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"Education is in the streets"—Springtime reviewed in Inside Higher Ed

Chris Webb31 August 2011

The incredulity of media and government at the recent London riots indicates a remarkably short historical memory. If they had a copy of Springtime: The New Student Rebellions at hand, they would have had a textual reference for both the horrors of police brutality and the simmering anger of students, workers and the poor. But unlike the London rioters, the student protesters of Springtime have introduced, what an Inside Higher Ed review calls "a new vocabulary of protest." The review refers to the "book bloc" phenomenon as one such example:

By the time an enormous anti-Berlusconi protest took place in Rome on December 14, a group of Italian faculty members had decided on a syllabus of 20 titles worth carrying into battle. It's all over the place: The Odyssey and Fahrenheit 451, Spinoza's Ethics and Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto, Foucault and Fight Club. And so when the forces of law and order descended on the protesters, swinging, it was a visual allegory of culture in the age of austerity—budget-cutting raining blows on the life of the mind, though also, perhaps, the canon as defensive weapon.

Written with the "adrenaline and endorphins still flowing," the book has the feel of a "scrapbook—with articles, photographs, and street posters taped in alongside printouts of Twitter exchanges." Appropriately citing Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire, the reviewer objects to the "jarringly inapposite" inclusion of 60s boomer nostalgia as a "nightmare on the brains of the living."

The relevance of the slogans of 1968 (with their assumptions about alienation amid growing affluence and free time) is now just about nil. Maybe we should forget them for a while. The student protests of the past two years have resembled wildcat strikes or factory occupations more than reenactments of the Free Speech Movement or Vietnam-era teach-ins.

While the lessons of the past are by no means irrelevant, the struggles of Springtime are indeed unique creations of neoliberal states, the ennui of postfordism and the rapid commodification of knowledge and learning. This multi-faceted rage is reflected in the book's structure, which outlines the 

contemporary overlap of problems: the economic pressures on all levels of education, on the one hand; and the difficulty of defining education's social value when the labor market can't absorb many new graduates, on the other. ("A university diploma is now worth no more than a share in General Motors," in the words of an acerbic pamphlet from the California protests.)

Visit Inside Higher Ed to read the review in full.

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