Black Academia 1.1 (update)

Last summer I uploaded a blog post called Black Academia, which outlined the state of staff and students of African heritage (which for the purposes of this blog I term as Black) in UK academia. This is what I concluded:

 Black students are over-represented in general, but especially – and perversely – in less prestigious institutions. They are significantly under-represented when it comes to high attainment and career progression.  Black academics are under-represented in general, and they are acutely under-represented at higher levels of management and leadership. … While academia has opened its doors, it has been unwilling or unable to dismantle the norms, networks, and practices that reproduce white, rich male privilege in the first place.

Just recently I looked at this year’s ECU Equality in higher education report (2014) with data from the 2012/13 academic year. For my previous post I used a lot of data from ECU’s 2013 report (from the 2011/12 academic year). I was curious as to what changes the statistics might reveal, over the course of a year. Obviously only so much can change within one year. But I was curious nonetheless. Here’s what I found.

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Reparations conference, 2014, at Queen Mary University of London, organized by Rastafari Movement UK

There are now slightly more Black people working in UK academia; and this, combined with a shrinkage in the total number of staff, has raised the percentage of Black workers from 2.10% (in the last ECU report) to 2.24%. However, in terms of UK-national staff, the percentage is almost exactly the same as last time: 1.75%. Out of the total population of Black staff, both UK-national and non-national and including “mixed” people who identify as such, 41.1% have a “Caribbean” background, and 51.0% have an “African” background, with the remainder categorised as “other” Black. These figures are also almost exactly the same as last time. (As was the case in the last blog I am only including data on the Black category and not including “mixed” where it is not broken down into more specifics).

At 3.3% of the UK population, Black people remain, then, under-represented in staff positions across the university system. In fact, the percentage of white staff has grown. Last time, I calculated that white staff were 84.27% of the working population of academia compared to 86% of the UK population as a whole. Now white staff are 88.6% of the working population in academia. Last time, I calculated that if Black staff were to be represented on the same equitable basis as white staff (who had a differential of .97 between general population and academic work force), then Black staff would have to make up 3.2% of the working population of academia instead of their actual 2.10%. This time round, the differential for white staff is 1.03. Hence, the equitable percentage of Black staff would need to be 3.39% instead of the current 2.24%. 

Black people now constitute 1.2% of UK-national academic professionals: that’s a rise from last time of 0.1%. Which I guess is better than a fall of 0.1%. Continue reading

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This was their finest hour and a half: UK Election 2015 Debate No.4

There are several generalized reasons why televised election debates ought to be given a miss: they are usually dull; they usually don’t matter much (and when they do, this is primarily a function of how they are read in the news media and why); they are designed by (American-trained) political professionals for other (American-trained) political professionals, which is to say that instead of attempting to function as mass communication platforms for educating voters about different parties’ policies and the likely effects of such policies, televised election debates (“TV clashes”) are basically low-quality infotainment that works to sustain public ignorance…One could throw in the question of elections themselves. Rather than the be-all and end-all of democratic politics, elections are arguably not as important as the competition between and among political machines, lobbies, organized interests, ideologies and/or discourses (depending on one’s pet theory) that takes place outside the electoral system. These hidden, behind-the-scenes currents of power do not determine what happens in voting booths, by they do exert a great deal of influence what election winners can and cannot accomplish once they assume office.

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Deciphering ‘The International’ in History and Theory

The final post in our symposium in our symposium on Alex Anievas’ Capital, the State, and War: Class Conflict and Geopolitics in Thirty Years’ Crisis, 1914-1945, in which Alex himself replies to his critics and interlocutors.


It brings me great pleasure to be invited to respond to such thoughtful and challenging critiques of my book Capital, the State, and War (CSW). On the (meta-)theoretical front, Mark Rupert and Kamran Matin question my use of uneven and combined development (UCD) as a transhistorical ‘general abstraction’ to be incorporated into a historical materialist framework. On the more historical/historiographical front, Campbell Craig challenges my interpretation of Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policies during and after the First World War, arguing that I rely too heavily on the extant historiographical literature, specifically N. Gordon Levin’s 1968 New Left ‘revisionist’ critique Woodrow Wilson and World Politics. Craig further criticizes my theoretical approach for being overly structuralist and consequently ‘devoid of agency or praexeology’, while pushing me to consider the relevance of UCD to contemporary world politics.

While disagreeing with some of my interlocutors interpretations of what I was trying to do in CSW, it is a breath of fresh air that they have all offered substantive engagements with my work in ways dealing with genuine theoretical disagreements; though, as I hope to demonstrate, in the case of Matin and possibly Rupert, these theoretical disagreements may be less serious than they first appear. So I would be remiss not to express my deep gratitude to Rupert, Matin and Craig for their highly stimulating critiques. In what follows, I engage with the precise standing of UCD and ‘general abstractions’ in filling out of a distinctly historical materialist theory of ‘the international’ before turning to the more specific historical-theoretical issues raised by Craig.

I. Method, Abstraction and Historicity in Marxist Theory

While being ‘largely convinced’ by the ‘relational, historical, and dialectical conceptual apparatus’ I deploy in explaining the interstate conflicts of the Thirty Years’ Crisis of 1914-1945, Rupert remains sceptical of my conceptualization of UCD as a ‘general abstraction’. He raises the question: “In a world where a great deal of epistemological and actual violence is done by universalizing abstractions, why create another as the basis for a theory whose basic impulse is de-reification, re-contextualization, and re-historicization in the interest of opening potentially emancipatory horizons?”. As such, Rupert is ‘unpersuaded’ by my argument that UCD is best understood as a transhistorical phenomenon which can be employed as a ‘general abstraction’.

Kamran Matin, by contrast, argues that I have not realized the full potentials of deploying UCD as a transhistorical abstraction, Continue reading

Capital, the State, and War: A Note on the Relation of Uneven and Combined Development to Historical Materialism

A guest post from Kamran Martin (also the author of this popular and important piece on Kobani, recently liberated from the forces of the Islamic State). It is the third and final commentary in our symposium on Alex Anievas’ Capital, the State, and War: Class Conflict and Geopolitics in Thirty Years’ Crisis, 1914-1945. Kamran is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sussex, and the author most recently of Recasting Iranian Modernity: International Relations and Social Change, as well as ‘Redeeming the Universal: Postcolonialism and the Inner-Life of Eurocentrism’. Kamran is also the incoming co-convenor of the BISA Historical Sociology Working Group, and is beginning work on a project tracing the international history of the Kurdish national liberation movement.


David Alfaro Siqueiros - Lucha por la Emancipacio

Over the past 10 years or so Leon Trotsky’s idea of ‘uneven and combined development’ has gained considerable traction within the fields of International Relations (IR) and historical sociology. It has been critically and productively deployed or rethought to address a diverse group of international and sociological problematics ranging from anarchy, contingency, and eurocentrism to the rise of capitalism, premodern societies, and non-western modernities. Alex Anievas’s new book Capital, the State, and War: Class Conflict and Geopolitics in the Thirty Years’ Crisis, 1914-1945 is an extremely invaluable addition to this rich and growing body of scholarship on uneven and combined development.

Through a masterful deployment of uneven and combined development, Anievas provides a compelling alternative account of the two world wars that fundamentally challenges the existing polarized ‘internalist’ and ‘externalist’ modes of explanations. Weaving social, economic, (geo)political and ideological moments of the making of the ‘Thirty Years Crisis’ into a theoretically informed, historically grounded and empirically rich account Capital, the State, and War is a tour de force for anyone interested in Marxist historiography of the World Wars and the rise and demise of the twentieth century world order.

As someone who’s also contributed to the literature on uneven and combined development I’m particularly interested in Anievas’s explicit discussion of the precise relation of the idea of uneven and combined development to historical materialism in Capital, the State, and War. Explicit interrogations of this relation have been relatively neglected in much of the publications on uneven and combined development. As a leading Marxist thinker and political activist Trotsky himself saw his idea of uneven and combined development as simply derivative of Marxist dialectics and materialist conception of history and as such did not seem to have believed that the idea had any transformative implications for materialist conceptions of history.

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The Politics of the UK HE Marking Boycott, Part III

A brief update. As anticipated in Part II, UCU’s higher education committee voted to suspend the industrial action over pensions until 15 January and enter into negotiations with employers, despite opposition from UCU Left members. Having voted down UCU Left amendments to their negotiating position, the HEC has authorised its representatives to pursue an outcome that implicitly accepts much of the employers’ agenda and envisages sacrificing the 75% of USS members on a final salary pension for a weakly improved career-average scheme for all. It now appears that these proposals were initially discussed at a USS conference with branch delegates in October, but no mandate was given then to pursue the far-reaching changes envisaged, and attendees were actively instructed not to discuss the proposals within their branches. This only confirms my earlier impression that the individuals running UCU have no respect for internal union democracy. They wanted to keep their proposals quiet, hoping that they could simply march UCU members up to the top of the hill and back down again, then unveil their negotiating position and cut a deal privately with UUK. This is backroom dealing at its very worst.

It is also more obvious than ever that these individuals have absolutely no clue about political strategy or power. UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt wrote to members immediately after the action was suspended, asking them to sign a petition “in order to clearly demonstrate to vice-chancellors and principals the strength of feeling among staff about USS”. Recall that 78% of UCU members have voted for strike action and 87% for action short of a strike in the autumn ballot. Does that not already “clearly demonstrate” the “strength of feeling”? What on earth could possibly be added by a petition? Moreover, a strike ballot is an assertion of power: do as we demand, or we will harm your interests. A petition is just that: a plaintive request made to the powerful, containing no inherent assertion of power or leverage, which the powerful are entirely at liberty to disregard at will. The tragedy of UCU is that it is a trade union led by people who do not understand what trade unions are for. Sally Hunt thinks the height of labour activism is signing an online petition asking employers please not to be so mean, and posting photos of them handing in the petition to a blog.

I am also more convinced than ever that this leadership is out of kilter with the membership, despite the latter’s general passivity. The ballot result aside, a recent THE survey recorded the views of 4,000 staff, including on pensions. A full 48% of respondents disagree that USS needs to be reformed at all to make it sustainable, with only 24% of academics agreeing. This suggests that university staff are much more militant than their union leaders: a plurality resist any change at all, let alone the hara kiri being suggested by Hunt and colleagues. Even the minority of staff supporting USS reform might not consent to UCU’s feeble counter-proposals.

Those opposed to all this are still trying to rally branches to call a special HE Sector Conference to thrash out a proper strategy and a decent negotiating position. This internal struggle is now openly displayed in the pages of the THE. As of today, half of the required twenty branches had passed the requisite motions (Open University, Kings, UCL, Goldsmiths, Queen Mary, SOAS, Manchester Met, Liverpool, Salford and St Andrews). Whether this rearguard action can succeed remains to be seen.

The Causes of the Great War: An Autobiographic Take

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia on June 28, 1914 set of a chain of events that a few weeks later led to an all-out war involving virtually all key European powers and their enormous overseas empires at the time.   How did this happen?

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As a born and raised Sarajevan, I was socialized from an early age to think about the causes of the Great War – a question that happens to be one of the most studied in all of human history.  I vividly recall my first primary school trip to “Princip’s footsteps” – markings embedded into the sidewalk signifying the spot from where the assassin, Gavrilo Princip, fired at the Viennese couple.  We boys took turns to stand in the footprints and re-enacted the killing; the girls giggled.  There was no doubt that this behaviour was desirable:  with our teachers we read out the message on a nearby plaque that explained, in solemn Cyrillic script and even more solemn Aorist, how the assassin’s shots expressed the will of “our people” to be free of foreign tyranny.  Is it true that Sophia was pregnant?, a classmate asked.   Yes, said one teacher, but this was an accident. Princip’s bullet hit her only after it ricocheted off the car.  It was intended for General Potiorek, Austria’s military governor.

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Assessing Ernst Jünger: Prophet, Mystic, Accelerationist

Following on from the two previous posts (here and here), this final entry will conclude the story of Ernst Jünger’s intellectual trajectory from exalted warrior-poet to withdrawn mystic. I will then propose a brief assessment of Jünger’s legacy and contemporary relevance to our present concerns, notably to a putative political accelerationism.

We pick up our story with the entry of Germany into the Second World War and Jünger’s new conscription into military service. Now aged 44, his experience of the war would however be quite different from the one that had so decisively shaped him as a young man. Following the successful French campaign, he would spend most of the war in an administrative posting in Paris where he assiduously frequented the literary and artistic circles, meeting collaborationist figures like Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and Louis-Ferdinand Céline but also Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. As during the first war, Jünger kept a diary that would eventually be published in 1948 under the title of Strahlungen (“Radiations”). However we encounter within it a markedly different tone, reflective of the different circumstances in which he found himself but also indicative of a retreat from the ideas he had espoused up to the early 1930s. Devoid of much enthusiasm for the war, his writings appear at times almost indifferent to the wider drama playing itself out across Europe but become progressively more somber as the fate of Germany darkens, reports of atrocities in the East filter through, and his eldest son is killed in Italy.[1] Already looking ahead to the end of the conflict, Jünger also worked during the war on an essay called The Peace that proposed a vision of a united federal Europe and was circulated among the internal opposition to Hitler in the Wehrmacht. Several of these figures would be subsequently involved in the failed attempt on the Führer’s life in July 1944, a plot Jünger was seemingly aware of but took no direct part in.

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The end of the war would nevertheless see Jünger being called to account for his inter-war writings. Having refused to submit to denazification, he would find himself barred from publishing for four years and he returned to live in the German countryside where he would reside until the end of his life. His remarkable longevity would grant him the opportunity for an abundant literary production, penning novels, essays and diaries ranging from science-fiction and magical realism to early ecological thinking and reflections on his multiple experiences with psychedelics. I will however restrict myself here to discussing Jünger’s immediate post-war writings since we find within them a clear statement of both the continuities and breaks with his prior thinking. Of particular importance is the text that he originally composed in 1950 on the occasion of the Festschrift for Martin Heidegger’s sixtieth birthday, Über die Linie (“Over the Line”).

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