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  • Propositions for Collective Action – Towards an Ethico-Aesthetic Politics
  • Erin Manning (bio)

1. Move Education Out of the Cycle of Debt and Credit

Students in Montreal have had the courage to take the right to free education to the streets. Although foregrounded by the media as a fight about $350 – a calculation of the yearly increase in tuition costs, theirs is a directed critique aimed at the neoliberal project of transforming the right to education into individual debt, not a comment on an individual’s capacity to afford education. Maurizio Lazzarato describes the neoliberal project as “an economic technique for the production or the control of subjectivity” that keeps each individual in their own bubble trying to make their way out of a vicious cycle of credit. “Instead of the right to retirement, you get an individual life insurance. Instead of a right to lodging, you get the right to a mortgage. These are techniques of individualization.”1 Instead of education, you get credit. And with the increase in its cost-value, you get the right to have your education packaged to fit neatly into that neoliberal cycle, making education the product of your credit-based expenditure. This takes thought out of the equation, subsuming education to content described in terms of use-value and instrumental gains: make a check-list of what needs to be covered to successfully enter the job market and supply it (preferably with as little primary reading as possible). This is a short-sighted view: what education does at its best is not fill-in existing gaps but create new ones. To think is to become capable of imagining a world as it does not yet exist, to create modes of living in the realm of the as-yet-unthought. Education is not about mimicking what already exists, it is about opening the field of potential toward the invention of new modes of existence. Taking the cost out of education reminds us that it is what thought does – not what it pre-contains – that enables the potential for the new. A fight for free education suggests a vision for the future that makes thought a value in itself.

2. Not the Individual: the Group-Subject

The project of neo-liberal capitalism targets the individual over what Félix Guattari calls the group-subject. Think the group-subject not as a many-faced group of individuals, but as the force of what emerges when the group exceeds the individuals in its midst. By keeping to the individual, by enforcing a battle of individuals, as the Charest government has incessantly done since the beginning of the strike, a splintering of the nascent collective discourse is sought that gives voice to the fracturing of the field of political activation. This is a tactic that understands well that an emergent politics never grows from an individual. The Maple Spring has made this abundantly clear: individuals were repeatedly heard in courts as regards their “individual” right to study, individuals were repeatedly targeted in political demonstrations (think CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois). By remaking the political in the frame of the individual, the complexity of the emergent collectivity is backgrounded to foreground the already-known. The discourse returns to that of the consumer: student as consumer of knowledge pre-packaged (think PowerPoints). The cycle of debt cannot exist without the individual, and without the enforced notion that thought and data are one and the same. Don’t be fooled: you are paying not for thought but for the instrumentalization of knowledge in the name of course codes and degrees.

3. Don’t Underestimate the Force of Thought

The students in Québec have given voice to a systemic problem across universities both local and international. We professors owe them our support, for it is we who will otherwise continue to work within a system that increasingly does not facilitate the necessary conditions for environments of learning. With months spent each year trying to secure grants that are one of the few ways we have to fund our overworked and underfinanced students (80% of students in Quebec hold jobs on top of studying), with class-sizes ever increasing, with the chill in...

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