In an email from a colleague at another university is a telling sentence about mergers, politics, resignations, appointments. I saw Graeber’s The Utopia of Rules in a very nice Queen St West (Toronto) bookstore yesterday. Speaking to people in other large organisations it is obvious that the maelstrom of mediocre rearranging of parts is not the preserve of universities, and is now what the managerial milieu is. I’ve never read a thing on this stuff, though might have a look at the Graeber, but the continual rearranging of parts into new arrangements, combined with ways to quantify and proceduralise practice, is that what happens to managerial labour when staff are autonomous enough (with all our new resources and tools) to not need, well, managing? In other words just as media, information, and the rest have moved from economies of scarcity to one of plenty (and so our practices move from patronage – of being a student to the institution and so on – to discovery and curation) the same has applied to management — I don’t need to see anyone to change where my pay goes, apply for leave, put in sick leave, request and pay for travel, set up a class, set readings, find the rules and regulations for …. Management then moves to its version of meta–management: tracking and arranging. (Remembering that it is now claimed that 1 in 10 people employed in Australia are now employed to measure and ensure the maintenance of these compliance regimes.)
There’s something biological about it, a sort of system level response where labour (at all levels no doubt) is atomised and co-joined in ways where the materiality of connection is through flows and signals (email, virtual meetings, shared URLs, google docs, blackboard, etc) and so the organisation, in some need to render visible (and not just to manage it, that’s a consequence of this other thing) invents protocols (rules and policies) and elaborate (because we can do it all differently the machines must become elaborate to introduce Latourian mediaries that aren’t supposed to interrupt flow, merely police it). The problem is that for all of us who experience this (and it is at every level, I’m sure the head of the university does too as the federal government develops yet another regulatory framework) it not only does interrupt, it becomes the work.