“Anarchism … is a living force within our life …” Anarchism, Education and Alternative Possibilities : Educational Studies, Volume 48, Issue 1 (2012)
...professor in the social foundations at the University of Texas, San Antonio. My research interests include curriculum studies. cultural studies, utopian studies, French social theory, nonhuman animals, archival research, representation, space and place, anarchist theory, and critical pedagogy... (From : Academia.edu.)
“Anarchism … is a living force within our life …” Anarchism, Education and Alternative Possibilities
One hundred thirty years ago or so, my great-grandfather, an employee in this country’s booming logging industry, was helping to wipe out the great pines in the northern Midwest of the United States to re-build Chicago. To accomplish this feat in Northern Michigan, the government first had to dispossess the Ojibwe tribes of their relationship to the land and rivers that they had depended upon for centuries, sending them to live on reservations, never to provide for their families in the same way again. It took a mere thirty years to completely wipe out those ancient forests. Imagine what it must have been like for the native people to experience such massive destruction of the rich living world they had lived within. Today you can still see the effects of my grandfather’s work north of Grayling, MI, where fields of stumps preserved by their own pine pitch stretch out like graveyards, stark reminders of what this modern industrial culture is capable of.
Around this same time during the nineteenth century, Karl Marx and others were developing an important critique of the processes of industrialization enslaving the lives of masses of people in Europe laboring under the relatively new mantel of capitalist ideology. A critical historical crossroads was unfolding.
Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian exile, was also working to arouse in the hearts and minds of the workers of Europe the desire and means with which to oppose the conditions of developing capital and the authoritarian cultural forms associated with it. Often referred to as the father of collectivist socialism or anarchism, Bakunin was both a colleague and major rival of Marx in this struggle. Although he considered himself a student of Marx’s economic analysis, the major reason for their rivalry was Bakunin’s critique of what he believed to be a fundamental authoritarianism in both Marx’s ideas and the bureaucratic organization of which he was the leader. Bakunin believed that all authority and hierarchy in human social life, no matter what the size of the organization in question, but especially that claimed by the State and including the so-called “dictatorship of the proletariat,” amounted to a fundamental assault on human liberty and on what he called the “natural laws” underlying its possibility.
I have been particularly interested in Bakunin because, challenging age-old hierarchies separating humans and the natural world, he believed that “man is nothing but nature,” and nature is “the result produced by the simultaneous action of particular causes, the combined unity of which is created by the infinite totality of the ceaseless transformations of all existing things … this boundless multitude of actions and reactions … nature is created and creator of these things” (Bakunin 1953, 53–54). Any attempt to dissassociate “man” from this connection would be nothing short of suicidal.
All this boundless multitude of particular actions and reactions, combined in one general movement, produces and constitutes what we call Life, Solidarity, Universal Causality, Nature. Call it, if you find it amusing, God, the Absolute—it really does not matter—provided you do not attribute the word God a meaning different from … the universal, natural, necessary, and real but in no way predetermined, preconceived or foreknown combination of the infinity of particular actions and reactions which all things having real existence incessantly exercise upon one another. (Bakunin 1953, 53)
Bakunin’s thought about humans’ relationship within this complex system arose from his primary disdain for all notions of hierarchy, including those being used to legitimate power in the labor movement underway in Europe. Ultimately, Marx used his power in the Alliance to his strategic benefit, expelling Bakunin and his followers, and ultimately undermining Bakunin’s influence in the movement. He effectively used his authority in the organization to kill off his ideological competitor, enacting exactly the kind of coercion that Bakunin argued was the basis of human political and ultimately evolutionary failure. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
So here’s something to think about as we ponder our historical “evolution” as a weedy species and as a dominator culture: What if Marx had listened to Bakunin’s ideas regarding the destructive nature of all authority, including the authority embedded in the so-called dictatorship of the proletariate accurately predicted by Bakunin to lead to nothing better than the accumulation of power to be wielded over the very people it supposedly was created to liberate? Bakunin also criticized Marx for not including in his analysis of the socioeconomic conditions of human liberty, a fuller understanding and anaysis of the larger life forces enveloping human and nonhuman species, a position I believe to be radically out of sync for his time, but crucial to our survival as a species.
I wonder if, as a civilization, we had paid attention to Bakunin’s understanding of the essential relation between human freedom and our interdependence with larger life forces (or nature), and his critique of the use of authoritarian ideologies to disregard this essential relationship, we might find ourselves in a very different position than we are today. Standing at the crossroads poised to choose between Bakunin and Marx, what would have happened if the movement against capitalism had chosen a different path, a path founded upon a fundamental understanding of mutuality, cooperation and collective alliance grounded in an understanding of and respect for the complex and magnificent processes and forces of nature?
We are at another crossroads, now even more critical to our survival. It is a crossroads that asks those of us participating in dominator cultures of the West to become different from who we have been. Will we pay attention to what Bakunin was trying to teach us over a hundred years ago?
I offer you these musings as I welcome you to this special issue on Anarchism and Education. I actually wrote most of the previous paragraphs several years ago, and now realize how important the questions raised by anarchist philosophers of education are to the development of my own interests in EcoJustice Education. I’m not sure why I left my study of Bakunin behind, but I want to thank Abe Deleon for reawakening this line of thinking again, and bringing me back to anarchist theory. There are so many incredible convergences with the work of poststructuralists I’ve been interested in for years (Deleuze 1990), with the work of Gregory Bateson (2000), with ecofeminists (Plumwood 2002), and EcoJustice (Martusewicz, Edmundson, and Lupinacci 2011). I’m excited to dove back in and draw these together!
But enough of my own interests; this issue is wonderful and you all just need to get on to the articles and reviews that Abe and the contributors have waiting for you. I don’t think we pay enough attention to the key ideas in anarchism. Maybe it’s time.
My best to you all on this gray November day! Perhaps just one more cup of coffee before going out to tackle the growing mound of leaves. Do you remember piling them up and jumping in them as kids? Oh to be that carefree again!
Bateson, Gregory. 2000. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bakunin, Mikhail. 1953. The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism., Edited by: Maximoff, G. P. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
Deleuze, Gilles. 1990. Difference and Repetition, New York: Columbia University Press.
Plumwood, Val. 2002. Environmental Culture., London: Routledge.
Martusewicz, Rebecca, Edmundson, Jeff and Lupinacci, John. 2011. EcoJustice Education: Toward Diverse, Democratic, and Sustainable Communities, New York: Routldge.
Often represented as lawless, chaotic, and oppressively individualistic, it appears that anarchism has bore the brunt of a host of problematic assumptions about its tactics, methodological approaches, and aims, ignoring its rich intellectual and activist history. The “living force” of anarchism in the title to this special issue is evoked from the words of one particular anarchist; a beautifully incorrigible woman by the name of Emma Goldman who believed anarchism provided new ways of thinking and acting in the world, what she called “building and sustaining a new life” (Goldman 1969, 49). Goldman was acutely aware of the revolutionary and utopian potential that anarchism provided. Because of this, State agents have diligently taken notice of anarchism, constructing it as a “threat” and highlighting its subversive and problematic existence for the police and other State agents (Borum and Tilby 2004).
Despite these negative perceptions, anarchists have forged scathing critiques of capitalism and the State. Anarchism has influenced art, social theory, education, justice studies, critical animal studies, and cultural studies, making anarchist critiques trans-disciplinary encounters (Amster et al. 2009; Jun and Wahl 2010). At the same time, anarchism has also escaped the academy and has inspired activists and other social movements grounded in the streets of Empire (CrimethInc Worker’s Collective 2008). This multidimensional existence comprises the strengths of anarchism, while at the same time posing a challenge for interpreting it in a way that resists domestication. Anarchists can never underestimate the recuperative nature of rhizomatic capitalism, with its networks that span time, territory, and epistemological frameworks (Vandenberghe 2008).
Luckily, anarchism is highly adaptable to our current historical conjuncture. In the academy for example, other theoretical paradigms have been combined with anarchism, like poststructuralism, demonstrating its potential for collaboration (Call 2002; May 1994). It has also garnered strong reactions from Marxist discourses that tend to be hostile or less open to anarchist critiques and practices, possibly steeped in the history between Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin at the First International (McKay 2008). This last point is not to be underestimated because of the primacy that Marxist theory has had in radical educational discourses like critical pedagogy (McLaren and Jaramillo 2010). This leads us to a better understanding of why such a cold response has fallen on anarchism in educational theory (Suissa 2010).
It seems imperative, then, to map key goals/tactics/approaches toward social problems that have derived from a variety of anarchist sources, texts, and practices. These anarchist themes directly apply to education, renewing why those that consider themselves radicals in education should begin to take anarchism more seriously; exploring what it can offer an imaginative rethinking of contemporary social and pedagogical realities (DeLeon 2008). Describing and defining what anarchism is becomes problematic, as it also encompasses a plethora of historical legacies, subjectivities, identities, and other positionalities that has lent it to be being interpreted from a wide intellectual spectrum situated in anti-State actions, insurrectionary movements, identity politics, and protest culture. Its wild spirit pushes us to not think of anarchism in terms of prescribed truths, but instead recognize multiple anarchism’s that can exist simultaneously. Although a variety of traditions have been combined with contemporary anarchist thought and practice, I cannot omit the history of class struggle that formed the core of nineteenth- and twentieth- century anarchism. What follows are some of the major themes that have emerged from a diverse body of anarchist theory and praxis.
A main concern for anarchist resistance has been directed towards the State and global capitalism, especially the hierarchies these two realities sustain that represent pernicious forms of power (Sartwell 2008). Although hierarchies are a pervasive aspect of the ways in which governmentality has been imagined, they are also found in other social realities, like the social construction of knowledge (i.e., discourses of science for example). Hierarchies must be dismantled because of their ties to practices of domination enacted on political dissidents, the poor, prisoners, and other marginalized populations. Hierarchical orderings of humanity, for example, were at the forefront of how Europeans became racialized subjects and, in turn, created more to sustain these formations (Smedley 2007). Anarchists are invested in struggles that force us to rethink how our lives are controlled, structured, and governed hierarchically.
Authority is another technique aimed at producing docile and compliant bodies, easily managed by surveillance technologies and the allure of consumer capitalism. For anarchists, authority must be resisted, deconstructed, and eventually dismantled. From the streets of Seattle in 1999 to the anarchist that has infiltrated an animal testing laboratory or a public school classroom, authority is met with skepticism, resistance, infiltration, and subversion (Guérin 1970). However, anarchists have historically moved beyond just critique. They have produced direct action strategies that allow them to intervene in the world directly, circumventing State structures of authority for permission or justification (DeLeon 2008).
Although anarchism has been concerned with States and resisting global capitalism, it has also been more recently engaged with the formation of identities and subjectivities. In the realm of sexuality, for example, anarchists have been concerned with issues like heteronormativity and have pushed for more open relationships based upon respect and radical forms of love (Heckert and Cleminson 2011). Identity is at the heart of anarchism because it appears anarchists have recognized the relationships of power invested in constructing subjects during certain historical conjunctures. Power is at the heart of subjectivity and taking a poststructural cue, they have recognized that resistance must also cross the political to those of the personal; exploring how it operates through bodies, perceptions of reality, and the construction of self.
Education has been a concern for anarchists globally and they have served a variety of roles in educational movements (Gribble 2004; Suissa 2010). Like Marxists who have critiqued schooling for its reproductive role (Cole 2008), anarchists have also been involved in schooling in various ways: from critiquing its structures to experimenting with nonauthoritarian models of education. These experimental forms of deschooling have occurred globally at different historical conjunctures (Gribble 2004). The role that State forms of education play in the transmission of the status quo and the Truths it engenders produces specific outlooks, frameworks, dispositions, and relationships to authority structures. Most anarchists recognize that education will have to play a major role in social transformation.
Often shunned in mainstreamed discourses surrounding educational theory and research, anarchists have engaged the imagination by examining its role(s) in building and sustaining resistance (Shukaitis 2009). The imagination “is not a roadmap or blueprint set out beforehand where sentences and pages unfold logically from one location to the next. It is a series of gestures, a means without ends” (Shukaitis 2009, 9). This imaginative spirit has driven many of the critiques, actions, and visions that anarchists have been instrumental in creating for their collectives and affinity groups. The utopian impulse found in anarchism helps shape resistance strategies that cross boundaries; physical, metaphorical, conceptual, and epistemological. The imagination must remain unfettered and escape the confines of dominant ideologies and discourses of the State.
Anarchism’s spirit can be found in each of the provocative articles found in this special issue. The transdisciplinary nature of anarchism is best represented in the first article, authored by Jamie Heckert, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Willis. The authors examine anarchism utilizing an autoethnographic approach, calling upon queer, feminist, and anarchist theories to present the concept of freedom and love, set in the context of a society centered in hierarchical domination. Anarchist pedagogies allow us to celebrate in the multiplicity of life, refusing to conform to authority that evokes legal and scientific discourses for legitimation and normalization. Playing with identities and recreating what it means to be teachers would heavily subvert pedagogical norms. This would, in theory, open up pedagogies to include other voices and alternative histories. Knowledge must be destabilized and the classroom space must be open to new experiences and ways of looking at the world.
Christian Garland looks at the potentialities of anarchist thought and practice (with a Marxist influence) situated in the UK context. Examining the institutional nature of education, students are forced to submit to a hierarchical authority structure that tries to find one singular approach to educating all students; i.e., standardization. This reproduces the institutional nature of education and is enveloped it seems, in the subjectivities of student experiences. However, this does not stop at primary school, but also transcends to university institutions. For Garland, the university acts as the culminating experience in producing market-focused laborers that force students to pay exorbitant fees to receive a degree. Recent student movements against this demonstrates that students still have the desire and capacity to reappropriate knowledge from structures of power.
Mark Wolfmeyer turns his attention toward a disciplinary subject and analyzes math education, a context that has previously received little attention from anarchists. Historically, math has been a tool of appropriation and a discourse steeped in exclusion. In this way, math education has been used to work against anarchist values like collectivism, fraternity, and the dismantling of hierarchical orderings. The exploitation of labor, gross economic inequalities, and perpetual war has been waged against anarchists, and the author contends that math has been at the center of these practices. The State has taken an interest in supporting math education because it supports militaristic and capitalist systems. Math, rooted in hierarchical systems, does not allow students and teachers to develop autonomous ways of knowing and understanding the world around them. Wolfmeyer proceeds to define the terms for an anarchist math education that would celebrate teacher and student autonomy, debunking scripted curriculum for one that supports agency and autonomy.
Kurt Love examines anarchist theory within the community context, challenging the notion of the angry anarchist bent on destruction. Love argues that anarchism transcends violence and needs more inclusive forms of resistance that help expose the fallacies of contemporary society. Love wants to place anarchism within a love/rage dichotomy because, according to the author, rage is closely linked to loving relationships. Love being the affective force of liberation of self from oppressive social conditions and rage encompassing anger, action, and love that sits apart from merely destructive tendencies, also born from the desire to create a new world. Buy Nothing Day and Food Not Bombs are practices that seem to be born from anarchist love and rage. Love advocates the use of this love/rage dichotomy as a tool for resistance, raising consciousness and recognizing the dominant hegemonies that control us. Schools can be spaces where these can be negated: a decentralized education that is freed from government control and more relative to the students’ own community. Love ends the article by exploring how anarchist education can connect to ecology, and ultimately, to building new forms of spirituality.
Felecia M. Briscoe, who critiques neoliberalism and its hegemony in current economic and educational debates, claims it has influenced decision-making in schools (privatization, testing, alienation) and is tied to supposedly “democratic” practices propagated in the mainstream media and dominant educational discourses. Neoliberalism produces a superficial form of democracy that does not promote an understanding of how social change can be enacted through deep democratic practices. She compares anarchist theory to deep democracy (respect for others, autonomy, love, and a fair distribution of wealth) and the parallels they share. These two traditions can be utilized to produce social change and to revitalize an authentic joy of teaching and learning. She gives specific outlines for smaller models of schools that could embody anarchist models of decision-making, producing less coercive educational experiences grounded in localized decisions.
Amster, Randall, DeLeon, Abraham, Fernandez, Luis, Nocella, Anthony II and Shannon, Deric. 2009. Contemporary Anarchist Studies: An Introductory Anthology of Anarchy in the Academy, New York: Routledge.
Borum, Randy and Tilby, Chuck. 2004. Anarchist Direct Actions: A Challenge for Law Enforcement. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 28: 201–223.
Call, Lewis. 2002. Postmodern Anarchism, Lanham, MD: Lexington.
Cole, Mike. 2008. Marxism and Educational Theory: Origins and Issues, New York: Routeldge.
CrimethInc Worker’s Collective. 2008. Expect Resistance: A Crimethink Field Manual, Salem, OR: CrimethInc.
DeLeon, Abraham. 2008. Oh No, Not the ‘A’ Word! Proposing an ‘Anarchism’ for Education. Educational Studies, 44(2): 122–141.
Goldman, Emma. 1969. Anarchism and Other Essays, New York: Dover.
Gribble, David. 2004. “Good New for Francisco Ferrer: How Anarchist Ideals in Education Have Survived Around the World.” In Changing Anarchism: Anarchist Theory and Practice in a Global Age, Edited by: Purkis, Jonathan and Bowen, James. 181–198. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
Guérin, Daniel. 1970. Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, New York: Monthly Review Press.
Heckert, Jamie and Cleminson, Richard. 2011. Anarchism and Sexuality: Ethics, Relationships and Power, New York: Routledge.
Jun, Nathan and Wahl, Shane. 2010. New Perspectives on Anarchism, Lanham, MD: Lexington.
May, Todd. 1994. The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism, University Park: Pennsylvania University Press.
McKay, Iain. 2008. An Anarchist FAQ: AFAQ Volume One, Oakland, CA: AK Press.
McLaren, Peter and Jaramillo, Nathalia. 2010. Not Neo-Marxist, Not Post-Marxist, Not Marxian, Not Autonomist Marxism: Reflections on a Revolutionary (Marxist) Critical Pedagogy. Cultural Studies ⇔ Critical Methodologies, 10(3): 251–262.
Sartwell, Crispin. 2008. Against the State: An Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory, Albany: State University of New York Press.
Shukaitis, Stevphen. 2009. Imaginal Machines: Autonomy & Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Life, Williamsburgh, NY: Autonomedia.
Smedley, Audrey. 2007. Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview, 3rd ed, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Suissa, Judith. 2010. Anarchism and Education: A Philosophical Perspective, Oakland, CA: PM Press.
Vandenberghe, Frédéric. 2008. Deleuzian Capitalism. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 34(8): 877–903.
At times, radical theory can propose a singular story of the nature of power, suggesting that it must either be taken or abolished. This then becomes intertwined with a pedagogical strategy of recruitment, whereby others are encouraged to share in this ideological framework and the political practices based upon it. In this article, we propose an alternative based on practices of freedom and the role of love in subverting interdependent patterns of normativity and hierarchy. Bringing together anarchist, feminist, and queer theories alongside authoethnographic accounts from classrooms and other spaces of pedagogy, we highlight the value of a multiplicity of stories, of telling stories and doing roles differently, and of releasing stories for the immediacy of connection.
As we write this article, the three of us sit in front of our glowing computer screens, connected through a web of Internet connections. One of us lives in Connecticut, a small state on the East Coast of the United States. Another lives a four-hour drive northwest in upstate New York, nestled in between interstates and mountains in Syracuse. Yet another live’s across the ocean in a cute little cottage in a large coastal town in southern England.
We communicate using electronic impulses sent through fiber-optic, copper, coaxial cables, etc.—the Internet. This network of networks connects billions of people worldwide, including millions of businesses, academic institutions, individual people, social networking groups, dating services—communities and individuals of all sorts. We use electronic impulses, sent through this complex webbing, to send each other draft’s. They travel along wires, through nodes, and disperse throughout various networks that connect users together and allow them to share information.
This might serve as an interesting metaphor for how power operates in the world. In response to theories that tend to “locate power within specific institutions such as the economy or the state,” particularly classical Marxist-inspired theories and various forms of pluralist democratic political theory, some theorists have suggested that power might better be described as diffuse and dispersed throughout social life (Glasberg and Shannon 2011, 33). Indeed, the Internet is one among many metaphors that can describe the ways that power—always productive and only sometimes repressive—is an omnipresent web in our everyday lives.
Foucault, for example, is often cited for noting productive power that can produce certain kinds of bodies and types of citizens. Through genealogies of forms of punishment, madness, and sexuality, Foucault noted how bodies of knowledge, or discourses, historically develop to shape our understanding of ourselves and who and, importantly, what we are. These discourses, then, have productive power. They produce identities and a highly disciplined social body. Rather than seeing the state or the economy as the location for power or the locus for change, Foucault (1980) noted that “nothing in society will be changed if the mechanisms of power that function outside, below and alongside the State apparatuses, on a much more minute and everyday level, are not also changed” (60).
This emphasis on the micropolitical is also found in the work of Foucault’s contemporaries, Deleuze and Guattari, who note that “every politics is simultaneously a macropolitics and a micropolitics” (1987, 213). Like Foucault, they refuse to think of power as a property of certain individuals or institutions. Rather, they propose that power can be understood to operate in a way that is rhizomatic. Using a rhizome, a series of roots and shoots sent out from multiple nodes, as a metaphor, Deleuze and Guattari argue that origin myths about the nature of power ignore multiplicity and the often random and scattered ways that power operates. So where certain Marxists might point to the mode of production in a given society as the source of superstructural phenomena, Deleuze and Guattari saw power resembling these root-like structures—diffuse and dispersed throughout social life, often random, and unpredictable.
These theoretical forays led to new kinds of questions in social theory. After all, if power isn’t located within specific institutions that then influence (or, in some instances, determine) our social relations, how then do we conceptualize social change? Can there still be radical alternatives to capitalism and the state if they are not totalizing institutions and if we must also focus elsewhere, perhaps in our everyday lives, in order to alter our social relationships? If history is not progressive, but rather often random and unpredictable, can we still conceive of a progressive politics that argues for some distant, “better” future?
To the theme of this particular journal edition (anarchism and education), this conceptualization of power and the attendant questions are certainly not new to scholars, some of whom are putting these insights to work in relationship to anarchism (e.g., see Day 2005; Kuhn 2009; May 1989, 1994, 2009; Newman 2001, 2007; Rousselle and Evren 2011). And this sense of a productive power—power that can produce certain kinds of people—is an understanding that is rigorously applied by queer and gender theorists in the project of destabilizing the borders we place around identity categories (e.g., see Butler 2004; Halperin 1995; Queen and Schimel 1997; Sedgwick 1990; Warner 1999). Likewise, these connections in queer and gender theory have been put to use in queering anarchism, providing us with new lenses for thinking about the politics of sexuality and gender, as well as anarchism and anarchy themselves (e.g., see Avery-Natale 2010; Brown 2007; Heckert 2004, 2010a; Heckert and Cleminson 2011; Jeppesen 2010; Ritchie 2008; Shannon and Willis 2010; Veneuse 2010; Windpassinger 2010). Similarly, anarchist insights, and at times their intersections with these poststructuralist theories of power, have influenced new forms of thinking about pedagogy (e.g., see Armaline 2009; DeLeon 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010; DeLeon and Love 2009; Kahn 2009; Shukaitis 2009; Suissa 2010).
With this article, we aim to contribute to these discussions by writing on the intersections of queer theory, anarchism, and education. Building on insights from poststructuralist theories of power, queer theory has a lot to offer anarchism and educational theory—particularly anarchist approaches to education. It allows us ways to theorize power as it infuses our interactions with students and the ways that it becomes embedded in our own discourses. Furthermore, it allows us to look at how the separations between our sexual and gendered selves and our experiences as pedagogues, students, and the many places in between are often false separations. Finally, queer theory allows us to destabilize normative understandings of teaching, learning, and education’s role in society and in our everyday lives.
So in the context of this article, we want to play a bit with theory and pedagogy. We hope to say some new things about teaching and learning. And we’ll likely make some connections that are not particularly new, although hopefully stated in new and useful ways. We approach this project with a sense of experimentation, not to point out any final answers or truths about pedagogy, but to push the borders of utopian thinking and implementation—perhaps to make them strange, to queer and broaden our approaches to teaching, learning, and by extension, living our lives.
This article has been woven together by three writers, each of us bringing together our own experiences, thoughts, and feelings. We are moved by Judy Greenway’s (2008) suggestion that “in qualitative research, the creative juxtaposition of narratives—our own, and those of our subjects and our audience—can generate a positive methodological anarchism that relinquishes control, challenges boundaries and hierarchies, and provides a space for new ideas to emerge” (324). And we follow Stacy Holman Jones and Tony E. Adams (2010) in their use of autoethnography as a queer method. Like them,
We also use “I” to tell our stories to combine us, as authors and readers, into a shared experience. My experience—our experience—could be your experience. My experience—our experience—could reframe your experience. My experience—our experience—could politicize your experience and could motivate, mobilize you, and us, to action. (198)
We invite readers to join in our methodological anarchism, to make space in their lives for ideas, feelings, and stories that may arise in engaging with these words. Help us queer the “author” in authority. The imaginary separation of the reader from writer is the act that allows the imagined hierarchy to exist, whether obeyed, resented, defied, or ignored. Ursula Le Guin notes,
When it’s published you’re sending it out into this void, hopeful it’s full of readers. And the way they read it is what makes it a story. They finish it. If it’s not read, it doesn’t really exist. It’s wood pulp with black marks on it. The reader does work with the writer. (quoted in Freedman 2008, 88–89)
Dear reader, you are warmly invited to work, play, dance with these words.
[I]f we challenge the hierarchical approach which sees writing and fighting vie for place as Top Anarchist Activity, we can begin to investigate other sources, ask different kinds of questions, gain new inspirations. (Greenway 2010, 7)
Nathan Jun (2010) has argued that the joint anarchist emphasis on freedom and equality might instead be recognized in one hybrid concept: vitality.
By life, moreover, we do not mean biological life but rather the immanent processes of change, development and becoming in terms of which Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin inter alia (among other things) describe existence. … Individual and social, social and ecological, ecological and global, global and cosmic—there are just so many levels of analysis which, if they can be said to differ at all, only differ in terms of scope. (56)
For us, then, queering anarchism is one way, or rather many ways, of keeping anarchism vital both in the sense of necessary and, perhaps more importantly, in the sense of living, changing, evolving. And so to the list of anarchist forefathers, we also add the names of others who see a living world in a living cosmos where vitality is a force to be honored and nurtured, where domination is to be recognized, undermined, overflowed, subverted, and released. This list might include queer figures such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Emma Goldman, Starhawk, Judith Butler, Chaia Heller, Judy Greenway, Ursula K. Le Guin, M. Jacqui Alexander, Michel Foucault, Giles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari. It might include us, or you.
The different levels of scale Jun describes might be understood as fractal. Whether popular poster art from the 1980’s in certain cultures or in images of natural systems, a fractal is a self-similar pattern. Zooming in or out, a narrow focus or taking in a wide view, the pattern is more or less the same. Cultures of domination contain fractals of violence and violation. As feminists famously noted so many years ago, “The personal is political”—our personal lives might find reflections in larger relations of domination.
However, other fractals are possible. Indeed, they are essential to life. From the numerous, rhizomatic interconnections of the Internet, the brain, the underground mycelial networks that support ecosystems and social movements (Sullivan 2008) to the shapes of lungs and trees, unfurling ferns and spirals of weather systems, fractals are the geometry of life. Inspired by this, Sian Sullivan “affirms the possibility of a proliferation of democratic processes … in which people participate and which people self-organize, together with fostering the dynamic feedback possible via connectivity between scales. A fractal democracy, in other word” (2005, 380n45; see also Heckert 2010b). This democracy is not representative, not “participatory” in its dullest, driest sense; it is vital, alive. Following M. Jacqui Alexander (2005), we wish to queer anarchism (and anarchist pedagogies) by focusing not on domination, but on life itself:
Often I intended my teachings to serve as a conduit to radicalization, which I now understand to mean a certain imprisonment that conflates the terms of domination with the essence of life. Similar to the ways in which domination always already confounds our sex with all of who we are, the focus on radicalization always turns our attention to domination. (8)
In other words, anarchist pedagogy does not necessarily need to consist primarily of a continuous critique of the state, capitalism, or other patterns of hierarchy. What are the emotional effects of viewing the world primarily through lenses of domination? (This is not a rhetorical question, but one for readers to consider with the authority of their own experience.) Instead, we suggest an emphasis on observing the ways in which life continuously refuses to conform to claims of authority, whether legal, moral, or scientific, and nurturing that capacity in ourselves and others.
Another way in which we hope to queer anarchism is to clear the inseparability of anarchist critiques of the state and institutionalized domination and queer critiques of normativity. Now, to be clear, we do not wish to construct a rigid figure of anarchism that we liberate with our queerness. This would be to fall into some sort of trap of progress sustained through a caricature of the old, the established (see Cohn and Wilber 2003, for a critique of post-anarchist caricatures of anarchism, and Martin 1994, for critiques of queer caricatures of femininity). Rather, we aim to find that which is vital, which is sustaining both in anarchism and in other traditions (Shannon and Willis 2010). And so, in our project of nurturing vital, fractal democracy through pedagogy in its broadest sense, we look to the queer already existing in anarchism, turning now to a woman who might be considered one of the earliest queer theorists: Emma Goldman.
Queer theory, like anarchism, has been criticized for promoting a radical individuality, emphasizing transgression—the breaking of rules or breaking from (heteronormative) roles—over the practical construction of radical alternatives (Ebert 1996; Glick 2000). Emma Goldman (1996), in linking normativity, capitalism and the state, makes clear the distinction between radical, vital individuality and a constraining individualism.
Individuality is not to be confused with the various ideas and concepts of Individualism; much less with that “rugged individualism” which is only a masked attempt to repress and defeat the individual and his individuality So-called Individualism is the social and economic laissez faire: the exploitation of the masses by the classes by means of legal trickery, spiritual debasement and systematic indoctrination of the servile spirit, which process is known as ‘education.’ That corrupt and perverse ‘individualism’ is the strait-jacket of individuality. It has converted life into a degrading race for externals, for possession, for social prestige and supremacy. (112)
We might even go further with Goldman and call for intrapersonal fractal democracy. Internal domination is part of the fractal pattern of hierarchy and normativity.
[The Mass] clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify! the moment a protesting voice is raised against the sacredness of capitalistic authority or any other decayed institution. Yet how long would authority and private property exist, if not for the willingness of the mass to become soldiers, policemen, jailers, and hangmen. (Goldman 1996, 85)
Following Goldman, queer anarchist pedagogy is one that fully recognizes the attraction of conformity, of authority, and the appeal of “wounded attachments” (Brown 1993, 391). If students, comrades, or strangers on trains look to us to offer authority, to have the new right answer, then we are failing them if we attempt to give it. Instead, we love to invite questioning, to share insightful stories that may or may not resonate, to make space to release resentment and stories of powerlessness, to gently step down from any pedestal or soapbox we may notice we’ve found ourselves upon (Le Guin 2004; Suissa 2010).
Intrapersonal fractal democracy means learning to listen to oneself, to take in the offerings of those who might teach and to discover for themselves whether and how those offerings might help them to live their lives. Like contemporary anarcha-feminists and queers, Herbert Read wrote in 1944 that listening to the bodymind and the rhythms of ecosystems are a key part of nurturing the development of anarchist(ic) cultures:
the degree of poise and co-ordination in the muscular system of the body is an art which has never yet been defined and practiced. Harmony within the family, harmony within the social group, harmony within and among nations—these are no less psycho-physiological problems, questions of pattern and practice, of adjustment to the natural proportions and conformity to natural harmonies. (Read 2009, 213)
As one of us is currently training to teach yoga, we are not in agreement that this art has never been practiced. At the same time, we recognize that it is minimally practiced within cultures of domination. Look at how you hold yourself, how others move their bodies. Queering anarchist pedagogy, then, includes a recognition of the ways in which embodied practices of freedom—including yoga, tai chi, chi gung, soma, contact improvization, dancing, and more—are anarchist movements. If we can’t dance, it’s not really a revolution. Here we speak not just of the bodymind, but also of a recognition of the life spirit that animates us all. “We’re supposed to forget that every cell in our bodies, every bone and bird and worm has spirit in it” (Anzaldúa 1987, 36). Similarly, “for Goldman, the fact that even despite all the efforts of society, we can enjoy sex and fall in love is proof of the interior life force that we carry inside of us” (McBride 2011, 161). For us, queering anarchism and anarchist pedagogy can include honoring (spiritual) practices of care of the self (Foucault 1986; see also Ferguson 2004; Loizidou 2011; McWhorter 2004) intertwined with care for each other and care of the earth of which we are a part. These, too, can be acts of revolutionary love.
Part of poststructuralist, queer, and gender theories’ contributions to social theory are criticisms of binary thinking and understandings of our world(s). Queer and (some) gender theories critique the binaries of hetero/homo, man/woman, etc. (e.g., see Butler 2004; Halperin 1995; Sedgwick 1990; Queen and Schimel 1997; Warner 1999). We can likewise apply this project of unpacking and releasing borders of gender and sexuality to the project of dropping the walls around the roles of teacher and student” (in the academic world and beyond). In fact, breaking down this false binary of teacher/student is a necessary aspect of anarchist education if we are committed to non-hierarchical relationships and practicing prefigurative politics. For a consistent and ethical practice, we need to assume egalitarian social relations in our classrooms in contrast to the hierarchical relationships promoted through various mechanisms by academic institutions. Educational and pedagogical philosophers have written and spoken at length about the benefits of this (e.g., see DeLeon 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010; Armaline 2009; DeLeon and Love 2009; Shukaitis 2009; Kahn 2009; Suissa 2010).
Queer theory offers us new theoretical bases from which we can deconstruct those kinds of binary understandings and create a social practice that tries to blur those distinctions in real time. Judith Butler has written at length on gender performativity—by which she means that gender is not only socially constructed, but that it is iterative of particular norms set in place by dominant and normative cultural status quos (Butler 1990, 1997). Performativity does not mean that one merely performs their gender (or other identities) in the same way an actor takes on a role. This incorrect (yet often misunderstood as such) notion would assume that we have agency that allows us to choose any gender we desire to perform, and this, for obvious reasons, invisibilizes one of the more important angles of Butler’s point: that we are iterating available social roles—we are pulling from already-constructed (and enforced) available gender identities (Butler 1990, 1997). Her point here is more to illustrate that we don’t freely choose roles to perform; rather, we are constituted by such roles, and in our iterations (our repetitions of such roles in our own localized contexts), we simultaneously buttress such cultural norms—or—we challenge such roles by our strategic and unfaithful iterations. This is where anarchist/queer vitality comes in. Instead of obediently reproducing our idea of what a particular role should be, we might play with what a role could be.
If we look at the roles of teacher and student as iterative performances in a similar light as Butler’s notion of gender performativity, we can get an inkling as to where we can strategically challenge normative roles such as teacher and student and the relationship between the two. For instance, Butler theorizes that because gender is performative and iterative of cultural norms and status quos, that these roles simultaneously constitute us as social beings (in these particular roles) all the while caging us within their particular borders. The place, then, that we can look to subvert these status quos and norms is located within the act of iteration itself. We need to iterate roles (that are simultaneously reiterative) to become a social being—we will not be able to do away with (re)iterations because we cannot escape the world of discourse. But what we can do, as Butler (1990, 1997) notes, is subvert such status quos (teacher and student) by iterating in a fresh, lively way—by iterating differently. This is where Butler locates our agency(ies) within a discursive society (regime). We might uncover the genealogies that have created (and continue to create) socially viable ways of being and recognize how they encourage obedience to the status quo. As Claudia W. Ruitenberg (2007, 265) writes, “Discursive constitution is not discursive determinism.” This is great news because it means we can be unfaithful to our expected repetitions and be subversive when we perform roles such as teacher and/or student; (Butler 1997; Heckert 2011a). Instead, we might be faithful to what is alive within us.
It’s important to note that when we are dreaming of ways that we can do the roles of teacher and student differently, that as important as our own strategic and playful iterations of status quos (gently allowing for the subversion of hierarchical roles and creating newer, freer, and more fluid roles) are, those of us in the situation will bring our body-memories of roles. We might find ourselves acting out teacher or student, even though we didn’t mean to. Or others might be caught up in their own expectations and not understand that it’s possible to do things differently. From my past experiences:
I was in a high school once, teaching sex education. As we went around the circle introducing ourselves, I came to realize that three of the young men were stoned. ‘Oh, no!’ I thought to myself. As I was explaining how this would be different from our school usually was, one of them asked me to slow down and repeat. He was confused, and I don’t think it was just from cannabis. That might have simply made him more honest and less concerned about appearing confused. I knew that what I was doing was radically unschool-like because I had been iterating myself differently for some years. But for them, it was brand new and I couldn’t simply tell them it would be different. Why should they believe me against the weight of their experience? I had to show them through my practice and give them time to adjust, to understand that another classroom was possible. I’m grateful to the young man for reminding me of this.
Norms are not individually created or iterated—they are co-created over time. What we mean here is that there is a “cumulative power of related speech, writing, and other discourse” (Ruitenberg 2007, 263). Identity categories are “cumulatively produced” by such things as “advertising, school texts, sitcoms, legal discourse, and so on” (Ruitenberg 2007, 263). Although we still feel excited about subverting the status quo of such roles in small places such as within our own classrooms—we understand our lively and subversive iterations as one strategy among many others that might be taken up to truly change the relationships and constitutions of the roles of teacher and student.
Johnston and Klandermans suggest “a performative view of culture stresses that social movements are not just shaped by culture; they also shape and reshape it” (1995, 9). If we both live within discursive regimes that constitute our identities, and also have access to a vital agency that allows us to iterate roles and identities differently and subversively, what might (or does) this look like in the classroom? What kind of behavior can we see when teachers and students iterate their roles differently, fluidly, and prefiguring the participatory and egalitarian (and creative!) world(s) in which we want to (and could) live?
Ruitenberg (2007, 265–266) writes “Educators must conceive of students, and students themselves, not as autonomous agents, nor as passive recipients of tradition, but rather as subjects whose actions and identities both depend on, and can make changes to, discourses that precede and exceed them.” We argue that teachers, themselves, might well take this to heart in considering their own roles as subjects. From my experiences:
As a new graduate student, I am slowly discovering the little ways with which I can reorganize the physical architecture of the classroom I’m given. For instance, I prefer to have the classroom set up as a circle of chairs rather than a room that positions myself at the front with all the students facing me. However, I think it’s most likely better practice to actually ask the students how they would prefer to have the room set up, although I like to explain the reasons why I prefer the classroom in this way.
We take heart from a long tradition in critical pedagogy questioning the relationship between teachers and students. As Paulo Freire (2000) wrote, “Education must begin with the solution of the teacher–student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously students and teachers” (72). And as Luhmann (1998) points out, undermining this false dichotomy in critical pedagogy is intertwined with the queer project of subverting the imaginary divisions of hetero/homo and man/woman. Because the role of student and teacher are embodied roles (Shapiro and Shapiro 2002), we need to be aware of our bodies and how they are being related to each other; to learn how we might release the postures of authority or submission. We can blur the distinction between the roles of teacher and student by committing ourselves to learning from each other in a dynamic and fluid way. How would we want classrooms to function in the worlds we desire to live in? We would like to see classrooms where participants are invited to honor their own experience (while questioning their stories about that experience) above and beyond ideas or practices offered by teachers. That is, we want to see practices of self-loving in the classroom. We also value the open-hearted honesty of teachers who are able to talk about what they/we learn from the experience of working with those labeled students. What mutuality exists without that acknowledgment, out of a desire to maintain clear identities, out of fear? As bell hooks (2000) has argued, fear and love cannot occupy the same space. If the classroom can be a space of love, separations and hierarchies might unravel, creating space for something Other. “The meanings we make alongside those we love, particularly across lines of difference, allow us to remake our assumptions and widen our vision of the political field” (Carillo Rowe 2008, 43). The key for the so-called teacher, then, is to learn to release fear, to be present with it without getting caught up in it. To let themselves be loving.
10% is not enough, recruit, recruit, recruit! (Slogan from 1990s US LGBT activism)
We are concerned, noting the extent to which anarchist pedagogy, or sexual politics, involves an attempt to get others to agree with a particular idea, a particular version of politics. Ironically, this anticapitalist ideology can function in terms that Freire (2000) calls a “banking model” of education. Knowledge is represented as an object of value to be transferred from one mind to another. The teacher with the right answer, the “Man with Analysis” (Montesinos Coleman and Bassi 2011, 206), the activist recruiter, can all work to support a new nexus of knowledge/power/morality rather than releasing a claim to any of those things. We notice, with compassion, the frustrated activist wanting others to share a certain analysis, a certain pain, a certain desire for life to be otherwise. At the same time, we know that anarchist pedagogies can be much richer than this.
Unlike the [sic] Marxist theory of history, an anarchist model of historical transition requires less any specific material condition than the dissemination of the idea of anarchy itself. This principle follows from what has been said earlier: Anarchy as a philosophy is immanent in the civic orientations of humanity, and as a mode of action it relies on the creative necessity of human agency, and not simply on objective conditions. (Bamyeh 2009, 196–197).
Less than promoting the idea of anarchy itself, we love to invite ourselves and others to recognize the lived, embodied, emotional, erotic, relational experiences of the fundamental anarchy that already exists. For us, the playing (with) the role of teacher involves inviting ourselves and others to perceive the world through fresh eyes, to notice the discourses around and in us and to not put too much emphasis on them. As the remarkably poststructuralist-sounding Buddhist teacher, Pema Chödrön, puts it, “There is no such thing as a true story” (2003, 17). Discourse may be pervasive and identity-shaping; that doesn’t mean that we must be trapped by it. By telling different stories, by relating differently, by meditating and learning to let go of stories and to accept uncertainty, in these ways we create a spaciousness for queer/anarchist learning. In these ways, we allow space for love and anger.
Within academia, affect is subtly but assiduously policed. Contempt and condescension are acceptable, as professors compete for places at the top of the (manufactured) scarcity economy of smartness. Hero worship is permissible in the form of uncritical citation of broadly certified authorities. Passive aggression is a pervasive affective mode, acted out within the boundaries of professional civility. But passionate engagements that we might call love, or reactions to unfairness recognizable as anger, are deeply suspect. (Duggan 2011, 147)
We have noticed, in our own ways, that open-mindedness is intertwined with open-heartedness, with an opening of bodies. We invite a queering of anarchist pedagogy by emphasizing the role of love in teaching, learning, and living. We invite ourselves, and our readers, to notice the perhaps familiar dis/comfort in reiterating the role of the dry scholar and to gently stretch into the living edge between the ease of the known and the discomfort of overstretching. What does it feel like to play with that edge, to sit with it, to notice how it moves, to feel its vitality? Can we learn to love our anger enough to set it free, rather than holding tight to that moralizing powerlessness of ressentiment (Nietzsche 1969)? And the same for our shame, so that we need not hold ourselves tightly in the normative reiterations of “pathological shame” (Scheff 1990)? Learning to be free means learning to love ourselves and the emotions that pass through us; not gripping on to identities or ideologies.
Our question, then, is not how we get other people to become anarchists. It is, rather, how do we make space for vitality, for love?
Here we queer any division between revolutionary isms, for it is both Marxists such as Paulo Freire and anarchist-feminists such as Emma Goldman and Ursula K. Le Guin who link love and revolution (see, Davis 2011; Freire 1985, 2000; Kincheloe 2008; Zambrana-Ortiz 2011). For pedagogy to be revolutionary, there must be a loving connection. It is this “radical love” that Freire advocated and practiced, inspiring so many of his students. As Kincheloe (2008) remarks
Love is the basis of an education that seeks justice, equality and genius. If criticial pedagogy is not injected with a healthy dose of what Freire calls ‘radical love,’ then it will operate only as a shadow of what it could be. Such a love is compassionate, erotic, creative, sensual and informed. Critical pedagogy uses it to increase our capacity to love, to bring the power of love to our everyday lives and social institutions, to rethink reason in a humane and interconnected manner. … A critical knowledge seeks to connect with the corporeal and the emotional in a way that understands at multiple levels and seeks to assuage human suffering. (9)
Our understanding of love differs only in that it does not necessarily begin nor end with the human, but a love of all beings and the ecosystems of which we are a part (never apart).
It is not by trying to recruit others to share the same views, to occupy the same moral high ground, to feel the same pain, to see the world in the same way. It is not about sameness. Anarchist calls for sameness worry as much as any other. The desire for sameness, for standardization, is the desire of the state/normativity. From our own experiences:
I was on a train this weekend, returning home from a gathering of anarchic educators hoping to nurture into existence alternatives to universities. I met a man (with the most beautiful eyes) who was interested in talking. He was clearly fed up with the official political economy. ‘But,’ he said, ‘our opinions don’t matter.’ ‘Why?’ I asked him. ‘You have to talk to the people in power. And they don’t listen anyway.’ His stop arrived before I got to tell him the reason I was talking to him was because he was in power. He and I and everyone are part of the fractal patterns of life; each of us can relate differently, enact power differently. Talking to each other, to strangers on trains, to students or teachers, friends and family, neighbors and colleagues, we are always talking to the people in power. If I had simply told him this, would he have believed me?
To learn to see the anarchy of the world, to learn to practice freedom in each moment, requires practice. It benefits from role models. To teach anarchy is not to explain the idea, it is to live freely, to relate as equals, to be vital. It is to connect with ourselves, each other, and the earth of which we are a part. It is to be gentle with ourselves as we learn these skills, so that we might be gentle with others as they, too, learn. It is to release a hold on living up to ideals of any identity (e.g., heterosexual, scholar, or anarchist) and accepting our im/perfection. “Indeed it may be only by risking the incoherence of identity that connection is possible” (Butler 1993, 113).
Throughout this article, we have tried to add our voices to conceptions of anarchist pedagogy and what it might mean for us to do anarchist pedagogical practices. We have argued that anarchist teachers and pedagogues can take a lot from queer theory. Likewise, as we see learning as a two-way street with no fixed teacher and student, we also think that queer theory can take a lot from anarchism. Indeed, these projects have been near and dear to each of our hearts both individually and collectively (e.g., see Heckert 2004, 2010a, 2011b; Shannon and Willis 2010).
Specifically, we think that anarchist pedagogues might borrow from poststructuralist and queer understandings of power as diffuse and dispersed throughout social life. In this way, we can understand that an anarchist ethic, opposing all forms of domination, can inform how we live our lives. Rather than seeing politics as something out there, done to affect abstract institutions as if they are things that can be smashed, we can see how our own everyday actions can inform social life in a complex iterative process that provides alternatives to a banal, violent, and often boring status quo. And we can think of power as resembling any number of metaphors, including a fractal. In the case of the fractal, we can see the personal in the political—the everyday in the institutional—as the smaller fragments mirror the shape of the larger whole (and vice versa).
Similarly, we might borrow from queer theory’s insistence that binary understandings of the world that revolve around bounded and bordered categories such as man/woman or gay/straight often times constrict more than they describe. With this in mind, possibilities are created of viewing static conceptions of teacher and student in more fluid ways. As anarchists, it behooves us to give up our roles as teachers and act as cofacilitators in the creation of free spaces. And we can engage in performative acts that trouble those (very often false) divisions between human beings (Butler 2004, Davies 1993, Eckert 2011, Lorber 2005, Nicholas 2009).
And troubling those divisions allows us to celebrate difference, rather than desire sameness and normativity. The creation of free spaces, collectively produced, allows for open exploration—a classroom nomadism, if you will—where we might even begin the task of questioning what we mean by the classroom and destabilize it as the privileged place in life for learning. Rather than creating anarchists as such through recruitment, we can instead focus on cocreating anarchy in a dynamic process where action/thought is given more weight than rigid political identities.
Finally, as people interested in the possibilities of queering anarchist pedagogy, we might break down the wall separating loving from teaching. Indeed, in many contexts in our lives there has been no separation between these two activities at all. Love, rather than something reserved either for family or for sex/uality, can also exist in a field of multiple possibilities. We love teaching and learning with love. Love fills our practices of anarchy. And writing this particular piece has been done with love: for each other for teaching and learning, for life. May we all find ways to enact anarchy and create temporary utopias of loving, learning, and teaching now even while we build toward a future where those creations can last. And as we do, may we fall in love with life, again and again and again.
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Education is for anarchism, and what can very broadly be termed autonomism—that is, the many different schools of non-Leninist Marxism—of paramount importance in creating a society worthy of humanity, but this is not a simple formula of countering the dominant mode of institutional indoctrination known as schooling with libertarian propaganda, though that may have its place. The importance of education can be said to be “an-end-in-itself” prefiguring free social relations of community and reciprocity, comprised of autonomous individuals capable of comprehending both themselves and the world in which they live. Such a process of learning and acquiring knowledge must also nourish intellect and other forms of intelligence, just as intellect and other forms of intelligence nourish the acquisition of knowledge. This paper will seek to critically explore some of the key issues involved in an anarcho-Marxist critique of schooling and develop the basis for what might constitute an alternative view of education which could be said to be in radical opposition to such schooling at all levels.
Education is for anarchism, and what can very broadly be termed autonomism— that is, the many different schools of non-Leninist Marxism—of paramount importance in creating a society worthy of humanity, but this is not a simple formula of countering the dominant mode of institutional indoctrination known as schooling with libertarian propaganda, though that may have its place. The importance of education can be said to be an end in itself, prefiguring free social relations of community and reciprocity, comprised of autonomous individuals capable of comprehending both themselves and the world in which they live. Such a process of learning and acquiring knowledge must also nourish intellect and other forms of intelligence, just as intellect and other forms of intelligence nourish the acquisition of knowledge. It can reasonably be said that this is the diametric opposite of schooling at school-age level, but also increasingly at higher level too, speaking here of the sustained assault on universities to turn them into production lines for the social factory. In the United Kingdom, where I am based, this is especially acute, but more on the situation further on in this article. Indeed, as Ivan Illich noted, “For most the right to learn is confused with the obligation to attend school” (1971, 7). In our grim contemporary setting—both in the United Kingdom and United States—this could be further qualified by adding, “and in some cases attend—and agree to spend the rest of their lives paying for—university.”
Beginning with the institution of the school, the shortcomings of such an experience are instantly apparent, and especially for any anarcho-autonomist standpoint. Of course, certain basic and very necessary skills, both formal and more informal social skills, may be developed there, but, it must be said, this is largely in spite of, not thanks to, such an environment, which in its institutional as for its social form, is frequently a difficult and—going back to the very first years—an unhappy and traumatic experience. The straightforwardly authoritarian training of unquestioned acceptance and submission is contained in the very fact of being there, over which the student has no choice, but is obliged not to question or risk being labeled a problem and face possible expulsion with all the attendant issues of delinquency. The institutional form of what the late Paul Goodman (1966) called “Compulsory Mis-education” is especially unfortunate, but so too is the content: the imposition of arbitrary hierarchical authority embodied in the teacher and obedience to the rules which circumscribe this. The actual subjects to be studied are imposed top-down, very much at odds with any approximation of real learning in or outside of a classroom, which is a two-way process between educator and learner. Similarly, as Illich and others have previously noted, learning is an ongoing process not limited to institutional settings.
The curricula of any typical secondary school—and I am aware that I am drawing on the particular UK experience here—is largely one-size-fits-all, with a range of compulsory subjects arbitrarily handed down to the student—via the teacher—regardless of their interest or aptitude, fragments of which must then be regurgitated in tests and exams to be measured in terms of success or failure, depending on performance. This readymade stratifying of school-age students serves well the end of school-leaving which, aside from the relative joy of reaching the end of such an experience, is to provide capitalism with fresh slaves. Indeed, the fact that hyperdeveloped economies educate their populations for longer, albeit at very different levels, encapsulates the double-bind of capitalism itself: the more general wealth increases, the more ways must be found to limit and enclose it, thus reproducing the capital–labor relation. In terms of the cultural capital spoken of here, this can be rendered as the more educated people are, the more must this education become devalued and rendered obsolete in terms of fitting them into employment—so far as their labor may be needed at all. It might well be contended that the most significant contribution toward the production of a reservoir of labor that schooling makes, is in offering conformity and servility; and secondarily qualifications of varying levels. For the majority are, after all, to be disciplined and skilled for the labor process: specifically, their subordinate role within it.
The hierarchical and bureaucratic experience of schooling, in which the capacity to think critically is not only to be discouraged, but expunged at all costs, has its basis in wider capitalist society, thus forming the early basis for the compliant and docile future wage laborer capable only of following instructions given to them by a boss, and carrying out repetitive and standardized tasks. Indeed, the continual need to be reskilling in a flexible and competitive labor market can be observed in micro-form at school in the continuous competitive testing and assessment and quantitative measurement of results. The means and ends are the same however, bureaucratic classification, measurement, and control, the better to bureaucratically classify, measure, and control (non) individuals. Under late capitalism, the state—more and more through outsourced private agencies—tasks itself with maintaining and reproducing disciplined subjects, the institution of the school is perhaps the most obvious early experience—outside the family—of this process.
That mass-production in the twentieth century should require mass-production of slightly better skilled workers, is illustrative of the trajectories of Fordism and Taylorism. Parallel to this development, there was also the belated recognition by the state that a literate and practically competent workforce, whose general education was improving, was also a latent and potential threat to the social order in which they were obliged to exist as slaves, if they were to physically exist at all. The rule-bound discipline inculcated by the school served well the factory and plant in which “labor is external to the worker” in which the labor of the worker “does not affirm … but denies, [and the worker, rather like the school-age student] does not feel content but unhappy.” Marx’s recognition in the 1844 Manuscripts ( 2009) that alienation is all-pervasive under capitalism and its institutions, crystallizes well the essential objectification of the subject under these conditions which are not and never have been given, but remain a very particular ordering of society.
The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it’s forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. ( 2009)
The worker who “only feels [herself] outside of [her] work and in [her] work feels outside of [herself]” (Marx 1844/2009) is really not that dissimilar to the high-school student who only feels himself of herself outside of high-school: becoming themselves, learning, developing, and growing outside of the strictures of the institution. The preparation for a lifetime of alienation and accepting the rules of a game rigged from the start, but which all are nonetheless obliged to play, makes the forced routine of secondary school with its arbitrary top-down organization, and equally arbitrary compulsion and coercion to accept and submit to the education that is offered, is the natural preparation for such a future. The school produces alienation almost as effortlessly as it does in extinguishing critical or creative thought, with endless prescriptive subject matter that, more often than not, amounts to copying off a whiteboard merely to regurgitate under test or exam conditions—rote learning, which, it needs to be remembered, is not learning at all. The fact that the subject matter in question remains, for most of secondary school, so vast and disparate, and without any attention paid to the student’s interest or aptitude, is, of course, indicative of the long compulsory trial that is schooling.
Since the advent of capitalism however, there has also been the working class struggle to reappropriate knowledge. This has taken a number of forms, from informal social settings and reading groups to more structured study groups and formal educative programs such as the United Kingdom’s Worker’s Educational Association (WEA). Such efforts have frequently opened up knowledge not previously open to those involved, not to mention further catalyzing interest and learning in many, many individuals. Besides individual and collective reading and critical absorption of knowledge not readily accessible—or even touched on—in a school setting, these efforts to self-educate also develop and nourish intellect and a better understanding of the world, creating critically well-informed and educated people with a frequently acute critique of existing society, and their situation within it. In every sense, such reappropriation of knowledge, involves what Illich was aware of as the necessity of those involved being “able to meet around a problem chosen and defined by their own initiative … which [gives] each [wo]man the same opportunity to share [her] current concern with others motivated in the same concern” (1971, 26). Indeed, such a process is fully in keeping with an anarcho-autonomist theory of prefiguration in which both means inform ends and ends are visible in the mode-of-doing that is the means, a reflexive and two-way dynamic.,
In hyperdeveloped consumer capitalism, more and more labor can be said to be of an emotional or affective nature, at least in those countries that are hyperdeveloped consumer economies. Affective or emotional labor does not obviously produce any tangible product, but relies instead on a mode of flexpoitation, in which the worker’s attitude is suitably flexible toward being exploited; for wage labor remains after all just that, it is forced labor and is never undertaken freely, but through “the dull compulsion of economic forces” (Marx  1999). As such, the provision of a workforce with can-do attitudes and apparently limitless enthusiasm for the job, however soul-destroyingly dismal, is increasingly served by further training or qualifications, that are frequently rendered defunct before they have even been acquired, an obvious example of de-skilling, what Braverman previously identified as “the degradation of labor” (Braverman  1999). However, no less important for service industries as for white-collar jobs involving the processing and handling of information, are those qualities that precede the alienation of schooling and wage slavery, which the market seeks to harness to specific instrumental ends: sociability, conviviality, recognition, and good humor, being just some of them, all of which are embodied, of course, in individuality, something that, under late capitalism, is at once denied the more it is emphasized.
Of key significance for those theories that seek to develop a coherent critique of this hyperalienation is the fact that a certain form of social criticism seemingly ignores the necessity for capital of successfully disposing of the products it produces through consumption, whether these have a material form or not. It would appear to be that a certain form of (Post)-Marxian criticism seems to ignore the fact that wage labor does not need to be physically producing any material object to still be productive of value that is, however much this emotional or affective labor may appear immaterial, it still has a material basis in the value-form; from offering services, to the processing of information, to the purchase of an experience: Consumption is predicated on production, and production—at least in hyperdeveloped economies—is predicated on consumption. It remains the task of any renewed critical social theory to be aware of this, and to consider it when attempting to develop the critique of the wage relation and abstract labor and how this remains pivotal to the capital–labor relation itself. Such an understanding of these relations remains bound up with what constitutes knowledge and what is its substance and purpose, just as how these remain incompatible with schooling at all levels.
In terms of how the transferable skills outlined here may be said to be manufactured by schooling, it is important to emphasize that this finds its apotheosis in the market-focused production line that UK and US universities would increasingly appear to have become, and the very questionable notion of knowledge understood in its fullest and truest sense which they offer. This version of knowledge is, itself, much more about a relative upward reskilling for the knowledge economies of these countries, and has little to do with education or knowledge for its own sake. However, such an instrumental goal of taking inherent human qualities and using them in alienated form in the service of instrumental rationality, is at odds with learning or the exploration of knowledge for its own sake, and in the collective open-ended efforts to counter this, we find the question of knowledge, itself, thrown back into question. Equipping secondary school students with transferable or soft skills is an important part of schooling, but it is even more important for higher education, and the production of graduates. However, the contestation of this version of knowledge is, everywhere, apparent at British universities—I again draw on my own first-hand experience—as is contestation of the effects this wholesale restructuring—first felt through savage cuts to departments, academic jobs, student numbers, and funding—is having, what this is actually aimed at achieving, and for whom. For, in the effort to make knowledge available to all, it is possible to observe a reappropriation of doing, an essential basis for the qualitative and transformative social change demanded by anarchism and autonomism.
Taking a more specific example of how we can observe the reappropriation of doing, there are the struggles to develop knowledge in its original sense against the imperatives that seek to turn the university into a market-focused production line offering value for money to debt-indentured student consumers, and a properly bureaucratic, hierarchical system of quantification and measurement in which those struggling to do research and teach are made to justify their existence as a matter of survival—the first rule of the capital–labor relation.
Although it had long been the ambition of New Labor (RIP) to create this high-speed production line, the current incumbent government’s determined efforts to bring it about, and create a more openly instrumental university stratified along lines of usefulness, at least brings into sharper focus, the battle over knowledge itself: About what? Who for? For what purpose?
It is instructive to here draw on my own experience in the United Kingdom. Following the General Election of 2010, although the incumbent government was not returned, after thirteen years in power, no party emerged with a clear majority. The Conservative Party formed a coalition government with the third party, the Liberal Democrats, who had not been in power since their early twentieth-century manifestation, thus in keeping with the nature of party politics, the opportunity to form a coalition and be in government one again, was far too good to miss. In the current desperate measures being undertaken by different governments across Europe to shift the burden of capital’s crisis of profitability back onto their general populations in the form of savage cuts and other burdensome social costs, it is not hyperbolic to say that the UK coalition is without equal. Higher education, after a far from socially progressive strategy under the previous successive “New Labor” administrations, now faces a crisis the like of which has not been seen before.
The extremely shaky Conservative–Liberal Democrat UK coalition government has moved swiftly in imposing severe austerity measures in every area of public life in the short time it has held power. As well as actual cuts, there is also—as has already been noted here—the concerted effort to shift social costs back onto the majority—a very clear example being the decision to slash central government funding for university teaching by 79% from the current £3.9 billion a year to £700 million a year. Accordingly, universities will also be able to charge up to £9,000 pa in tuition fees to meet the cost: Dissent was expected to be minimal; it has been quite the opposite, and is, as more than one slogan has repeated “about more than just tuition fees,” but also against the sustained effort to move universities toward offering a very much more limited range of degree subjects, and limiting research and teaching to whatever can prove its market worth.
In opposition to this, there is the effort to reappropriate doing by renewing the value of learning as critical and dynamic, thus, in this sense, it can be seen as the refusal of the false choices of the market, imposed top-down by university management emboldened by government policy, and to see knowledge as an end in itself, not to serve straightforwardly instrumental ends: meeting the needs of business, etc. What has previously and critically been referred to as “The McDonaldization of HE” (Garland 2008) has more recently been well explored by others in the United Kingdom as the “Showdown at the sausage factory” (Gillespie et al. 2011), which nicely captures the nature of British universities in 2011, but also the wave of struggles in and around them to reappropriate doing; the struggle to reappropriate doing into something very different and very far removed from what most Vice-Chancellors are aiming for: in effect, the fastest possible production of already market-disciplined graduates ready to struggle to get ahead in the rat-race.
By contrast, this specific reappropriation of doing can be seen as the communization of knowledge, in which all imposed limits to acquiring and developing an understanding of the world are breached; and in which thought, and its many different disciplinary outlets, are ends in themselves, one might even take the original definition of philosophy as a maxim— the love of wisdom. Such a definition of thought and its limitless exploration is also to diametrically oppose the imposition of value, the imperatives of capital, and knowledge as existing only if it can be of use to these same ends. The reappropriation of doing was visible in the mass student protests in London in November and December last year, and is visible on campuses across the United Kingdom today, in strike action by staff and occupations by students and staff alike—a radically different way-of-doing which is both means and end, and resists and opposes the imperatives of market discipline, of hierarchical power, and state-determined wisdom. As such, the anarcho-autonomist demand that knowledge and education be freed from the fetters of instrumental reason and schooling at all levels, at a time in which they are thrown into very real crisis, becomes ever more prescient.