Capitalist Reproduction and Student Politics in Higher Education: Pete Seeger Meets the Young Liberals, Hegemonic Stasis, and the Contemporary University
Keywords:Academic Activism, Student Activism, Social Transformation, Hegemony, Capitalism, Liberation, Gramsci
In this article I discuss the role of universities in reproducing capitalist society and hegemony. I argue that, while universities were once seen as sites of radical thought, the institutions themselves have largely resisted change and reinforced the status quo. I examine student politics as a microcosm of this, with factions often more focused on political careers than meaningful activism. Even amongst student activists, the organic intellectuals who emerge from subaltern groups have struggled to challenge university hegemony. Drawing on empirical ethnographic study, I highlight the appropriation of working class culture by bourgeois student politicians as an example of this microcosmic relationship. I advance here that, while students bring diverse perspectives, real power has remained with conservative institutional leadership in political society. Moreover, gradually, corporate governance models have further constrained academic freedom and prioritised capitalist ends over social transformation for collective liberation. However, I maintain that higher education still provides hope for change if academics form strong relationships with civil society and centre marginalised voices in our teaching and research, staying humble, open and acknowledging the subaltern struggles, enabling organic intellectuals to thrive and dismantling the oppressive structures rife in higher education through collective action. Ultimately, following in the footsteps of Gramscian and Marxist thinkers before me, I argue that universities serve to reproduce capitalism and hierarchical political society, rather than enable radical thought, social transformation, better conditions for humanity or liberation. I argue, however, for new models of academic activism more genuinely connected to social struggles and able to challenge the destructive nature of capitalism, towards genuine social transformation.
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