Max Haiven’s response to “Abolitionist University Studies: An Invitation”

  1. The university is already being abolished. On whose terms will abolition occur? Necessarily, the university-as-such (the ideal institution to which all actually-existing institutions genuflect) will be abolished by the very system that it helped to reproduce: neoliberal, financialized, (neo)colonial, cis-heteropatriatchal racial capitalism. As the Invitation makes clear, this has occurred at a number of points throughout the history of the university. What is being built today in the ruins is a vehicle for racialized social sorting, a laboratory for new forms of labour exploitation, and a machine for encumbering a whole (re-)proletarianized generation with unpayable debts. Yet is another end of the academic world possible? What would it take to seize this moment of crisis and transition and leverage it towards collective liberation? What are the pivot-points of such a leveraging? Or is the strategy one of exodus?
  2. Is an abolitionist university studies:
    (a) the application of abolitionist thought to the study of the university institution?
    (b) the forms of abolitionist study that take place in (spite of) the university?
    (c) the study of how the university is entangled with the prison-industrial complex, and the fight against it?
    (d) practices of study for the abolition of the university (as we know it)?
    (e) all of the above?
    (f) none of the above?
  3. One key question of abolitionist thought seems to me to be: what does the prison falsely claim to offer that it can, as an institution, adhere such support, fidelity and faith? What does the prison (falsely) promise to society (or segments of society)? To what false problem does it insist it is the only realistic solution? How does it, itself, perpetuate that problem, and a (mis)understanding of that problem? What happens when we apply these questions to the university? And most importantly, from an abolitionist perspective, how can we, here and now, deprive the university (or aspects of the university) of resources such that other solutions to better problems become irresistible? How can we renovate our desires that we have been taught to imagine can be met by the university, desires that the university constantly betrays or manipulates? What do we need to abolish inside ourselves in order to abolish that on which the university preys? What will take its place?
  4. Why is it that, at precisely the moment when the university-as-such has revealed itself to be little more than an organ of debt-driven racial capitalism, when its operative myths seem everywhere discredited or weaponized against workers, why at this moment has it become the staging-ground for a resurgent fascistic spectacle? The university, like no other institution, has gleaned the ire and become the target of far-right and revanchist racist pantomimes of protest in the name of “defending” freedom of speech. Reactionary media is full of click-bait outrage-inducing stories decrying the latest pathology of the allegedly “liberal” university, now fallen to deplatforming trans antifa snowflake social justice warriors.  Somehow, we must link the shifting place of the university under racial capitalism to the revanchist reactionary fantasies that make it their target. Why is it that, today, the fate of university so captivates the public imagination that it can become the stage for a broader cultural war over the future of racial capitalism?
  5. How do we move from the dream of a different university to the dream of a society without universities? How do we plant the seeds of that society here and now? To what extent can those of us within (even against and beyond) the university even have such dreams? Or maybe more accurately, how do we imagine a society that no longer needs the university, or where the needs that are today met by the university are met otherwise?

Max Haiven is an organizer and works as Canada Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice at Lakehead University in Anishinaabe territories (Thunder Bay, Canada). Re co-directs RiVAL: The ReImagining Value Action Lab and is working on a book about revenge.

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