“I gots me a big new grant!”–Cha-Ching!

bling3.jpgI am thinking that the next time I get a research grant, I should get a baseball cap with a big gold dollar sign on it, and take the award letter, miniaturize it, gold plate it, and hang it from a big ass gold chain around my fat neck. Why not? I would only be conforming, while making certain crass assumptions crassly obvious.

“I gots me a big ass grant! Look at this BLING!”

(OK, Max, you had your fun. Now be serious. You know very well it’s not about the money. It’s all about the R€$€AR¢H.)

This thought came to me, reflecting with some sense of humour on an environment that sends researchers mixed signals–that researchers should “seek” funding and better yet “attract external funding”. The reason as once explained with something less than complete honesty, was that a successful grant application is evidence of positive peer review. All I can say is that if these are my peers, I am deeply embarrassed, and here I am actually talking about comments I read from reviewers for my three successful grant applications. My two failed applications so far failed primarily on the basis of nationality, with these cutting-edge, forward thinking, intellectuals that these peer reviewers are.

championdick.jpgThen one sees these endless lists of dollar amounts, and really, in a calculating, quantitative, number-loving, society transfixed by the lustre of capital, is it really so far fetched for me to suggest that readers will tally up the amounts and come to a conclusion as to which is the (more) “valuable” research? “You show me your grant, and I’ll show you mine, then we’ll see who has the bigger one.”

dollarshirt2.jpgSo, if it is the successful “peer review” that matters so much (and not the extra 10% to 40% that the university itself gets from the granting agency for every dollar granted to the researcher), why has it become such an entrenched practice that every time a colleague gets a new grant we list the dollar amounts? Is there not something just a tad vulgar about that?

Here is a recent and prominent example from Concordia University, one in a universe of many such everyday examples, placed on the front page of the university website for several weeks now: “Concordia Receives $1 Million Grant.” The subtitle, puny and mumbled is: “to Study Montrealers Displaced by War, Genocide and Other Human Rights Violations.” Yeah nice, whatever, the real point is (and start pumping fists in the air): CHA-CHING!

champs.jpgWell how about that: Concordia receives…and not “a researcher gets successful peer review.” How quickly the lies vaporize when distilled by the brass basement moonshine machinery of sheer capitalist euphoria. The only thing missing from the above article is a link to an audio clip of Queen’s “We are the Champions…of the World!”

cashier2.jpgWhen there is competition for capital, and where capital accumulation becomes an end in itself, can we really be so straight faced in pretending that the university is not another capitalist industry? “Education,” and “critical thinking” are treated as merely secondary, accidental byproducts of the real drive for quantitatively measurable success.

The quantification and commercialization of thought even underpins the entire grading system where our teaching is concerned. Everything is reduced to numbers ultimately, with a few empty catch phrases such as “excellent” or “very good,” and students know this. Hence their hunt for the highest score, the big numbers, at all costs. Their futures count on it. This is not a site for higher order learning and self-reflection, this is about credentials, about positioning oneself for a future loaded with bling.

What we need to think about are solutions that involve critical, useful, knowledge production that circumvents capital accumulation. Otherwise, to try to decolonize anthropology in such a setting will be a futile effort.