Friday, April 22, 2016

Misery at MISR: Looking Beyond Mamdani & Nyanzi

The fiery exchange between Professor Mahmood Mamdani and Doctor Stella Nyanzi at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) is only part of a larger battle for academic freedom and democratisation of higher learning institutions in Africa. However, in personalising this in terms of the two heavyweights we may miss out on the struggles that some students themselves are carrying there. In the interest of foregrounding them for wider engagement, I post below my response to one of the students and her rejoinder.

Chambi Chachage:

Folks, I have not said any learning form must be dictated at a strict point. My point is simple - and not new: A university by its very foundation is not a democratic institution, administratively. We may claim it is, intellectually. But when it comes to 'administrating' it as a 'modern' academic institution, it is not simply about sharing opinions and ideas as our good professor Kitila Mkumbo (PhD) seems to profess:

"Prof. Mamdani is the one who has been teaching young scholars how to argue intellectually. He is a strong advocate of an academic and intellectual freedom. I can't believe he's the one saying 'a university is not a democratic institution'.... If universities cannot practice basic democratic principles characterised with open and frank exchange of ideas and opinions, then I argue that there should never be democracy at all anywhere on the soil!" - Prof. Kitila Mkumbo's reaction to Noosim Naimasiah's A Response to Prof. Mamdani's Press Release and the debate about Makerere

A university is all about 'hierarchy' hence the provisions of 'titles/rank's - you get this then you become that. You become that then you can do this. Even the use of Latin is part and parcel of that legacy of 'pontification' from the 'Roman' era. Do we even wonder where the terms we use come from? Refer to these definitions:

DOCTORATE: ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from medieval Latin doctoratus ‘made a doctor’. 

SENATE: ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French senat, from Latin senatus, from senex ‘old man’.

CHANCELLOR: ORIGIN late Old English from Old French cancelier, from late Latin cancellarius ‘porter, secretary’ (originally a court official stationed at the grating separating public from judges), from cancelli ‘crossbars’.

MASTERS: ORIGIN :Old English mæg(i)ster (later reinforced by Old French maistre), from Latin magister; probably related to magis ‘more’.

DEGREE: ORIGIN Middle English (in the senses ‘step’, ‘tier’, ‘rank’, or ‘relative state’): from Old French, based on Latin de-‘down’ + gradus ‘step or grade’.

PhD: ORIGIN from Latin philosophiae doctor.

A student, having being attracted to MISR primarily if not precisely because of Mamdani, cannot thus argue for what he terms 'Mamdanism' as opposed to 'Mamdanisation' in their #MamdaniMustWalkHisTalk as if in its quest against neoliberalism, Mamdanism is about turning upside down the university that was hierarchical and undemocratic way before the ascendancy of neoliberalism. For the author of "Ideological State Apparatuses and the Reproduction of Alienated Subjects: An Insider’s Critique of the MISR PhD Programme" to also think that 'Neoliberalism [is] the ideology at the root of all our problems' as if universities were so socialist and democratic before the neoliberal turn is ahistorical. It is truncating the history of universities to what Samir Amin would refers to as a parenthesis - a bracket - in the long history of human 'civilisation'. A very short period indeed that 'may' not last. Hardly 100 years.

My conclusion is thus also straightforward - and not novel: If we want to truly democratize knowledge provision/ administration we have to dismantle the 'whole' apparatus/edifice of learning through such a hierarchical system by committing 'class suicide' as 'educated elites' who 'accumulate' masters, PhDs and other ranks that 'reproduces' what Althusser aptly captured below when analysing the structure that emerged before the coining of the term neoliberalism - a structure we aped since colonial times:

“It takes children from every class at infant-school age, and then for years, the years in which the child is most 'vulnerable', squeezed between the family State apparatus and the educational State apparatus, it drums into them, whether it uses new or old methods, a certain amount of 'know-how' wrapped in the ruling ideology (French, arithmetic, natural history, the sciences, literature) or simply the ruling ideology in its pure state (ethics, civic instruction, philosophy). Somewhere around the age of sixteen, a huge mass of children are ejected 'into production': these are the workers or small peasants. Another portion of scholastically adapted youth carries on: and, for better or worse, it goes somewhat further, until it falls by the wayside and fills the posts of small and middle technicians, white-collar workers, small and middle executives, petty bourgeois of all kinds. A last portion reaches the summit, either to fall into intellectual semi-employment, or to provide, as well as the 'intellectuals of the collective labourer', the agents of exploitation (capitalists, managers), the agents of repression (soldiers, policemen, politicians, administrators, etc.) and the professional ideologists (priests of all sorts, most of whom are convinced' laymen). Each mass ejected en route is practically provided with the ideology which suits the role it has to fulfill in class society: the role of the exploited (with a 'highly developed', 'professional', 'ethical', 'civic', 'national' and apolitical consciousness); the role of the agent of exploitation (ability to give the workers orders and speak to them: 'human relations'), of the agent of repression (ability to give orders and enforce obedience 'without discussion', or ability to manipulate the demagogy of a political leader's rhetoric), or of the professional ideologist (ability to treat consciousnesses with the respect, i.e. with the contempt, blackmail and demagogy they deserve, adapted to the accents of Morality, of Virtue, or 'Transcendence', of the Nation, of France's World Role, etc.) (p. 118-119)" - UDADISI: Schools as State Apparatuses for Failing Students

Can our dear compatriots - Sabatho, Baha and Diana - at MISR have their cake (PhD) and eat it too?
Noosim Naimasiah:

My response to this 'fascinated academic' argument is this, adding onto what Sabatho has already writen. You are right, this is not a new argument. The apparatuses of the modern status are fundamentally undemocratic even though they use, among other functions, representation which is ideally democratic to run their institutions. The struggle, as I see it, is to expand this function of representation with the modern state and by extension, the university, and adopt increasingly and radically, the political alignments from our culturally historical or/and emerging notions that in their imagination and operation center love and expansive horizontal participation.

As for the question you ask Sabatho, Baha and Diana - it can be asked to literally anyone struggling against forms of injustice in its varying degrees anywhere in this world. Because we are living in this world. A world which for the most part, in varying degrees is informed by hierarchy even at the microlevel, and the struggle is to raise ourselves, beyond ourselves, which though never complete, provides a new horizon, partly for ourselves (because we are always tied to the hierachies we have known, at least in part), and perhaps entirely for others, who come after us.


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