Giving myself up.

I deleted several social media accounts before the end of 2018. Having backed up the data, I first removed the mobile apps on my phone, and then proceeded to deactivate and delete the accounts themselves. I didn’t look back.

Similarly, after this holiday break, I was finally able to articulate my long-held inability to relate to the concept of intellectual freedom. As an information professional, I am supposed to profess my life to this ideal, to be the defender and beacon of justice, at least, according to the shared values of librarianship. However, being an immigrant who did not grow up in the world of liberal worldview, I could never express clearly why I struggled with the thinkers and their ideas we encountered in library school. Even defending my thesis, I felt an odd obligation to be on board with John Dewey and his intentions, but beneath it all, I just could not in good conscience believe that knowledge exists for its own good, in an immaterial, ephemeral, and supposedly pure state, outside of us mere mortals, messing our way through imperfect conversations and decisions. At last, I see now how these much-valorized concepts can only be possible from a position of intellectual liberalism, that presupposes that true freedom can exist. While this somewhat ambivalent statement is not intended to mean that I am somehow anti-intellectual freedom, I am simply acknowledging that I would like to see discussions in librarianship and society more broadly about the material reality of what such concepts entail. 

One person (and local scholar) who has helped me articulate my discomfort has been Adam Gaudry through his work on insurgent research, who argues that most research produced in the west functions as an “extraction methodology”. Speaking specifically about Indigenous researchers in the contemporary academy who must navigate a plethora of structures purposefully designed to constrain the creation of  thought not bound by the shared liberal worldview, he notes that entities like ethics reviews “are explicitly clear that researchers are, above all, “responsible to the university for our research outcomes. Similarly, the finished results in many cases belong to the university as intellectual property, rather than belonging to the people from whom the knowledge originated” (2011, p. 116). This helped me see all knowledge as a form of relation among people rather than some abstract entity that exists on its own. Certainly, that is how information objects such as books, research articles, and websites are framed when we talk about “access to information” in the professional domain. The fact that a single author is typically listed on a monograph rather than all the people whose work went into a creation of such a thing is another example of a larger philosophical commitment. This seems like a pretty radical thing to even articulate – of course knowledge would belong to the university; however, even the concept of belonging and ownership must be questioned. It relies on the privileging of the idea of rights over responsibilities. If knowledge, by virtue of expressing relationships among people, is founded on inherent responsibilities to each other, it must therefore give up its commitment to the supremacy of rights and freedoms. Individuals give up some degree of personal freedom by living in a collective web.

While disagreeing with Gaudry that insurgent researchers can “play the game” but not get lost in it (p. 116), I stumbled on the slim Semiotext(e) volume by Gerald Raunig, who proposes the concept of “desertion” as a strategy for resistance within institutions like the university. In Raunig’s terms, desertion “does not refer to cases such as military desertion or to inner withdrawal and retreat from the world. Rather, it concerns defection from a dead-end situation, so that desertion is always an instituent practice as well. First of all, desertion occurs as the development of precarious form of autonomy within the institution, in the development of little monsters that thwart the structures and institutional antagonisms through their obstinacy. These would be micropolitical strategies such as refusal to pass on institutional pressure from above, at all stages of the institution; awarding credit points for transversal events that transgress the internal logic of the institutional striking against peer reviews and ranked journals, especially on the part of tenured teachers; actively recognizing journals, magazines, newspapers and essays in anthologies that are not peer reviewed and do not belong to any established hierarchy of rankings, but instead try out new forms of sociality in publishing; inventing and defending free spaces for non-conformist thinking and action; and finally reterritorializing the space of the university as a movement of reappropriation, as was experienced in the occupation movements of 2009 and 2010 in wide parts of Europe” (Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity, 2013, pp. 27-28).

Secondly, desertion for Raunig also means “deterritorializing and reterritorializing knowledge production outside the university, drawing a line of flight out of the university and founding alternative formations of knowledge production…At both levels of desertion, we do not have to retreat to a transcendental territory, but can instead imminently start from machine modes of subjectivation, which affirm, even over-firm self-government, self-formation, self-control, until the reforming and deforming of the self is upended, new factories are invented and disobedient modes of knowledge production emerge” (p. 28.). Disobedient modes might be zines or  podcasts, perhaps.

I am not yet convinced that resistance alone can resolve dissonances of practice, but I am grateful to have had an opportunity to reflect on concepts that are crucial to my profession from a new angle. I finally felt that I was not alone in my suspicions, and I hope to use this space to think through concepts at the heart of what I do every day.