Henry A. Giroux: “Against the Militarized Academy”

As some readers already know, Henry Giroux was one of the U.S.’ leading critical scholars, until 2005 when he “defected” to Canada to take up the the Global TV Network Chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Even those who have never read his work are likely to have heard his name quoted by others. His most recent books include The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (2007) and Against the Terror of Neoliberalism (2008). His primary research areas are: cultural studies, youth studies, critical pedagogy, popular culture, media studies, social theory, and the politics of higher and public education.

Giroux has recently (November 20, 2008) produced an essay published on truthout titled, “Against the Militarized Academy”. In that article he produces an incisive critique of militarization:

Militarization suggests more than simply a militaristic ideal – with its celebration of war as the truest measure of the health of the nation and the soldier-warrior as the most noble expression of the merging of masculinity and unquestioning patriotism – but an intensification and expansion of the underlying values, practices, ideologies, social relations and cultural representations associated with military culture. What appears new about the amplified militarization of the post-9/11 world is that it has become normalized, serving as a powerful educational force that shapes our lives, memories and daily experiences. As an educational force, military power produces identities, goods, institutions, knowledge, modes of communication and affective investments – in short, it now bears down on all aspects of social life and the social order. As Michael Geyer points out, what is distinctive about the militarization of the social order is that civil society not only “organizes itself for the production of violence,”(2) but increasingly spurs a gradual erosion of civil liberties. Military power and policies are expanded to address not only matters of defense and security, but also problems associated with the entire health and social life of the nation, which are now measured by military spending, discipline and loyalty, as well as hierarchical modes of authority.

Militarization directly impinges on university education, Giroux argues, potentially affecting the outlooks of the 17 million students that pass through American universities. He quotes William G. Martin, a professor of sociology at Binghamton University:

universities, colleges and schools have been targeted precisely because they are charged with both socializing youth and producing knowledge of peoples and cultures beyond the borders of Anglo-America.

Giroux urges academics to form alliance with social movements to resist militarization, but also calls for changes in pedagogical techniques within the university, so that anti-militarization praxis becomes a vehicle for rehumanization and public engagement:

One possibility is to develop critical educational theories and practices that define the space of learning not only through the critical consumption of knowledge but also through its production for peaceful and socially just ends. In the fight against militarization and “armed intellectuals,” educators need a language of critique, but they also need a language that embraces a sense of hope and collective struggle. This means elaborating the meaning of politics through a concerted effort to expand the space of politics by reclaiming “the public character of spaces, relations, and institutions regarded as private” on the other.

Damn the corporate university

Lastly, to add a point of mine in the spirit of Giroux’s contribution, it is vital for Canadian universities (most if not all of which are entirely funded by the public), to be reclaimed by the society that funds them, as a collective, common good. There are too many “boards of governors” in Canada that treat universities as the personal property of themselves, the executives they hire, and the few private donors who receive far more than their fair share of thanks. Rather than a corporatized university, universities in Canada should be reconceived as community centres on a grand scale, a place where — to borrow Giroux’s list — artists, trade unions, activists, etc., can freely gather, mingle, and collaborate if they desire. Unused spaces within the university should never be rented out — they should be freely available. In other words, we need a university that is far more than just classrooms, departments, and paying students. To do that will require some really immense breakthroughs first — to inspire academics who have given up hope, to constantly challenge administrations, and to encourage student unions and student organizations to look well beyond their immediate, everyday goals. Last but not least, we all have to stop thinking of universities as nothing more than mere vocational training for children of the elites, and as career placement centres.

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