Agonism

Finally! Stephen asks, “how interesting do you think your personal turmoil is?” Answer: Not Very! But it is “what I’m left with” (group relations perspective) when other engagement isn’t forthcoming. Not an accusation, just an observation. Not having done any in-depth study into the tragic/comic frames (I’ve been missing Li in this discussion, and the class overall this semester), it strikes me that the tragic frame is more individualistically (narcissistically?) based, and the comic frame requires (?) participation of others…or is that just where I go with it? 🙂 Maybe I can’t find a comic basis on my own, or, at least, I can’t generate a comic frame without some visceral sense of relational connectedness. Can’t say I enjoy that aspect of my subjectivity, and wouldn’t it be nice to change it! But, Stephen, you’re the one who told me I can’t interpellate myself, so who, I ask is interpellating me, in which ways?! Where’s the “audience” for the comedy I also try to perform here? Do I suck so badly at it? 😉


Group relations theory would suggest that my “depression” serves the group in some way. Hey, if I’m “expressing” it for everyone, you don’t have to! What a deal! And so folks get marginalized (cuz who the hell really wants to hang out with “the” depressed or angry or bitter or….those who didn’t perform certainty as Becky says, or perhaps did, but something changed and shifted that certainty in a new direction. There is a “nod” possible here, the acknowledgment of others’ particular struggle(s) that Shannon noted while still “going on” about our own, but I’d say the agonism occurs only when we “join”, even “take on” in some degree, the effects of others’ struggles. I don’t mean take them over, or allow them to take us over, but to engage with the tensions generated by them.
Tension. Resolution is a term I have used too casually. I don’t think tensions get taken care of such that they go away, but are addressed in specific instances among particular folk and – hence? therefore? – shift to another instance among the same folk, or a similar instance among different combinations of folk, or a different instance with different folk. Ain’t no catching that train!
But agonism, it seems to me, means we try.
Ethics and identity politics. Besides the obvious (general) cultural (?) divisions in our department (most notably Asian and other international students in political economy/cultural studies, domestic students and Europeans in social interaction), Stephen raises the faculty/student divide. Let me get this straight (as if!):
Time (as in longevity) matters. Obviously expertise and credentials matter. Commitment and focus matter – Becky’s point about academics needing to prove loyalty to the academy by not diluting their lives with pesky things like civic activism. Yet, the culture of the department is a reflection of the world, in Stephen’s words:
“we all suffer profoundly, most of us daily”
the academy’s “rottenness” is an infection shared by “nearly everything else that human hands touch”
freedom and lament are both parts “of the system that is the academy, but they are also part of the structure of contemporary life in the industrial world.”
Similarly, I argue that the authority and disciplinary functions of the faculty are representative/illustrative of power/knowledge dynamics in the wider world. Which, as far as I can tell, is pretty much the common subject of every class I’ve taken in the department to date (that would be ideology, cultural production, the meaning of communication, etc.). But we’re not supposed to engage these dynamics here because the goal of our “training” is to….replicate the system?
AND, no doubt, ethics enters here. Stephen cautioned against impulsiveness. In class last week, Lisa shared an example of what she called “maverick energy.”
It seems to me, the disciplinary task of the faculty is to reign in such energy or desire….which I accept, to a certain point. We are here to learn how to function in an (apparently) quite brutal academic institutional system. But we’re not supposed to question or strain against the brutality itself? Of course it falls to the people on the margins, like unhooked and unhinged, like me (!) to do this work (and risk even further marginalization) because those who aren’t on the margins are relatively content. (I don’t mean happy or satisfied, but that they’ve figured out “how to make it work” for themselves.)
So, the ethical question becomes (I think) how do we (and I mostly mean students) manage to utilize this incredible opportunity of graduate school to challenge and push against the status quo (represented, essentially (!), by faculty) while still maintaining a deep respect for the humanity OF faculty? I’m not sure if it can get more agonistic, in a practical, grounded way, than trying to address this basic binary. (I’d love some input from the pragmatists here!)

3 thoughts on “Agonism”

  1. Becky, that syllabus is COOL! 🙂 And, although posting it with it’s own link would have made it easier to find in the future, I think it fits perfectly right here. I think maybe you slyly put it here on purpose – it certainly speaks to many of the precise issues that have been on my mind.

  2. Yeah; you never know what people have which curiosities. I love finding things like that. I came across it as I was planning my class for next semester (Comm & Local Politics). Stivers has a book on Bureaucracy and Democracy in administration, and I had hoped to find more on her book there. Westview Books has it: http://www.perseusbooksgroup.com/westview/book_detail.jsp?isbn=0813398096
    Among her other books: http://urban.csuohio.edu/publications/pub_retrieve.php?submit=author&word=stivers ……..yikes, why’d I do that. All those titles look good.

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