Aditya Chakrabortty (The academics show their anger but they can’t answer my criticism that there’s too little analysis of our current crisis, G2, 7 May) raises the question of the relationship between intellectual radicalism and historical crisis, and how perhaps this has been dulled because of the “publish or perish” conditions of modern academia.
To use an observation from one neo-Marxist not-so-radical, Jürgen Habermas, the original purpose of social science was to offer critiques of social and economic crises, having developed from the terrible conditions of 19th-century capitalism. With now the longest recession since 1870 resulting from a sovereign debt crisis caused by the conspicuous consumption of debt generated by an unfettered global finance, you’d think the conditions would be prime for a shift in the zeitgeist, with old thoughts and models swept away.
I got out of the self-enclosed world of the conference circuit a few years ago (a time which included a rather soporific British Sociological Association annual conference). For all the perfectly respectable work being done, like Chakrabortty, I don’t get any sense that contemporary analyses of our current crisis are being forged from the furnace and caster of a new age. No more seeds of its own destruction, the logic of modern capitalism seems to prevail more than ever.
Dr James Driver
• Aditya Chakrabortty is correct – university economics departments are largely a closed shop, having uncritically bought into neoliberal ideology en masse, alongside its methodologies, such as quantitative analysis, game theory, rational choice, econometrics. These are pursued at the expense of studying economic history and/or economic theory – breezily dismissed as “irrelevant” or “irrational”. He is also right to point to the work of Hugh Willmott and colleagues at Cardiff Business School as countering this orthodoxy, alongside Prem Sikka, Ha-Joon Chang and the team at Cresc. Special mention should additionally be made of Massimo De Angelis (University of East London) and Guy Standing (University of Bath), whose book The Precariat is recommended to anyone who needs to work, whether current or prospective – ie the majority of us.
Dr Andy Knott
• First I read Aditya Chakrabortty’s almost despairing article concerning the lack of real challenge from academia over the current economic situation and alternatives to austerity and cuts. Phrases such as “intellectual cleansing” and “forced to conform” paint a picture of a climate of academic fear. This is not healthy in such turbulent times. Next I read in the Education section an article (‘We thought we would be left alone’, 8 May) that in itself is a concern. (Are schools being forced into academy status? I think they probably are and on the basis of an ideological position.) The real issue of concern, however, is that the headteachers quoted in the article feel they are not able to speak out openly, but must hide behind pseudonyms.
How far we have travelled under a coalition government with no true mandate. How much further are we going to travel? Mr Gove calls those who oppose academies “Trots” and those who disagree with him “enemies of promise” (Report, 1 February). This is not democratic language. The tyranny of fear is not a democratic process. Academics need to speak out.