Conclusion: Reading the work that is already there

This is the conclusion to a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction to the project, or see the whole list of posts.

I realize it may seem that I have been very hard on Gusterson in this series.

In part, I do think that is justified. Prominent academics with big platforms have a proportionately larger obligation to get things right. They deserve close scrutiny and high standards.

But I still don’t want to make it seem like there was never anything worth taking seriously in Gusterson’s project. Let me briefly state some alternative claims, based on the paper, that Gusterson could reasonably have defended.

Continue reading Conclusion: Reading the work that is already there

Critical Point 7: The problem of methodological nationalism

This is the seventh post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

The blindness to intradisciplinary status, gender and power is not the major blind spot in this paper. We also need to pay close attention when Gusterson writes a preliminary disclaimer, seemingly in passing, that handicaps his whole enterprise.

“In view of my own location, the analysis is necessarily—and unfortunately—focused on US universities and their remaking in the context of contemporary neoliberalism” (437).

He is right that the omission is “unfortunate,” but was it remotely “necessary”?

Continue reading Critical Point 7: The problem of methodological nationalism

Critical Point 6: Gender and dominated subfields in U.S. anthropology

This is the sixth post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

I was just saying that Gusterson is uncritical about anthropology itself. This extends to a profound lack of self-consciousness about his own institutional location in the field.

When Gusterson originally delivered this paper orally, it was as his Presidential Address for the American Ethnological Society. Now this puts him at the very top ranks of the global status system in the field, because American anthropology is the globally dominant and basically hegemonic center of the discipline, and the AES is at the top of the status system within American anthropology, and then Gusterson was at the top of it.

Continue reading Critical Point 6: Gender and dominated subfields in U.S. anthropology

Critical Point 5: Critical anthropology without a critique of anthropology

This is the fifth post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

Throughout his paper, Gusterson presumes that anthropology is basically the “good guys.

The implied “bad guys,” meanwhile, amount to most of the other social sciences. He lumps together “behaviorism in psychology, rational choice theory, Walt Rostow’s developmental stages in economics, ‘realism’ in international relations theory, and opinion polling in communications” as all being “Pentagon epistemology” (438).

Continue reading Critical Point 5: Critical anthropology without a critique of anthropology

Critical Point 4: The tenured “we” or the subject of liberal pity

This is the fourth post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

I suggested in the previous post that Gusterson does not really engage with the large body of work on identity and intersectional perspective that has — rightly — become central to critical work on higher education.

Yet he does speak quite freely on behalf of a collective: a collective “we.”

This makes me anxious.

Continue reading Critical Point 4: The tenured “we” or the subject of liberal pity

Critical Point 3: The resistance to identity theories, or methodological whiteness

This is the third post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

The corollary to Gusterson’s return to political economy is a rejection of what we could call, very broadly, identity theories. By identity theories I mean the whole set of traditions which have insisted that all thought emerges from a particular place in the social world, from a particular subject position.

Continue reading Critical Point 3: The resistance to identity theories, or methodological whiteness

Politics of the University in the Global North Syllabus

A note from an Australian colleague just reminded me that we still need to flesh out our collection of teaching materials in Critical University Studies and critical ethnography of higher education. I do have a few things I can contribute from my own teaching practice. I’ll start here with a reading list that I wrote in 2013 for a class on the politics of universities in the Global North. It is mainly about the United States, with a bit of comparative work from other places, particularly France.

Continue reading Politics of the University in the Global North Syllabus

Critical Philosophy and Anthropology of Education Syllabus

For our continuing collection of syllabi, here is the syllabus for an undergraduate seminar that I taught in 2016 during my postdoc at Whittier College (a small liberal arts college in Southern California). Its mission was to put critical ethnography of higher education into dialogue with critical philosophies of education (from Plato to Freire, essentially).

Continue reading Critical Philosophy and Anthropology of Education Syllabus

Critical Point 2: The return to political economy

This is the second post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

I was saying in the last post that Gusterson smuggles in his own preferred theoretical approach beneath a set of ostensibly neutral epistemic criteria, such as “systematicity” and “self-awareness.” His preferred approach is, in substance, a contemporary version of political economy. So let us take time here to see what Gusterson’s political economy looks like.

Continue reading Critical Point 2: The return to political economy

Critical Point 1: The aesthetics of good and bad ethnography

This is the first substantive post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, Gusterson’s paper calls for what he pictures as a more “systematic” anthropology of the university. It is worth revisiting his initial formulation in detail:

Some good ethnographic studies of aspects of university life have been written, but it must be said that, after three decades of “repatriated” anthropology (Marcus and Fischer 1986), the anthropological literature on universities is, taken as an ensemble, underdeveloped, scattered, and riddled with blind spots. And in this literature universities tend to be treated as spaces where particular phenomena, such as ethnic or gender relations, can be studied, but not as institutions to be theorized in and of themselves. (435)

Continue reading Critical Point 1: The aesthetics of good and bad ethnography