Alexandre Da Silva Faustino (RMIT University), Ana Lara Heyns (Monash University), Nicolas Guerra Rodrigues Tão (Monash University), Rachel Iampolski (RMIT University), Zheng Chin (Monash University)*
*The Praxis Manifiesto was presented at the State of Australasian Cities Conference 2021 (SOAC). Melbourne, Australia.
Today, neoliberalism is the driving factor which determines the principles and values governing how academic scholars operate within universities. Like so much else, universities are modelled after the unjust neoliberal structures which perpetuate economic inequalities across the globe. These conditions encourage fierce competition, myopic individualism, unsustainable growth, irrelevant metrics and hopeless complicity within academia. Yet, despite the desire for a more just, democratic, equitable, and diverse society, academics struggle to challenge the neoliberal behemoth which continues to grind us to a pulp.
As a vignette of the Australian academic diaspora, many within this collective were cast out of our home countries (Malaysia, Brazil and Mexico) as critical intellectual labour there, became progressively defunded. Such intellectual mining is continued as well by the extractive relationship with countries - such as Australia - that rely heavily on the continual seduction of international students and their capital to provide financial stability to universities in order to compensate for the lack of federal support for higher education institutions within Australia.
Even funding - the economical basis for all research within universities -, and the structures created to access and deliver it, rests upon the belief that positivist anglo-saxon scholarship holds standing as the most desirable form of knowledge production. And this is built upon an uneven system of knowledge creation and sharing, as the values, concepts, theories, and technologies that are designed for the global north are blindly translated and sold to the global south (Demeter, 2020), from where resources, labour and experiments are continually drawn. Here, academics participate in perpetrating the relations shaped by the settler colonial project, in which ideas, people and communities are taken and put out of place (Maricato, 2013).
How then to challenge the neoliberal regime?
As PhD students committed to praxis - navigating our way through academia - we believe that struggle is both possible and necessary. This critical position stems from our collective frustrations with the traditional institution where it lacks a representation of activist researchers who - through their research - generate new urban imaginaries of future possibilities.
We recognise that our position within the field of urban research within Australian universities gives us the ability to destabilise the existing status quo, as the transformative process of radical social change is not enacted by individual actions, but by the emerging capacity of organised collective power. Together, we sought a space of solidarity where our collective nature speaks directly to the activist positioning that we as members seek to develop. We are trying to address this lack of hope in our own future within such a space, but also the discomfort with many aspects of the nature of academic work.
By forming a collective, we are able to insert ourselves within spaces of power which determine urban outcomes, through collaboration with an array of people, concepts, and ideas that put into action a combination of soft and hard skills. Such actions have revealed opportunities to break free from the constraints of expectations and predetermined ways of living, working, and thinking. Whilst the institution attempts to mould us to be good, wilful, and subservient intellectual labourers, we see activism as an opportunity for resistance. There is always a way to create a better future.
Here then, this manifesto of praxis serves as both an opportunity to be reflective of the current circumstances as well as a call to action in hopes of creating change. When there is a concerted effort by the Australian government to dismantle academia, it is a moment in time when we can become the ground swell that serves to resist and unhinge traditional institutions to create an alternative space for other identities to emerge in the academic sphere.
A call to action
The Alliance for Praxis Research (APR), is a collective of academics from diverse cultural and scholarly backgrounds. Together we seek to unsettle the traditional structures of academia in order to find the nooks and crannies where underrepresented, marginalised, or disposed groups within academia call home.
We evoke praxis as our mode of being to heal agonies commonly found amongst PhD students and researchers. The culture of our work easily emanates a belief that academic work is a solitary labour, directed primarily to intellectual development, hopefully underpinned by critical thinking. And while our critics as academics are focused on practices, structures and places that require some sort of change, academics fail to engage with the actions needed to enable transformation, evoking the positivistic echoes of neutrality.
But many of us feel unsatisfied not seeing the structural problems we discuss being tensioned, or even miss a direct involvement in such tensioning. Praxis is our call to define horizons of actions grounded in the territories sustaining us and in collaboration and solidarity to the people and communities dear to us. Such actions are informed by our professional and personal backgrounds, while at the same time are learning experiences that become catalysts to redefine our identities and futures.
As we reflect on our past year of activity and plan for the next, We recognise that everything has agency, and we aim to work with relatedness as a premise (Martin, 2017); as we see in our praxis our cultural backgrounds and various intersections with the world, influence our thinking, as well as how we relate to place (place being Naarm, Melbourne). Our alliance pledges to core values that our collective holds: to stand for social and environmental justice, Indigenous and diverse ethnic struggles, and empowerment, for academic equality and fraternity. For change and opportunities for younger generations.
As APR begins its process of unsettling academia, we used SOAC as a platform to discuss and explore these pressing issues that we - as an industry, community, and collective - face. And we feel that only through an organised group can we best mobilise our power in order to enact social change that we want to see in the world or at the very least in our fields. This manifiesto represents the beginning of such actions.
Demeter, Márton. 2020. Academic Knowledge Production and the Global South: Questioning Inequality and Under-Representation. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-52701-3.
Maricato, Ermínia. 2013. As ideias fora do lugar e o lugar fora das ideias. In A cidade do pensamento único: desmanchando consensos. Petrópolis: Vozes.
Martin, Brian. 2017. “Methodology Is Content: Indigenous Approaches to Research and Knowledge.” Educational Philosophy and Theory 49 (14): 1392–1400. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2017.1298034.