Misappropriation

More context, a letter from 2013

We are not seeking careers here, but our commitment to critique and truth obliges us to point out that the 1752 group’s inaugural action was ill-informed and libellous personal attack website. This site remains up anonymously as testimony to their unprofessional methods. We would warn against anyone ‘consulting’ with these self-appointed experts who have no legal perspective, who want to consult and advise the administration but have no administrative credentials and who would insist you to support the most austere temperance. We decry their willingness to work to repair the administration on the basis of such duplicitous origins. Their strategy is mobbing, self quotation and a parody of seriousness. The lie at the origin – the blog wewanttruthgoldsmiths – makes us all poorer with its disregard of due process and its vigilante moralism. However much we would support a progressive version of such work, this version has no concept of power and lines up exactly with the bleak neoliberalism of the times.

They were told this early on and may need to be told again. We can now share two comments from the midst of this clusterfuck the first a response to their initial attempt at a pogrom, the second a recent comment added insightfully as an intro to our first post. Both deserve widespread attention by anyone interested in grown up debate on these matters.

“I would like to react to the open letter posted on “Goldsmiths Feminist Voices.”[now deleted] I am appalled that its authors are using the discourses of radical feminism and anti-oppression to convey their point- I consider that misappropriation politically dishonest and ethically obscene.

The author(s?) claim that the defences which have circulated on behalf of the suspended professors in question have closed down the pathways to the healthy questioning of practices of men in positions of power  and have had the effect of shutting down dissenting voices. This argument is fallacious for several reasons.

First, the main agent inhibiting open discussion about this subject is the administration itself, who imposed a gag order on all those concerned. This superimposed veil of confidentiality shrouding these affairs is what primarily prevents thesaid “considerations of how knowledge is constructed and disseminated and by whom, and debate on acceptable practices within academia” from happening.

This is a direct result of the way in which the students with grievances chose to air these complaints. If they were as concerned as the open letter affirms about the possibility for every side to openly speak up and justify themselves, and about keeping power relationships in check, they would not have sought out solutions which included administrative top down intervention, with the result of the imperilment of people’s means of subsistence. They would instead have sought out solutions more weary of the unbalances of power which they so readily decry.

Whether the complainants are co-authors of the open letter is unknown to me, but I believe that lending them support by using the rhetoric of anti-oppression is a hypocritical act considering that the method they chose showed complete disregard of labour solidarity, of the precariousness of bastions of de-instrumentalized learning, and of the oppressive nature of acts of denunciation by delation.

The authors of the open letter go further in their misappropriation by instrumentalizing the text of the petition in support of one the professor’s reinstatement. By arguing that a broad statement of support, or character recommendation, should not invalidate individuals’ experiences of oppression, the authors are clearly illegitimately borrowing from a radical feminist discourse about rape culture. Personally, as someone who considers herself a radical feminist and aims to consistently denounce rape culture in every way it manifests itself, I am particularly shocked by this misappropriation. Because the analogy doesn’t stand here, and by misusing it, it diminishes its impact and legitimacy where it actually should stand. We are not talking here about a phenomenon of victim-shaming, where the supposed perpetrators’ allies stand up in his defence to claim that “he would never…”. Nowhere in the petition is it stated that the signatories refute the possibility of a legitimate grievance that the complainants might have, nor the possibility of they having endured a wrong- for the simple reason that we do not in fact know the facts of the suspension. This is not a petition which is about the actual events which are being investigated and it was never meant to reflect the signatories’ opinion on what may or may not have happened. What the signatories know is that their former professor has been suspended and is undergoing investigation. A petition is a strategic move, aimed at putting pressure on a decision-maker which might be swayed by public opinion. This is what we are talking about here- former students putting forward a strong statement of support in the hopes that it will be considered as part of the decision-maker’s puzzle. To paint it as a patriarchal attempt at silencing victims’ voices is, I reiterate, at best intellectually short, at worst ethically indecent.

I would conclude that the open letter’s general argument that students’ statements of support for their professors constitute an expression of patriarchal oppression which aims to silence and intimidate victims and prevent critical examination of relationships of power and privilege is preposterous and offensive. It fails to recognize the foundational violence that an act of delation constitutes– in such cases, the game of power relationships is rigged from the start.

Patriarchy is practiced in a variety of complex ways- and fighting it implies looking at relationships of power and oppression in all their manifold manifestations- it is not simply about denouncing the fuckups of individuals with penises and hoping for the new institutional “daddy” to do the dirty job for us.

Comment

https://wewanttruthsara.wordpress.com

Many of you will have come across a version of this story on the front page of The Guardian a couple of weeks ago (‘Sexual harassment of students by university staff hidden by non-disclosure agreements’, Friday August 29th). I wrote to the authors at the time and have been in contact with other national newspapers to ask whether they might be interested in the flipside of events, ie., in the way NDAs are being used to dispose of and silence ‘undesirable’ academics, denying them the chance to defend themselves against accusations of misconduct. For whatever reason, none of them got back to me. But I would have told them what has now been put into writing here, on a ‘McCarthyite and cruel tendency within academia’ (and doubtless beyond academia, too). And I’d have added the following on the well established tactical use of NDAs, which we have seen on multiple occasions across multiple institutions, and runs much as follows:

1) Mount an internal disciplinary procedure so you can suspend someone for as long as it takes to find dirt on them;

2) Bind them with an egregiously constrictive insistence on confidentiality, including clauses that mean they can’t even know what you are accusing them of doing;

3) Sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that when your dirt-digging doesn’t turn up enough evidence to get rid of them, or even justify a trial, you can rely on them having to breach confidentiality at some point, whereupon you can go ahead and force them out anyway.

We might add an extra point, here, whether it’s deliberate or a mere unintended consequence:

4) Watch as the vigilante mob leaps in to exploit the enforced silence of the accused, using social media to orchestrate a witch hunt on those they have the temerity to accuse of having ducked the judicial process. Since confidentiality means that the mob doesn’t know the accusations in question either, they’ll mostly just have to speculate and will therefore inevitably come up with all kinds of assumptions about rapists and murderers being on the loose, but you needn’t worry about that, either.

Many of us working in the field of philosophy and critical theory are instinctively inclined to take the side of anyone pushing the causes of feminism and justice. But claims to be doing so cannot be taken as given, and without applying the same levels of critical scrutiny we’d expect to apply to every other statement we come across. Established fora for trial and conviction aren’t perfect, but they are a lot better than public shaming on the basis of whipped up rumour and suspicion.