Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education

Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education


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Zombies in the Academy taps into the current popular fascination with zombies and brings together scholars from a range of fields, including cultural and communication studies, sociology, film studies, and education, to give a critical account of the political, cultural, and pedagogical state of the university through the metaphor of zombiedom. The contributions to this volume argue that the increasing corporatization of the academy—an environment emphasizing publication, narrow research, and the vulnerability of the tenure system— is creating a crisis in higher education best understood through the language of zombie culture—the undead, contagion, and plague, among others. Zombies in the Academy presents essays from a variety of scholars and creative writers who present an engaging and entertaining appeal for serious recognition of the conditions of contemporary humanities teaching, culture, and labor practices.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781841507149
Publisher: Intellect, Limited
Publication date: 07/15/2013
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 11.00(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Andrew Whelan teaches sociology at the University of Wollongong, Australia, where Ruth Walker teaches academic writing. Chris Moore is a lecturer in media communication at Deakin University, Australia.

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Zombies in the Academy

Living Death in Higher Education

By Andrew Whelan, Ruth Walker, Christopher Moore

Intellect Ltd

Copyright © 2013 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84150-714-9



Zombification in the corporate university

First as tragedy, then as corpse

Andrew Whelan

Further uses of the dead to the living

In the South Cloisters corridor at University College London, there is a large, glass-fronted mahogany case, containing the mortal remains of the English philosophical radical, Jeremy Bentham. Essentially a stuffed mannequin containing Bentham's bones, the 'auto-icon', as he called it, is armed with his walking stick (named 'Dapple', after Sancho Panza's mount), and seated at a small writing table. Bentham's remains, importantly, are not at repose: even in death, Bentham remains diligently and tirelessly productive – he is never finished being never finished. Instructions regarding the auto-icon are presented in harried style in Bentham's will:

[T]he whole figure may be seated in a Chair usually occupied by me when living in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought in the course of the time employed in writing I direct that the body thus prepared shall be transferred to my executor He will cause the skeleton to be clad in one of the suits of black occasionally worn by me The Body so clothed together with the chair and the staff in my later years borne by me he will take charge of And for containing the whole apparatus he will cause to be prepared an appropriate box or case and will cause to be engraved in conspicuous characters on a plate to be affixed thereon and also on the labels on the glass cases in which the preparations of the soft parts of my body shall be contained as for example as in the manner used in the case of wine decanters my name at length with the letters ob. followed by the day of my decease If it should so happen that my personal friends and other Disciples should be disposed to meet together on some day or days of the year for the purpose of commemorating the Founder of the greatest happiness system of morals and legislation my executor will from time to time cause to be conveyed to the room in which they meet the said Box or case with the contents there to be stationed in such part of the room as to the assembled company shall seem meet.

(Marmoy 1958: 80)

Bentham's wishes concerning his 'soft parts' were unfulfilled, and the head now on the body in the case is a wax replacement. Bentham's actual head was for some years stored in his chest cavity; later on it rested at his feet. It has been through a number of unfortunate misadventures, not least of which an only partly successful desiccation process. It is now stored elsewhere in the College, in a locked box requiring four separate keys. Bentham died in 1832. University College London has been in possession of the body for over 160 years. Among the apocrypha that circulate around this bizarre curio is the story (untrue, of course) that the body is presented at College Council meetings, that Bentham desired to be so present, and that when a motion is tied, Bentham usually votes in favour.

This chapter describes the long shadow cast by Bentham's dead hand on the apparently permanent 'crisis' of the university, and with what the location and status of his corpse and corpus can help us to think through.

While the contemporary university evolved alongside and within an overarching Benthamite socio-logic, there have been notable developments since the introduction of 'new public management' in the 1980s (du Gay 2000), and much of the contemporary critical lamentation regarding the university orients to these developments. Extending this orientation, I take zombification here to refer to those processes within the university – and the public sector at large – which, in instrumentalizing action (teaching, research) in the service of pseudo-market principles, decapitate the real ends of that action, while reconstituting the means as a kind of spectral presence of themselves. An undead social space is one in which social activity continues to occur, but as a gruesome and dreary parody of itself, not to meet its own ends but those of its correct and compliant 'recordation'.

I aim to trace here the contours of the origins of the kind of thinking that is now said to have done damage to the university. In doing so, I will describe the peculiar and uncanny consequences that follow from the principles according to which the university is governed, and indicate the senses in which those principles present a deformation of Bentham's already fantastic vision. The main aim of doing so is to show how now allegedly redundant bodies of knowledge constitute, and are articulated through, the very processes that are micromanaging them into the grave.

Grave and elaborate humbug

The impact of Bentham's work across a range of fields is unparalleled. Through his influence over the young John Stuart Mill, who was raised unhappily according to utilitarian principles, Bentham was catalyst to the development of liberal political theory. Mill, who suffered a breakdown at the age of 19 while editing Bentham's five-volume Rationale of Judicial Evidence, later remarked that Bentham 'failed in deriving light from other minds' (2003: 64).

Bentham is perhaps most widely encountered today at one remove, through Foucault's account of the Panopticon (1977), originally designed by Bentham with his brother Samuel. In Foucault's treatment, the model prison serves as the disciplinary society's template par excellence. For Bentham, this structure is the very material form of transparency, accountability and economy: the fundamental contemporary principles of good governance (Blamires 2008: 314).

Bentham was an early advocate of women's suffrage, animal rights, the abolition of corporal punishment, tolerance for sexual diversity, the separation of church and state, the legalization of trade unions, representative democracy, and a system of welfare. In all of these instances, the principle of utility is the engine of his radicalism. Bentham coined the word 'international'. His contributions to jurisprudence cannot be overstated (Hart 1982; Postema 1986). Robert Peel sought Bentham's advice in the establishment of the police force. Bentham's contributions to the philosophy of language can be evinced by the fact that the 'felicific calculus' underlying utilitarianism is partly derived from his 'theory of fictions', where he proposed that abstract, non-referential moral terms like 'right' or 'wrong' be rearticulated through successfully referential terms like 'pleasure' and 'pain'.

Mack goes so far as to assert that 'Seldom if ever in the history of ideas has a man's thought been so directly and widely translated into action' (1968: 57). Bureaucratic organization as a mode of governance first emerges as a theoretical possibility in Bentham's work (Hume 1981: 8). He made profound contributions to the theory and practice of public administration (Martin 1997), and of accounting (Gallhofer and Haslam 2003). Rational choice, game theory, neoclassical microeconomics, cost-benefit analysis, risk management and SWOT analysis ('strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats') are all essentially utilitarian. The principles of new public management find their original expression in Bentham (Bowrey and Smark 2010). It has been suggested that Australia, in particular, is a thoroughly Benthamite state in its culture and organization (Collins 1985), and that state systems of education in both Australia and the United Kingdom developed directly under utilitarian influence (West 1992: 596).

It is unfortunate, therefore, that Bentham's 1815 work on educational reform, Chrestomathia, is not more widely read, as it presents a prescient account of the administration and governance of education. Anyone conversant with the contemporary university will recognize the institution run according to

Principles, having, for their special object, the preservation of Discipline: i.e. the effectual and universal performance of the several prescribed Exercises, and the exclusion of disorder: i.e. of all practices obstructive of such performance, or productive of mischief in any other shape; and, to that end, the correct and complete observance of all arrangements and regulations, established for either of those purposes ...

Reward economizing principle.

Constant and universal Inspection promising and securing principle ...

Principles, having, for their special object, the securing the forthcomingness of Evidence: viz. in the most correct, complete, durable and easily accessible shape: and thereby the most constant and universal notoriety of all past matters of fact, the knowledge of which can be necessary, or conducive, to the propriety of all subsequent proceedings; whether for securing the due performance of Exercises ... or for the exclusion of disorder ...

Place-capturing probative exercise employment maximizing principle ...

Constantly and universally apposite Scholar-classification securing principle.

Principles, having, for their special object, the union of the maximum of despatch with the maximum of uniformity; thereby proportionably shortening the time, employed in the acquisition of the proposed body of instruction, and increasing the number of Pupils, made to acquire it, by the same Teachers, at the same time.

Simplification maximizing, or Short lesson employing, principle ...

Constantly-uninterrupted-action promising and effecting principle.

(Bentham 1843: 29–31, all emphasis in the original unless otherwise indicated)

The list goes on. What, if anything, is amiss with principles such as these?

Sinister interest

The highest art for which training was to be delivered in the Chrestomathia was 'recordation' or bookkeeping: 'the art of securing and perpetuating Evidence'. Bentham advocated for education in methods of accounting:

Correct, complete, clear, concise, easy to consult; in case of error, so framed as not to cover it, but to afford indication of it: appropriate, i.e. adapted to the particular practical purpose it has in view; the purpose, for the sake of which the labour thus bestowed is expended, in these epithets may be seen the qualities desirable in a system of this kind. The new system of instruction, at any rate the original inventor's edition of it, presents to view a perfect specimen of the practice of this art, as applied to those inferior branches of instruction, which it has already taken in hand ... In the practice of this most universally useful art, all those Scholars, who, from the lowest up to the highest Stages, in the character of Teachers, Private Tutors, or Monitors, bear any part in the management of the school, will gradually be initiated, and insensibly perfected: and, in proportion as any Scholar appears qualified to take any such part in it, it will be the duty and care of the Master, to put the means of so doing into his hands.

(1843: 996)

Such accounting is for Bentham value-neutral, objective and social-scientific. Yet it also has the most to offer in securing collective happiness. Bentham, it must be remembered, campaigned for both the prison and the poorhouse to be converted into places of education – not the other way round (Gallhofer and Haslam 1996: 15). In the science of morals and legislation, assuring accountability, economy, and transparency is a rational means of holding the powerful to task. Everyone in the Benthamite universe should be 'empowered' to practice accounting, because it serves as an empirically grounded means of sustained social critique.

Bentham's lifelong assault on the authorities of his day (the law, the church, the government) stemmed, in part, from an indomitable hostility towards the cynical exercise of power, and especially towards the justification of such exercise with reference to tradition, custom and superstition. This is what Bentham referred to as sinister interest. One of the functions of accounting and making known the facts so accounted is for Bentham to demystify what social power is and how it operates, and to demonstrate good reasons for doing things differently. Transparency plays a crucial role in this:

Of the several departments of government, howsoever carved out and distinguished – judicial, financial, military, naval, and so forth – suppose that in all, or any of them, abuses exist – abuses, from which the persons, or some of the persons, by whom those departments are respectively filled, derive, each of them, in some shape or other, a sinister advantage. In this state of things, if there be any such thing as an instrument, by the operations of which all such abuses, without distinction, are liable to be exposed to view, the tendency of it is thereby to act with hostile effect, against the several sinister interests of all these several public functionaries; whom thereupon, by necessary consequence, it finds engaged, all of them, by a common interest, to oppose themselves with all their means, and all their might, not only to its influence, but to its very existence.

(Bentham 1821: 59)

The art of recordation is just such an instrument. Bentham hopes to demolish those mystifications bolstering belief that the 'institutions of society are infinitely complex and difficult to understand, and that this is an invincible fact of nature, so that long-standing institutions cannot be changed' (Hart 1982: 21). This is underpinned by Bentham's theory of language, and his particular insistence on precision in expression. He found 'obsolete language, technical language undefined, nonsense, fiction', and 'ordinary language perverted' repugnant (Bentham 1827: 288). Such terminology, Bentham maintained, works in the service of the abuse of the greatest happiness by sinister interest.

That Bentham's obsession with accountability should be appropriated, deployed and made worse than useless in service of an obscure and inscrutable lexicon is, therefore, banal, poignant and monstrous by turns. Managerial instrumentalization in the university has its own curiously occult enchantments, working through

rituals, invocations and incantations; the accumulation of talismanic, fetishistic objects (most of which take electronic form); an occult hierarchy; ritual sacrifices; and a predilection to consult professional occult practitioners. ... words of power, expressions and incantations deriving from the globalized corporate world, are invoked repeatedly, as if frequent repetition will bring into being that which they denote, or will summon up the divinities of the market to work a transformative magic upon the institution. These terms, which possess a talismanic quality, and an almost voodoo-like potency, include 'quality', 'excellence', 'mission', 'premier', 'benchmark', 'strategic', 'top rank', 'world-class', 'flagship', 'team-building', 'innovation' and 'auditing'.

(Wood 2010: 232–233)

This is what pitches us into Bentham's nightmare: he is himself working from beyond the grave for ordinary language perverted, and technical language undefined.


Excerpted from Zombies in the Academy by Andrew Whelan, Ruth Walker, Christopher Moore. Copyright © 2013 Intellect Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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Table of Contents


Section 1: Zombification in the corporate university

First as tragedy, then as corpse

Andrew Whelan

‘Being’ post-death at Zombie University

Rowena Harper

University life, zombie states and reanimation

Rowan Wilken and Christian McCrea

The living dead and the dead living: contagion and complicity in contemporary universities

Holly Randell-Moon, Sue Saltmarsh and Wendy Sutherland-Smith

Zombie solidarity

Ann Deslandes and Kristian Adamson

The Journal of Doctor Wallace

David Slattery

Section 2: Moribund content and infectious technologies

Zombie processes and undead technologies

Christopher Moore

The botnet: webs of hegemony/zombies who publish

Martin Paul Eve

The intranet of the living dead: software and universities

Jonathan Paul Marshall

Virtual learning environments and the zombification of learning and teaching in British universities

Nick Pearce and Elaine Tan

Mapping zombies: a guide for digital pre-apocalyptic analysis and post-apocalyptic survival

Mark Graham, Taylor Shelton and Matthew Zook

Infectious textbooks

Gordon S. Carlson and James J. Sosnoski

Section 3: Zombie literacies and pedagogies

Undead universities, the plagiarism ‘plague’, paranoia and hypercitation

Ruth Walker

EAP programmes feeding the living dead of academia: critical thinking as a global antibody

Sara Felix

Zombies in the classroom: education as consumption in two novels by Joyce Carol Oates

Sherry R. Truffin

Queer pedagogies in zombie times: parody, neo-liberalism and high-education

Daniel Marshall

Zombies are us: the living dead as a tool for pedagogical reflection

Shaun Kimber

Escaping the zombie threat by mathematics

Hans Petter Landtangen, Kent-Andre Mardal and Pål Røtnes

Toward a zombie pedagogy: embodied teaching and the student 2.0

Jesse Stommel

Section 4: The post-apocalyptic terrain

‘Sois mort et tais toi’: zombie mobs and student protests

Sarah Juliet Lauro

Living-dead man’s shoes? Teaching and researching glossy topics in a harsh social and cultural context

David Beer

Feverish homeless cannibal

George Pfau

A report on the global Viral Z outbreak and its impact on higher education

Howard M. Gregory II and Annie Jeffrey


List of contributors



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