The Promise of Education in Times of Social Acceleration and Advanced Liberalism, By Ximena C. Martínez Trabucco

Think of this: when they present you with a watch, they are gifting you with a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air. They aren’t simply wishing the watch on you, and many more, and we hope it will last you, it’s a good grand, Swiss, seventeen rubies; they aren’t just giving you this minute stonecutter which will bind you by the wrist and walk along with you. They are giving you — they don’t know it, it’s terrible that they don’t know it — they are gifting you with a new fragile and precarious piece of yourself, something that’s yours but not a part of your body, that you have to strap to your body like your belt, like a tiny, furious bit of something hanging onto your wrist. They gift you with the job of having to wind it every day, an obligation to wind it, so that it goes on being a watch, they gift you with the obsession of looking into jewelry-shop windows to check the exact time, check the radio announcer, check the telephone service. They give you the gift of fear, someone will steal it from you, it’ll fall on the street and get broken. They give you the gift of your trademark and the assurance that it’s a trademark better than others, they gift you with the impulse to compare your watch with other watches. They aren’t giving you a watch, you are the gift, they are giving you yourself for the watch’s birthday.

Julio Cortázar, Preamble to the Instructions on How to Wind a Watch. “Cronopios and Famas.” Translated by Paul Blackburn.

Introduction

In his short story, Preamble to the Instructions on How to Wind a Watch, Julio Cortázar describes how a gift can initiate a transformative shift in which the subject becomes the object and vice versa. In Cortázar’s tale, the watch is celebrated while the person who is supposed to be celebrated ends up gifting his freedom to the small device. The tragedy doesn’t lie in becoming the guardian of the precious object or in the fact that you start comparing yourself to others who wear watches, nor in developing the need to look into “jewelry-shop windows” to constantly “check the exact time;” (Cortazar, 2019) the tragedy lies in receiving a new part of your body, that once attached to you, cannot be detached. This new part is no more and no less than time consciousness. In this essay, I explore the role that time as a social construct plays in shaping the experiences of individuals who take part in the daily life of universities. As Rosa explains, “temporal structures of a given society are cognitively and formatively binding” (2013, 8). Considering this idea, I focus on university graduate students to propose that in times of ubiquitous precariousness in higher education (HE), and uncertainties in society at large, time becomes a mechanism that establishes the parameters against which individual success is measured. Time dictates what is expected from someone’s actions, the rhythms of those actions, and influences the production of sophisticated technology of government that transforms watches (or smartphones), timelines, deadlines, documents, and systems of support (human and non-human) into devices of control and self-regulation. Usually presented as converging discourses, I explore the intersection of time and success and propose the subject that complies with an advanced liberal form of government (Rose 1999, 137) is produced, a form of government in which the individual, far from the paternalistic guidance of the state, is active in their own governance and is free and responsible to choose their path towards wellbeing.

My essay is informed by an institutional ethnography performed in one of the largest graduate schools of education in North America, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). In this ethnography, I interviewed a wide range of graduate students, faculty members, support staff, and I reviewed university documents and mass media productions. In what follows I show how the arrhythmias between university-time (OISE-time) and student-time transform OISE, a supposed place of history, tradition, identity and belonging, into a non-place (Augé 1995, 77), where relationships become transitory and utilitarian. Furthermore, I contend that time becomes a classifying grid that transforms OISE into a sticky object (Ahmed 2004, 29) that carries on the categories of success and failure. These categories circulate affects which are embodied and inhabited by students.

In the race towards nowhere that is presented in times of “continuous movements” (Rosa 2013, 6), educational institutions offer the promise of earning an advantage. However, embracing that promise also entails that we play institutional time games. What does OISE promise to those who take part in this race? 

University in Times of  “Continuous Movement” 

The social can only be captured and understood if time, as an organizing category, is present in the analysis (Rosa 2013, 2). As in the tale of Cortázar, time is central to university experiences. Time shapes days, relationships, commitments. It defines priorities and impacts the very sense of being for those who happen to transit, permanently or temporarily, through university spaces. Building on Rammstedt’s classification of time structures and types of societies, Rosa proposes that time in highly modern societies is characterized by a sense of  “social acceleration” (Rosa 2013, 7-20). This “social acceleration” means that a person would function in a “continuous movement” towards an open future. In current times of austerity, precarious job prospects and global threats (environment, wars, migration, etc.), this “continuous movement” seems to be crossed by a feeling of uncertainty, prompted by not knowing what awaits us in the future. Thus, the simple but crucial question — “what is next?” — perfectly captures the essence of a scenario of “social acceleration” underpinned by anxiety and apprehensions. As we cannot know what is coming, it is always better to be done “ASAP” with whatever endeavour we are pursuing — even if what needs to be done is never clear.

In this time of “social acceleration” and “continuous movements” (Rosa 2013, 20), students rush through their university years, hoping for a promising future. This feeling of being in a race is prompted by two phenomena: 1) the effects of social acceleration and 2) university students are presented with a well-defined ideal completion timeline, usually tied to their funding. If a student does not adjust to university-time, they may endure economic pressures that translate into bigger debt, or even drop their studies altogether. In this rush to finish, university is experienced as a path to somewhere else, becoming a place of transit towards a hoped-for “bright” future — education becomes a promise. In the transitory space that university has become, social and community relations are experienced as transitory, and signified in the affects (Ahmed 2013) that appear in the economic, mutually beneficial encounter. That is, community is experienced as capital for networking, while identity, history, and affiliations are ephemeral or utilitarian. Building on Nielsen and Sarauw’s (2017) interpretation of universities, I contend that in times of social acceleration and advanced liberalism, universities become non-places, as described by the French anthropologist Marc Augé (1995, 77). These are transitory spaces in which time functions as a classifying grid that positions students, relationships, and decisions as successes or failures.

When a student fails to comply with university-time, feelings of discomfort, inadequacy, shame and guilt — and the horrific idea of life in perpetual uncertainty and insecurity — become embodied. Thus, a time technology, presented as a set of administrative structures, rules, and support mechanisms seeking to organize and ease students’ experiences are revealed as normative conduct. That is, it slowly becomes the student’s own subjective parameter of success and failure. In the following section, I explore the transformations that universities have experienced as policies of austerity expand. My intention is to provide a bit of context on the process in which universities are morphing into non-places. Furthermore, I delve into the changes that OISE has experienced, and I contend that these changes have made of this once “radical” institution a non-place where education is commodified.

OISE in the Wave of Policies of Austerity and Advanced Liberalism 

Emerging from underground public transit, the first encounter one has with OISE, the faculty of education at the University of Toronto (U of T), is through an ad that reads, “Earn your Master of Education at U of T,” followed by a caption that reads, “Our Master of Education programs emphasize both academic and professional learning in a range of fields. With an OISE MEd, you will enhance and expand your career options within and beyond the field of education in Canada and around the world. Join us!” At the top of the poster, there is a picture of a group of students wearing gowns, ready to receive their degrees. The picture captures big smiles on the faces of students who, looking directly to the camera lens, seem to be excited, thrilled, and overjoyed with their accomplishments (OISE 2019).

The image is part of a strong and creative marketing strategy deployed by OISE with the aim of increasing enrolment. As a result of changes experienced in public funding, during the last decade, universities have been pushed to internalize the logic of the market and to act as profit-oriented corporations in a trend described as the neoliberalization of HE (Canaan and Shumar 2008, 4). The reduction of public funding has impacted universities’ organization, resource distribution, administration, and their time structures. 

The transformation of the relationships between state and public universities can be explained through Rose’s theory of advanced liberalism (Rose 1999, 140). As he points out, the transit from the “social state” to the “enabling state” (Rose 1999, 142) gives a new status to organizations and certain institutions, such as those related to order, security, health and productivity. In times of advanced liberalism, he writes, “Individuals, firms, organizations, localities, schools, parents, hospitals, housing estates must take on themselves — ‘as partners’ — a portion of the responsibility for their own wellbeing” (Rose 1999, 142). Universities should become agents for their own wellbeing; but, what does wellbeing look like for universities in times of advanced liberalism?

In the context of advanced liberalism, wellbeing is achieved through action. In the face of a continuous reduction of public funds, wellbeing means to take responsibility for their governance and their financial stability (Ball 2012, 23). Universities experience changes in their internal governance systems and are pushed to create new strategies to keep alive, including alliances with private capital for research, the externalization of services, and the reduction of staff members. All this while increasing enrolment.

In 1965, a special act of the Ontario legislature inaugurated OISE, aiming to offer graduate programs, conduct research and disseminate its findings in the area of education (OISE 2017). For almost three decades, OISE remained an independent education organization, but in 1996, following a proposal advanced by the Ontario Ministry of Education, the institute became part of U of T (OISE 2017). The imperative since has been to modernize OISE in its infrastructure and philosophy in order to overcome a historical financial deficit (University of Toronto 1996). In this pursuit, OISE transformed, from organizational restructuring to the development of striking communications and marketing strategies. Following international trends of austerity, OISE significantly reduced administrative staff, merged several “financially non-viable” departments, and decreased the number of tenure stream faculty members (University of Toronto 1996). To complement this deficit reduction strategy have been efforts to increase enrolment. In fact, according to the most recent budgetary report of the University of Toronto, the university’s primary source of funding comes from student tuition fees (University of Toronto 2018).

In 2015, the Dean’s office organized a consultation aiming at creating the “New Academic Strategy 2017-2024.” (OISE 2017)  The document operates as a roadmap for the goals and commitments of OISE over the following seven years, made available to the public. Interestingly, on OISE’s website, a detailed explanation of the process of building the strategy is presented, noting the active participation of staff, students, and faculty (OISE 2017). The new strategy identifies six priority areas to guide decision making, priorities that also  act as an institutional identity marker. These priority areas are:

  • Building our community from within
  • Commitment to Indigenization
  • Wellbeing and mental health
  • Equity, diversity, and accessibility
  • Transformative and innovative pedagogy
  • Building our impact: collaboration, internationalization, and scholarship

In a chapter entitled “Bullet-Proofing,” Strathern analyzes the presentation of institutional aims and objectives in the form of bullet points, and the role of this presentation in promoting those values to the public in a “crystal clear” (Strathern 2006, 188) manner. She explains that bullet point mission statements powerfully persuade others “that it is ‘themselves’ they are describing” (Strathern 2006, 189). In order to do this, institutions find a variety of ways to communicate their mission and vision. In OISE’s case, the bullet points of the new strategy transmit the institution’s commitment to appealing values — values which represent the Canadian “mosaic” (Kelley 1998) and the commitment to participating in the international landscape. Community, excellence in research and scholarship, multiculturalism, innovation, and internationalization are highlighted: at every click of OISE’s website, on every brochure, in every picture hanging on the institution’s walls. Who could disagree?

In an epoch of social acceleration, advanced liberalism and globalization, where the economic destiny of a citizen is not defined within the limits of the nation state, new questions arise around openness to difference, multiculturalism, and internationalization. Recalling the advertisement that confronts people coming from the underground, OISE marketing invites people to expand their career options within and beyond the field of education. Rose points out that in times of advanced liberalism, educational obligations “are not confined in space and time” (Rose 1999, 161); instead, they become a lifelong journey. In order to become their own capital, the citizen of advanced liberalism engages in continuous training and retraining, enhancement of credentials, and preparation for a life of incessant job seeking (Rose 1999, 161). The invitation that OISE poses responds to the need to be up to the risks that rapid technological changes present for employability. Without a job, these new citizens, who find their self-realization in the freedom that the market offers, will be left out of the game. Thus, in times of precariousness, uncertainty, and “continuous movements” (Rosa, 2013, 6), the picture of those graduate students walking to their graduation ceremony symbolizes their entrance into an imagined and longed-for happy, and perhaps safer, future.

But the promise of OISE does not end there. The ad speaks to the possibility of expanding one’s career in “Canada and beyond!” (OISE 2019). The idea of becoming a global citizen may look past the fact that globalization has blurred the limits of economic sovereignty. Although citizenship and economic and cultural rights are attached to a territory, they swim in an ocean of international agreements. Thus, the narrative of  “in Canada and beyond” (OISE 2019) serves two purposes. On one hand, the idea of mobility in time and space; OISE students are told of their potential to be globally employable. On the other, it allows OISE to recruit students “in Canada and beyond.” A lucrative business that may permit, for a time, the survival of the “public” university.

However, the invitation OISE offers clashes with the flipside of a policy of austerity: a shortage of personnel that renders the promise of education incommensurate with students’ real lives and common needs. How does this impact them? How is community built and lived at OISE? And what is the role that time plays in shaping OISE students’ experiences?

Barbara Grant, in “On Delivering the Consumer Citizen”, questions the role and mission of academics in modern universities, proposing that in this era of global and “self-sufficient” education (2018), new relationships established among teachers, students, and knowledge promote certain affects that serve the dynamic of consumerism. Nielsen and Sarauw (2017) present a similar idea, suggesting the biggest influence on universities and colleges is the rhythm of the market. In both articles, the argument proposes not only the commodification of education, but its complicity in the very production of subjects for the consumerist society. 

In the following section, through the narrative of students, I explore the effects and affects of universities’ narratives of becoming ‘financially independent’ on students. I point out that in this new scenario, OISE-time becomes a tool to conduct the conduct of students. I compare completion timelines with student-time narratives. As I observe, students struggle to fit into the ideal of a graduate student, a particular image in mind that does not necessarily resemble OISE students.

On Time Constraints, or, The Performative Aspect of Being an OISE Student

Once in the program, OISE students must adjust to a series of time structures that are organized by the university. Understanding the production of subjects, argues Read (2009, 151), demands that we focus on practices. Through practices, he explains, certain logics are internalized and reproduced in particular settings and particular times. Following this argument, I explore the OISE-time related practices and statements that influence students’ conduct and senses of being. 

As Tania M. Li explains, government “is the attempt to shape human conduct by calculated means” (Li 2007, 2). Some of the means considered: institutions, procedures, analyses, forms of practical knowledge, modes of perception, practices of calculation, vocabularies, types of authority, experts, and forms of judgment (Li 2007, 3). All of them operate in order to pursue what Foucault calls the “conduct of conduct.” This “governmental rationality or governmentality,” (Li 2007, 2) says Rose, is “[t]he way governments try to produce the citizen best suited to fulfill government’s policies” (1999,  67). In the pursue of this subject, universities constitute third parties that participate in the assemblage of techniques, knowledge and perceptions that produce the individual who fulfills the government’s policies. Today, university-time is part of a perception, knowledge and technology that seeks to confirm the idea of a state whose role is “to enable” (Rose 1999, 142) individuals to be responsible for their own destiny: individuals who take decisions in pursuit of their wellbeing and assume the costs (economic and moral) of those decisions. In the case of university settings, faculty members are an important part of a technology of government that models new subjects. They, endowed with scientific truth and authority, may well influence students’ sense of being. In the narration presented below, a female student speaks about advice provided by her supervisor, who suggested techniques for her to become more efficient:  

“I was talking to my supervisor and [he told me] how about you plan out your weeks and

make sure that you block things, you structure time in particular ways, so you know this is the time when you answer emails, this is the time when you write, this is the time when you do your GAship… There is this exercise that I was told to do: You track your time in terms of what you do. For instance, from 10 am to 11 am, I did this. So you can have an idea of how you are spending your time. I took a break between these times. You can create these maps or charts at the end of the week or month so you know how much time is going into research.” (PhD student, third year, in discussion with the author, November 2019).

The exercise of planning out, tracking spent-time on daily activities, and creating this time charter is a way to become the judge of one’s own actions. An exercise proposed and probably modelled by her supervisor: the expert, a referent to the aspirant scholar and who gathers feelings of admiration, respect, desire, and occasionally fear.

The same PhD student continues narrating her experience of becoming a new subject, the “independent learner and scholar” who is the materialization of the university-time discourse of being time conscious and responsible for the own actions. She is turning into (or consolidating) a subjectivity in synchrony with advanced liberalism:

“The independent learner and researcher that we are becoming as a scholar, one of the things that we have to learn is to manage our time accordingly. If you go to work somewhere your boss is outside of you. The little voice that tells you have to be here at this time and do these things is outside of you, but in this process, the little voice has moved inside of you and tells you, ‘hey! Time is passing and you are not doing the things you said you will be doing and you have all these other things that you have to do.’” (PhD student, third year, in discussion with the author, November 2019).

She is becoming someone else. Someone who is conscious of her time and its value. She describes being a scholar as being independent, as having control over one’s time and activities. The message, once transmitted by her supervisor, has moved into her head. The supervisor does not need to remind her to be on time: she herself measures her actions and tracks her timed accomplishments. As the watch in the Cortázar’s tale, time-charts have become part of herself.  

In the case of OISE, university-time is presented as a smooth and well planned school journey where a beginning and an end are well established and are communicated early in students’ careers. A 2016 OISE self-study revealed that completion times in the professional master’s programs adjust to the standards that apply across the University of Toronto (OISE 2016). However, even for those students, university-time seems to be an important life transforming event. To experience this smooth process, some adjustments to the student’s life are required. Giving up family time is a recurring topic, particularly in conversations with female students. This is what two students in the professional master’s program say about having to adjust to university-time:

“I feel like I don’t have time. I am always running around and I am never able to complete my class readings as I wish. My son is suffering the consequences. At home [in China], I or my parents used to do everything for him and now he is always alone. But he is also becoming more independent. ” (OISE-MEd student, in year 1, in discussion with the author, November 2019).   

“My children and my husband always complaint. Before, I used to cook and take my children to the movie theatre. Now, I don’t even have time to sleep.” (OISE-MEd student, in year 2, in discussion with the author, November 2019)

In both cases, students speak about having to make decisions regarding time allocation. At first, university-time forced them to review their priorities and to re-organize them according to their student status. But later, these students force themselves onto these time dynamics and start seeing their benefits. In the case of the first student, her son experiences her absence, but as she puts it, he is also learning to be independent, a skill that will pay off later in life. The second student has sacrificed her time to share with her husband and children. In both cases, students are negotiating their subjectivities. Those aspects of the self that are attached to motherhood are in a process of transformation. The sacrifice to postpone and to reorganize one’s life makes sense, as students’ interests are focused on the promising future the institute offers. University becomes a transitory space where one can learn to endure life circumstances, and a place from which new identities and social relations emerge. In the case of these women, perhaps, a new sense of motherhood that may question their very female subjectivities.

Reasons behind on-time completion in professional graduate degrees seem to be connected to the absence of a research component. The situation changes with funded students in intensive research-based programs, such as MA and PhD programs. In 2013, Rosanna Tamburri’s article “The PhD is in need of revision” garnered a lot of attention. Besides discussing the reasons that could explain the chronic delay to completion of PhD students in Canada, some numbers are shared. The article points out that across all disciplines, the average mean time-to-completion was 5.5 years. In 2016, a report by the U of T showed little variation, while another U of T report suggested OISE’s MA students take longer to graduate than what is officially expected, and longer than students in similar research-based programs at other U of T faculties (OISE 2016). In the case of PhD programs, the latest data available shows that OISE’s PhD students have an average completion time of 5.6 years (OISE 2016). Even though, in the case of PhD students, the arrhythmia between the official completion time and students’ time to completion is almost two years and has been well documented, universities continue to offer funds up to year four. In relation to this arrhythmia, a PhD in year 7 says:

“I think speaking about how you feel about time here in OISE. It is like, the needs and the resources that we have are not enough. I got my current supervisor in year four and he started mentoring me more closely in year five. At that point all your funding is gone. I got a job, I was lucky but there is a mismatch between what the institution says and what they actually provide.” (Female PhD student in year 7, in discussion with the author, November 2019)

Who is the student of the university timeline? Although the data does not allow generalizations, it is interesting to observe a constant in the narratives that renders female students as the ones who sacrifice the most in grad school. A narrative that changes radically in interviews done with male students: 

“[my PhD process] was all right. Pretty smooth for me. I did all my courses in the first year. Second year I just worked… third [year], I did a lot of reading, my comprehensive exams, worked in the literature review. [In year] four, I really worked hard and set up the [thesis] committee, [I] figured out the external [reader] strategically, got feedback and knocked down the chapters” (Male PhD graduated according to OISE official completion timeline, in discussion with the author, November 2019)

The organization of university-time seems to have in mind young, single males. As a

consequence, time becomes a punitive tool for certain bodies who do not fit into this category. Time becomes a mechanism that establishes the parameters against which individual success is measured. As such a mechanism, time dictates what is expected from someone’s actions and the rhythms of those actions. Time becomes a tool for self-control and self-regulation. In the case of these students, it is precisely not being on-time which causes them to feel discomfort. Although they excused themselves, bringing up their life circumstances, it seems like there is something to fix about themselves, something that is wrong. This situation is described by another PhD female student at OISE:

“I keep seeing how my life has shrunk. My hours have shrunk, my mind has shrunk. My son was like, ‘mom, you are not focused anymore, you don’t remember anything,’ and all of that stuff relates to the time that I expected to finish this PhD.” (Female PhD student in year 7, in discussion with the author, November 2019)

Li argues “that governmental rationalities… cannot be examined in isolation from the effects they produce… although governmental strategies aim to involve populations in their self-regulation, the sought-after outcomes “cannot be guaranteed [and]… governmental intervention risks to produce effects that are contradictory, even perverse” (2007, 4). Through ethnography, she remarks, the limits of government are observed in “how things work out in practice” (2007, 4). The arrhythmia between university-time and student-time shows the cracks of a technology of government that tries to produce the subject of advanced liberalism: a subject defined as independent, goal-oriented, time-efficient, successful, and who also seems to be male-gendered. When students are confronted with this ideal subject behind university-time, some affects arise, constitutive of identity and social relations (Ahmed 2013). In the next and final section, I explore the affects that emerge from university-time in more depth while I envision possibilities for the future.

OISE Affects

According to Sara Ahmed, affects turn us towards objects — that is, affects are promoted by objects that are external to the subject, objects that circulate as social goods. “Affect is what sticks, or what sustains or preserves the connection between ideas, values, and objects” (Ahmed 2010, 29). In the case of the student who is part of a society of advanced liberalism and lives amid continuous movement, certainty is the promise that directs us towards certain objects. University becomes the sticky object described by Ahmed (2010, 29), as it is a space filled with affects related to this longed-for certainty. What do you feel in OISE? I asked several students, looking for an answer that could help me understand these time-related arrhythmias and affects. The answers varied, yet always reflected a common idea: community. Rose defines community as “a moral field where people are bound into durable relations through which individual identities are constructed” (1999, 172). Students’ answers in relation to university-time spoke of feelings of loneliness, lack of support, absence of community, financial instability, and sacrifice. Community, as declared in the bullet points of OISE’s new academic strategy, is what students accused of being absent:

“There is a way of understanding PhD education that is like the model of ‘do it yourself,’ sink or swim, which is what is actually here but is not advertised that way. I came in assuming a certain level of support. I am not saying that faculty are not interested in me, I think they are kind people, but there is an institutional culture… the actual culture is the sink or swim culture.” (PhD student year 7, in discussion with the author, November 2019)

The arrhythmias between university-time and students’ time transform OISE, a supposed place of history, tradition, identity, and belonging, into a non-place, as described by Marc Augé (1995, 77). In opposition to an anthropological place, which is “formed by individual identities, through complicities of language, local references, unformulated rules of living know-how [the] non-place creates the shared identity of passengers, customers or Sunday drives” (Augé  1995, 101). The non-place, Augé continues, “creates neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude, and similitude. There is no room there for history unless it has been transformed into an element of spectacle… Since non-places are there to be passed through, they are measured in units of time” (1995, 103-4). OISE is presented as the spectacle that shows the history of the student’s future; however, for current students, particularly for female ones, OISE looks like a clock that counts the minutes that will take them to arrive at their next life station. Sink or swim, or the pedagogy of ‘do it yourself,’ transforms OISE into a sticky object where emotions of success and failure prompted by timelines become identity markers for many students, for good and ill. OISE helps students to discover “how fitted” they are to survive in a socially accelerated world, a definition that will mark a person’s life. In OISE’s case, those affects are particularly unsettling, as they become the source of identity and social relations that will be reproduced for younger generations through OISE educators. In the interplay of these affects, community is experienced as transitory and signified in economically beneficial encounters, as capital for networking. However, it is precisely in the arrhythmias between university-time and student-time where the cracks of a technology of government that tries to produce the subject of advanced liberalism are shown, and hope steams.

“I feel like I have done this not myself but with the support of peers. A lot of 

support from peers” (PhD candidate near to defend in year 8, in discussion with the author, November 2019)

Paradoxically, the non-place that OISE has become, and the many demoralizing feelings that it prompts, are subverted by the very students who experience them. For those students, it has become clear that to endure the pressure of constraining timelines, they need to gather. It is in the discomfort, in that notion of, ‘hmm, something seems wrong,’ where the technology of university-time seems to meet its limits.

Final Reflections

Policies of austerity in conjunction with the expansion of an advanced liberal form of government have transformed universities into non-places. In this essay, I explored the role that time plays in this phenomenon. I paid particular attention to the effects and affects that this transformation prompts in graduate students. Drawing on narratives and document analysis collected through an institutional ethnography conducted at OISE, I have observed that to produce the subject of advanced liberalism, the university must become a non-place. That is, a place of transit, where relationships become utilitarian, disposable, and serve the sense of continuous movements that is experienced in socially accelerated societies. In this effort, time becomes a mechanism that establishes the parameters against which individual success is measured. Time dictates what is expected from someone’s actions, the rhythms of those actions, and as it contributes to the production of the non-place, it also contributes to the shaping of the subject: independent, able to make decisions for his own wellbeing, goal-oriented, time-efficient and successful, and gendered male. This subject becomes the model against which graduate students measure their conduct. In this attempt, other subjectivities are erased or left on standby. A situation that, though it affects everyone, directly impacts women who have to put away their time for motherhood, sisterhood, and to experience their own female rhythms while embracing a male-oriented university-time. Furthermore, it impacts the identity of educators, who, transformed into “enabled” subjects, are likely to reproduce the same model with younger generations.

In becoming a non-place, where advanced liberal subjects are produced, universities, and OISE in particular, become sticky objects where emotions attached to the categories of success and failure are experienced by students. Their intensity rises due to the arrhythmias between student-time and university-time. In the race towards nowhere that is presented in times of “continuous movements,” educational institutions offer the promise of earning an advantage. However, this promise does not lie in becoming more employable, nor in the feeling of certainty promoted by the spectacle of marketing strategies. The promise lies in the arrhythmias that are produced by the dis-encounter of university-time and student-time. In this dis-encounter, the technology of government of advanced liberalism shows its cracks. It is precisely through these cracks that light passes and a new community can sneak in. Our task, as students, faculty and staff, is to dig deep into those cracked affects to make our universities our places. 

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