Theory, Academia and the IAS
When I was asked to write on the topic of "the academicization of radical theory" my first thought was that this issue has recently become a standard preoccupation among progressive academics. They are now expected to show concern about academias effect on theory - otherwise known as the theory/practice problem - and typically sprinkle self-conscious, ironic remarks about the inaccessibility of their ideas before they inchoately present these still inaccessible ideas.
But is there a unique perspective that anarchists can bring to this topic? Since so much theory is produced within the university system today, it is important for anarchists to gain clarity on the repercussions of this development. Although I have no absolute answers to these questions, I will draw upon my experience as a conflicted doctoral student in one of the USs first Womens Studies/Feminist Theory Ph.D. programs and offer some thoughts on the inadequate progressive solutions to the " academicization of radical theory" problem.
Academic Feminism and Accessibility
In my program and beyond, I have encountered many vaguely defined progressive academics who pretend to be concerned about the insularity of academic feminist theory, but positively emphasize how university resources have allowed it to become more sophisticated. This balanced "pros and cons" view ignores the serious sacrifices that are made when theory is done in a university setting. These sacrifices include accessibility, radical, political passion, and relevance to all socially marginalized people, especially those impoverished by global capitalisms international division of labor.
Although it is common for todays academic feminists and progressive academics to bemoan the academicization of theory, and the powerful bureaucracies of their respective institutions, in the same breath, most will defensively call critics of academic theory "anti-intellectuals." On this basis, that wrongfully confuses a critique of insular academic theory with anti-intellectualism, they conclude that they would rather their theories be isolated than not exist at all. And in concluding this, they then seek political engagement in a few standard ways.
Standard Progressive Solutions
But these are false solutions to an increasingly false problem: academic isolation vs. political involvement. Given that humanities programs are losing funding and that there are no large scale radical movements in the US, the polarity between theoretical isolation and political engagement has to be rethought. One cannot be isolated in fields and programs that are underfunded or under attack. In fact, the "downsizing" of humanities programs, the abolition of tenure, the growth of adjunct "temp services" and the exploitation of graduate student labor, to name just a few developments that characterize the contemporary university system, have burst the younger academics professionalized bubble. These and other institutional developments that Russell Jacoby describes in his widely circulated The Last Intellectuals and his more recent Dogmatic Wisdom are becoming more pervasive than ever.
Many young anarchists of the post-New Left generation are involved on some level with the acquisition of higher degrees, and many teach at universities for a variety of reasons including the most obvious one - its a job. Is it misguided to think that one can sustain a passion for teaching and writing radical theory and involve themselves in the university-craft required by this job? And if she does follow this path, according to what criteria can her theoretical work be deemed "too academic" and out of touch? There are no universal criteria to judge these questions, but they need to be addressed in a way that is different than the standard progressive academic solutions of resigned academic isolation, committee activism or after school activism. The best response is not to seek quick fixes, pet answers or secure ripostes to todays complex reality of institutionalized theory. We must all be suspicious of others selling out, but also of our own motives for engaging academia or not.
Intellectual Criteria and the IAS
The question about who to fund gets even more complicated when we take into account the social and class differences of our applicants. Since a middle-class writer has more intellectual leisure time than a welfare mother or a prisoner, how do we assess the relative merits of their projects and their applications? Merely awarding money to people whose writing complies with objective intellectual standards will not suffice. We must also begin establishing preconditions for intellectual work that reflects the vast array of people and issues that have been historically ignored. For example, to say that we will fund more women or Hispanic writers when we receive high quality applications from them, ignores one serious way that socio-economic oppression operates: it divorces people from intellectual resources, like free time and a well-rounded education. If we ignore the struggle that a poor person undergoes to find a "room of ones own" to study and write, then we do nothing to challenge how social oppression is reinforced through intellectual hierarchies. Clearly, we must have some general intellectual standards, but what, besides a writers politics, constitutes a revolutionary, intellectual criteria? Although intellectual objectivism is not a radical solution, intellectual relativism is no solution either.
Our funding track record reveals that the IAS boards current strategy is to fund a variety of writing projects with differing strengths and weaknesses. We have funded people from various social and class backgrounds. We have funded professors, graduate students, community activists, anarchist activists, and the rare radical intellectual who has resisted the seductions of academic professionalism. But, cultivation of diversity - social, political, and intellectual - will take us only so far. Although there are no simple solutions to the problems I address in this article, we should not forget that our biggest problems will arise if we become complacent in our ambiguity and reluctantly accept the circumstances handed to us.
Need a new car? Everyone knows that citations are the index of academic success. Without them youll never get that raise you need, secure a tenured position, or receive lush advances from academic publishers. You have worked hard to get were you are. You have compromised your principles, stood aloof from the most glaring social injustices, and you always recycle. Why shouldnt you, after all this, get a little comfort?
Dont let footnotes prevent you from getting the salary you deserve! We have the solution for you at Citations for Sale. For a small fee, well write an essay that cites your work over and over again, no matter how irrelevant or convoluted it may be. Moreover, we guarantee that this essay will be published in a trendy academic journal or youll get your money back. For a slightly larger fee, well even present your work at elite academic conferences.
How do we do it? Well, as the recent controversy at Social Text shows, editors hardly read the works they publish. Secondly, as graduate students, we know how to write the gibberish necessary to survive in academia. Besides, its guaranteed.