Monday, June 06, 2011
The Great Moving On Up Show posted by Richard Seymour
It is difficult to take such protestations of humanistic intent entirely at face value since we're talking about a profit-making enterprise which has attracted support from city investors. In all likelihood, it will be one with extremely well-paid professors and lecturers, since the logic of the market says you have to be willing to pay the best to attract the talent. And this institution, as we'll see in a moment, is all about bringing the stars. Further, the policies of marketisation in higher education that produced this scenario have been encouraged by, and greatly enriched, the sorts of high-flying academics, vice-chancellors and such that can be expected to do very nicely out of this. Still, the rationale adduced above is not entirely hollow. The privatization and concentration of educational assets among the rich and the middle classes has been pursued and incentivised by this and previous governments, whose deliberate underfunding of higher education and introduction of the fees system created the stimulus for this development. The Right, and their friends in industry, have been desperate to reproduce elites in education against a background of rising standards. Too many graduates with first class or 2.1 degrees, and too many good A Level results, constitutes a crisis for capital because there just aren't the positions in the jobs market to accomodate all these highly qualified individuals. Thus, access to elite status must be rationed, and they're going to ration it through pricing.
So, now we know what some were thinking when all those conferences entitled 'Whither the humanities?' were being held. The decidedly unglamorous, increasingly dilapidated and proletarianised world of higher education in the future, is not for the intellectual superstars to be trapped in. The luminaries of Channel 4 television, book charts, BBC radio and newspaper columns were never going to fester away in such unrewarding sticks for too long - they would either move to America, where they know how to reward celebrity dons properly, or Americanise the British academy. In this case, they have not only Americanised, not only gone Wall Street - they've gone Hollywood.
Look at the enticing line-up: AC Grayling, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Simon Blackburn, Peter Singer, Niall Ferguson, etc.... all of these are best-selling authors, some of them with television careers. They are unlikely to be directly involved in teaching for the most part, just as you generally won't find Bruce Willis chopping mushrooms in the kitchen of Planet Hollywood. Their names are there mainly for branding. Though couching its pitch in a sort of traditional bourgeois humanism, promising one-to-one attention and all-round education, the college is largely trading on a far less august form of cultural capital - viz. the reputation these celebs enjoy as purveyors of middlebrow 'learning'. Essentially, with this profit-making institution, which leeches from the resources of the public sector in more ways than one, rich parents are offered the option of sending their duller children to a sort of cross between Hogwarts and International Celebrity Mastermind. It's the Waterstones '3 for 2' book deal syndrome: if their money can't get them into Oxbridge for some reason, then in this 'Oxbridge of London' rich students will consort with the people whose books Ma and Pa have picked up in Waterstones from the '3 for the price of 2' (cheapest free) table. Indeed, AC Grayling, the founder of the college, is the author most recently of 'The Good Book', which is advertised as a secular bible. It may at least now be assumed that nothing in this bible rubs against the grain of bourgeois values, or of profiteering (which fact alone, by the way, makes it a pretty useless bible). Indeed, it surely isn't coincidental that the celebrity scholars involved largely tend to converge around a complacent celebration of the virtues of Anglo-American liberalism. And why wouldn't they celebrate, and why wouldn't their students? There has been much for them to cheer about.
AC Grayling's lecture at Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road, which is to take place at 6pm tomorrow, would be an ideal opportunity to register your disapprobation.