Governing Academics: The Historical Transformation from Discipline to Control

Abstract

Given the transformation in the government of academic life over recent decades, the article attempts to derive a political critique of the changing psychosocial conditions of academic life via a historical juxtaposition with the nomos of the labour camp in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. The aim is to address the need to think beyond normative disciplinary power, to explore a distinctly capitalist governmentality in relation to Foucault’s genealogy of power and to elaborate the techniques and practices of an emergent ‘meta-disciplinary’ technology of labour control in academia. Therefore, a broadly Foucauldian analysis on these questions will be undertaken, and augmented with Marxian and post-Freudian insights into the role of capital accumulation dynamics, in order to texture the conventional presentation of governmental rationality. The result is a metonymic presentation of the ‘camp’ as a physiological structure of capitalist Modernity, whose imprint can be discerned in numerous social and institutional settings, in this case Academia and the Gulag. From this outcome, insights into the transformation of living and labouring in academia, and the effects on psychological and intellectual well-being stemming from the new complex of control can be derived. The piece concludes with some thoughts on strategies of intellectual survival in academia, on counter-conducted techniques of subjectification and on possible means of resistance in the meta-disciplinary idiom.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This was the direct question of the Governing Academic Life conference at the London School of Economics (June, 2014), in parallel to which this article was written.

  2. 2.

    Incidentally, Stakhanovitism is an equally unsatisfactory characterisation of emergent academic labour forms, entailing as it did worker solidarity, mutual inspiration, space for spontaneous autonomy, and a certain politically critical trajectory (Thurston 1993: 142, 146). These features were also utterly alien to living and working in Gulag. Moreover, Stakhanovite labour techniques were a variation on a theme of Taylorism.

  3. 3.

    This article is based on experiences at the University of Helsinki, and so the discussion that follows is not just an Anglo-American experience but something brought out starkly everywhere by austerity politics in recent years.

  4. 4.

    Whilst this work began from an interest in early Frankfurt social theory, and instrumental reason in academic ranking particularly, this article has been confined to Foucault’s genealogy of power for reasons of space and clarity. A critical theoretical analysis that engages with Frankfurt theorists shall be forthcoming elsewhere.

  5. 5.

    An article treatment of diagrammatic mapping and arborescent tracing in academic rankings, as a component of the broader ‘audit culture’, will be forthcoming as ‘Mapping Academics: Tracing the Ranking Regime in Historical Capitalism’.

  6. 6.

    The preponderance of testimony here from ‘intellectuals’ amongst the political prisoners is not simply a function of their greater tendency to put experience into memoir. Whilst I recognise the irony of relying upon intellectuals’ testimony for my argument, it could be claimed that it is precisely the parallels in the experience of intellectuals who laboured and lived in the historic Gulag with the living of intellectual labourers in the current academic context that are relevant. The point is to bring out the effects of ‘camp’ as a resurfacing nomos and technological complex of labour control on the activity of intellectual labour. It is therefore in reference to intellectual activity in Gulag that the pertinence of the metonym is established.

  7. 7.

    ‘The same could be said about Taylorism. The system of Taylorism was an extraordinary invention by an engineer who wanted to combat laziness and everything that slows down production. But one can still ask: did Taylorism ever really work?’ (Foucault 1980: 162). Well, the answer is, not directly.

  8. 8.

    I have more thoroughly treated the notion of ‘Meta-Disciplinarity’ elsewhere (Welsh 2016).

  9. 9.

    The Body-without-Organs is a substrate identified as the ‘plane of consistency’. It is a ‘non-formed, non-organized, non-stratified or destratified body or term’ and is ‘opposed to the organizing principles that structure, define and speak on behalf of the collective assemblage of organs, experiences or states of being’ (Message 2010: 37–8).

  10. 10.

    In similar vein, Solzhenitsyn claimed the Zeks to be a nation, rather than a class. Perhaps this is a result of the growing pull exercised upon him by a conservative nostalgia for the 19th century. However, his treatment was bound into an immanent critique of Stalin’s theorising of nations and nationalism, which I believe heavily influenced his of choice of ‘national’ classification for the zeks in The Gulag Archipelago.

  11. 11.

    Rosi Braidotti has articulated a growing realisation in the human and social sciences that to flee the 21st Century university might be a more desirable option, for the well being of more junior academics, than remaining within its tabernacle.

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Correspondence to John Welsh.

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Welsh, J. Governing Academics: The Historical Transformation from Discipline to Control. Int J Polit Cult Soc 30, 83–106 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-016-9228-4

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Keywords

  • Camp
  • Governmentality
  • Gulag
  • Labour
  • Meta-disciplinary
  • Society of control
  • University