Thursday, May 6, 2010

Grey philistines taking over our universities


from the Irish Times

RENEWING THE REPUBLIC: The anti-intellectuals running Irish universities claim, falsely, to be businessmen running enterprises

IN INDEPENDENT Ireland, in times of tranquillity, intellectuals were commonly dispensed with. The views of economists, novelists, playwrights, sociologists, historians, and independent writers were ignored. Calamity had people fleeing to the arms of Mother Church rather than seeking the advice of lay intellectuals.
It was not until the 1950s that political crisis actually got acceptance for the advice of established intellectuals. This was, of course, the group around the economist and public servant TK Whitaker and industry and commerce minister, and later taoiseach, Seán Lemass. Years of reliance on oracular knowledge from bishops and ideologues were suddenly replaced by Mother Erin asking a fortune teller in Dublin Opinion of September 1957: “Get to work! They’re saying I have no future!”
Tuairim, a youth movement of intellectuals, flourished in the late 1950s and 60s, to considerable impact, but faded with the coming of television. Intellectuals of the liberal variety are only valued in this country when things have become unstuck.
We can see the same thing happening today, provoked again by economic crisis, driven by an appalling mixture of greed, imprudence and disregard for ordinary social intelligence. Over the past few years, we have seen an increasingly desperate political leadership break away from the usual pattern of appointing people to key posts in connection with economic policy.
Patrick Honohan, a distinguished economist, now suddenly heads up the Central Bank. Again, Colm McCarthy, unusual among Irish economists in being something of an insider in government, has become the moving force behind “An Bord Snip Nua”, while John FitzGerald of the Economic and Social Research Institute is listened to respectfully when he comments on the irresponsibility of Irish government, particularly the vote-hunting programme of decentralisation of civil servants, which has served to mainly wreck the social services.
Nothing new under the sun; the fate of the Irish intellectual and, in particular, the creative writer after independence was pretty horrendous. As Frank O’Connor put it eloquently in 1962, the Irish book censorship system managed to produce a situation by which a generation of young people had no knowledge of the literature of their own country. Education in independent Ireland was strangled by vested interests, and by 1955 scientific education in Ireland lagged far behind such education in 1910.
Things improved considerably in the 1960s, with the coming of mass education with an emphasis on vocational education. However, this shift was accomplished at the expense of the humanist curriculum, which the better clerical-run high schools had supplied. Levels of literacy in the English language suffered; grammar and spelling teaching were abolished as being anti-creative. This anti-intellectual nonsense resulted in the sometimes illiterate student scripts that passed across my desk for years at University College Dublin. The value of education, as distinct from practical training, has never been really grasped in independent Ireland.
Rhetoric, creative writing, foreign languages and history are commonly, if covertly, regarded as unnecessary or pretentious. A grey philistinism has established itself in our universities, under leaders who imagine that books are obsolete, and presumably possess none themselves.
Debating societies are going into eclipse, partly because of a lack of official sympathy for them; in UCD all public listings of auditors of student societies are now six or seven years out of date, having stopped in the early 2000s.
In five years’ time a whole free-thinking student tradition will have been lost, much as medieval studies and classical studies have been smothered. Furthermore, no one will be aware of what has been lost.
A central problem in modern universities, certainly in much of the English-speaking world, is a recent commerce-driven loss of respect for what is termed “blue-sky research” or, more cheekily, idle curiosity.
One of the human race’s greatest inventions is the university. It has at its core the free exercise of trained curiosity by independent-minded and well-educated people.
Since the recent takeover of many universities by State authorities and commercially minded presidents with narrow intellectual outlooks, the pressure to engage in applied, intellectually derivative but profitable research at the expense of blue-sky inquiry has intensified. Intellectual derivativeness is a symptom of provincialism.
Ireland has this problem in an intense form. Researchers are being required by bureaucrats to specify what they are going to discover before the money to do the research is made available. Picasso’s comment is appropriate: “If I knew what I was going to do, what would be the point of doing it?”
The idea that knowledge is an end in itself has become alien. There are powerful people who dislike free research and see it as pointless. The real cost of this has been immense, because the result is a loss of wisdom and imagination. Naturally, some people never possessed it, but the idea that the appetite for knowledge is a good in itself has always existed in Ireland. It is, however, under attack.
We are treated to the spectacle of veterans in modern languages, medieval studies, economic history, engineering, economics, Celtic studies, geography or political science being told how to do their teaching, research and publication by means which are wildly inappropriate to the nature of their subjects. These undereducated people bossing many of the best brains in the country also despise undergraduate teaching.
Interestingly, the best undergraduates spotted this immediately. Many of the administrators dislike academics because they have the horrible habit of answering back intelligently. UCD has abolished the teaching of foreign languages by language laboratory. It costs too much, and the money is better diverted to bioscience and the salaries of vice-presidents. During the current economic downturn, the first move toward economy was a freeze on the purchase of books for the library, the heart of any good university.
On October 16th, 2009, in the middle of the fiscal crisis, a glossy magazine extolling UCD’s glories was given out with The Irish Times . It was modelled on Hello! magazine. It cost enough to keep 10 graduate students for a year. Hello! epitomises accurately the mentality of those in power in Irish universities. UCD’s vice-president for research has declared in my hearing and that of colleagues that books are obsolete, and that in future historical research will be carried out by teams, just like the study of the basking shark. This is a stupid view of the nature of the humanities and the social sciences, but it is one which is being enforced as policy in some Irish universities.
Imposing a research model derived from the physical sciences stultifies academic research in languages, history, literary criticism, political science, sociology and the policy sciences. This includes economics, the subject which our Government pathetically hopes will get us out of the trouble which anti-intellectualism got us into.
A sum of €10 million has been spent on plans for a mad “Gateway” project at Belfield, involving a hotel, a multiple-storey car park, a string of lakes and God knows what other non-academic irrelevancies; it is of course, a very, very expensive fantasy.
The ideal put forward by these new barbarians is the Chinese university system, a system created by one of the most hideous regimes running a major country. Chinese universities are best-known for plagiarism and hatred of free speech. In UCD there is a thing called the Confucius Institute, which is an agency of the Chinese tyranny. The Irish taxpayer should know that he’ll pick up the tab for this dissemination of post-communist rubbish.
UCD, an historically respected Irish university, increasingly resembles an English provincial college, run on authoritarian top-down lines, profligate financially, and anti-intellectual. What is referred to with surrealist humour as “intellectual leadership” in UCD is in the hands of medics masquerading as businessmen (they’re nearly all men; welcome to 1961) and practitioners of non-subjects such as “management” and “teaching and learning”.
It should be dawning on us that one of the nation’s most valuable assets, third-level education, has been taken over by non-academic forces by means of a gigantic and very expensive hoax. The universities are our collective brains, and hatred of them is silly and unpatriotic.
The people who are “running” Irish universities claim, falsely, to be businessmen running enterprises which will bring greater economic growth. These people are truant academics, running universities while having no idea what universities are for. Anti-intellectualism automatically leads to the glorification of ignorance, and this country is well on the way from the former to the latter.
It’s going to cost us.
Tom Garvin is professor emeritus of politics, University College Dublin. A version of this essay was delivered at a conference on “Public Intellectuals in Times of Crisis: What Do They Have to Offer?” Royal Irish Academy, November 28th, 2009

Sunday, March 7, 2010

From Foucault to Papadopoulos

The second TDG meeting took place on Wednesday. Many thanks to everyone who showed up for the inspiring discussion.

The last chapter of Foucault’s “Order of things” was quiet challenging, but we managed to get some interesting ideas out of it. Like for example that the “modern episteme” we are in is not universal, and that a new epochal re-configuration of knowledge is not only possible, but, according to Foucault, is already taking place. Indeed for him knowledge is being re-unified under the structural supremacy of language/discourse. However, this reunification operates as a closure of the specific intellectual space opened in the modern era by the invention of man as “what needs to be conceived and known”. In this space, which is essentially a space of conscious as well as unconscious representation, human sciences found their ‘precarious’ homeland.

Is this closure the source of the intellectual crisis we all feel is affecting the academia, and especially the field of social sciences? This is difficult to say, but it could definitely play an important role. Indeed we argued that despite the emphasis consensually given to its creative potentialities, language/discourse has become increasingly normative - to the extent that every aspect of human subjectivity tends to be submitted to it. This is confirmed by the mounting bureaucratization, by the primacy of form over content, by the standardization/quantification of knowledge, but also by the ambiguous way in which some fashionable concepts are used to shape realities. Ishwari, for example, made a point about the political function the word ‘empowerment’ plays when referred to certain communities in rural India.

TDG is an informal, autonomous, student-lead intellectual space where original outcomes of contemporary philosophy are discussed, with a special emphasis on ‘continental’ thinkers. While researching new possible articulations between philosophy and social sciences, students’ own projects and experiences are considered as being part of the discussion. Through sharing knowledge and ideas as well as the eventual intervention of guests coming from other institutes, TDG establishes itself as a new intellectual platform, open to the participation of all postgraduate students.

Next TDG session is scheduled for the 25th of March at 12
We still do not have a venue but Stephen is working on it.

Proposed reading is “In the ruins of representation: Identity, individuality, subjectification” by Dimitris Papadopoulos (School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, UK). If you can not find it, just drop an email to 


This paper explores a threefold shift in our understanding of identity formation and self-relationality: from an essentialist understanding of identity, to discursive and
constructivist approaches, to, finally, the notion of embodied subjectification. The main target of this paper is to historicize these ideas and to localize them in the current social and political conditions of North-Atlantic societies. The core argument is that these three steps in reformulating the concept of identity correspond to an emerging form of subjectivity, affirmative subjectivity, which is bound to the proliferation of the post-Fordist reorganization of the social and political realm. The three theoretical shifts and their social situatedness will be illustrated through a rereading of some ideas from Lev S. Vygotsky’s late theory, Michel Foucault’s account of government and Jacques Ranciere’s political philosophy.

Every one who wants to participate should read the suggested paper and prepare a few questions/reflections in order to discuss them with the other students during the session.

Enjoy your reading, and see you at the next TDG meeting


Friday, February 19, 2010

The Courage of the Present - Alain Badiou

from Infinite Thought
[Originally published in Le Monde, 13 February 2010. Translated by Alberto Toscano]

For almost thirty years, the present, in our country, has been a disoriented time. I mean a time that does not offer its youth, especially the youth of the popular classes, any principle to orient existence. What is the precise character of this disorientation? One of its foremost operations consists in always making illegible the previous sequence, that sequence which was well and truly oriented. This operation is characteristic of all reactive, counter-revolutionary periods, like the one we’ve been living through ever since the end of the seventies. We can for example note that the key feature of the Thermidorean reaction, after the plot of 9 Thermidor and the execution without trial of the Jacobin leaders, was to make illegible the previous Robespierrean sequence: its reduction to the pathology of some blood-thirsty criminals impeded any political understanding. This view of things lasted for decades, and it aimed lastingly to disorient the people, which was considered to be, as it always is, potentially revolutionary.

To make a period illegible is much more than to simply condemn it. One of the effects of illegibility is to make it impossible to find in the period in question the very principles capable of remedying its impasses. If the period is declared to be pathological, nothing can be extracted from it for the sake of orientation, and the conclusion, whose pernicious effects confront us every day, is that one must resign oneself to disorientation as a lesser evil. Let us therefore pose, with regard to a previous and visibly closed sequence of the politics of emancipation, that it must remain legible for us, independently of the final judgment about it.

In the debate concerning the rationality of the French Revolution during the Third Republic, Clemenceau produced a famous formula: ‘The French Revolution forms a bloc’. This formula is noteworthy because it declares the integral legibility of the process, whatever the tragic vicissitudes of its unfolding may have been. Today, it is clear that it is with reference to communism that the ambient discourse transforms the previous sequence into an opaque pathology. I take it upon myself therefore to say that the communist sequence, including all of its nuances, in power as well as in opposition, which lay claim to the same idea, also forms a bloc.

So what can the principle and the name of a genuine orientation be today? I propose that we call it, faithfully to the history of the politics of emancipation, the communist hypothesis. Let us note in passing that our critics want to scrap the word ‘communism’ under the pretext that an experience with state communism, which lasted seventy years, failed tragically. What a joke! When it’s a question of overthrowing the domination of the rich and the inheritance of power, which have lasted millennia, their objections rest on seventy years of stumbling steps, violence and impasses! Truth be told, the communist idea has only traversed an infinitesimal portion of the time of its verification, of its effectuation. What is this hypothesis? It can be summed up in three axioms.

First, the idea of equality. The prevalent pessimistic idea, which once again dominates our time, is that human nature is destined to inequality; that it’s of course a shame that this is so, but that once we’ve shed a few tears about this, it is crucial to grasp this and accept it. To this view, the communist idea responds not exactly with the proposal of equality as a programme – let us realize the deep-seated equality immanent to human nature – but by declaring that the egalitarian principle allows us to distinguish, in every collective action, that which is in keeping with the communist hypothesis, and therefore possesses a real value, from that which contradicts it, and thus throws us back to an animal vision of humanity.

Then we have the conviction that the existence of a separate coercive state is not necessary. This is the thesis, shared by anarchists and communists, of the withering-away of the state. There have existed societies without the state, and it is rational to postulate that there may be others in the future. But above all, it is possible to organize popular political action without subordinating it to the idea of power, representation within the state, elections, etc. The liberating constraint of organized action can be exercised outside the state. There are many examples of this, including recent ones: the unexpected power of the movement of December 1995 delayed by several years anti-popular measures on pensions. The militant action of undocumented workers did not stop a host of despicable laws, but it has made it possible for these workers to be recognized as a part of our collective and political life.

A final axiom: the organization of work does not imply its division, the specialization of tasks, and in particular the oppressive differentiation between intellectual and manual labour. It is necessary and possible to aim for the essential polymorphousness of human labour. This is the material basis of the disappearance of classes and social hierarchies. These three principles do not constitute a programme; they are maxims of orientation, which anyone can use as a yardstick to evaluate what he or she says and does, personally or collectively, in its relation to the communist hypothesis.

The communist hypothesis has known two great stages, and I propose that we’re entering into a third phase of its existence. The communist hypothesis established itself on a vast scale between the 1848 revolutions and the Paris Commune (1871). The dominant themes then were those of the workers’ movement and insurrection. Then there was a long interval, lasting almost forty years (from 1871 to 1905), which corresponds to the apex of European imperialism and the systematic plunder of numerous regions of the planet. The sequence that goes from 1905 to 1976 (Cultural Revolution in China) is the second sequence of the effectuation of the communist hypothesis. Its dominant theme is the theme of the party, accompanied by its main (and unquestionable) slogan: discipline is the only weapon of those who have nothing. From 1976 to today, there is a second period of reactive stabilization, a period in which we still live, during which we have witnessed the collapse of the single-party socialist dictatorships created in the second sequence.

I am convinced that a third historical sequence of the communist hypothesis will inevitably open up, different from the two previous ones, but paradoxically closer to the first than the second. This sequence will share with the sequence that prevailed in the nineteenth century that fact that what is at stake in it is the very existence of the communist hypothesis, which today is almost universally denied. It is possible to define what, along with others, I am attempting as preliminary efforts aimed at the reestablishment of the communist hypothesis and the deployment of its third epoch.

What we need, in these early days of the third sequence of existence of the communist hypothesis, is a provisional morality for a disoriented time. It’s a matter of minimally maintaining a consistent subjective figure, without being able to rely on the communist hypothesis, which has yet to be re-established on a grand scale. It is necessary to find a real point to hold, whatever the cost, an ‘impossible’ point that cannot be inscribed in the law of the situation. We must hold a real point of this type and organize its consequences.

The living proof that our societies are obviously in-human is today the foreign undocumented worker: he is the sign, immanent to our situation, that there is only one world. To treat the foreign proletarian as though he came from another world, that is indeed the specific task of the ‘home office’ (ministère de l'identité nationale), which has its own police force (the ‘border police’). To affirm, against this apparatus of the state, that any undocumented worker belongs to the same world as us, and to draw the practical, egalitarian and militant consequences of this – that is an example of a type of provisional morality, a local orientation in keeping with the communist hypothesis, amid the global disorientation which only its reestablishment will be able to counter.

The principal virtue that we need is courage. This is not always the case: in other circumstances, other virtues may have priority. For instance, during the revolutionary war in China, Mao promoted patience as the cardinal virtue. But today, it is undeniably courage. Courage is the virtue that manifests itself, without regard for the laws of the world, by the endurance of the impossible. It’s a question of holding the impossible point without needing to account for the whole of the situation: courage, to the extent that it’s a matter of treating the point as such, is a local virtue. It partakes of a morality of the place, and its horizon is the slow reestablishment of the communist hypothesis.

Friday, January 8, 2010

28January 1st Theory Meeting 11-1pm

We are pleased to announce that our first meeting will be held in the CONFERENCE ROOM in NIRSA - JOHN HUME BUILDING, 3rd FLOOR- NUIM NORTH CAMPUS, THURSDAY 28th January 2010 from 11 to 1pm. All welcome!!!! We decided to leave this session open ended, it is though as a 'moment of encounters'to see who will be interested, how many and to outline our views on the theory group...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

things never are where we think them to be

Entering the abstact thinking!!!!
Thoughts on theory

The below lines introduced by dots are not to be read as a logical sentence but more to be considered as a thought process that will or may not end somewhere else when developed fully.

...While thinking of the repetition of the past and the repetition of the present that create a difference of the now, in reading Deleuze’s difference and repetition, I suggest that it is a rhythm of two beats–pause-two beats. Though the pause in the middle is an actualization, the third hidden term, sign, element, concept, caesura, interstitial...

The main reason I believe theory should be considered in first place, if we want to pursue an academic carrier, is not only to be an embellishment to put beside our scroll or a line on our curriculum vitae, rather engaging with theory can be looked metaphorically as the place were ideas start to germinate and our perception of life starts to manifest meaningfully.

'A theory does not totalize; it is an instrument for multiplication and it also multiplies itself [...] theory is by nature opposed to power'(Deleuze 1977a: p.208)

If we think of theory as opposed to power we can start to perceive how much space we have around things, how much space in society there is for refelection and debates.
But also, we can also start to think of the actual quote and see how power is understood by us and in the space we are into.

Friday, October 23, 2009


In Social Sciences one can observe the tendency to separate empirical research from the discussion of its general philosophical conditions, which are frequently just alluded to or taken for granted - but never seriously, critically engaged with. At the end of the day, accurate theoretical enquiry doesn’t really seem to be part of the ‘game’ in many departments.
We believe that primacy of practical as well as methodological/normative concerns responds to the defensive necessity of strengthening the ‘scientific status’ and the identitarian boundaries of Social Sciences. Indeed these disciplines, apart from being intrinsically controversial and to a certain extent uncertain, are also facing a profound epistemological crisis - the same crisis announced by Foucault around 1966 in the last chapter of The Order of Things.
The result of what one could describe as a ‘theoretical/philosophical decline’ in favour of a more standardized technical approach is reflected in the large amount of academic papers and communications, which are repetitive, superficial, dry, intellectually un-stimulating, largely descriptive and speculative but definitely poor in thought.
Considering that one of the main aims of philosophy is the projection of thought beyond existent epistemological configurations, we believe that it constitutes a source from which social sciences cannot abstain from drawing inspiration. Indeed as for philosophy, the aim of research in social sciences should be that of continuously, critically, dynamically reinventing itself and its objects.
The awareness of a theoretical lack within our academic reality induced us, a collective of PhD students, to organize an independent, autodidactic initiative. The aim is to fill this lack (and counter the technical/normative turn) with autonomous, student-lead roundtables where new original outcomes of contemporary philosophy may be discussed, with a special emphasis on ‘continental’ thinkers. While researching new possible articulations between philosophy and social sciences, students’ own individual projects will be considered as being integral part of the discussion.

Through sharing knowledge and ideas as well as the occasional intervention of guests coming from other institutes, the Theory Discussion Group establishes itself as a new intellectual platform, open to the participation of all students.

Alessandro Zagato

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Meeting again 3pm THIS FRIDAY 23rd October 2009 - Venue classhall C arts building North Campus NUIM

During this meeting we will give a synopsis of our research projects and the theoretical frameworks we are drawing upon