Over at Governing through Crime, UC Professor Jonathan Simon has some provocative words for those participating in the current 3-day UC strike:
….We ought to be united in mobilization to save higher education in California. But in choosing to make the fight a convenient and ideologically satisfying (but for the most part phony) story about privatization, down-sizing, and pernicious, corporate minded university leadership, UC’s unions and their student and faculty allies are missing a historic opportunity to engage our fellow citizens in a critical dialog about our state’s future.
That future has been mortgaged to expensive dysfunctional prisons and a bipartisan law-enforcement establishment that is committed to mass incarceration at any price. But across three decades in which that project of exiling tens of thousands of largely poor and minority Californians to a prison archipelago of mammoth proportions (which yet remains grotesquely overcrowded) has been constructed, the supporters of higher education in this state have remained silent, assuming that the incarceration of people who don’t go to college anyway is not our problem. Now the chickens have come home to roost.
via Governing through Crime: Strike Against Prisons not Education.
I think Simon is dead on here, and offers a framing that explains some of the ambivalence I’ve had about the political mobilization that’s been developing.
Most of that ambivalence, I think, revolves around my hesitation at some of the explanatory narratives that have been used as organizational and motivational tools by unions and protesters… what Simon calls the”convenient and ideologically satisfying (but for the most part phony) story about privatization, down-sizing, and pernicious, corporate minded university leadership”.
Part of what I’ve been trying to point out, both vis-a-vis the strike and in my work on French policing, is that–as both Max Weber and Walter Benjamin have shown–all politics is necessarily about violence. This includes, especially includes, such mundane acts of governance as budgetary allocations. As everyone from Michel Foucault to Nikolas Rose have also tried to show, these decisions are literally choices between life and death. This is one aspect of what scholars are referring to when they talk about the biopolitical.
On the other hand, Californians are not completely comfortable with this violence and, for good reasons which I’ve also tried to explore, have tried to devise ways to limit it as much as possible.
What Jonathan’s work in Governing through Crime has shown, however, is that one of the few remaining–maybe the only remaining–domain in which the violence of governance seems legitimate to American voters is in the domain of crime control and punishment. It therefore has become the trope through which all American governance is filtered.
What we’re left with is, on the one hand, a massively inflated, impractical and unjust incarceration system and–importantly–on the the other hand, no way of conceiving any other legitimate form of governance.
This is not a question of corporate greed versus educational egalitarianism, or even good guys versus bad guys (as much as I’d like to hate on Mark Yudof along with everyone else), but of finding a way–literally–of justifying the very real kinds of violence involved in supporting education; of including higher education into the political calculus of life and death.