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Margins and Occupations

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The new issue of the journal ARTMargins features a roundtable on “the critical archive,” in which I’m one of the participants. I’m erroneously identified as a lecturer in art history at the University of Amsterdam (or UvA). I teach at the other Amsterdam-based university, the Vrije Universiteit, a.k.a. VU University Amsterdam. My recent blogpost about the crisis at the UvA has apparently also created some confusion on this point. My post was made in solidarity with my UvA colleagues (and their students). The two universities collaborate on a number of levels, including joint MA programmes, and we are ultimately all in the same boat. Earlier this year, when the VU’s Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences faced similarly draconian cutbacks, students actually appropriated a flyer for the famous 1969 occupation of the UvA’s headquarters – the Maagdenhuis.

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When the UvA’s humanities students announced their protests, the university’s newspaper Folia noted that their calls for resistance were “reminiscent of the 1960s.” If the VU students’ flyer ironically acknowledges that the potential for student protest and resistance has lain dormant for all too long, Folia‘s remark reads as a subtle putdown. Oh, those hipster students and their retro fads! It is of course true that the tables have been turned: if once the university was there to be taken, to be occupied, by progressive forces, today’s occupation actually starts in the boardroom and proceeds with through a dialectic of shock therapy (as in the current UvA situation) and the steady hollowing-out of rights and of forms of life through “baby steps” gradualism.

In 1968, the Situationist-dominated “Council for Maintaining the Occupations” at the Sorbonne put out a poster decreeing the “End of the University.” Now that universities have been occupied by rather different forces, a dystopian version of this utopian promise is a daily lived reality.

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