Call for Submissions: Pamphlet on Securitization and the University

On July 18, 2013, the UC Regents appointed Janet Napolitano, former head of the US Department of Homeland Security, as the next President of the University of California.  Napolitano’s nomination has already been met with protest and criticism: for the secretive process by which it was made, for her her lack of academic experience, for the possibility that she will intensify campus surveillance and remold university research and instruction according to the interests of the security apparatus, and for her involvement at DHS in an historically unprecedented deportation regime.  Her ascension has also prompted a number of brief genealogical essays that have considered her nomination in relation to previous UC administrators’ complicities with state power.  Should Napolitano’s appointment be seen as marking a rupture with past models of University management, or should her appointment be understood as relatively continuous with previous administrative entanglements in the business of security and surveillance?  What does her appointment signal in terms of the securitization of life on and beyond campus? What does her appointment tell us about the relationship between and trajectories of austerity politics, privatization, and securitization?

The editorial collective of Reclamations Journal plans to publish a pamphlet on histories and futures of securitization at the University and on struggles against emergent forms of state repression.  We hope to have the pamphlet ready by the end of the summer, so that it can be passed out during campus orientations and potentially folded into the organization of protest movements over the course of the coming year.

The Reclamations collective is seeking essays, narratives, photo montages, poems, and other sorts of contributions on any of the topics outlined below.  Please submit full-length contributions or abstracts to by August 15th.

Online Surveillance /  Online Education

§ The technological crossovers that link online education projects, weapons manufacturing, and state and corporate surveillance techniques.  How are online education projects potentially generative of the bodily capacities and forms of knowledge upon which surveillance and military apparatuses increasingly depend?

§ Recent revelations about online surveillance by the NSA and other state and corporate institutions in relation to online education projects and university web services.  The EdEx code has recently been shared publicly; are there any details of the code that would make possible the surveillance of online learning environments?

§ The Department of Homeland Security’s recently established “National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies” (NICCS), which involves work “with partners in academia … to develop the next generation of cyber professionals to protect against evolving cyber threats.”  Napolitano’s involvement in this program, and her possible role in expanding UC’s participation in NICCS.

Anticolonial and Immigrant Rights Activism

§ The imbrications of US border enforcement with the surveillance and policing of university students and workers. New opportunities and challenges for immigrant rights activism on UC campuses.

§ Recent antagonisms around the surveillance and prosecution of Arab and Muslim students.

§ Genealogies of anti-imperialist struggle on university campuses.

The Military / Academic Complex

§ The involvement of universities in the training of soldiers and mercenaries, through ROTC and other programs.  Conflicts over the presence of military recruiters, including after the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

§ How academic research has historically been molded to state interests, war economies, and regimes of surveillance.

§ Histories and ramifications of university contracts to oversee weapons laboratories.

§ Genealogies of the military / academic complex.  Crossovers between university and state bureaucracies, weapons manufacturing and research initiatives, the regulation of academic research critical of state institutions and practices, etc.

Debt and Risk Management

§ The emergence of new discourses of management at the university, including the framework of “Enterprise Risk Management,” which is drawn from the logistics industry and entails techniques—including new forms of surveillance—designed to shield just-in-time production processes from disruption.

§ Technologies of debt enforcement.

§ “Health and safety” as a category of administrative power; possibilities for critical biopolitics on and beyond campuses.

Policing and Surveillance

§ The regulation of campus space and time through policing and surveillance techniques; genealogies of resistance to such regulation.

§ Universities and the policing and/or gentrification of urban space.

§ Campus police training practices, including participation in Urban Shield and other martial training initiatives.

§ Homeland Security grants for the militarization of local and campus police forces.

§ Assessments of existing and possible sites of resistance to securitization both on and beyond the university.

Discussion 198 Comments Category Uncategorized Tags , , , , , ,

Two Recent Communiques from Montreal, “THIS IS NOT A STUDENT STRIKE: No. 1” & “Lesson in Respect”


Block the fee increase and then after

Refuse the blindfolds that we’re offered

Translated by Jill Richards[1]


It would be unfortunate to see the strike only in terms of general assembly mandates, lists of demands, and plans of action, all proposed in due form. The “strategic considerations” often alluded to by the “specialists” of the student movement seem to us like blindfolds, there to make us follow a path drawn directly to the negotiating table with the government.  However, we don’t want to surrender so quickly. We want to let ourselves be immersed in what the strike “is,” beyond its function as a “means of pressure.” We want to wander towards the secondary routes, to get off the beaten track.

The strike is threatening because it short-circuits the rhythm of our everyday lives. It’s in this moment of rupture that we want to anchor ourselves. We want to take advantage of this political space we’ve created, in order to push the thinking about the struggle against student fee increases towards a much vaster horizon.  That is to say, we want to dig deep, to unearth the ideological foundations that underlie this umpteenth rise in fees, and focus on understanding the strike as something not exclusively about “student interests.”

Even though we are about to commit to more weeks of struggle, of anger, of rage and joy, let’s take a moment to reflect on the reasons pushing us to abandon the classrooms. Much of the rhetoric of the student movement focuses solely on the university and the increase in fees imposed by the government.  According to this discourse, we are engaging in a sectorial struggle offered to us by the student organizations in order to defend our status as university students. We refuse the separations orchestrated by the narrowness of a rhetoric incapable of perceiving the different causes of our everyday misery.

We cannot center our shared revolt solely around this question of student identity. We are total beings and, at some time or another, each of these separate spheres affects our life. We must not fall into a corporatist position incapable of understanding the complexity of our society.  We must not make the mistake of boxing in our multiple and constantly overlapping roles and identities. By avoiding the trap of corporatism, we avoid the trap that benefits the government, the rectors, the bosses, and the other owners.  By refusing this separation that has been imposed on us, we can also critique more broadly the world in which we live.

Understanding the rise in fees from an anti-capitalist perspective

The world economy is currently attempting to manage a financial crisis that it created. Throughout the world, it’s the poorest who pay the price. In Greece, it’s the austerity measures that are creating turmoil.  Elsewhere, it’s unemployment, or else the privatization of the commons that renders living standards precarious by depriving more and more people of fundamental rights and dignity.  In Canada, we are told that we needed to slave away two more years before we can retire. We too are living with austerity measures in Quebec, through the imposition of the “Tariff Revolution” that is part of a wider privatization of the commons, from the education sector to health care.

This fee increase is not the product of our government’s failing imagination – it’s one of the responses to the economic crisis in which we are living. The commodification of education, recommended by several international economic organizations, takes place on a global scale. Western countries must restructure their economies to produce merchandise that has a high “intellectual” content, since material production has been progressively displaced to the exploited countries of the global South. It’s according to the needs of the market that our student fees are rising, to the detriment of our needs. Therefore, it is against the needs of the market, against the capitalist imperatives, and against the imperialism of the international division, that the student struggle must fight.

We need to be the bearers of social change, and we must not just claim this change for ourselves. The strike we are going to bring about must set into motion a social opposition that throws off the corporatist shackles that come with our status as students. That is the project that we want to bring about, that this publication hopes to build, along with those that will follow.

It is crucial that the students extend the struggle to our society as a whole, and that we seek to rattle it, down to the foundations.

Next Edition:

*Down with Capitalism!

*Free tuition, but

inexpensive bananas


To End the Fog of Effects

How much longer will we fight against the fragmented effects, piece by piece, year after year, without putting our finger on the causes that hide behind them? Through fear of offending or frightening, are we going to keep ourselves from denouncing the wrongs, hiding our critiques in the cupboard? ? Under the blows of cuts regularly mete out across the decades, how to begin formulating what we want besides the guise of limited “reforms,” tinted with nostalgia?

Narrow struggle after narrow struggle, the laundry list of government attacks, one after the other, lengthens year after year:

* Increased costs of post-secondary education, due to rising tuition fees and incidental charges, beginning in the 1990s;

* Since 1996, an explosion of incidental fees for foreign students;

*After the pillage of the Axworth Reform (1994), the Legault Reform (2000), which chained the university budget to the logic of numbers;

*Shortening of student research budgets for the profit of private firms, as well as research centers subsidized through PPP, the Campus Ubis oft or programs called Club Med

*Repeated threats to abolish the Cégeps[2] or to drastically reduce the general curriculum;

* 103 million cut (2004-2005) accompanied by conservative reform of financial aid;

* Law on the governance of universities (2008), veritable equation to running a business;

*Accumulated cuts in the dozens of millions in the Cégeps, orchestrated with the intention of eventually instituting fees as high as those at the universities

*Standardization of diplomas though “quality assurance” (inspired by the Process of Bologne) with the goal of creating a world market and competition between universities based on the American model

*More private companies butting in on campus: exclusive contract with Pepsi Cola, advertisements in the bathrooms, fast-food restaurants, chain restaurant, and private cafeterias.

Even if we sometimes talk about the “right to education,” by criticizing the “commodification of education” and the “economy of knowledge,” it is rare that we manage to get out of this language of numbers that supposedly makes our critique acceptable in the eyes of some fictive “public opinion.” Even when we are only talking about education, we are hesitant to link different attacks to get to the root of the problem.

When asked to explain our struggle, we say that we are involved in a “strike against the rise in student fees,” even if we are convinced that it is reductive to describe it that way.  While the battle cries resounding in the general assemblies are otherwise engaging—the people talking about society, poverty, dependent children, and insurgency against this network of oppressions—our struggle remains trapped within the university, held back from joining other social struggles. This goes on as though education existed in a world by itself, without ties to other attacks carried out by the elite, on the backs of the working class.

We are tired of repeating, every seven years, this theater imposed on us from outside, in the form of defensive, corporatist struggles, almost always  ending with a sinister return to normal. The strike gives us an opening and through this opening, the realization that the world could be otherwise.

Let’s shake off the shackles of studenthood

By leaving the classrooms of our Cégeps and universities, we do not exile ourselves in a separate and idyllic sphere. First, there’s the precarious job that awaits us, where our boss regards us all as interchangeable pieces.  Devalued, precarious, alienated: there is no lack of words for defining our jobs in restaurants, retail, hospitals, call centers … Leaving work, we return to our neighborhoods where the price of our poorly maintained apartments has skyrocketed due to the building speculation of landlords. We are not the ones living in the condos.  Since our apartments are often poorly insulated, we are the first affected by the skyrocketing electricity costs, leaving us with an abrupt choice between poverty or cold.

With this return to the private sphere, we do not leave aside the relations of domination in society. In private, women are the first affected by the acceleration and the precarization of our lives; in effect, women will be the hardest hit by indebtedness, mostly because they often occupy the most precarious and poorly paid employment.

Another pitfall that threatens us is our tendency to criticize the obstacles baring the right to education solely at the university level. The reform of education at the primary and secondary levels participates in the same process of commodification of education, in which students are considered as a future workforce.  In this way, students failing several courses are invited by the school system to do “vocational training” in precarious forms of employment, so as to be initiated into the exploitation of the wage. At the middle school level, the process of commodification can be seen through the cuts of millions of government dollars. One begins to suspect that the latter will justify, in so many years, the imposition of scholarly fees for the Cégeps, to combat the under-financing created by the state itself.

[1] I’d like to thank Vanessa Brutsche for her thoughtful editorial comments and assistance with the translation.

[2] Cégeps is an acronym for Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel. These are publically funded post-secondary vocational colleges exclusive to the Quebec province of Canada. Cégeps are somewhat similar to community colleges in the USA, except they traditionally have little or no tuition fees.


Lesson in Respect

They tell us to respect the choices of others, to respect the liberty of others. But at what point does a choice become respectable? At what point does an act take for granted our own liberty?  From the moment when this particular act is registered, sanctioned as a right?

She tells me: “You have the right to make your choices, but not if they interfere with mine.” But her choices, and the choices of everyone else, don’t they interfere with my choice, my act, my will?

My act, my choice – she would like to reduce it to this: don’t go to class. And yet, when I’m on strike, the question I’m faced with is not about going to class or not. My choice, that’s to interfere with the normal course of things. It’s to interfere with the choices of the government that denies my choices.  And if this happens through a blockage of the university or of anything else that can harm it, I will do the best that I can to support it.  And she has just given me the lessons of democracy: that the decisions of a minister or of her boss are the choices of the people who elected them!

Her act. She would like to reduce it to this: go to class. Her choice, her right: to be able to cross the Champain Bridge “like the old days.” And yet, all this, her world, all of the conditions of possibility of her choices, also rest on a permanent balance of power, on an ability to take over, to take over a certain use of the world, of the city, of everything.

Private Property.  What has been and what is still necessary is violence and contempt—if that’s really the opposite of respect— to assert the value of private property and to respect the famous liberty that it makes possible. How many tricks have they used to convert everything into property, so as to be able to say afterward that all the transformations of urban space and semi-urban space, all the exploitation of “forest” space, and of the so-called Quebec “underground,” are the result of the freedom of choice? How many dirty blows have been necessary to guarantee that in all places, questions of use are solely the business of an owner and a buyer, of a landlord and a renter, or rather of a customer – that is to say, in all cases, of a legally  “entitled party”?

There is no choice whether to respect private property. No one ever asked us if we agreed.  It was never negotiated, never voted upon, but only justified, by the best and by the most asinine ideologues in history. So tell me. Why would I respect you? Because you have rights? Because we all have the right to be a landlord? Because everyone has the right to be a customer and to consume freely?

Freely …. To navigate from one property to another, without anyone asking us for any account besides the invoice. To have all things at your disposal without having to discuss their uses, their meanings, or how to relate to them. That there is your liberty: to be able to take possession of what you have the means to buy, and to renounce all the rest.  According to this, there wouldn’t even be respect for those with rights.

She talks to me about the bridge that we blocked. She says she respects our opinion, but that we do not respect hers. But crossing the Champlain Bridge twice a day to go live in a tranquil suburban house built freely on beautiful, arable land or ancient woods that were made to disappear, just as freely – that’s not an opinion. It’s a way of life.

Someone blocked you on the bridge. But haven’t you ever wondered what you were blocking, as many as you are, each time that you cross over in your big cars like a thirsty hoard, so convinced of its rights?

Then leave me alone with respectThere is no liberty of choice.  There is war.


Discussion 86 Comments Category Uncategorized

Circulation and the New University

by Brian Whitener and Dan Nemser [1]

Editors Note: An earlier version of this text was delivered as a talk at the 2012 Edu-Factory conference, “The University is Ours!” which took place in Toronto, April 27-9.

During the 1990s, a rationalization of the workplace in American universities occurred, a process that critics described with terms like privatization, neoliberalization, financialization, and commericalization. By the late 1990s, however, the leading edge of this restructuring shifted from the university’s rationalization to its integration as a site of accumulation and investment in the circulatory system of capital. Notably, however, our discourse hasn’t changed, and today we continue to talk as if all that was happening in the university was the same process of rationalization. This is not to say that words like neoliberalization or privatization have nothing to tell us, but rather that, because the majority of gains were received from these changes by the end of the 90s, these words no longer capture the leading edge of change in universities today. Once adjunct labor makes up 70% of the university’s instructional workforce, for example, you can’t raise that percentage further without increasing the managerial workload of the 30% remaining tenure faculty. What we want to do here is to briefly outline the new insertion of the university into the reproductive circuits of capitalism.

The university is no longer primarily a site of production (of a national labor force or national culture) as it was in the 1970s and 80s, but has become primarily a site of capital investment and accumulation. The historical process through which this transformation was implemented is long and complicated, and we cannot give a detailed account of it here. Instead, we want to describe the general shape of this new model and the consequences it might have for political action in a university setting. We take as paradigmatic the case of the University of Michigan, where this model has been worked out in its most developed form and from which it is spreading across the United States, as university administrators across the country look to and emulate what they glowingly call the “Michigan model.” In this new university, instruction is secondary to ensuring the free flow of capital. Bodies in classrooms are important only to the extent that money continues to flow through the system. It is a university that in a global sense has ceased to be a university—its primary purpose is no longer education but circulation. This is the new logic of the university. If we want to fight it, we have to understand it.

There are two key mechanisms through which the university has been coupled into circulation—or, to be technical, coupled into the circulation of both productive capital and money capital. The first is the cycle of wealth transfer that moves federal dollars directly into corporate and bank coffers. Well-known examples of these processes include the TARP bailout program after the 2008 financial crisis and the system of military privatization, grants, and contracting firms built up by the Bush administration after 2001.[2] In the education sector, these programs of direct wealth transfer were localized most conspicuously in the (now defunct and much abused) Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), wherein the federal government purchased loans originated in its name from private banks (the premium paid by the U.S. government on each loan was direct profit for the bank).[3] The federal funding of R&D at research universities works in the same way: by paying for the research that corporations would otherwise have to carry out for themselves, the federal government improves their profitability.[4] So does the government’s backing of 100% of the loan value of federal loans from 1998 to the present day, and private loans from 2005-2010, which makes these loans risk-free for banks and secondary investors (in the securities markets) and inspires predatory and excessively risky lending practices.[5]

The second mechanism, the emergence in the post-crisis context of capital over-accumulation—that is, a surplus of capital with no profitable investment outlet—has helped to transform universities into privileged sites of capital investment. Due to market conditions and credit availability, universities have been able to increase tuition without limit (for example, at the University of Michigan, tuition has gone up 297% since 1990), which in turn has driven up their credit ratings and made borrowing cheap for them.[6] As a result, banks, hedge funds, and institutional investors have begun investing heavily in and through universities, buying up construction and other bonds as well as student loans. In this way, some of the money that once was put into the faltering credit and mortgage markets has found a new home in the student loan and secondary student loan markets.

Through these mechanisms, the university has come to serve as a key site for capital accumulation and the investment of over-accumulated capital. This takes place primarily at four locations, which operate as sinks or pools for investment and accumulation: construction, endowments, loans, and R&D. Construction functions as a safe site of investment when profits are hard to find. Aggressive capital-raising campaigns for endowments by universities have served (on a smaller scale) the role that pension and large equity funds once did: namely, pooling together vast sums of money that people have accumulated as wages in order to make them available once again to the financial system. Student loans—which have now topped $1 trillion, surpassing credit card debt in total value—are a site for the investment of excess capital, in both direct loans and the secondary SLABS market. R&D, as mentioned above, transfers business expenses to the federal government by routing them through the university; the university then sells patented technologies back to the business, which in effect gets two transfers for the price of none.

Currently, the University of Michigan has four sources of revenue (in 2010 numbers): tuition generates $1,015 million (roughly $412 million of this in student loans); federal research money, approximately $1 billion (roughly half is appropriated by the university directly through the F&A program);[7] the endowment (which, after a vigorous capital raising campaign from 2000-2009 that generated $3.2 billion in new donations and gifts), sits at roughly $6.6 billion, but which only adds $253 million (in 2011) to operating revenues each year;[8] and, finally, funding from the state, totaling $315 million in 2010).[9] What is important here is not just that the state represents a tiny fraction of the university’s funding, but the degree to which there is a convergence between the university’s revenue and its insertion into the sphere of finance capital. From a revenue perspective, the university is completely dependent on the circulation and accumulation of capital in and through the institution.

All universities, public and private, small and large, research to teaching colleges, are moving toward this circulation model and beginning to aggressively chase these dollars, because the university’s integration into circulation is rarely partial. All of its components are mutually dependent—attracting R&D depends on having the best labs, which in turn depends on the ability to engage in new construction, which in turn depends on the credit rating, which in turn depends on the endowment and tuition hikes, which in turn depend on there being sufficient credit in credit markets for students to withdraw, which depends on having fancy, new buildings to attract rich out-of-state students paying marked up tuition.

When seen from the perspective of students and workers instead of capital, the race to integration sets in motion a series of destructive cycles. First, it leads to a sort of infrastructure arms race. As research universities pursue R&D dollars, they build bigger and more technologically advanced labs trying to lure faculty who are capable of landing federal grants. The same happens with on-campus housing and classrooms, as universities chase increasingly rich, fickle student-consumers who can afford to take out massive loans to pay for professional school or whose parents can pay exorbitant out-of-state tuitions. But these building booms are only possible because of the over-accumulation of capital in U.S. banks and financial institutions and the lack of more attractive investment options.[10] At the same time, these rich undergraduate and professional students are being chased after by admissions professionals because they and their families can potentially contribute to the endowment, which ends up shutting out poor, of color, and marginal students. Raising tuition to maintain the credit rating and the flow of capital generates an increasing dependence on rich students who can pay or students who are willing to take out massive loans to finance their education. And then the cycle starts all over again.

But this cycle cannot sustain itself forever—at the very least, it has weak points. Because it displaces in part the capital-labor relation inherent in production, the primacy of circulation creates new potential crises. Capital must pass through certain points, and at these chokepoints political pressure can be applied.[11] Thus, the new university suffers all of the same problems as any other just-in-time operation; namely, if the circulation of money ceases or is interrupted—even for a few days—the system is thrown into chaos (which might explain in part why some university administrations have been so quick to repress student protests over the last few years). The problem with attacking circulation is that it is frequently immaterial—there are no bars of gold in a bunker underneath the financial aid office. How would you attack an endowment? Where is the flow of student loans made material?

We want to suggest that a politics against the university of circulation has to engage in two tactics towards one strategic goal. First, make material the immaterial circuits of capital flow; and second, attack the weak links, the chokepoints in the system of circulation. Consider, for example, the strategy of occupation deployed in the California student struggles of 2009, which sought to register and interrupt the flow of capital into construction and away from instruction. The occupation strategy, however, was relatively unsuccessful in interrupting the flow of capital per se, since, after all, the bonds have already been sold long before construction begins. Another possible weak link in the chain of circulation is presented by student loans, especially since they are most often dispersed through a centralized office during a few days in the fall and winter. These offices could be made into critical points for blockage. If we are to combat the university of circulation, we have to invent new ways of materializing these immaterial flows in order to capture and make vulnerable the university’s sinks and pools.

Finally, this system of integration into circulation could only emerge with the rise of an administrative class educated in neoclassical forms of economics in U.S universities. To truly move beyond this situation, to the university we desire—a free, open university—we have to, as Foucault once said, cut off the head of the king. Only the removal of this administrative class and its replacement with a system of student-worker control will have the power to delink the university from the sphere of circulation and turn its considerable material and social capabilities to other ends.

Discussion 203 Comments Category Uncategorized

Our University?

by Mark Paschal

Editors Note: An earlier version of this text was delivered as a talk at the 2012 Edu-Factory Conference, “The University is Ours!”, which took place in Toronto, April 27-29.

Throughout the student movements that have swept the globe since the crisis of 2008, students and allies have repeatedly claimed that cuts to education and tuition increases cannot happen because “This is Our University.” This prompts the follow up that we, as students and “the public,” must “Reclaim the University” from the greedy bankers and financial raiders that have taken it hostage since the 1970s. While it is true that these statements are slogans and rallying cries for organizing, a truly radical student movement must also assert that the institutions of higher education we mobilize around are not now and have never properly been ‘Our University.” Since the inception of formal education, its content and function have been determined by the economic and political conditions that foster and encourage its existence. Reform of the university comes with the transformation of those economic and political conditions. Historically, however, the formation of alternative institutions of education have played a crucial role in the transformation of these conditions and the reform of existing institutions along new lines. This can best be illustrated by a rapid jaunt through the development of the institution of the university

As the Roman empire fell apart and the Church rose to dominance in the 6th century, the Church developed rural monastery schools to train its future leaders and legal minds in knowledge of two “books” that shed light on human possibility: the Bible and Nature. Through the trivium – grammar, rhetoric and dialectic – the Bible could be studied, while the quadrivium – arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music – opened an understanding of Creation. These schools were adept at canon law. With the rise of trading cities in the 9th century, urban cathedral schools emerged to displace the monastery schools. Writing in The University, an Illustrated History, Mariano Peset notes that these cities were “settlements of merchants who won privileges and freedoms from monarchs and feudal lords for their dealings and travels, and were entitled to elect their city authorities.” The cathedral schools came to specialize in recent works devoted to canon and Roman civil law as the merchants, popes and civil leaders sought to define their relationships. The development of the university out of these cathedral schools in the 12th century was closely connected to the rise of scholasticism and systematic theology and grew in conjunction with Civil leaders’ attempts to carve out spaces of autonomy from the church. It arose as an attempt to codify and suss the contradictory rulings of various popes, assemblies, church councils and other leaders regarding rational faith and civic conduct. Through the arts, scholars and their various backers hoped to determine the relationships between earthly rulers of all sorts: churches, kingdoms and city leaders. Because of the knowledge that universities held – and their ability to train highly skilled legal and theological minds – cities craved their presence, though student strife made for an sometimes ambivalent reality. (For instance, Christopher Lucas writes that during the brutal repression of the Parisian student strike of 1229, King Henry III of England encouraged the Parisian university faculty and students to relocate to England.) University charters, further, guaranteed a high degree of autonomy from Church and city leaders, making it the one place beyond the control of the authorities – it was a zone where controversial ideas could be debated and discussed. They also ended the monopoly that the Church had maintained on the development and codification of knowledge during the monastery and cathedral school years.

During the Italian and Northern Renaissance, young scholars fled the universities as they saw little hope for true reform of methods and governance in these already established institutions. Forming academies devoted to the knowledge flooding in from Arabic scholars, these Humanists aligned themselves with princes and noblemen seeking to displace the power of the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor. Where scholasticism had developed to give order to a mess of laws, decrees and texts, the Humanist could only see poor translations, outdated formal requirements and allegiance to a passing system. Martin Luther, teaching at an academy in Wittenburg, initially urged the destruction of the universities, but soon saw the usefulness of founding new institutions – his academy became the first of the new Protest Universities in Northern Europe. By reorganizing knowledge and the sources used, Renaissance and Reformation thinkers saw that they could found new institutions that could supplant the older. Following the Counter-Reformation, which also formed new universities to deal specifically with the new threat, the existing universities were made to choose which side they would support. The University of Bologna, among others attempting to remain neutral, slid into mediocrity.

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Debt and the Student Strike: Antagonisms in the Sphere of Social Reproduction

Editors Note: The following talk was delivered at the 2012 Edu-Factory conference, “The University is Ours!” which took place in Toronto, April 27-29.  Over the course of this week, we’ll publish a number of talks from the conference, and hopefully will ultimately publish a pamphlet of such talks.

by Amanda Armstrong

I want to talk some today about what’s been going on at California universities over the past couple of years, focusing particularly on the restructuring of educational institutions according to the imperatives of the financial services industry, and on recent student protests against these transformations. Along the way, I’m going to try and draw out some of the limits of university-based organizing in California, and to offer a few thoughts about what it might take for these limits to be worked through.

To begin though, I should say a little bit about social reproduction and enclosure – two concepts that will help to orient my subsequent discussion of university struggles.

The concept of social reproduction, which emerged as a central concept of Marxist feminist theory in the 1960s and 70s, references those practices, mostly mundane, that in some way maintain the underlying conditions of given social institutions and forms. The still largely gendered labors of domestic life, including cooking, cleaning, bearing children, and teaching kids to talk and listen, are all considered forms of social reproduction, especially insofar as they provide current and future wage earners, including the domestic worker herself, with the capacities necessary for work. In reproducing wage earners’ ability to work at no direct cost to management, unwaged domestic labor enables the reproduction of the exploitative wage system – a central component of capitalist society. The domestic sphere is not, however, the sole site through which labor power is, or historically has been, reproduced. Various state institutions have come to play a role in this process as well. Universities, for instance, now effectively train and stratify the workforcesrequired for contemporary labor processes. And many social service agencies seek to enable populations otherwise excluded from waged work to find and hold down jobs.

While pedagogical state institutions like public schools and clinics prepare people for waged work, more repressive state institutions such as courts and the police impose conditions that render work necessary for life. By sustaining regimes of ownership, by enforcing fees for basic necessities, and by breaking up squats and communal encampments, police forces, the courts, and other state bureaucracies enclose the material conditions of life, making it virtually impossible to reproduce ourselves and each other free of waged work. Acts of enclosure thus constitute a kind of negative mirror image of undercompensated reproductive labor. Like such labor, enclosures tend to take place at some remove from capital-intensive workplaces. And yet, both reproductive labor and the closing off of what we could hold in common help make waged work a central dimension and determinant of our lives, as well as the primary means by which social wealth is distributed.

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Discussion 38 Comments Category Uncategorized

On Violence and Non-Violence, Once Again: Lessons from Recent Political Developments on the Berkeley campus (Part 1)


In one of his most widely read essays, Louis Althusser made the famous remark that ideology and its subjects never run around saying “I am ideological!”[1] From the perspective of the interpellated subject, there is no such a thing as an “outside” to ideology—because ideology has already profoundly structured the subject’s sense of self-understanding. We’ll ask the reader to indulge us and allow us to paraphrase Althusser’s statement with respect to recent political development on UC campuses after yet another year of protests, police violence, administrative impunity, and repression of political activism: One of the defining peculiarities of state violence today is that it never runs around proclaiming “I am violent!”

In the context of the ongoing prosecutions of student activists and a faculty member who were brutalized on November 9,[2] let us revisit a recent civil court case, in which a former graduate student sued UCPD officer Brendan Tinney for breaking her finger at a large protest in support of the Wheeler Hall occupation on November 20, 2009. While silently watching the trial from the back of the courtroom, we learned a great deal. We witnessed how cops lie under oath with arrogance and impunity: we heard improbable accounts of students trying to snatch guns from cops and pull their batons—improbable because these incidents had never been reported up to that moment, even by the officers themselves. We saw—yet again—that the UC administration will spare no expense to crush its own graduates, teachers, students, scholars, and community members; that it will resort to grossly unethical practices and attack the integrity, dignity, and humanity of its own students, scholars, and workers; that, in blatant disrespect for its own professed “community standards,” it will engage in calculated humiliation and disrespect of those same members whose “outstanding academic achievements” it will then take credit for.

But we want to stay on point here, so we’ll focus on one fine yet significant detail from Officer Brendan Tinney’s and Sergeant Donald Jewell’s public testimonies. Why could these two police officers so easily claim, genuinely blind to the glaring contradictions, that what they did on November 20, 2009—by crushing the hand of a graduate student, by thrusting their batons into the stomachs, spleens, kidneys, and ribs of dozens of bare-bodied students in the vicinity of the incident—did not constitute an act of “violence”? How could they deny that their acts were violent?

One thing we learned from Officer Tinney’s public testimony is that police officers are trained to “separate out the injury from the reasonable force the police [have] to use.” In other words, in the mind of an officer who has undergone “proper training,” the causal relationship between the “force” used and the injury or death it causes, between the act of violence and the wounded, maimed, or dead body, is intentionally obscured. Their batons don’t injure bodies, they make “contact” with them. In the cryptic, sanitized language of crowd control policies and police training manuals, serious injury and even death are present simply as the collateral effect of maintaining “peace and order,” “health and safety”[3]; they are disembodied, bureaucratic facts that need to be filed away.

Further, the excess of violence (“force” in the idiom of contemporary policing) is never self-evident from the point of view of the police because ”force” is always the preemptive measure deployed against an imagined stable, ahistorical violent subject, projected onto concrete and diverse situations, humans, and realities. Shortly after November 9, 2011, the UC Berkeley Police Association published an open letter to the outraged public to explain their perspective and offer excuses (prefaced by a denial—“by no means are we interested in making excuses”).[4] Compared to 1964, the era of the Free Speech movement on campus, the letter states, “[o]ur society in 2011 has become an extremely more violent place to live and to protect. […] Disgruntled citizens in this day and age express their frustrations in far more violent ways—with knives, with guns and sometimes by killing innocent bystanders.”[5] Unlike the old days, in other words, the world today is a far more dangerous and unsafe place. This is a bizarre statement—the sense of threat could apply to any place and time; it reveals nothing but prejudice, verging on plain indoctrination. It gives us a genuine picture of the collective subjectivity of a “well-trained” cop, in whose imaginary an outbreak of violence is always imminent. So in response to students pitching tents and linking arms, the article continues, “[i]n the back of every police officer’s mind is this:  How can I control this incident so it does not escalate into a seriously violent, potentially life-threatening event for all involved?”[6]

For those of us who do not come from communities where police brutality is an everyday reality, it is worth repeating that the police are trained to “see” violence before it happens, and if it doesn’t happen—to invent it, to interpret every gesture with a prejudiced eye and imagine the aggressive, threatening, “violent” behavior. And then, to unleash a preemptive attack. Again, there is a long history of how many times police have murdered individuals because they have interpreted the gestures of their victims the wrong way. Such prejudice has long been racialized, exposing communities of color to chronic harassment, incarceration, and death. Currently, the state is engaged in promoting a new ahistorical stereotype of the “violent protester,” structured around a logic of prejudice, stigma, and exclusion—where violence against protestors appears a priori reasonable and justified. That the figure of the “violent protester” has become a trope in the liberal media and a target of condemnation in popular liberal discourse is a direct effect and continuation of the logic of the violent state, masqueraded behind the language of peace, order, and safety. We’ll continue this thought in another post.

In the immediate aftermath of November 9, 2011, Chancellor Birgeneau attempted to justify the brutality of the police by claiming that “linking arms is not non-violent.”[7] But the origin of this infamous claim—which Birgeneau reproduced uncritically—should be properly attributed to UCPD Captain Margo Bennet. According to Bennet, “[t]he individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence […] I understand that many students may not think that, but linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest.”[8] This is also how shaking or holding a barricade, chanting “hold the line,” linking arms, refusing to leave, or even simply being trapped and having nowhere to go after being ordered to leave, becomes an act of violence. Bennet’s and Birgeneau’s dangerous leap of logic has now culminated in UCPD’s sinister tactic of using their legal right of access to the medical records of baton-injured students who sought treatment at the Tang Center, to identify them for the purpose of prosecuting them. It is a classic example of how the police have increasingly turned statutes and laws, initially aimed at protecting the victims from its assailants, against the victims themselves (charging Occupy Oakland activists with hate crimes or lynching is another recent example). Such use of the law was rightly called “perverse” by ACLU attorney Linda Lye.[9] It shows that the state is making a causal link between wounded bodies and violent perpetrators, resulting in a tautological configuration that turns the victim of police violence into a violent subject, into an aggressor, while at the same time victimizing the real perpetrator and erasing from the picture the actual agent of violence. Continue reading

Discussion 5 Comments Category Occupy Cal, Open Letters

On Privatization and Brutalizing Campuses

(By Gina Patnaik and Aaron Bady)

Last November, a few days after videos of riot police beating Berkeley student protestors were blowing up on youtube, an article in the New York Times announced that UC-Berkeley’s Chancellor Robert Birgeneau had been travelling to establish a satellite campus within the intimate confines of Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park. Because Birgeneau had been in Asia during the entirety of the week leading up to and following the events of that day, he had had very little to say about what was happening on his campus, with the exception of two extremely tin-eared and downright offensive emails. We knew he was out of town while campus police were brutalizing their campus, but that’s all we knew.

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Discussion 19 Comments Category A Reclamations Feature

Call for submissions: Long Walks pamphlet

Reclamations is currently accepting submissions for two projects that will be published online and printed as pamphlets to be distributed this spring.

The first pamphlet, tentatively entitled Long Walks, is a project we began partly in anticipation and support of the upcoming march for public education that will begin in Berkeley and will end, a mere eighty miles away, on the capitol grounds in Sacramento.

Traversing great distances on foot has long been part of the tradition of popular resistance. Perhaps one thinks of Gandhi’s 241-mile journey across the Indian subcontinent, which he undertook in 1930 in opposition to the British Salt Tax. Or perhaps one thinks back to 1960, when about six hundred Americans participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights. The first time the Montgomery-bound protestors set out, they were met with billy clubs and tear gas. A second attempt was made, and after making their way across highway and mead, they arrived at the Alabama state capitol. More recently, protestors from Occupy Wall Street set out on a 230-mile walk from New York City to Washington DC. And last summer, a “walk to work” campaign was started in Uganda, as a way to demonstrate against rising fuel prices and poor living conditions.

Reclamations invites you to submit work that reflects on walking as a political and cultural practice. Artwork and/or short pieces of writing are welcome. For the latter, submissions should be somewhere in the vicinity of 1250 words.

Questions and topics may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • How does the simple activity of putting one foot in front of the other become a form of political praxis?
  • What might it mean to walk long distances, especially in a context in which walking is a mode of transport that many consider inefficient or outmoded?
  • Walking as collective action
  • Walking and the reclamation of public spaces, particularly the street, the highway
  • Reflections on historical walks or marches
  • The long walk as a response to the privatization of public education
  • Commentary or analysis of the California walk in March
  • Walking as slow-speed transit
  • The political walk as it may resonate with other cultural practices, like the pilgrimage or the procession
  • Walking as the crossing urban, suburban, and country spaces
  • Walking in the context of other forms of political action, like the strike or the occupation
  • What might distinguish the politically motivated walk from perambulation, itinerancy, the promenade, the idling of a wanderer?
  • Walking as a form of labor
  • Why walk?
  • Walking-as-a-fuck-you-to-great-injustice
  • Walk-onomics

Work received and accepted before February 27th will be made available to those embarking on the four-day journey to Sacramento. Submissions will also be accepted through April 1, and all accepted contributions will be gathered and printed in the second edition of Long Walks.

Email submissions to Other queries should be directed to

Discussion 8 Comments Category Uncategorized

Untitled (Reflections on Occupy Oakland Jan 28 Actions)


— Puck Lo, Oakland, CA.


From the diffuse clouded sunlight, which looks and feels the same in January as it does in June, to the broken glass glinting on the sidewalks, downtown Oakland is as usual. The city barely skips a beat anymore during and after the now-normal political riots that clog otherwise empty, wide downtown thoroughfares, drawing relatively little attention from non-political passers-by beyond perfunctory updates on Twitter decrying the lack of parking due to #oo or contemplating the sometimes nearly monolithic young whiteness of these latest exhilarated, raging masses.

Since the diverted building takeover on Saturday and the police riot, kettling and violent mass-arrest of marchers outside the YMCA, interest in denouncing and trying once again to co-opt and control the unruly Occupy has returned with a vengeance. Recently dormant factions of the Bay Area’s Leftish communities and political intelligentsia, often genuinely well-intentioned, are issuing statements condemning so-called violence against buildings and other inanimate objects or taking issue with the insurrectionist strategy of facing off with police and antagonizing city officials. This unnamed Occupy strategy, coupled with the hyper-militarized state of Oakland’s police force, culminated on Saturday with some 400 arrests and hundreds of thousands in city dollars spent to terrorize the populace of our fiscally gutted, deeply unequal and gentrifying city. Continue reading

Discussion 6 Comments Category Occupy Oakland Tags

In the Desert of Cities: Notes on the Occupy Movement in the US

by George Caffentzis

A talk presented atThe Tragedy of the Market: From Crisis to Commons”: a community gathering.  Vancouver, B.C./Coast Salish Territory.*  January 8, 2012


The Coptic hermits who left the world as though escaping from a wreck, did not merely intend to save themselves. They knew that they were helpless to do any good for others as long as they floundered about in the wreckage. But once they got a foothold on solid ground, things were different. Then they had not only the power but even the obligation to pull the whole world to safety after them.

–Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert


No person shall sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, side walk or other public way.

–L.A.M.C. Sec. 41 18 (D)



My comments today arise out of my experience with “Occupy” movements in Greece (Thessaloniki and Athens) and in the US between June 2011 and the present. In the US. I have visited Occupy sites in New York, Boston, Portland, Maine, Oakland, San Francisco and I was at the destruction of the Occupy University of California–Berkeley site. I have not, however, spent a hermit’s night in an Occupy site.


Introduction: The Occupy Movement’s limits and possibilities internally and externally.

The recent governmental repression of the “Occupy movement” in the US has as its icons photos of New York City police officers’ harsh treatment of the Occupy Wall Street participants who practiced non-violence in the face of tremendous provocation: from the arrest of over 700 people in one action on the Brooklyn Bridge to the wrecking of the kitchen, library and the inhabited tents filled with personal effects on the Zuccotti Park site. Similar police violence occurred in most of the occupations in the larger cities like Boston, Oakland, San Francisco, Denver as well as New York City.

In the wake of the repression–justified under a ragtag series of minor, largely municipal (or, as Foucault would say, “biopolitical”) regulations: health and sanitary rulings, park closing hour regulations, restrictions on over-night presence in a public space, and regulations like L.A.M.C. Sec. 41.18 (D) which were devised to drive homeless people from the streets–there was outrage, for after all why should one be beaten to a pulp or be pepper sprayed in the eyes by police officers for the crime of over-night camping in a public park, an offence that would normally deserve the equivalent of a parking ticket? Why should so-called “free speech” constitutional rights not trump these local ordinances? After all, there is no 9 PM closure inscribed in the First Amendment. And indeed, these Clearances have generated thousands of lawsuits against municipal governments that will fill the court dockets around the country for a long time to come.

We know, on the testimony of Oakland’s mayor, Jean Quan, to the BBC that the assaults against the occupy sites were not the result of cops’ spontaneous sadism given free rein. They were coordinated and discussed by mayors from eighteen other cities. There is also good evidence of the involvement of Department of Homeland Security and FBI personnel coordinating the assaults.

It is also clear that these attacks were never repulsed by the type of self-defense that was (and is) practiced in Tahrir Square in over a year of deadly struggle in the face of live bullets and tear gas. In fact, and this is something I heard in the New York City, Oakland and San Francisco Occupy sites, many occupiers were either ambiguous about or almost relieved by the clearances while many others were bitter about the lack of resolve of the occupiers to defend their new community in formation. In the midst of this crisis, some even went as far as to say that the clearances came just in time to “save” the situation because there was so much discord in the encampments that they were on the verge of decomposition, while still others were angry about the lack of resolve of their fellow occupiers to hold the site.

Though, of course, the violence of the state is a significant barrier to the growth of the movement and constitutes an external limit, it is even more urgent to discuss the movement’s internal limits as we take new steps in expanding its scope. For, in actual fact, these internal limits are based upon the movement’s success in bringing together many class strata that had rarely encountered each other body to body politically. The political problem/challenge of the Occupy movement that was recognized with some chagrin was that the Occupy sites actually arose out of their success in doing a remarkable job of attracting many new strata of the 99% (or what used to be called the working class) to the occupy site.

In this talk I will discuss the paradoxical success of the Occupy movement, its relationship to some past movements and what its challenges are.

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Discussion 137 Comments Category Uncategorized