A response by Sara Motta to “Abolitionist University Studies: An Invitation” Click here to watch a video of Sara Motta’s lecture, “The (im)possibility of Decolonising the University.” The main lecture is from about 7:00 to 46:10 minutes, followed by Q&A. This lecture was given at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam (The […]
Abolitionist University Studies: An Invitation is the text I wish I had when I finished my MA program in higher education and began my doctoral program in educational foundations six years ago. Even more intensely than Critical University Studies, higher education as a field of study is invested in the intrinsic benevolence of the university. While universities are hardly presumed to be perfect, the assumption of the field is they can and should be reformed, and the field-imaginary is shaped by an imperative of continual progress and inclusion. The idea that universities might be so entangled with racial capitalist violence and extractive ecocidal practices that they are beyond reform is, essentially, unthinkable.
I began my work in this area with a particular interest in problematizing narratives that framed neoliberal capitalism as the root of all contemporary problems with higher education and lacked a longer historical memory about the problem of capitalism itself in higher education. I found the field of higher education generative in many ways, but overall inhospitable to the kinds of conversations that I was seeking, and the kinds of questions I had but could not yet clearly articulate. Thus, I turned to Indigenous, Black, and anti-colonial scholarship in an effort to ask what a decolonizing and abolitionist perspective could bring to the study of higher education. This work offered important analytical tools for deconstructing both scholarly and popular imaginaries of higher education. In particular, it prompted me to think about what continued to go unthought in the study of universities – especially, as the authors of this text note, its “shifting regimes of accumulation that constitute the university as such.”
Ultimately, what started as a concern about the limitations of my own field became a more generalized “radar” for the unthought, including within radical scholarship. This is an imperative to both continue to make visible what we would rather not see, and to continue with a Spivakian commitment to undertake a “persistent critique of what we cannot not want.” It is in this spirit, and from a place of deep gratitude and respect for the conveners of this gathering and authors of this abolitionist text, that I put forward two possible (and, in my mind, related) topics of conversation for further collective consideration: the psycho-affective dimensions of abolitionist work, and its pedagogical challenges.