- Creative SubversionsA Politics beyond Representation in the UK
This statement was written by students from the University for Strategic Optimism in December 2010, during the national student protests that unfolded as a response to the cuts to education and welfare and the unjust restructuring of the UK economy. The article voices the solidarity not only among students but also among all people(s) in Britain who will be negatively affected by the austerity measures of the British government.
Britain was not at a crossroads: before us there did not lie routes from which to choose; rather there existed space to command, to commandeer. The student uprisings were always about much more than cuts; students stood up without hesitation, and still stand against the eviction of democracy from politics and the simultaneous eviction of people(s) from public space.
The illusionary integrity of British democracy means little in the face of a controlling minority that cannibalizes revenue from the country’s lands and extends its parasitic operation through the expropriation of citizens’ tax into a system of private wealth. Its formal inauguration started with the Magna Carta; today the erosion of public agency and public space has found a bedfellow with neoliberalizing tropes of governance. [End Page 271]
The feudal regime of monopolizing land and extracting the labor of its inhabitants without genuine reparation remains integral to the spatial reality of Britain. More than 50 percent of land ownership in the UK is unaccounted for, while 37 million acres of land (two-thirds of Britain) are under “private” ownership. Twenty-four million dwellings stand on 7.7 percent of British land. The modern twist that compounds this inequality is manifested in the form of neoliberal economics. Rhetoric lionizing the “devolution” of power may sound progressive, but the word may easily be substituted for “marketization.” The governing coalition’s ideology is corporative, not communal; their goal is the dismantling of any social and communal forms in order to render them exploitable to capital.
Since the 2010 parliamentary election when a Conservative– Liberal Democrat coalition came to power, citizens have been instructed that because of our government’s debt, we, the people(s), must forfeit rights that have historically been the foundation of society. In recent years the British government has readily propped up corporate banks in the name of society only to now sacrifice one of society’s essential foundations: education.
The government claims that its restructuring of the education system will make universities more economically efficient and facilitate the fairer selection of candidates. Yet the proposed changes have revealed that their priority is to restructure the foundational logic of learning toward economic expediency, instrumentalizing all knowledge toward economic ends at the expense of that which enriches the social and public sphere.
Attempts to privatize the university epitomize this, based as they are on the principle of boosting competition to increase economic efficiency. The most profound effect, however, will see people’s ability to access education overwhelmingly predetermined by their individual financial background. This will polarize the institutional ecology, fast-tracking the economically privileged to the most elite universities. This marketization agenda also manifests itself within those funding structures that survive this privatization. The government is privileging the “hard” sciences and instrumental social sciences (i.e., economics and law) over arts, humanities, and other social sciences, imposing arbitrary research standards designed to [End Page 272] reduce the value of research to a crude economic calculus. While “hard” sciences are valuable for society, they do not have sufficient critical capacity to guide the moral, ethical, and political questions that we must engage at every level of our lives.
The government, in appointing the market as exclusive arbiter of value within education, is deliberately undermining the humanities’ status in favor of disciplines whose end result is net private profit. This complements a wider coercion into financialized and managerial modes of work, not just in universities but across public services. Managerial imperatives and CEO-style leadership have become the normalized internal structures in various sectors across society. Such a move is evident in secondary education with changes to funding and...