This collection takes its inspiration from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s call for the abolition of the English department at the University of Nairobi in 1968. With his colleagues, Ngũgĩ launched an attack against an enduring colonial legacy and envisioned an intellectual renaissance in Africa. Conversely, in recent years, many departments have found themselves “abolished” for another reason: the neoliberal rhetoric of financial sustainability and austerity, despite the seeming financial health of such institutions. Indeed, we have two types of institutional intervention both framed under the rhetoric of “abolition”: the first driven by the desire to liberate education from epistemological and pedagogical domination; the second, it might be claimed, by the neoliberal business model. This special edition seeks to consider the chequered history of the westernised university, to diagnose its embattled present, and to imagine its future.

In recent months, academics, non-academic staff, students and their allies across the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, Albania, Finland, Colombia, Mexico and elsewhere, have staged protests against neoliberal reform of universities. Wendy Brown argues that the evolution of neoliberalism from a set of economic policies into mode of reason imperils not just liberal institutions but democracy itself. Education across the board is jeopardised by the corporate university model. The liberal arts face multidirectional threats, of extinction and irrelevance. Yet as Gayatri Spivak suggests, if the humanities is the ethical healthcare of society, what resources can we summon to reform, destroy, transform, or re-create the university? Or less innocently, as Bill Readings suggests, simply foster a space where academics (and students) can “work without alibis” in acknowledgement that radical possibilities are constrained by the societies in which universities are situated.

The cross-disciplinary articles in this special edition were chosen from across the humanities and social sciences, as well as from the critical, creative and deviant work of educators and activists. In particular, the editors reached out to those who traditionally or purposefully find themselves outside the ivory towers: those not included and unassimilated.

Edited by: Martin Eve (Birkbeck, University of London) and Lou Dear (University of Glasgow)

Featured image by Ashley Van Haeften under a CC BY license


The Abolition of the University

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