[-empyre-] Welcome Kevin Hamilton, Carl DiSalvo, Yiannis Colakides and Beatriz de Costa.

Kevin Hamilton kham at uiuc.edu
Wed Apr 28 16:56:29 EST 2010

I've been reading this exchange with much interest, and am very  
thankful to have seen some new voices here. We hardly need invited  
guests to keep the momentum going, but I've been saving up my response  

So far I've been thinking about how untenable the strategic choices  
are for university workers with a heart for justice work.

With Tactical Media "in the cracks," work like banglab's finds a home  
from time to time precisely because the host institution doesn't know  
what it's in for. The gigs are short, the labor precarious, perhaps  
small gains made for justice at the level of mere redirection of  
resources. As Beatriz said, if this describes many of the likes of us  
empyre readers, the gig may be up.

On the other hand, with Tactical Media as a recognized academic track,  
workers will likely still find themselves in precarious situations.  
Knowledge structures and taxonomies may bend to include this work,  
even earning positive attention  and critical credibility to their  
hosts. But as long as University infrastructures are determined by  
protection of Intellectual Property, National Security, and  
individualist careerism, "tenured radicals" will find that there is no  
institutional foundation for their work. Scandals like the present one  
will erupt, administrators will beg ignorance and perhaps be right.  
Jobs will hang in the balance until the right middle-level manager is  
found to assign the blame for misunderstanding, or until another  
scandal shifts the heat. Occasionally some middle-level Limbaugh- 
devotee will refuse to allow University leaders to let the issue go  
away, and someone will get fired.

I'm in solidarity with banglab, and also not sanguine about the  
prospects for academic tenure as a protection for work that targets  
systemic injustice. If all this blows over for Ricardo, I will be so  
grateful for that crew to see some relief from this emotional  
violence. That is worth the world. But in the long run, even if Yudoff  
starts dropping positive references to Tactical Media in his research  
agenda, it's hard for me to see how academic valuation of a project  
like the Transborder Tool could happen without shifting the focus of  
reception away from the desert, and to the board room. (I can hear it  
now..."We are lucky to have projects like this exciting intervention,  
calling into question our tired systems of academic evaluation,  
pushing us onwards to greater innovation!")

For those who choose either of these tracks or both, seeking direct  
legitimation or "wearing the wig," I hope we can find some ways to  
collectively support them, to soften the blow of the inevitable job  
precarity somehow. (Sponsored wigs? "Cells" funded from abroad?)

Meanwhile, of course we should continue to push at the top levels for  
more recognition of our institutions' roles in systemic injustice.

But I also believe in seeking out opportunities for transparent  
dialogue about values and ethics in relation to research - especially  
with peers outside the humanities and the arts. Gestures toward  
critical reflection and even overt appeals to social justice may be  
rewarded in the humanities, but the sciences beg an apolitics -  
despite being staffed by politically-aware, intelligent people!

I have some hope that we might help foment a greater sort of civic  
consciousness among our university peers, through looking together and  
arguing about the social effects of our institutional shapes and  
flows. I don't pretend to believe that even one Computer Science  
department refusing DARPA contracts will make it easier for places  
like banglab to exist. But a collection of workers more conscious of  
spaces of affect and action might form a net large enough to catch a  
few more crusaders before they leave looking for a battle.

In other words, if some opportunities call for a wig, others depend on  
utter transparency, and even dialogical vulnerability.


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