|10/13–06/2015||MA, Latin American Studies, University of California, San Diego|
|01/10–07/2011||BA, Latin American Studies, University of California, San Diego|
|04/04–05/2009||Southwestern Community College|
Dissertation in Soziologie
First supervisor: Prof. Markus Kienscherf
Second supervisor: Dr. Katy Fox-Hodess
Third supervisor: Prof. Frank Kellete
Following the financial crisis of 2007-2008, universities across the United States became critical sites of social contestation. Austerity measures rapidly increased tuition, defunded critical infrastructures, and precaritized labor formations within the university, effectively opening a war of maneuver against the position gained by the new social movements of the Fordist cycle of struggle. Concurrently, universities also became (once again) primary battlegrounds where struggles against racialization and gender violence played out, as students of color increasingly contested “color-blind” and “multi-cultural” governance while women and the broader LGBTQ community fought back against entrenched cultures of patriarchy. Within such a context, a number of graduate student unions formed, becoming key features of campus struggles as they tried to articulate intersectional demands with traditional “class” vehicles.
In a word, neoliberalization became the primary target of recomposing social forces within the university.
The campuses that constitute the University of California system were integral to these struggles. They became intense sites of grassroots experimentation. Within this broader recomposition of the relations of force, my work focuses on the physics and dynamics of struggle within a single terrain - the University of California, San Diego - and examines a particular flow of militant activity that surged within the graduate student union, UAW Local 2865. As a potential vehicle of transformation, the union became a structure where grassroots actors attempted to simultaneously revitalize and democratize the union itself, while using the vehicle as a tool in order to advance anti-neoliberal desires and objectives. While initially successful at winning reforms, this experiment ultimately fragmented and was unable to develop lasting and meaningful position against neoliberalization.
Despite the seemingly spontaneous activation of social forces in direct relation with the university, they were ultimately unable to fundamentally transform the neoliberal structures of the UC itself. In order to uncover why they were unsuccessful, as a case-study I investigate the movement dynamics and physics of the militant minority within UAW 2865’s unit at UCSD between 2010 and 2015 (over the cycle of that flow’s composition and decomposition).
By means of participant observation and interviews, I attempt to unearth those structural and contingent factors that inhibited transformation and ultimately developed blockages. To do this, I contextualize the university in its historical specificity, contrasting the technical, social, and political composition of the neoliberal university to the Fordist university. From here, I develop a chronology that traces the dynamics and conduct of the militant-minority over the cycle of struggle of concern in the broader movement ecology within the university and beyond. Then, in order to understand the blockages of the militant-minority, I examine the discursive-practical arrangements that had developed within the formation, uncovering the truth regimes that amassed and contributed to the blockage. From here I examine the organizational possibilities and blockages of the union itself as a vehicle of transformation, and examine to what degree the union structure helped or hindered militant forces. Lastly, I examine the question of practical “know-how”, and probe the question to what degree militants themselves had the resources and combat-organizational know-how of practices and strategies capable of launching effective campaigns, and historically situate the question.
Ultimately, I argue that the militant minority itself was inhibited by an articulated arrangement of factors that include, but are not limited to: 1) an array of structural obstacles that developed generational or historically specific inhibitors around which militants struggled to operate; 2) a set of inhibiting discursive-practical arrangements that created corrosive truth regimes; 3) contingent capture and disorientation before bureaucratic structures of the union; and 4) a lack of sustained experience with the unique set of power structures within the university specifically, and a lack of political experience in general (what I term “combat organizational know-how”). This produced a necessarily haphazard and experimental encounter against power structures that was defined by an unstructured, disorganized, and unintegrated deployment of practices and techniques.
Hence, while the militant-minority functioned as an incubator of a political viewpoint, it could not function as an incubator of an effective political practice - a partial consequence of the broader environmental deprivation of infrastructures of dissent that has been definitive of neoliberalism. In this way, we can say the movement ecology of the university and especially the union suffered from the lack of what we can call “a militant-minority function.”
In investigating these physics of struggle, I hope to not only shed light on struggles at UCSD and the UC specifically, but on questions of grassroots organization, power, and strategy, more generally.