The Right to Radicalisation?
Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 07:15
Tim Stevens in Augmentation & Surveillance

Partly in response to the recent arrest of a Nottingham student for downloading the al-Qaeda 'Manchester Manual', Poetix writes on the dangers to academic freedom posed by the current security climate, and the nature of the university experience itself:

The right to radicalisation

Today, the very idea of the university as a space of unconditional freedom seems anachronistic; such are the times we live in. “Academic freedom” is now to be considered a freedom under condition, a freedom amongst other freedoms to which it stands in a relationship of mutual limitation. The model for this system of mutually limiting (or competing) freedoms is cybernetic: its twin goals are homeostasis (stable reproduction of the “primitive” conditions under which it functions) and efficiency (optimal ratio of output to input). The state simultaneously declares its commitment to the utmost self-realization of every individual citizen, and constantly intervenes to manage the “balance” of individual freedoms in order that no particular project of self-realization should locally destabilize the system. Threats to the system as a whole are rare, but the vexations of terrorism, deliberately calculated to elicit a disproportionate response, are severe enough to be treated by it as a source of existential menace.

The radicalisation of students is a risk built into the university’s teaching function, the purpose of which is to reproduce the conditions of knowledge within each new generation so that the research function - which requires a continuous supply of peers competent to discuss new developments - can be upheld. That “there are students in the university” is a fact that must be continually confronted, ideally by graduating them. Yet in the process of acquiring competency, students must undergo a partial deculturation: the worldview of the research community is not that of most people’s “native culture”. One cannot create new researchers in a field without exposing young people to the crisis of knowledge at the root of that field, the irreducible problematic on account of which it - and not merely the spontaneous commonsense of “uninformed” people everywhere - troubles to exist. To be initiated into a field of study is to be seduced by it, to the point where its problems become one’s own. The first thing the student must learn is therefore how to be seduced; and the “best” students are in this sense the most seducible.


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