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The object ‘university' from a speculative realist perspective

Listed author(s):
  • Jean-Luc Moriceau


    (DEFIS - Droit, Economie, Finances et Sociologie - TEM - Télécom Ecole de Management - Institut Mines-Télécom [Paris])

  • Isabela Dos Santos Paes


    (DEFIS - Droit, Economie, Finances et Sociologie - TEM - Télécom Ecole de Management - Institut Mines-Télécom [Paris])

Registered author(s):

    From a speculative realist perspective, everything can be seen as an object, that cannot be paraphrased in terms of either its components or its effects (Harman, 2016:3), be it a toothbrush, a disease or a fiction character. Objects have their proper existence, and interact with other objects, independently of human's conscience or action. In parallel, one of the main criticisms against capitalism and managerialism, is that they transform everything into objects ("commodification"), in a manner that seems improper. The two themes of the stream cross on the matters of object, property, and style. If we take the contemporary university, and its evolution towards ever more managerialism, as our object, what would a speculative realist perspective make us understand? First that the present evolution is not fully forced from outside. The university managerial state or stage is a potentiality present inside the university-object. The evolution can be seen as a phase shift wherein inherent potential is actualized (similarly as depicted by Simondon - another author who attempts to escape from "connexionism") or a new symbiosis. In both cases, emphasis is not on actors and actions. Second, this transformation would not be seen as improper, as a smearing of a before purer object, rather has the entry of a new "mode of existence". From this perspective, two themes are emerging: the question of what is proper to the object-university (proper in the double meaning of appropriation and of purity); the question of allure/style of this object. 1/ When Derrida (1985) comments on Francis Ponge's Le parti-pris des choses, he notes that Ponge is trying to speak for / from within / as the things/objects. Not from a human/social perspective. He wants to access the proper of the thing, which in French means both the proper/property and the cleanliness. However, at the moment when he is signing, his effort can be nothing but an appropriation (taking property over and dirtying) and his text becomes a thing. To speak for / from within the object requires the object's auto-affection. Most of the criticism against the becoming-managerial of the university, and the correlative ranking/audit emphasis, is spoken about the scholars' affects, not the university's auto-affection (Letiche and al, forthcoming). This criticism is an appropriation. This raises the question of what is the proper of the object-university? 2/ We feel that one central element of this proper lies in the university's "allure." "Allure is a special and intermittent experience in which the intimate bond between a thing's unity and its plurality of notes somehow partially disintegrates" (Harman, 2005:143). Allure is also a term from Francis Ponge, meaning its speeds and its specific appearance, its style. For Macé (2016), most of what we care and fight for is a question of style. A style is an appearance, a habitus, an habitat and a compound of values. A style is a mode of existence. A style is a source of distinction, of individuation, and also something that may die, and that we might stand for its existence. Those elements will be discussed with the case (the object) of the universities' occupation in Brazil against a cut in resources and a growing emphasis on performativity that may endanger the continuation of a particular style. Governmental decisions are seen as intrusion, expropriation, and becoming-improper. But here criticism are raised in the name of/made by the university ‘it-self'. Seeing the university as an object which cannot be reduced to its components (be they the professors, students, walls), nor to its social effects may provide a perspective different from a pure political game of actors defending their power/privilege/actions.

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    Paper provided by HAL in its series Post-Print with number hal-01570969.

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    Date of creation: 03 Jul 2017
    Publication status: Published in CMS 2017 : The 10th Critical Management Studies Conference. "Time for another revolution?", Jul 2017, Liverpool, United Kingdom. CMS 2017 : The 10th Critical Management Studies Conference. "Time for another revolution?"
    Handle: RePEc:hal:journl:hal-01570969
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