What Makes Working-class Scholarship Worth Pursuing [1]

Ian Ho-yin Fong
School of Continuing and Professional Studies
The Chinese University of Hong Kong


This essay is about the life, writing, philosophy, pedagogy, and politics of a working-class scholar who is in my view, as Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey say, "a stranger in paradise." [2] It first discusses how the term "working-class scholar" can be understood, then discusses how I identify myself as such a stranger, how such a "paradise" becomes further embourgeoised and "ruinous," and, above all, what the calling of working-class scholarship should be.

[1] To Marx, the working class is "the class to which the future belongs, lives and works." [3] In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels outline the process of its formation:

The proletariat goes through various stages of development. With its birth begins its struggle with the bourgeoisie. At first the contest is carried on by individual laborers, then by the workpeople of a factory, then by the operatives of one trade, in one locality ... But with the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows ... Thereupon the workers begin to form combinations (Trades' Unions) against the bourgeois ... [4]

To follow Marx, with the development of the knowledge industry in a bourgeois-dominated academic institution (to be discussed later), the proletarianized scholars not only increase in number; they become concentrated in greater masses; their strengths grow under the exploitation caused by labor and capital. On labor and capital, Marx writes,

The relation of private property contains latent within itself the relation of private property as labor, the relation of private property as capital and the connection of these two. On the one hand we have the production of human activity as labor, i.e. as an activity wholly alien to itself, to man and to nature, and hence to consciousness and vital expression, the abstract existence of man as a mere workman who therefore tumbles day after day from his fulfilled nothingness into absolute nothingness, into his social and hence real non-existence; and on the other, the production of the object of human labor as capital, in which all the natural and social individuality of the object is extinguished and private property has lost its natural and social quality (i.e. has lost all political and social appearances and is not even apparently tainted with any human relationships). [5]

To Hardt and Negri, "the multitude gives the concept of the proletariat its fullest definition as all those who labor and produce under the rule of capital." [6] The "multitude" helps us to better situate a working-class scholar in a bourgeois institution. To them, the working class "is fundamentally a restricted concept based on exclusions": it "refers to all waged laborers and this excludes the various unwaged classes" (106). The concept of "multitude," on the other hand, rests on the claim that "there is no political priority among the forms of labor: all forms of labor are today socially productive, they produce in common, and share too a common potential to resist the domination of capital" (106-7). "Multitude," to Hardt and Negri, is "the name of the poor" (39). It is not just limited to the working class in the traditional Marxist sense. The concept of "multitude," then, applies to the working-class scholar. The common view is that whatever class background academics come from, they become bourgeois once entering academia. In fact, situating themselves in bourgeois-dominated academia heightens the uneasiness of academics coming from working-class backgrounds. They, henceforth, are "strangers in paradise." Above all, some of them can still be considered to remain working class because of the oppressive conditions under which they work. The concept of "multitude," hence, extends the view that working-class scholars discussed in this essay are not only scholars coming from the working class, but also a group of scholars who work in a working-class/oppressive condition in academia. To follow Sartre, the latter are created by academic oppression. [7] Any academics who feel powerless may consider themselves working-class scholars. The way in which C.L. Barney Dews and Carolyn Leste Law position the working-class academics is relevant at this point. In the preface to their edited book, This Fine Place So Far From Home, Law writes,

We felt it was more important for contributors to define themselves than to impose any definition that would only hinder the process of individuals making sense of their lived experience. Our intent was never to pathologize or limit a group of people. Academics in this book ... are working class if they say they are. ... [T]hose who identify with the "working class" for whatever reasons know the sense of displacement this book is about and the complex, ambivalent feelings it represents. [8]

The class to which scholars think that they belong is primarily a matter of power, not income. [9]


[2] My life and academic career predominantly belong to the working class. I agree with Mary Cappello's statement that "[t]o be working class was always to be in a simultaneous state of surround and transparency." [10] In my youth, I did not have a separate bedroom; in the day time, "my" bed acted as a writing desk; at night, serving as a shared property, it went back to its original function. Now, I do not have a separate office. To be working class is to share one's property. When private property is treated as a defining preoccupation of the bourgeoisie, sharing property is the central point for me to read myself as a scholar coming from the working class. [11]

[3] Coming from a Chinese working-class family, my mother can hardly recognize the twenty-six letters in the alphabet, let alone understand the ideological implications of Martha Rosler's Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975). Due to being brought up by her, I have been having difficulty learning English since kindergarten. Now, my English is still criticized by bourgeois colleagues and anonymous peer reviewers, [12] and, above all, my students from a bourgeois background. My situation is, then, worse from the onset when English is the only valuable capital in academia. [13] Chinese academics who cannot write an academic paper fluently in English are often blocked in their professional advancement because they cannot publish in well-acclaimed international journals, the lingua franca of which is English.

[4] Teaching not only constitutes one of our major academic obligations, but also serves as a major testing ground for our thinking. Irigaray puts it:

I was deprived of my post of teaching at the University of Vincennes (France) after the publication of Speculum, and although I kept my post of researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Francaise, I did not have the opportunity to teach my thinking. This represents a personal frustration but also causes harm to thought itself. [14]

Nevertheless, different course loads and teaching assignments vary with the position of the academics. It impairs the lives of the working-class scholars, especially those adjunct and non-tenured teaching colleagues. They are not entitled to concentrate on their research, free of worrying about their livelihood. I am treated as a teaching staff, and hence am not put in an environment favorable for research; my writing is frequently interrupted by teaching on a daily basis (though I believe in the complementary effect of teaching and writing). Writing can only be done during breaks in which I do not need to fulfill any teaching obligations. My situation is similar to that of women trying to write in the early twentieth-century and before, as described by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own. [15] Absence of uninterrupted time for writing creates loosely knitted patchwork-like writing. Consequently, I am often told by peer reviewers that my writing is too fragmented and meandering; it exists as a patchwork. [16] Each time I receive a letter of rejection for publication, I ask myself, "Am I incapable of being a scholar?"

[5] Nevertheless, I never think of giving up the pursuit of scholarship. My "strangeness" at university persistently gives me the momentum to write; through writing, I have been learning to articulate such "strangeness" and to take more responsibility for my life. As, Laurel Johnson Black, a working-class academic, writes at the beginning of her autobiographical essay, "Stupid Rich Bastards,"

This is not an essay. This is my story. My life is not an essay. We don't live essays or tell them to each other on the front steps on hot nights with beer or iced coffee and pretzels or pass them on to our children or dream them. [17]

To her, a working-class life cannot be appropriated as an ingredient of the essay to be published in a well-acclaimed international journal in order to earn a proper position in university. A working-class life is not an academic commodity to be consumed. It is "both a piece of work and a piece of [one's] life." [18] Scholarship is worthwhile as a life pursuit if it joins life and work together.

[6] At this point, I need to express my gratitude for being brought up in a working-class family in Hong Kong. This helps me to appreciate "the art of making do." [19] Such art blurs all kinds of distinction and produced a "restlessly hybrid" [20] environment for me to develop in. It trained me to become a bricoleur, instead of an engineer. Derrida, with reference to Lévi-Strauss, writes in "Structure, Sign, and Play,"

The bricoleur, says Lévi-Strauss, is someone who uses "the means at hand," that is, the instruments he finds at his disposition around him, those which are already there, which had not been especially conceived with an eye to the operation for which they are to be used and to which one tries by trial and error to adapt them, not hesitating to change them whenever it appears necessary, or to try several of them at once, even if their form and their origin are heterogeneous – and so forth. There is therefore a critique of language in the form of bricolage, and it has even been said that bricolage is critical language itself.
If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one's concepts from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur. The engineer, whom Lévi-Strauss opposes to the bricoleur, should be the one to construct the totality of his language, syntax, and lexicon. [21]

Derrida at this point makes me reread my patchwork-like writing. My way of learning literature has been poststructural (deconstructive in particular). I first learnt poststructuralism from this Derrida's essay. My working-class background, my residence in Hong Kong, and poststructuralism illuminate one another.

[7] I have discussed my working class upbringing and remaining in the working class even though I am placed in academia. I am deprived of academic "capital" which allows me to write idiomatic English in an academically "acclaimed" format. Marx and Engels help to illuminate this point by arguing the point that "modern bourgeois private property ... is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few." [22] Barthes' response to Raymond Picard's critique in 1966 [23] suggests the importance of pursuing scholarship otherwise. His response inspires me to look for an alternative scholarship which belongs to a working-class scholar. It is important for her/him to write in her/his own language and genre so that her/his life and work can be interwoven together. I am going to give a brief background of Barthes-Picard incident.

[8] Barthes wrote Sur Racine (On Racine) in 1963. It can be read as a work of French "new criticism." Directly aiming at Sur Racine, Raymond Picard, the Chair of French Literature at the Sorbonne after publishing his La Carrière de Jean Racine in 1956, published a monograph called Nouvelle Critique ou nouvelle imposture (New Criticism or New Fraud?) in 1965. It criticized "new criticism" as a "movement of fraud" ("intellectually empty, verbally sophisticated, morally dangerous") (29). "It's," to Barthes, "an execution" (La Croix) (30 & fn.). It is "a primitive rite of exclusion of a dangerous individual from an archaic community" (30). Barthes in 1966 wrote Critique et vérité (Criticism and Truth) to respond. The orthodox requirements for "critical verisimilitude," "objectivity," "good taste," "clarity" are the product of the ideology of bourgeois-oriented French criticism in Barthes' time. In response to the usual comment, "Why not say things more simply?" (50) Barthes asks, "[I]s old criticism so sure that it too does not have its own gratuitous floweriness?" To him, the language used by them is "clear only to the extent that it is generally accepted" (50).

We know that old criticism cannot write in any other way unless it begins to think in some other way. For to write is already to organize the world, it is already to think (to learn a language is to learn how one thinks in that language). It is thus useless (though critical verisimilitude persists in expecting it) to ask the Other to re-write himself if he has not decided to re-think himself. ... Certainly the problem of the limits of his reception is a very serious one for a writer; but at least he chooses those limits, and if it happens that he accepts narrow limits, it is precisely because to write is not to enter into an easy relationship with an average of all possible readers, it is to enter into a difficult relationship with our own language: a writer has greater obligations towards a way of speaking which is truth for him than towards the critics of the Nation française or Le Monde (50-1).

To learn a bourgeois language implies learning to think in a bourgeois way. Bourgeois language does not belong to working-class scholars. They may agree with what Derrida argues at the beginning of Monolingualism of the Other: "I have but one language—yet that language is not mine." [24] They "must yield to the homo-hegemony of dominate languages. They must learn the language of the masters, of capital and machines; they must lose their idiom in order to survive or live better." [25] Bourgeois-oriented language cannot help to express their thoughts which are, in Appadurai's sense, materially produced in a working-class setting. The working-class upbringing nurtures a peculiar kind of language deviated from "standard" English; their working conditions serve as a breeding ground for their writing genres heterogeneous to the commonly accepted pattern in the bourgeois-oriented academic style. Hence, to Black, working class people also need to give their work different forms than bourgeois academic use. Bourgeois-oriented scholarship is "clear only to the extent that it is generally accepted" in bourgeois-dominated academia. The organization of working-class writing will be criticized as disorganized in bourgeois-accepted format; the working-class language may be treated as ungrammatical in their orthodox "standard." They, like Picard, are reluctant to accept alternative scholarship.

[9] When academia is bourgeois-oriented, working class scholars have to alienate themselves in order to survive in such an academic game. He or she may become an ape-like scholar in the academy, as Kafka discusses in "A Report to the Academy." The "ape" in it found no attraction in imitating human beings. He imitated them because he only needed a way out, and for no other reason. [26] The "ape" in the story is in the Academy giving a report about its former life as an ape. This is, in contrast to Black, only an "essay." Its former ape's life is reduced to an essay; it is narrated not in its language. Or it is impossible to narrate its life without the use of the language belonging to the academy. Then its narrated life is destined to be alienated from its original ape's life. It says :

I could never have achieved what I have done had I been stubbornly set on clinging to my origins, to the remembrances of my youth. In face, to give up being stubborn was the supreme commandment I laid upon myself; free ape as I was, I submitted myself to that yoke. In revenge, however, my memory of the past has closed the door against me more and more. I could have returned at first, had human beings allowed it, through an archway as wide as the span of heaven over the earth, but as I spurred myself on in my forced career, the opening narrowed and shrank behind me; I felt more comfortable in the world of men and fitted it better... To put it plainly, much as I like expressing myself in images, to put it plainly: your life as apes, gentlemen, insofar as something of that kind lies behind you, cannot be farther removed from you than mine is from me. (250)

Its author, Kafka, writes in a language which does not belong to him. The "ape" does not really worry about whether it is a stranger in the Academy/paradise. He is only performing his job by giving a report there. He declares: "In any case, I am not appealing for any man's verdict, I am only imparting knowledge, I am only making a report." (259)

[10] I refrain from being an ape-like scholar in the academy/cage. Feeling estranged in the paradise alerts me of my working-class background and working environment. Following Barthes, "to learn a language is to learn how one thinks in that language." If I am unwilling to "re-think," to give myself up to a bourgeois setting, do I need to "re-write" in a bourgeois way? What is said by Derrida, an Algerian Jew in French academia, is illuminating to working-class scholars:

One entered French literature only by losing one's accent. I think I have not lost my accent; not everything in my "French Algerian" accent is lost. Its intonation is more apparent in certain "pragmatic" situations (anger or exclamation in familial or familiar surroundings, more often in private than in public, which is a quite reliable criterion for the experience of this strange and precarious distinction). [27]

"I am here defending the right to language..." (52). "How can I live my language as a simple attribute of my person?" (52). "The prohibition which you cast upon other forms of language [knowledge] is simply a way of excluding yourselves from literature [scholarship]..." (52). Insistence on one's language in the pursuit of scholarship, to me, is not to exclude work from life.

[11] What Barthes identifies as the "what-goes-without-saying" [28] way of writing an academic paper should be demystified. There should always exist possibilities of knowledge which cannot be disciplinized, institutionalized, academocratized or bourgeoisified. Barthes teaches me the value of scholarship in Marx's sense: scholarship should not be pursued only for interpreting the world; the point is to change it." [29] I should not be the only stranger in the paradise. Other colleagues from their respective working-class backgrounds may feel strangeness in their own ways. I believe that we are all seeking for alternative academia which welcome differences and absolute otherness. I also believe that cultural studies, as a working-class discipline, can take up the Marxist obligation to change the academic environment by offering scholarship otherwise. To me, it is a discipline which repudiates totalization or universalization of knowledge. What Joanna Zylinska writes in "An Ethical Manifesto for Cultural Studies ... Perhaps" is illuminating:

Cultural studies has a duty not only towards the marginal and the dispossessed—towards its "others"—but also towards itself, its own projects, responsibilities and boundaries. [30]

Such duty towards itself, to Zylinska, requires "an attitude of unconditional openness which does not consume 'the other' in the name of a cultural studies politics" (182); this enlightens me to investigate the possibility of non-bourgeois pursuit of scholarship. (I will come back to the discussion of cultural studies in a later section)


[12] If working-class scholars in the contemporary university, as discussed, are estranged/alienated from it, neoliberalism further estranges/alienates them. The university driven by neoliberalism, in Bill Reading's sense, exists in ruins. When The University in Ruins was written, Readings commented that Syracuse University was a corporation with "the ambition of being entirely market driven." [31] In his comments on Ohio State's president E. Gordon Gee's comment on the Ohio State University, Readings said,

[T]he university is not just like a corporation; it is a corporation. Students in the University of Excellence are not like customers; they are customers. [32] (22; emphasis original)

What gets taught or researched matters less than what can be "excellently" taught or researched. (13) "Excellence" is measured quantitatively. (23-6) This measurement reflects the spirit of free trade which is seemingly applied in every industry across national borders (38). [33] "Excellence" is seen through difference; in other words, it has "no content" (13), and is "non-referential." (22) It is "a means of relative ranking among the elements of an entirely closed system ... " (27) It is totalitarian, and embodies the idea of "empire" in Hardt and Negri's sense. The idea of university is simplified by the concept of "excellence." An "excellent" university, in Readings' sense, is in ruins, not because it is not well developed, but too developed in a homogeneous way, and leaves other aspects much less developed. It becomes "multi-versity" [34] without the Deleuze and Guattari's conception of "multiplicities." [35] Its survival, then, exists in multiple "lucrative" fragments or ruins. Applied philosophy is not talking about the love of knowledge, but only the use of it by selling its Faustian soul to the capitalist demon in order to survive. The master-disciple relationship is degraded into seller-buyer relationship. Professors are reduced to the producers of "profitable knowledge" which contributes to the operation of knowledge institutions through the Research Assessment Exercise. [36] Should professors, the official title at university, be called scholars or skillful researchers? [37] To Readings, the central figure in a university is the administrator, not the professor. [38] What is important is not scholarship, but accountability which is accountable to accounting. However, should scholarship be assessed in an administrative sense? Why should scholarship not be responsible to itself, but to administration?

[13] Knowledge which cannot "sell" (to students, publishers, and universities) cannot survive. A professor becomes a commodity and a salesperson at the same time [39] in order to be tenured. Scholarship is not pursued on a "self-subsistent" basis, but proletarianized. Just as Paris, a "brothel," in the eyes of Walter Benjamin, became the capital of the nineteenth century, we may see the leading universities of the twenty-first century become "brothels" in order to hold their leadership position. The Faculty of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong was named the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine on January 1, 2006 after securing a HK$ 1 billion donation from the richest man in Hong Kong, Ka-shing Li. [40] His business covers all aspects of the ordinary lives in Hong Kong, including drugs, tele-communication, supermarkets, electrical appliances, real estate and electricity. Should his donation to Hong Kong universities be treated as one of his many global investments? Perhaps Derrida can help to answer this question:

the university from all research institutions that are in the service of economic goals and interests of all sorts, without being granted in principle the independence of the university ... Yes, it gives itself up, it sometimes puts itself up for sale, it risks being simply something to occupy, take over, buy; it risks becoming a branch office of conglomerates and corporations. This is today, in the United States and throughout the world, a major political stake: to what extent does the organization of research and teaching have to be supported, that is, directly and indirectly controlled, let us euphemistically say "sponsored," by commercial and industrial interests? [41]

Corporate funding steals the university's academic freedom and integrity. [42] When more and more polytechnics are "upgraded" to universities, the operation of universities is driven by the polytechnic thinking. An email sent by Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Research) of The University of Hong Kong, Paul Tam, to all alumni on 5 July, 2012 is worth noting. It says:

I am very happy to share with you that HKU has again seen very good results in 4 funding schemes which were announced by the Research Grants Council (RGC) on June 29, 2012. For the 10th year in a row, HKU has secured both the highest number of General Research Fund (GRF) projects (196 projects) and the largest share of approved GRF funding ($151M, on-costs excluded).

Marx, in the critique of commodity fetishism, teaches us that a diamond is valuable; however, it is not rich in itself; in contrast humans are not measured by value; they are rich in themselves. Scholarship, the product of mental labor, is scholarship per se. If the idea of "excellence" becomes the exceptional rule for earning a tenured position within a limited period of time, scholarship without exchange value (research grants and high impact factor) is "useless," regardless of its inherent richness.


[14] Work, as a product of human labor, is the essence of a human being in Marx's sense; scholarly works should liberate authors and their readers. In fact, when a university in ruins operates under the logic of neoliberalism, it is embourgeoised. To Marx, as read by Marshall Berman, one of the bourgeois achievements "has been to liberate the human capacity and drive for development: for permanent change, for perpetual upheaval and renewal in every mode of personal and social life." [43] The irony is that "the bourgeoisie is forced to close itself off from its richest possibilities" (93) by occupying themselves in making money and accumulating capital; in a word, they are possessed by possession. When "publish or perish" becomes academic Darwinism in a "university in ruins," there is a repressive mechanism underlying such a survival game. Bob Samuels writes,

The people who are most likely to recognize the system of inequality profit from repressing their awareness of the system because they are so afraid of their own unconscious guilt. Talking about social justice then alleviates the guilt but does not challenge the systems that generate the inequality in the first place. [44]

Benjamin Franks, hence, is rather pessimistic about the situation. He asks, "Can an institution, which is necessarily elitist due to its very nature and position in society, can it promote, in any meaningful way, a program which tries to destroy the existing, gross inequalities in liberty?" [45] Franks continues to ask,

[I]f the university is a prejudiced and an elitist institution, is it justified to remain in it simply because it provides us with a few more resources? And if we chose to remain is it not an act of cowardice and indicative of a lack of principle?

Near the end of the essay, he admits that

the lecturer cannot be considered a radical. Of course outside the academy, the lecturer can throw petrol bombs in riots, join armed struggles and assassinate dictators. Some lecturers have done some of these—and all these are radical acts—but these actions are separate to their role in the liberal academy.

Knowledge, even when dissenting, is disciplined by the embourgeoised concept of "excellence." Institutionalized academics become "academocrats" who set up "universal" rules to establish what knowledge is appropriate. Barthes's critique of the bourgeois culture is significant:

in a bourgeois culture, there is neither proletarian culture nor proletarian morality, there is no proletarian art; ideologically, all that is not bourgeois is obliged to borrow from the bourgeoisie. Bourgeois ideology can therefore spread over everything and in so doing lose its name without risks: no one here will throw this name of bourgeois back at it. [46]

Thus a bourgeois scholar can be defined as the scholar who "does not want to be named" (138). Bourgeois thinking that dominated in the neoliberal institution becomes "commonsensical" in Barthes' sense. Once knowledge is disciplinized or embourgeoised, it "has largely lost its critical and self-critical edge, associating itself more with daily routine and fixed forms." [47] At this point, we can refer to Kafka's crow.

The crows claim that a single crow can destroy the heavens. That is beyond doubt, but it proves nothing against heaven, for heaven simply means: impossibility of crows. [48]

Abbas discusses the relationship between disciplinarity and dissent with reference to this aphorism:

[A] (dissenting) crow who maintains that a single crow can destroy the (disciplinary) heavens; but this proves nothing against the heavens, which signify simply: the impossibility of crows (289-90).

Such "impossibility of crows" alludes to the impossibility of disciplinized dissent in an embourgeoised "paradise." As Abbas puts it, "Universities are filled with 'heavenly crows' who are part of the [disciplinary] heavens and think about themselves as [dissenting] crows at the same time" (290). Barthes, perhaps, might agree with this point. Having said that, I still claim that university is still a "paradise" for scholarship: it is a place in which I studied literature and critical theory from scholars who teach and research there. The significance of Abbas' reading of Kafka's crow, to me, is that a working-class scholar should always be alert to being driven by "common sense" in embourgoeised academia. It is crucial for us to be "strangers in paradise" in order to be Barthesian mythologists. To borrow Barthes' words, such mythologist's connection with the academic world "is of the order of sarcasm." [49]


[15] It is always an uphill battle to pursue working-class scholarship in an embourgeoised university. Perhaps, we need Socrates to guide us. He is read as a plebeian scholar. He was the son of Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and of Phænarete, a midwife. [50] He, in Apology, said that his poverty proved that he did not ask any fee to educate people. [51] He said, "I have never set up as any man's teacher; but if anyone, young or old, is eager to hear me conversing and carrying out my private mission, I never grudge him the opportunity; nor do I charge a fee for talking to him, and refuse to talk without one ..." (31D-33B). His friend from boyhood, Chaerephon, went to Delphi and asked whether there was anyone wiser than him. The priestess replied that there was no one (19D-21A). To prove the oracle's answer was wrong, Socrates wandered around and interviewed all kinds of people. Finally, he understood the truth was that "real wisdom is the property of God." He said,

[T]his oracle is [God's] way of telling us that human wisdom has little or no value. It seems to me that he is not referring literally to Socrates, but has merely taken my name as an example, as he would say to us "The wisest of you men is he who has realized, like Socrates, that in respect of wisdom he is really worthless."
That is why I still go about seeking and searching in obedience to the divine command, if I think that anyone is wise, whether citizen or stranger; and when I think that any person is not wise, I try to help the cause of God by proving that he is not. This occupation has kept me too busy to do much either in politics or in my own affairs; in fact, my service to God has reduced me to extreme poverty. (21B-22E)

Socrates was charged with corrupting the minds of the young, and of believing in deities of his own creation instead of the gods recognized by the state. In defending himself, he told the jury that he had been appointed by God to "the duty of leading the philosophic life, examining [himself] and others." (27B-28C)

[16] Those who want a secure place in academia have to prove their qualifications for a tenured position whereas Socrates spent his whole life in poverty and proving that he was the not wise enough to be a teacher. He talked to everyone to convey God's message that the more we know, the more ignorant we are. Socrates was always learning, not teaching. Such learning is to learn to live/die, to philosophize. Sophists aimed at producing cleverness and efficiency rather than wisdom and goodness; worse still, they charged fees for their services. [52] Knowledge, to them, was functional. They were too afraid to die, too weak to hear the calling of knowledge, and were ridiculously rich, powerful and institutionalized. They were, to me, proto-academocrats who lacked the courage to profess. As stated in OED, in Middle French and the classical Latin, to profess is

to state openly, to declare, avow, to lay claim to, to make one's business or profession, to practice, to teach, lecture whereas in post-classical Latin, it denotes to affirm or declare one's faith, to make a profession, to take the vows of a religious order.

Derrida says:

It is indeed, in the strong sense of the word, an engagement, a commitment. To profess is to make a pledge [gage] while committing one's responsibility. "To make profession of" is to declare out loud what one is, what one believes, what one wants to be, while asking another to take one's word and believe this declaration. [53] (emphasis original)

"The discourse of profession is always, in one way or another, a free profession of faith; in its pledge of responsibility, it exceeds pure techno-scientific knowledge." (215) A newly appointed professor has to give an inaugural lecture. To me, the professor, in such lecture, states openly his/her receiving the calling from God, and professes/declares his/her service dedication to knowledge without compromise. Socrates received the gift from God. Death for knowledge, to him, might serve to pay off such sacred debt and respond to the sacred calling. Simon Critchley helps us to read Socrates' courage. He says that to learn how to die is to refuse to be a slave, to live with constraints. [54] "The unexamined life," to Socrates, "is not worth living." We need an examined, but not audited, life in order to learn to live a scholarly life. An "excellent" university does not teach us to make scholarly life worth living by dedicating ourselves to knowledge without compromise, but to possess in an audited life. It turns itself into a slave in the corporatization of the university.

[17] Professors coming from a working-class background find themselves in "a fine place which is so far from home." "We do not cease being men and women, for instance, when we become doctors of philosophy. But, most of us do cease being working class when we become professors. (Thus the oxymoronic puzzle in the phrase 'working-class academic.')" [55] Such working class professors are undergoing the process of "a wayward mobility." [56] Laurel Johnson writes in response to her guilty feeling of betraying home, "It's about every child's nightmare of losing her family and the ways in which the [academy] tries to make that nightmare come true, to make it not a nightmare but a dream, a goal." [57] Law writes, "What I learned in teacher training was that I could not explain my own existence. What my mother doesn't know is that I learned, in my education curriculum and less directly in my humanities curriculum, to shift my allegiance, to complain about parents just like mine! To shake my head at students just like me. To undervalue and criticize high school graduates exactly like I was, who were in fact me" (3). She behaves as a bourgeoisie criticizing working-class students who were in fact her past; in return, students become her negative mirror reflecting her repressed past. Her confession evokes in me the responsibility of struggling for working-class scholarship in academia. Working class language cannot be spoken in the bourgeois academy; and there is no working class language to describe the bourgeois academy which the working-class parents can understand. [58] It is, nevertheless, important to be in "the borderline state, the sense of being neither here nor there." [59] Being a wandering scholar, an academic nomad, in the bourgeois academy will be the result.


[18] I read myself as a wandering scholar, brought up in Hong Kong. My working-class background, my residence in Hong Kong, and my training in poststructuralism illuminate one another. I believe that they serve as a breeding ground for my interdisciplinary inclination. I do not know which discipline I belong to, wandering across literature, philosophy, cultural, film studies, and, perhaps, more. Perhaps, I am loosely attached to cultural studies which "hesitates" to take up, "finds faults" in, "deviates" from, and attempts to "change" orthodox scholarship. (In Old Saxon, according to OED, the word "wander" was wandlon which means "to change." This word can be compared with Old English wandian (wonde) which means "to deviate, flinch, hesitate etc."; it is corresponding to Old Norse vanda which means "to make elaborately, make difficulties, find fault." Wandervogel, in OED, refers to a member of the German youth organization founded by H. Hoffmann at the end of the 19th century for the promotion of outdoor activities, especially hiking, and folk culture, as a reaction against the materialistic values of middle-class city life.) Wandering, as nurtured in Stuart Hall's development of cultural studies, to me, should never get "stabilized."

[19] In recalling the development of cultural studies as a discipline, Stuart Hall writes,

For, at the birth of cultural studies, the humanities were relentlessly hostile to its appearance, deeply suspicious of it, and anxious to strangle, as it were, the cuckoo that had appeared in its nest. ... It is for this reason that in Britain cultural studies was not conceptualized as an academic discipline at all.... I myself was working as an extramural teacher, once I left the University of Oxford, in and around London. We thus came from a tradition entirely marginal to the centers of English academic life. ... On the day of our opening, we received letters from members of the English department saying that they couldn't really welcome us; they knew we were there, but they hoped we'd keep out of their way while they got on with the work they had to do. We received another, rather sharper letter from the sociologists saying, in effect, "We have read The Uses of Literacy and we hope you don't think you're doing sociology, because that's not what you're doing at all." [60]

Facing the cruel reception of some orthodox disciplines, cultural studies was situated as a nomad with limited resources in academia. Hall continues,

Increasingly, the books people read in cultural studies were not only salvaged from other people's bookshelves, but were taken from traditions that had had no real presence in English intellectual life. ...[W]e were apprentices to cultural studies trying desperately to keep just one step ahead of them. And so the normal pedagogic relations where the teacher is supposed as the keeper of wisdom and students respond to the question "This is so, is it not?" with that kind of compulsive drive that requires them to say, "Of course, of course," was simply impossible. ... What was the bibliography of a cultural studies thesis? Nobody knew. (16-17)

Though it has become history; and cultural studies has developed into a well-established discipline, I still think that cultural studies in itself should be working class wandering, at least in a metaphorical sense. It trains us to be an academic bricoleur. Hall's sense of poverty may mean lack in some sense; but, to Hardt and Negri, it is more significant to read it as possibility. [61] To them, thinking in terms of poverty has "the healthy effect of questioning traditional class designations and forcing us to investigate with fresh eyes how class composition has changed and look at people's wide range of productive activities inside and outside wage relations" (xi). Then, poverty has "the healthy effect" of exploring alternative ways of scholarship.

[20] Culture belongs to everyone. It is, in Hardt and Negri's sense, "the common": "the common wealth of the material word – the air, the water, the fruits of the soil, and all nature's bounty." [62] The common, to them, also includes knowledge, languages, codes, information, affects (viii). Then, cultural studies should be the common knowledge in which we can all share and participate. The studies of culture are not only bricoleur, but also democratic, definitely not academocratic. Hence, to Hall, "cultural studies is not one thing; it has never been one thing" (11). To Hall,

[i]t was never a question of which disciplines would contribute to the development of this field, but of how one could decenter or destabilize a series of interdisciplinary fields. (15-6)


[21] The notion of the common, to Hardt and Negri, "does not position humanity separate from nature, as either its exploiter or its custodian, but focuses rather on the practices of interaction, care, and cohabitation in a common world, promoting the beneficial and limiting the detrimental forms of the common" (viii). At this point, Irigaray is relevant, though she is in the field of philosophy. She was deprived of her teaching post at the University of Vincennes (France) after the publication of Speculum in which the phallocentric economy is condemned for excluding women. [63] She then obtained a special professorship in Nottingham in 2004, and held an international seminar for people doing their PhD on her work (xi). She says:

I have learned through my own experience that to pursue research in solitude is a difficult task. ... I thus want to provide [people doing PhD on my work] with some comfort and help, not only through my own presence and teaching but also by allowing them to meet other researchers doing their PhD on my work. ... The seminar I hold is not only an opportunity for intellectual research, it is also a place where being with the other(s) plays an important part. ... Being and sharing together with respect to all our differences is not the least of my intentions in organizing the seminar. I consider this aspect as essential as intellectual teaching. My way of thinking does not go without a way of living. ... People who come to the seminar only with the aim of becoming more competent, of accumulating knowledge, of receiving a certificate are not the best candidates, because they do not engage in the meeting with their whole presence and run the risk of both being disappointed and disappointing others. The ones who most benefit from the seminar are those who live it as an experience which concerns their whole being. These people succeed in writing their PhD, and further discover new possibilities and horizons in their own journey (x-xi).

Irigaray's sense of loneliness is understood in a sense that her ex-colleagues could only focus on the Same, but not respect differences. She needs a community for sharing knowledge and love "to escape the solitude of individualism," [64] instead of a global battlefield for "excellence." To follow Irigaray, it is only by "engaging" in an intellectual community with one's "whole presence" and "living it as an experience which concerns one's whole being" can discover "new possibilities and horizons" in the scholarly "journey." What counts most is not simply the publication of a book, but the constant communication in the future. [65] If "publish or perish" is crucial, the case for them is "dialogue or perish." The kind of students who cannot benefit from such community ties may be supervised by professors who are only keen on building up research collaboration. They do not want to share, but compete for grants.

[22] In this highly competitive world of employment, publication, grants and tenure, academics are accustomed more to competition than cooperation. [66] However, knowledge of culture or culture of knowledge should belong to "the common wealth"; and it is the responsibility of a working-class scholar to set up a commonwealth to safeguard it, if we follow Irigaray. The responsibility to this common wealth always lies beyond the tenure-track requirements. This should be the scholarship that is worth pursuing in the commonwealth of working-class scholars.


[1] I am indebted to Bernard Stiegler for the title: What Makes Life Worth Living: On Pharmacology, trans. Daniel Ross (Cambridge: Polity, 2013).

[2] Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey (eds.), Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working Class (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1996).

[3] Karl Marx, Preface to the Enquête Ouvrière 1880; quoted A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, ed. Tom Bottomore et al. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1991), 585.

[4] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, ed. and trans. Frederick Engels (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1908), 25-6.

[5] Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, in Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (London: Penguin, 1975), 336; quoted in Hardt and Negri, Multitude, 22-3.

[6] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin, 2004), 107.

[7] Jean-Paul Sartre claims that anti-Semitism produces the Jew; quoted in Hardt and Negri, Multitude, 104.

[8] C. L. Barney Dews and Carolyn Leste Law (eds.), This Fine Place So Far From Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995), 8.

[9] I am indebted to Michael Zweig, The Working Class Majority.

[10] Mary Cappello, "Useful Knowledge," in This Fine Place So Far From Home, 128.

[11] "The class of big capitalists," to Engels, "who, in all civilized countries, are already in almost exclusive possession of all the means of subsistance and of the instruments (machines, factories) and materials necessary for the production of the means of subsistence. This is the bourgeois class, or the bourgeoisie." "The class of the wholly propertyless, who are obliged to sell their labor to the bourgeoisie in order to get, in exchange, the means of subsistence for their support. This is called the class of proletarians, or the proletariat." See Friedrich Engels, The Principles of Communism (1847), «https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/11/prin-com.htm#intro», accessed 24 September 2014.

[12] The following is a comment made by one of my peer reviewers: "To begin with, this essay is rather poorly written with many sentences that would need to be reworked to be syntactically correct. There are numerous instances of such ungrammatical sentences." My writing often gives peer reviewers an impression that I struggle with the English language; and they often suggest that I should find a native English speaker to help me sharpen my arguments and eliminate the problems of grammar. At this point, I would like to express my gratitude to Clifton Evers, Jeremy Walenn, and Sara Walenn for reading the draft of this paper.

[13] See John Flowerdew, "Writing for Scholarly Publication in English: The Case of Hong Kong," Journal of Second Language Writing 8(2) (1999): 123-45.

[14] Irigaray writes, "" Luce Irigaray, "Introduction," Luce Irigaray: Teaching, ed. Luce Irigaray and Mary Green (London; New York : Continuum, 2008), xi–x.

[15] Woolf says, " If a woman wrote, she would have to write in the common sitting-room. And, as Miss Nightingale was so vehemently to complain,—'women never have an half hour ... that they can call their own'—she was always interrupted. Still it would be easier to write prose and fiction there than to write poetry or a play. Less concentration is required." See Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (London: Flamingo, 1994), 73.

[16] The following is one peer review report on one of my papers: "It is sprawling and rather all over the place. It doesn't seem to have real thesis; the abstract is utterly unclear. It quotes massive amounts of text and sort of puts together lots of names and books ... without making any clear point. It lacks fluency throughout and is stylistically, as well as conceptually, meandering. Essayistic perhaps, but slack. In fact, a piece ... wouldn't exactly be appropriate for an academic journal like ours ..."

[17] Laurel Johnson Black, "Stupid Rich Bastards," in C. L. Barney Dews and Carolyn Leste Law (eds.), This Fine Place So Far From Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995), 14.

[18] Michael Schwalbe, "The Work of Professing (A Letter to Home)," This Fine Place So Far From Home, 331.

[19] On the photographic representation of "the art of making do" in Hong Kong, see Michael Wolf, Hong Kong: Front Door/Back Door (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2005). Chen Guanzhong in The Hongkongers in My Generation (in Chinese) tells us of an incident in which a Hollywood film designer hired a Hong Kong film prop maker to make a table for a scene. Each day he asked him if he had finished it. He got the same reply from the prop maker that the table would be ready during the actual shooting. It was really made on the shooting day; however, the table only had the front part because the rear part cannot be seen in the film; and, it could not be touched; otherwise, it would fall apart. To Chen, the production of this table manifests the Hongkong-styled efficiency and shrewdness. The prop maker embodies, in Chen's term, the spirit of "can do" nurtured in Hong Kong. See Chen Guanzhong, The Hongkongers in My Generation (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 2006), 8 (translation is mine). The art of making do which is equivalent to the Cantonese slang, "執生" which literally means "to pick up what is alive."

[20] I am indebted to Nikos Papastergiadis, "Restless Hybrids," Third Text Volume 9, Issue 32 (1995): 9-18. On Hong Kong's hybridity, see Leo Ou-fan Lee, City Between Worlds: My Hong Kong (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008).

[21] Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign, and Play," in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge, 1997), 285.

[22] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), 96.

[23] For the background of Barthes-Picard literary debate which had "important educational, social and political implications" (10) in his time, see Philip Thody, "Foreword," to Roland Barthes, Criticism and Truth, ed. and trans. Katrine Pilcher Keuneman (London: Athlone Press, 1987), 7-13; and Keuneman, "Preface" to English-Language Edition of Criticism and Truth, 15-25.

[24] Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, trans. Patrick Mensah (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998).

[25] Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, 30. He continues, "The monolingualism imposed by the other operates by relying upon that foundation, here, through a sovereignty whose essence is always colonial, which tends, repressively and irrepressibly, to reduce language to the One, that is, to the hegemony of the homogeneous." (39-40)

[26] Franz Kafka, "A Report to an Academy," The Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (London: Vintage, 1999), 257.

[27] Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, 45.

[28] See Roland Barthes, "Preface," Mythologies, 11-12.

[29] Marx writes, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." See Karl Marx, "Concerning Feuerbach," Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone & Gregor Benton (London: Penguin and New Left Review, 1992), 423.

[30] Joanna Zylinska, "An Ethical Manifesto for Cultural Studies ... Perhaps," Strategies 14.2 (2001): 183.

[31] This notion, to Readings, is what "the administration called 'The Pursuit of Excellence.'" See Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 10.

[32] Peggy Kamuf says in a similar way, 'The university simply is a business, selling a product, to a customer, etc...' See Peggy Kamuf, "Counting Madness," Oxford Literary Review 28 (July 2006): 70.

[33] On this, Readings quotes an example in which the British government allowed the polytechnics to rename themselves as universities once certain criteria for excellence were fulfilled. Brookes University, formerly Oxford Polytechnic, is the case. (38) To him, "the only criterion of excellence is performativity in an expanded market. ... The decision was not primarily motivated by concern for the content of what is taught in the universities or polytechnics." (38)

[34] It is a term used by Clark Kerr in The Uses of the University. The original idea came from his 1963 Godkin Lectures, delivered at Harvard on April 23, 24, and 25, 1963. In the 1963 Preface, he writes, "The basic reality, for the university, is the widespread recognition that new knowledge is the most important factor in economic and social growth." See Clark Kerr, The Use of the University (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press, 2001), xi–xii. The global tendency of multi-versity shows the domination of the American system over the global university institutions. On the critique of American intellectual imperialism, see Oxford Literary Review 28.1. "The Future of Humanities – U.S. Domination and Other Issues" (July 2006).

[35] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 26-38.

[36] It was replaced by Research Excellence Framework in UK higher education institutions in 2014. See «http://www.ref.ac.uk». Accessed 13 June 2012.

[37] Martin McQuillan says, "Research, as a concept, calls for management. In this sense, research is distinct from thinking, theorizing, philosophizing, historising, argufying, polemicising, reading, writing, publishing and so on, which are all the activities of the thinker as scholar. Rather, research is a 'product' or 'result' which can be audited, weighed and valued." See Martin McQuillan, "What we are rather blithely called here the United States ...," Oxford Literary Review 28.1 (July 2006): 98.

[38] Readings, 3. "The ... publication by UNESCO of Alfonso Borrero Cabel's The University as an Institution Today provides a good example of the terms in which [the] move towards the status of a bureaucratic corporation may occur. Borrero Cabal focuses upon the administratori rather than the professor as the central figure of the University, and figures the University's tasks in terms of a generalized logic of 'accountability' in which the University must pursue 'excellence' in all aspects of its functioning." (3)

[39] I am indebted to Benjamin who says that the whore is seller and commodity in one. See Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire, trans. Harry Zohn (London; New York: Verso, 1997), 171.

[40] "Donation from Li Ka Shing Foundation to HKU," The University of Hong Kong Medical Faculty News 10, 2 (2005): 9. «http://www.med.hku.hk/images/document/06reso/reso_newsletter/v10i2.pdf». Accessed 10 July, 2012.

[41] Jacques Derrida, "The University Without Condition," Without Alibi, ed. & trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2002), 206.

[42] See Hillis Miller, "Literary Study in the Transnational University," in J. Hillis Miller and Manuel Asensi, Black Holes/J. Hillis Miller; Or, Boustrophedonic Reading/Manuel Asensi (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 47 & 49.

[43] Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (New York: Penguin, 1988), 94.

[44] Bob Samuels, "Neoliberalism and Higher Ed," Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society (2014), 47-51, 19.

[45] Benjamin Franks, "Farewell to The Bourgeois University: A Few Thoughts on the Covert Authoritarianism of Liberal Institutions." «http://libcom.org/library/farewell-to-the-bourgeois-university-by-b-franks». Accessed 23 March, 2014.

[46] Roland Barthes, "Myth Today," Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999), 139.

[47] Ackbar Abbas, "Cultural Studies in a Postculture," in Disciplinarity and Dissent in Cultural Studies, eds. Cary Nelson and Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar (New York; London: Routledge, 1996), 289.

[48] Franz Kafka, The Zürau Aphorisms, trans. Michael Hofmann (London: Random House, 2006), 138.

[49] Barthes writes, "The mythologist is condemned to live in a theoretical sociality; for him, to be in society is, at best, to be truthful: his utmost sociality dwells in his utmost morality. His connection with the world is of the order of sarcasm." See Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill & Wang, 1999), 157.

[50] This biographical information comes from Diogenes Laertius who based it upon archival documents preserved in the Metroön temple in Athens. See Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, vol. I, trans. R.D. Hicks (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 1972), 175. Hegel borrowed these remaining biographical notes in Lectures on the History of Philosophy. See George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy: Greek Philosophy to Plato, trans. E.S. Haldane (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), vol. 1, 389, 448.

[51] Plato, The Last Days of Socrates, trans. Hugh Tredennick (London: Penguin, 1969), 30A-31C.

[52] Hugh Tredennick, "Introduction," to Plato, The Last Days of Socrates, 7.

[53] Derrida, "The University Without Condition," Without Alibi, ed. & trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2002), 214.

[54] See the interview with Simon Critchley in Examined Life, directed by Astra Taylor (2008; New York: Zeitgeist Films, 2010), DVD.

[55] Law, This Fine Place So Far From Home, 6.

[56] This is the name of the last section of Dews and Law's edited book, This Fine Place So Far From Home.

[57] Laurel Johnson Black, "Stupid Rich Bastards," 14.

[58] Laws writes for her edited book with Dews that "many working-class academics begin as working-class readers and suffer for it in both worlds—feeling conspicuous for reading at home, feeling shamed at school for reading the 'wrong' things." (6)

[59] Mary Cappello, "Useful Knowledge," This Fine Place So Far From Home, 130.

[60] Stuart Hall, 'The Emergence of Cultural Studies and the Crisis of the Humanities', October, Vol. 53, (Summer, 1990), 12-3.

[61] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2009), xi.

[62] Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, viii.

[63] Luce Irigaray, "Introduction," Luce Irigaray: Teaching, ed. Luce Irigaray and Mary Green (London; New York : Continuum, 2008), xi–x. "Irigaray's second Doctoral thesis, 'Speculum of the Other Woman,' was closely followed by the cessation of her employment at the University of Vincennes. This damage to her career was cruelly ironic—the phallocentric economy she condemned for excluding women swiftly silenced her. This illustrated her main point—the machinery of phallocentrism can't accept sexual difference and the existence of a different female subjectivity." See Bridget Holland, "Luce Irigaray: A Biography," Centre for Digital Discourse and Culture, «http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/irigaray.html». Accessed 10 February, 2012.

[64] See Hart and Negri, Commonwealth, xii. To Hardt and Negri, the multitude is "a set of singularities that poverty and love compose in the reproduction of the common" (xii -xiii).

[65] In this sense, we should not treat Luce Irigaray: Teaching as a book with an independent existence. Irigaray says, "My intention, while working on this book, was to maintain [the] relationships even though, for various reasons, the participants could not all have a part in the volume. Whoever will glance through the book will understand another of my aims in organizing the seminar. Participants come from different regions of the world, they belong to different cultures, traditions and fields of research" (x). After the seminar, Irigaray says in the introduction of the book, "Many of them remain in contact and continue to communicate somehow or other. My intention, while working on this book, was to maintain such relationships even though, for various reasons, the participants could not all have a part in the volume" (x).

[66] Bob Samuels, "Neoliberalism and High Ed," Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 19, 1 (2014): 50.