Thursday, 5 August 2010

Resistance to the monitoring and self-assessment exercises

Members of the PSS group have sent the letter below to the sociology staff and postgraduate students as a reaction to the mandatory Faculty Annual Progress Monitoring which requires PhD students to assess themselves:

'Dear members of staff and fellow students,

It is very unfortunate, but we have to accompany the birth of SPAIS with a set of concerns about the mandatory self-assessment that we, as PhD students, have to conduct. We have three particular problems with the whole exercise:

1. What is actually this self-assessment for?

We understand that both the new school and the faculty need to monitor progress of our projects, however, aren't first year reviews, upgrades and above all regular supervisions meetings sufficient evaluations of our work? Such practices are carried out in collaboration with the people we work with - supervisors, academics and other PhD students as well as external examiners (experts in our respective fields of expertise) who have the possibility and the willingness to engage with our work. Without such engagement, any attempt to measure the progress of our research project is bound to result in an ineffective and superficial bureaucratic exercise.

However, our protest is motivated by the awareness that the monitoring exercise does not represent only an innocent and negligible waste of time (as it is considered by most PhD students). On the contrary, it is our impression that such exercise responds - albeit on a small scale - to "managerial"/neo-liberal criteria and logics which are hardly compatible with the positive development of autonomous scholarship.

In particular, we maintain that the monitoring exercise is part of a set of practices (e.g. QAA, RAE, REF) aiming at:

1) subsume (through indebt, Taylorist procedures of standardization and quantification) immaterial, creative and cooperative intellectual production under corporative/economistic instrumental criteria ("productivity", "impact" etc.), which are different from - and arguably opposed to - independent academic research (i.e. research related to critical and/or ethical concerns, to the independent pursuit of knowledge etc.);
2) Reproduce an atomized, docile high skilled working force educated to accept and interiorize a system of constant assessment informed by "given", "objective" external parameters (parameters that are exogenous to the nature and scope of our work). In this perspective, the monitoring exercise - although "just" a formality - is a way in which we (as future academics) learn to make ourselves "measurable".

In view of the above we consider this self-assessment exercise not only a contingent annoyance but a small scale example of the managerial logics which - we argue - are substantially eroding academic autonomy, and, with it, the possibility of producing a knowledge which is other from the "know how" necessary to (blindly) reproduce a given socio/economic system (such as neo-liberalism).

2. We would like to express our disappointment in regard to the martial tone of the email we received on behalf of SPAIS on the 21st of July.

In particular, we found its expressive and corporate language quite disturbing (e.g. expressions like 'it is essential to take this seriously', 'it is mandatory, not voluntary'; 'it is important that all students follow the instructions'; 'supervisors should complete'). Most of us are in advanced stages of our research projects and therefore well familiar with existing duties and responsibilities. The order-like tone of the email addresses us as lower 'employees' in an organizational corporate hierarchy and not PhD students.

3. The problems with the software and possible 'outflow' and 'leaking' of our self-evaluation make us feel uncomfortable.

For the above named reasons we have decided not to self-evaluate ourselves and we will happily leave it to our peers and mentors. We would be perfectly content to evaluate and discuss our work among ourselves - as some of us have been doing for many years (i.e. Connection Conference; activities of Philosophy of Social Science Research and Study Group; work-in-progress seminars) anyway - rather than filling a form which, as we conceive, serves only for technologies of control and surveillance and above all represents an instrument for shaping competitive and entrepreneurial 'new' academics.

Please consider our objections and remarks; we are more than willing to discuss them openly in a public forum.

Respectfully yours

Filip Vostal

Lorenzo Silvaggi

Rosa Vasilaki

Maria Elisa Balen'

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