Today we can hardly avoid noting the current QAA crisis, or suggesting that in what is happening intra-sector feuds are being vicariously acted out. Which may mean - counter-intuitively - that whatever emerges from the current consultation will not be good news for the Colleges and ex-Polys. At all events, the momentary suspension of Subject Review does not of course mean the 'audit culture' has gone away, or lessen the need for today's discussion.
This paper arises from thinking about, researching (and in some sense living) the history of English Studies in Britain in the twentieth century and on into the twenty-first. I guess many of us here are having to re-assess where we have been and what we have sought to stand for. Preparation sent me back to, among others, F.R. Leavis, as may at moments be apparent. As well as teasing out some oppositions I also want to speculate about some affinities: to speak of moments when I have wondered whether the domain of audit wasn't in some curious way the sinister other of the literary critical enterprise, both of them generating meta-languages and classification systems for placing and evaluating others' texts and practices, both making claims to over-arching authority, two aspiring clerisies engaged upon 'scrutiny'. (Remember the early Scrutiny articles ... 'Scrutiny of examinations', 'Will the training colleges bear scrutiny?'. The latter begins: 'The defects of the Training Colleges are so obvious to those ... who have passed through them that is it hard to realise they are not equally obvious to Training College officials, the upper ranks of the educational hierarchy, or the world at large ....' 1:3, 247)
My title is meant to signal an inner to outer shift . 'English' (as a constellation of related subjects) embeds epistemologies that differ profoundly from those embedded in theories underpinning audit culture: a residual versus an emergent hegemony. The academic formation 'English' in incarnations all the way from New Criticism to New Historicism has exhibited a profound doubt about measurement and quantification. We have insisted that the deeply interfused cognitive, affective and linguistic processes with which we deal are too complex, too ambivalent and multi-layered to be measured. Faced with the 'terrible simplifiers', we are apt to mutter 'bring out number, weight & measure in a year of dearth'. One of my themes is that English as it emerged in Britain and North America from c1930 had a particular commitment to depth and interiority, qualities that were then mediated to the social domain through the activities of the 'armed and conscious minority', those who had reflected so deeply upon the inner world that they could promote value in the outer. The English School, summarised Leavis, 'trains, in a way no other discipline can, intelligence and sensibility together, cultivating a sensitiveness and precision of response and a delicate integrity of intelligence ....' (Education and the University, p. 34) By contrast, the audit culture is erected upon a foundation of an outer-directed epistemology of performance and outcomes. The audit terms of 'transparency' and 'explicitness' are themselves grounded in a model of visibility: 'transparency', and in verb and noun forms, the recurrent 'demonstrate', 'evidence'. The paradigmatic subject of audit is all outside, all surface.
At this point my original version of this article called for a lightning tour of the language of audit. I was going to plumb the QAA dialect for nominalisation, modifiers, syntactic structure, abstract lexis. Metaphors, too, would have been a happy hunting ground. We could all, I imagine, have no end of a time with 'value added', with the new-found enthusiasm for 'drilling down', or reference to the resources consumed by students who withdraw.
One almost automatic response, then, is an approach with its roots in the Arnoldian / Leavisite dichotomy between machinery (external) and 'felt life': to challenge the banality, the lifeless abstraction of the language. But such a response is not adequate. To a fastidious sense for language, the stuff is almost too easy a target. And the very strategy poses a dualistic universe in which the rich language of plenitude, ambivalence, multi-layeredness, confronts the technologico-Benthamite language of calculus. After Derrida can we any longer live with such a simple dualism? I'd like to take another tack, and since we are talking about a discourse, ask about the addressee: who is interpellated by this discourse? I shall briefly survey two candidates, a) stakeholders and b) the academic community.
Inasmuch as the discourse is addressed to the stakeholder, the addressee is the educational consumer. Audit which sustains league tables is increasingly the channel between supply and demand, between academic community and the consumers of its products (another aspect of the shift away from an academic command economy). The stakeholder (student, parent, employer) who is the model addressee fulfils a role fortified by an essentially economic psychology. The social and cultural revolution through which we have been living rests upon an updated form of the possessive individualism of the fathers of liberalism. Homo economicus, beloved of nineteenth-century political economists, has experienced a startling revival in recent years. He (or she) has a number of characteristics which enable him or her to flourish in education. The animal knows exactly what it wants. Its mind appears to have no shadows, no uncertainties, no ambivalence. Its identity is purged of inconsistencies or contradictory elements. If it dreams at all, it dreams of future success. It defines its own aims, works out rationally how to pursue them, selects deftly from the well-packaged goods available to help it achieve those aims, advancing swiftly and painlessly from one goal to the next. If things go wrong these are bugs in the system which do not cast doubt on the underlying aim. Perhaps it is rather spoilsport to observe that this apparently neurosis-free being appears to have shifted developmentally backwards as it were from an anal to an oral fixation, from retention to perpetual gratification. Or to note that the modality of power in the new order has simultaneously changed from repression to seduction. Homo economicus is in fact getting on for all the world as though the critique of possessive individualism enunciated by Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Freud, or feminism had never happened.
But the discourse is also addressed to the academic community which is coerced in best panopticon fashion into internalising the discourse ('self regulation'). We belong to a caste which has fallen under suspicion. Nicholas Garnham argues that:
Central to the ideological foundations of the political project of the new Thatcherite right ... was a narrative of national decline in which intellectuals were cast in a key role. (Emancipation, the Media and Modernity, p. 99)
In following through this clash of ideologies and epistemologies I need to touch briefly on the skills revolution - because audit is underpinned by a skills model of visibility and performance, as the ubiquitous taxonomy of 'outcomes' insists. (Not that our disciplinary claim to be able to penetrate beyond the 'outward and visible sign' was ever entirely secure.)
At the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s a major shift in educational ideologies took place both in this country and in the USA. Over here, this was the moment of the Baker Education Reform Act, the National Curriculum, and of the rapid spread of the NVQ through the FE system. With the NVQ (as also in the USA under the influence of various Carnegie-sponsored research projects) came a new emphasis on skills, 'competencies' and outcomes. At the time - and despite the emergence in 1989 of the Enterprise in HE initiative - this was perceived as having little direct bearing on University curricula. In retrospect, however, the arrival of modularisation and CATS coincided all too neatly with the moment when the Major government stumbled into carrying out a piece of old Labour ambition in dissolving the binary line. As Aldred and Ryle point out, 'redefinitions of education [far from being simple technical solutions to known problems] are contestable statements about desirable social futures' (pp. 44-5).
The old humanist intelligentsia (increasingly and indicatively known to the press as the chattering classes) could not in this emergent view of the world be trusted with the nation's youth: it must be made subject to surveillance, while business-style management of universities was introduced, and research linked directly to wealth-creation. In this context, transferable skills were, as Ronald Barnett has remarked, 'a means of disenfranchising discipline-based academics of their expertise' (1994, p. 93). The university was to be more overtly driven by society and an economy where the way forward, so the diagnosis went, lay through the development of the new 'weightless' knowledge economy, entrepreneurship, flexible re-skilling. As Douglas Noble has remarked 'the supreme irony ... is that [this approach] trots out work as the pivotal source of student motivation and as the principal purpose of education at precisely the time when the nature and availability of work is so much up in the air. Never mind thinking for a living; the people I know will do anything for a living ....' (Giroux and Shannon, p. 211) Simultaneously, we find in parallel across institutions from health to railways the substitution of a culture of contract and accounting (backed by the threat of litigation) for a culture of trust.
Though historically the clerisy has enjoyed periods of insouciance about its own debt to material society, universities and the knowledge they create and transmit have of course always been subject to external sanction, to legitimation from other social institutions and from society at large. But around 1990 this struggle over the location of authority became increasingly overt. Audit was the transferable currency in which value could be counted out, and it provided the kitemark of legitimacy. The story (vigorously recounted by Brian Cox) of the Clark - Patten takeover of NCC and SEAC in re-writing the English Curriculum orders supplies an extreme example of the working out of the assertion that knowledge and the mediation of knowledge ought to be taken out of the hands of the self-interested professionals. (Cox, 1995)
So no account of English and the Audit Culture can ignore the larger context of HE. For a contradiction underlies the work of the free marketeers of the Institute of Economic Affairs and Keith Joseph's Centre for Policy Studies, themselves counter-clerisies (Cockett). Behind the rhetoric of markets and choice, behind the declared aim of rolling back the state, the education system and the universities along with it are required to exercise the discipline, the social control over cultural reproduction, which the market itself has forsworn. Having unleashed hedonism as the social energy of progress, the state is searching for implements of morality and discipline. Economic deregulation finds its mirror image in the regulation of knowledge. The university is engaged upon what we might once have called the imaginary resolution of real contradictions, and literary and cultural studies, which do R&D on things otherwise banished to the realm of either leisure or personal development, may be particularly vulnerable.
English, a subject which has prized interiority at the level of ideas and practices is face to face with a behaviourist model of behaviours and performances. At this point we might reach for our copies of Discipline and Punish. After all if anything lends itself to Foucauldian analysis the development of the agencies and discourses of quality and audit do. But unfortunately this theoretical chariot cuts both ways. As for example Ian Hunter (Culture and Government) or in another vein Nancy Armstrong (Desire and Domestic Fiction) have powerfully pointed out, literature and the institutional practices of literary study are themselves vulnerable to a version of the same critique. Our hands in short are not clean. Literature and 'English' have long been implicated in the penetration of the subject (other sense) for the purposes of social and cultural regulation. If we abandon the Arnoldian machinery / culture dichotomy, we may have to recognise that regulation was in there all the time, that the formation of innerness was part of a larger project - in Britain as in India - of the construction of the modern subject.
And yet I want to question where the logic of that argument goes too. In the closing part of this paper I want to suggest that as teachers, writers and researchers we are not called upon to abdicate. Over the past 25 years 'English' has been the scene of a competition of epistemologies (see Small, 1991). One aspect of this theoretically vigorous period has been the elaboration of a now orthodox narrative of the rise of English (constructed by such writers as Widdowson, Baldick, Doyle, Mulhern, Eagleton), during the course of which practitioners of the subject have articulated many and various self-accusations. While acknowledging the strength of those accusations, I want to finish by hinting at where a future might lie.
To do this means returning to what Bill Readings calls 'the scene of teaching'. I find this nicely summed up in 1987 article by John Bowen:
... to write the history of 'English' not in the idiom of the History of Ideas, the circulation of Great Ideas between Great Minds, but as an institutional practice of teaching, social discipline, and regulation ... a discipline that understands itself as a pedagogy, as future practices ... (Literature and History, 13:1,77)
English needs to pay detailed attention to its pedagogic practices, its habitats, the forms of communication that it invents, validates, and propagates rather than treating itself simply on the level of ideas. To turn to an ecological rather than a patriarchal model of pedagogy.
Where Jonathan Bate sees the poem as a habitat (Song of the Earth) I would want in a complementary way to propose a task which is the creation of habitats (could we reclaim 'learning environment'?), which works with writing and dwelling on writing as an ecology of mind. The 'new' discourses of audit, of externality, the residue of a discredited behaviourism and fundamentalist economics are not all embracing / all encompassing: they too generate their dialectical others. In any case, as I have argued, we have no grounds for consoling ourselves with their trivial status in a hierarchy of discursive value. We should accede to Bill Readings' invitation: 'Dwelling in the ruins of the University thus means giving a serious attention to the present complexity of its space ....' (Readings, 1997, p.129) In contesting, dissenting, re-writing, we have available to us the habitable space of our own classrooms, the inventiveness of texts and students.
Aldred, Nannette and Ryle, Martin (1999), Teaching Culture: The Long Revolution in Cultural Studies (Leicester: NIACE)
Barnett, Ronald (1994), The Limits of Competence: Knowledge, Higher Education and Society (Buckingham: SRHE / Open University Press)
(1997), Higher Education: A Critical Business (Buckingham: SRHE / Open University Press)
Bate, Jonathan (2000), The Song of the Earth (Basingstoke: Macmillan)
Bowen, John (1987) 'Practical Criticism, Critical Practice: I.A. Richards and the Discipline of English', Literature and History, 13:1
Cockett, Richard (1994), Thinking the Unthinkable: Think-Tanks and the Economic Counter-Revolution 1931 - 1983 (London: HarperCollins)
Cox, Brian (1991), Cox on Cox: An English Curriculum for the 1990s (London: Hodder and Stoughton)
(1995), The Battle for the English Curriculum (London: Hodder and Stoughton)
Garnham, Nicholas 2000), Emancipation, the Media and Modernity (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Hunter, Ian (1988), Culture and Government: The Emergence of Literary Education (Basingstoke: Macmillan)
Leavis, F.R. (1943), Education and the University: a Sketch for an 'English School' (London: Chatto and Windus)
Noble, Douglas, 'Let Them Eat Skills' in Giroux, Henry A. and Shannon, Patrick (1997), Education and Cultural Studies: Towards a Performative Practice (New York: Routledge)
Readings, Bill (1996), The University in Ruins (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press)
Scrutiny 1932 - 5
Small, Ian (1991), Conditions for Criticism: Authority, Knowledge, and Literature in the Late Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon)
The paper given by Ben Knights at the event in September was accompanied by a handout of interesting quotations which in themselves constitute a narrative of a kind, and therefore they are included here.
Heresy 5: Pedagogicism ... Over-planning of education, or over-dependence on some theory of learning, to the extent that the provisional and tentative nature of educational theory is lost to sight. (Sinclair Goodlad, The Quest for Quality: Sixteen Forms of Heresy in Higher Education, SRHE / Open University 1995, p. 48)
A higher education organised around skills is no higher education. It is the substitution of technique for insight; of strategic reason for communicative reason; and of behaviour for wisdom. (Ronald Barnett, The Limits of Competence: Knowledge, Higher Education and Society, SRHE / Open University 1994 p. 61)
... in the NCVQ approach we are being offered a particular and debatable view of human being. It is a view in which the relationships between thought and action, between practice and reflection, are not so much crude and ill worked out as virtually absent. It is a view of human being as being operational, as performing, as working as such. A sense of persons as thinking, thoughtful, discriminating individuals is absent from the model. (Barnett, op. cit., p. 76)
The analysis of economic causality has not been one of the great success stories of modern economic history. The techniques which permit a high level of precision in economic analysis do not marry comfortably with attempts to identify what has been going on in the human world, let alone with efforts to assess what is likely to do so in the humanly relevant future. These techniques require idealization, and powerfully ... mathematized abstraction: the thinking away of almost all the clutter of human experience .... What is clear is that the demands of these techniques strongly favour the stipulation of an economy theoretically and practically insulated from any other form of causality. They virtually rule out an analysis of an economy as a field of human interaction massively influenced by a rich variety of types of human preoccupation and purpose (political, cultural, spiritual), which are extremely volatile over time and in no sense constituted by economic categories themselves. (John Dunn, The Cunning of Unreason: Making Sense of Politics, London: HarperCollins 2000, pp. 348-9)
If students recognize and are required in their papers both to address the fact that experts disagree about almost every important issue today and to explore why those disagreements exist, they will not be plunged into relativism. They will discover that disagreements are not arbitrary, subjective, or a result of believing that 'anything goes': experts disagree because they develop arguments in diverse contexts and from divergent underlying assumptions. As a consequence of recognizing the situated - not arbitrary - nature of all positions, students may see that in order to take a certain position themselves ... they must explore (while reading) and explain (while writing) the assumptions underlying their particular stances .... (Kathleen McCormick, The Culture of Reading and the Teaching of English, Manchester University Press 1994, p. 120)
Rather than offering new pious dreams of salvation, a new unifying idea, or a new meaning for the University, I will call for an institutional pragmatism. This pragmatism recognizes that thought begins where we are and does away with alibis .... Such a pragmatism ... requires that we accept that the modern University is a ruined institution. These ruins must not be the object of a romantic nostalgia for a lost wholeness .... Dwelling in the ruins of the University thus means giving a serious attention to the present complexity of its space .... Like the inhabitants of some Italian city, we can seek neither to rebuild the Renaissance city-state nor to destroy its remnants and install rationally planned tower blocks; we can seek only to put its angularities and winding passages to new uses, learning from and enjoying the cognitive dissonances that enclosed piazzas and non-signifying campanile induce. (Bill Readings, The University in Ruins, Harvard University Press 1997, p. 129)
Pedagogy ... has a specific chronotope that is radically alien to the notion of accountable time upon which the excellence of capitalist-bureaucratic management and bookkeeping depend. (ibid. p. 151)