Moment of Danger for the Last Survivors of Critical Theory at Adorno’s Funeral

Disagreeable situation. The funeral service in the chapel of Frankfurt Cemetery, where Theodor W. Adorno’s coffin was laid out, was thoroughly bungled by Max Horkheimer. He refused to accept his friend’s death as a fact. And as an omen of his own approaching death there was nothing about it that seemed to him worth commemorating. He did not want to give an opinion to what music Adorno would have approved of or considered appropriate.*

Toward the end of the event, the speeches were of undisciplined length and one of the side doors of the chapel was opened. A large group of students could be seen possibly ready to use violence, with the student leader Hans-Jürgen Krahl at their head. They glanced in. Ushers closed the doors. Did the student want to disrupt the funeral? “Kidnap” the coffin as a provocation and appropriate Adorno – as part of a Critical Theory which, in fact, they had never disowned – as a dead man?

The coffin was brought outside on the hand barrow. THE OLD MEN OF CRITICAL THEORY crowded demonstratively around it. Would they have stood a chance against the kidnappers? They didn’t think of that. The crowd of students followed along a parallel path; no one watching them knew, whether their attitude was threatening or whether they wished to show sympathy and respect for the deceased. The group itself hadn’t even fully discussed it.

A thundery downpour surprised the funeral procession when it was halfway. The heads of the SCHOLARLY MEN wet, their clothing, too, soaked. No one from “Critical Theory” had an umbrella. Further lengthy speeches at the graveside. Slow work by the cemetery workers as the coffin was lowered into the grave. There were still handfuls of earth, individual bunches of flowers to be thrown down. The lines to pay respects to the widow. All of this with a wet head.

To save the minds who later made their way to the house of the Suhrkamp publisher Siegfried Unseld, I order large pots of WARM BEER to be prepared. According to Grimms’ Fairy Tales this is a precaution against catching cold. The warmth and the alcohol get the aging blood moving through the veins again. Meanwhile three student assistants are drying the heads of the SCHOLARLY ELDERS with hair dryers from the household. And so they were saved.

For the moment they were saved: not emotionally, but physically. Twenty years later the planet discharged the last of these wise thinkers. The world was never the same again.

* Gretel Adorno, Theodor’s wife, remained apathetic, passive. She was the only person who could have imposed a better program. She blamed herself for his death. For so many years she had watched over the genius in every crisis, and then for one moment this summer, although no one around her confirmed it, she had been inattentive. With the result that this man died.

– Alexander Kluge, The Devil’s Blind Spot: Tales From the New Century. Trans. Martin Chalmers and Michael Hulse (New York: New Directions, 2002), pp.307-8.

During the pre­vious semester, Adorno’s decision to involve the police in clearing student oc­cupiers from the Institute for Social Research (the Frankfurt School’s depart­mental unit at the University of Frankfurt) had caused controversy. While some regarded Adorno’s reliance on the authorities as a betrayal—a siding with the enemy against the common cause of social progress—others tended to agree with Adorno’s assessment of the radical activism of some students as misguided or even, in the words of his former research assistant, Jurgen Habermas, as a form of “left-wing fascism.” …In a patricidal reversal that pitted parts of the Student Protest Movement and the New Left against one of their theoretical fathers, Adorno was sub­jected to a series of institutional and personal attacks at least since 1967. and leaflets proclaiming that “Adorno as an institution is dead” (“Adorno als In­stitution ist tot“) were circulated during his lectures… But the most notorious incident was yet to come. During an April 1969 assault, an instance of “planned tenderness” which has come to be known as the “breast action” (Busenaktion), three female sociology students wearing long leather jackets invaded the lecturer’s podium, sprinkled rose and tulip petals over Adorno’s head, attempted to plant lipstick kisses on his cheeks, ex­posed their naked breasts to him, and provoked him with erotic pantomimes. Adorno, attempting to protect himself with his briefcase, proceeded to exit “Hörsaal V” (“Lecture Hall V”). This attempt to embarrass Adorno publicly was a sign of the larger structure of misunderstanding between Adorno and those student activists who had grown increasingly impatient with their theoretically-minded teacher’s reluctance to engage in street interventions and other forms of political activism.

  • Gerhard Richter, Monatshefte, Vol. 94, No. 1, 2002 

The last surviving member of the first generation of Frankfurt School critical theory, Leo Löwenthal, died on 21st January 1993.



The TEF and Technical Education

When I submitted the final version of a recently published article on the Teaching Excellence Framework for English higher education (as part of a forthcoming special issue on ‘Education, In Spite of it All’), I was aware that much of the policy and regulatory detail was likely to change in the time between submission and print publication. The article therefore focused, as much as possible, on providing a broader historical context for the TEF, relegating specific details of policy and regulation to footnotes.

Since then the Higher Education and Research Act, which was hastily passed into law by May’s government at the end of April 2017 before parliament was dissolved on 3rd May, has deferred the introduction of differential tuition fees linked to TEF results (see footnote 4 of the article), meaning all universities participating in the TEF and meeting eligibility requirements will be able to increase their fees in line with inflation until after a review in 2020. Without this rise, the real value of fees will continue to decrease, as they have been (marginally) for the last 5 years.

Under the Education (Fees and Awards) Regulations 2007 for English higher education, brought before parliament in the last months of Blair’s government, only students who have been resident in the UK or EU for at least three years prior to beginning their course qualify for these fee caps. Fees for international and postgraduate students are not capped and so already tend to rise annually, based in part on increases in inflation (UCL, for example, warns international and postgraduate students to expect annual fee increases of between 3% and 5%). The Higher Education and Research Act 2017, however, makes reference solely to the Education (Fees and Awards) Act 1983, which was brought before parliament in the last months of Thatcher’s second government and only exempts international students from fee regulations, making it easier to revoke the 2007 regulations following Brexit. Until the 2007 regulations are revoked, qualifying universities will not be able to legally discriminate between UK and EU students and the government has also guaranteed access to student loans to cover these capped fees for this and next year.

The Higher Education and Research Act confirms that international students will continue to be included in the net migration target. In March, the Office of Budgetary Responsibility revised down its forecast of student numbers in England, based on lower than expected UCAS entrant data, in part relating to lower numbers of 18 year olds and in part on a drop in applications from EU students. They acknowledge significant uncertainty around their forecasts as the UK exits from the EU, when EU students are likely to fall into international status in relation to visa restrictions, tuition fees and access to student loans.

When the cap for tuition fees rises in September 2017, for the first time since their trebling in 2012, this will be based on the unfreezing of the current cap and reversion to existing legislation. In May 2016, Jo Johnson, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, announced that this would be 2.8%, based on the Office for Budgetary Responsibility’s forecasted RPI-X figures (the retail price index, excluding mortgage payments), although the Office of Budgetary Responsibility has noted that its definition of RPI inflation does not meet accepted international statistical standards but is required as an input into its fiscal forecasts.

The new Higher Education and Research Act stipulates that the Office for Students must publish the fee limits for each higher education provider’s courses for the following calendar year. The Act allows for the exact timing of this publication, and consequently the date at which fees for the following year to be set based on forecasted inflation, to be prescribed by further regulations. The fees for 2017-8, for example, were set at 2.8% based on forecasts from 16 months earlier. Since then inflation has risen sharply, with RPI-X currently standing at 3.8% and Q1 forecasts for 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 at 4%, 3.3% and 3.1%. As Mark Leach has written, ‘In 2017-18, fees would be £72 higher per head if they were based on last week’s [November 2016] forecast [of 3.6%] than that from March [2016 of 2.8%]. Multiply by 15,000 undergraduates and that’s £1 million lost in a university’s income.’ This also means that universities may be tempted – where they are able, without breaching consumer protection law – to increase fees annually for existing UK (and currently EU) students, as they currently do with international students, to avoid further erosion of value and financial shortfall for each of a three year degree.

The Higher Education and Research Act imposes certain additional conditions on universities being able to charge the maximum fee, above and beyond a more general eligibility requirement related to minimum standards, including ‘a public interest governance condition’ which protects the academic freedom to question and test received wisdom and put forward controversial or unpopular opinions without jeopardy. It also makes provision for the possibility of requiring ‘an access and participation plan condition’ relating to equality of opportunity to promote under-represented applicants. The Act also makes provisions for the Office for Students to fund institutes of higher education to provide educational provision to connected schools and colleges.

The publication of the Conservative Party Manifesto this week provides insight into how these changes enacted in the Higher Education and Research Act will proceed following the forthcoming general election. It confirms that the Conservatives intend to reduce annual net migration to the tens of thousands by bearing down on immigration from outside the EU and that this figure will include overseas students. Wonkhe have suggested that current migrations statistics might be corrected on the basis of new data on the lower number of international students who “overstay”. But it might also involve aiming to reduce the overall number of international students through a toughening of visa requirements, although wonkhe have also questioned how this might be done without meddling in academic quality and standards. Any reduction in immigration would need to be offset by an improvement in skills and training, a central focus of the pledges.

Other aspects of the manifesto reaffirm what, in the recent article, I characterized more generally as the ‘Americanization’ of UK educational policy. One aspect of this is Conservative’s aim to focus investment on university-based R&D, on the model of the US. More generally, ‘Americanization’ involves linking national economic productivity with educational reform via theories of human capital:

Fulfilling Our Potential (BIS 2015, 10), in which the TEF was introduced, begins not with a discussion of teaching excellence but of how ‘increasing productivity will be the main driver of economic growth in years to come, and improving skills are an essential component of this.’ The 2016 White Paper (BIS 2016, 5) which formalizes the introduction of the TEF identifies universities as ‘among our most valuable national assets, underpinning both a strong economy and a flourishing society’ and ‘Powerhouses of intellectual and social capital’ that produce success as a knowledge economy. Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation (HM Treasury 2015) proposes in its section on ‘Skills and Human Capital’ that long term investment in education is required through the radical reform of schools, Further Education and Higher Education, including the introduction of the TEF.

The UK’s employment rate is now 74.6%, the highest since records began in 1971, but inflation has outstripped real wage growth (the Resolution Foundation has said this decade is set to be the worst for pay growth for 210 years), while productivity has fallen in the first quarter of 2017. Clearly, then, the attempt to link national productivity and investment in human capital through educational reform is only set to grow and strengthen. The point in my recent article was to challenge some of the recent critical discourse regarding the neoliberal commodification of higher education and the promotion of the student as consumer, which tends to therefore overlook:

how the focus on quality of education and on teaching excellence are connected to the need for state-directed interventions within the education industry in order to increase national productivity in the interests of capital, in a way that conceives of learning as a form of productive investment and therefore situates and obligates the student primarily as producer: of their own—and collectively, the nation’s—future income and, significantly, of their own learning.

Thus the Conservative Manifesto promotes a National Productivity Investment Fund to address the UK’s slow productivity growth and promises to:

establish new institutes of technology, backed by leading employers and linked to leading universities, in every major city in England… [that] will provide courses at degree level and above, specialising in technical disciplines, such as STEM, whilst also providing higher-level apprenticeships and bespoke courses for employers… [and] will enjoy the freedoms that make our universities great, including eligibility for public funding for productivity and skills research, and access to loans and grants for their students …[including] a UCAS-style portal for technical education …[to provide] ‘real choice between technical and academic routes at sixteen’.

To do so, the Manifesto also promises to ‘launch a major review of funding across tertiary education as a whole,’ with ’employers [placed] at the centre of these reforms.’

Andrew McGettigan has pointed out how this departs from January’s Green Paper on Industrial Strategy, which had announced a ‘relatively limited startup capital budget’ for such Institutes of Technology to ‘concentrate on sub-degree provision (only up to level 5),’ without any references to links with leading universities (level 5 qualifications include diplomas and foundation degrees, whereas level 6 qualifications are degree apprenticeships and Bachelor degrees). That Green Paper focused on ‘high quality two-year programmes for 16 to 19-year olds and extend to the highest skills levels, leading to full professional competence in a number of defined occupations’. It claims to expect ‘most Institutes of Technology to grow out of high-quality provision’ already offered at levels 3, 4 and 5.’

As I wrote in 2012, it is important to contextualize the ongoing transformation of tertiary education in relation to comparable changes in primary and secondary education, because it is through control of the point of intersection between these that the government’s political intent is most effectively realized. It is therefore important to note that the Conservative’s previous reforms of technical education involved the use of funding agreements put in place for academies and free schools to introduce University Technical Colleges for 14 to 19-year olds:

Labour’s academies were introduced in 2000 as a way of injecting private sponsorship and governance into underachieving schools by removing them from local authority control (themselves a modification of the Conservatives’ ill-fated City Technology Colleges). They differ from the plethora of ‘maintained’ schools in being independent of direct control by local authorities, and from fee-charging and independent private schools in having a model funding agreement direct with central government. Like universities and private schools, academies are typically private charities with a corporate structure limited by guarantee rather than shares (hence not-for-profit). Initially the remaining capital and governance were to be supplied through sponsorship by a not-for-profit educational company, although this investment is no longer a condition of such companies running academies (thus erasing one important distinction between academies and free schools).

The first UTC, the JBC Academy in Staffordshire, was opened in 2010 and there are currently 48 colleges open, although in the last two years 5 have closed (Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Daventry, Hackney and Black Country) and one converted to a free school (Royal Greenwich), with others reportedly on financial warnings citing low numbers. However, a Spectator article from last autumn pointed out that the ‘government is handing new financial packages to UTCs and encouraging them to join ‘multi–academy trusts’ — the charities which oversee most mainstream secondary schools in England,’ as being part of ‘a trust gives more financial stability and also enables direct marketing to pupils in the trust’s other schools.’ The previous Conservative Party Manifesto promised to continue the expansion of UTCs to ‘ensure there is a University Technical College within reach of every city’ and a few months ago it was reported that Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for Education, has decided to change ‘the law to require all local authorities to write to parents of 13-year-old children about UTCs that might be attractive to their children’ and ‘to allow principals of UTCs to visit local schools and tell students about some of the opportunities available at their colleges’.

The Spectator article also points out that UTCs will be exempt from new regulations coming in this September that requires ‘pupils failing to achieve a national average score in their primary tests must re-sit the papers at secondary school,’ providing an incentive for schools to offload academically “failing” students towards more vocational routes. Combined with the re-introduction of selective secondary schools, then, it is possible that we are witnessing an attempt to socially engineer the tripartite system of secondary education anticipated in the 1944 Butler Act, although its promise to introduce Secondary Technical Schools alongside grammars and secondary moderns, never fully materialized.

Although there has been much recent criticism of UTCs for low students numbers, especially of young women, poor attainment figures and diverting resources from existing schools and colleges, advocates have suggested that these problems stem from the admission age of 14 being too young. Although the Green Paper and the Manifesto extend the principle of university-sponsored technical colleges from diploma to degree level, it is unclear to me whether their focus on post-16 education suggests an extension of or backtracking on UTCs and it will be interesting to see whether the government has abandoned them, diverted by its new focus on selection, or not.

Wonkhe suggests that the ‘extensive section of the manifesto covering technical education can be read as a direct challenge to universities.’ McGettigan also reads the new higher institutes of technology promised in the Manifesto as an intervention designed to challenge post-92 universities to shift provision from ‘mainly ‘classroom’ subjects in the arts, humanities and social sciences’ to STEM subjects. It is significant that the only discussion of the arts and humanities in the Manifesto makes no reference to education, only to the regeneration of towns and cities through investment in arts and culture outside of London, including relocating publicly funded arts and cultural organisations, such as Channel 4, out of London.

What is clear from the Manifesto is that the free school program will continue, that, under the supposed threat of a change in charitable tax status, ‘at least 100 leading independent schools will become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools in the state system,’ and that the ban ‘on the establishment of selective schools’ will be lifted. As well as sponsorship by independent schools, this continued expansion of academies, free schools and grammar will be partially funded by ‘mak[ing] it a condition for universities hoping to charge maximum tuition fees to become involved in academic sponsorship of the founding of free schools.’ The Higher Education and Research Act eases through this program further with its provisions for requiring ‘access and participation plan conditions’ and for the Office for Students to fund institutes of higher education to provide educational provision to connected schools and colleges.

In 2012, I argued that:

The rapid expansion of academies and free schools legislated by the Academies Act of 2010 therefore ‘blur[s] the divide between the independent and state sectors’. As with higher education, one notable aspect of this process is a counter-movement of existing private independents to take on closer government and financial regulation by either converting to academy status themselves or becoming sponsors for new academies. Last year the Guardian claimed that private schools were ‘lining up’ to become free schools, and although the defeat of a backbench revision to the Academies Act that would have permitted them to select intake has perhaps dampened enthusiasm, for fee-paying schools floundering financially during the recession the temptation to take on state funding whilst keeping their independent status remains strong. The government has also been pushing for closer collaboration between private schools and academies/
free schools, encouraging the former to provide educational leadership and financial sponsorship for the state sector. Many may dismiss such moves as mere posturing by the private sector, a cynical concession for self-preservation (particularly with regard to their VAT exemption). But, as McGettigan reports, the Coalition is currently set on extending VAT exemption to all providers of education, including commercial enterprises, and there has been little or no political will to meddle with the private sector by either the current government or the last Labour one. For the most academically successful ‘maintained’ schools and for the poorer private schools, conversion to academy status will ensure a clear allocation of central funding during times of severe cuts in both public and private spending on education.

The focus on expanding technical education in terms of quantity and quality is therefore set to involve a reallocation of investment in the tertiary sector, especially in London, away from the arts and humanities and towards STEM subjects, in the hope of increasing national productivity. This will be done through an increased pressure towards credentialism, in accordance with the recent extension of compulsory education or training to the age of 18, predicated on further nation-state intervention, regulation and control. Significantly, it will be access to cash increases in tuition fees that partly cover this expansion, meaning that state-educated arts and humanities students may find themselves funding such investment not only through subsequent taxation of earnings that subsidize tax-breaks for independent schools but also through the university sponsorship of secondary education, all the while being told that the cost of their education must be burdened by them as an investment in their human capital.






Rebekah Nathan’s My Freshman Year: Part 1

Collected below is the first part of my notes on reading My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, a pop-ethnographic study of undergraduates conducted at Northern Arizona University – anonymized as AnyU – in 2002 by Rebekah Nathan, the pseudonym of Cathy Small, a Professor of Anthropology at the same institution.

Perhaps because of confusion over its use of a fairly accessible and popular style of writing (a paperback edition was published by Penguin and, ironically, the second-hand copy I own once belonged to the Faculty Development Program at Northern Arizona University itself), much of the reception of the book initially focused on pseudo-scandalous issues relating to the anonymous identity of the author. The New York Sun published an exposé before the book had even been published, justified by the odd claim that ‘university presses are geared more toward influencing academic debate than to seeking the publicity that anonymous works sometimes generate’ (this faulty logic implies that scholarly publications can only influence academic debate if the identity of the author is known and that publications would only be anonymous in order to seek publicity, overlooking all the legitimate reasons why an scholarly publication might influence academic debates precisely because it was anonymous). Other responses, such as this Inside Higher Ed article, this Chronicle of Higher Education article and their readers comments below the line, and this Anthropological Review Database review, focused upon and often questioned the ethics of the research itself, although as Kenny and Smillie (2015: 21) point out, ultimately ‘Small’s study posed little risk for those she was observing.’

Surprisingly, less attention has been paid to the insights about university teaching and learning discovered by the research itself. Here, I’d link to summarize some of Small’s central findings and suggest a way of rethinking their continued relevance for understanding contemporary higher education. This first section will focus on how research and teaching intersect in Small’s work, suggesting how her anthropological approach to “student culture” might provide useful insights for thinking about teaching and learning across all disciplines of higher education.

1. Anthropologizing Pedagogy

One way to approach Small’s book is as an example of the relatively minor academic genre of disciplinary reflection that bridges the perceived gap between research and teaching within higher education. As I’ve previously mentioned in relation to Elaine Showalter’s Teaching Literature, George Levine (2001: 7 & 9) has described how the academic profession systematically divides our work as teachers and our work as scholars into separate domains and, because it ‘rewards one half much more than it does the other, even when both activities are done by the same faculty member’, it is only ‘after a faculty member has made a name in research can he or she feel free to write about teaching.’ For Levine (2001: 17), however, ‘writing about teaching must become as a central to professional life as writing about Renaissance poetry, Derrida, Hegel, or popular culture.’ To do so, he proposes the development of a ‘whole new genre that would make it possible to see discussions of teaching as integral to the development of knowledge,’ transforming the practice of research so that ‘publication of essays about the teaching of literature [becomes] the norm, not the exception’ (Levine 2001: 12).

When the literary theorist Elaine Showalter takes up the challenge of such writing in Teaching Literature, this division is bridged by approaching teaching and learning from the disciplinary perspective of her research expertise, reconciling the two by thinking of literature as pedagogical and pedagogy as literary. For Showalter (2003: 11-12), this involves not only a transformation of research but a transformation of teaching as well: ‘we should Smallreconceive our pedagogy to make it as intellectually challenging as our research …reflecting upon the relationship between what we teach and how we teach it, in new ways, so that the same problems we deal with in our research, including performance and narrative, become part of the vocabulary.’

Similarly, Small’s My Freshman Year might be understood to bridge the professional division between her own disciplinary research and teaching by choosing to take the university itself and its student community as the site for her anthropological research. As she notes in the preface to her book, ‘The idea for doing this research really gelled after I audited a couple of courses for my own continuing interest and education’ (Nathan 2005: ix). The book, as an example of Levine’s new genre, therefore provides both an engaging, entry-level introduction to anthropology and suggestions for how all educators might transform their teaching based on the insights of her anthropological perspective.

2. Professional Student Culture

While some might find Small’s anthropological insights – to develop ‘affection and respect’ not just for individual students but ‘students as a class’ in order to recall ‘the lesson of compassion’ for all those ‘at the other end of a professor’s encouragement,’ where ‘sometimes nothing more than teacher’s outreach pushes the balance’ for those ‘on the fence between giving up and making more of an effort’ (Nathan, 2005: 134-5) – too obvious or banal, these suggestion are tempered by her qualification that while there ‘is no doubt that special professors do make a difference in the life of specific students …overall, I’d suggest, student-teacher relationships play a relatively minor role in the experience of undergraduate life in a large university’ and so consequently increased contact time between teachers and students will do little to ‘raise retention rates’ (140).

Rather than relying on these ‘inaccurate or idealized versions of what students are …student issues should [instead] be analysed with a fuller understanding of how they are embedded in student culture’ (141). And, Small suggests, contemporary student culture is undergoing a number of substantial changes: whereas higher education might once have been viewed as a ‘rite of passage …marked by severance from one’s normal status, entrance into a “liminal” state where normal rules of society are lifted, and finally reintegrated into society with a new status,’ the transformative potential of such a “liminal” experience are increasingly threatened, she argues, when universities becomes ‘so immersed in the world as it is that it can neither critique that world nor proffer an ideal vision of how else it might be’ or, as she puts it, ‘when the world is so much with them‘ (152; emphasis added).

Small’s own immersion into student culture at AnyU provides some perspective on the ways in which, according to her, universities have become so immersed in the world that it is difficult to become detached from the normal rules of society and enter this liminal state:

‘The data suggested then that, compared to students a couple of decades ago, today’s public college students are both studying a little less and socializing less. What, then, are they doing with their “extra” time? According to my local sample, students were first and foremost working jobs, both inside and outside the university …more than half of my sample had a wage-paying job, working from six to over twenty-five hours, with a median of fifteen hours, every week …Nationally, full-time students worked an average of ten hours per week [according to the NSSE survey] …By the time they are seniors, 88 percent of students will be working either on or off campus’ (130)

According to Small’s research, ‘Students work jobs not just for their tuition but for a lifestyle to which all have grown accustomed – with the result that there are fewer hours for academics and more need for easy As and homework shortcuts’ (141). In other words, contemporary ‘student culture’ has, like many parts of wider American society, become dominated not only by the demands of present or future working life but the expectations of a consumer culture that stands in opposition to the very notion of a ‘student culture,’ idealized in terms of a scholarly or learning community. As Small writes, ‘students with “stuff” have no use for many community facilities and activities because they have resources of their own’ (141).

This has an impact not only upon the time spent on activities other than learning, such as individualized modes of consuming and waged and voluntary work, but also transforms the activity of learning itself: students become more efficient by working at being “students”. Although academic staff constantly preach the virtues of “time management” to students, this management of time is entirely a one-way expectation: it is students that must adapt to the multiple and uncoordinated teaching schedules, assignment deadlines and office hours of individual academics and of departmental or university programs. ‘The key to managing time was not, as college officials suggested, avoiding wasted minutes by turning yourself into an agent of your day planner. Neither was it severely curtailing your leisure or quitting your paying job. Rather,’ Small writes, ‘it was controlling college by shaping schedules, taming professors, and limiting workload’ (110-113). Thus ‘a kind of Spartan efficiency …[a] kind of strategic corner-cutting is part of what students learn in college,’ such that while skipping reading, omitting preparation, cutting writing time, cramming and even cheating results in lesser quality work, this is strategically employed to make time for higher priority activities, less as a result of individual student choices than of the pressures and expectations of the wider world (121-3).

This instrumental efficiency also applies to the professionalization of student work itself:

‘At one university-sponsored presentation for freshman, the speaker advised us to sit in the “reverse T” (the center of the room or front row), in the professor’s field of vision …Perhaps their outlook explains the national data, which shows that, as students continue through their undergraduate years, they not only ask more questions in class but also report speaking to teachers more outside of class. Although one could attribute this difference to increased interest in classes or improved self-confidence, I think it is at least partially explained by the advice proffered by successful students …about creating and using relationships with professors …[that] fits nicely with a careerist cultural outlook that privileges grades and degrees’ (118)

As John Marsh has commented, ‘Nathan’s anthropological subjects – students – described their academic work, their professors, and themselves …in disturbingly similar ways to what I know of how workers described their jobs, their bosses, and themselves’ and ‘Nathan comments that “several of the undergraduates whom I as a fellow student admired most cast professor-student relations as a rough facsimile of the boss-worker relationship”. ‘We have heard much talk – and most of us have recoiled from it – of students as consumers, but,’ Marsh therefore asks, ‘might students be workers?’ Marsh therefore insists that, precisely as human capital, students are – along with those who teach them – co-workers of themselves. Much of this seems correct, particularly the way it emphasizes the professionalizing of learning as one of many competing activities all subsumed under the unity of work: a reflection of the domination of abstract labour. There is a danger, however, that this obscures Small’s broader point: that student learning has become work-like precisely in order to accommodate the necessary time for (present and preparation for future waged) work, i.e. precisely because it isn’t work.

In the next section, I want to discuss the implication of this argument for understanding the fragmentation of student culture more generally. In particular, I want to connect Small’s own research with the technological emergence of social media and suggest how attempts to promote idealized learning communities reflect an anxiety over such fragmentation that inevitably founder when confronted with real “social networks”.

Works Referenced

Gershman, Jacob. 2005. ‘On the Trail of an Undercover Professor’. New York Sun

Jaschik, Scott. 2005. ‘Undercover Freshman’. Inside Higher Ed.

Kenny, Michael G. and Smillie, Kirsten. 2015. Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology. North York, University of Toronto Press.

Lawless, Robert. 2005. Review of My Freshman YearAnthropology Review Database.

Levine, George. 2001. ‘The Two Nations’. Pedagogy 1.1.

Marsh, Josh. 2006. ‘Thinking About Students as Workers’. Inside Higher Ed.

Nathan, Rebekah, 2005. ‘An Anthropologist Goes Under Cover’. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Nathan, Rebekah, 2005. My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student. London, Penguin Books.

Showalter, Elaine. 2003. Teaching Literature. Malden, MA., Oxford and Carlton, Australia: Blackwell.