Reblog> Raising the Bar: The Metric Tide that Sinks All Boats

boat

This post by Liz Morrish is an excellent if dismal reflection upon the kinds of performance management we labour under in universities. The expectations for the ‘exeter academic’ are not dissimilar to those discussed in the post. Saw this via Julie Cupples.

Raising the Bar: The Metric Tide that Sinks All Boats

Liz Morrish writes: A longer post than usual, but very relevant if your working life in academia is governed by the insanity of metrics – grant income, PhD students, impact, REf 4* ‘outputs’. You know it is insanity, so read on”¦..

James Wilsdon may as well not have inveighed against the ‘metric tide’, and Jo Johnson could have saved printers’ ink asking vice-chancellors not to waste academics’ time, and students’ fee money by operating multiple ‘mock’ REFs (BIS Green Paper November 2015 Chapter 2, para 7).

It is time for a critical conversation to take place about the use and abuse of metrics. In July 2015, Hefce published The Metric Tide, the report of a review body chaired by James Wilsdon, professor of science and democracy at the University of Sussex.

Despite the report’s chilling preface, announcing a “new barbarity” in our universities, we continue to witness the misuse of metrics as a tool of management in UK higher education. “Metrics hold real power: they are constitutive of values, identities and livelihoods”, wrote Wilsdon. Universities should proceed with caution, then, lest metrics should spread like a digital Himalayan Balsam and undermine the ethical architecture of universities.

It is ironic, but perhaps fortunate, that students find universities a very different experience than the academic staff who labour in them. For students, the intrusive scrutiny of metrics can at least claim to betoken a therapeutic and supportive institution. Generally speaking, the student ‘dashboard’ does not harbour the disciplinary function of its academic equivalent. 

Read the full post.

‘Britain’s got behaviour’ – Will Davies on the rise of ‘behaviour shows’

Will Davies (author of The Limits of Neoliberalism and The Happiness Industry) has written a nice piece on his blog deconstructing two common trend in British TV programmes: a dynamic of competition and elimination; and an appeal to behaviourism. For Davies, this loosely equates to a kind of Hayek-ian ‘discovery procedure’ ~ no suffering, no discovery. What this constitutes, in the shape of programmes such as Dragons’ Den and Location, Location, Location is a ‘transparent mis-representation of what’s going on in the economy’. On contrast, Davies suggests that an alternative (regressive) move to behaviourism – exemplified by Married at First Sight and The Secret Life of [x] year olds.

The post is well worth a read – find it here.

Projecting a genuine future for the living? On Latour & Stiegler comments after the Paris attacks

I was quite surprised at how quickly the translation of the short interview with Bernard Stiegler in le Monde spread on twitter, which is not usual for my posts…

Anyway, I have been struck by a similarity in ethos between the comments made by Bernard Stiegler in his interview and the commentary provided by Bruno Latour in an op-ed (translated by Jane Kuntz) for Reporterre, entitled “The Other State of Urgency” [via Installing (Social) Order].

It is an ethos of calling for the casting-off of a short-termism or ‘death-wish’ (pace Latour) focussed on (inadequately mitigating) destruction–destruction of states, of peoples and of our planet–towards affirming what Stiegler calls a ‘genuine’ future and what Latour sees as a taking of fate into our our hands. One might see it as a loosely vitalist ethos: an affirmation of life and its pluri-potency.

It seems to me significant that both Latour and Stiegler frame the issue in relation to the anthropocene and the COP21 talks being held in Paris. For both of them, the affirmation of a ‘genuine’ future entails combining stances towards ecological, economic, political and scientific atmospheres. Such an affirmation of a sustainable path towards a future of the living is set in contra-distinction to a rhetoric of war, which both thinkers reject in their own ways. To submit to war, in the manner of the French government, is to submit to a short-term imperative to (re)act, but to act for whom and to what ends is a question both Latour and Stiegler find troubling. It is analogous to government via catastrophism – such forms of reaction are already presumed in the mode of ‘normal’ operation: the ‘everywhere war’ and ‘state of exception’ is the new ‘normal’.

Who could argue against an affirmation of hope? I certainly would not. Yet, while there is plenty of diagnosis of the ‘state of urgency’, we are left to ponder: what is to be done?

I don’t think I buy Stiegler’s eurocentric call for policy, it is too easy to see how–even with the best of intentions–this would slip into the kind of technocratic malaise that has buggered up the Mediterranean EU countries. Yet, at least Stiegler attempts to offer strategies – and I think the wider outlining of a political-economics of contribution and of a kind of ‘neganthropy‘, while somewhat grandiloquent, remain inspiring. I would be very curious to see what Latour would suggest in order to “invent demonstrations more innovative than yet another march from Place de la République to Place de la Nation.”

It is, of course, excruciatingly hard to offer strategies for action – as Zizek likes to quip: we can see why it has been suggested that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than an end to the ideological milieu of capitalism. Working for a ‘genuine’ future hurts, but as both Latour and Stiegler demonstrate: it remains the task at hand.

The Human Face of Cryptoeconomies – @furtherfield exhibition

I just wanted to flag this excellent exhibition about to start at Furtherfield (in London). It involves the Museum of Contemporary Commodities alongside a lot of other great work and will very much be worth visiting.

The Human Face of Cryptoeconomies

17 OCTOBER – 22 NOVEMBER 2015

Featuring Émilie Brout and Maxime Marion, Shu Lea Cheang, Sarah T Gold, Jennifer Lyn Morone, Rob Myers, The Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC), the London School of Financial Arts and the Robin Hood Cooperative.

Furtherfield launches its Art Data Money programme with The Human Face of Cryptoeconomies at Furtherfield Gallery in the heart of London’s Finsbury Park.

The Human Face of Cryptoeconomies presents artworks that reveal how we might produce, exchange and value things differently in the age of the blockchain.

Appealing to our curiosity, emotion and irrationality, international artists seize emerging technologies, mass behaviours and p2p concepts to create artworks that reveal ideas for a radically transformed artistic, economic and social future.

Visit the Furtherfield website for more information.

“Love where you live” and other lies of gentrification, by Oli Mould

Over on Open Democracy, Oli Mould has a very forthright piece concerning the ethics (or lack thereof) of gentrification.

‘Love where you live’, and other lies of gentrification 

Let’s admit that gentrification is an immoral urban process. It is a deliberate policy of social engineering and needs to be tackled at its source.

Gentrify this! Flickr/Spacebahr. Some rights reserved.Gentrify this! Flickr/Spacebahr. Some rights reserved.

The marketing mantra of “love where you live” courses through the ongoing ‘redevelopment’ of the Heygate Estate in London’s Elephant and Castle into Trafalgar Place. The City Quays project in Greenwich offers “a private island in London to call your own”. Lillie Square, which will be built on the Earls Court site hawks “modern garden square living” where you can “dwell in luxury”. All these (and many more) are symptomatic of a language of disavowal. It denigrates existing residents and paints them as unworthy of their homes as they were. And it is, in essence, inhumane.

But it is just a small part of a sweeping narrative of cities needing to be developed and regenerated, into ever more profitable, consumerist and homogenous centres of middle-class spending. And in all of this, the incumbent residents and their communities are of no consequence. It is a narrative that stretches all the way from advertising-speak to broadsheet journalism.

Read the full article.

Amateur urbanism as political praxis, Andy Merrifield & Bernard Stiegler

Following a link posted by my colleague Clive Barnett I discovered the excellent collection of essays Andy Merrifield has collected in his website, which have all(?) been previously published elsewhere. I’ve been working through this treasure trove and was particularly struck by one of these essays.

Earlier in 2015, Merrifield published an ‘intervention’ on the Antipode website entitled “Future Shock“, in which he contemplates the absence of contemporary thinking of radical futures following a collapse of future thinking into a technocratic status quo.

Merrifield relates this to Edward Said’s 1993 BBC Reith Lectures on representations of the intellectual, and the amateur and the professional. Merrifield suggests:

[P]rofessionalism, said Said, can constitute a form of compliant behavior, of making yourself marketable and presentable to the powers that be. None of which denies the need for competence, for being conscientious about what you do, and for having the right skills to do it.

He argues that it is a form of professionalism that has facilitated a particular kind of ethos for corporate urban development, a development that

enables all sorts of ideas [to be] imposed on peoples’ lives from above, all kinds of paradigms that go from professional boardrooms to somebody’s drafty living room, if they’re lucky enough to have a living room.

He lays out an intellectual/ policy lineage from ‘authoritative’ urbanism to authoritarian ‘austerity’. Merrifield begins with Roger Starr, writer of Urban Choices: The City and Its Critics, who criticised the likes of Mumford, Jacobs and Gans as meddling amateurs, who became New York City’s Housing Commissioner and in 1976 masterminded a national program following directly from his earlier representations of urban reality: “Planned Shrinkage”.

Sketching forward to today, Merrifield asks us to consider the historical lineage between Planned Shrinkage and frenzied pursuit for “austerity.” he argues that Planned Shrinkage and austerity have two common characteristics.

First, is an overriding goal to rundown and/or plunder the public sector, to make “unproductive” public services productive for vested unproductive interests–you know, for financial parasites on the make. Second, both policies justify their programs though made up “evidence.” For austerity, just as for Planned Shrinkage, economists are the redoubtable voice of authority.

Thus, the amateur, counter-posed to the ‘professional’ is a political figure. Arguing, earlier in the intervention, through Said, Merrfield argues:

Professionalism means having an expertise to hide behind, an often narrow expertise, an esoteric language that sets you apart, that gains entry into a professional bodies, one strictly off-limits to rank amateurs. Amateurs, by contrast, aren’t moved by profit or pay; they usually care more about ideas and values not tied down to any profession; their vision is often more expansive, more eclectic, not hampered by the conservatism of narrow expertise, preoccupied with defending one’s intellectual turf. To be an amateur is to express the ancient French word: love of, a person who engages on an unpaid basis, a non-specialist, a layperson. Nothing pejorative intended. Amateurs sometimes care for ideas that question professional authority because they express concerns professions don’t consider, don’t see, don’t care about.

This has great resonance with a very similar understanding of the figure of the amateur, equally political, put forward by Bernard Stiegler. In the Ars Industrialis ‘vocabulary’, Stiegler argues that the amateur:

is the name given to one who loves works or who realizes him- or her- self in traversing such works. There are lovers of science and technology, just as one speaks of art lovers. The figure of the amateur extends the figure of taste, as suggested by the Enlightenment, as cognition of the sensible or mediation of the immediate, as the singularity of an educated sentiment. It accompanies, therefore, the question of the formation of a critical public (irreducible to the audience).

Thus, in counterpoising the amateur to the professional both Merrifield (via Said) and Stiegler (sort-of via Weber) argue that the role of amateurism is crucial to producing alternative ways of economic, political and social living.

Merrifield:

For the urban is itself a political object, a very special virtual political object; so is the “right to the city.” Urban rights are ones that need inventing, need inventing offensively; they aren’t established safeguards already there, ones you can invoke defensively…

Since we amateurs don’t have that means or money, we must start concrete and try to scale upwards and outwards, try to realize our abstract renderings, our utopian and futuristic yearnings.

Stiegler:

The figure of the amateur is the ideal type for the economy of contribution because the amateur is the one who builds him- or her- self a sustainable libidinal economy and does not expect industrial society to put it in place.

Both Merrifield and Stiegler offer laudable appeals to amateurism and the ground-up D.I.Y political action that, of course, also resonates with the forms of horizontalist political activism we are becoming used to seeing that operate both against austerity and towards alternative forms of urban life. Nevertheless, one might be left wondering, when reading both accounts, where the space is for collectivity? In both accounts the ‘virtual’ and the ‘transindividual’ are the conceptual footholds from which to forge such questions –it is in the immanent potential of the virtual that we, collectively, are produced and reciprocally produce the future and such a potential is performed within and through the various relations between our ‘selves’:

“The “I”, as a psychic individual, can only be thought in relationship to a “we”, which is a collective individual: the “I” is constituted in adopting a collective tradition, which it inherits, and in which a plurality of “Is” acknowledge each other’s existence.”

[Stiegler, Desire & Knowledge]

This is an interesting (to me anyway!) parallel theorisation of the amateur and no doubt there are more… I think the close to Merrifield’s Antipode intervention is particularly effective:

Rights aren’t passive: they become your right by working through danger, by orchestrating effective political action. You make rights your right. Hence the reason why so many people misunderstand what’s meant by right to the city, where the future necessarily stalks the present; horizons open up for the virtual to be glimpsed, for rights to actualize themselves through politics. Virtual theory, as such, isn’t a theory that explains reality, nor even “corresponds” with reality; it’s more a theory that is correct because it enables politics to be correct. It nurtures the correct politics, a robust and possible Left politics: theory here opens up space for a radical politics that hitherto wasn’t there, that as yet has no space. It opens up the vastest and most thrilling futuristic space of all, the noblest of all cloud-cuckoo lands: the continent of hope.

Translation > Greece at the Heart of Europe (An open letter signed by Balibar, Stiegler & others)

On Politis.fr (the weekly online political magazine) there is an open letter of support to ‘the Greek people’ (published this morning) signed by a long list of notable public/intellectual figures, including Etienne Balibar,  Luc Boltanski, Michael Löwy, Gus Massiah, Jean-Claude Petit and Bernard Stiegler, amongst others.

The content is not (really) surprising, and it broadly reiterates much of the criticism of an austerity that is seen as imposed ‘technocratically’ by an unelected (or at least – not clearly democratically accountable in a way that is meaningful to this form of action) ruling class in a socialisation of debt to the extreme detriment of those worst off in society, and apparently to the benefit of those who instigated the economic/financial crisis in the first place.

What is perhaps mildly surprising is where this has been ‘published’, not in Le Monde for example. I am not entirely sure what can be read into this… the website is seen as a more accessible/ international venue(?), the papers won’t publish such a letter(?) – it is interesting, in any case (and regardless of whether you agree or not), that such critique of austerity rarely finds its way into wider public debates (at least in the UK anyway, and perhaps not in France either).

I offer below a rough translation of the letter (it is fairly short). The footnotes were in the original, although I’ve linked to the English version of the second footnote.

Greece at the heart of Europe

PETITION: The Greek people have not problem with Europe, they and us have a problem with the “European” power which is destroying Europe!

We do not believe that it is the Greek people who are guilty of doubling their public debt in less than ten years [1]. Nor do we believe that they should pay such a debt, which has been artificially inflated with the sacking of their human rights and the wrecking of their democracy.

For years the national and supranational powers that control the European Union have inflicted austerity coupled with “structural reforms” upon the Greeks which is ruining their economy and sinking them into increasing misery.

Today, in a burst of lucidity and dignity the Greek people have given an electoral majority to the radical left, distanced from the corruption and compromises of yesterday, forming a government with a mandate to push back against the dictates of the “Troika” (the IMF, ECB and European Commission) and to enact a policy of breaking with such criminal austerity.

The objective of the European ruling classes is not to force the Greeks to repay a debt that everyone knows cannot be repaid, the only function of which is to drain public funds into the banks, but rather to force the government of Alexis Tsipras and Syriza into capitulation. They do this in order to continue to strangle the Greek people, condemning them to forever begging loans that become only ever more expensive, and to demonstrate in the eyes of all of Europe that it is impossible to tackle the banks, to contest the absolute power of the ruling classes, or to open out an alternative to austerity…

It is unacceptable that those who claim to speak “on behalf of Europe” contrive to breach their most basic commitments in order to break the government appointed by the Greek people. Going so far as to yesterday “ban” implementing even minimal humanitarian measures (housing allowance, food aid, restoration of electricity)! Today the ruling classes require the Greek government to worsen the decline in pensions, to below the poverty threshold, to increase VAT on necessities, and they confirm that they are willing to bankrupt the country and expel them from the Eurozone, and thus eventually the European Union, at the risk of provoking a crisis with unpredictable consequences.

We support the Greek people in their mobilisation and their determination to roll back this despotic and reactionary operation.

The struggle of the Greek people is that of all European democrats and progressives. If there is eventual defeat, all of Europe will pay the price. Should there be a victory, however limited, all of Europe will reap the reward.

This is why it is necessary that the movements which in France and in Europe hope for a renewal of democracy affirmatively respond to the calls of Syriza to construct a European solidarity around Greece and the Greek people. The prospect of a referendum increases the urgency of such solidarity [2].

We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Greek people, for their fight is ours.
PRIMARY SIGNATORIES

Antoine Artous, Etienne Balibar, Sophie Bessis, Jacques Bidet, Luc Boltanski, Gilles Bounoure, Marie-Pierre Bourcier, Claude Calame, Patrick Chamoiseau, Patrice Cohen Seat, Jean-Numa Ducange, Jean-Louis Fabiani, Michel Husson, Michael Löwy, Marie-José Malis, Jean-Louis Martinelli, Gus Massiah, Jean-Claude Petit, Philippe Pignarre, Michèle Riot-Sarcey, Pierre Salama, Denis Sieffert, Patrick Silberstein, Francis Sitel, Bernard Stiegler, Hervé Télémaque, Jacques Testart, Eleni Varikas, Pierre Zarka…

Notes.
1. See: An Appeal for Support for Greek resistance and their Trust Commission on Public Debt: http://cadtm.org/Appel-pour-soutenir-la-Grece-qui

2. http://www.altersummit.eu/accueil/article/no-to-austerity-yes-to-democracy

ADDENDUM: Of course, having said that the argument contra austerity rarely appears in ‘mainstream’ media outlets there are some exceptions, not least economist Paul Krugman’s repeated denouncing of austerity through op-ed articles in left-leaning newspapers, such as in The Guardian (29/04/2015) and The New York Times (29/06/2015).