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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: May 6, 2000
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Crtical Sociology at the WSSA 2000 Meetings



David Harvey's Paper

I have to go dig up his paper, and I can't do it this morning because I have to get ready for O.W. Wilson's award dinner. So nag me to get it up tomorrow or Monday. David Harvey was nice enough to give me his e-mail address and welcome us to include him in our discussions. He is, if I interpret correctly, a died-in-the-wool Marxist, who manages to stay on top of most of the current literature, and is willing to share our discourse in this.

More, if you all nag me. jeanne



Marxist Solution to School Hierarchy

I have to dig out the WSSA papers for this. I can't remember the gentleman's name. But the gist of his work was that we do not need post-marxism, that Marxism deals adequately with the issues today, if we are true to the Marxism. There is a certain acknowledgment in this that the fall of communism in Eastern Europe was not a failure of Marxism as such, and thus not a true test of Marxism.

I missed a part of his paper because of one of my choking fits. I hope others will fill you in. But I returned to his conclusion that academics could and should work against structurally violent hierarchies, and that this is our mission as professors. This brought immediately to mind Duncan Kennedy's work with his law students at Harvard.

The presentor spoke of understanding the inclusion of students in our academic efforts. And I asked how the speaker envisioned our doing so. He responded in terms that were very much those of listening in good will, but he did not speak of the students' inclusion in the hierarchy. When we can possibly realize Marxist principles without recognizing the students, he acknowledged the existence of the Duncan Kennedy's hierarchy of "bullies" as though it were an inevitable feature of our world. I wanted to ojbect vociferously, and yet recognized that to have done so, there and then, would have been sharing in Duncan Kennedy's despair that others are not taking up the cudgel we wielded so short a time in the 60s and 70s.

Many faculty today, even those of Marxist persuasion, who continue to exhibit genuine caring about these ongoing issues, like the Harvard Law students, succumb to the social context in which they exist. It's very hard to swim upstream. And it is structurally violent to collapse into frustration when we grow tired and swim with the flow for a while.

In place of that despair and frustration, we have focused on looking at our own "performance" measures as way of empowering real participation in the midst of a structurally violent context.



Duncan Kennedy on School Hierarchy

I have taken this material from Duncan Kennedy's account of first year law school from Kairy's Politics of Law, the first edition.

Kennedy is a critical theorist. He points out the problems in the system which lead to arrogant assumptions that there is a truth and that those in power have that truth. Thus he decries the hierarchy of power in institutions like Harvard. He looks with enthusiasm to each new class of Harvard Law students because they are bright, competitive, and bring amongst them many with liberal ideas. Then he watches as they internalize the structural violence of the violent hierarchy. He calls the puffed up bull frogs of the hierarchy, his colleagues, "bullies."

Then he despairs of the liberal minds in whom he places his hope, as they succumb to the bullying of the hierarchy. He takes personally the pain of student evaluations in which the students rate higher the bullies than they do those who respect and include them in their academic discourse. He offers as an explanation that the students, seeing the world as intensely competitive, conclude that the open receptiveness and good faith of professors like Kennedy is "wishy washy" and will not take them as far in the real world of law as the badgering assault of the arrogant winners.

For years I have used Duncan Kennedy's article in Politics of Law, and his reference to the students' "patina of consent," to remind my students of the terrible impact of internalizing the structural violence of the hierarchy. It is not so much the arrogance and the bullying of the hierarchy that harms the soul of the liberal students, as it is their internalization of that structural violence. Granted that the forms they use for evaluation have been shaped by the bullies, of whom there are more than the Duncan Kennedys. But also, through the intended process of humiliation that accompanies the hierarchical bullying, they have adapted patterns of callousness. They do not see the pain the Duncan Kennedys feel at those evaluations. It doesn't matter that they are the instruments of the ruling hierarchy. They still hurt. What has been lost is not the students' caring and allegiance to fairness and justice. Instead they have developed a certain callousness to causing pain, a certain ability to deny that active participation in structurally violent rituals, like evaluation forms and grades. I believe that Duncan Kennedy is right to some extent. That callousness will probably serve them better in the law firm of their choice than would his critical caring.

But I disagree with his dismay. His sensitivity, his caring have been sown with love, and have left quiet models of how to do that. Those lessons were not lost on his liberal students. The liberal professor who teaches in late capitalism must accept that "the night is dark and we are far from home." But beacons of love will guide the paths. We must not expect our students to slay in their fledgling careers the dragons we thought we slayed in the 60s and 70s, only to rediscover them in the twenty-first century.



Performance Empowers Real Participation

One of the things we learned at the WSSA 2000 Meetings was that we could do performance. Granted that we have had lots of practice since our academic performances with Moot Court began in 1987. We knew our students could perform beautifully. But we hadn't found a way to fit those performances into the hierarchy of the institution in ways that would help break up the "bullying" hierarchy that Duncan Kennedy so rightfully described and deplored. The WSSA 2000 Meetings provided us the first opportunity to hold moot court cross-nationally, with Internet preparation. They were our first chance to bring two universities together, not in a tournament of competition, but in a cooperative academic discourse. We watched it happen, and then the format permitted jeanne and Susan and all of us in public discourse, to talk about it, to poke it, to explore it, and to bring it home to our respective institutions.

We had learned so much, over the two year existence of the site and the shared teaching, that when we came together in a physical setting that provided the support of social acceptability, the performance, and our concurrent recognition of it, coalesced as if of its own force. Not really. But, as in any good performance, it gave the appearance of ease, accomplishment, and naturalness. And so many hidden factors added to that appearance.

We had worked on papers for each of the presentations. That was a lot of papers. We had struggled to find a way of presentation that would not reproduce Duncan Kennedy's "hierarchy" and the somnambulant quality of paper readings. We had submitted, had accepted, and done presentations of more than a dozen papers. I.e., we were tired. All of us, faculty, staff, and students. We had worked long distance, many of us never having seen each other's faces. Susan and I had allowed each other the trust of working with each others' students, no face to face, over e-mail. We had obtained grants for both schools, even though we knew that life at commuter universities means constant change and adaptation to real life. Susan had to fly cross country with five students. And CSUDH's fourteen students had to manage on their own to get themselves to San Diego, just a few days after Spring vacation, which dispersed us all. Pat and Jeanne managed only hotel rooms and registration fees for CSUDH students, because of the proximity of San Diego to Los Angeles.

When we arrived at the conference registration site, we explained that we had fourteen participants coming at different times and that we would prefer not to pay for them all at different times. That might not have been so bad, but neither they nor we had any idea of how successfully this would work, and how many of our fourteen students would actually make it to registration. WSSA was so understanding and cooperative, we nearly hugged them. We were tired, discombobulated, worried about how to get us all together. They trusted us. They handed badges and programs to our participants and graciously accepted payment at the end when we could tell who had made it. All except two did, by the way, and those two made it to San Diego and encountered problems when we all tried paging and cell phoning through hotels and pay phones. It was a terrible price to pay to have missed the meetings, but Qiana and Shenell have since been able to guide us to new arrangements that will enable us not to lose each other on campus for other performances, and for other conferences we are planning.

This is a special and heart-felt thanks to WSSA for having provided a professional climate in which this could happen.