Day: June 17, 2013

Academic Freedom, Financial Allure, and Overseas Research, Programs, and Campuses: Do We Self-Censor?


Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese dissident who found refuge last year in the United States with a fellowship at NYU is now claiming that he is being pushed out of NYU because his human rights advocacy and criticisms of the Chinese government is upsetting NYU’s relationship with China. From the NYTimes:

In a statement released Sunday, Mr. Chen said university officials were worried that his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government might threaten academic cooperation. N.Y.U. recently opened a campus in Shanghai, and a number of professors are involved in programs and research projects here that could be harmed if they were denied Chinese visas.

“The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to hold themselves back,” Mr. Chen said. “Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime.”

According to the story, NYU “strenuously denies” the accusations.  But, it does seem clear to me that neither this story, nor stories like it, are likely to go away anytime soon. Continue reading


Monday Morning Linkage

Rubber_ducksGood morning.  Here are some loosely connected articles on development, bureaucracy, and state power…

  • I am quite taken by James Ferguson’s metaphor of “swarming state power” as an alternative to James Scott’s “controlling state power” and thus as a way of understanding contemporary “development” (a discourse whose objects have apparently all but abandoned progress for the “hope of egress”).  Ferguson helps us to understand both why so many development projects “fail” and what development projects are actually (i.e. functionally) doing even as they fail repeatedly and spectacularly.   Surely, this metaphor of the state as a swarm, i.e. an enlarged bureaucratic state that engages usable objects without a coordinated and rationalized apparatus of planning and control, can be extended beyond the field of development?
  • I’m still working through my copy of Akhil Gupta‘s Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India, but it is a gripping read. Gupta’s work challenges the (often faddish) application of Agamben’s Homo Sacer to developmental policy — particularly in a democratic republic like India.  The irrationality and arbitrariness of the plan-rational bureaucracy which routinizes the suffering of the poor is carefully detailed by Gupta’s ethnographic field work.  On reading Gupta, one cannot help but recall Marx’s dictum that “The bureaucrats are the Jesuits and theologians of the state.”
  • The irrationality and arbitrariness of the bureaucracy is not confined to the “lesser places,” of course.  John Sifton‘s brilliant account of how the US FBI reacted to a practical joke is well worth the read.  What could be more amusing than forcing a dilettante to explain Finnegan’s Wake to humorless and intellectually brain-dead bureaucrats and lawyers?
  • Stephen Graham‘s essay on Foucault’s Boomerang is also worth a read.  The essay reminds us that techniques of bio-power and bio-politics that served as the foundation for the surveillance state were the product of Europe’s colonial encounters.  Nevertheless, these techniques have evolved rapidly toward a form that Graham calls “militarized urbanism.”  The vision of urban spaces in capitalist heartlands as problematic sites or infected zones beyond the scope of the authentic national community fuels the incendiary politics of the right wing.  Thus it is not surprising to see the emergence of a rightist discourse which weaponizes the bodies of migrants; and national security states that display an almost “instinctive anti-urbanism.”

Continue reading


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