Academic Strangulation – or …

… what is the parallel between modern academic life and fox hunting?

Much had been written on the effect of bureaucratisation, the emergence of an ‘iron cage’, contributing to the ‘specialist without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of humanity (Menschentums) never before achieved’ as Max Weber developed it in his work on the protestant ethics. A process of rationalisation, entering into all pores of life. As such this bureaucracy is not much more than the political-administrative complement of what Karl Marx analysed as the penetration of daily life by the complete commodification of the capitalist economy- the hegemonic system with the two firm legs.
And in academic life we complain frequently about managerialisation as principle that brings these two legs as crutches into the university. We complain about the administrative burden and also about the requirements defined by cost-efficiency of research and the need of applicability of research results.
Surely, there are good reasons to ask researchers to show that what they are doing is ‘good’, is useful for society and not the waste of money in ivory towers.

But most part of the weeks work here in Barcelona – on PERARES (Public Engagement with Research and Research Engagement with Society) – overall surely an exciting enterprise, not least due to a highly committed team that runs the overall project – showed a dimension we do not take sufficiently into account, we easily forget by the more or less short-term orientation of the complains: the shift to ‘project’ financing of academic work and research is not just an administrative burden and a permanent threat – for many an existential threat. Beyond that – and reaching much deeper – is the adaptation of a narrowed thinking, not really reaching much beyond the three (or the like) project circle and instead even looking for ‘real questions’. Action plans instead of research plans – accountable and calculable … action research rather than search for sound social practice. Researchers being more politicians than anything else.
But politicians not in the sense of generalists with spirit, activists led by their heart; but like politicians of the mainstream ‘democracies’ of Western shape: hunting success measured in lack of substance: sentences written in figures and letters forced into calculations.

Thinking in particular about young colleagues, growing up in the environment of good-will hunting: projects – at least a desk for some time, some kind of title …. – and …
… it reminds me a little bit of the life in the part of the world where I live, where fox hunting is still alive. In these hierarchies every member of the community has  a place. And everybody knows about the place: its opportunities and limitations …. – and as long as there is a fox we can hunt everybody is ‘better off’.
It is a little bit like researching about social exclusion: as long as we, the researchers know the terms and (claim to) define them we are better off. So it keeps all us busy, running like the fox: hoping for the ditch where we can hide, knowing that it will allow us only minutes of rest; hiding behind the next tree, allowing us to avoid for short times at least to face the barrel of the hunter, fleeing into a kennel, forgetting about the pack of hounds waiting for us at the exit.

When will we learn how to run together …? And when will as well younger colleagues learn again that are asked to do research and not write sentences rather then filling in forms …

… – at the end the experience of the week’s work shows: it is surely not a question of age and it is not true that all is and all are the same. There are even bright lights, also making shadows more visible.

Perhaps that made it especially enjoyable to visit before all this work started the Liceau, listening  to Scenes from Goethe’s Faust. Isn’t most important who is the last to break out in joyful Mephistophelean laughter?


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