TIM MURRAY: Good afternoon. I'm Tim Murray. I am the director of the Society for the Humanities, which house I think you all know well. And it's my tremendous pleasure this afternoon to welcome back to Cornell this afternoon's featured SAT speaker Professor Chris Newfield of the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Although lakes, trees, and summer humidity at the Finger Lakes may seem unsettling to visitors accustomed to the bright expanses of the Pacific Ocean, Chris Newfield knows our sticky breezes all too well from his stent as a doctoral student in the Cornell English department from which he received his Ph.D. in 1988, I believe. How wonderful to have you back, Chris. And I'd like to thank Amanda Anderson and Kent Defriese of SCT for permitting your old friends to enjoy your lecture at Cornell this afternoon.
My earliest recollections of Chris were in the form of favorable rumors circulating in the hallways of Goldwin Smith Hall about his forceful research and writing on Emerson that resulted in his first monograph in Chicago, The Emerson Effect, Individualism and Submission in America. Feels kind of like an SAT introducer.
Even back then, before he developed into the country's leading spokesperson for the benefits of communal in public education, he argued that self determination and Emersonian individualism is accompanied by a submission to authority that weighs heavily on the history of American liberalism. This is because Chris analyzes Emerson's emphasis on collective or corporate world building rather than private possession tracing the development of this corporate individualism, he illumins contradictions in Emerson's political outlook and the conjunctions of liberal and authoritarian ideology that they produced.
Now this would come as no surprise to those of you who are familiar with his later books and collections that so incredibly lead our critical thinking about the history, role, and corporatization of higher education in America and abroad. Consider, for instance, how his book Ivy and Industry Business and the Making of the American University 1888 to 1980, Duke 2003, emphasizes how profoundly the American research university has been shaped by business and humanities alike.
Tracing the major trends in the intellectual and institutional history of the research university from 1880 and 1980, Chris here pays particular attention to the connections between the changing forms and demands of American business and the cultivation of the university trained middle class. He contends that by viewing its staff and students with seemingly opposed ideas of self development on the one hand and of an economic system existing inviolate of its own activity on the other, the university, the university has created a deeply conflicted middle class.
Now the results of this conflict are spelled out in vivid detail in Chris's subsequent monograph, Unmaking the Public University, the 40 year Assault on the Middle Class, Harvard 2008, which was a Gold winner of the 2008 Book of the Year Award by Forward magazine. Here Chris traces how the American dream of equal access to higher education has become a broken promise. Unmaking the Public University argues that the financial and political crises of public universities are not the results of economic downturns or of ultimately valuable restructuring but of a conservative campaign to end public education's democratizing influence on American society.
So consistent with this earlier account of corporate individualism and Emerson, Chris's research reveals how conservatives have maligned and restructured public universities, deceiving the public to serve their own ends. Most recently, Chris Newfield has developed into the voice of ever welcome sanity in debates over the value of the humanities in the liberal arts.
Rather than adopting either the defense and posture of the anxious humanist or the utilitarian argument so prevalent in the beleaguered halls of the humanities, Chris turned to numbers and metrics to prove so compellingly that the humanities actually provide the cheapest and most efficient contributions to the university.
This is a case Chris made last year as a plenary speaker at the annual conference of the International Consortium of Humanity Centers and Institutes and one that I'm sure many of you have encountered in Chris's many manifestations in print, blog, and media.
Those of you clutching your handhelds are most likely to know Chris via his blog on higher education and policy and practice called Remaking the University or through his contributions on higher education and innovation policy as a regular blogger of the Huntington Post. Throughout the blogosphere, Chris Newfield has become the recognized voice of common, sensical responses to the so-called crisis in the humanities.
Now his exceptional contributions as a public intellectual cut in two important directions. First, they're informed by his incisive contributions to the conceptualization of American and cultural studies via his coedited collections After Political Correctness, the Humanities and Society in the 1990s with Rod Strickland and Mapping Multiculturalism with Avery Gordon, not to mention his tireless work as an editor of special journal issues such as The Humanities and the Crisis of the Public University, which he coedited as a special issue of Representation in 2011 and Rebuilding Public Universities, a special issue editor for Academe in 2011.
Second, they reflect his insight and innovation as a leading voice in the scientific humanities and as an academic leader at the University of California system. At UC Santa Barbara, he serves as a coprincipal investigator of the NSF award for the National Center for Engineering Sciences Center for Nanotechnology in Society. And Chris has served tirelessly throughout the University of California system especially on the university Committee on Planning and Budget, for which this Berkeley alumnus thanks him profoundly, and at UCSB as well on the divisional Committee on Affirmative Action and Diversity [INAUDIBLE] misters of the Supreme Court.
So rather than continue, though, to laud this thinker of innovation in higher education who also has taught at Rice, Duke, and the UC educational abroad programs at [INAUDIBLE] Bordeaux in Paris, I look forward to hearing the latest thoughts of this hero of Cornell and UC lore as Professor Chris Newfield speaks on the topic of what the humanities are for and why we should stop defending them. Welcome, Chris.
CHRIS NEWFIELD: Thanks. Thanks, Tim. I'm really happy to be here. That was a great introduction. It's really-- I was having flashbacks while you were talking. We'll try-- Let's tell Tim stories later.
I wanted to say a couple of things. First, the mini seminar, we're going to be reading primarily one of the chapters from this book. This is by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten. It is called The Undercommons, Fugitive Planning & Black Study. It's chapter two that I'd like us to primarily focus on. It's about 15 pages. The basic plan is to do a close reading of that chapter with chapter four, which is also, I think, in your reading in mind. Chapter five is more interesting than I realized the first time through. They make a distinction between policy and planning, which might be helpful for those of you that are interested in this larger project that they're involved in.
And then I would like us to spend part of the two hours, maybe the second half of it, batting around some ideas about our university, the one that we want, the next university, the alternative university, the autonomous university, whatever we'll have to name it and talk about it. We'll get started with a little bit of writing and some reading of this. And then we'll see where to go from there. So the chapter two is really the main-- going to be the main focus.
The other thing I want to do is to not only thank you for coming here but thank you for being in this profession with us. It's a uphill struggle in various financial as well as existential and psychological ways. I just want to say first of all, that I really remember this. Secondly, that senior faculty also still experience it in however a displaced way, the trauma and the confusion around the path that the whole profession is on.
And then thirdly, that I hope that we have a capacity collectively to honor ourselves individually and in the networks that we're forming in schools like this one for entering in to the issues that I really think are the destiny of humanity. So I want to thank you for being here with us in the larger professional, intellectual sense. I want to honor you for that, actually. So thank you. Gratitude. And OK, I'm going to start my clock, because I tend to talk.
OK. So these are the six chapters of thinking that we're going to be going through. This talk is about an hour long. And I'm just going to read in the interest of keeping within that time. I've been giving a lot of talks in the last few years about the crisis of the university. And I generally use these as opportunities to encourage some political economy of the humanities or what we might call institutional reflection. Our intellectual lives are inseparable, finally, from our institutions.
And for many years, I've been trying to help critical theory of the mind and the mind body analogy by engaging in theory of management, theory of budgets, theory of planning in relation to our academic body. What are these turbulent places, the spaces, the institutions in which our reading and teaching occurs?
I was giving one of these talks in Texas awhile back. Before we began, someone introduced himself to me and said, you're the guy who says we're destroying our public university systems. And I laughed and said, actually, I'm the guy who says that we succeeded. There's only one laugh. I mean, this is one of those humorless jokes, because I think it is quite not funny. Thank you, Tim, anyway.
With which I often find myself dealing with something that I care enormously about, the public university, that seems to be an irreversible decline and perversely so, because it's not just unable but is on the surface at least unwilling to save itself. I now think at the humanities fields can move forward only if we start from the idea that we have already ended our public universities as we know them. Obviously, the physical places go on. The sports programs, the admissions processes, the seminars, et cetera. But though the university carries on, the public foundations do not.
OK. So this is the first section, humanities as public value. We have lost our understanding. And I say we as sort of the American society. I think this is true also in Britain, to some extent France, certainly Germany, other places that I've been recently or spent some time, we have lost our understanding of the university as a public good. And the humanities has been a central victim.
Public good status was stripped by policy from English universities by the Cameron government that came to power in 2010 and with particular completeness in the humanities and social sciences where government teaching funding has been cut to zero. Politicians often describe the humanities as luxury goods. Art history for the President of the United States, anthropology for the governor of California, which for the governor's own daughter was in fact her college major.
They are however completely wrong. In reality, humanities rather than being luxury goods are humble public goods that have a constitutive role in the formation of individuals and societies. They are at the center of social reproduction. This poses both a political and an economic problem for the political class. Politically, humanities bring the common world to everybody and anybody.
For example, speaking personally, my mother, a first generation college student who'd grown up in Los Angeles, went to UC Santa Barbara when it was still a normal school that trained schoolteachers. Once there, her teacher education consisted of one English and continental literature course after another. This reading brought her out of her small west LA apartment life and into the world and changed her completely.
There's a power in this kind of humanities education that is given to anyone. We could call it autonomous reason. We could call it power over the composition of the lifeworld. We could call it a capacity to remake the ethos that shapes our work. In all this, politicians see our power. And they tremble. I'm joking in the same humorless way that I was joking before.
But economically, the humanities are public goods in ways that economists have completely misrepresented. The economic definition of public goods is a disaster. And we are one of the many victims of this confusion in their work as opposed to ours. They do have this term spillover. The humanities are almost all spillover into the public realm through a million unmeasurable pathways known as human beings. The value created by understanding Neo-Kantian philosophy or the Brooklyn literary Renaissance is hard to retain within the unit that produces it and to privatize it and commodify it.
Literature, composition, history, philosophy, and so on are forms of reproductive labor in the sense that feminist analysis revealed decades ago our capitalist universities, like capitalism in general, expect reproductive labor to be free or nearly free. This means that capital is generally unwilling to pay for it socially through public funding mechanisms. So when it turns out it costs real money to form Martha Nussbaum's creative capabilities or Amanda Anderson's long path of learning how to live, we get budgetary backlash.
The crisis of the humanities and the crisis of the university are at most points actually the same thing. One strategy has been in the last few years, really forever, going back to the time of the founding of Cornell, has been to defend the value of the humanities. And we are starting to do a better job of something slightly different of non defensive explainings of what the humanities do.
A leading example of this work is Helen Small, a Victorianist at Oxford, who has recently published an interesting and thorough book on the value of the humanities, which was favorably cited by the British Minister for Science and Universities, David Willetts, as mercifully free of victimology. OK. She defines the humanities as follows. It's this long quote. I'm mostly going to look at the bold.
The humanities studies study the meaning, making, practices of human culture past and present, focusing on interpretation and critical evaluation, primarily in terms of the individual's response and with an ineliminable element of subjectivity. She then goes on to helpfully distinguish the humanities from the quantitative methodologies that dominate the universities is, in the main humanities value, qualitative above quantitative reasoning. They place greater faith in interpretive than in positivistic thinking.
Unlike the sciences and the scientific wing of the social sciences, they do not have a dominant methodology. They therefore distrust proceduralism. They value independence of thought. They are oriented as much towards historical analysis as toward seeing chronic structural analyses and as much towards the medium of expression as towards its content. They attend to the role of the perceiver in ascertaining even the most philosophically secure of knowledge claims of anti foundationalism, which remains a scandal in the sciences. There's not been one for decades in the human sciences or in the humanities.
And they have an interest, often they also take pleasure, in the specificity of the object of study and the specificity of the individual response. Not least, they respect the products of past human endeavors and culture, even when supersede it.
OK. It's easy to take Helen Small's lucid descriptions and see the humanities as having their own territory, the making of meaning, and their own non methodology, which is interpretive reading. Small goes on to define four other values of the humanities to society, economic utility, which is minute, contributions to personal happiness, contributions to democracy, the formation of the democratic citizen, et cetera, and the intrinsic value of the humanities, their object, their practices, their life ways, et cetera, all of which matter for their own sake.
OK. I can't not agree with Small's claims. I see the humanities as public goods for the reason she describes and have familial and sociological evidence of the difference they make as well as many years of seeing how they affect the thinking and the personal being of my students. I want to emphasize, though, that none of these arguments work well as defenses of the humanities as Helen Small also says quite clearly.
Economic impact, happiness, democracy, and intrinsic value are all claimed by nearly every field. Economics has a lot to say about economic impact, psychology, or for that matter, environmental studies, about happiness, and every discipline has intrinsic value. So why the humanities? Helen Small scrupulously refrains from defense and in effect, asks her reader to ask why not the humanities? Whether we're going to fund them or not will finally be a public decision based on evidence, which Small's achievement is rigorously to provide.
OK. So I draw three initial conclusions from the discussion of-- this discussion of the humanities. First, we should all go about our work in the humanities as we have been doing, as Sian did yesterday afternoon, as everyone in this room is doing.
Second, we should get much better at avoiding defenses of the kind that are launched from Melanie Klein's depressive position where love and hatred have come closer together, producing ambivalence in which one fails to overthrow the oppressor because the overthrow would lead to one's own abandonment by that figure position. Humanities faculty worried about enrollments have, for example, failed to resist adjunctification of the humanities.
And the depressive position is part of the reason. Intellectually, another example, humanities faculty have not openly fought the subordination of qualitative methods to stem hegemony where quantitative methods propelled by concepts like big data are making major inroads in humanities topics, materials, and practices. We must now avoid depressive passivity in relation to these damaging trends among others.
My third conclusion is that as part of our non depressive and non defensive fighting back, we must supplement Helen Small's list of the value of the humanities with a value called the economy needs us. It's different from the impact of the first thing. Specifically, I'm going to argue here that the humanities can help reanimate our dearly departed friend, the public university, and help reanimate ourselves institutionally by getting the university ready for post capitalism. My topic today then is humanities based intervention into our disruptive capitalist innovation culture, which is interestingly also suffering serious decline.
Everybody OK? I feel like stopping for questions. But I'll keep going.
OK, two, the great surrender. My own sense of the need to theorize post capitalist academia comes from having a front row seat at capitalism's treatment of the university. As the 1980s wore on, the humanities, all forms of cultural knowledge, came under increasingly systematic attack. And these forms of knowledge were discredited in many segments of the wider society without anything like an actual debate taking place. This is the story of the culture wars that I told in Unmaking the Public University.
What also happened is that universities adapted to a changing budgetary landscape by privatizing themselves, which made what I call the budget wars more effective than they otherwise would have been. 30 years on, public university officials have largely given up on the high public funding that created public universities in the first place.
Although they said these-- our leaders-- that these losses could be made up with private funds from corporate research sponsors and wealthy donors, the post 2007 period has brought to everyone's attention that the only meaningful private source for covering public university operations are regular tuition increases, on average 4.2% per year above inflation for the last 10 years.
University officials have also executed a massive shift from permanent to contingent faculty, particularly at the less selective, less well funded colleges that the majority of American university students attend. By converting full time professor positions where a Ph.D. in publications are required into contingent jobs often filled by non doctoral faculty, officials have convinced the country that college teaching doesn't require a doctorate or tenure or long range skill development.
In addition to watering the product, adjuncting, and here I mean the practice, not the people, also splits teaching from research activities at the moment in history when they are most in need of integration. Public university leaders have put sociocultural, literary, and artistic fields in the backseat while science, technology, engineering, and mathematical disciplines, STEM, sit up front and have first crack at resources.
We know that actual solutions to international problems are largely not technological but are sociocultural, whether one is talking about confronting racial resegregation, reversing economic inequality, or mitigating climate change. And yet, sociocultural inquiry is what public university leaders have decided to shortchange with much encouragement from the country's low information political system.
I should add that humanities faculty have generally gone along with this. We have shown anger at extreme events like mass departmental closures. But we have generally consented to slow, pervasive resource erosion as Phil Lewis of the Mellon Foundation has pointed out. We have generated all sorts of prudential rhetoric that have helped us shrink our own fields. And we have reduced to graduate program admissions rather than working to increase demand for the graduates of our doctoral programs.
Humanities faculty have tolerated austerity for themselves and have not demanded the financial transparency that could determine whether austerity for us is actually necessary, which is not my subject today, it is not.
The tragic irony of these adaptive strategies is that public universities have not been rewarded for compromising themselves. To the contrary, seven years into a financial crisis that first surfaced in 2007, the financial state of public universities is more precarious than ever. To offer you a short list, public funding for student remains nearly 30% below its level in the late 1980s after adjusting for inflation. And the state lawmakers are promising never to bring it back.
Second, the tuition escape hatch is being nailed shut. The national student debt crisis has put unprecedented and justified pressure on universities not to raise tuition to make up for lost state funds.
Third, the bloom is off these alternative funding roses of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s of federal research grants and philanthropy. For different reasons, neither of them has compensated nor will ever compensate for budget cuts. And exasperation requires me to add that it took me and a group of faculty at UC years to convince the office of the president and the regents that that last sentence is true, that you couldn't just fill in the gap with philanthropy.
Fourth, this year's technological ride to the fiscal rescue, sorry, last year's, has collapsed. MOOCs, massive open online courses, which were to use Silicon Valley genius to eliminate college's cost disease by replacing instructors with screens. Higher ed had already spent 30 years cheapening its workforce with contingent faculty. So the wrong turnip was being squeezed. But it had the attraction of being a turnip that everyone had squeezed before.
So fifth, public university officials are now pushing harder on ever more marginal strategies, the most familiar being increasing the enrollment of non-resident students so as to capture double or triple fees. Universities are also trying to goose more royalties out of patenting programs and have increased institutional borrowing. The University of California's institutional debt has doubled just in the last five years.
Finally, most university administrators have forced their teaching staff to water down the instructional product. Bigger classes, even less time advising students individually, less time responding in detail to student work. And it was already pretty bad. We weren't really doing much of that in the first place.
In short, public universities continue to move through the stations of the privatization cycle that has simultaneously undermined fiscal solvency and damaged the public educational mission. So those are the things that I've just gone through.
Most voters now see public universities as fiscally unstable and overpriced and needy and decreating and not really preparing students for work. They often have an imprecise, that is the public, but unsettling sense that the central public goods provided by the public university have been canceled or shrunk. Few have much faith in the diminished university bridge between social challenges and non conservative solutions.
And why should they? Where is the inspiring public educational mission that could make an increasingly sub middle class population want to reinvest in public universities as places that imagine a just and enlightened society? Where's the blimp that says just and enlightened society on one side and Cornell University on the other? The great public missions need to be renewed as the world situation unfolds. And what we have done instead is to downsize existing missions, especially the humanistic and personal ones, to pursue technology development and economically functional skills, neither of which, ironically, command public confidence anyway.
And the book that I finished last year goes through the effective not fixing the situation that I just described, which is a devolutionary cycle. I'm not going to go through these steps. But I'll let you gaze at it for a minute. It's just-- it's-- basically the argument of this cycle is the privatization is not the cure. It's the disease. And I go through each of the steps in showing how it just basically is a whirlpool downward. The only thing fixing it really being public funding, public mission, and the kind of thing I'm going to talk about today. So there you have that.
Third section now, some critical theoretical responses. Some humanities critics have moved away from defending the humanities to making them part, humanities theory, part of a confrontation with what's hurting us. One of these folks is Judith Butler writing in a recent collection edited by Peter Brooks on the humanities and public life. And two others are Stefano Harney and Fred Moten in their set of reflections on the undercommons.
In her piece Ordinary Incredulous, Butler notes that the value of humanities education to the core functioning of society is so obvious that she finds herself stumbling in her effects to-- attempt to explain it. She lists some central defenses of the humanities much like the ones that Helen Small induces and offers a superb reading of a Kafka story in which classic literary critical attention to the way things are said reveals issues hidden by the content of what is said.
But she also notes that doing critical revaluation, humanity style does not in itself contest the assessment system in which, quote, "our very capacity for critically reevaluating is what cannot be measured by the metrics by which the humanities are increasingly judged." Butler's response is to engage the assessment system directly. Close reading one of her grant applications, he performs a nice deconstruction of the concept of the grants deliverable. So she concludes her pieces fall. Sorry, enough torture with this. And here she is.
So if we return to where we began with the question of how practitioners of the humanities can be more than or other than the objects of ruin, we now have a slightly different path. We find ourselves housed and displaced within language, with metrics of value that not only cannot gauge well what we do but have so monopolized the field of value that they threaten to consign what we do to oblivion.
What can those whose language is consigned to oblivion do? They can reenter the fray, open up the space between the language that has become obvious or self evident in the enormous loss it has already accomplished and still portends. That gap is the advent of an ethical relation not only to the past and the future but to the possibility of incredulity and astonishment when the value of the new regime of values has yet to be evaluated, including evaluated by itself. This means that we exercise critical judgment in the breach, reentering the obscure into the obvious, sorry, in order to affirm what is left between us still to lose to keep animated.
In this way, we militate for a sphere of audibility within which to pose our question and have it heard. What now is the value of our values? Those are my underlines. Butler's insistence that we reenter the fray is crucial. But the most important phrase here, at least for me, is that we militate for a sphere of audibility within which to pose our question and have it heard. Humanistic critical judgment, at which we are really good, must be complemented systematically with creating a sphere of audibility, which will acquire not only militating, which faculty in general do badly, but institutional reconstruction.
I would call the needed activity refounding. And I'd also call it organizing. We will need to organize as labor movements and civil rights movements have done before us for institutional change if we want our audibility for critique. We're going to have to build the sphere in which audibility takes place, which she's saying, which I think is correct, does not exist in this ruined public university.
Turning to Harney, sorry, Harney and Moten, we can ask is the Undercommons this counter institution? Or is it an outsider practice? Or is it an insider oppositionality? And we'll study the text carefully in our many seminars this week. So we can-- but I like to say some detail things here just framing things before we get into the details in the seminar.
One of the things to notice right up front is that Harney and Moten think that critical judgments, Butler's phrase, is the problem, not the solution. The university is chockfull of critical intellectuals. And the more they criticize, the more they neglect the victims of the university. So here's an early passage in our reading The University and the Undercommons. This is by Harney and Moten.
To be a critical academic in the university is to be against the university. And to be against the university is always to recognize it and be recognized by it and to institute the negligence of that internal outside, that unassimilated underground, a negligence of it that is precisely, we must insist, the basis of the professions. And this act of being against the capitalist university always already excludes the unrecognized modes of politics, the beyond the politics already in motion, the discredited criminal parallel organization, what Robin Kelley might refer to as an infrapolitical field and its music.
It is not just the labor of the maroons, of the escaped slaves, but their prophetic organization that is negated by the idea of intellectual space in an organization called the University. This is why the negligence of the critical academic is always, at the same time, an assertion of Bourgeois individualism.
So for Harney and Moten, critical academics like Judith Butler, like me, like all sorts of people, support the university system that we also want to reform and support it for Bourgeois reasons of high salaries, professional status, et cetera. We also support, in this process, the university against more marginalized and oppressed people including those who are oppressed inside it.
I'm sure you can think of simple examples of what they mean. My example of the former is faculty support for high selectivity. Faculty are as likely as any conservative lobby to equate high academic quality with high rates of exclusion at the admissions process and to prefer to teach UCLA students for example, rather than, say, Cal State Fullerton students, which are just as numerous at a state college down the road. UCLA now admits the same percentage of applicants that Harvard did 20 years ago. And yet UCLA faculty are not objecting to this exclusion of society's fugitive geniuses who end up getting sent somewhere else.
Harney and Moten note that the undercommons is also inside the university. And here, my example would be students subject to post affirmative action racial stigmatization in which students of color on the selective campuses with which I'm familiar do not generally feel like the university belongs to them. So it's a repeat of the critical academic exercising revalue to judgment is committed to the exclusion of the undercommons in Harney and Moten's reading. So Harney and Moten want to replace critical judgment with fugitive planning, a term that we're going to need a seminar, at least half of a seminar, to unpack.
So as the humanities confronts widespread institutional decline and the need to build its own future, we have critical judgment from Butler, fugitive planning from Harney Moten, to which I would ultimately add movement organizing in Jane [? McElleby's ?] sense that starts with raising expectations to break with the depressive position again. I depart from Harney Moten in seeing fugitive planning as the supplements of critical judgment and vice versa. As I see it, fugitive planning doesn't replace critical judgment for these two things have to operate together in the contradictory space that is the contemporary university.
OK so with this in mind, what kind of interventions might take place when the humanities fields stop defending themselves and enter the institutional fray for two crises for the capitalist university. Putting the humanities in the fray means, I believe, addressing the university as capitalist institution. Butler starts with audit culture, an instrument of arm's length managerealism. And Harney Moten begin with the corruption of professionalism as a form of collective self governance.
My particular interest here is with the university's special role within capitalism as a site of innovation. Innovation almost always means technological innovation, preferably disruptive technology. Today's university dutifully demotes internal units that can't present themselves as innovative, which often means the humanities. In addition, the capitalist university offers students the opportunity to develop their human capital and make themselves into successful wage earners in the employment markets.
The human capital economist Gary Becker called universities firms that specialize in the production of training. The university is actually many things and is a contradictory site, as I've said, of build inner self development as much as of economic skilling. But the contradiction has been forced towards closure as capitalist rationales have come to dominate the universities two core areas of teaching and research.
But here's the catch. In the current period, these rationales are eroding away. University officials have always argued that a bachelor's degree is the key to economic productivity, both for the individual and the society. Reality is now beginning to change. I don't mean that college doesn't offer wage premium to those who graduate. It clearly does. And going to university remains a semi mandatory investment in one's personal economic future. But the university can no longer claim the impact on general overall quality of life for the non elite population that it could claim in the post-war period when people wanted to pay for it through taxes.
The way that I put this is that the US corporate financial and political system has canceled the productivity bargain that underlay middle class capitalism. The productivity bargain was that if you invest time and effort to increase your personal productivity by graduating from university, you would be rewarded with a standard of living to match.
As you became more productive, your wages would increase. This thing we call the middle class reflected not the increased value of the college graduate labor relative to high school labor. It reflected a link between the increasing economic value of society's labor and the share of the economy or the value created that went to labor.
The university was at the middle of a deal, a mid century deal, in which income was divided between capital and labor such that labor got a pretty good and also an increasing return. For a few decades, economic growth benefited labor as much as it benefited capital. Since the publication of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century, we started to call this g being greater than r, where growth of the economy was in that period greater than returns to capital. I prefer, for our purposes of focus, on returns to labor productivity and follow Lawrence [? Michel ?] instead.
Look at the bargain in this slide the bottom half. And then look what happened to it. So this is called a [? Michel ?] wedge. It divides the postwar period, basically, into two halves, '45 to '75 and '75 to the present. And it's just-- I'm sorry, it's kind of a revolutionary change, the silent revolution, that people are only beginning to really process and understand. What it means, in a phrase, is that learning no longer equals earning for all non college graduates, and that's certainly true, and also for a growing share of college grads as well.
University leaders may know, but do not say, that a university degree is less the promise of a good life than an ante into a competition in which university enrollments around the world have doubled in 10 years and in which the new global standard for knowledge workers is not high skill, high wage jobs but high skill, low wage jobs.
Most graduates of premium brands like Cornell, the double Ivys as I think of them, some premier research flagships, public flagships, famous liberal arts colleges, will still scramble to the new commanding heights of the knowledge economy or at least belong to the top 20% of incomes that have not been affected by the 30 year stagnation of wages overall. But this is the future for elites, not the future for the intelligent multitude emerging from our thousands of public colleges and universities.
One waits for the head of the major public research university to point this out, for example, for the anthropologist Nicholas Dirks, now chancellor of UC Berkeley, to say that public university funding cuts are IMF structural adjustment applied to the US' own population. But so far, one waits in vain. This is clear? What this means, the-- OK.
So the first crisis of the capitalist university is that the university no longer contributes to building a broad, fully multiracial, consistently self improving middle class. A few dozen universities still offer escape from a society that is becoming post middle class, while a few thousand colleges offer submersion in it. The second crisis affects university research, whose sole public justification now is economic impact through innovation. The problem is that our innovation theory is not actually working as advertised.
Here's another hideous graph, trade balance in high technology goods for selected regions, with the dropping dark blue line being the United States, the soaring red line being Asia, nine countries, green being China broken out of that group, and the Japan lighter blue, and then the EU being the somewhat struggling but not quite so bad as the US. This figure comes from this very high level report that was submitted to Barack Obama in 2011 called the report to the president on ensuring leadership in advanced manufacturing.
You know whenever a report says ensuring, it means getting back, because in fact, what this chart shows, sorry, is that-- it's not Joseph Schumpeter-- but the fact that we've already lost it. Americans have become innured to our colossal trade deficit, which sums up trade in all types of goods. This chart is only of goods that the US considers central to its innovation economy, based in most cases on science done in the US.
What we see is the economic value of technological innovation is in decline here. Most more high tech goods are being imported from somewhere else than are being exported. China's a stand out. So are the Asian nine countries. The US, in spite of its obsession with STEM fields and its obsession with turning inventions into businesses, shows the largest decline.
So the ironic, dismaying result of the endless stoking of the fires of tech innovation has been a decline in the country's level of economically realized innovation. I can't demonstrate this decline here. But it has become an open secret in mainstream work and innovation economics. Officials focused on orthodox competitiveness began to produce work like the high profile National Academies of Science report 2005, Rising Above the Gathering Storm and recommended major reforms.
A follow up report three years later noted that the recommendations of the 2005 report had been followed only in the US' rivals. And a 2010 sequel suggested little progress in areas such as improving educational attainment in STEM fields, which of course, is their main focus. In 2009, a Newsweek cover story as Can America Still Innovate, its author Fareed Zakaria, not known for his skepticism about the American way of life, likened the US to a star that still looks bright in the farthest reaches of the universe but is burned out at the core.
The economist Robert J Gordon wrote a series of widely noted papers including a 2012 piece called Is Economic Growth Over, where he argued that the knowledge economy will continue to deliver about half the growth that industrialization had.
There was a book written that same year with an innocent sounding title, Innovation Economics, by two tech policy experts, which note that the US has let every element of its innovation infrastructure decline and show that it is losing key industries like liquid crystal displays, advanced batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, solar modules, my particular obsession, with a reckless abandon that should remind us of England's decline after World War II.
These and many other gloomy analyses prepare the ground for the American reception of Piketty, which among other things, and this book that has claimed that the Western golden age after World War II was the exception to capitalist development and not the rule.
OK. So we're on to five, the trouble with disruption. So the question is what is going on here? The simplest explanation for US decline is that the game has shifted to sustainable long range innovation. And humanities is really there in ways I'm going to wind up explaining a bit. And disruptive innovation American style simply can't keep up. So the old model, not the next one.
Disruptive innovation is a term associated with the business consultant Clayton Christensen. And you may have seen Jill Lepore's takedown of him in The New Yorker a few weeks ago. Did anybody read that piece? It was kind of amazing that she took him on in that totally direct way. He is a God in consultancy world with a capital G.
I did a follow up on innovation theory as a form of control rather than a mode of creativity sort of as an attempt to keep this debate going. And if any of you are interested in either reading this stuff or participating in it, adding to it, I'd be more than happy to help support that. It's probably more familiar though for the general reader in the form of the columns of the New York Times writer Thomas Friedman, who in his 1990s blockbuster The Lexus and the Olive Tree.
And it basically-- everything he's written since argues that social protections and cultural traditions impede progress. So to have nice cars and smartphones, we must turn away from or even chop down the olive tree and fire the public workers who were watering it. All of the issues humanities fields analyze, white supremacism, nationalism, neocolonialism, heteronormativity, aporetic signification, cultural activism against climate change, simply get in the way of technological process and processes, sorry, yeah, and should have their places minimized and pushed to the edges of any institution that needs to put up with it.
The father figure of this kind of thinking continues to be this man that you saw a minute ago, Joseph Schumpeter, the mid 20th century economist. As you may know, his trademark concept was creative destruction. And I think I have that quotation here. Schumpeter became the Marx of the master class by putting technological innovation at the center the capitalist system.
His cultural influence was also enormous, since his theory had technology coming from entrepreneurs who always stood in opposition to existing economies and societies in opposition to labor absolutely, usually in opposition also to capital. To be new, to add value, the entrepreneur had to disrupt all of these things. So for Schumpeter, progress required not the toleration but the embrace of economic, social, and cultural destruction. Detroit today serves as an illustration of a process that he thought was inevitable and progressive. So do these guys. Bono with Bill Gates, who's wearing the same jacket as Schumpeter was before. You can't actually see that. And photo-- also these guys, Zuckerberg and Brin, the two amazing moguls at the top of these empires.
The logic-- the thinking can be broken down, crap, sorry, on this slide, which I won't plod you through. But I just-- I want to emphasize a couple of pieces of this. Technology in the middle but then basically different ways in which everything that creates stability and continuity and sustainability has to be vulnerable to whatever the entrepreneurial structure calls for.
There's not-- someone like Christensen is not really a theorist of what happens in the black box of creativity. He's finally a theorist and sometimes just even a poeticist for the power of top down knowledge management, always siding with someone who is labeled as an entrepreneur against these other forces which essentially have to be pushed aside.
The one that's particularly important, well, the last two are really important. One is it's a justification for crazy levels of inequality. But the other is that real innovation always involves replacing human labor with technology, including replacing creative labor. So a summary of this is that all human and cultural factors are a drag on capitalist dynamism. And that means that basically on the Western pathway of capitalism, as I'm going to call it in a second, as routed through the valley of Schumpeterian innovation, human labor is always to be stepped over.
We are familiar with this process in universities. Unitarian Schumpeterian reverence for tech disrupters and contempt for labor, including knowledge labor, appeared in the MOOC wave of 2012-13 whose leaders claimed always at the top administrative level that live professors impaired learning. This kind of entrepreneurial supremacism propels the war against teacher tenure in which the problem is, again, the autonomy of knowledge workers, the teachers. Over the past 20 years, the leaders of the knowledge economy have figured out that most highly educated people could be treated like members of the cognitarian in their use of contingent Ph.D. labor universities have done exactly the same.
Now, this means trouble for our capitalist university. It has lost much of its public standing, because it is not delivering economic benefits to the great majority of the population. Without the productivity bargain that we just looked at in which wages increased along with improved productivity, the university has less to offer the increasingly strapped regular American taxpayer who was supposed to refund this. In addition, disruptive capitalism cares about research, including science and engineering research, only to the extent that this research creates commercial products that disrupt markets by getting Google-type majority market share. The creative capabilities that go into great science or great literary criticism become a secondary input compared to the gadget itself, its marketing, its market uptake, its market share, and so on.
In the culture of disruptive innovation, the creation of value has shifted from labor to technology and from creativity to management. [INAUDIBLE] laid it out and legions of consultants like Christiansen apply it. The result is-- and I'm making a causal claim here. The result is a post-middle class society and seriously weakened mass universities-- a society whose managers have no use for general human creativity on a mass scale and therefore have no use for high quality, semi-open admission public colleges.
But-- and here's the catch again-- this model of disruptive innovation which is indifferent to creative labor on a mass scale and looks to entrepreneurs supported by venture capital is precisely what has been eroding in Western capitalism. A counter example to what we've been doing is actually China. Americans often assume that China offers only a low waged Western developmental pathway doing the same kind of thing we do-- exploitative production-- only at a much lower price. In reality Chinese electronics manufacturing is not the cheapest manufacturing but just about the best manufacturing in the world.
Scale, scope, and complexity have been mastered there. This is not a simple question of workplace exploitation, though there's lots of that. The result is that Apple won't be able to manufacture the iPhone 6 or 7 or 8 back in the United States at any price. We simply don't have the high skilled labor, the sophisticated supply chain, the quality transportation infrastructure, the capacity for public investment, the basic political brains, the interest in the ensemble-- the way that people work together to do these magical things we can't do by ourselves. I think the Chinese get it and there it's partly because they're still communists.
Capitalism needs more intensive social factors of production than ever, and the US simply doesn't have them social factors of production at the global level.
OK. Time check. Ouch.
You might be sighing now that we humanists have entered the fray into our capitalist universities. We have to forge ahead. There's a deeper pattern here that to my mind has been best explained by Giovanni Arrighi's version of world systems theory.
In his book, Adam Smith in Beijing, he argued that the Western pathway of capitalist development, which was good at its chosen task for 200 years, has reached a hard limit. The contrast is with East Asia, where there was a kind of market economics that was more successful than the European kind until 1820 or so when it became less successful than the Western pathway. This East Asia pathway was not technology intensive and did not-- to the same extent-- replace human labor with machines. It was labor intensive, according to Arrighi. Arrighi borrowed from Hayami Akira the term "industrious revolution" to label this East Asian path in contrast to the industrial revolution that we have.
OK, so you may know that Arrighi worked for decades on capitalist accumulation cycles and on the end of accumulation regimes that for the time seemed like the end of history. He argued at length that the West has overestimated large scale production and overestimated the technical division of labor and misread as our business or technological genius-- whether we are Genoans in the 17th century or Dutch or Victorians or Bush-era Americans-- advantages that also involved-- or were primarily, in fact, owing to-- military superiority and resource extraction, slavery very much included.
In reality, Arrighi insisted, there is no innate superiority to the Western path of capitalist development. In fact the strength of the US plus the UK GP value versus Japan plus China peaked in 1950, meaning that the tide has actually been running against the Western model, disruption, et cetera for over 60 years. Our period of financialization running through the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and on into the housing bubble and the financial crisis of the current period is the kind of belle epoque that in Arrighi's historical studies signals the decline of our regime of accumulation. And it's passing on to somebody else.
OK, so for our purposes the essential point is that East Asia modernization has been based not merely on the internalization of the Western Industrial Revolution, but also on the revival of features of the indigenous, world-based industrious revolution. Did I say that right? Industrious, yes.
This issue is not that it's Chinese or Asian capitalism but that this next economic order-- wherever it appears and however it congeals in geographical space-- represents the overcoming of the limiting features of the Western pathway, overcoming its colossal demand for energy in spite of Chinese addiction to coal, enabled by energy dense fossil fuels, and overcoming its dependence on the mass use of wage labor, which for the great majority of workers, it de-skills or replaces with technology. It's fairly obvious to most of us that ecological survival now depends on the continuous reduction of energy used per unit output, but just as profoundly advanced innovation now depends on labor intensive complex practices, on up-skilling mass labor rather than de-skilling it. All regions could potentially update the industrious revolution for our renewable energy, climate changing, permanent war-making times. Northern Europe is doing this better than we are.
I think Arrighi is correct that the future sustainable economies and stable societies will be those that shift away from the technological replacements of labor towards high skilled labor served by technologies. Remember Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto.
So a humanistic question for our times is, will the United States manage to do this? And my answer is no. Absolutely not-- not, that is, unless-- and here we ride to the rescue-- the humanities critical theory can help change or ruin macroeconomics as we currently understand it with a new militancy about the formation of complex created skills rooted in what I would call-- borrowing from these guys-- fugitive interpretation.
So this is the final section six-- humanities as post-capitalist social reproduction.
OK. So here's our final question for today. How would the humanities actually do this? How would it make a break-- not only with a capitalist university-- but with Western capitalism in its current form? That's our job.
OK, of course we think this is grandiose and impossible and ridiculous. But we are wrong. [INAUDIBLE] and [INAUDIBLE] write that our practice must assert a metapolitical surrealism that sees and sees through the evidence of mass incapacity. And I completely agree with this.
So let's look first at the humanities' surrealism of concepts, many of which we take to be outdated and pathetic, found in a mainstream tradition from Socrates to the Stoics, on to people like [INAUDIBLE], Dewey, C.L.R. James, Hannah Arendt, that has finally achieved a certain kind of economic destiny. You can pull out important claims, for example. Here's a couple of these guys that I really like.
We have asserted that self harmony or absolute identity is the highest law of mankind, such the demand that every person ought to cultivate all of his talents equally contains at the same time the demand that all of the various rational beings ought to be cultivated equally. OK this is Fichte in the 1790s. Or then the second one-- to live in the streets like the ancients, to fill them with music and singing like the people from the Mediterranean, to feast like the rich as long as money lasts, and then to despise all comforts of life like ancient cynics completely to neglect one's clothing or to dress up fashionably-- that is academic freedom.
That's Schleiermacher in the same period. You can tell by references to the Mediterranean, et cetera. Fichte-- there's lots of stuff like this-- is a vision of the university as a kind of under commons of absolute non-exclusion. It's a social movement for him.
Schleiermacher-- again, incredibly in some ways, straight person-- is an early version of fugitive planning. OK, this is, of course, a tiny fragment of this world of thinking. And then when you move into the 19th and 20th and 21st centuries, it just explodes in this kind of renaissance of thinking about this stuff that I think we're still living through.
OK, so what I'm going to do is I'm going to pound this stuff into some kind of shape with a chart.
Humanities versus disruptive capitalism. Celebrity death match. And we've already looked at sort of the-- we've looked at column one, right, which is the challenge of this period that we're in.
It's a sort of a summary of the post-democratic periods-- three lines-- in which creative labor loses its value. Global auction is sort of the word for that. And value becomes an elite product. Something we haven't really talked about is the lower left-- the naturalization of all kinds of inequality, which is happening in academia and cognitive psychology. It's happening in very sort of re-essentializations around religious conflicts, racial conflicts, and so on.
We've also looked briefly at the elements of column two-- our current innovation culture. S is for Schumpeter, right? S innovation as opposed to H innovation. With its techno-supremacist tendencies. I'm going to call this Spencarian techno genesis social Darwinism.
Silicon Valley culture in California where I work is just overwhelmingly Darwinistic, sadistically hierarchicalist and amazingly elitist and amazingly blind to that. Is that camera on? Yeah, so that's how I feel about it. That's how I really feel about Silicon Valley. It's a pretty regressive culture in spite of the wondrous things that they do in other areas.
Column three, which is the one that's in purple, I'm calling the strong humanities as a bland inclusive term for critical theory. And then column four is the institutional body that houses these humanities-- free and open access, building as a goal, based on sort of the liberal arts and also religious tradition in the US. And then egalitarian inclusion were all features that were part of the over-the-horizon aspirational ideal of the post-war university. It's not like they really ever went away, even though they were so often honored in the breach.
My point about the humanities disciplines as schematized in column three is that they starkly contradict the disruptive innovation of capitalism's Western pathway in column two while at the same time providing founding elements of a sustainable post capitalism. Humanities scholars are familiar with the terms in the first and the third rows. Our elitist tendencies mean that we will need to do more with pioneer authors over a long historical arc from W.E.B. DuBois to Jacques [? Ranciere ?] to develop this idea of universal intellectuality-- of mass intellectuality, of just the totality of the whole human population involved in different institutions obviously in conjuncture that is orchestrated in bottom up ways.
It's the core feature of a future world that can no longer live by the elite education of its 1% or its 2.4% but needs the help of pretty much everybody to solve its incredible problems. Egalitarianism-- row three-- has been the pervasive implication of the humanities renaissance the global academia, in conjunction with social movements, has produced over the last 70 years-- from new criticism to feminism, gender studies, deconstruction, queer theory, social theory, and much, much more. We aren't in academia spontaneous egalitarians, but we will need to act more systematically on the basis of the egalitarian implications of our own research.
Then the second row-- industrious revolution based on diverse craft capabilities. Cultural agency. We don't talk-- it's kind of old fashioned terms. We don't talk about craft skills even in writing programs really. I'm not wedded to this term. I'd love to talk to you about your ideas about better terms than this.
Doris Summers' concept of cultural agency, I think, is a huge help. She has a book that just came out a couple of months ago on this. So is Nussbaum's Creating Capabilities. Although people have a lot of reservations about her work. So is Gayatri Spivak's notion of reading as translation, as translation of the trace of the other that gets circulated through cultural networks across all sorts of cultural national boundaries.
Whatever the term, I do know that the acquisition of the ability to do something with thought and language changes the life we thought that we were born into. I saw this when I was running UC's study abroad programs in France. When I watched students making their first phone call to a prospective landlord in French and saw the recognition that they had made themselves understood in French to an actual French person and then noted the joy with which they regarded this new ability. They were never the same after that. They were never the same scared person, whatever the ups and downs that they had faced in their time over there.
We create-- all of us-- in selves the capacity for continuous emancipation from convention, from ideology, from superior power. We do regularly teach capabilities that make people feel-- for once, at long last-- that anything is possible.
But at this point I hear the voice of Helen Small and her possible response, which is that so do all other fields. What I mean-- stabilizing a new semiconductor material in a multi-junction solar cell after 213 failed tries can also change your life. I'm going to end by noting something that I do think is distinctive about the humanities and that is the coming to self consciousness of the conflict between interpretive practices-- ours-- and homo economicus.
New criticism's wrongly seen, I think, as arch conservative, pushed in this direction, and against the interpretive forms of the Western path of industrial capitalist interpretation. Post-colonial studies, deconstruction, and post-structuralist philosophy, critical legal studies, critical race theory, ethnic studies, queer theory again took a certain rupture with semiocapitalism to a new level.
So I'm going to gesture with another chart to a schema that reflects the work of the Swiss literary critic, [INAUDIBLE]. And this is my adaptation of his work. I'm going to give you actual language in a minute. From a book called [INAUDIBLE], which I would really like to translate into English or have somebody do it.
These are basically two different modes of interpretations. I realize the binary nature of this is not wholly convincing. But nonetheless column one affirms that industrial capitalism stabilizes itself through instrumental and logocentric hermaneutics by over determined conclusions. That is, in other words, industry doesn't just run by itself. There's a whole interpretive system that makes it happen in the way that it does, particularly through the sort of top down managerial way that allows de-skilling to seem normal, that allows rote learning to have become something-- really starting with industrial battles in the 19th century-- that white collar people think is normal. I mean, that's a huge problem and a huge error, and it's embedded in semiocapitalist interpretive practices, as [INAUDIBLE] would call it.
And then column two offers elements of non-technocratic and post-managerial interpretive practices. These practices enable two things at least-- interpretive autonomy and the capacity-- the sort of routine capacity-- for paradigmatic breaks, the kind that we associate with originality. OK, so here's [INAUDIBLE]. Wait. I'm just giving it to myself but not to you. This is basically a write-up of the second column that you were looking at.
Thanks to this reflective and critical posture, while readers are simultaneously immersed in some sort of virtual reality, reading literature directly counter affects the five features of industrialization mentioned above. So these are the counter effects.
One-- by as massive mobilization of affects and sexual desires, narratives relocate the source of movement in humans rather than machines. Two-- by exploring the difficulties and problems raised in inter-human relations, they lead to the identification, imitation, and massive inculcation of ever more complex relational gestures involving an increasingly large number of agents. I think those last two phrases are absolutely of fundamental importance. The capacity for more complex relational gestures involving an increasingly large number of agents actually doing social reproduction, not just individual.
Three-- by throwing us in the middle of a difficult situation, they force us to elaborate bottom up or horizontal rather than top down responses to problems of coordinating actions among humans. Four-- by immersing us in a particular and always different [INAUDIBLE] relations, they foster the invention of singular solutions crafted on a case by case basis against the homogenizing the logic of economies of scale. And five-- by staging complex reactions with which we are led to identify, they transmit skills by the virtue of imitation and exemplarity, which is the most efficient way to communicate gestures rather than-- again, this is really crucial, this parenthesis-- through explicit commands protocols. Think algorithms, et cetera.
This is kind of generally on the same page with what Butler was talking about. Elaine Scarry talks about this. A lot of people are talking about. I think there are somewhat blander versions.
I think [INAUDIBLE] contribution is really to try to itemize the specifics of how counter semiocapitalist interpretation actually works. So I guess what I would say about this, too, is that interpretive counter effects enable the non-managerial practice within organizations that is more or less the only way we're going to be able to shed our dead economic skin.
It seems powerless. And on the other hand, it's a behavioral paradigm revolution. OK. So I've been describing the humanities in the frame of the economy needs us. I've been saying that disruptive capitalism has structured itself to dumb down or to do without the interpretive and creative powers we offer. I've also said that not only is this form of economic development decreasingly successful and parasitic on research universities, but that the sustainable economy to come will depend on the interpretive and expressive powers that we already use.
We need to help-- all of us-- through this turbulence. We need to get ourselves over there. So I'm depicting the humanities here as a research movement with a general trajectory in view.
It's true what they say. The humanities are dead. And what we say to that is, long live the humanities. Thanks.
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How can the humanities fields enhance their roles in academia and society? Christopher Newfield, author of Unmaking the Public University, argues that "defending the humanities" binds these fields to the post-war university's declining economic mission. After tracing this decline in part to the theory of "disruptive innovation," he suggests that the humanities already offer important alternative practices of innovation, including their radically non-managerial forms of qualitative interpretation. Professor Newfield encourages humanities practitioners to be more assertive in shaping the post-capitalist societies now in the works.
Introduced by Tim Murray, Director, Society for the Humanities; Professor of Comparative Literature and English, Cornell University.