Readings, and Related Inspirations

The Unavoidable Logic of Empire, a Letter – 8150

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Dear Capitalism:

You offer me whatever I could imagine. When I couldn’t find the right orange socks for my Velma costume last Halloween, you reminded me that I can get any color accessory I could imagine at American Apparel. When I wondered what a minor key rendition of “Call Me Maybe” might sound like, you delivered Ben Howard. When I wanted to watch a television show about a succubus, instead of the same run-of-the-mill vampires and werewolves, you gave me Lost Girl.

I love you Capitalism.

I consume, I discard, and I consume again.

But my love for you stops there.

As a committed pedagogue with an aspiring career in critical pedagogical scholarship, I don’t appreciate your move to commodify my institution. If Henry Giroux is right in his 2004 article “Cultural Studies, Public Pedagogy, and the Responsibility of Intellectuals,” when he claims “that pedagogy represents both a mode of cultural production and a type of cultural criticism that is essential for questioning the conditions under which knowledge is produced, values affirmed, affective investments engaged, and subject positions put into place, negotiated, taken up, or refused” (63), then I’m not willing to give up this unique space where I can give my students a variety of lenses through which to interpret our cultural milieu. Yet I am also constantly faced with the following question: what is higher education supposed to be accomplishing? Is it getting students ready to enter the workforce? Is it preparing them to be good producers and consumers within an economically capitalist system? If that’s the case, then the way that Rachel Riedner and Kevin Mahoney define Neoliberalism in their book Democracies to Come: Rhetorical Action, Neoliberalism, and Communities of Resistance, as “a way of defining work in relationship to culture that secures a workforce for capitalism” (19), this means that commodifying education – to deliver a product that our student-consumers pay for – is a very real occurrence. Just today, as I was writing a response to an article published two weeks ago in The Chronicle of Higher Education called “The Second-Chance Club,” I discovered that the featured school, Montgomery Community College actually calls their students “student consumers.” I balked. I do not appreciate the glitzy, attractive cage you have built. I do not appreciate how you have infiltrated my overly-ideological, arguably ignorant utopian fantasy that my classroom can be an ideal site for resistance and questioning. I am not bought and paid for in order to deliver my students a good in the form of a letter filled into a box at the end of the semester.

Later in the second chapter of their book, Riedner and Mahoney point out that “when we use modes of address, we are connected to social relationships that produce relations to capital” (20). I know this is a lower-case ‘t’ truth. I know that my material being is so wrapped up in consumer capitalism and market economy, that no matter what I say or do, I am enveloped in it. I cannot imagine my life without you. I cannot imagine a Zapitista lifestyle. I have never seen it.

So tell me, capitalism. What is your kryptonite? Is it fluency in multiple languages, as Gramsci argues? Is it a continual dialogue with students about modes of discourse, modes of power, racism, gender, working conditions… what do I do to quit you?

How do I quit you in my classroom when I love you so much in my closet?


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