SAVE THE CUNY STUDENTS Petition (at Change.org)
Undergraduate Scholarly Habits Ethnography Project
I want to pick up from where we left off last week: is there any value in performing service work within an institution? I think this is a valid point of entry into the conversation about commoning because some forms of service – e.g., sitting on committees, mentoring colleagues, organizing events on campus, and advising students – have a great potential to catalyze a practice that David Harvey understands as “produc[ing] or establish[ing] a social relation with a common” (75), one that is both collective and non-commodified. Allow me to take a step back – Harvey frames “the right to the city,” the larger paradigm within which he engages with the urban commons, as far more than a right of access urban resources: “it is a right to change and reinvent the city more after our hearts’ desire” (4). My reason for arguing in favor of performing certain kinds of service – notwithstanding some legitimate concerns that have been raised in class and elsewhere – is that it is often one of the few avenues we (yes, graduate students, contingent faculty, and precarious workers especially) have to exert a similar right to shape the infrastructure of knowledge production/dissemination within which we operate.
While reworking an institution as inherently conservative as the university is, into a truly (and not only performative) radical haven is beyond our capacity, the value of commoning may lie beyond such grand goals. Whether we are taking an active interest in the clouding agreements in which the institution engages, serving on a student association, or attending tedious department meetings, I think there is value in engaging in service that goes beyond monetary retribution – it is, after all, of little surprise that we are disincentivized from coming together and to propose change from below. Rather, what we gain is being part of a dissonant conversation that makes the institution; attuning to like-minded voices within it; and contributing to it with otherwise modes of engagement. For example, following Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s lead, through “generous thinking” (expressed in the chapter we read for this week, through David Foster Wallace’s concept of “giving it away”) we are already performing and perpetuating “means of escaping the self-destructive spiral of addiction and self-absorption that constitutes not an anomalous state but rather the central mode of being in the contemporary US” (152).
I thus want us to think of commoning as an ethos, as ways of engagement through which we are already hacking and reshaping academic (and knowledge) infrastructures that are, very much like Harvey’s city, dominated by capitalist class interest. The university is NOT a commons, unless and until we make it one through collective political action. From this perspective, commoning is inevitably part of our work as scholars.
Looking forward to our class discussion and to proposing concrete examples of commoning spillages and outliers. In the meantime, below are some questions I’d like to invite you to think about. Stay safe, all!