It is not uncommon to hear criticisms of the university today. From the right, the university is seen as nothing more than a mere liberal bastion or hotbed for leftist ideological indoctrination. And from the left, the university is considered nothing more than a factory, part and parcel of the military-industrial complex, or a mere puppet of corporate control. The centrality of corporate, neoliberal logics, ideologies of managerialism and excellence, and the universalization of individualist policies over and above public purposes all seem to indicate that the university is undergoing a major identity crisis. What many of these analyses fail to recognize is the underlying educational logic at work in higher education—a logic that informs both conservative and progressive analyses of the university. Building on the work of Giorgio Agamben, we present a critical analysis of the connections between the university’s educational logic of learning, the rise of student debt, and neoliberalism. We then suggest studying as an alternative model of university education that suspends the economy of learning and its connections with debt. To further expand upon Agamben’s ontological analysis of study as a state of educational potentiality, we explore its political and economic dimensions through a psychoanalytic-Marxist framework. In particular, we draw upon Marxist notions of reification to understand how learning and debt are lived by the student, and in turn, how Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic notion of dehiscence provides a way in which the student can experience studying as a dereified expression of educational life. The result will be a theory of study that is capable of undermining educational investments made by and through neoliberalism into learnification.
The Studious University: A Marxist-Psychoanalytic Groundwork
David I. Backer is a visiting assistant professor of social foundations of education at Cleveland State University. His research focuses on postcapitalist relations of production and educational communication. His books include Elements of Discussion (2015), a practical, critical, and theoretical handbook on facilitating discussion, and The Yolk and Other Stories (2014), a collection of short fiction. He is also codirector of the Latin American Philosophy of Education Society (lapes.org).
Tyson E. Lewis is an associate professor of art education at the University of North Texas. He has published widely in journals such as Rethinking Marxism, Cultural Critique, Symploke, Review of Radical Philosophy, and theory@buffolo on the intersections between critical theory, educational philosophy, and aesthetics. His most recent books include On Study: Giorgio Agamben and Educational Potentiality (2013) and The Aesthetics of Education: Theatre, Curiosity, and Politics in the Work of Jacques Ranciere and Paulo Freire (2012).
David I. Backer, Tyson E. Lewis; The Studious University: A Marxist-Psychoanalytic Groundwork. Cultural Politics 1 November 2015; 11 (3): 329–345. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-3341936
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