Wednesday, January 23, 2013

where the hell have I been?

I might explain where I've been, one day.

I'm working on a paper on the constitution of faculty subjectivities and faculty ethical responsibilities. It's based on two aspects of the philosophy of Michel Foucault.

From the earlier work on regimes of power and panopticism, particularly from Discipline and Punish, I'm writing about the formation of faculty subjectivities, focusing on how faculty work defines what one is and what one can do. Like a prison, a school, or the military, the institution in which one works deploys technologies of power to constitute members as "docile bodies" that are ultimately predictable, controllable, and interchangeable.

I'm sketching out the different kinds of subjectivities, the different kinds of docile bodies, that higher ed institutions form as "professors" and as that larger group of faculty who have no proper name ("adjuncts," "lecturers," "contingents," etc.), whom I prefer to call tenuous-track faculty. Some of the differences are obvious, but what I'm hoping to get at beyond the obvious is the way that professors, who are presumed to have great privilege, are also docile. (As I've argued in this space before, I often think professors are less free than tenuous-track faculty.)

That's all setting up a brief version of the argument that the official statements of the ethics of faculty, notably the AAUP Statement on Professional Ethics, do not meaningfully apply to the majority of faculty -- an argument I've made before. If I'm right (and I am), then what does ethics mean for tenuous faculty?

To respond, I turn to Foucault's work on ethics, which begins from the premise that ethics is about determining who one is, and engaging in continuous self-invention. Ultimately, I'm going to argue that resistance, self-invention, and critique are the key ethical tasks for tenuous faculty, and the only way tenuous faculty can take responsibility for their academic work -- especially given that the institutions where we work systematically deny us other ways of taking responsibility.

More broadly, this addresses a very interesting argument made by ethics bigshot Michael Davis in the last chapter of Engineering Ethics, that overly bureaucratized professional work denies engineers the possibility of taking responsibility for their work. Intriguing claim, and, in as much as ethical responsibility could be defined strictly in terms of the ideology of the profession, precisely correct. But Davis begs the question, and, if I'm right (and I am), Foucault's work on ethics answers it. There are more things in heaven and earth, Mikey.

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