continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 2.2 / 2012:

Discussions Before an Encounter

The Editors of Speculations & continent.

continent. 2.2 (2012): 136–147

This introductory text is being written on a laptop on a summer Saturday in a cafe in Copenhagen by continent. Co-Editor Jamie Allen. It is here in order to contextualise a discussion document that was created using an unpaid version of Google's Docs service, authored collaboratively by editors from both this journal, continent. and the online journal Speculations in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. The outlined discussion is part of recent energies and networks actively rethinking and practically redefining the natures and practices of academic discourse. Other related activities include the Public School New York's recent Panel Discussion on Para-Academic Publishing, co-organised by punctum books and the Hollow Earth Society, as well as the upcoming interdisciplinarity-focused 2nd Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group.

As new communications formats enable more direct communication between scholars, with "the public," and amongst increasingly diverse, multi-inter-disciplinary thinkers, it becomes clear that knowledge seekers are no longer as so easily divided into C.P. Snow's two cultures of ‘science’ vs. ‘humanities.’ Increasingly, thinkers within and without academia tend more simply towards another set of extremes: Those who need and want to enact change in the world (artists, engineers, philosophers?) manifested through thought or material action, and those who would seek to maintain a more bureaucratic status quo (administrators, secretaries, health and safety officers, etc.)

The authors of this discussion, Paul Ennis, Michael Austin, Robert Jackson, Thomas Gokey, Jamie Allen and Paul Boshears, will soon meet (some for the first time offline) at a panel discussion entitled "The Aesthetics of (Para)Academic Practice" during the upcoming Aesthetics in the 21st Century conference at the University of Basel, Switzerland in September. What follows serves as both prologue to this discussion, as well as invitation for comment and interest. We thank the conference organisers at the University of Basel and the University College Dublin for their efforts in organising an event that serves to debate the very resourcing and operation of the structures within which it will take place. The panel event will celebrate and blend ideas around variegated accesses to knowledge. At issue, most generally, are the ways that monotonic institutional structures support, warp or sustain the mind, body, and our relationships and responsibilities to one another as creators, teachers and learners.

Jamie Allen



What is academia, what are academics?

Paul Ennis (Speculations):
Academia is, for me, the name for a community. It is not always one where people get on, but certainly enough of one that those ‘inside’ it recognize something in one other—perhaps just a fundamental commitment to pursuing knowledge (being specific to the humanities this would need the appendage ‘for its own sake’). The University, the ‘home’ of the academic, is altering and we find more and more academics positioned outside the gates. This has been a wake-up call of sorts. We can now see just how much gatekeeping goes on. It’s always been enclosed, hence the ‘ivory tower,’ but now that we can clone some of its functions some of that power has been taken away.

Michael Austin (Speculations):
We should perhaps begin by distinguishing between academia and the university. I take academia to be the culture of knowledge-communication, while the university happens to be the most notable site of such communication in present society. There is no necessary connection between the two, nor should we assume academia requires the university in order to exist. What academia, understood as the communication of knowledge, requires is simply the structure of the dialogue, the transmitter and the receiver, be they book and reader, teacher and student, or the nodes of a collective. The human participants in this exchange are academics, whether or not they make their living from research, teaching, or publishing, and whether or not capital is exchanged in the pursuit of knowledge.

Robert Jackson (Speculations):
Whatever academia is (or whatever form of scholarship its supposed to support), it’s in a crisis. Crises aren’t necessarily bad, but they are unpredictable states of transition into unseen forms of production. I’m generalising, but it used to be the case that with the humanities and the arts, there were two options for a stable income; enter job markets which required individual creative talent or enter academia to teach, possibly research. These two areas are now largely defunct for the majority of students graduating from the so-called “vocational” courses. In the former, the distribution of creative entertainment now feeds off communicative user-generated creativity (everyone can be creative and must distribute their work for free to attract attention); in the latter humanities research is forced into a functional malaise which benefits statistics rather than society. What academia and academics are will emerge from these new modes of production and in turn how they navigate these constraints and affects. Everything was always-already precarious, we’ve only just realised it.

Thomas Gokey (Speculations):
Michael makes a useful distinction between the academy as a community of thinking and the university system. In the United States at least, universities have been turned into shell corporations for Sallie Mae. That might sound overly dramatic or overly cynical but I think it is the most accurate way to think about our current situation. Right now the community of questioning, learning, researching and teaching has been captured by a system whose primary function is to extract as much value out of academics as possible. The main thing that universities produce is precarious, indebted, docile workers. Universities are one of the primary tools used to produce and maintain class difference. For the most part the poorest get excluded outright, the richest pass “Go” and collect $200, everyone else gets buried in decades worth of crushing debt for the privilege of receiving an education that will be recognized. An academic is a battery that gets plugged into this dying machine. The question is whether we can break the monopoly that universities have on education. Right now the only kind of education that “counts” is the kind that universities control. I see the para-academic as a kind of overflow where the community of thinking can think on its own, without a corporate mediator extracting value from the students and the teachers. Its a very exciting development, one that is full of revolutionary potential although we still need to make good on this potential.

Jamie Allen (continent.):
Through certain context changes I’ve made in the past few years, I’ve noticed a shift in language that I have tried, on and off, to corroborate with others and other sources. To put it simply—the communities of art, design and philosophy I am involved with often use the word “academic” pejoratively, as thought or activities that are essentially pointless, wasteful or without relevance. The comment, “yeah... but that’s academic,” is not meant as a compliment. I’ve developed more ties to institutions of “higher learning” in Europe lately, and have noticed that something or someone being “properly academic” has other, more favorable implications, including synonymy with words like “cultured,” “rigorous,” and “thorough.” There’s a somewhat obscure article I recently came across called “On Being Unacademic,” written by 1940’s American humanities scholar J.T. Firebaugh, and he puts it this way:

In our critical vocabulary the word "academic" has two main uses. Among men who are academic, the word is usually modified by the adverb “soundly”; and among persons less soundly academic, the adverb “narrowly” is usually substituted. This usage indicates a sharp division between those of the academy and those outside of it...1

So when I think of what is ‘academic’ there is all this identifying tension; a polarisation of thinking and doing, between the specific and the overly-general, the applicable and the cogitative, between conservative Philistinism and the liberalist Defenders of Culture. To me this seems a much more powerful bifurcation and crisis within traditional academic activity than any disciplinary or subject specific concerns (e.g.: C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures” discussion, which seem to me descriptive and, perhaps unwittingly, prescriptive of perennial and protracted debates about the “arts” versus the “sciences.”). Put another way, what I perceive of the academy as rife with a kind of crippling and calcifying anxiety about its own relevance, effectiveness and role. There are those who mostly maintain a kind of cynical momentum, protecting and defending the institution for their and its own sake—and those who wish to see things happen in the world, and so foster the requisite personal and organisational change.

Paul Boshears (continent.):
I’m piggy-backing on Michael Austin’s line of thinking because I think his distinction between Academia and the University does some good work in helping us make sense of the current crisis of the University. In the last several years it’s become more and more clear that if the University was ever any sort of monastic institution, cut-off from the rest of the world, it pays for its place in the world in several critical ways. One product the University delivers to the powers-that-be is debt-heavy students. Consider the following article written for. the American Association of University Professors’ journal, Academe, “Academic Freedom and Indentured Students,” whose by line states, “Escalating student debt is a kind of bondage.”2 There is widespread concern that the University has become the next dotcom or house-flipping bubble, as we read in Businessweek’s report on High Point University, “Bubble U.”3

The Medieval conceit that future scholars must apprentice under established masters has been perverted in the contemporary University. The lot of the yeoman scholar today bodes ill for future generations as this quote from an article appearing in Inside Higher Ed illustrates:

Adjunct, contingent faculty members now make up over 1 million of the 1.5 million people teaching in American colleges and universities. Many of them are working at or under the poverty line, without health insurance; they have no academic freedom worthy of the name, because they can be fired at will; and, when fired, many remain ineligible for unemployment benefits, because institutions routinely invoke the "reasonable assurance of continued employment" clause in federal unemployment law even for faculty members on yearly contracts who have no reasonable assurance of anything.4

Those that would be successful in rising above the precariat5 (or who believe that they’ve escaped precarity falsely understood)6 will increasingly find themselves divorced or living geographically isolated from their loved ones and families.7 But this isn’t only impacting junior scholars, as the situation between Oxford University Press and Steven Shaviro illustrates.8

Both Academia and the University are imagined communities, to borrow Benedict Anderson’s phrase. However, the University is an institution that accredits, controls, and stamps the passports of those that would enter its territory. It is a striated space as opposed to Academia’s fluid space. I would suggest that an academic is someone that can identify on two levels: first, with those slighted and pressured in the above cited political and economic circumstances; second, they enjoy reading/writing footnotes/endnotes/marginalia/figures/tables, etc.

How do styles of engagement outside of academia change knowledge, knowing?

This is a tough question; certainly being outside the academy alters your vision of the place of your discipline in the world. You have to reign in your expectations. Preaching to the choir is out the window. Scoring cheap points against allies becomes quite evidently a waste of time. These days I’m just trying to keep my ears open and learn from the world again. Within my own discipline there is always this desire to ‘correct’ the world, butoutside academia the conditioning is overtly from the outside in. It’s given me a new respect for the empirical, or the material. I’m not sure this would have happened if I’d manage to remain surrounded by academics all day (here I should insist that I love fellow academics, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here when I say there is a tendency to retreat into cosy topics; sometimes just from a basic fear of offending others).

One way to think about this question is in terms of the incumbent threats to the ‘value proposition’ of the academic institution. I often feel these days that there are two oppositional but equally threatening and powerful bulkheads advancing to threaten the worst bits of institutional academic practice (like that Star Wars garbage compactor scene aboard the Death Star—with Luke, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia as managers, rectors, and administrators of our most traditional university systems). On one side there are pressures arising from the mostly rightfully disgruntled students and educators. University at large just doesn’t really create a lot of experiential value for most students, or most professors. Others have mentioned the student debt ‘bubble’, the lack of ‘return on investment’ both intellectually and monetarily, the lack of quality course options, teaching, and community. On the other hand, there’s growing grassroots and DIY teaching and learning movements that really don’t care about, or for, the way that universities decide (or don’t decide) to share and impart knowledge. There’s a long list of excellent programmes, community initiatives, grassroots schools and ‘outstitutions’ that are developing to cater for people seeking out new ideas, new techniques, new thinking.

It’s this second pressure I’m most interested in—as it has the most progressive potential to evolve the ways that knowledge is accessed and thought about at pedagogic, societal and political scales. The transactional nature of teaching and scholarship as it happens most commonly now (E.g.: Increasing emphasis on point systems and development of ratings for academics, and the age-old rubrics for grading and evaluation that everyone seems forced into and frustrated with.), creates a whole host of misinformed assumptions. Take for example the assumption that learning is cumulative, which is the basis for most pedagogic designs, and is the accrual model beneath ‘higher’ education. This might be accurate when initially learning simple language or counting, but after a certain point, and certainly at the university level, what we learn, critique and interpret should not be and is not cumulative at all—it’s cyclical, hermeneutic, impossible, continuous, ongoing. Gathering up advanced degrees doesn’t make you any smarter, and culturally I think people are becoming wary of people who play these strategic games too well.

I recently had the privilege to be invited by Taeyoon Choi, of Eyebeam, to teach a class on sound art at the Public School NYC in Manhattan. For a number of reasons (some of them having to do with me, some of them I’m sure not), the classroom venue was packed full at 10AM on a Saturday morning. I nearly teared-up at various points, when the realisation came that everyone who was there wanted to be there for no other reason than they wanted to be there. At 10AM on a Saturday. All of this says more about my expectations than it does about the event, and how sentimental I am about learning with other people in the right ways and places.

The question of style when it comes to the communication of knowledge and modes of knowing is perhaps the most pertinent question facing both academics and the knowledge industry today. It is becoming all the more clear that the university setting not only fails to capture the variety of ways that our world can be understood, but all too often also fails to allow for the exploration of these modes of knowing.

My time is split between academic philosophy and my work with charitable organizations (local animal rescue). Much of my own research reflects these dual interests, and is an attempt to bridge the gap between what are very different worlds, though this may not be entirely clear to either group! While much of my academic work relates to the relation of the human and the animal, and various modes of knowledge and communication, it is basically fueled by the practical work of rescuing, rehabilitating, and relating to non-human animals. This thinking-with-animals, as well as the forms of engagement necessary amongst fellow animal rescue volunteers, boards of directors, and the public, either in the form of direct interaction or through media, show a style of engagement and modes of knowing that are non-academic in the traditional sense. That is not to say that the animal rescue community is anti-intellectual (it’s not), but that it requires a shift in style and often different tools when compared to publishing philosophy or teaching a course through a university. These styles and modes of knowing then have the power, when applied to academia, to cause us to dramatically rethink our world.

This is a weird question for me. I'm currently writing up my thesis part-time, whilst working as a software developer for a charitable trust full-time. So, I'm kind of in a position where other areas of engagement are always changing forms of knowledge without my permission, to the point where knowledge exists as manqué. So, firstly, I don't really surround myself with that culture, which for the most part, tends to eschew surprise. Secondly, I'm often surrounded by other modes of systems of knowledge and communities of agents (XML files, SQL query inputs, and district council pension regulations, (usually just as bureaucratic as academia) which disrupt the 'academic' walls of theory. There have been, however, many instances where I've been influenced and inspired from a sohisicated event outside of academia. I don’t tend to be worried if an academic job does emerge or not; but if it did—I wouldn't hesitate to endorse other styles of engagement for these reasons.

I entered the University later than many of my peers, having dropped-out of high school and later paying my way through first my undergraduate years and now my graduate years. I have had an extensive collection of hairnets and name tags during my academic life and this has been crucial to my development as a thinker. Over the past five years I’ve primarily supported myself by working in the nonprofit sector, providing research support or meeting with other organizations to identify points of mutual benefit so that our entities could partner in delivering our services.

I’ll continue to hold to the distinction between Academia and the University because I think that although I entered the University later than my peers, I was already seeking Academia when I entered. The University is an institutional relationship whereas Academia is a path traveled. At times the path of Academia is traversed with other academics, and at other times it’s just schlepping books from one apartment to the next. What’s important on a road trip—and maybe this is because I live in the U.S. where we make these week-long drives to places like California—is a good travel companion. What makes a good fellow traveler is being someone that minds the maps and raises our spirits by making great mix tapes or tuning the radio; and of course, it is someone that knows how to converse well and how to be quiet with you. I did a lot of driving across the U.S. before I entered the University and I like to believe this had a very positive effect on my thinking and how I interact with the communities with whom I work.

During the recent Nonhuman Turn conference at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Ian Bogost made a great point: if scholars are only producing scholarship for the sake of meeting tenure requirements or adding lines to their CVs, then Academia suffers. Being academic is not about being obtuse, but about promoting the conversation for our mutual benefit and because of our mutual implication in the happenings of the world. The University relationship does not necessarily promote the kind of sociality that the academic path affords.

One thing that we learn when we look at the class proposals for schools like the Public School is that there is a real desire for a certain set of classes that the academy just does not offer. Notice for example the large number of proposed courses that deal with leftist economic theories. These are the kinds of classes that just never get taught at neo-liberal economics departments and business schools, but people want to learn about it. Notice also the number of classes dedicated to continental philosophy, the kinds of classes that do not take place in the analytic dominated philosophy departments of the United States. There are also a number of hands-on practical classes, how to use a particular kind of software, or how to program for Arduino or Processing, or how to make a rain barrel or brew your own beer. It is clear that there is a widespread demand for a set of ideas and skills that are simply not being supplied by the current university system and these spaces have emerged to fill the void. In a way I think we are getting ahead of ourselves. People want to learn, they want to work on their own projects, but we don’t live in a society where this self-organized project-based thinking can really thrive. We’re hankering for a post-scarcity world where everyone can be an artist and an academic. What is exciting is that this post-scarcity world might be closer than it appears.

What investment do you have in the role of the academic, in the ways that knowledge comes about?

This is going to sound unduly romantic, but I believe that the most radical thing I can do with my talents is to learn with others and to share what I’ve learned with those others to still further others. Other people, other animals, other plants, other landscapes, other companies, other nonprofits, other songs, and so on. Being an academic, for me, is a peripatetic activity, my favorite thinkers tend to be wanderers: the Ancient Greeks (including that dog always off his leash, Diogenes), Confucius, Nietzsche.... It’s in this movement that I find myself among others and as such moved by those others. If I want to see a change in the world, I must become that change and model it and so I find this wandering academic mode to be very satisfying.

Thinking has always been a social act. Hegel was not really just Hegel, Schelling was not just Schelling, Hölderlin was not just Hölderlin. It was that triplet “Schegelderlin” which produced Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin. What is interesting to me is the ways in which the social production of knowledge is starting to change. You no longer have to be lucky and in the right place at the right time. You just need to search the web and form your own little collective of people who are asking the same questions that you are. Until this Basel conference I have never met the other editors of Speculations in person. There will be dozens of dissertations about the way that the social production of knowledge has shifted under the hive mind of the Internet.

I have a lot invested in it, I suppose. It plays a big part in my self-model. It is, more or less, what distinguishes me from almost everyone I met prior to going to University. It is what allowed me to escape and give names to feelings, thoughts, and intuitions that I once feared. It affirmed my suspicion that as deluded animals for the most part we also have a capacity for quite extraordinary stands against what is ultimately a bleak existence. So for providing me with a little armour I am eternally grateful to it.

I may be biased here, because I come from an academic background. My grandfather is a chemical engineer who is basically the authority when it comes to the mathematics of the sedimentation of polydisperse suspensions and who taught in the mathematics department at my undergraduate institution for a number of years. Being “an academic” has thus long been a part of my identity, and while I didn’t pursue the natural sciences as was perhaps expected when I was younger, that identity has persisted in one form or another. I now have a different view of what it means to be an academic than I did when I would visit my grandfather’s office at the university, but the position of someone who pursues and shares knowledge will always be a part of who I am, whether or not I make my own living within the university.

Any investment I have is DIY infused. I study digital arts, code, computation and corresponding artists, and one of the main reactionary identifications is with a DIY attitude of composition; for example, the ability to tinker and configure in some ad hoc fashion. Often we think of DIY projects as looking decidedly shoddy, but this isn't the case. The Speculations journal is a DIY project of sorts, with a high degree of quality research, but it very much exists as DIY. Building new systems isn't easy, building new avenues of knowledge takes even longer. We will reach a point in 10–20 years' time where, a new branch of academics, either waged or unwaged, will be quite adept at commanding attention for their own collective of interest. We just need to build the tools, the systems and the time to get it started.

My investment is particularly in the role of knowledge, learning and (what I consider to be good) scholarship is in producing change in people. Individual and communal change is something that I value inherently. I think I’m actually a proponent of quite a hopeful, romantic version of all this, which takes real education as trans-formative and hence exciting, interesting and worthwhile. For me, the ‘real ‘crisis of the institution’, if a predominance is to be identified, is in the way people in some organisations and communities are allowed to or encouraged to feel responsible to, and for, another person’s transformations. This presupposes not taking academia and its motivations (publishing, CV-padding) at face value, but continuously rethinking the nature of scholarship and teaching—in the face of the Internet and other new social and informational media, and in the face of active world-changing activities like art and politics. What I’m drawn to in the academic is the thinking practitioner (political, artistic, linguistic or otherwise), which comes about through scholarship that isn’t overly concerned with disciplines or professionalism. The importance of this kind of academic “aesthetics” (or style, really) cannot be overplayed, as I think styles of engagement (channels, media, motivations) are what make changes in thinking possible, whether you’re studying chemistry or literature.

What I’m talking about has been well articulated by the philosopher, musician, ethnographer, improviser, and teacher George Lewis. George was part of the important Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, an highly influential and adventurous avant-garde group of composers and improvisers formed in 1965 (and still in operation). He describes the group like this: “With the AACM, the problem was to create a community or group... What brought them together was a shared sense that they should be responsible for each other... A sense that you were responsible for someone just because they were in the same... they were trying to do what you were trying to do—which is advance as a person and as an artist. That seems to be the basis on which a kind of mutual aid society develops.” I’m looking for, and hope to play some part in the creation of academic communities like this, and like George, I’ve often, “wondered why the academic environment couldn’t be more like the AACM? That is, having a sense of people who are committed to supporting you no matter what.”9

What is the future of Para(Academic) Practice?

I think one of the keys to understanding the future of the academic and of (para)academic practice is to understand that the public, by and large, want to learn. Certainly not everyone does, I’m not that idealistic, but most people are generally interested in the world around them. The philosophy department here at Memorial for instance runs a series of public lectures hosted at a pub downtown called The Ship. I had the opportunity to present one of these lectures a couple of years ago titled “Hollywood’s Undead and the Philosophy of Fear,” relating to psychoanalysis and popular horror films. I received an overwhelming response from both academics and the public at large, which really cemented the idea both that academics need to relate their work to a wider audience than those of an obscure journal, and that the public, when given the opportunity, want to engage with academics.

Public lectures, free schools, and online distribution show us some of the ways that (para)academic practice are already getting people to rethink higher education. I’m very interested for instance in initiatives like the University of Reddit, where anyone can teach any subject to anyone with internet access. While such pursuits don’t necessarily bode well for the academic as a career, the future in that respect is bleak as it is, as anyone within the university system is all-too aware. The ability to engage with the public however, whether it be online or through not-for-profit courses, will inevitably reveal that just as those outside of the university want to learn, that they may also be willing to support academics financially as well, just as many are willing to support musicians outside of the system of major labels.

Decentralisation basically. I'm surprised it hasn't happened on a mass scale already, but the catalyst of Speculative Realism and it's proliferating attention has certainly moved it up a gear. As the confidence of independent researchers increases, so too will the rate of decentralisation. We must however remember that decentralisation has a different set of affordances, but also a different set of constraints. Like most other media which is distributed on a communicative network, it will be done on a distributed protocol basis. That is to say, the emphasis won't necessarily be placed on single individual levels anymore (academics, journals presses and universities) but on organisations of mass distribution focusing on distribution solely (like YouTube with video and Spotify with music, but with little emphasis placed on property). Everyone can produce for the collective, but only a select few collectives will organise decentralised academic practice into a manageable service, often pushing journals and authors they see 'fit' for mass appeal and attention. The cynic in me knows that the goodwill of sharing will no doubt be exploited—I saw it happen in the late 90s.

To some extent, we've seen these collectives pop up already (, scribd to mention two famous ones), but there isn't a social collective which has confidence in them working effectively against the university or the proprietary journal. But it will happen, and when it does, academic production in the humanities will change rapidly and precariously. (Don't be surprised in the meantime to expect university conference fees to increase rapidly, due to bigger markets). Firstly, para(academics) will become more self-promoting than they are now, perhaps working harder and quicker than they would normally have done under an institutional affiliation. Secondly, boundaries between fields will dissipate—maybe become a thing of the past, as para(academic) interests will align themselves with current events. Thirdly the life of an para(academic) will be contingent not on funding, nor peer-reviewed publications necessarily (peer review will expand to lofty heights in a network) but on alignment with a distribution collective which serves a purpose within a partnership of attention. Lets just hope that good and original ideas shine through this decentralised mode of production rather than viewer numbers, although I am concerned that any new method of protocol, exhibits new methods of measuring attention.

I have started to compile a list of envisioned “outstitutions” and ways that we might be able to band-together to talk generously about ideas that are in line with the para(academic). Some of these, in the short-term are parasitic, in that they take advantage the ridiculous surpluses and insufficiencies of academic lives and careers (My own involvement in free, open Public School NYC teaching while I was supporting myself as a salaried University employee, as one personal example). The primacy of ideas, the communications channels that are available, and even the sort of looseness with which one can at-will engage with traditional, institutional academic structures (as they begin to show their age), seem to present a number of autonomous zones in which we might exist in future. Specifically, in philosophical discourse, dialogue has returned in the form of blogging, and this is something just plain new, unregulated and incredibly exciting. It may be that the most interesting forms of scholarship and thinking need to take place in the back-channels, side-chains and back-alleys until these discourses fully replace inefficient and arthritic institutional practices and thinking.

Well the situation with jobs will either ease off or be compounded. It seems the desire for advanced graduate training in the humanities remains strong despite a broad awareness that it’s a bit of a fool’s errand to do a Ph.D. these days (at least within theory, philosophy, and so on). But assuming that this delusion of stability is just a sort of pipe-dream or simply keeps expectant parents/friends off one’s back what we will have in coming years is an army of theory-armed transients. I’d like to see some kind of alternative, parallel academy that can co-exist—since the University remains the home in terms of that which we are parasitic of/from—with the current one. In demonstrating that education can be carried out ‘not for profit’ it will surely begin to test the current structure. Open-access journals are already an example, but also the ability to deliver lectures on thinkers no department would let you do, and so on matters. Essentially the para-academic has a chance to reveal that which the academic ‘proper’ has given up, and what the price of academic ‘freedom’ really is.

The University must produce cheap, precarious labor for itself so that it can continue to manufacture its products for the greater good of society. Since there is presumed to be a broadly-diffused benefit to society, the University is heavily subsidized by tax payers. But who, really, has access to the work? If it is the case that basic research—which is necessary but overwhelmingly expensive and delivers minimal return on investment from a venture capital standpoint—is being funded by mechanisms that only a State can offer, then shouldn’t that research be made available to the public? This was what led to the establishment of PubMed and arXiv.10 Perhaps surprising to some, the question of who receives what benefit from the work of Academia (which is not the same as the University) has been well mobilized in the world of academic publishing.

Today it’s a question, whether or not the University will be able to continue in the face of the neoliberal ideological onslaught.11 In the U.S. we’ve seen the shift from nationalized to privatized semantically occur at the Federal level with the transition from the National Security Administration (a national effort, not an individual one) to the Department of Homeland Security (it is one’s home, that individual’s place, that must be defended). Of course, our neighbors to the north have articulated and demonstrated well how to resist this offense against the public good.12

It’s also a question, whether or not the University is doing itself in by feeding on the efforts of an army of at-will adjuncts while simultaneously lowering the value of the work their professors work by giving it away for free.13 What MIT’s OpenCourseWare indicates is that the University is shifting from producing educated human bodies to producing accredited human bodies.

The Open Access movement and the sprouting of (para)academic activities are not only about broadly distributing the ability to publish as some sort of democratic (and thereby more imbued with justice or equity or something) action. I believe what we are doing is making a sharper distinction between publishing and publication. Publishing is about making stuff knowable, publication is about public-making. Public-ation is a process, like saturation—the process of saturating—or maturation—the process of maturing. As the University raises a stink about the prices of journals,14 and the actual cost of making a journal;15 we are making a different kind of public than those that also attend universities.

I think that the para-academic is largely a function of the economics of the academy. When you have a large pool of creative, super smart, highly educated people and for most of them the idea of a tenured track position is just not available, you will see that they start writing what they want how they want. The artificial forms and styles of the academy no longer have to be followed. What is the point if you’re never going to get tenure anyway? Why not just invent Black Metal Theory and write theory about D&D instead of writing boring form articles to be published in backwater journals that will only be read by—and statistically we know this to be true because there have been studies done on this—only two people. When we write what we want to write and how we want to write we end up writing better more interesting things. And partly as a result of this we find a bigger audience.

I think we are about to witness a mass exodus from the university. We can teach ourselves and each other without the mediation of the university. Schools like the Pubic School, or the school that I am most intimately involved with, The Art School in the Art School, are paving the way forward. For me the key is to create new forms of accreditation.16 The Open Badges Project seems to be the way that is the farthest along this route and I expect it to catch on. The academy is in a pretty dire situation right now. It has no way to justify itself. We can do better on our own and we will go on by ourselves. We will work directly with each other. The university system is in danger of collapsing within a few years, or at the very least it will be forced to completely transform itself. The parasite will consume and turn into the host.

The other main point of attack must be debt refusal from students.17 We must abolish Sallie Mae. We must simply stop cooperating. It will take a highly coordinated effort but we must all, simultaneously stop paying our tuition debt. We are not asking for debt forgiveness. We did nothing wrong. It is we who will forgive or not forgive Sallie Mae.



1. Joseph J. Firebaugh. “On Being Unacademic.” College English. 7.7 (1946): 412–416.
2. Jeffrey J. Williams. “Academic Freedom and Indentured Students.” Academe. Jan.-Feb. 2012.
3. Carol Matlack. “Bubble U.: High Point University.” Bloomsberg Businessweek. April 19, 2012.
4. Michael Bérubé. “Among the Majority.” Inside Higher Ed. February 1, 2012.
5. Nick Srnicek. “Precarity Everywhere.” The Disorder of Things. February 1, 2012.
6. Richard Seymour. “We Are All Precarious—On the Concept of the ‘Precariat’ and its Misuses.” New Left Project. February 10, 2012.
7. John Gill. “Leader: Why must so many go it alone?” Times Higher Education. April 5, 2012.
8. Kevin Smith. “Who do you work for, faculty author?Scholarly Communications @ Duke. January 25, 2012.
9. My transcription from the video George Lewis: The Story's Being Told. New Music Box. American Music Center. August 1, 2011.
10. Konstantin Kakaes. “The Other Academic Freedom Movement.” Slate. February 9, 2012.
11. Marc Parry. “Could Many Universities Follow Borders Bookstores Into Oblivion?” The Chronicle of Higher Education. March 7, 2012.
12. “Concordia Professors Oppose the Privatization of Universities.” GEOGRADS – Geography, Planning and Environment Graduate Students Association. Department of Geography, Planning and Environment (GPE), Concordia University.
13. Steven Leckart. “The Stanford Education Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever.” Wired Science. March 20, 2012.
14. The Faculty Advisory Council. “Faculty Advisory Council Memorandum on Journal Pricing.” The Harvard Library Transition. April 17, 2012.
15. John Naughton. “Academic publishing doesn't add up.” The Guardian. April 21, 2012.
16. “Alternative, Autonomous Accreditation.” The Public School New York. September 12, 2011.
17. See