PRODUCTION OF KNOWLEDGE AND THE LOGIC OF RESISTANCE IN NEOLIBERAL CAPITALISM
''Knowledge is our biggest wealth” is a populist slogan intended for convincing children of the importance of going to school and learning. If we take a closer look at the slogan and try to locate it within a wider context of social discourse, what emerges is a fairly clear outline of generally accepted and internalized societal views on the issue of gaining knowledge, that is, education. In the first place, it is obvious that knowledge (education) occupies the position of centralized authority, the untouchable matter with an absolute positive charge, which has the ability to change the world for the better, stop warfare etc. Knowledge, presented that way, is elevated beyond society’s ideological discords and historical conflicts, since it should be able to dissect in a rational way, to analyze on the grounds of proven scientific methods, and to establish a lens capable of universal moral judgment. Such a lens would obviously blur the ideological connotation of the production of knowledge by setting it into a kind of privileged space in which humanistic universalism is completely neutralized. In short, the traces of a construct are obliterated. We are, in fact, dealing with an artificially developed mechanism, which is wrapping the production of knowledge up in symbolic meanings of obviousness.
The slogan also displays pure biopolitical connotations. The politics of representation, which presupposes education as ideologically unproblematic, and above all indispensable, namely enables a reproduction of ideology by producing knowledge. Education, thus functions as a matrix for developing subjects compatible to the system as the content of knowledge is substituted by the necessity to acquire a certain degree of education, not for the purposes of widening personal horizons, but rather for greater competition on the labor market. Knowledge acquired in such a manner is self-evident, as it is a precondition for the normal functioning of society while content and methodology of knowledge acquisition become instrumentalized to the extent of easily concealing the ideological charge. The two essential presumptions of education are that it is ideologically conditioned and that it is important in the reproduction of the ideology of the ruling capitalist class. Knowledge is selective and (may) serve to hide or exclude certain events, practices etc., which are not compatible with the authority’s strategies. Concealment, marginalization and exclusion, however, are not the only tools used by modern-day neoliberal capitalism to control “heretic” discourses. The most significant tool of neoliberal capitalism, and one that was used to obtain its social recognition, is appropriation in its extreme form, kidnapping.
In A Brief History of Neoliberalism, David Harvey outlines two key features that have attributed to the naturalization of neoliberal ideology in the societal sense. The first relates to the economic and ideological origin of neoliberalism. The idea of neoliberal economy, as we know it, evolved from the so-called think tanks in the US and was institutionally materialized at the University of Chicago before it was applied to real economic systems. It is somewhat paradoxical (for the reason that social discourse of neoliberalism is based on civil rights) that the first experiment of this type was carried out by Chilean economists, educated at the University of Chicago (hence the name Chicago Boys) at the time of Pinochet’s coup d’état (which the US supported, due to the possibility of the privatization of Chilean industry). In the context of this article, it is important to note the role of the institution, which produced and distributed knowledge (University of Chicago) as a central force in constructing the know-how for the realization of the idea of the neoliberal economy. What attests to the instant naturalization of the discourse of neoliberal economy is the number of Nobel Prizes in Economics received by the researchers at the University of Chicago (also known as the Chicago School of Economics). The second feature enables an accurate insight into the context of appropriation as an immensely important aspect of the neoliberal turnabout; through processes of appropriation, neoliberal capitalism displays itself as the most natural system for democratic governments. Harvey suggests that any ideology, if it wishes to dominate, must root its values in the general beliefs of the public so deeply that they become self-evident and allow for no skepticism.1 Harvey goes on to say that “the founding figures of neoliberal thought took political ideals of human dignity and individual freedom as fundamental, as the central values of civilization.”2 It is noteworthy to point out that neoliberalism’s rhetoric on individual freedom was borrowed from the demands of the movement of 1968 where the two main paradigms, individual freedom and social justice, were combined together in a call for change. Harvey claims that “[n]eoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multiculturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power.”3 Neoliberalism literally kidnapped the discourse of 1968, cleft it, and appropriated ideas of individual freedom by tailoring them to its own rhetoric of freedom of choice, which was based on the logic of accumulation of capital, free trade and consumerism. We could propose, with a hint of malice, that there are two truly important consequences of the 1968 revolt we nowadays need to be aware of, the kidnapped discourse of individual freedom and the aesthetic treatment of the uprising (by means of retrospective photographic exhibitions and the like…), which contributes to the maintaining of the apolitical condition by creating a collective memory of the tempestuous past.
Educational institutions nowadays follow the logic which favors instrumentalized education and founds on an efficient and accelerated production of graduates. In this increasingly privatized system of education, the student/lecturer relationship is transformed into customer/customer service relationship. The British research/artist group Critical Practice, which analyzes the changes in educational systems, has ascertained that the social changes within the last few decades, due to the internalization of corporate values, methods and models have brought about an instrumentalization in the arts. This has been identified in all segments of art: museums and galleries, studios, artistic practices, and above all in British art schools.4 The problem with the instrumentalized educational processes is that the system prevents the production of any kind of critical analysis or self-reflection. It is only able to produce criticism from within, by kidnapping the terminology of criticism and creating its own venue in which it acts out the fictive process of democratization that really only serve the additional affirmation and strengthening of the current state of affairs. In this context, it is worth mentioning what happened at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. Invited to the Forum, among others, were young people from different parts of the world who were then broadcast on CNN as young activists and spoke of the power of global communication in overcoming cultural differences and future conflicts.
This brings us to three levers, which create a hermetically sealed institutional form of the production of knowledge within neoliberal capitalism together. They are:
- an ideological background, which selectively organizes the field of knowledge production (and thus creates an affirmative relation to the authorities);
- the politics of representation, which naturalizes the ideological discourse into a natural state and renders it self-evident; and
- the appropriative tendency which transforms the discourse of uprising within a system of suitable (consumerist) forms, and simultaneously creates a fictive space of pluralistic society.
We may therefore pose the following question: how can we take a stand against the instrumentalized institutional production of knowledge? The shortest answer to that could be with our own production of knowledge. This production, however, requires a relation to the structure of the institutional matrix. In other words, it needs to be aware of the three above-mentioned presumptions and acknowledge the respective methods and effects. It must first materialize and survive the process of appropriation, for which it requires the establishment of infrastructure that would be able to spread the knowledge and write its own history. It must then decode the politics of representation of institutional knowledge production by means of decoding languages being used for situating it within the symbolic order of society; as through the decoding of languages of representation, it is possible to identify the ideological basis of organizing institutional knowledge production, its real mechanisms of marginalization, blurring, and appropriation. Only clearly visible internal mechanisms and strategies of institutions of power can enable the non-institutional production of knowledge, which is able to decolonize marginalized discourses from the other side.
1 David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2005, p. 5.
3 Ibid., p. 41.
4 “Critical Practice,” in: Zehar no. 60 and 61, 2007, http://arteleku.net/4.1/zehar/6061/Criticalpractice_en.pdf