Save cultural studies in the age of Brexit

By Students and Alumni of the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths

This is a petition* addressing the dissolution of the Centre of Cultural Studies (CCS) at Goldsmiths, University of London. Its aim is to attract public attention to the conditions which led to this decision.

cultural-studies-hero
Source: Thamyres VM, http://www.gold.ac.uk/cultural-studies/

Neoliberal University in the Age of Brexit

It has been recently brought to our attention that the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London is to be incorporated into the Media and Communications department starting from the academic year 2017/18 ‐ in ways and with consequences which are yet to be established. The dissolution of the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths stands in direct relation to a broader neoliberal re‐organisation of Universities in the UK and worldwide, and can thus be seen as a symptom of the exacerbation of this agenda.

Counter the Attack on Humanities‐based Research

In recent years there has been a direct attack on Humanities‐based research and learning communities. Famous cases include the closure of prestigious departments such as Cultural Studies at Birmingham University and Philosophy at Middlesex University. This attack has culminated with the cutting of the postgraduate funds of the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFC) and the push (of many departments even within Goldsmiths) towards expanding the student body with no regards towards a commensurate investment in resources (and a consequent increase in workload). Moreover, quantitative measure tools such as the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and the Research Excellence Framework (REF) have been weaponised to justify the rating and “restructuring” of departments. For this reason, students across the UK are currently boycotting the National Students Survey (NSS) that informs the TEF.

Attempts of the staff and student body to participate in the institutional transformations, such as the GoldPaper (compiled by the UCU at Goldsmiths) have not been taken into consideration. Finally, more pressure has been put on the academic access and freedom, based on background and citizenship criteria, through the introduction of the Prevent monitoring program against radicalization (known to have majorly impacted on the Black, Brown and ethnic minority student body) and the tightening of immigration‐related requirements (for international students) in the post‐Brexit Theresa May administration.

Support Student and Staff Wellbeing

Although the proposed measures will introduce major changes to the overall academic landscape at Goldsmiths, it will particularly affect students, researchers and members of staff – both academic and administrative – whose mental and physical wellbeing, livelihood and security depends on their employment, social and, in some cases, immigration status.

The restructuring of Universities in line with neoliberal policies aimed at economic efficiency not only has dramatically increased individuals’ workloads which has grave implications for their mental and physical wellbeing; it also aggravates a situation in which education is commodified and increasingly reduced to its quantifiable aspects. We feel that these processes have an immense impact on the ways in which we learn, research, teach and interact with each other.

Demand Recognition of a Legacy and Forward‐facing Centre

Different from the managerial tendency of commodifying iconic figures like Stuart Hall or Richard Hoggard (i.e. by naming buildings after them), the work of rigorous and world‐known academics at CCS has always been about a departure from and a building on classical cultural studies approaches. Since its foundation, Goldsmiths has further developed the field of Cultural Studies to include a wide variety of inter‐ and transdisciplinary approaches making it internationally renown for its experimental and innovative approach to research. This speculative, experimental methodology (which again extends beyond traditional conceptions of Cultural Studies research) has been a crucial reason students of CCS choose this particular department over other ones. CCS has traditionally remained small and research focused, yet its body of research has gained local and international significance. These efforts are only surpassed by its reputation as a crucial part of the wider Goldsmiths community. The department has brought together a wide array of students, scholars and activists from the fields of post‐ and decolonial studies, digital cultures, software studies, intersectional, queer and feminist studies, philosophy, culture industries and political economy. It is this space of mutual dialogue, interest and solidarity that we see as being severely threatened by current plans of restructuring – and eventually dissolving – the Centre.

Students, Researchers and Staff deserve Transparency

Similarly to other cases which severly affected the academic environment in the college in the past few years (cases which could have become a ground for a serious discussion on matters of shared concern), Goldsmiths’ management team has chosen silence as the most suitable strategy to supress any kind of opposition to the closing of CCS. We are aware that talks towards this so‐called “restructuring” (made necessary by the supposed economic unviability of the department) have been held for years behind closed doors, never involving any of the people who are to be directly affected by the decision. Current MA and PhD students were up to now (half‐way through the 2016/2017 academic year) only confronted with rumours and uncertainty as to the future of CCS. At this moment students are faced with the prospect of being ‘merged’ with another department at the beginning of the next academic year ‐ a prospect which was, again, never officially communicated to us by members of the team of managers and bureaucrats running this university.

And while the managerial language of ‘enhancement’ and ‘distribution’ of cultural studies across the college strikes us as particularly hypocritical, we believe that it is necessary to politicise the conditions and processes which made this decision possible. The lack of transparency and of democratic discussion in the course of the restructuring; the persistent unwillingness on behalf of Goldsmiths’ management to accept any alternative visions for the continuation of the life of CCS (for instance through the introduction of new BA programmes ‐ always to be rejected as ‘unsellable’ to supposedly vocation‐oriented incoming students) ‐ all of this we find deeply concerning. It is, in fact, enraging: in particular in the outlined neoliberal context which makes the existence of autonomous spaces of research an increasingly rare occasion. Our experience of intellectual exchange, learning and close collaboration with academics we consider inspiring for their research subjects and methodologies cannot be quantified or translated in the language of “restructuring”, “merging” and “enhancement”.

The Academy is No Place for Uncertain Futures

We are now faced with a string of uncertainties and potential consequences from the (still) silently brought forward decision to close CCS. Not only is there the possibility that we may lose members of our academic and non‐academic staff, but also stand to lose the specificity of a curriculum we find particularly valuable. It is likely that the planned merging causes an homogenisation of our curriculum, which could understandably lead to some of our most appreciated lecturers seeking an employment elsewhere. It is also likely that the restructuring brings about phenomena as variegated as the loss of research funding, the dispersal of an academic community and the dissolution of research groups like the Digital Cultures Unit (currently based in CCS) or the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought (up to now run jointly with Sociology).

All these potential scenarios are something we can only anticipate (and perhaps fear) in a context of enforced silence where nothing is ever communicated until it is too late to oppose a decision imposed ‘from above’. We call on you to help us bring Goldsmiths management to account and ask it to provide us with an adequate response to our concerns. We call on you to support our claim for the right of autonomous governance of research communities and their perpetuation in an age of austerity measures and governmental cuts to public education.

By signing and sharing this petition you can help us shed light on the processes which led to the closing of yet another humanities department in the UK. We want to make sure that no university management team across the country will ever again assume that a decision to close down an entire department for whatever reason can be made in private and will remain without consequences.

In hope of your solidarity,

Students and alumni of the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London.

*Editor’s note: the petition first appeared on avaaz.org. Here, title and text were were edited to fit entitleblog.org.