The debate on the role of academics in a democracy has intensified in recent years with the rise of worrying trends in global politics. The election of Donald Trump in the US, for instance, has escalated racial tensions, worsened treatment of refugees, etc. The President himself has repeatedly expressed support for Neo-Nazi and white supremacy groups. The ruling parties in Poland, Hungary and Turkey have consolidated their power and continued imposing rules and espousing rhetoric that are inherently inimical to an inclusive democracy. The question is this: what should academics do when witnessing these events? Should we take an ‘activist’ role, effectively becoming academic-activists? Or should we remain neutral out of respect for objectivity? This post makes a case for the former proposition, advancing the case for academic-activists. But first, let me engage with the latter proposition – the neutral option – and show why the criticism from the ‘neutralists’ misses its target.
Category: Academia (Page 2 of 7)
While Justice Everywhere takes a break over the summer, we recall some of the most memorable posts from our 2019-2020 season. This post focuses on the successful launch of our Beyond the Ivory Tower interview series.
The Beyond the Ivory Tower series seeks to explore the relationship between academic political theory and ‘real politics’, by talking with figures who have – in the course of their careers – managed to bridge that divide. As stated in our introductory post, “their stories are interesting in their own right [but additionally they] help us to understand the position of political theory today, and how other political theorists might achieve wider impact.”
The series is comprised of four interviews so far:
- Baroness Onora O’Neill: Emeritus Honorary Professor at the University of Cambridge and cross-bench member of the British House of Lords.
- Professor Marc Stears: Director of the Sydney Policy Lab and previously Chief Speechwriter for the then-leader of the UK Labour Party, Ed Miliband.
- Professor Jonathan Wolff: Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.
- Rebecca Lowe: Founding director of FREER, a think tank dedicated to promoting social and economic liberalism, and doctoral student at King’s College London where she’s researching Lockean justifications of private property.
Stay tuned for more interviews in this ongoing series in our 2020/21 season!
Justice Everywhere will return in full swing on 7th September with fresh weekly posts by our cooperative of regular authors. If you have a suggestion for a topic or would like to contribute a guest post on a topical subject in political philosophy (broadly construed), please feel free to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this guest post, members of No Tech for Tyrants (NT4T) – a student-led, UK-based organisation working to sever the links between higher education, violent technology, and hostile immigration environments – discuss one important arm of their work.
Migrant communities are endangered by universities’ relationships with businesses like Palantir Technologies, whose software is “mission critical” to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) mass raids, detentions, and deportations. The harm inflicted by ICE is an integral component of a white nationalist deportation machine, which routinely destroys lives and condemns migrants to deadly concentration camps. Migrant rights organisations describe Palantir as the “most prominent supporter of the deportation machine in Silicon Valley.” The anti-migrant violence Palantir enables would not be possible without the talent it recruits from top UK universities. In exchange for material benefits, universities invite Palantir representatives to deliver talks, present at career fairs, and sponsor student prizes. Several groups have cut ties with Palantir, citing the company’s facilitation of anti-migrant violence; yet, despite claiming to be committed to social responsibility, many universities remain open to Palantir.
As members of No Tech For Tyrants (NT4T), a student-led migrant justice organisation, we met with university administrators to request that they implement ethical guidelines in regards to their corporate partnerships. Administrators responded with two kinds of objections: ethical guidelines would (1) threaten free expression, and (2) be too political. We’ll explicate and reject both kinds of objection. Instituting ethical guidelines on corporate partnerships is necessary for dismantling the relationship between universities and technology businesses that facilitate egregious harm.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, many economists, as well as many commentators and journalists, have blamed economics for its failure to explain the causes and foresee the consequences of the financial breakdown. Their core target was the dogmatic acceptance by most economists of a single theoretical framework: neo-classical economics. In (very) short, neo-classical economics is a set of theories according to which all social phenomena can be explained by appealing to the optimizing behavior of rational individuals. It also involves a heavy dose of mathematical formalization and statistical methods. In reaction to the crisis, an increasing number of students and academics started to argue for pluralism in economics, or the view that there are several possible legitimate ways of doing economics, beyond neo-classical economics. In response, some economists contended that neo-classical economics was already sufficiently pluralist. They argued that what we usually call neo-classical economics is actually made of a myriad of different (and sometimes conflicting) theories, such as game theory, public choice theory, industrial organization, social choice theory, labor economics, behavioral economics, etc.
This debate raises numerous questions. What (if anything) justifies pluralism in economics? And do we have enough of it, or do we need more? Where does pluralism stop? What does pluralism entail for individual economists? Should every economist be a pluralist? I cannot answer all these questions here. I shall only propose an answer to the first one.
This a guest post by Marius Ostrowski (Examination Fellow in Politics at All Souls College, University of Oxford). He is the author of the recently published book Left Unity: Manifesto for a Progressive Alliance.
‘Being on the left’ can mean a variety of different things. Most commonly, it refers in a partisan sense to support for ‘progressive’ policies designed to bring about political, economic, or social equality. More generally, it is seen as synonymous with radicalism of opinion, and a greater willingness to reform rather than preserve the status quo. In a religious context especially, ‘the left’ is used to describe anti-dogmatic or anti-orthodox tendencies in favour of departing from inherited customs or scriptural interpretations. Sometimes it is identified with activism or protest in defence of specific groups in society: the working class, women, people of colour, national/religious minorities, LGBTQ*, or the disabled. Not all of these meanings of ‘leftness’ are compatible with one another. But despite the differences between them, one thing emerges very clearly: ideas such as ‘leftness’ and ‘being on the left’ play a central role in many areas of social life.
Where the concept of ‘leftness’ is not typically so much at home is in social philosophy. This is not to suggest that social philosophers themselves are hostile to the left or uninterested in left causes. Many are card-carrying activists and partisans of the left movement. Rather, the concept itself—like its relatives ‘centre’ and ‘right’—is somewhat alien to social-philosophical analysis. In general, it is rare to hear social philosophy make any explicit mention of ‘ideologies’. We are far more likely to encounter ‘theories’, ‘accounts’, or ‘comprehensive doctrines’, even when applied to what are clearly ideological constructions, such as ‘political liberalism’. Key social-philosophical concepts such as democracy, authority, or rights are dealt with as if in a vacuum, removed from any ideological connotations or parsing they might have. It is as though social philosophy is embarrassed by ideology—with ‘leftness’ only one of several victims of this embarrassment.
This is the third interview in our Beyond the Ivory Tower series (previous interviewees: Onora O’Neill and Marc Stears). Back in December, Diana Popescu spoke to Jonathan Wolff about his experience working on public policy committees and what philosophers have to learn from engaging with real-life problems and social movements.
Jonathan Wolff is the Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. Before coming to Oxford, he was Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Arts and Humanities at UCL. He is currently developing a new research programme on revitalising democracy and civil society. His work largely concerns equality, disadvantage, social justice and poverty, as well as applied topics such as public safety, disability, gambling, and the regulation of recreational drugs. He has been a member of the Nuffield Council of Bioethics, the Academy of Medical Science working party on Drug Futures, the Gambling Review Body, the Homicide Review Group, an external member of the Board of Science of the British Medical Association, and a Trustee of GambleAware. He writes a regular column on higher education for The Guardian.
In November and December 2019, members of the University and College Union (UCU) – the trade union that represents many academics and other university staff in the UK – went on strike. On that occasion, in his post To Strike or Disrupt, Liam Shields discussed whether people not doing any teaching during the strike should go on strike or not, seeing that their striking does not result in significant disruption.
At the end of this week, the UCU will embark on a new wave of 14 days of strike spread over four weeks because the dispute remains unsettled. It therefore seems a good occasion to recall Liam’s argument and to flesh out some implications a bit further.
This is the second interview in our Beyond the Ivory Tower series, following Onora O’Neill. Back in November, Aveek Bhattacharya spoke to Marc Stears about his experiences in politics, focusing on his time as a close adviser to then leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband.
Prof Marc Stears is Director of the Sydney Policy Lab. Stears was Professor of Political Theory at the University of Oxford in 2010 when his university friend Ed Miliband was elected leader of the opposition Labour party. After a secondment to the think tank Institute for Public Policy Research, Stears left academia in 2012 to become Chief Speechwriter for Miliband. He was a co-author of the 2015 Labour election manifesto and a member of the party’s general election steering committee. In 2013, the Telegraph ranked him the UK’s eighth most influential left-winger. After Labour’s election defeat in 2015, Stears joined another British think tank, the New Economics Foundation, as Chief Executive, before his move to Australia in 2018.
Aveek Bhattacharya and Fay Niker recently interviewed Baroness Onora O’Neill, asking her about her wide-ranging experiences combining being a professor of philosophy and a member of the House of Lords (among many other things).
Baroness Onora O’Neill of Bengarve is Emeritus Honorary Professor at the University of Cambridge and has been a cross-bench (i.e. not aligned with any political party) member of the British House of Lords since 2000. She has written widely in ethics and political philosophy, and is particularly known for her work on bioethics, trust and the philosophy of Kant. She was Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge from 1992-2006, President of the British Academy from 2005-9, chaired the Nuffield Foundation from 1998-2010 and chaired the Equality and Human Rights Commission from 2012-2016.