Accepted paper:

Radical academics in the time of radical uncertainty: educating the educators at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela


Mariya Ivancheva (University of Liverpool)

Paper short abstract:

Discussing the case of university reform in Venezuela, this paper shows the dilemma faced by radical intellectuals who become a power elite. They have to both act as legitimate agents of social change, and negate their own legitimacy, gained in a former system of classification and distinction.

Paper long abstract:

This paper presents findings from my fieldwork at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV). Established in 2003 by President Chavez and radical intellectuals from the former student movements, UBV became the vanguard institution of the Bolivarian university reform. It provided placements to hundreds of thousands underprivileged students. It promised horizontal structure of governance, and applied knowledge dedicated to the needs of society. After celebrating the global crisis in 2008 as a blow to capitalism, in 2009 UBV declared an internal crisis of ideology and practice. Faculty and staff mostly explained UBV's crisis through the process of reproduction that transferred old capitalist structures to the revolutionary university. The paper explores the case of the week's long "awareness rising" (sensibilización) process during the on-the-job training of the alternative academic elite at UBV. I detail ethnographically a number of challenges and anxieties UBV faculty members face which might explain the university's internal crisis beside the "metastases of capitalism". In a radical fight against the corrupted past, UBV intellectuals are expected to strictly negate all previous conventions of teaching and research including those of their own academic formation. They need to manage their own difficult trajectory from an anti-authoritarian opposition to agents of decision-making power in a centralized nation state. They are supposed to both do away with abstract theory and pragmatic science, and make new vanguard theoretical and scientific contributions on behalf of an emancipatory 'national' science.

panel IW006
Anxiety at the top (EN)