Brexit – is this Schrödinger’s neoliberalism?

By Liz Morrish

The day after what the BBC has been calling a seismic event is bound to feel rather numbing. Twitter was filled with people saying how their timeline had not prepared them for this. Like me, many were connected to other left-leaning, progressive internationalists, and so had felt entitled to discount what they regarded as the kneejerk xenophobia of the uninformed.

However, I ended this memorable day with a renewed respect for democracy and the important lessons it teaches us.  The workers of the north east and Wales have been told for the last 40 years that their skills are out of date, their industries uncompetitive and their productivity lacking. How long can working people absorb austerity, unemployment, being told they need to change and be flexible….and still never be better off?

And so the referendum result came as a surprise to a party which saw itself as having a working class base, but broad appeal. The surprise was that the vote was divided along lines of class, privilege and education. Well, now the victims of the neoliberal constructed recession have told national and global elites to get stuffed, and they’ll take their chances with a different way – any way. We have Schrödinger’s neoliberalism – it has been both rejected but guaranteed at the same time.

Some among the national elite in government, universities and the media rail against the rejection of ‘experts’, even though they may have had a hand in undermining their claims to authority. I marvel at the hypocrisy of vice-chancellors who have sought to subdue universities into controversy-free, ‘managed’ zones, and then wonder why the debate has not been carried by the weight of public intellectuals. Public intellectuals should play a role in informing opinion, but very often they come from those departments now on the danger list in many universities because they don’t bring in huge amounts of money in research grants. So when your VC emails out their post-referendum statement, ask them – where is your affirmation of academic freedom? Where is your continuing and unfettered support for history, cultural studies, literature, social sciences, politics, philosophy, international relations, modern languages? These are the incubators of critique and framers of arguments in these crucial debates.  If you silence the radical voice, then don’t ask why intellectuals suddenly find themselves ostracized.

Despite what has happened, I remain optimistic because these events tend to trigger moments of ‘grand narrative’.  Perhaps this narrative of defiance and empowerment might be directed, not just against symbolic national elites, but also at authority in other locations. At the moment, if you are in arts and humanities in a university, you probably feel a bit like voters in Scotland – as if you are held in thrall by a self-interested and bungling regime which acts against your interests and values. This is a time for those of us who work in universities to challenge the corporate managerialists who have seized hold of universities and subverted their purpose. A good start has been made by academics at the University of Aberdeen, and it is a manaifesto for reform we should all be considering

Liz Morrish blogs at Academic Irregularities and tweets at @lizmorrish

Originally posted 28th June 2016

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