Judith Butler Affären

The independence of the professions

The student representatives call me “willful,” “arrogant” and “irresponsible.” They don’t want me to run my courses in my own fashion. They insist that I should be supervised by a university committee. “We need quality control. This is our right as students.” Some other students disagree. “We’ve taken courses with Erik,” they say. “He’s great. We have complete faith in his judgment.” I’m grateful for the vote of confidence, but both views miss the point. What is at stake here is the independence of the professions. If you belong to a profession there is no one else in society which has more knowledge than you and your peers. This is why we let professions rule themselves. No one except other members of the same profession can tell brain surgeons how to do brain surgery, lawyers how to lawyer, engineers how to engineer. The same thing applies to university teachers. I…

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The most salient cleavage

The Swedish government’s requirement that all courses at the university should have a “gender perspective” is yet another example of the parochialism of Swedish universities. It’s yet another expression of a very Swedish, and very limited, view of the world. By imposing this rule, the government assumes that the distinction between men and women is the most salient cleavage in society. It is only a “gender perspective,” after all, that is given privileged access to all reading lists. The most important division in Swedish society, is the implication, is that between women and men. Other divisions matter less. To understand how limited this view is, consider a similar diktat being imposed on universities in the United States. “What about race?” would be the obvious reply. “Why shouldn’t all courses have a discussion of slavery?” Or genocide against Native Americans, or colonialism, or social class? The US has…

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The parochialism of Swedish universities

One of the things made painfully obvious by the Judith Butler Affair is the parochialism of Swedish universities. Parochialism –“characterized by an unsophisticated focus on local concerns to the exclusion of wider contexts; elementary in scope or outlook” — is a condition that happens to anyone who is convinced that he or she has nothing to learn from others. Judith Butler’s statement in defense of the right of university teachers to teach their own courses in their own fashion was eloquent and forceful, but it was not as such surprising. This is how all academics think, except Swedish ones. It is funny, but also sad, that my colleagues at Lund University were surprised by her words. It is sad, but also worrying, that no one seems to have protested against the quota system for reading lists until I came along. To me Butler’s points were obvious,…

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So what did the students think of my course?

By now we know what they make of my course in Germany, in France, in Norway even, but what did the students who actually took the course think of it? Courses at Lund University are evaluated by students and so was this one. Obviously, given the attention which “Modern Society and Its Critics” has attracted, there are problems interpreting the results. In addition only about half of the students responded (which, however, is normal at Lund U). Still, a certain pattern does emerge: 66.7% of the students gave the course a “Very Good” grade (highest on a five point scale) 86% of the students called the lectures and the seminars “Very Good” or “Excellent” (two highest on a five point scale) All in all the course got a 4.2 point score on a 5 point scale, making it one of the…

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The Judith Butler on the “Judith Butler Affair”: “The method is wrong”

The latest issue of the Swedish magazine Kvartal has an interview with none other than Judith Butler herself. The Judith Butler. Pdf here.  In the interview she comments on the recent “Judith Butler Affair” at Lund University, on the use of gender quotas on reading lists, and discusses the role of academic freedom at a university. I am delighted to find that she agrees with my position on all of these issues. And not just half-heartedly either, but with gusto, with zest and with emphasis. Judith, you are the best! I have promised the author of the article not to publish the whole English version of the interview here. Not surprisingly, he wants to find a more, well, prominent, place for it. But here, at least, are a couple of quotes: How do you regard having your work imposed on a university…

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A question in the Swedish parliament

An MP for Moderaterna, Maria Abrahamsson, is talking about me in parliament. Well, not about me really, but about academic freedom at Swedish universities in general, and at Lund U in particular. She tells the story here. When confronted, the minister responsible said exactly what representatives of my department said in the press: “the quality of a text is more important than the gender of the author,” and “it is all a misunderstanding.” Yet after the debate, Maria Abrahamsson was still puzzled: but Erik’s course was interfered with; he was told what to teach. That’s right Maria, it was not a misunderstanding, and I have the documents to prove it. Too bad for my department and too bad for the minister concerned. This is how the system actually works: the board of the Department of Political Science adopts a reading…

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Academic freedom in Sweden — a Palestinian perspective

Over the past weeks a discussion about academic freedom has been taking place on Academia.edu. Yesterday, Victoria posted this: I am currently active in campaigns for defending the right to academic freedom in Turkey and Palestine, thus, this article caught my eye. It particularly puzzled me, as in the Middle East, the Swedish academy is regularly held up as a bastion of academic freedom. As you may be aware, the situation in both Turkey and Palestine is extremely dire, in both cases we have tens of jailed academics, the state or occupying state dictating the freedom of movement of researchers and students and dissemination of knowledge, plus positions and course content always under political scrutiny. Aside from the obvious difficulties you have pointed out in your own environment, what is very worrying to me is how this impacts…

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The Swedish government is a threat to academic freedom

  The Swedish government wants to make universities into gender neutral institutions. Employees and students should have the same rights and opportunities regardless of whether they are men or women. What could be more praiseworthy? Who could be against that? Yet the government policy is a threat to academic freedom and thus to the whole point of the university. Reading the government’s proposal you learn nothing about the way the good intentions are translated into practice, how they work in the classrooms. For example: all around the country academic departments have adopted quotas for the literature to be used on reading lists. A commonly used rule of thumb says that at least 40% of the texts should be written by female authors. Since the reading lists are legally binding documents, teachers who fail to follow them are in breach of contract. It is obviously important to include women’s perspectives…

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Read all about it: Min op-ed i Svenska Dagbladet

  Väldigt intressant och välskriven artikel i Svenska Dagbladet denna morgon. Jag kunde inte sagt det bättre själv. En massa delningar och retweets redan. Läs artikeln här: Erik Ringmar, “Staten hotar den akademiska friheten.”  (I will translate it into English and post it here as soon as I get some time). Debatten fortsätter i andra stora media — och den rör sig åt rätt håll!!! Läs t.ex. Anna Dahlberg, “Låt inte könsfixeringen ta över på universiteten,” Expressen, 11 november 2017.

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Why I’m not applying for research funding

  In Sweden a successful academic career requires you to apply for research funding. If you don’t get funding, they say, it’s difficult to do research. You end up teaching too much and you have no money to buy books or to travel. The pecking order of prestige is determined by who can get what grant.  Big professors have big grants. And yet, I’ve decided not to apply for any money.  First of all, I like teaching.  It is only once you are forced to explain something to someone else that you actually understand it. Not teaching, I would lose this opportunity.  Secondly, my research is extraordinarily cheap. All I need is a computer with an internet connection, and I have that already. I also have about a million books. The additional books I need I can get as pdfs or buy with my own money. The fundamental problem…

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