Tag Archives: Raewyn Connell

Review of The Good University

At a talk on southern theory in the Postcolonial Institute, Raewyn Connell invoked the imaginary ideal of the ‘smoke-filled Oxford pub’. This image seemed to epitomise what I once aspired to as an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne. Here, learned gentlemen would draw on their classical knowledge in the exchange of rhetorical contributions to a theme, augmented by puffs of the pipe and glasses of claret. 

Her recent book The Good University considers the evolution of the corporate model that has largely replaced the mortarboard with the business suit. The new ideal is a smart suited man or woman who can invoke the unlimited horizons that inspire capital, including new technologies and global markets. 

It would be tempting to feel nostalgic for the old distinction between “town and gown”. Connell’s book instead offers a plurality of models: “No single knowledge formation exhausts the human possibilities of knowing.” This includes the Visva-Bharati “world university” established in India, the Al-Azhar established in Cairo during the Fatimid dynasty, or recent models such as the Slow Professor movement in Canada.

Connell’s writing is clear and succinct, but it would have been good to see her purview extended to include less formal communities of independent scholars. Eastern models of the scholar offer an embodied understanding of learning that includes taste as well as knowledge. The generation of postgraduates that have been produced by the expansion of the university beckons some form of community that can be sustained outside formal structures. Some mention could be made of the tools that we have today for collaboration that can enable shared learning without the infrastructure that brings corporate interests. 

Raewyn Connell has been exemplary herself in sharing this knowledge through her blog on academic practices such as giving conference papers. 

We might hope for companion books that offer alternatives to the corporatised institutions – the Good Hospital or even the Good Office. 

The Good University is published by Zed Books.

Epistemologies of the South (Sydney 14 April 2016)

Epistemologies of the South

Epistemologies of the South

Epistemologies of the South: Mapping new directions in Australian social sciences

When: 9:00am – 5:00pm, Thursday 14 April 2016
Venue: Conference Room, 174 City Rd, Darlington Centre, University of Sydney

Conveners:
• Raewyn Connell
• Fran Collyer
To RSVP, please contact: Rebecca Pearse [email protected]

Calls to decolonize the social sciences have raised questions about the global and national politics of knowledge, the shifting structures of knowledge production, and the capacity of existing social theory to explain the world. At present, the place of Australian social science in the global postcolonial knowledge project is unclear. This workshop will bring together scholars developing postcolonial and Southern perspectives in the social and political sciences. The event will be an important moment in the development of Australian social science agendas that challenge Eurocentricism and carve out new directions for theory and research. Across the day, there will be focused discussion about current and future possibilities for research and collaboration.

The workshop is a free event. ECRs and HDR students are invited to apply for travel funding. Please send your CV and 200 word expressions of interest before 15 December 2016 to:  [email protected]

Writing for research | Raewyn Connell

A wonderful act of scholarly generosity by Raewyn Connell:

We have just produced a written version of my workshop for early career researchers called “Writing for Research”.  It discusses the nature of writing, research journals and how they operate, writing programmes, and related questions.  It has a practical section on how to write a journal article, and a list of resources.  It also has pretty pictures and some solid ideas about the social character of knowledge and the situation of knowledge workers.

Source: Writing for research | Raewyn Connell

The Neoliberal Takeover in Australian Universities

Raewyn Connell’s introduction to the People’s Tribunal.

What is neoliberalism?

Neoliberalism is the name widely used for the corporate market ideology that in the last generation has gained a dominant position across most of the world.  Originating as a business-led development strategy in the global South, and a business-led attack on the welfare state in the global North, neoliberalism has crystallized as a policy package for re-shaping economic and social life.

The package varies from country to country but has much in common.  Typical policies are: selling off public assets to owners of capital (‘privatisation’); abolishing rules restraining what businesses can do (‘deregulation’); reducing public services, or charging fees for them (‘user pays’); weakening unions, removing legal protections for workers, and removing protections for local industries; and lowering taxes on high-earning individuals and companies.

At a deeper level, neoliberalism promotes broad cultural changes.  The agenda seeks to expand the reach of markets and profit/loss calculation across social life (‘commodification’).  It makes local economies depend on world markets and flows of capital (‘globalization’).  It re-shapes public institutions and voluntary organizations on the model of competitive firms (‘public sector reform’). It expands the power of managers, displacing local decision-making and occupational expertise.  It tries to re-shape culture to promote selfishness (‘individualism’), ruthlessness (‘entrepreneurship’) and dominance (‘leadership’).

Neoliberal policies have rarely been brought in by popular demand.  They usually make the rich richer and the poor more insecure – which is usually unpopular. The agenda has, therefore, mainly been introduced top-down: sometimes by force or legal coercion; sometimes by economic coercion (e.g. the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programs); sometimes as a surprise package after governments won power for other reasons (classic case being Peru); and sometimes in response to economic panic (e.g. the 1980s in Australia).

For organizations, neoliberal restructuring is typically decided at the top by senior management.  It is then imposed through many small but non-negotiable changes in organizational life.  This process is often planned with the assistance of management consultants, corporations that make a profitable business of re-organizing other peoples’ workplaces on neoliberal lines.  Sudden re-shaping of organizations has occurred (e.g. the 1986 “Big Bang” deregulation of the London Stock Exchange), but this is now rare.

Universities: organizational change

Universities have been caught in neoliberal restructuring in multiple ways. In some countries (e.g. Chile, Brasil) there has been a mushroom growth of private for-profit colleges.  In Australia the story centres on the internal transformation of a system of public universities and colleges. A dramatic shift, begun in 1987-88 under Labor Party education minister John Dawkins, has turned a broadly cooperative system into a divisive collection of competing firms.  Simultaneously, university administrations began to mutate into corporate-style managerial elites, imbued with business ideology and paid like corporate managers.  The top echelon of Australian university managers now get salary packages around a million dollars per year.

Rather than outright privatisation, there has been a steep decline in the proportion of public funding, replaced by fees charged to students. Australia now has one of the lowest levels of public investment in higher education among affluent countries.  Fees were re-introduced in the Dawkins era at a low level but have risen ever since.  The new corporate managers have latched on to this, and the most powerful of them have recently been supporting complete deregulation of fees, as a way of expanding their income.

In Australian universities, a key part of this strategy was charging higher fees to overseas students, most of whom come from Asia.  In the 1990s and 2000s the university sector became, in economic terms, an export industry.  To put it more plainly, a higher education system that formerly educated overseas students for free as a form of international aid, has now become a device for sucking money out of developing economies.

The neoliberal takeover produces a different approach to the workforce.  A university as a public institution had an interest in keeping and educating its workforce, gaining the long-term benefits of organizational memory and shared know-how.  A university as a corporation has an interest in cheap and flexible labour, bought on a market.

One device is to remove chunks of the workforce from the university payroll altogether, by outsourcing their work to other corporations.  This is now done for university work ranging from computing, to printing, to security.  Academic tenure is a serious constraint on flexibility; so tenure has gradually been eroded.  All parts of the university workforce are now vulnerable to sudden restructurings, cuts and purges.  These may impact a library at one time, a faculty at another, a professional service at yet another.  Across the  whole sector, around half of the undergraduate classes are now taken by teachers on fixed-term, casual or other insecure employment conditions.

Promoting selfishness, ruthlessness and dominance tends to break down social trust.  It is clear that neoliberal managers in universities now have little trust in their workforce.  An important consequence is a growing spiderweb of top-down controls over university staff.  Many of these controls are now embedded in management-controlled Intranets.

Staff have therefore been spending increasing amounts of their time complying with online reporting requirements (for finance, marks, research output, etc. etc.), fitting courses into online templates, undergoing performance management, getting managerial permissions (for spending funds, starting a research project, travelling to a conference, etc. etc.).  The space for professional judgment, for anyone in universities except managers, has been shrinking.

Cultural change

Equally important, though not so visible, are cultural changes in universities.  Managerial prerogative has substantially displaced organizational democracy.  ‘Consultations’ are frequently announced but are rarely more than window-dressing.

An ideology of competition – taking a toxic form in restructures where staff have to compete against each other to get back their own jobs – undermines the cooperation that actually makes a university work.  Widening anxiety and distrust undermines the commitments that brought many people to work in universities in the first place: the hope of doing work in the public interest, love of teaching, the excitement of intellectual discovery.

The shift to market logic and the search for advantage over other university-firms underlie another important cultural shift: managers now rely on corporate techniques of publicity.  Austtralian universities have all acquired public-relations units, and now put resources into corporate image, ‘branding’ and boasting.  Mindless slogans proliferate: one university adopted the slogan “Never Stand Still”, another dubbed itself “Australia’s Innovative University”, a third has taken to plastering gems of corporate philosophy like “Leadership is a Culture” across the campus.

The irony here runs deep.  An institution whose rationale, both in teaching and research, is the difficult search for truth, increasingly presents itself through dumbed-down advertising that is manipulative, selective, and sometimes outright deceptive.

Australian neoliberalism has produced a culture focussed on short-term profit, and an economy dependent on the short-term benefit of mining minerals.  In services such as education, neoliberalism works by mining existing institutions.  Organizations that were set up to serve a public interest are restructured to find potential profits. Google calls it “monetising”.

And now…?

The neoliberal takeover of Australian higher education is well advanced.  But the process is uneven and definitely not complete.  Indeed it is hard to see how it could become complete without destroying the distinctive cultural authority of universities – exactly the resource that the neoliberal agenda is mining.  Already there is a disturbing whiff of favouritism and corruption around parts of the Australian university system, and few things could be more damaging.

University managers have taken to calling themselves “The University”, and the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, in a characteristic move, re-named themselves “Universities Australia”.  But it is actually the staff and students who make a university work.  Enough remains of commitment to public education, cooperation among the workforce, and concern with truth, to make the universities still function as a public service.  That is an important fact.

There is explicit resistance to the neoliberal agenda.  Opposition from students and staff to the deregulation of fees (which would mean steep fee rises in the more privileged universities and increasing inequality in the system) found support in Parliament in 2014-15.  Industrial action by university staff has become more widespread – which is unusual in the Australian industrial system where unions have been weakened under neoliberalism.

What we still need is a way of changing the institutions in a democratic direction – a long-term vision for public universities, and a practical agenda for the near future.

I think the discussion has to deal with three sets of problems.  First, what will a more democratic university look like as an organization? – as a good place to work for all types of workers, as a place of shared rather than top-down decision-making.  What are the teaching and learning practices we need for a more satisfying and relevant higher education?

Second, considering the university as a knowledge institution, what kinds of knowledge will be created and taught?  What are the research agendas that universities need to pursue, as Australia moves from a colonial past into a turbulent and dangerous future?  What will curricula of the future be, if our universities are to be more than retail offices for globalized MOOC vendors?

Third, what are better ways of linking Australian universities to the wider society?  Who will be the new participants in university life, a generation down the track?  Can we have social justice in higher education, and if so, how?  How can universities develop a cultural identity more authentic and credible than the current boasting and brand-mongering?

That’s a large agenda.  But the discussion is beginning.

Photo Credit: fa11ing_away via Compfight cc

Rethinking Knowledge Production and Circulation in Comparative and International Education: Southern Theory, Postcolonial Perspectives, and Alternative Epistemologies

The Southern African indigenous concept of Ubuntu is the theme of the 59th CIES annual meeting in Washington, DC. Featuring this notion that reflects the region’s particular intellectual histories and anticolonial and postcolonial struggles, the conference organizers ask us not only to consider ways to revitalize humanistic potentials of education in the current neoliberal time but more importantly to take seriously the intellectual work and theoretical insights generated in peripheral regions around decolonial struggles over knowledge. 

JSTOR: Comparative Education Review, Vol. 59, No. 1 (February 2015), pp. v-viii.

Racial Conceptions in the Global South by Warwick Anderson

What happens to twentieth-century race science when we relocate it to the Global South? North Atlantic debates have dominated the conceptual history of race. Yet there is suggestive evidence of a “southern” or antipodean racial distinctiveness. We can find across the Southern Hemisphere greater interest in racial plasticity, environmental adaptation, mixing or miscegenation, and blurring of racial boundaries; endorsement of biological absorption of indigenous populations; and consent to the formation of new or blended races. Once we recognize the Global South as a site of knowledge making, and not just data extraction, the picture of race science in the twentieth century changes. Once situated, or displaced, the conventional North Atlantic history of race science in the twentieth century comes to seem exceptional—and no longer normative.

JSTOR: Isis, Vol. 105, No. 4 (December 2014), pp. 782-792.

Connell’s farewell lecture: The knowledge industry and counter-power

In this anti-inaugural lecture, Raewyn will explore the classic problem of the relationship between intellectuals and power.  She will discuss the changing shape of knowledge systems and professional work, explore the tensions in the contemporary knowledge industry, and propose democratic agendas for intellectual workers.  All in forty minutes!

Professor Raewyn Connell, BA (Melb), PhD (Syd), holds a University Chair in the University of Sydney. She has previously held posts at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Macquarie University in Sydney, and Flinders University in Adelaide. She has held visiting posts at the University of Toronto, Harvard University, and Ruhr-Universität Bochum.

Raewyn is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, a recipient of the American Sociological Association’s award for distinguished contribution to the study of sex and gender, and of the Australian Sociological Association’s award for distinguished service to sociology in Australia. Raewyn’s teaching fields have included general sociology, social theory, sociology of education, gender relations, sexuality, and research methods.

Raewyn’s work is widely cited in social science and humanities publications internationally. Four of her books were listed among the 10 most influential books in Australian sociology. She is frequently invited to give keynote addresses at conferences and seminars, including events in Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Senegal and Britain.

Event details

  • When:5.00pm – 6.30pm
  • Where:The Great Hall
    The Quadrangle
    The University of Sydney
    University maps
  • Cost:Free and open to all with online registration requested
  • RSVP:Register online now by entering your details at the bottom of the page. Click ‘register’ once and wait for the screen to refresh. You will receive a confirmation email in your inbox shortly after.
  • Contact:Sydney Ideas
    E| [email protected]
    T| 9351 2943

On the dangers of ‘reverse essentialism’

While Southern Theory continues to grow, there is a danger that it develops insulated from critique. There is the risk that its political mission focuses exclusively on distinguishing a separate form of knowledge from the dominant north, repeating the kind of denial of southern roots prevalent in the North.  

A recent article by Gregor McLennan from University of Bristol offers a critical appreciation of Southern Theory:

Sociology is often pitched as the social science discipline most obviously in need of postcolonial deconstruction, owing to its ostensibly more transparent Eurocentrism as a formation. For this reason, even postcolonial scholars working within the ambit of sociology are reluctant to play up its analytical strengths in addition to exposing its ideological deficits. Without underestimating the profound impact of the growing body of postcolonial theorizing and research on self-reflexivity within sociology, this paper points up some key ways in which the structure of comprehension within postcolonial critique itself is characteristically sociological. Alternatively, if that latter conclusion is to remain in dispute, a number of core epistemological and socio-theoretical problems must be accepted as being, still, radically unresolved. Consequently, a more dialectical grasp of sociology’s role within this domain of enquiry and style of intellectual politics is needed. I develop these considerations by critically engaging with three recent currents of postcolonial critique – Raewyn Connell’s advocacy of “Southern Theory”; the project of “reinventing social emancipation” articulated by Boaventura de Sousa Santos; and the “de-colonial option” fronted by Walter D. Mignolo.

He cites Santos’ caution against a simplistic North-South binary:

[Santos’] accepts that the register of South versus North, East versus West is a metaphorical one that, while effective as a ‘‘defamiliarizing’’ tactic, runs the risk of a sloppy reverse essentialism in which Europe and its traditions are treated as a ‘‘monolithic entity’’.

We are left with a challenging question. If we accept that the North-South division is indeed a generalisation, then what is its remaining meaning? It is possible to lay a similar charge with many oppositions, such as male-female, human-nature and capital-labour. The criticism doesn’t invalidate the opposition, but does caution against an essentialist reading of geopolitics. The opposition needs to be understood as a ongoing construction that is critically relevant to cultural trajectories, rather than something that occurs automatically when we cross the equator.

Reference

Gregor McLennan (2013), Postcolonial Critique: The Necessity of Sociology, in Julian Go (ed.) Postcolonial Sociology (Political Power and Social Theory, Volume 24), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.119-144

How to prioritise the intellectual work of the global South?

A statement and question offered to participants of the symposium Diálogo Trans-Pacífico y Sur-Sur: Perspectivas Alternativas a la Cultura y Pensamiento Eurocéntrico y Noroccidental, University of Santiago, 8-9 January 2013

Raewyn Connell

Professor of Sociology, University of Sydney

Dear Colleagues,

Greetings from Sydney! I am a sociologist, interested in both empirical research and social theory. I have been working for many years on the critique of Northern dominance in social science, and on the positive task of building a globally inclusive social science. Only this, I believe, will realize social science’s potential to be the democratic self-knowledge of society on a world scale. This project requires continuing encounters between intellectual workers across the global South. My book Southern Theory, published in 2007, records both the critique of Northern social science, and my encounters with social thought in Africa, Iran, Latin America and India, as well as Australia. Since publishing that book I have been studying Southern formations of gender theory, and I am currently working on Southern analyses of neoliberalism, and on the uses of Southern perspectives in applied social science.

Question

The question I would pose for your consideration is: How do we develop curricula in higher education – especially in theory courses, which are both vital and difficult to change – that prioritize the intellectual work of the global South? What are the growth points around which new teaching agendas can crystallize?

¿Cómo podemos desarrollar planes de estudio en la educación superior – especialmente en cursos teóricos, que son a la vez importante y difícil de cambiar – que priorizan el trabajo intelectual de los países del Sur? ¿Cuáles son los puntos de crecimiento en torno al cual las nuevas agendas de enseñanza pueden cristalizar?