Wednesday 13 January 2016

Neoliberal Education and Laziness

Far be it for me to cast aspersions on someone's research, but the following paper unearthed by Amir Sariaslan was like getting passed the pissy biscuit. Published in Educational Philosophy and Theory (Vol 47 (5), 2015, pp 488-501), one Riyad A. Shahjahan contributed 'Being ‘Lazy’ and Slowing Down: Toward decolonizing time, our body, and pedagogy'. Its abstract is ... interesting:
In recent years, scholars have critiqued norms of neoliberal higher education (HE) by calling for embodied and anti-oppressive teaching and learning. Implicit in these accounts, but lacking elaboration, is a concern with reformulating the notion of ‘time’ and temporalities of academic life. Employing a coloniality perspective, this article argues that in order to reconnect our minds to our bodies and center embodied pedagogy in the classroom, we should disrupt Eurocentric notions of time that colonize our academic lives. I show how this entails slowing down and ‘being lazy’.
The full thing is available here.

I was going to say it speaks for itself, but not all readers are au fait with academic-speak. Basically, what Shahjahan is raising is the question of academic/university time in the interval of neoliberal capitalism. The way modules at university are typically arranged are around a lecture followed by a workshop or tutorial/seminar of some description. These are taught for a set number of hours over a set number of weeks, and end with an assessment of some description. This structuring of academic time for taught students (most undergrads and postgrads) arguably sacrifices depth and context for a quick rummage around the basics of a particular subject area, and its modular character tends not to encourage connections between preceding and succeeding modules - despite the best efforts of lecturers and teacher. This view is well-known and forms the spine of many a critique of Higher Ed teaching (though, it might be said, this is a limitation any qualifications-based teaching programme would have to overcome).

Also problematic from Shahjahan's point of view are the Cartesian assumptions underpinning education. In philosophy, Descartes is known for putting forward a method that splits the mind from the body in which the former is privileged over the latter. In intellectual histories, this split is held to be the distinguishing feature of Western thought, and one that degrades embodied pleasures and whole categories of people for overt associations with bodily processes. The life of the mind is the life to live. In fact, Descartes' philosophy was articulated at a time when emerging capitalism was deepening the division of labour between intellectual and manual labour. That the former was the privileged term, and that nascent nation-states rested upon such a division (in that the exercise of power was increasingly abstract, impersonal, complex, and justified through political and juridical norms - in other words, dependent on intellectual labour) was not a coincidence.

Critiques of the Cartesian dualism stretch back through Heidegger, Nietzsche, and the Romantic poets, artists, and philosophers. In more recent times it has been championed by postmodern thought. Some of the critique is spot on precisely because it's the ideological taproot for associating reason with men, with white people, with managerialism, with power. Shahjahan is trying to locate his position with this tradition of critical thought by arguing for a reconnection of body and mind in the class room for both teaching staff and students. Suggesting the use of a "coloniality perspective" (or, more properly, a 'decolonial' view) might suggest an exploration of alternative teaching and learning strategies from societies and cultures previously colonised and repressed by the Western powers, but instead he is suggesting that the neoliberal classroom can be disrupted through intentional laziness.

Yes, laziness. I'd have the article down as a spoof paper (it was published last April, after all) but this is Taylor and Francis, and their journals aren't known for japes and capers. Nevertheless, quite apart from being fundamentally unserious, (of course falling asleep in class  and not doing your work is disruptive, but it's not going to challenge neoliberalism), it is making light of a serious problem in HE. Across the board, the attainment of black and minority ethnicity students lags behind their white counterparts. It's a problem that afflicts by department and every other department at every other university, and it's something various institutions are tackling in various ways. Now whatever one thinks of the emphasis on results, the free market in HE, and the other problems flowing from our present state of play, this is a serious matter. The grades a student graduates with can and do have strong effects on their life chances. So if BME students are disproportionately not doing as well as their white class mates, higher education is playing a role in reproducing material inequalities along lines of ethnicity and race and selling these students short. Yet Shahjahan is alibiing this in the name of some spurious anti-neoliberal, post-colonial resistance. Or, if you like, he's giving the reproduction of minority ethnicity a radical gloss.

You really have to ask what a serious journal of education philosophy is doing giving space to disingenuous crap like this.


asquith said...

Still, if the hits dry up for them they can always get jobs at Goldsmiths. I'm sure there are enough "oppressed" "activists" there to listen to this cobblers.

Anonymous said...

European countries basically invented learning and academia. We spread enlightenment across the world and brought literacy and education to previously illiterate societies.