In the university, now, at this very moment, something critical is happening, yet we are told by those in authority that this is not the case. The 2010 Browne Report is prefaced as “securing a sustainable future for higher education.” A radical agenda for refinancing the university, in this sense, aims to securitise the insecure university, to make sure that education is brought into line with the idea of an economically ‘sustainable future.’ Today we see occupations around the world, industrial action targeting cuts in public funding and financial markets teetering on collapse. This insecurity is precisely what frightens governments and administrations: that teachers and students, workers and citizens might join struggle over what a ‘sustainable future’ actually entails.
Undergraduate students are particularly subject to this fear in that they are taught, even required, to see their work as an instrumentalised means to an end. The end is cultural capital: a good degree that will lead to a good job and a prosperous future. The means is academic work that becomes more of a requirement than a contestation or engagement. At this moment, then, we've decided to produce a journal that refuses to treat thinking as merely a technical matter, a reliable means to an unquestioned end. We believe that the undergraduate work we present here is critically important in what it says, regardless of how it is assessed or accounted for within the official university; we seek to encourage undergraduate thinking that participates in the work of what Thomas Docherty calls the ‘clandestine university,’ where research isn't based on the model of the student as consumer. We hope that these essays testify to the value those who work in the clandestine university still place on critical reflection.
The collection of essays in this first issue of Constellations covers a wide range of themes and fields of expertise. It connects, among others, work on Derrida and Shakespeare, on Dostoyevsky and Kafka, on Arnold and Browning, with work on Walter Benjamin, Raymond Williams, representations of violence after 9/11 and narrative form in videogames. If, as Benjamin remarked, “ideas are to objects as constellations are to stars,” we hope that this issue prompts both critical engagement with each essay on its own terms and also forms of connection and mapping among the essays as a whole. Our aim is to project imaginative pathways toward a critically sustainable future.
Benedict Clarke, Helen Talbot and Victoria Jarvis, for the editorial team
Special thanks in compiling the inaugural issue to Daniel Barrow, Georgia Attlesey and Justin Mahboubian-Jones