Friday, July 18, 2008

Utopia and the University: Bourdieu on Jameson

Actually, it's Bourdieu on French university students circa 1964, but it forms a neat proleptic response to Jameson's claim that a "cynical" attention to the workings of academic institutions might ultimately lead to a new form of utopianism; because, on Bourdieu's account, that's exactly where the old form of utopianism came from:

"Thus, everything takes place as if, below a certain threshold, reasonable expectations, too manifestly belied and refuted by reality, had to give way to resignation and utopianism. It is doubtless no accident that Paris students, condemned by the present system to mere spatial coexistence, passive attendance, and solitary competition for qualifications, crushed by the experience of anonymity and the diffuse aggression of crowds, tend to abandon realistic criticism of reality in favor of the conceptual terrorism of verbal demands which are, to a large extent, satisfied merely by being formulated. The utopian belief that 'small work groups' could produce more intensive communication between students only by detaching them completely from the grip of the university organization, and the myth of totally nondirective teaching, mutual education, and collective Socraticism, merely project the need for integration in the form of the formal ideal of integration for integration's sake.

"However unrealistic they may be, the most exaggerated formulations of this ideology must be taken seriously, because it may be that they express one of the truths that the student milieu is careful to hide from itself. Perhaps it would not be going too far to wonder whether the most extremist ideology does not express the objective truth of a group dominated by values and habits of thought which it owes to its bourgeois recruitment, its Parisian base, and the more traditionalist character of its university specialty." (The Inheritors, 37)