Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Terry Eagleton on Universities (2008)

Universities can't get critical leverage in a situation of which they have become an integrated part, any more than a Picasso hanging in the lobby of the Chemical Bank can make an implicit comment on finance capitalism. By and large, academic institutions have shifted [since the late 1960s and 1970s] from being the accusers of corporate capitalism to being its accomplices. They are intellectual Tescos, churning out a commodity known as graduates rather than greengroceries.

The free play of the mind has been managerialised. Holding our way of life to account has yielded to accountancy. The logic of the commodity has now penetrated into the sphere of human needs and nurture, breeding pathological symptoms there. In universities, as in transnational corporations, a largely disaffected labour force confronts a finance-obsessed managerial elite.


  1. its interesting that he cannot remark on the role of the universities as producers of "neoliberalism" and in the reproduction of social relations. he concieves the universities as inert and passive objects of changes and policies from outside, with no role in the production of social relations, knowkledges, assumotions. this is all infliucted on universities by unidentified parties.

    in fact the university has been a key institution for the planning and execution of the ruling class offensive since the end of the long boom. it is really the vital workshop, based and hq of this reaction, not this kind of outlying paradise island over which this praxis eventually sweeps on its way to some other place. What has the role of universities and faculties been in the defeat of humanity's struggle for communism and the adaptation of the ruling class to new conditions the better to secure itself, its domination and its ability to control and exploit? this is what eagleton ought be asking, alongside his natural concern for how capital's courtier intellectuals have been ill-used by their patrons. He should be detailing what those courtier intellectuals have achieved for their patrons and how, as well as lamenting the wrongs and indignities they have suffered.

  2. I admire him enormously, of course, and learned more from him than from any other marxist academic in the humanities.

  3. workshop, base and headquarters...

  4. I mean, Hayek and Popper and Strauss weren't restauranteurs.

  5. well, really, the entire non-profit endowment model means that the wealthiest universities must be included as primary engines of ruling class financial power as well:

    they pay no tax, buy up property, pay for their operations on the interest of their capital (meaning they are directly deeply invested in perpetuating the necessity of a system of extractive profit), charge tuition rates that consign students to permanent debt, exploit graduate students and adjuncts, and create and confer the means of cultural credit and status that establish class power.

    it's not merely what the intellectuals pursue at the universities, it is the entire model.

  6. very true - but some elements more applicable to the US than the UK where for a time there was a democratisation of access without debt incursion.

    but even when this was the case:

    also eagleton is lamenting the decline of a stature and function - the social production of a "Bertrand Russell" and a 'Jean Paul Sartre". Strikingly he doesn't acknowledge how these roles are an effect of supremacism and exploitation. The fading of the culture industry disposition which gave Hannah Arendt and Roland Barthes their peculiar stature is nothing to lament.

  7. of course the replacement by 'Zizz-Badiou-Oprah sort of thing is lamentable. But universities currently also secure a livelihood and resources to scholars producing historiographical product that is generally better (improved by feminism, critical race theory, antiimperialism) than what was produced in the golden age as eagleton sees it.