Publicly given speeches are often perceived with too much focus on their literal content. Yet, the functioning of public speech appears to be a lot more complicated to analyze, especially when the speaking subject holds the position of a certain qualification. The following text should be viewed as an attempt to reprioritize the instances of speech this subject produces.
The paper was developed during the “Ideologies on the Move” course at the Invisible University for Ukraine, guided by Tetiana Zemliakova (EUI Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow), and prepared for publication in collaboration with Kateryna Lysenko (University of Leipzig). The research was supported by the Open Society University Network (OSUN) and the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD).
Defining knowledge in terms of its relation to power and the suspicious tone of articulating such a definition have already become well-known, traditional elements of European academic culture. The conditions of the university critique in today’s global academia, after more than a half-century of its fruitful existence, perfectly coincide with Jacques Derrida’s claim in Writing and Difference, where he describes any attempt of revealing an underrepresented type of discursivity in order to let it speak for itself as leading to a fundamental misrepresentation, namely to its incorporation in the dominant discourses of its corresponding fields. This incorporation, according to Derrida, presupposes depriving the discourse of all the defining characteristics of such an underrepresented phenomenon. Certainly, we can say that the critique of the university has become a completely integral part of the university Discourse, as long as we do not ask whether it ever was not so, as almost all the prominent figures of the tradition were university professors. By making this claim, we admit that this critique of the university has formally experienced the discontinuity that was its initial subject of study. This discontinuity between the researcher’s statement and the system of other statements within which the new statement must be registered and evaluated arises from the place a researcher occupies—their position. This matter of the researcher’s position in connection with the utterances that they produce draws our special attention, as it creates conditions for the revision of the whole subject by restructuring the interconnection of definitions given to describe it.
The diagnosis of “Americanization,” given to the university by Bill Readings, the latest of its significant critics, meaning “the generalized imposition of the rule of the cash-nexus in place of the notion of national identity as a determinant of all aspects of investment in social life,”1 may serve as a proper way to sum up the modern way of approaching the issue of the university crisis. Indeed, the modern university has successfully inherited the corporative type of organization and made the idea of excellence and effective management its driving force. However, its current condition barely leaves the ground for calling it outstanding compared to previous epochs in the history of university knowledge production, in which the structure of discourse, according to Foucault, was organized in another way, but the repression always retained its dispersed nature.
A description of the corporative organization’s repressive element in Western academia as the conceptual “end” of the university hardly makes it more penetrable. For the purposes of our research, we would prefer to focus on the phenomena of the researcher and the speech produced by them as two main categories of our analysis in terms of their relevance to the subject and the origins of definitions given to them.
For the purposes of the argument’s consistency, we begin with a brief revision of the latest advancements in the field of academia critique, especially ones related to the researcher’s position. The structuralism movement in the social sciences seems the most productive, as the majority of prominent figures studying academia from a critical perspective were raised precisely in this tradition. The wide range of concepts produced by Foucault, Bourdieu, Lacan, and many of their followers studied the relationship between knowledge and power. They suggested an analytical perspective, which presupposed a certain “tone” of declaring apocalyptic conclusions. If we were to attempt reconstructing the structuralist approach to the critique of academia, we would obviously conclude with a formula that states the logical impossibility of the researcher’s position. This formula arises from the idea of the structuralist approach to the “position” (a unit itself more valuable and substantial than the person who occupies it) combined with the idea of a researcher as an individual called up to produce new knowledge (whether in Humboldtian or in the “Americanized” university, this prescription remains the same). In particular, our reading of this impossibility borrows from Bourdieu’s idea of the “amnesia of origin” in the structure of the scientific disciplines, which presupposes arbitrariness to be the core principle of formalizing any scientific discipline in any certain way.2
Our proposal for reconsideration hardly aims to deny this formula. Rather, we would like to suggest changing the function of the formula from being an apocalyptic conclusion to becoming the starting point of further research on the subject, with no preliminary evaluation of the formula itself. The main, and almost inevitable threat to studying a researcher’s position in academia, is being locked on the level of the critique of ideology, which is only able to provide us with conclusions useful in associated fields of study, but not in studying the subject itself. Thus, in our alternative approach to the subject, we put aside the descriptive models of knowledge-power correlation to demonstrate a different explanation of the researcher’s position.
As mentioned above, two categories are essential for the following analysis—the researcher’s position and the speech that the researcher produces while occupying it. We use “the researcher’s position” in the structuralist meaning as a unit in the system of differentiations, where the position itself is the definitive instance, while the individual occupying the position is an observer. The speech of the researcher (spoken aloud or written down) is an utterance that has two instances—the actual content of the utterance and the act of speech itself, which is called enunciation. We use the term enunciation in its reinvention by Jacques Lacan. The closest correspondence in linguistics, though not close enough to fully replace it, is the speech act, developed by John Austin.
The clear distinction between these two terms will noticeably ease operating with the former. Hence, first we have to define the basic one—the speech act. Austin invents and develops speech act as a term for describing such utterances, which do not state, but rather execute something—utterances by which something is being done, rather than said. He exemplifies his claim with bets, promises, oaths, ceremonial and ritual utterances, insisting on formulating a specific category for such utterances that he calls performatives.
The idea of Lacanian enunciation, despite its conceptual kinship with speech act, does not seem very similar. For Lacan, the study on the issue is not systematic (or systematic in a very special way) and the literal definition is never to be given. Yet, it is still possible to define the term through the Lacanian conceptual vocabulary, namely his topological explications. According to Lacan, speech can be described as a topological figure. In a way, it has two contradicting signifiers located in two different instances—the instance of utterance and the instance of enunciation. Hence, producing speech (academic as well) equals having neither inward nor outward dimensions, at the same time being presented both inward and outward, just like the Möbius strip or Klein bottle, the topological figures Lacan uses as illustrations for his concepts. In other words, producing speech is splitting it into two instances, which are unable to be presented simultaneously, yet they are.
This particular definition of speech arises from the Lacanian understanding of what he believes to be the subject formation, precisely from the idea of the split subject. Here, the notion of the subject may be broadened to the subject of speech. The latter notion, also used by Lacan, meets the needs of our analysis more accurately, as a perfectly corresponding descriptive model of the researcher in academia. Enunciation is the instance of speech that the subject produces without being aware of it. With a certain degree of simplification, it can be described in psychoanalytical terms as a part of the speech produced by unconsciousness. From the perspective of our aim, it would be more accurate to describe enunciation as a partial articulation that leaves no direct signals for finding out what exactly is being articulated.
If we were to take the instance of enunciation in the form of its terminological development to “look awry” on the issue of the researcher’s position in modern academia, understood as a need for a certain statement to be evaluated, registered, and incorporated by the prior system of statements before being actually uttered, we would likely be able to communicate certain intensification of the field, comparing to the knowledge-and-power vision angle discussed above. The public speech that the researcher produces by occupying the researcher’s position is then proposed to be considered split between two different instances of public speech as such: an instance of utterance and an instance of enunciation. The nature of this split becomes clear if we specify the meaning of public speech production as the production of signifiers. The signifier that a researcher produces by their public speech (spoken aloud or written down) appears simultaneously in two instances of speech, duplicating the signifier, creating an inevitable contradiction that, however, remains successfully omitted in most cases.
This contradiction can be illustrated most effectively by the common practice of giving a lecture or a report at an academic conference dedicated to, for example, topics of scientific impartiality, ethical principles in modern society, or manipulations in mass media. All share one common characteristic that can be described as an expression of certain concern (both inward and outward). This expression implicates two different signifiers in two contradictory instances: when speeches of this kind are dedicated to threats of manipulation, we clearly see that the very term “manipulation” simultaneously reflects the situation taking place. The vast majority of academic syllabuses dedicated to humanities and social science may serve as the written analogue of this example: when we open a syllabus dedicated, for example, to political science and look through the list of titles, we clearly see how the concepts and mechanisms that these books are supposed to analyze have already done their job on them. The reason for giving such an intuitively expressed example is far from arbitrariness: the nature of the analyzed phenomenon stops us at some point in our way of strict explanation, as the framework of our writing is itself involved in the subject. The strict illustration for such a phenomenon is still the Möbius strip: the topological figures used by Lacan as illustrations for subject formation may be used to illustrate Lacanian notions of enunciation as well, as long as the subject and the speaking subject are semantically equal terms in the text of Lacan.
Given that, we would like to state the following: enunciation, the instance of a statement exemplified above, is the instrument of differentiation for the researcher’s position in the structure of the academic discourse. It does not correspond to any possible reinvention of terms used for criticizing the ideological influence of the university or its repressive functions, as we see the primary goal of the given model to be relocating the conditions of the whole discussion on the subject to the different terminological grounds.
Thus, the split of the researcher’s public speech into utterance and enunciation finds its origins in the duplication of the signifier that the researcher produces. This model of representation brings us back to the structuralist definition of position as a supreme unit to which the holder of the position is subordinated. When assessed from the proposed perspective of the duplication of the signifier, the speech of the researcher, their research, both written and spoken aloud, gives us reasons to consider the researcher’s position to be inscribed in the discourse of academia in a new way. Along with being duplicated in instances of speech, the signifier that the researcher produces is also inscribing them in a discourse twice—for both of their instances of speech there is a separate unit in the structure of discourse (if we accept the structuralist claim, according to which it is a signifier that introduces subject to another signifier in discourse).
As the arrangement of a concept predetermines its potential critique, the critique of the university as an intellectual movement was preliminarily shaped by the discursive formation of the university knowledge that was taking place during the emergence of this critical tradition. With the theoretical legacy of the critique of the university left by structuralists, the most fruitful direction for the development of this analytical practice is the formalization of the given set of analytical approaches in a theoretical framework of a separate study.
The sum of this short article may be expressed as a proposal for reconsidering the starting point for critical analysis of the modern academy to a certain type of commonly agreed-on way of abstraction, which would preserve the original conceptual depth of structuralist epistemology but would save itself from limitations of the “apocalyptic tone” for further development of the studies on the subject. The starting point is expressed in the claim that the researcher’s position is being inscribed in the academic discourse twice by the signifier that functions in two instances of the researcher’s speech: the instance of utterance and the instance of enunciation.
- Austin, John. How to do Things with Words, London, Oxford University Press, 1962.
- Bourdieu, Pierre. “Esprits D’Etat. Genese et Structure du Champ Bureaucratique,” Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, № 96–97(1993): 49–62.
- Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference, London, Routledge Classics, 2001.
- Lacan, Jacques. The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, New York, Norton & Company, 2007.
- Readings, Bill. The University in Ruins, London, Harvard University Press, 1999.
- Östling, Johan. Humboldt and the modern German university, Lund, Lund University Press, 2018.
- Zizek, Slavoj. Looking Awry. An introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture, London, The MIT Press, 1991.
- Bill Readings, The University in Ruins
- Pierre Bourdieu, Esprits D’Etat. Genèse et Structure du Champ Bureaucratique