What is a University?

The popular perception of the University today involves notions of hierarchies of knowledge distribution and centres of excellence. The University is also regarded as a space where the values of social equality and mobility allegedly are reproduced, carrying the traces of sentiments such as those in which education is seen as a social good, a preparation for public life and civic responsibility.However, despite this general conception, students may look to a University for material, that is, career advantages, lecturers believe that universities are for critical inquiry and self-development2 (at least in Europe and America), and managers see it as a business enterprise and replicate the economic strategies of neo-liberalism.3 None of these conceptions sit very well together. In fact, they conflict sharply. The pressing question then is, What is a University?

There are of course very different institutional models at play when we speak of ‘the University’, such as those that are privately or publicly funded, or research versus teaching institutions, and so on. However, the question of what constitutes a University is pressing, primarily (but not exclusively) due to the context of the changed economic conditions to publicly funded institutions and that today the University has been economically decoupled from the state in the UK (and the USA). This research responds specifically to the conditions of the University in the UK. The role and purpose of the institution has shifted from its Enlightenment objectives (state sponsorship of the formation of critical citizens, seen as a social good) to a complex commercial enterprise aimed at producing ‘knowledge capital’ (i.e., intellectual property) (Anderson and Rossi 2010) and economically productive consumers (McGettigan 2013).

While it is too soon to gauge the consequences of this repurposing of higher education, where knowledge, the institution, and persons (including students’ financial debts), are rationalised and commodified to meet the needs of capital flows and global corporate industries, Gerald Raunig’s metaphor of a ‘factory of knowledge’ may be useful here to frame the problem anew. He declares that ‘What was once the factory is now the university’ (Raunig 2013: 24); by this he means that the institution not only replicates the embodied subservience to a ‘machine’ – that is, the University as an apparatus ‘supporting authorities and an accommodation to subjugation (2013: 25) – it is also a space in which solidarity and resistance to subservience is realised and takes form. He continues, arguing that the University is not simply ‘a site of the transfer of knowledge, but rather [...] a complex space of the overlapping of the most diverse forms of cognitive, affective, subservient labour (ibid.: 24). He speculates that as a space of modulation the University is potentially a site that can be re-territorialized into a space of resistance to the production of its own disciplinary regime (ibid.: 23–24), and, in so doing, asks us to consider the transformations of contemporary modes of production as a condition for the emergence of the modulating university, or more generally, the fact that the adaptive capacity of capitalism has taken over precisely the central characteristics of these struggles, in order to flexibly immunize and newly position itself (ibid.: 25). Such are the challenges that are in play within the (UK) University today and that bear heavily on the reality of ones membership and participation.

The What is a University? project sets out to explore what it might mean to reterritorialise the idea of a University. That is, what are the affective outcomes – the lived experiences – of the transformation of the University, rather than the material (or immaterial) outcomes of its directed commercial production? In this sense, the project investigates how people who are immersed in the activities of a University imagine and conceptualise the idea of it. What are their affective relations to it as a space that is increasingly commodified and instrumentalised? How do members instigate and enforce the boundaries of participation and reproduce social hierarchies? And exactly how do students, professors, and other members come to embody the objectives of commercial production, operating as part of a service industry with a managerial rationale borrowed from the business models of corporate capitalism? These questions are woven into a series of collaborative projects that were developed between 2010 and 2013. By working empirically, the aim is to sample and map the aesthetic experience and perceptions of a Universitys members. The point was not to arrive at an answer per se, but to investigate the affective operations – the lived experience – of the University in transition and to problematise its conditions.

The three interventions that were developed are called (1) Researching the Researchers, (2) National Student Surveys’, and (3) Citizen Artist News, Special Edition: Investigating the University as a Border Regime’. By way of a brief explanation of the use of the word intervention: the term is used variously within academic circles and in continental Europe (as opposed to the UK); it can be used to describe the presentation of a research paper within a symposium, workshop, or conference, etc. In these instances, intervention denotes a routine practice and habit of public academic discourse. However, the approach to the intervention as instantiated within this research follows Jacques Rancière's notion of dissensus and Harold Garfinkels work in ethnomethodology. The idea is to disturb or intervene in a setting or space to expose normative beliefs and assumptions that mask an adherence (or adaptation) to the apparatus of the University in its new and unfolding role as a corporate business. The focus is on empirical research practices – that is, doing rather than objectifying the object of study. The interventions are ‘“ways of doing and making” that intervene in the general distribution of ways of doing and making as well as the relationship they maintain to modes of being and forms of visibility, as Rancière suggests (2004: 13).

The interventions were developed and executed in collaboration with four students: Anna Kaufmann (Erasmus programme, 2011), Ilia Rogatchevski, Mandi Collett, and Dovile Alseikaite, now all successful graduates (2013) of the BA (Hons) Book Arts & Design programme at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. I am indebted to them for giving their time so generously to this project.

1 See Bill Readings’s book The University in Ruins (1996), in which he outlines the influence of the German Idealists on the development of the modern University and the role that the University played in shaping the ‘citizen’, ‘community’, and ‘national culture’ within the burgeoning nation states of Europe and America.

2 William Talcott outlines the shift in the emphasis on citizenship within the University, from being aimed at fostering 'moral education and civic responsibility' in the nineteenth century to a focus on 'research' and personal development in the early 20th century. As he says: “New, more private and scientific notions of citizenship were gradually eclipsing the collegiate emphasis on moral character. Ostensibly handing the task of character development to secondary and lower schools, the university became more concerned with technical expertise, scientific research and professional development.” (2005, p.2) He goes on to quote Benjamin Barber: “by the end of World War II, higher education had begun to professionalize, vocationalise, and specialize in a manner that occluded its civic and democratic mission.” (Barber, Benjamin (1997) Forward to Education for Citizenship. Reeher and Cammarano, eds. Rowman and Littlefield.)

3 David Harvey in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism offers a clear and sharp distinction between the economic strategies that have been exercised by multinational corporations and banks since 1970 and the ‘values’ that have proliferated in the wake of these changes. Harvey argues that the former has been the primary driver of changes to our social and political landscape. The adoption of neo-liberal economic strategies by universities’ managers and the impact on the culture and values of the University is discussed by Bill Readings in his book The University in Ruins.

investigative art


Members of the Citizen Artist group, wearing armbands and seated left, during the ‘Researching the Researchers’ intervention at Goldsmiths College, 2011. From left to right; Anna Kaufman, Mandi Collett, Ilia Rogatchevski, Daphne Plessner. Photographer Dovile Alseikiate.

To download pdf file of 'Researching the Researchers', click on image, above.

Researching the Researchers

Intervention 1: Introduction

The Citizen Artist team participated in a research workshop with members of Goldsmiths College and Sciences Po École des Arts Politiques (SPEAP). The event was instigated by Bruno Latour and his team of researchers for a week-long dialogue with various departments at Goldsmiths College in March 2012; the theme of the discussion was ‘Militant Research. To say briefly first, the term militant research has various usages and meanings, ranging from a rejection of claims to objective knowledge – or more specifically, the objectifying gaze within academic research and the recognition that knowledge production modifies and affects subjectivities1 – to overt strategies for political action and the contestation of strategies of governance based on the investigation and communication of an issue.2 

However, instead of responding to the topic as a point of conversation – that is, instead of assuming an aloof critical stance and objectifying the topic of activism or 'militant research' – the Citizen Artists embraced the opportunity to do militant research not only by parodying the idea of militancy but also by provoking members of the group of specialists to respond to the question 'What is a University?' The question was framed by a trenchant outline of the problem intentionally to provoke the researchers (see The Problem: Presented to the Researchers during the Intervention) and after soliciting responses from the specialists – their statements and definitions of what a University is – the team collated the research and, within an hour of the days session ending, published the researchers statements as slogans on (A4 photocopied) posters that were then distributed around Goldsmiths College (see Posters, right). Again, the point is to draw on the commonplace assumptions of those who collectively constitute the University and to make visible the various ideological assumptions embodied in their comments.

Another aspect of this intervention was to expose the exclusivity of the workshop and its role as a system through which access is facilitated or curtailed. That is, in principle, a workshop is open to any University member. However, in practice, workshops are not necessarily a public event as such (workshops tend to emerge through invitations and small networks). Nevertheless, in this particular case, the workshop was even further restricted: numbers of participants were limited to specific departments at Goldsmiths and the SciPo team. The aim of the intervention was therefore threefold: first, to force the point about doing militant research on militant research; second, to use the event as a moment for action, pointing to the academic apparatus of the institution that is embodied and performed; and third, leveraging open the gatekeeping enacted by its members (drawing attention to the realities of ones access to information and privilege (or lack thereof)) by disseminating the results of our research in a novel way through a live press event – to make it, and by implication, the workshop, public. The posters included a URL link to the citizenartist.org.uk site as a way of providing members of the college with an opportunity to learn more about the project, including access to downloadable copies of the posters.


1 Definitions of militant research include‘Militant research is a concept-tool that works on the premise that all interpretation of the world is linked to some kind of action. Related to practices of co-research and institutional analysis, militant research proposes that all new knowledge production affects and modifies the bodies and subjectivities of those who have participated. Rather than use research as a tool to categorise and separate knowledge from practice, militant research operates transversally, becoming part of the process that organises relationships between bodies, knowledge, social practices and fields of action' (Micropolitics Research Group 2009).


Kevin Van Meter (2008) states: ‘Inquiry is simply the process of producing knowledge and addressing problems; and there is a long history of political inquiry in radical and revolutionary movements. Any substantive and engaged political campaign, organizing drive, and community processes utilizes methods of inquiry to understand the conditions of life, politics and to create initiatives. Within larger radical and community organizing traditions of inquiry, there is militant and co-research. Militant research refers to “research carried out with the aim of producing knowledge useful for militant or activist ends” as well as “research that is carried out in a fashion that keeps with the aims and values of radical militants.”’

The Problem: Presented to Researchers during the Intervention

The following rhetorical argument was read aloud to an assembled group of researchers from the Politics department at Goldsmiths College and Sciences Po École des Arts Politiques (SPEAP) in March 2012 at Goldsmiths College. It was staged by the Citizen Artist team as a provocation and a way to solicit responses. Following the presentation (below), researchers were asked to write a sentence or two stating what they believed a University to be.


With the state abandoning its commitment to the public good, that is, its duty to its citizens in fostering equity (through welfare, health care, education, and other essential institutions that support civic well being), the point and purpose of a University has increasingly come under scrutiny (Readings1996, Marquand 2004, Bok 2003, Maskell and Robinson 2002). The question of understanding what the University is as an entity, as an organisation and as a commercial enterprise, is a pressing one for the following reasons:

Historically, the twin pillars of a Nation State have been the government (the legislator) and the University (the educator of its legislators and citizens). Out of the Enlightenment, the University was a space within which individuals ‘came into being’. The University fostered ‘criticality’, ‘investigation’, ‘study’, underpinned by a notion of the self in relation to the public sphere where learning was understood and pursued as a value in its own right and/or for the formation of a good citizen, thereby constituting a ‘nation’. 

This Aristotelian idea of ‘coming into being’ is captured in the German term Bildung. But at the dawn of the twenty-first century this Enlightenment project is clearly over. It has been abandoned. With the decline of the Nation State, the ‘hollowing out of the public sphere’, the University’s role no longer is prescribed by the need to shape a democratic nation of critically engaged citizens. Instead, in the implementation of neo-liberal policies the University has been fully converted into a marketplace.

Aspects of the University have quickly adapted themselves to commercial opportunities: on the one hand, finding patronage or business partners within the corporate world and, on the other hand, opening themselves up to market demand, providing a ‘service’ to ‘clients’ who, through consumer choice, determine the alleged value and existence of subject areas. So for example, scientists convert their ‘research’ into property and then exploit it, forming independent companies external to the University to sell IP, while conducting their ‘research’, i.e., developing their property, within its walls. Teachers are ‘consultants’ and ‘specialists’ whose ‘advice’ can be purchased. Those in the arts and humanities have a slightly more awkward time and are either regarded suspiciously because they cannot ‘compete’ with the material applications as seen in the sciences, no doubt partly owing to the fact that the humanities developed out of the Enlightenment and embrace the idea of the Bildung, which of course defies commodification. One strategy used to wriggle out of this dilemma (most notably pursued in North American Universities), is one where professorial ‘celebrities’ foster a kind of Guru-hood and use the University as an arena to further their intellectual projects all the while accruing financial rewards (higher pay packets, etc.) for their popularity in attracting a following of fee paying postgraduates. This strategy has the concomitant advantage of appearing to justify the ideology of enterprise. But even here we have to ask, whom do these intellectual projects serve and to what purpose?

First, if the University is a training ground, a broker, a middleman for industry, why should the young apprentice bother to pay the University for their training? Is it not more effective for the employee to be guided and educated by their prospective employer? Why bother with a University when one could be tutored to fit the employer’s needs, training say, physicists or bio-chemists at the headquarters of Dow Chemicals, Shell Oil, or with defence contractors? In embracing the idea of being a training ground, the University is no more than a kind of pimp, grooming young minds for the ‘military industrial complex’.

If instead we cling to the idea of a University as somehow contributing to the betterment of ‘society’, we then have to ask ourselves, what society? For the past thirty years, the ‘public’ (sphere) has been shredded under the aggressive implementation of neo-liberal policies. Coupled with technological developments, the rise of the internet and social networks, the economic fallout from the rampant negligence of bankers and wayward financial markets, the idea of a ‘society’ – even if we re-conceptualise its form and character and coin new terms for it such as a multitude, a rhizome, an assemblage, or a network, etc. – without a state that sees its role as more than a panopticon, is but a moral vacuum to which the University is subject. 

So, again, what is a University? What is it if it no longer nurtures citizens and their ‘coming into being’. Are they places for the formation of self-selecting elites within a multitude? Again, whom do the elites serve? Other elites, such as our powerful neo-feudal corporate masters? Or are universities autonomous communities? In which case, (1) are they not then superfluous, subject to the populist pressures of celebrity culture where rhetorically skilled professors provide intellectual entertainment or ‘edu-tainment’ for their network of fee-paying acolytes? Or (2) is it simply a space within which intellectual fads are played out and then fade out? 

What I have argued above I hope points to a problem of understanding our activities within this place; a problem of understanding who the University serves and where it fits politically within the shifting sands of our times, and this bears heavily on how we go about pursuing our various inquiries under its banner. Our ‘research’ presumably has some value beyond entertainment or material and financial gain? But what is its value and where is it to be situated if the idea of the University as a service provider in a marketplace renders it defunct? (Plessner 2012)

Above, one of the nine posters that were produced and distributed on the day of the Researching the Researchers intervention at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

To download copies of posters, click on images above.

Visual Surveys

Intervention 2: Introduction

Two visual questionnaires were developed in response to the current (i.e., in the academic year 2012–13) escalation of the UK governments requirement for universities to monitor and report on the attendance of their foreign national students to the immigration services. The Citizen Artist group approached forty-five ‘home (UK) students at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, supplying them with pens and colouring crayons to complete two questions. The questionnaires were intended to present the interviewees with a dilemma: they were asked to complete a questionnaire that, at face value, involved the simple task of identifying a foreign student. The surveys were not designed as a social scientific exercise in assessing people’s attitudes to the topic of immigration or the idea of the ‘foreigner’ within the University. Instead, they were developed as an art intervention that engages individuals in the affective experience of participating in the act of decision-making. That is, they were intended to interrupt the daily production and embodiment of discrimination that structures the University. For example, the task required that students address a set of (tacit) racist assumptions. It is important briefly to note that the surveys do not use the language of racism. Instead they pick up and re-present the vocabulary of foreignness that is commonplace within the University. One of the surveys also makes use of the evidence of surveillance – the alleged proofs of identity – in the form of passport photographs used when processing the registration of students, which are often assumed to be incontrovertible. In doing this, the survey not only drew out the wider connotations of (visually based) racial prejudices and assumptions about the fixity of the photographic image and its scope for identifying a person (e.g., as with passport security1) but also assumptions about the veridicality of the passport photograph that play out in society at large. In his book The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State (2000), John Torpey draws our attention to how the evolution of identity papers in the modern period goes hand in hand with the characterisation of the foreigner as someone from another country whose trustworthiness is questionable and that this concept of otherness therefore is embedded in the formation of nation states in Europe (first notably during the French Revolution) (Torpey 2000: 30). The foreigner, as he says, was perceived more and more ipso facto as a suspect (ibid.: 42).

The National Student Survey therefore needed to be visual. People have to engage physically with crossing out passport photographs or drawing faces of foreigners to affectively enter into the problem of making judgements about the concept of the foreigner. They have to experience the unanswerability of the questionnaires, to live through the absurdity of acting out their decisions about who may or may not be a foreigner on the basis of the evidence of the passport photographs, or by projecting their beliefs while drawing what a foreigner looks like. The participant engages in a slow and deliberative provocation that entangles them in having to think through and make choices about who and what is foreign. Their subjective experience of the political is directly challenged by the tension between the multiple connotations of status and identity, race and otherness, membership or non-membership within the visual material and the request actively to make discriminations. This approach to testing political subjectivity via an intervention further prompts the problem of the complexity and ambiguities that surround the concept of membership. Rancière's insights and his theorisation of dissensus2 illuminate the wider connotations of how moments of an intervention operate – that is, how an intervention reveals the problems of what is otherwise taken as normative.

The National Student Survey is not devised to wrong-foot anyone per se; instead, it aims to take participants through a process that embodies them in the politic. The intention is to get under the skin, so to speak, and this requires that the strategies for engagement be subtle, pointed, and enacted. Also, the surveys were conducted in spaces where the orientation of the investigative artwork could be situated within our performance as ordinary petitioners. The success of the surveys lie in their ability discreetly to unsettle subjectivities through enactment, to disturb the very core of the political self, not in their display as art objects or their ability to provide quantitative data for an analysis of the subject. The sample of students is not representative of the wider body of students, for instance.

To elaborate on the ability of the surveys to penetrate subjectivities, in the act of approaching them, the CA team came to play with the students participation. The results were interesting: out of the forty-five who were canvassed, two students who quickly and confidently had completed the task asked if they had answered the questionnaires correctly. To these people we either confirmed that they had got it right, hoping that they would eventually see through the absurdity at a later date, or we pointed out that the question isnt answerable as it relies on assumptions about the appearance of people (and indeed, more absurdly, a photograph of a person) to determine foreignness. However, most participants slowly began to glimpse aspects of the problem during the act of crossing out passport photos or drawing facial characteristics, very often pausing and reflecting on who they had selected or troubling over who to choose as foreign. Some people asked for advice in making their selection or wanted to be guided, concluding that it was complicated and difficult to form a decision. Others began to interrogate and discuss the idea of foreignness during the exercise. Only one student was alert to the implications of the survey from the start. In this case, we were challenged about the possible racist issues that it raised to which we were then able to draw out a discussion about the role of students and staff in the functioning of the immigration services within the University.

1 See John Torpey's (2000) discussion of the use of the photograph to verify the accompanying descriptors in passports (e.g., ‘name, age , profession, description, domicile and nationality of the bearer’), to counter misidentification among the authorities. And further, that the precedent for a passport to be issued to ‘individuals’, for example, was due to the historical case of the French king’s attempted flight using a servant’s travel documents (Torpey 2000: 38).


Rancière’s notion of dissensus is the moment of making visible the conditions of a political apparatus, contra the reiteration of normative claims or the operations of the status quo.

The Survey Team: Ilia Rogatchevski, Mandy Collet, and Daphne Plessner.

To download a copy of the Survey, click on image, right

In March 2013, UK students at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London were approached to complete the two visual surveys (above and left). The slide show of drawings exposes how the students see their ‘foreign’ colleagues as zombies or ethnic stereotypes.

Citizen Artist News: Special Edition Newspaper

Intervention 3: Introduction. The University as a Border Regime

The newspaper draws together many of the issues so far discussed: it continues to problematise the site of the University and its wider complexities of membership, exploring how the institution functions as a space where differences and divisions are formed and/or reiterated. The newspapers content brings together expert views, opinions, and experiences of the University. In this sense, as a special edition and collection of articles and imagery, the newspaper is intended to capture the affective experience of the University – the lived experience of working and studying in the University – rather than perform an objective analysis of the institution.

Nevertheless, the main purpose of the newspaper is to encapsulate and re-present a moment in the repurposing of the University into a border regime following the intensification (in 2012–13) of the UK governments requirement that universities monitor and track students who are foreign nationals. Contributors were solicited for their personal views of these changes to their roles within the University, with the intention of making visible the silent workings of the University – the attitudes, behaviours, and managerial systems that prevail in sustaining the immigration policies of the state. The intention of the newspaper was to intervene in and indeed, to interrupt this seemingly prosaic (but otherwise pernicious) apparatus in the day-to-day setting of the University by distributing the paper to as many universities as was possible within central London.

Print copies were distributed within colleges in central London (such as Goldsmiths College, University College London, the School of Oriental and African Studies, London School of Economics, London College of Communication, Central Saint Martins College, etc.,) to draw attention to the complexity of the daily experience of the ‘Janus faced’ character of the University environment as a space that propagates the values of ‘equality’ and ‘mobility’ but also operates as a regime for policing the presence of ‘foreigners’, tacitly marking out those who are neither ‘equal’ nor wholly ‘mobile’ within its membership. As a border regime, the University not only operates as a ‘method’1, (Mezzadra and Neilson 2012) where its members (students, staff, administrators, etc.) are actors in the production of divisions in status that enact the policing policies of the state, it is also where members are subject to the production of the border regime's securitisation and procedures. It is the very complexity of the tension between the aspirational and idealised values of the institution and one’s own role in reproducing social divisions and discriminations that the newspaper is aimed at capturing and problematising.

The newspaper is also intended to build on the idea of the potential of investigative art practice to shape critical knowledge via the use of a new aesthetic “regime”’ (Cramerotti 2009). That is, the project is an attempt to extend the scope of art that avails itself of investigative journalistic methods, or reportage, within fine art practice. Increasingly, in the context of our globalised and online experiences of the world, the strategies of journalism stand out as highly aestheticised activities and presentations. With this in mind, journalistic strategies offer real potential to artists who are interested in using the facts of investigation to form a new aesthetic that captures and shapes new imaginaries and understandings. Journalism not only is the interface we use to understand how things work and affect us in the public sphere but, in combination with art, could be one of the practicable ways to mediate information and prompt initiative. [...] to query not the way art and journalism transform the world, but the way that they can transform the meaning of the world (Vilém Flusser quoted in Cramerotti 2009: 28).

As an artwork, the project deliberately appropriates the aesthetics of a conventional newspaper format to frame the meaning of its contents. It taps into the habits and expectations of readers familiar with the journalistic form rather than relying on artistic discourses or settings to frame its interpretation. But, unlike a conventional newspaper, the editorial pursuit is a wholly creative one. For example, the newspaper is entirely focused on the topic of the University as a border regime. Every aspect of it, every illustration, interview, opinion, reflection, advertisement, etc., has been collated and arranged to build a multi-perspectival and aesthetic reading of the theme. Authored articles are juxtaposed with material appropriated from online sources (such as anonymously authored text) and are re-presented in a way that draws attention to the politics that the material had not previously possessed (see, for example, page 2 of Citizen Artist News and the mapping of high risk nationals). The newspaper also publishes private correspondence and internal memos that evidence the bullish language and oppressive directives of administrators in addressing academic staff and requesting that foreign students are monitored. It places these internal memos and correspondences adjacent to, in one case, an interview with a border agent and an activists advertisement (pp. 8–9), and in another instance next to an article (reprinted from BBC News) reporting on the consequences of registering with the police, in addition to a list of immigration rules and quotations from students reflecting on their treatment by their host university, exposing the inequity of their varying statuses (pp. 2–3). The newspaper combines interviews with researchers who specialise in citizenship and border studies with the personal reflections of lecturers and students who have endured hardships due to their nationality. The juxtaposition of images and text highlights the newspapers sub-themes, such as the inequities of the Universitys members, the inner workings of the institutions bureaucracy in executing and policing the directives of the state and the securitisation of a Universitys physical spaces, etc. Its form and arrangement is intended to draw readers into an affective experience of and reflection on ones own involvement in constructing the politics of membership within a University.

1 Here I borrow Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Nielson’s concept of the ‘border as method’ where borders are seen as ‘making a world rather than dividing an already-made world [...] [I]t is useful, perhaps even necessary, to [...] investigat[e] concrete practices of border crossing that embody the elements of constituent excess present in every scene of border making or border contestation. This is why we focus on the subjective dimensions of migration and the ways in which bodies in motion challenge border regimes across diverse geographical scales. It is also why we emphasize the making and unmaking of social worlds’ (Mezzadra and Neilson 2012: 60).

As of 2012–13, universities in the UK operate as an extension to the immigration services and are required to closely monitor the presence of international students. This has transformed educational institutions into border zones. Above, a porter at a university in central London surveils students passing through barriers at the entrance to the building. Below, a more discreet but nevertheless prevalent security presence at the entrance to another college.

Page 1 of Citizen Artist News. To read text, click on the images.

To download Citizen Artist Newspaper click on the image, right.

Pages 10 and 11

Pages 2 and 3

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In the introduction, I briefly visited Gerald Raunigs observation of the potential for the University to be reterritorialised as a space of resistance to the very conditions of subservience embedded in its systems. This is a seductive notion and one that requires some examination. Raunigs argument in part points to a vicious trap: on the one hand, resistance, as a strategy of criticism, generates intellectual capital and becomes the very stuff of capitalist production. On the other hand, resistance (as well as its attendant discourses) makes apparent the University as an apparatus that embodies and legitimates inequality and subservient labour. The problem then becomes one of understanding how resistance, in the form of art interventions such as the projects discussed in this research, is understood within this imaginary, and further how the interventions do politics. That is, how do we assess their consequences?

First, Raunigs argument presents us with a problematic binary and the interventions sit on neither one side nor the other. That is, it is not a matter of the intervention either servicing capital flows (through the productivity of a critical interjection within a larger discourse) or shining a light on an aspect of an otherwise invisible institutional apparatus. Part of the problem rests on Raunig’s (2013: 24) characterisation of the University as a factory. His metaphor is misleading. It assumes that material outcomes such as intellectual capital define the institution. However, the University is a porous, contingent, and fluid space in which people assemble for a multiplicity of (often competing) reasons, of which not all are visible or captured in terms of intellectual labour (productive or otherwise) or product.


Second, Raunigs factory (or machine) metaphor (ibid.: 25) tacitly assumes that the space of the University is only visible through the production of intellectual capital and labour and this simply concedes to an imaginary that has surfaced in the ascendancy of neo-liberal politics – that is, the push for material applications fitted to market demand. Equally, what is often taken to be the University and, indeed, industrious activity, is in fact the manifestation of the administrative practices – the bureaucracy – of the Universitys sponsors (governments, etc.) and members (professors, students, functionaries, etc.). Administrative protocols organise and instrumentalise the activities of those assembled. But not all the behaviours of the University are visible or can be captured, nor can they coherently be conceived of as productive (as, say, even under the banner of research). I would argue that the assemblages of discourse and dialogue that constitute the University are not in actuality subservient labour and do not service an institution separate from the activities of its members. Instead, debate, disagreement, agreement, critique, interventions, and so on, are the architecture of the University. These activities frame our affective and aesthetic experience of the institution and without these elements the University does not exist.


Therefore, small insertions into larger circuits of dialogue, such as the interventions discussed in this research, partake in the flow of discourse within the space of the institution. In this sense, the interventions are systemic. There is no outcome as such because the interventions are not different in kind from any other discourse that shapes and structures the University. They are part of the University's (dialogical) architecture. But the interventions are also tactical and contingent. As publications, they function as props that draw together the intersecting conversations and affective experiences of members in a transitional moment for the UK University, as it is transfigured into a border regime. The interventions, like all other interjections, percolate within and also beyond the spaces of the institution and become embodied in the flow of affect, a flow that implicitly reterritorialises the space of the University.


Anderson, Birgitte, and Federica Rossi. 2010. ‘The Flow of Knowledge from the Academic Research Base into the Economy: The Use and Effectiveness of Formal IPRs and “Soft IP” in UK Universities’. Report to the Strategy Advisory Board for Intellectual Property (SABIP) (London: Intellectual Property Office)

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