Questions for Brian Holmes
Interview by Tom Vandeputte and Sidsel Meineche Hansen (2015)
We’d like to ask you a series of questions that have to do with knowledge production, experimentation and learning in groups. First, what is your understanding of the crisis of academic institutions, considered in the light of your analysis of neoliberalism? And how do you see the possible role that academic institutions or self-organized forms of inquiry could play in this context?
It’s now obvious that neoliberal entrepreneurialism and the concept of investing in one’s own human capital through education have been the templates for a total makeover of academic institutions. On the one hand, the student becomes a client demanding personalized services in exchange for cash payments (or really, for loan transfers that mortgage his or her future); and on the other, the professor becomes a producer of intellectual property, exercising intellectual activity for a profit in which the university shares, and which soon becomes its raison d’être. After the Occupy movement, and as a part of its fundamental critiques, I retraced the way that this total makeover unfolded in the United States in a text called “Silence=Debt,” which you can easily find on the web. If you read that text to the end I think you’ll start seeing how far down this neoliberal pathway universities in Europe have gone on in the wake of the changes orchestrated by the Bologna Process. You may not have the same tuition levels, or student loan scams, or even the same structural incentives to produce intellectual property; but generally speaking, the old concepts of universal knowledge and maintenance of the democratic public sphere are being eroded, destroyed at the foundations and then cleared away, while some humanistic facade remains floating in the glow of the spectacle society. For the governing logic of the present, knowledge is a pure instrumentality bound to ownership rights, and education is a personal investment that has to cash out in the future. Continue reading