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Re: <nettime> More Crisis in the Information Society
t byfield on Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:24:18 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> More Crisis in the Information Society

Florian, unfortunately, I agree with what I think is the gist of what you wrote -- but didn't say anything to justify your various rebuttals.

So, for example, I noted that there's a fracture between how people working roughly political science and the humanities understand what it means for something to be 'political,' I didn't dismiss the latter, let alone the micropolitics it has enabled. And your suggestion that there's less to be learned from thinking about different academic responses to the FB study *now* than there is from reducing them to a reenactment of 'the last 30 years' seems strangely ahistorical -- but less so than listing off how much money starstruck CEOs paid the Ziggy Stardust of academia by way of arguing that higher ed's economics haven't changed in the last 50 years. And your response on photography is really quixotic in the sense of mistaking windmills for giants. I agree with you about photography's staggering cultural impact. In fact, I think it's been so wide-ranging and protean that it makes makes little 'macro' sense to use photography as a stable reference point like a labor category in a ministerial economic report. (Nor does it make much 'micro' sense to say "aperture and shutter speeds have remained aperture and shutter speeds" when we have incredibly fertile critical vocabularies for disassembling so many constituent practices and thinking about how they shaped ideas about the observer, time, landscapes, light[ing]...)

My point was pretty simple, so I'll see if I can put it more clearly and 'go there,' like Michael wanted. Like the old joke that there are 10 kinds of people, those who can count in binary and those who can't, universities have 10 sides: they're microcosms where brilliant human minds investigate everything ever and they're bureaucracies, basically. Their bureaucratic aspect both enables inquiry (e.g., by providing security and some insulation from politics, commerce, etc) and hobbles it (I think we're all familiar with academics' litany of gripes). These institutions have changed drastically over the last century +/-, and that change has metastasized in the last few decades (financialization, standardization, etc). Faculties *should* assert themselves as a political force and press to redirect the transformative function of universities *as such* in more positive directions, but, it's safe to say on aggregate, they aren't doing that. With that failure, they're squandering a critical historical moment and pissing away their legitimacy -- basically, by serving as clerks while their students are reduced to indentured servitude (which is *not* an exaggeration).

So, Michael, when I pointed out that most of the people who'd said something in this thread are dig-studs faculty, I wasn't 'liking' that fact, FB-style. On the one hand, it helps to think about how that perspective shapes what's said. On the other, I don't think it's a generic standpoint -- on the contrary, people working in that field have been sitting at a very special conjuncture -- say, of sectors, disciplines, networks. (That opinion is also self-validating: I spent the last decade+ as a faculty member in exactly that context, and my experiences in university governance, which were pretty extensive, left me very pessimistic and glad I've left that world.) My case certainly involved a crisis of conscience, and the problem of debt was at the heart of my own crisis. In time, I think more and more faculty will face their own version of that crisis as well -- too late. But make no mistake, the real crisis isn't inward at all, any more than the economic meltdown of 2008 was a Bildungsroman.

It's bad enough that faculties are pretending there's no problem; it'd be be even worse if, like abolitionists adjusting the fit of a chain, they started lecturing to their students about how these changes -- which are very definitely macro and political-economical -- are unacceptable. So who can they talk to? 'Local' academic administrations are strangely even more powerless (not less powerful). 'Everybody'? The same 'everybody' who's coming 'here,' driven largely by the rise of computation that's one of the main objects of critical media literacy?

Florian, like it or not, I think this validates the gist of what you wrote: that this curious conjuncture can and should play a crucial role in experimenting with the political as you put it -- in a descriptive, reflective, constructive, and experimental senses. But it also challenges what you say, because there does come a time when we need to think about how that model of politics can give rise to more traditional models of effective collective action.

I also agree with your point that "If we look at the larger picture, we see a major (and I would argue: global) economic shift from visual 'creative' practices - no matter whether photography, graphic design, illustration, moving image - to IT." But in my experience 'IT' is regularly invoked, weirdly, as *the* timeless category of hopelessness -- which is incredibly dangerous, (a) because it's plainly absurd given how new it is, and (b) because that borderland is *precisely* where political conflict takes place. Universities are mutating into fantastically incompetent bundlers of third-party IT services, and the effects are vertically integrated in the worst ways -- of the kind Michael alluded to. But it's not just a devolution into training, assessment, and documenting those processes in the service of ever-more unstable markets. They still have enough social prestige that, when those efforts fail, they can 'reframe' discussion -- for example, on a theoretical plane through pseudo-critical rethinking, and on a practical plane by conjuring up new programs and degrees suited to the aesthetics of last year's model.

That's a very dangerous situation for faculty, the majority of whom are faced with a choice: either (a) get with the new program or (b) be dismissed, in every sense, as an old fart who doesn't get it. But this is a false dilemma, so they need to figure out what the *true* dilemma is and act accordingly.

This goes back to the discussions on this list in February about Stuart Hall and "conjunctural analysis."


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