A strike or a shot in the dark? An antithesis in eleven theses

In the midst of an ongoing campaign against privatisation in Higher Education at the University of Sussex, Prof. Luke Martell and I were kindly invited to join a debate on the subject for the University’s student TV Station (UniTv), as part of its Viewsbit interview series. My longstanding concern with and thoughts on the matter however returned with unexpected urgency instead of withering away after our lively but short twenty-minute discussion. This article aims at combing the shoreline where my own position on the matter claws at the topic discussed, in order to build a more spacious shelter for my argument(s) against striking, which Prof. Martell countered with a committed argument for it, as he has done with erudition and conviction numerous times before.

Before setting the scene for what follows, a cautionary remark on the ambition of this piece seems obligatory, not to avoid friction, but rather to clear up the space for it to occur with imagination, critical spirit and goodwill.  The intention of this piece then is neither to offer a space for showy provocation, nor to stage a mindless confrontation, secure in its ideological prejudice, but to offer a tentative (yet hopefully nuanced) rebuke to the immediate and automatic support to the strikes at Sussex (and perhaps elsewhere too), when a whole array of attendant questions of vital importance are ironed out in the process of tidily placing each other between opposing camps and assuming too much about who we are, where we stand and how we speak when we should also perhaps interrogate our everyday professional conduct to see how we fare, individually and collectively, in relation to the principles we claim to defend.

Despite the unashamedly mischievous title of this article, the eleven theses defended here aspire to make any such polarisation irrelevant, if not extinct, by virtue of my belief, trust and hope in political exchange as ‘the art of making hatred less eternal’ (Todorov, 2003 : 169), rather than prolonging some of its most sinister features, as witnessed in the form of popular (if not populist) slogans that fan rather than fight ‘class warfare’ instead of working towards making it less relevant and/or enduring. Such allusion to ‘class war(fare)’ however has sadly found expression in the form of commentary, protest banners and, perhaps more eerily, in the form of a chant that preceded  a message delivered by Noam Chomsky (via Skype) in support of the protests at Sussex. To make matters worse, that very slogan (of which, sadly, I have no footage) was sung en masse by a host of students who were there to soak up Chomsky’s sentiments of revolutionary fervour, initially mistaking their idol for Chomsky’s assistant, who was cheered and venerated as a deity that neither Chomsky nor his assistant should be(come). The point here is that when emotions run high, the clarity of the picture fades, often returning to us as a mockery of ourselves, which is why the evocation of divisive language achieves just that and in the process, human passions and crowd behaviour only turn against our better judgement and our better selves.

The eleven theses that follow aim at doing away with such purely emotive responses to the chosen topic, by offering an antithesis to much of the language of, the thinking behind, and the practices witnessed at and during the strikes,  thus sharing the sentiment of Marx and Engels’ much maligned eleventh thesis on Feuerbach about how ‘[p]hilosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it’. The problem however is that when/if opposition to something is articulated in such divisive and militant, if not militaristic, prose (i.e. class war), we might be suspected of wanting to conserve the world exactly as it is by shifting the blame onto others and eschewing our responsibility for much of what happens, rather than showing some willingness to change ourselves, our work ethic, our ideological habits, our political reflexes or our interpersonal commitments to each other and the ideals we seem to be pledging allegiance to.

Having attempted to provide an avowedly personal, selective and in no way objective or wholly representative snapshot of the atmosphere here at Sussex (when on strike), I intend to identify what I perceive as the fault-lines of this dispute in the hope that my unpopular argument will neither be revered nor smeared, but allowed to live its own life as a worthy participant in an energetic discussion on such a pressing question.

I.  Against it because I’m (up) for it

Recognising the very question of choosing one of two sides as an artificial dilemma, since multiple positions can and do always exist, I am tempted to respond to it with a paradox; I am against the strikes because I am for what they represent. Although I fully support the ideas, ideals and principles behind both the anti-privatisation campaign as well as the reasoning behind industrial action, I don’t think many of “us” who do support the strikes overtly and vocally are in a position to hold such a view by virtue of what “we” do in our every-day, routine professional practice as University workers. I very much fear that we are far too complicit in and complacent about the trends, the workings and the regulatory regime of Higher Education in our every-day academic practice to be able to afford such a stance without sounding naïve or hypocritical even.

II. Resistance against ourselves? 

Given that our work at the University is not based on coercion but on our contractual agreement with specific terms and conditions of employment, is it consistent to sign one’s terms of surrender on the one hand and rebel against that decision on the other?

What is being defended in the strikes, and quite rightly so, are the very values and principles that Universities are no longer run by, if they ever were. A cursory glance at Plato’s Academy for the few, Cardinal Newman’s elitist Catholic University, Minister Humboldt’s university of high culture, or the successive (re)incarnations of such master-images for the modern Western University, reveals little else than a long pedigree of lament and betrayal of high ideals about University education as a rare opportunity for contemplative life, critical thought and the cultivation of character, replaced instead by complaints of exclusion, discrimination, inequality, mounting debts incurred by hefty loans, disillusionment with pursuing tertiary education, declining standards of teaching and research and the emergence of the techno-bureaucratisation of post-war Western Universities.

Romanticising the University against its true image as an institution that has hardly lived up to its imagined standards, also means disguising our contribution to the proliferation of its vices that have long prevailed over its supposed virtues, by consenting to and signing the very terms of our surrender as academics, knowledge-workers and learners in such an institution; we vote with our contracts and with our fees too. To make matters worse, education; that other chimera, doesn’t fare that well either, making it even harder to pretend that we lend our support to ideals we so readily devalue through the contracts we sign and the type of work we submit ourselves to do.

Put simply, sparing you any further historical or other flourishes, it seems rather unrealistic if not entirely misleading to lend our support to what the University has not been and probably never will be, unless we question our every-day practice within such an institution, or our commitments towards education and the flowering of scientific knowledge and humanist concerns.

We cannot afford to inflict upon ourselves the ‘hidden injuries of neoliberal academia’ on a daily basis and strike against such contractually agreed upon demands and pressures as a special occasion.

We cannot consent daily to reducing the production of knowledge to the level of drafting applications for funding, point-scoring for the RAE and the REF, evaluating our work by Key Performance Indicators and audit measures, upsetting our brains, stomachs and nerves over maximising citations, measuring our work in terms of bibliometrics, undermining our pedagogic relationship with our students by treating teaching as a time-consuming chore and by minimising the feedback or the academic and pastoral support we give to them, humiliate ourselves by accepting the casualization of our labour, and claim to want to overthrow all that in one stroke during a strike. We cannot afford to march for education as a public good yet agree to march to the beat of our institution’s trustees, at least not at the peril of being accused of double-standards.

Striking won’t restore University education or academic working conditions to a golden era that never was, nor will it prepare the ground for more hope towards overthrowing the regulatory discourse of the post-modern enterprising university, but our every-day academic conduct will. Engaging in the first but not the latter gives the impression that we are comfortable with being actively just one day yet passively unjust the rest of the time by fooling ourselves and others in the meantime.

III. Give it up to live it up

Following the argument presented above and provided that we feel utterly disgruntled, disappointed, frustrated, angered and disgusted by the way in which we are treated in and the way in which we treat our students within the cloistered walls of the University, why do we not choose to seek employment, personal joy and academic rigour by abandoning such an institution to its sorry state and join or form other institutions that cater for our principles and take great care in safeguarding them against the current perils of the academic (super)market? There are plenty of such institutions world-wide in the form of co-operative universities such as the Free University in Brighton, Mondragon University in the Basque Country, The Social Science Centre, Lincoln, not to mention a whole array of like-minded radical education projects and research on trust universities.

Taking up the thread from A. Hirschman’s (1970) Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, why not express our loyalty to principles and values that we cherish by exiting an institution that does not defend or support them and lend our voice instead to other initiatives that abound or just wait to be discovered? It is hardly news that universities have ceased to have the monopoly on the production and dissemination of knowledge in an era of such fervent Internet activity and the proliferation of the so called ‘Mode 2’ knowledges which herald an unprecedented shift towards a non-hierarchical, applied, reflexive, often community-based, transdiciplinary, heterogeneous, and publicly relevant/available/accountable knowledge ecology as opposed to the docile transmission of specialised knowledge fit for use in a small circuit with a limited scope and remit, such as that of the University.

Why not set the standards for our work, the tone of our message, and the example for others (students, colleagues, public) by taking ownership of our scholarship rather than leave it to bob away on a sea of agony under the ‘creaking piers of peer review’.

IV. ‘Our’ University, ‘our’ services, ‘our’ colleagues?

In the light of the above, and amid urgent reminders that ‘our’ University and ‘our’ services are ‘not for sale’, accompanied by calls for solidarity with and support for ‘our’ colleagues, academic and non-academic alike, is it consistent to claim them as our own? How can ‘our’ University be ‘ours’ when we have no say on how it is run? How can ‘our’ services be ‘ours’ when we haven’t chosen them according to our ethical standards and requirements? How can ‘our’ colleagues be our colleagues when a community of/as scholars is found lacking?

Our university is not ours because we have chosen it not to be run by us but by a board of trustees, thus limiting ourselves to the role of corporate stakeholders when we could be shareholders in a public agora.

Our services are not ours because we have not chosen how our non-academic colleagues are employed, with what pay, welfare provisions and guarantees of overall job satisfaction.

Our academic colleagues are not our colleagues because solidarity isn’t (and shouldn’t be) automatic, but conditional, depending on a great number of things. A colleague is not she who does the same job as me, but the person who shares the same principles and values as me in practice.

For the University, its services and our colleagues to become ours, we would first need to make them ours in the manner described in Thesis III. None of those three commitments stand as they are but they can do if we take pains to institute such changes ourselves.

In very much the same manner, and to allude to another notion that is claimed as ‘ours’, there is or has been nothing ‘public’ about the University since ‘public’ is not merely something that is subsidised by the public purse, but something we (can) have a say on; be it organisational issues or the curriculum itself. And what better way to orient a University to public goals and values than by making it ourselves?

V. ‘Us’ and ‘them’ or ‘us’ in ‘them’?

Let us imagine that someone is walking towards the University and is met with a picket-line. That person will most likely feel intimidated by being shouted and be discouraged from going where she is going on the grounds that she’d better join ‘our’ protest, or she’s one of ‘them’. Who gets to decide however, who ‘us’ and who ‘them’ is? What if the person crossing the picket-line is the parent, relative, or friend of a student who needs to be picked up to be carried to the hospital due to a health problem. Is that person one of ‘them’? Or is she one of ‘us’? How do we get to decide? With what knowledge of the other person? Might we not feel rather embarrassed for having assumed too much in the first place?

Imagine another person crossing the picket-line to go and teach. She’s clearly not one of ‘us’, she’s one of ‘them’, but what if that person shares the same principles and harbours the same hopes as ‘us’ but disagrees with our methods or tactics and thinks it best to serve the same values differently? Does she remain one of ‘them’ or is she closer to ‘us’. And if she is closer to us, why does she not come close to us? Are we not right to intimidate or undermine her dignity, confidence and self-esteem for not joining ‘us’? Or are we wrong to assume a great deal about who she is, what she thinks and/or how she does things? And if her views are not reducible to a slogan, what happens then? She must be one of ‘them’, because ‘we’ don’t think this way and, to paraphrase the Alexandrine poet C.P. Cavafy, ‘Now, what’s going to happen to us without ‘them’? They were, those people a kind of solution’.

If we are so serious about and committed to values of solidarity, mutuality and convivial associational life does this polarisation, in terms of ‘us-and-them’, not frustrate not just the aesthetics but also the content and the political orientation of our struggle? What happens if you’ve read my article and I cross the picket-line, will I be one of ‘us’, or one of ‘them’? If I believe that the principles I stand for and wish to live in harmony with are better served in my daily, undisrupted relationship with my students even during a strike, does that make me one of ‘us’ or one of ‘them’ and why? If I think it vital to discuss those issues in the classroom during a strike as part of the curriculum am I one of ‘them’ or one of ‘us’? If I am to support teach-ins, rather than teach-outs in my next thesis, will I be one of ‘us’ or one of ‘them’?

VI. Teach-ins, not teach-outs

As someone who currently teaches and has been studying sociology for the past decade or so, I can’t help but remain faithful to an understanding of that discipline as an intellectual adventure that makes the world safe for doubt, rather than from it, preferring open discussion to fanaticism, multiplicity to dogmatism, uncertainty to axiomatic certitude, plurality over homogeneity, respect for rather than denunciation of ‘the other’, with a view of understanding and nurturing sociology as ‘The’ discipline that recognises ‘no nation now, but the imagination’.

Armed with such aspirations for an academic subject I have developed an affective relationship with over time, it would feel like betraying my love of discussing sociology with my students if I were to declare myself absent from a ‘sit-in’ (pun intended!) with my students where we rub and polish our brains through contact with each other; voicing our thoughts, ideas, comments, disagreements and feelings. For such discussions to take root somewhere, they need to start here by learning the art of speaking calmly, clearly and in a collected manner while also honing that other skill; of listening intently and patiently but in no way subserviently, passively or uncritically. These qualities do not flourish in ‘teach-outs’; sloganeering is preferred to argumentation, taking sides is favoured to flipping sides to see what noise they make, ideology replaces a more searching position, ‘us’ dominates ‘them’. In my mind and as far as I can judge from my own experience a ‘teach-in’ is an immensely more effective and durable form of a ‘sit-in’ compared to a ‘teach-out’.

During recent strikes, I defended that exact position in practice by choosing to teach-in rather than to shout-out, thus turning the curriculum on its head in order to discuss, in class, the issues that trouble us in relation to the current state of Higher Education, the state, position, role, and function of the University as well as the merits, but also the contradictions and obstacles, of collective action and associational life at broad. All of these points naturally admit a whole array of divergent views, perspectives and interpretations that do not fit any Manichean grid of good/bad, right/wrong, us/them that is thrown around us like a straitjacket which we have to cling to in order to have a voice, an opinion and a ‘say’ on any matter. The picket-line often takes the form of such a straightjacket and acts as a physical, intellectual and moral barrier to the permeability and circulation of thought trapping the many, and often unpredictable, possibilities, sites and sides of exchange in an unnecessary dividing line, a gap, a rift and perhaps a void and vacuum too. What we do, who we are, how we think, where we stand, what we say, are renewed relationships and negotiations on thinking and doing, necessity and convention, emotion and reason, introspection and excursus, ritual and resistance, structure and agency, and similar other conceptual pairs that cannot be brushed off without doing violence to the virtues of deliberation, negotiation, association and exchange. To paraphrase Georg Simmel (1910: 390), the whole point and essence of sociability is not to strive for the perfect society but the perfect society, and this can hardly be accommodated in the shape or form of a dividing line.

In the last few instances of such teach-ins during strikes, I took the initiative to bend the curriculum to fit discussions with my students about what and who the University and education are (for), who and what the ‘Other’ is, whether failures in our public culture and polity are systemic faults of capitalism, ideology and the machinations of a ruling class or inherent shortcomings of our ability to make and participate in collective life. In the process of doing so, a much more complicated picture emerged of many of the topics, issues and ideas that are (inevitably) treated as one-dimensional absolutes when people are artificially divided up into ‘us’ and ‘them’.

How could I possibly abandon such energetic intellectual, moral and political activity where critical thought and judgement reigns over taking sides and moral grammars of learning how to live together with people who are and think unlike us are explored, in favour of a false dichotomy that is represented by the picket-line? Would I not betray the function of my seminars as an outlet for and the natural home of cultivating sentiments and ideas that I consider educationally, culturally and socio-politically vital, if I were to flee away from discussing how ‘I am confounded by you, then you are already of me, and I am nowhere without you’ (Butler, 2006: 49) or showing that ’there is something more important than my life, and that is the life of the other’ (Levinas in: Bernasconi 1988: 172)? How and who could accommodate such thinking about how to ‘do’ and ‘be’ social life across the picket line? How could I ask my students to be absent from such an encounter and how could they ask me to stray away from forging such a collegial, pedagogic relationship? For all I know, most students who attended those sessions instead of joining ‘our’ colleagues and ‘our’ fellow-students outside the classroom felt overwhelmed and genuinely appreciated my invitation to challenge ourselves inside rather than outside the seminar room. In fact, many expressed their gratitude and support for my decision to host, spark and moderate such discussions in-class. Had all this not happened, I would have not been invited by my students to join Prof. Martell in a debate about the strikes in the first place.

If my students and I were to join ‘us’, would we not become invisible, left without a voice and feel lost in the midst of a lonely crowd defined by its sameness rather than by what makes us stand out as different, unfamiliar and unique? 

VII. Pay and services without content?

Puzzled as I am about a number of issues voiced in the preceding Theses, I fear that much of the argumentation in support of the strikes seems rather limited applying to ‘our rights’ an instrumental veneer rather than aiming at the intrinsic core values of what we should be asking for. There is much talk about ‘pay squeeze’, ‘pay disputes’ , ‘strike action’, a fairer treatment towards ‘services’ aspiring to a more egalitarian occupational environment; all of which are urgent demands and need to be addressed immediately, without a hint of doubt. At the same time however, it does surprise me how there is almost no mention at all about the content of our work, thus limiting the discussion on our rights solely to an instrumental level of things.

Agitating for our occupational rights is of course vital but does that also not include our right to have more power, more involvement, more ‘say’ on the content of our everyday work? That is, deciding who it is that assesses, values and is in a position to determine how funding is allocated and how it is prioritised? Are we happy just to get our share of the University’s profits without doing our bit to change the essence of what we do, or are we happy, pleased and in agreement with the current regime of, what Nigel Thrift (2005) calls, ‘knowing capitalism’ which creates the standards for our work with very little deliberation or control from our part? It is one thing to ask that our occupational demands are being met, and quite another to agitate for change in the type of academic work that is currently being carried out and materially rewarded at the moment; fearing that the first is well advertised and fought for, leaving the latter in tatters under the assumption that with a single pay rise we shall transform ourselves into virtuous and learned academics who engage in publicly relevant and accountable scholarship. While income inequality is obviously important for reasons that don’t need further analysis, are we not prolonging inequality in terms of our commitment to our academic oath or our responsibility and accountability to our publics (students and civil society at broad)? Can we afford to demand more pay, and indeed we must, without meeting or changing the standards and public orientation of our scholarship? Might we not be rightly accused of instrumentalising our contribution to public life by only demanding changes in instrumental terms? I clearly know that strike action is not just a pay dispute, though it largely is that, but I also can’t help by noticing where our priorities seem to lie.

If we think, as I certainly do, that our work involves more than delivering products to paying clients, thus amounting to an enduring relationship of vital civic importance which we forge with our students, colleagues, and civil society at broad, do we not need to broaden the scope of our demands? Am I alone in thinking that even if we were to have better wages and better services, our commitment to academic, ethical, pedagogic and civic values would still need to be demonstrated somehow? It is because I spot a discrepancy here that I insist on suggesting that we urgently need to work against the strikes in order to better work for them, implying that ‘our work is our strike’ by setting the standards that we wish to see implemented. That ought to be our daily resistance to the corporatisation of the University we so readily and willingly denounce.

My counter-argument reads like an invitation to denounce the entrepreneurial streak we see in the universities we work in, by renouncing demands that are made on us and aren’t ‘ours’; quantifying academic performance rather than striving to uphold academic principles and public values. To do so, we might have to envisage our role as demiourgoi (demos= public, ergon =making) working simultaneously towards the advancement of our academic disciplines as well as making things public; countering efficiency and excellence with quality and arête (virtue), valuing co-operation, not competition and aiming at redrafting our ‘epistemological constitution’ by preparing ourselves for such change through a daily re-evaluation, re-positioning and re-alignment of academic and public values.

VIII. Exercise of rights or an exercise in self-righteousness?

Continuing the discussion on rights, but this time on a different plane and a slightly different context too, I remain sceptical of having too many of us warming our hands around the fire of our indignation towards the state of things and the status quo in Higher Education for the simple reason that I suspect too much agreement to be an exercise in self-righteousness, which in itself is not a resource in any way but a mere nod to and an argument for doing close to nothing. It feels rather nice indeed to bathe ourselves in self-righteous glow and bask in the adulation of others, but I fear that we may need to be more explicit about what ‘rights’ mean and what we are prepared to do in order to safeguard them. Exercising our rights, at least in my moral vocabulary, ought to be equated with doing the right thing and that means meeting our responsibility towards (a) our discipline, (b) our students and (c) the publics we create or wish to participate in.

Doing the first means, exercising, sharpening and indeed wearing out our independent critical judgement rather than accepting the pay-cheques, standards, demands and desired outcomes of a study’s funders to help increase sales, boost prestige, generate ‘impact’ or what have you. Committing to the second means being willing to treat learners with respect, giving them detailed feedback that they can do something with, rather than a page with sprinkled red ink all over it and indecipherable doodles in the margins that only bruise one’s confidence rather than help in acquiring it. It also means, getting to know students as people with names, personalities, dreams and needs we need to cater for by offering ,not just academic but broader pedagogic support which also comes in the form of ‘out of hours’ work and pastoral care too. Aspiring to the third means writing our work for a public and making ourselves accountable to our fellow-citizens by offering, not simply answers in the form of dry research but context too in the form of theory, thought, and knowledge turned into understanding. All three are affective relationships we need to attend to for higher education to flourish, or nobody else will. This is the morale of Aristophanes’ The Birds, and it ought to be the morale of the stories we write too, but without the Faustian bargain that the play narrates, and I‘m afraid that’s up to us too.

IX. Change without change?

Resistance without willingness to change will only bring about a change in actors, not a change in the script. Advocating ideals but choosing illegitimate means to adopt it, annuls the contents of these ideals in the first place, and reveals how ideological demands can function as mere pretexts for legitimising enmity, hatred and ‘war’ (remember the ‘class war’ chant?). As I have tiresomely argued above, change in the culture of Higher Education can’t come from ex cathedra denunciations, punching the air, shouting slogans, holding banners, or forming picket-lines but by viewing resistance as a daily pursuit that disrupts the tidy symmetry of ideology and replaces it with the complicated work we need to do as publicly-minded scholars. Turning a blind eye to vandalism, intimidation and verbal abuse won’t do, turning away from all three however, might.

I have witnessed incidents of students and people I don’t know, and therefore should not judge (are they staff, visitors, service workers, family?), be intimidated and undermined by verbal abuse that ‘describes’ who and what they are, and indeed some damage to University buildings. Quite ironically, I have also witnessed protesters dressing their kids with the University’s insignia, logos and branding while feeding them slogans to shout against that same institution. Worst of all, I have heard the story of a cleaner in the building where I work who, upon leaving the building to throw ‘our’ rubbish could not get back in to collect her personal belongings because the door was superglued to detain ‘us’ from entering the building. This is not change, but a mockery of change, not even a parody of it, and it reminds me of that slogan that defends ‘our’ service workers; is the cleaner I just mentioned not ‘our’ service worker?  We bemoan the bad labour conditions in our campus but have we done anything close to ‘Berkeley’s Betrayal’? That courageous report penned by sociology students at Berkeley who protested against low wages and appalling working conditions at their University by interviewing workers, and writing an impressive, and influential forty-page-report, hailed as an exemplary work of public sociology with a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich. Have we got anything similar to boast about?  When I introduced the idea of doing something similar to students and colleagues I got only polite nods, pleasant cheers but no responses, to an initiative I was willing to help with by editing, supervising, and facilitating the interviewing and writing up process at the expense of my ‘other work’ (as if there is any ‘other work’ to do, worthy of its name).

X. A prayer or a plan?

Unlike the characters of Aristophanes’ plays, in our social world it makes very little sense to seek advice from oracles, but we can learn something from the way Aristophanes lampoons ideologies, challenges norms (in his unique bawdy way), and ridicules our ill-conceived and misguided deeds in his work. She who desires change in Higher Education may indeed issue clarion calls to ‘stop the privatisation of Unis now’, but ‘ending privatisation’ is a prayer, not a plan; for something not to happen ‘in our name’, we need to stop signing up for it with our name, as the previous nine Theses have attempted to demonstrate. Until then, the noise we make submits itself to faith, not to reason, to passive injustice, not active justice, walking the walk but not grabbing Leviathan’s tail on our way, and twisting it hard ‘til the beast learns to fear us.

XI. Look who’s talking! 

An entirely valid and justified reaction to what I’ve written so far could indeed resemble the title of the last of my eleven theses against the strikes, but given that this is an article and not a self-portrait, I will limit myself to introducing mere fragments of my own quotidian professional practice, as a way of defending, but not over-indulging myself.

I am a self-funded doctoral student and unofficial, if not illegitimate, lover of sociology who writes a thesis on the changing conceptions and the historical transformation of public sociology, the University, higher education, intellectuals and the public sphere with a view of offering alternatives that will reform these into more public, sociable and less pretentious versions of themselves by:

(a) Suggesting the integration of public sociology as a new curriculum for critical scholarship which will transform the production of knowledge from its current transactional role to a more relational one which would implicate learners, teachers and doers of sociology as participants in the political agora, by means of a pedagogy that is oriented to the cultivation of civic virtue(s).

(b) Calling for a reshaping of the University to fit a more co-operative model where everyone involved can be a beneficiary owner/member of the institution rather than a paying client or a delegating chairperson.

(c) Ushering in the Internet as a new public sphere which we found, by interacting and co-creating rather than simply find, and abide to, with a view of encouraging, developing and aspiring to a governance of the commons.

(d) Working towards replacing public intellectuals with public characters who, in Jane Jacobs’ (1961: 68) coinage of the term, can be ‘anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom to fulfil his function-although he often does. He just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts. His main qualification is that he is public, that he talks to lots of different people. In this way, news travels that is of sidewalk interest’; thus, admitting makers and doers, flâneurs and bricoleurs rather than orators, demagogues and salonniers into the public realm as co-authors of a communal script, by heralding a substantive, not a merely decorative, shift which emphasises practical, not intellectual intervention and allows access to and participation for many more figures than are normally admitted to the pearly gates of the intelligentsia.

In the meantime, I periodically write for and maintain a column at The Sociological Imagination, which is an open, free online magazine; aiming hosting sociological interventions on public issues that matter rather than selling stylised, technical monographs for internal consumption and use.

In so doing, and taking into account my approach to teaching as set out in Thesis VI, I feel like I am indeed in a position to say that I hardly betray my ideals as:

(a) I fund my own research rather than relying on external sponsors who might (and in most cases do) have a ‘say’ on the content of my work,

(b) I contest the current audit-culture in academia that presses for publications but undermines authorship.

(c) I teach out of love for the subject and the relationship with my students, not (strictly!) for money, believing not just in the public role of education for citizenship but also in the virtues of pedagogy.

(d) I give detailed, qualitative feedback to my students, offer my time generously to students who wish to discuss something (anything!) with me and often accompany them on social events (i.e. relevant film screenings, public lectures etc.) therefore acting beyond the confines of my working time and well beyond the terms of my contract.

(e) I resist the regulatory discourse and regime of the University and its managers wherever and whenever I see it as part of my daily conduct as a doctoral researcher, a student, a tutor and a young sociologist, rather than wait for ‘that one special day’ to do so.

In sitting down to write this, and with a little help from my deluded mind, I suspect that sharing my thoughts with you, rather than striking for two hours to get myself a nice, frothy latte, seems to be more of a resistance, or at least, that’s my pact with the Devil, and my story what’s yours?

Lambros Fatsis is a final year DPhil student at the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex. His doctoral thesis concentrates on discussions of public sociology, the role of the University and intellectuals, while other research interests include black music, urban culture and the history and sociology of the Jamaican soundsystem. He also performs as a reggae selector/radio presenter under the name Boulevard Soundsystem and is a contributor of Billboard magazine on reggae music. Recent publications are featured on the British Sociological Association’s Postgraduate Theory Forum and on The Sociological Imagination magazine on a variety of issues ranging from the English riots, the idea of sociological imagination and the Eurozone crisis. In the spring of 2013 he achieved Associate Fellow status of the Higher Education Academy. You can watch his debate with Prof. Martell in full here.


Bernasconi, R. and Wood, R. (1988) The Provocation of Levinas: Rethinking the Other London: Routledge

Butler, J (2006) Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence London: Verso

Hirschman, A. (1970) Exit, Voice, and Loyalty Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Simmel, G. (1910) How is Society Possible? American Journal of Sociology, Vol.16, No.3 (Nov. 1910). Pp.372-391

Thrift, N. (2005) Knowing Capitalism London: Sage

Todorov, T. (2003) Hope and Memory New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Categories: Sociologists of Crisis

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