Friday, 22 August 2008

From the authority of the professor to the authority of the market

The tricky part in considering student protests, even when (as I am) confining myself to protests directly related to knowledge - (eg. admission, as in who deserves access to knowledge; curriculum (is feminism philosophy?), as in who decides what knowledge is; teaching, as in who is the knower; assessment, as in do exams function as an apparatus of power; knowledge and society generally, and concerns about power and violence) - is pulling apart all the nuances, slippages and debates. For of course each university had its on local issues and student culture and concerns, students very inconveniently disagreed with one another quite a lot and, worst of all, ideas slip into new ideas. For example, the idea of draft resistance (Vietnam), the idea of academic freedom as individual autonomy and the unsatisfactory outcomes of exams as adequate assessment tools all contribute to an Exam Resistor's Manifesto. Some students felt that all assessment should be abolished, as education is an individual and unique process while others just thought exams poor ways to evaluate the possession of knowledge.

Academic freedom for some translated into participatory democracy and equal say for students on all aspects of university governance. While for others student representation enables the university to justify decisions, by making it look like students were in on it and preventing any organised collective resistance. The "violence" of knowing, in that knowledge is imposed on reality rather than reflecting it, for some can become physical violence as a justifiable means of resisting authoritarian power.

Not quite universally, but remarkably commonly, pone thing emerges. The authority than once belonged to the professor is transferred to students. But this of course is no longer a singular authority. So how is curriculum organised? Through market forces - or things that sound extraordinarily like market forces (though I am certain this was not the intention).

Intention, sadly, is not the same as cause: and commodification is probably the unfortunate outcome of this transference of authority.

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