I remember long long back Avijit Pathak wrote a piece after his interview for promotions in Mainstream and described how the people sitting on the other side of the table behave. He was right and anyone who has appeared in an interview would agree to his observations. The fact is that the two sides of the table in an interview are best instances of how power works within an ‘academic’ realm. Those who have filled up their API forms in Indian universities or other world class places or have filled up Annual Reports to prove their worth would it better today.
It does not matter who knows how much and whether there is a possibility of a dialogic relationship there. Despite all rhetoric of ‘be comfortable’, ‘dont be nervous’, ‘ have some water’ and so on the structure remains that of someone seeking a favour – promotion, job or regularisation – and someone taking a decision whether you should be given that favour or not. It does not matter whether the people on the other side possess even sufficient knowledge on what you are to be tested. (The tragedy is that you are to be ‘tested’; you have to prove your ‘merit’ and ‘ability’ and so on). All this does not begin at the table where many pairs of eyes insatiably await to prove your incompetence with questions like ‘what is sociological about it?; What is the difference between peasant and farmer’; why do you publish from Rawat Publications or Aakar Books because the quality is doubtful and so on? Sometimes they even ask you to explain in a few sentences how Gandhi, Foucault and Marcuse can be critiques of modernity. They might also ask you that ‘why is your article so short in length’? Or ‘ what is the impact factor of the journal you published’? In other words, you can’t escape their predatory nature. They are out there to really ‘test’ you.
It does not start here. It starts with the idea of measuring your capability, which is to be defined by those on the other side of the power hierarchy. It is a different matter they would have been promoted simply because they spent so many years in an institution without any of the measurements that they have introduced to weigh your intellectual capability. It is a different thing that they have no inkling that most of the great works historically in South Asia have not been published by the ‘good quality publishers’ otherwise everyone ranging from Phule, Gandhi, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Maulana Bhasani, D D Kosambi, A R Desai, Yoginder Singh to many more were not published by any of the university presses or corporate houses that denote quality for them. It is a different thing that intellectualism for them meant engagement and dialogue and not insane number crunching of indexes and tables.
The interviews, the process of putting oneself up in the academic labour market is no doubt a compulsion that many academics have to do. However, the interesting part is that we all fall into the trap and reproduce the process which humiliated us, at the cost of killing the intellectual spirit of our work.
As Avijit Pathak quoted Foucault aptly to talk about JNU: “The judges of normality are everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the ‘social worker’ judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behaviour, his aptitudes, his achievements. The carceral network, in its compact of disseminated forms, with its system of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observation, has been the greatest support, in the normative society, of the normalising power.”
The judges out there are like vultures prepared to shred the idea of education itself in name of merit, quality, capability, marketability and relevance. Their agenda is obvious – to write an obituary for higher education.