Race critical knowledge production amidst post-racial times: Tensions inside the neoliberal university

Year: 2019

Author: Kelly, Stephen, Schulz, Samantha, Memon, Nadeem, Chown, Dylan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Education for a socially just world must be underpinned by, and actively defend, socially equitable modes of knowledge production. Education for social justice thus relies upon higher education institutions viewing their role, at least in part, as about fundamentally safeguarding the public good by valuing critical modes of knowledge production that value diverse ontological realities. While knowledge production in the West remains riven by its deep history of imperialism, Smyth reminds us, universities remain one of the last places “in which social critique and criticism is incubated, nurtured, fostered, encouraged and supported” (2017, p. 3). The role of universities as centres for knowledge production and protectors of social justice has, therefore, never been perfect but is imperative for generating a socially equitable world.

This paper opens the symposium by exploring limits and possibilities of race critical knowledge production within the interlocking contexts of the contemporary corporate university, ‘post-racial’ Australia, and global neoliberalism. Its stepping off point is the brief story of the resurrection of a small Australian journal committed to pushing the boundaries of our understandings of race, whiteness and de/colonialism. A well-known journal, its online presence was razed by a white supremacist group in 2015. In 2018, its resurrection took place, primarily, inside a public university undergoing aggressive neoliberal change. These phenomena are conceptualised in the paper as points along a continuum that is shaping the possibilities for race critical knowledge production, education for ‘social good’, and activism.

Rather than separate or discrete, the paper considers the rise of racist violence and the neoliberalisation of higher education as entwined phenomena whose mutuality and links to Enlightenment reason, when illuminated by a critical lens, point toward work that is urgently required if public higher education is to work for public good. The paper explores how raced power circulates relationally and how, for instance, the exemplary violence of neoliberal education reforms (i.e. narrowing the curriculum, devaluing human encounter, commodifying knowledge) is linked to the exceptional violence we are seeing play out on the global stage. As Springer says, “when we bear witness to violence, what we are seeing is not a ‘thing’, but a moment with a past, present and future that is determined by its elaborate relations with other moments of social process” (2012, p. 138). By illuminating these relations, the paper provides a backdrop for the discussions that follow.