We think it’s time to take up an abolitionist approach to the university. We can’t do it without you. But you’re anxious, as are we, when faced with the uncertainty of what that might entail. We’ve got that in common. Maybe you rather like universities and believe in their value. Or maybe you simply need to have a job, and yours happens to be there. Maybe you’ve been a prison abolitionist since long before everyone was calling themselves one, and you’re concerned about the drift of the signifier “abolitionist” from a specific set of collective struggles to an individual mode of self-branding. Or maybe you saw what the Right did (and continues to do) with calls for the abolition of whiteness from the journal Race Traitor in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And so maybe you’re concerned that bringing the word abolition into too intimate a proximity with the university might offer ammunition to Republicans eager to continue their assaults on higher education and to Democrats eager to distance themselves from the Left.
by Paul Raekstad
In recent years, radical movements from the Arab Spring to Occupy and beyond have been calling for “democracy.” These movements also claim to reject representation—a keystone of many contemporary liberal understandings of democracy. How can we make sense of this? There is ongoing debate about this in these movements and their descendants, part of which consists in figuring out what we should take “democracy” to mean. This article tries to contribute to this process of collective self-clarification by reconstructing one notion of what we could take “democracy” to mean. Thereafter, we will see how we can use this concept to make sense of the critique of representation in many contemporary radical movements and how useful it can be for helping to guide social change and the practices seeking to bring it about. I will thus argue that a coherent conception of democracy can be found, and that it can be a powerful tool both for understanding and critiquing the shortcomings of contemporary societies and for guiding our efforts to overcome them.