What are academic politics

This book analyzes comparatively the dynamics of the state-scholar relations during the Marcos and Suharto years in the Philippines and Indonesia as evident in two official history-writing projects: Mar-cos's Tadhana project and Suharto... more

This book analyzes comparatively the dynamics of the state-scholar relations during the Marcos and Suharto years in the Philippines and Indonesia as evident in two official history-writing projects: Mar-cos's Tadhana project and  Suharto regime's Sejarah Nasional Indonesia (SNI). It demonstrates a nuanced characterization of the relationship between scholars and state operatives. Rather than the usual approach that regards scholars in such a project as manipulated or co-opted, they are shown in this book as, among other possibilities, possessing and exercising their own power that even the most powerful dictators do not have, and which they need or desire. Instead of taking such projects as aberration, which is in line with the popular liberalist critique of “intellectual prostitution” or “trea-son of intellectuals”, this book argues that the participation of scholars in these projects merely for-malizes and renders explicit the transactional encounters happening on daily basis between knowledge of any ideological disposition, type or level of accuracy, on the one hand, and their respec-tive consumers, on the other. The logistics of power relations in these transactions vary considerably but the underlying logic is fundamentally the same. The implications are singularly important: the widely held liberal assumption that good, rigorous scholarship is corrective or antithetical to the politi-cal needs to be re-thought as it unwittingly undermines the very progressive vision upon which much of critical and well-meaning scholarship is built. This happens as this liberal assumption nurtures the myth that it is just a matter of getting things right—empirically, methodologically, theoretically, con-ceptually—in  order  to neutralize the political. It is a myth because, as I show in this book, (1) it is more the context of the actual knowledge use, rather than the content or authorial intention, that ulti-mately decides the political (say, a patently progressive knowledge can be used for  conservatives purpose in a particular context, or vice versa); and (2) the strength of politics precisely lies in at least the appearance of accuracy or objectivity of knowledge. The potency of, say, Trump's use/misuse of "fake news" depends on the idea of objective or impartial knowledge.  People support him because they believe in the correctness (or objectivity) of his claims. In other words, the liberal/progressive roots of the idea of objectivity/impartiality of knowledge has long been, or perhaps from the begin-ning, usurped by conservative interests, of which Trump is just the latest among the most glaring examples. Fact-checking him may not be enough as it may be likened to preaching to the choir or the already converted. The solution seems to lie not mainly in more rigor or accuracy of critical scholarship, for accurate or not, it is how knowledge is actually understood, used and mis-used on the ground (and in digital world) that determines the material impact on the people. Progressive or pro-people scholarship, so I suggest, needs to be reoriented to go beyond critique, to what may be termed as cartography of power/knowledge. Critique can only affirm one elite (or elite-wannabe) politics over another, and this includes intellectual elites, whereas cartography serves the interests of the public. In brief, cartography of power/knowledge en-tails a full mapping out of all sources and types of power, including power of scholars and scholarship, that enable knowledge production, consumption and distribution. By laying transparent these networks of power relations, progressive scholarship will be in better posi-tion to help common people decide for themselves which knowledge may be useful or detri-mental for them at a particular context. Doing so makes knowing more truly empowering, ra-ther than a shackle, for people who progressive scholarship expressly wishes to help.