Monthly Archives: May 2016

Conference call

Dusting off the unintended digital debris of two web conferences yesterday, and in a fragile mood, I was prompted to re-visit the brilliant video spoof A Conference Call in Real Life by the comedy duo Tripp and Tyler to revive my spirits. Though over two years old now, it remains achingly funny and true to life.


red_balloonI read a short paper by a colleague, George, today which rightly argues that usurpation is a proper process for the inhabitants of universities continually to attempt. It can certainly result in transformation but is it necessarily transcendent? Does it have balloon-like qualities?

George opened his piece with the question as to whether transcendence and transgression amount to the same thing. I found the notion of adiaphora, adopted by Bauman (2002), to be a helpful way of addressing this question.

Transcendence, from its Latin root, conjures climbing, rising above, going beyond but implies no breaching, violation or infringement, as does transgression, in which the stem gredi carries the meaning of stepping across or over an acceptable line (legal or moral). From this derives the idea of erring, stepping off the straight and narrow.

In order for transcendence not to entail transgression, there needs to be a degree of adiaphorism at play, i.e. if the state/action transcended is not expressly forbidden, the going beyond it is treated with indifference by authority. The problem is that, in a time like ours of moral liquidity (Bauman again! – 2000), the laissez-faire economics of neoliberalism make both transcendence and transgression more difficult, as society becomes indifferent to (or fearful of) the space beyond. If we are numb, the urge to transcend is lessened. I think we see this in our increasing acceptance of legislation that is anticipatory as much as punitive.

Perhaps the question can be re-phrased. Are creative appropriation and creative expropriation (usurpation) equally effective tactics of resistance to academic closure? George takes a similar line when he notes that usurpation tends to be cyclical, the usurper becoming the usurped, all parties falling victim to the will to exert power. Over time, the will to usurp declines as the academy loses its social value and numbness and adiaphora set in.

Balloons, on the other hand, though inclined to transcend, are unlikely to transgress. We cling to them for as long as we can to prolong the sensation of freedom they convey. It takes courage to release our grip and let them float free.

This is the pain of the liminal state in education.

Bauman, Zygmunt (2002). Society under Siege. Cambridge, Polity Press.
Bauman, Zygmunt (2000). Liquid Modernity. Cambridge, Polity Press.