 8 of the course, students study prostitution. The briefing says:

“If we consider it legitimate for women to hire themselves out as low-paid and often badly treated cleaners, why is it not also legitimate for them to hire themselves out as prostitutes?”

If a professor at the London School of Economics cannot make the distinction between a cleaning woman and a prostituted woman, we are filling the minds of our young students with the most poisonous drivel.

Fiona Mactaggart: I share my right hon. Friend’s view about those attitudes. I hope that the LSE provides sufficient contest to Professor Phillips’s frankly nauseating views on that issue.

Quentin Letts of The Daily Mail, a patronising faux-wit at the best of times, has now picked up the scent and is ready to draw the appropriate conclusions:

Legitimate academic inquiry? Or evidence of drift towards the position of seeing prostitutes as ‘sex workers’? (They’ll want membership of the British Chambers of Commerce next.)…Phillips, a past associate of David Miliband, bores for Britain on the global feminism circuit. I am told she has the hide of an elk. But why, at a time of university cuts, do we need a Gender Institute?

And so ignorance compounds ignorance. MacShane, and by extension Letts, deal in both misrepresentation and in condescending intellectual proscription. Continue reading

Sociology Is A Martial Art

A May Day found object (appropriately enough). Pierre Carles’ 2001 documentary on Pierre Bourdieu, in seven connected parts (missing, unfortunately the end). Besides the biographical, cinematic and intellectual value, it may also be of interest to Disordered readers for the scattered touches on science and its relation to politics and on the character and reproduction of inequality.

A Feminist Ideography

Ending is such sweet sorrow. Yesterday the alphabet series over at Bad Reputation came to a close. Its task: “ address (with reasonable neutrality), the make-up of the English mother-tongue, to consider how the language has evolved over the centuries, and in the process to prompt some questions about how gender issues are woven into the fabric of the language we use everyday.”

And what an unravelling it was. Here are some disordered excerpts. Direct your thanks at Hodge.

Z is for Zone:

The Medieval West was not to be left behind in all this sexy-talk: no right-thinking female of the thirteen-hundreds considered herself fully sexed-up without a gipon, a type of corset designed to flatten the breasts and emphasise the stomach. And in case this proved insufficient, she might also pad her belly out for extra effect – well-rounded bellies appear again and again in contemporary art – and, as with the Cranach Venus, a decorative zone was the perfect way to emphasise its shape, making this a garment no less sexually charged in the 1340s than the 1940s (when, of course, its job was to hold the belly in). Like a garter, then, a girdle could serve as a fetishistic focal point for erotic (and indeed erogenous) zones, marking them out and keeping them restrained at the same time.

H is for Hysteria:

One explanation for [Hysteria’s] seeming explosion during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is its use as a catch-all term for Generic Women’s Troubles (hence calling it, essentially, ‘womb-problem’), and indeed, it does seem to have been partially conflated with chlorosis (a type of anaemia), which is perhaps better known to Renaissance drama fans as ‘green sickness’. Thus, in John Ford’s play ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore (you’d think you couldn’t top that title, wouldn’t you?) Annabella is thought to be suffering from ‘an overflux of youth’, in which case ‘there is no such present remedy as present marriage’. Translation: get a willy in her, quick.

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