There was a time, long long ago, in a far away land called the 1970s, when academics in the Western hemisphere might have attempted to tackle various government attempts at eroding their intellectual autonomy with a certain activism: perhaps a polite march or a withdrawal of labour or an attempt to tackle the government head on in public works. On the surface it seems this is exactly what is happening now - the strike in the UK on the 7th March and the current UK academics' withdrawal of labour relating to the setting and marking of assessments would seem to be exactly this kind of action.
But lets be clear, although I support such action, the real issues that academics ought to have been addressing over the last 20 years have gone largely unchallenged (although of course there are inevitably noble exceptions to this rule).
Under Thatcher, Reagan and their kind, the academy has been consistently brutalised, intellectual autonomy ever more curtailed and the provision of education has been forced to submit to the operation of so-called 'market forces'. Our betters seem to understand this market as some kind of natural (that is, already-existing-in-nature) phenomenon and they believe this with an almost messianic commitment.
We ought to be clear, however, that the market is as metaphysical a concept as, for example, Hegel's Geist. That is not to say that metaphysics is in and of itself a flawed or tendentious discourse or that it operates always in the name of mystification.
Quite the contrary, truths can often come from the strangest and most bizarrely counter-intuitive places. My point here is to note the fragility of any such claim to the 'naturalness', especially with regard to the market. It is, fo course, a constructed system that can be resisted, changed or mitigated. All that is needed is the will to dare to think outside it.
There are as many economists who will tell you this is not only possibel but desirable as will tell you that the world would end if it weren't for lobal capitalism.
Now, even if, at the very worst, the best we could hope from the chattering classes was its refusal of complete instrumentalisation, surely the academy might be one place where the global system gets to question itself, put itself o the test. I hope for more, however.
One symptom of the demise of intellectual autonomy in the name of market-led processes is the burgeoning of audit culture. In a recent communication from the various subject specialist bodies in the UK, for example, a number of our colleagues there were asked to comment on a suggested league table of academic journals: each country in the EU ought to be represented, and the list should distinguish between internal quality and national quality.
The core issue it seems to me is that this listing/scoping is clearly meant guarantee a dominance of the field by a small number of intellectually safe and politically conservative journals and will inhibit open and critial discourse and ensure the ossification of any discipline. And how are academics responding? Guess what.... they're just going along with it.
Here would have been a clear opportunity to resist interferance from politicians but the academy once again had proven itself unwilling to take what in effect would not have been an altogether dificult stand.
I remember commenting once to a colleague from a British University who espoused critical discourse in his work but in his human relations showed cavalier disregard for human dignity (he was involved in sacking a number of his collegues and friends) , that the tension between critical discourse and radical politics had grown ever wider and that critical academic discourse seems to have fallen to its own seductive charm. He suggested that personal trajectory and 'other' issues were also in play.
My response to such obfiscation has always been to bring it back to the integrity of the discourse: if you say one thing and do another, then we have a problem.
That is not a simple observation, but a quite complex one and one which takes energy to work through (saying and dpoing are not as easily extricated from each other as might appear) and this is where my second blaphemy will start: adapting Lacan, I will always say this - there is no such thing as the market.