academics, Davis, poll tax

Jonathan P. Beasley-Murray jpb8 at
Thu Oct 6 10:02:57 MDT 1994

On the poll tax: hardly any students paid up (and I doubt that this
was because of their organic links to the working class
movement--although I'm sure that, if minimally, actions against the poll
tax tended to produce some links between students and others) so how do
students fit into this dichotomy between academia and the "real world"?

I ask in part because I consider myself a student rather than an academic
(though last year I was teaching classes).  Even were I to want to become
an academic, presently it would seem an unlikely proposition.  I somehow
doubt I am the only person on the list in this position.  I don't quite
feel part of the same "we" (or "they") invoked by some in this discussion.

The problem with this discussion is that it seems to ignore too many other
factors: for one, Angela Davis was/is not only a Marxist but also a
feminist and black theorist.  What is her relation to structures of
dominance and their resistance as a result?  Neither hegemony nor
counter-hegemony can be so simple, and the fact is that institutionalized
education--site of reproduction of the means of production par
excellence--*has* been changing over the last twenty years or so, partly
due to demographic change, which has made the universities more
heterogenous in terms of race, class and gender, partly because of
different ways of perceiving the functions and uses of knowledge that have
come out of the academy.  Of course, these two movements are related:
clearly the boom in critical theory during the late seventies and early
eighties comes out of (though is not solely determined by) the expansion
of tertiary education in the sixties: students from previously
marginalized social groups found it easier to make headway in disciplines
which were relatively new and themselves viewed as marginal from the point
of view of more established subject areas.

In this process, the structures and modes of domination outside the
academy have been changing too (if not necessarily for the better)--and
the right's fairly paranoid response during the latter part of the
eighties tends to reflect this.  This is not to say that feminism,
multiculturalism, cultural studies are sufficient, or that they have not
been appropriated, or that the university (and other structures of power)
have not adapted in various ways: Thatcherism's rabid dislike of the
university system was sign in part, I think, that the Tory party realized
that it could no longer count on the universities (or the church, while
I'm at it) for the ideological legitimation they had previously provided.

Again, this is not sufficient--I'm not trying to say "three cheers for
radical academics."  But this debate on the list seems to be
characterized far too much by polarization and static models.  Both
domination and resistance are dynamic processes--and, I would add, not
determined by class politics alone.  Or is this a Marxist heresy?  I am
still waiting and hoping for some feminist and other interventions into
these debates...  One of the most depressing experiences I have had over
the last year or so was at the Midwest "Radical Scholars and Activists"
conference in Chicago (as a whole an opportunity wasted, mostly because
of poor organization) when (someone his wife--another story altogether--
had labelled as) a "Maoist philosopher," in response to a question about
the non-participation of women in the conference, immediately explained
that all academic feminists were "middle class careerists."  This is just
not good enough.

More anon, I think


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at


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