This letter was delivered to the Birkbeck Institute of Humanities Summer School this morning.
Critical Theory is not just for the rich!
We are not surprised when Grayling and others announce a new private tutoring college. They have always been the perverse offspring of an Enlightenment whose philosophy was merely a post festum justification for a system of capital domination. It is for this reason that the replication of their behaviour by those who proclaim themselves communists is worse – not only unethical but hypocritical too. That the Birkbeck Critical Theory Summer School charges between £500 and £750 for two weeks of tuition (the same amount as the proposed ‘New College for the Humanities’) is a disgrace, and is at odds with any notion of genuine critical theory. The critique of history and society must not be a transaction whose completion is signified by a receipt rather than a will to explode the reality of oppression and exploitation
We recognize that this summer school is an example of a standard research/teaching practice at postgraduate level, specifically aimed at “graduate students and academics”, and that for many the fees are paid for through bursaries and grants. However, we do not accept that critical theorists within the academy, whose social and real capital often depends on a left-wing critique and tradition, should submit to or be complicit with the maintenance of inequalities that predicate these structures.
The student funding to attend such summer schools has been cut year after year, and now comes under the greatest threat for decades. That funding which does remain is increasingly concentrated into a small pool of students at only a handful of institutions, in real terms: a class-based elite.
We have three demands:
1) Given Birkbeck’s history as an institute of adult learning, and the current context of the most extreme government cuts in Higher Education funding for decades, Birkbeck Institute of Humanities should stop running summer schools on these lines, and instead opt for far more egalitarian organisation with the principle of access for all.
2) This year’s summer school should open its doors, and commit to run a free session outside on the street, addressing the issue of privatisation of education for its fee-paying audience.
3) And that the sessions of the day of the national NUT, UCU and PCS strike, June 30th, be cancelled, and that participants and conveners alike join the picket lines alongside other students, teachers and friends.
Anything less is an alarming abdication of responsibility.
As Horkheimer argued, “it is the task of the critical theoretician to reduce the tension between their own insight, and that of the oppressed humanity in whose service they think.” In the context of your potential disavowal of concrete struggle, we are trying to realise this for you.