Dossier On Universities

RP 162 () / Article

The University and the Plan: Reflections from Vienna

The immediate causes of the current protests by students, lecturers and academic researchers in Europe are contingent; they are directed at individual educational institutions or administrators, and the demands they make are capable of being met over the short term.* But on a second level, one that cannot be separated from the immediate events, protestors are concerned with fundamental changes made to systems of education and training in circumstances of massive underfunding, processes of de-democratization and ‘practical mistakes’ made in introducing new BA and MA structures as a result of the Bologna guidelines. In relation to this, protest is generally directed at ministries of education and research or at governments, and it is possible to imagine that demands made at this level could essentially be met and acted upon over the medium term – assuming, that is, that the demands are taken seriously. This second level in particular has received a great deal of attention and vocal support in the media, although uncommitted declarations of solidarity have often also had the effect of weakening its impact.

A third level, which was part of the protests from the beginning, was either widely ignored by the media or at best dismissed as mere fantasy: it includes everything that the rather vague demands for ‘changing the whole of society’ tried to express. There was a reason why these terms were so imprecise: put simply, it has now become difficult to identify and describe exactly what the ‘whole’ social structures are that need to be changed. In what follows, we attempt to analyse the current conflicts and paradoxes in order to formulate more concrete demands at this third level – in the hope that starting points for a theory of society might emerge.

At the current stage of capitalist socialization in Western countries, there remain only a few areas of life where individuals can become aware of their common political interests with others – that is to say, of their political and economic interests. Interest groups of the kind commonly recognized by the state, such as employees’ organizations, student unions, trade unions and reform-oriented parties, rarely prove to be the initiators of social struggles, not least because their own bureaucratic structures are designed to balance corporate interests. When struggles do arise, they generally do so outside of them. This is partly because economic competition, consumer individualism and the reorganization of industrial production have helped create a situation where people either no longer go through, or are no longer aware of, the classic collective experiences of politicization. But there is another reason as well: as fields of production and work become increasingly immaterial, demand has risen for workers with uniquely individual abilities – indeed, with carefully cultivated idiosyncrasies, stylish quirks and personal (physical) attractiveness. The self is no longer a place of retreat but a productive force, obliged to operate on deregulated markets, deploying as many unique selling points as possible. The result is an encroachment of the working day into traditional leisure activities: going to parties, concerts, exhibitions and the cinema or engaging in the never-ending (in)voluntary rounds of networking become mere opportunities for honing this constructed self further.

These processes of individualization and compulsory Bohemianization gradually take hold of the entire individual, affecting ever more areas of his or her life. Those subject to them must maintain a good mood in order to appear creative and original – survival depends on it. As semi-self-employed small entrepreneurs running their own businesses, or as precariously employed workers, they represent the new proletariat of deregulation and neoliberalism. The situation in the universities, by contrast, looks very different. Here it is not deregulation that is the problem, but increasing regulation; the trend is not towards compulsory selfinvention and self-management, but external controls, bureaucracy and the dumbing-down of courses…

* This is a translation of a German-language article from a reader Was passiert? Stellungnahme zur Lage der Universität, in the series Unbedingte Universitäten, edited by a Munich-based student collective and published by Diaphanes, Zurich/Berlin, 2010. The text reflects discussions in January 2010 among several people who, in one way or another, are involved in the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna. Contributors to this version include Fahim Amir, Sabeth Buchmann, Diedrich Diederichsen, Tom Holert, Jakob Kramertisch and Ruth Sonderegger.

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