[NetBehaviour] Occupy the University: Reconsidering the Local.

info info at furtherfield.org
Sun Jan 17 10:49:25 GMT 2010

Occupy the University: Reconsidering the Local.

Micha Cárdenas

Author’s Note
As this article goes to publication, the University of California is 
erupting as a site of political conflict over the recent budget cuts, 
tuition increases and furloughs. A UC wide strike and walkout of 
faculty, staff and students has been called for on August 24th, 2009, 
the first day of instruction. It seems that the UC’s disregard for the 
health and wellbeing of their employees, as well as for the quality of 
education, has reached an intolerable point for many. Many academics 
have taken this opportunity to turn their research back to the 
university itself, which is exemplified by UC Berkeley’s colloquium 
event entitled “The University in Crisis: The Dismantling and 
Destruction of the University of California.”[1]

In a conversation recorded for pros* journal, Teddy Cruz and Rick Lowe 
agree that socially engaged art has the ability to actually change the 
material conditions under which art is made and in which people’s lives 
occur. They seem to agree that the best way to change housing conditions 
is to engage at the level of local legislation, housing associations and 
city governments. I would like to intervene on this point. While I agree 
that socially engaged art can change people’s lives, my intervention, to 
be simple, is to say that the decision about how to intervene is not so 
simple. Cruz and Lowe urge artists to engage in local city politics, yet 
I argue that perhaps an even more local focus may be more beneficial. In 
her book When Species Meet, Donna Haraway describes a feminist approach 
to political ethics, which accepts our finitude, contingency and 
historical situatedness. Her approach acknowledges that from a position 
of a lack of certainty, “there is no outside from which to answer that 
mandatory question”[2] of what political action to take. Refusing to 
take a political action is still a political action, and so we are faced 
with “bearing the mortal consequences” of our choices of where to put 
our artistic energies in this expanded field where any artistic practice 
is apparently acceptable. My own affinity with a feminist ethics of 
uncertainty grew out of my work with Avital Ronell at the European 
Graduate School where I asked, “But how can we sit and discuss the deep 
meaning of this punctuation mark while bombs are being dropped on 
people?” Her response was, to paraphrase, that by introducing doubt into 
commonly accepted definitions of ideas and political strategies, that 
the decisions about dropping those bombs, or imprisoning people, may be 
stalled, changed or ended.


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