ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 11, Number 1 (January, 2014)

An Interview With Mike Gane: Sociology, Politics and Academia
(August 24-30, 2013)

Dr. Paul O’Mahoney (Dublin, Ireland)

Dr. Mike Gane (Professor Emeritus, Loughborough University, UK)

Paul O’Mahoney: The first department of Sociology in the UK was established at the LSE in 1904. In relative terms, if not still a nascent discipline, it is certainly a recent one. Can you tell us a little about your academic background, and what attracted you to sociology – and at the time, was it a wholly accepted discipline, or regarded somewhat as upstart or suspect by older universities? Were there any events in twentieth-century British history which might have particularly contributed to an increase in its popularity as a subject?

Mike Gane: I did sociology at Leicester (1965–8), and LSE (1968–71) when sociology was still unavailable at Oxbridge. But it was only the institutionalisation that was relatively backward in the UK for sociology was around as a Victorian social science from the 1840s with [John Stuart] Mill and [Herbert] Spencer. There was a rearguard attempt to stop its development at Oxbridge and people’s careers were affected by this. When I went to university it was to study politics, I knew nothing about sociology.  I converted from politics to sociology after the first year course, as Leicester sociology was then a world class centre with Norbert Elias and Anthony Giddens around at the time. I’d been interested in Engels, got into Sartre, but around 1966–7 started to shift from existentialism to structural theory – I edited a student journal that was one of the first to translate Althusser (the essay has recently been republished from that journal by Radical Philosophy) – we also had situationism, Debord. In February 1968 there was a student occupation of buildings at Leicester, a forerunner of May. I did a quick survey of those students involved and found that it was not just the social science students who were active but radical support came from across all subjects from sciences to engineering. I think the expansion of the number of universities outside Oxbridge influence was a factor in sociology gaining ground then in the UK.  While at the LSE I was in another student journal that translated Foucault as well as more Althusser and his school which by then we had links with. Much of the initiative for developing theory came from students first of all and then taken up by academic staff.  There was a feeling that social theory was a new and exciting opening up, but that is how it must have felt in the 1840s, and later in the universities with the Durkheim school and the Weber circles from 1900.  I got a job at Loughborough University (not far from Leicester) in 1972 which turned out to be congenial. The 1970s saw the Althusser school break up, and I moved towards deconstruction theory. The 1980s saw the victory of Margaret Thatcher over the miners and the nearby coalfields (I lived near Coalville) became a site of civil war. Looking back now what is remarkable is how unprepared for the triumph of neoliberalism we all were. The university milieu has changed out of all recognition from those days before mass student numbers and computers, and sociology has lost the optimism and allure it had then.

Mahoney: How did Baudrillard’s work first come to your attention; and was the impact on your own thinking immediate, or was he a figure whose importance to you grew over a number of years?

Gane: I remember looking at Baudrillard’s For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign sometime after it was translated in the 1970s.  I rather dismissed it, as of course I was then reading it under the impact of Althusser’s famous critique of the concepts of alienation, reification and fetishism. At the end of the 1980s the editor at Routledge (Chris Rojek) asked me to think about writing on Baudrillard, and I turned the invitation down.  He must have asked others who also declined.  He came back to me and asked me to read some of Baudrillard in French and review my decision. I did this and I was surprised by the quality of writing and analysis I found in Baudrillard’s work.  More than this I think I detected something of an Althusserian moment in Baudrillard, in the book on the consumer society of 1970.  So I decided to take on the project which became voluminous.  When I presented the completed manuscript to Rojek he immediately thought it too long, and that I should divide it into two books. That’s how I became the author of two books on Baudrillard in 1991 (Critical and Fatal Theory, and Baudrillard’s Bestiary). So over a short period of time I went from knowing very little to a lot of Baudrillard.  I initially thought I could do a refashioning of Baudrillard via Althusser, but soon concluded that it needed to be the other way around, since Althusser had no theory of consumerism, no theory of the media, and had not grasped neoliberalism at all.  As I did not launch into a Marxist critique of Baudrillard I got violently attacked by people like Douglas Kellner who simply aligned Baudrillard with postmodernism. Kellner graciously acknowledged later that his interpretation was wrong.  But there was something deeper in this debate, the weakness of traditional Marxism to come to terms with the new capitalism. Because of the way he worked Baudrillard was among the first to see the vast changes that were wrought in the 1970s, not just with the so-called affluent society (which many theorists still reject) but with the way capital transpoliticised itself in his terminology, or in more familiar terms speculative finance capital started to exercise its dominance, and the deregulated world opened up to it. After that I followed closely his charting of this new culture.

Mahoney: In introductory discussions of Baudrillard, one commonly encounters his quote: “What I am, I don’t know. I am the simulacrum of myself”. This was apparently a response at an open-session Q&A to an attendee who asked him about his personal life and family. There is very little in his work from which one might extrapolate anything definite about his background. When you came to know him, can you recall his seeming different in person from the impressions you might have formed as a reader?

Gane: Chris Rojek suggested a Baudrillard Live collection of interviews soon after the two books were published and sent to Baudrillard, and that I go to Paris to do an interview. Fortunately my partner Monique is French and liked reading Baudrillard and wanted to meet him. So we went in November 1991, and then shortly after he came to England for a short lecture tour (Oxford, Loughborough, Essex), so I spent a lot of time driving him around and he stayed with us in Loughborough.  It was a bit of a risk as I had no idea what he was like, but in fact we got on very well from the start. Of course he sounded me out with some technical questions, and then he was very relaxed and very frank. We had quite long discussions of Althusser after he’d looked at my old student journals, and overnight he read Althusser’s L’Avenir dure longtemps (1992) which was in my library. I’d by then realised of course that Baudrillard was fascinated by dualities, by the experiences of following and being followed as an exchange and power relation.  I could see he was interested in the way his works were read in different cultures, how there was a specifically English reading and misreading.  There wasn’t a sense in which my readings were good or bad, they were of course my own readings based on what I knew of the texts and expressed a certain enthusiasm for his work. It was clear that I no intention of being a copy or clone or acolyte. He gave me a lot of leads about how his thinking had developed and where it was going.  I acted on some of these but others were beyond me for lack of resources. So I kept an open mind before reading him about what he might be like, and when I met him I found him relaxed, unpretentious, and above all straight – there was no trace of anything manipulative. He did not try to lead, or to indoctrinate, or to form a school.  He did not want a troop of uncritical admirers.  All the questions I asked him he answered, to the point. Thus when you ask what did he mean by his expression ‘I am the simulacrum of myself’ I would say that he was directing the questioner to one of his key theoretical points, one which I myself have never written about, and didn’t discuss with him (I refer to the chapter ‘The Declination of Wills’ in The Transparency of Evil).1Thus the question is not really what to know about him in relation to his family and background, since he does disclose quite a lot about himself; it is really a question of identity in contemporary cultures. There is in fact place for a good biography of Baudrillard as there are plenty of people still around who knew him in his early days; the material would need to be found, and perhaps someone is doing it.

Mahoney: Baudrillard’s initial reception in Anglophone academia was marked by the fact that translations of his books appeared out of sequence; it was difficult for English-language readers not only to appreciate the development of his thought, but perhaps even more so its coherence over time. What further obstacles have there been to the reception and interpretation of Baudrillard, and have these led in your opinion to any persistent or abiding misunderstandings of his thought?

Gane: Baudrillard complained often about misunderstandings, by the art world, by the film makers, as well as by academics and journalists. By and large now most of these have been dispelled.  There are many introductory books, and more advanced studies that are available, and the IJBS, so as far as basic errors are concerned they are rare.  There are parts of his thinking that are subtly complex and have not been worked on and their full impact might emerge later (I think of this as a kind of inversion of Borges’ ‘Kafka and His Precursors’).

Mahoney: You have written extensively on French theory, but also on very traditional figures in sociology such as Durkheim, regarded more or less as the discipline’s founder, and more recently on Comte, held to be its forerunner. Baudrillard began as a sociologist, but distanced himself somewhat from the discipline and eventually became more overtly critical of it. What in his complaints do you think is valid, or invalid?

Gane: Actually Baudrillard had an unusual career, and only after many years as a teacher of German at Lycée level did he make it into the university. He translated significant works from German into France (Weiss, Brecht).  He was born in 1929 so he was 37 when he completed his first doctorate (the jury was Barthes, Bourdieu, and Lefebvre) and the book [Le Système des Objets] appeared in 1968 when he was 39.  I discussed his entry into sociology with him, and he said he’d read some Simmel (Philosophy of Money), Durkheim (Suicide), Weber (on religion), obviously a lot of Marx (he’d translated some).  His formation was rather via Barthes and media theory and social semiotics.  I don’t know what he taught at Nanterre, except that reported in the section of the l’Herne collection (Donzelot and Jeudy) entitled “Tombeaux pour la Sociologie” (2004: 59-72), and stray comments from ex-students (I met an American at a conference who’d been a student and who said after a few sessions Baudrillard didn’t show up any more, and an academic sociologist, Jean-Michel Berthelot, confirmed this as a reputation)2.Something shall we say alienated him, whereas he often described his approach as anthropological, preferring Mauss to Durkheim.  In 1986 he took his second doctorate at the Sorbonne, his Habilitation (the jury was Georges Balandier, Pierre Ansart, Alain Touraine, and Eugène Enriquez)3.In a bookshop in England he was delighted to find his works classified under philosophy and Foucault’s under sociology.

The problem with this is to know whether he was alienated because of the situation at Nanterre (described by Donzelot) or whether the alienation was intellectual, or both.  Intellectually he didn’t write a critique of sociology; one has to infer from some critical remarks about the way sociology was bound up with the social and disappears with it.  As these remarks tended to be very general, I found them of limited value, since sociology is not just about the ‘social’ as opposed to the economic in that sense.  One can see how he would have critiqued Bourdieu, or Baudelot and Establet, or others, and the critique would have been that they did not grasp the full impact of the neoliberal revolution4. In this respect I would say his complaints were valid. But Donzelot suggests that Baudrillard’s own positions were so radical that everything was to be pushed to the limit and beyond, and that in effect there was something negatively destructive in his relation to sociology which after all gave him hospitality.  My own position on this has been critiqued in some reviews of my work which suggest that I’ve tried to domesticate his thinking.  In response I’d say that is partially true, and that I wanted to use it as a resource, I was delaying critique.  In the end sociology began to lose interest as his works became more metaphysical.  

 

Mahoney: Did he have any difficulties with that jury? By 1986, Baudrillard’s recent works would have included books like Seduction and Fatal Strategies: texts which do away with most of the norms of academic writing, such as footnotes and referencing. It was also the year in which he would publish America. I can imagine a group of traditional, academic sociologists being quite cool about his work.

Gane: I don't know what happened at the session. I do know that whatever he submitted (and it was likely to have been some of his translations as well as publications), it was introduced by something he published as L’Autre par Lui-Même, which you might know as The Ecstasy of Communication. That served as an introduction to, and overview of, his whole work. Whether he had difficulty could be found out, as those on the jury are still living – that might be done by a biographer. There is a photo of him in front of the jury in the l’Herne collection, and one or two remarks in Cool Memories. It is clear from The Ecstasy of Communication, however, that he made no attempt whatever to suggest his work was scientific or positivistic in any way: he talks of what he is doing as a kind of exorcism.

Mahoney: The volume of interviews you edited, Baudrillard Live, did an enormous amount to introduce Baudrillard to English-speaking readers at a time when there were not that many primary texts available. Is there a particular volume of Baudrillard’s which you would recommend to curious graduate students, or especially ambitious undergraduates, seeking unguided entry to his thought?

Gane: The great text is The Transparency of Evil: Essays in Extreme Phenomena.

Mahoney: When Baudrillard died in 2007 and I informed friends or colleagues working or with some background in the humanities, who might have been somewhat familiar with him, invariably they responded by asking me how he would be regarded in a quarter of a century or so, and whether he would still be read. Something similar happened in the wake of Derrida’s death in 2004: the question everybody asked was: Will his reputation flourish or decline over the coming twenty-odd years? How do you think Baudrillard will fare in this respect – are there any particular aspects of his work which will encourage greater attention or scrutiny, or any that might date poorly, simply become unfashionable, or appear too tied to a specific historical and cultural context to be accessible to future readers?

Gane: There are various possibilities.  One is that he will take a place rather like that of Bataille today. Another is that he will take a place alongside Barthes and Foucault and Bourdieu and Derrida and Deleuze and Gorz as intellectuals working in the same direction5.In 25 years time we will see! I’ll be 95.

Editor’s note: One (essay-length) answer to this question appears as:  “Jean Baudrillard in the 21st Century (and after)” by Gerry Coulter in the journal Fast Capitalism, Volume 8, Number 2 (2011): http://www.uta.edu/huma/agger/fastcapitalism/8_2/Coulter18_2.html

Mahoney: Since the global economic crash of 2008, we have heard endless musings on the “crisis” of global capitalism. As a sociologist, do you see this primarily as an economic failure, or the outcome and therefore symptom of something broader? Does Baudrillard have anything to contribute to analyses of the crisis?

Gane: This is a question I’m working on now for a collection on Baudrillard to come out in France in 2014. It is always difficult to guess what he would have said had he lived a little longer of course. One of the qualities that made him interesting was his constant ability to surprise. The phrasing of your question is interesting since you relate to him as living. It’s two things: what would he have said, and what does Baudrillard have to say. With the latter he becomes a body of thought. Can one talk of Baudrillardian phenomena (cf. the Kafkaesque)? Actually, for me the best account of the crisis is/was latent in Baudrillard, and it’s a pity that current writers like Audier in France relate only to Foucault and Bourdieu6.One could ‘see’ the specific things Baudrillard would have picked up – extreme phenomena like sovereign debt. Today he would be writing on fracking, drones, etc. You ask me what I think as a sociologist about the crisis, whether it is primarily economic. I think of it as primarily a problem of regulation and the paralysis of government. Thus, for me, I do still think in terms of separate spheres (and the planet) that are essential to the modern state that are so weakly defended. But I think of them in the optic of Baudrillard’s transpoliticalisation (as long as this is not another name for reductionism), and that in relation to neoliberalisation. Whereas Foucault had identified it in relation to its theoretical texts, Baudrillard identified its forms as it emerged and became hegemonic in our cultures.

Mahoney: You’ve alluded to the rise of neoliberalism and the failure of the left adequately to confront it, and to the figure most associated with this in Britain, Thatcher. Her recent death, so long anticipated, was almost a meta-event. The obituaries had long been written, the legacy often enough weighed, and coverage and discussion therefore became less about reaction to her death and more about reaction to the reaction (whether the street parties were in bad taste, etc., whether mainstream media outlets were uncritical in their assessments). This is no doubt a testament to the scale of her influence on British politics and society. Part of the effect of Thatcher’s winning three elections was the formation of ‘New Labour’, which Blair would subsequently guide to three election victories, largely by conceding much to neoliberalism, abandoning older socialist politics as dated, and seeking to occupy what he termed ‘the radical centre’. This gradual ‘centring’ of politics is a part of what Baudrillard called ‘the transpolitical’. What are your thoughts on the state of contemporary British politics: do you think the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat government is markedly different from or a direct descendent of Thatcherite Conservatism; do you think there is still a genuine ideological difference between the two major parties; and how do you read the documented rise in support for nationalist groups such as the UK Independence Party and the British National Party?

Gane: There were one or two interesting obituaries and documentaries about Thatcher. I noticed the ones which emphasised the way her radicalism upset the right as well as the left. The introduction of neoliberalism was a zigzag and not monolithically coherent, but it became so as time went on. Blair broke from old Labourism and this sealed the breakup of the post-war (positive) welfare state consensus, and spurred the making of a new one across the political spectrum.  Some, like Giddens, have argued that there is a big ideological divide between Conservative neoliberalism and ‘third way’ Labour. Few people believe this now as the present Labour leader, Ed Miliband, finds it impossible to return to ‘old Labour’ or to find something else. The governing parties appear impotent in the face of the problems and the powers they face, and the logic seems to be on the side of even more neoliberalism – witness the upcoming sell-off of the Post Office and the move from positive to negative welfare (Giddens reverses these terms in his analysis). One line of possible opposition to this consensus is demagogic right-wing nationalism, a break with Europe and the institution or pursuit of protectionism – a line become popular because the government parties produce the dramatics of impotence: inability to control, on the one hand, access to state benefits or levels of employment, and on the other corporations, finance capital and tax evasion (it’s the same situation in France).  There is an irony here since Thatcherism came in against the background of a widespread belief that Britain in the 1970s had become ungovernable.

There are basic misrecognitions, and ironies, stemming from the way neoliberalism works. One of the most astonishing inversions is the apparent demolition of socialism and class structures only to see a new socialism of the rich and privileged (that was in fact the Thatcher project).  A lot of what we see in politics depends on the terms we use (but not altogether, since Baudrillard rarely used the term neoliberalism – see the Kamper and Wulf (eds.) collection, Looking Back at the End of the World, 1989: 43.)  I use the term socialism in the Durkheimian sense to mean extensive State intervention in the economy – as opposed to classical liberalism’s non-intervention – so governments now are in fact ‘socialist’ to a high degree in that sense, where the benefits go to the powerful, organised in private supra-state corporations, in a ‘big society’ exhibiting extreme inequalities. I was surprised to find that even Baudrillard had prefigured this use for the banking crisis (Paroxysm, 1998: 55).  I think many of the Baudrillardian concepts are best deployed against the background not just of the economic crisis of 2008 but also of the old meritocratic national state ideal the politicians feign to continue to protect: that is, a state where politics, education, sport, family are protected from direct financial transactions. Analysis which thinks these spheres directly controlled by money is simple reductionism; things are normally more subtle and thus more difficult to combat. The state and the media, following the radicalism of Thatcherite politics, are committed hypocritically to the protection of spheres: it is simply impossible for it to allow money – or any interest – to rule directly (for degrees, political positions, etc., to be bought), though Baudrillard very early noticed in the 1970s how banks had ceased to serve their customers and had begun to exploit them cynically. There is an important parallel order, which is the black economy and pure corruption, but money and finance do penetrate through the legitimate order through those processes he called impossible exchanges, and these produce stunning transpolitical effects. With the slimming down of the institutional profile of the state, the big sell-off, a new powerful corporate private order was established closely meshed in with government through thousands of personal placements and ties. But as a consequence (and early signs of this were pointed out long ago by economists like Galbraith), research and development is carried out to a large extent within these private organisations, not universities, and have far greater resources than government agencies that are supposed to oversee and regulate them. And because many of them are global, they escape regulation and taxation altogether, and even their research is transpoliticised in the sense that it is they who provide the testing and validations, and hence determine truths serves their interests.

Two other concepts are interesting in this new context of austerity which Baudrillard did not live to see, integral reality and singularity. He conceived them in relation to the drive to technical perfection (first chapters of The Intelligence of Evil, and elsewhere). I see them as appropriately redirected to the analysis of the debris of the socio-economic crisis. With such a crisis, things are reduced as if there had been a terrorist attack on great fetishistic powers; and the public debt incurred seems the cost of some strange, speculative adventure by mercenaries in an economic war that went disastrously wrong. There is a link between the current initiation ritual of the Oxford student Bullingdon Club, the club both Cameron and Osborne were members of – burning a £50 note in front of a tramp – and the RBS’s losses of £16 billion7.The world is brought back to a reality, but this reality is not the one we expect since it is one that was already realized in the fetishistic mode (not alienated). Baudrillard plays with Agamben’s concept of ‘whatever singularity’, translated via the French as ‘nondescript singularity’ as the equivalent of the absolute commodity.  It seems to me that Agamben might well have been influenced by Baudrillard’s earlier analysis of the hostage as a transpolitical form (e.g., state of exception, potentialisation, in Fatal Strategies:  47; did Baudrillard get the concept of ‘state of exception’ which he uses several times, from Walter Benjamin?).  The point is to identify in the (terroristic) economic catastrophe what is the hostage, the pure object, the inexchangeable, the fetish, the nothing, in the world of computerised banking based on complex algorithms and inverted ‘socialism’. Whereas Agamben leads us optimistically to the inoperative community Baudrillard leads us with great irony to the neoliberal world become literal through singularisation.  I like to think of this as litter, literally. And that leads to my real criticism of Baudrillard’s ‘figures’ of the transpolitical, he omits pollution (he had no place or time unfortunately for political ecology or the green movement) although he had the means to think it through.  Perhaps his ultra-pessimism was justified when in one of his last papers he said “the dream of a reinvention of politics and democracy, and for us, the dream of a Europe bearing an alternative model of civilization opposed to neoliberal hegemony…is without hope” (The Agony of Power: 76), but I don’t think so myself.

 

Mahoney: You have long had ties to France. French commentators have become very fond, in the past couple of decades, of relating every popular sentiment in France to its rapid and definitive post-war decline as a great power. If one were to push this to an extreme, one might end with linking Lyotard’s declaration of the decline of grand narratives to France’s post-war situation, or equally the early popularity of deconstruction, which often uses martial metaphors with regard to reading and writing, but whose model might be compared to one of ‘resistance’ and ‘guerrilla warfare’: fighting grand texts – a good many of them monumental opuses in German – as a conquered France fought a great power, from within, or from within a territory under that power’s administration. Do you think France’s decline as a military power has led to a corresponding decline as a cultural power, and how does this affect how French theorists’ work today?

Gane: The decline of France as a cultural power is a result of many things, the military being one of them. The dominance of the Anglophone media worldwide is having specific effects across Europe.  There is very little resistance. The best of the theorists today are still trying to work out what neoliberalism is and the effects it is having. There are no imaginative solutions being worked out (as there were in the 1930s).

Mahoney: On a related note, there is a common perception abroad that France, long the country of the intellectuel engagé as feted public figure, today has far fewer. Deleuze, Derrida, Baudrillard and others, and before them of course, Sartre, Camus, De Beauvoir and Lévi-Strauss, made regular media appearances. Today, serious academic philosophers seem far more seldom canvassed for opinions, and their place has been taken by provocateurs such as Éric Zemmour, Alain Finkielkraut, Bernard Henri-Lévy or Michel Onfray. Do you have any sense that this perception is justified, or does this misrepresent French intellectual life?

Gane: Yes it is justified.  At the moment the scene is occupied by people like Michel Serres, Latour, Kristeva at the top8.There are many intellectuals of less eminence who are working at an excellent level, and who appear in the French media which is quite open to expert commentary from social scientists and critics. No one as yet has risen to the challenge of the situation, no theorists of the level of Žižek or Agamben.

Mahoney: You’ve recently retired after a long career in academia. Much is made today of the sense of crisis in the humanities. It is over a quarter of a century since Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987) attacked the declining standards of American universities, and the erosion of the ideas and values traditionally associated with a liberal education; that book connected with some of the arguments set forth in Thorstein Veblen’s The Higher Learning in America (1919). Today, Harvey Mansfield at Harvard has perhaps been the most vocal critic of grade inflation and a system where students rate their professors, which translates to pressure on the professor’s part to award higher grades; this kind of monitoring being applied in Britain was already denounced by Enoch Powell in his well known “The Enemy Within” speech in 1970, which called the notion that students were competent to appraise their professors “arrant nonsense”9. One might be reminded in light of all this of Baudrillard’s remarks (I am quoting from memory) on the ‘decline of the west’, that the decline of western civilisation is simply part of the narrative of western civilisation10 perhaps, to some degree, the decline of the liberal arts has always been a part of the narrative of the liberal arts. Do you however get any sense that humanities within the academy is in crisis, and also in a broader cultural context? 

Gane: Yes I’ve heard about declining standards since the 1960s. It’s a continuous refrain of conservatives. Very little if any evidence is ever produced, and when it is, it is uncomfortable and quickly forgotten. The passage from an elite system to a mass system was bound to have a reaction from the elitists, and so was democratisation. But I think this is not the most important debate, and that Baudrillard points to something else.  What is most striking is the change from the alienated student (and subsidised, as I was) to the entrepreneurial student (who is in debt); and within the university, the introduction of new, computerised systems and competitions (between Departments and Universities). For example, I used to sit on exam boards and discuss the results of students I knew or knew by name; at the end of my career I sat on a board where the results were anonymised, there was no discussion at all, and I had no idea which marks belonged to which student. It gave the impression of course of being totally objective, and also indifferent. Is the standard better or worse than 40 years before? In my view, and I did keep records, the standard is better; but then this observation concerns one university in a hierarchy of over 100.  The essential point is that the whole educational experience has changed, and the student has become oriented to enterprise, and to developing, accumulating, human capital. The student gets used to appraising the lecturer’s performance just as the lecturer grades the student, and the Sunday Times grades the university. So, all the discussion about declining standards focuses on the wrong issue.  What has happened is a transformation of individualism, not towards a new freedom in the classical liberal sense, but towards a new individual who builds up capital and exploits this competitively. The university staff members are equally thrown into a competitive game network, where to outperform others is essential to survival. Almost everything is assessed and ranked with a degree of Kafkaesque bureaucratisation that is hardly believable. Whereas the system of 40 years ago was simple and relaxed, with liberal values, and within it there were known traditional hierarchies, today it is hyper-bureaucratised and hyper-legalised and the hierarchies have changed and keep changing.   Thus to understand what has happened it is essential to see that neoliberalism does not diminish the action of the state; it avoids direct state intervention but only to insert new mechanisms and values insidiously where none existed before: for example, in Britain it is only now, forty years after the initial entry of neoliberalism, that an enterprise element is being required on each degree course, and that an enterprise element is to be counted within the work profile of academics. And these new mechanisms do not stand still; the system is in constant movement, as if in permanent crisis. This why Baudrillard, and others like Žižek, have described this as a new totalitarianism which works not by imposing a system of commands but rather a game framework into which the individual is absorbed and has to adapt at a moment’s notice.  On the one hand you have the liberalisation of the system’s elements and their transpolitical formations, and on the other the transformation of the individual into a tactician, self-promoter, someone who builds up an identity in order to exploit it within the new culture. Again Baudrillard plays with Foucault and with Agamben.  The modern, entrepreneurial self sacrifices itself to itself, a society of individuals rendered ‘docile’ (Foucault), and ‘rendered servile for their own use’ (Intelligence of Evil: 56).  An obituary of the latest president of the Mont Pèlerin Society, Kenneth Minogue, reports (Daily Telegraph, July 3, 2013) an ironic crisis and disillusionment at the very summit of this Society which gave birth to the doctrines of neoliberalism and promulgated them to Thatcher and Reagan and Pinochet and others: Minogue, just before he died, had concluded despairingly that democratic governments inspired by this doctrine have become quasi-totalitarian, tending servile populations.

Further Writings by Professor Gane:

Recent articles, reviews and book chapters of Dr. Gane’s which also address some of the issues covered in the interview include:

(2008). “Baudrillard’s Sense of Humour” Jean Baudrillard: Fatal Theory Editors: D. Clarke, M. Doel, W. Merrin, and R. Smith (Routledge) .

(2008). “Foucault on Governmentality and Liberalism” Theory, Culture and Society 25: 7–8.

(2009). “The Paradox of Neoliberalism” Durkheimian Studies 15, Oxford: Berghahn: 20–25.

(2011). “Baudrillard’s Radicalization of Fetishism” Cultural Politics 7.3: 371–90.

Endnotes:

1. “The secret of the other is that it is never given to me to be myself, and that I exist only thanks to a fatal declination of something coming from elsewhere...So the secret of philosophy may not be to know oneself, nor to know where one is going, but rather to go where the other is going; not to dream oneself, but rather to dream what others dream; not to believe oneself, but rather to believe in those who do believe: to give priority to all determinants from elsewhere...We live in a culture which strives to return to each of us full responsibility for his own life...This, however, is an absurdity: no one can be expected to be entirely responsible for his own life...How much more human to place one’s fate, one’s desire and one’s will in the hands of someone else. The  result? A circulation of responsibility, a declination of wills, and a continual transferring of forms.” (The Transparency of Evil: Essays in Extreme Phenomena, trans. J. Benedict, Verso, 1996: 164–65. Cf. Paroxysm: Interviews with Philippe Petit, trans. C. Turner, Verso, 1998: 94: “Each person is doubtless present with their will and desire, but secretly, their decisions and thoughts come to them from elsewhere, and it’s in this very strange interaction that their originality lies”).

2. Jacques Donzelot (b. 1943) is a French sociologist who works at Nanterre. He is the director of the Centre d’Études, d’Observation et de Documentation sur les Villes and the Centre d'Études des Politiques Sociales. His best known work in English is The Policing of Families (1979 [1977]). His website is http://donzelot.org/.

Donzelot’s article, recalling his experiences teaching a joint seminar with Baudrillard, is “Patasociologie à l'université de Nanterre: Souvenirs d'un enseignement commun avec Jean Baudrillard”. It appeared in the volume Baudrillard, Ed. F. L’Yvonnet (Cahiers de l’Herne, 2004). Henri-Pierre Jeudy’s remembrance, which follows Donzelot’s in the same volume, is “La mise à mal de la sociologie”. Donzelot’s contribution was later republished in Esprit (2005). The chapter/article is available on his website: http://www.donzelot.org/articles/Baudrillard_art.pdf. A translation was published as “Patasociology at the University of Nanterre” in a special Baudrillard Redux issue of the journal Cultural Politics. Cultural Politics 7.3 (2011): 359–70. http://culturalpolitics.dukejournals.org/content/7/3/359.extract. Further reflections by Donzelot on teaching sociology at the time (where Baudrillard is also mentioned) are contained in: “Devenir sociologue en 1968: Petite topographie physique et morale des lieux de la sociologie en ce temps-là” Esprit (2008): 47–53 http://www.donzelot.org/articles/1968.pdf

3. Georges Balandier (b. 1920) is a sociologist and anthropologist, Emeritus Professor at the Sorbonne and researcher at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. He has written much on Africa and postcolonial issues. His best-known work in English is Political Anthropology (Allen Lane, 1970 [1967]). Pierre Ansart (b. 1922), Emeritus Professor at Université Paris VII, has written on figures such as Proudhon and Saint-Simon, and numerous studies of ideology. Alain Touraine (b. 1925), a researcher at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, has written extensively on social movements, and on what he called “post-industrial society”, a term and concept which has attained general currency in sociology. Eugène Enriquez (b. 1931) is a sociologist whose work often focuses on the role of the unconscious in shaping society. His most prominent work is De la horde à l’État: Essai de psychanalyse du lien social (Gallimard, 1983)

4. Christian Baudelot (b. 1938) and Roger Establet (b. 1938) are French sociologists and regular collaborators on a variety of sociological investigations into subjects such as capitalism, work, suicide, and the growing intellectual and scholarly achievements of women in France. 

5. André Gorz (1923–2007) was the pen-name of the Austro-French social theorist and journalist Gérard Horst (born Gerhart Hirsch). An important figure of the Left in twentieth-century France, he was a co-founder of Le Nouvel Observateur, and a strong critic of the inequalities of capitalist society. He originally trained as a chemist. His most famous critical work is probably Critique of Economic Reason (Verso, 1989) [originally Métamorphoses du travail: Critique de la raison économique (Galilée, 1988)]. He is remembered also for his Lettre à D.: Histoire d’un amour, an anguished ‘open’ love-letter to his British-born wife Doreen Keir which was published in 2006, a year before the pair committed suicide together – neither wishing to survive the other – in response to a terminal illness which caused Doreen regular attacks of severe pain.

6. Not yet translated into English, Serge Audier is a French philosopher based at the Sorbonne. His recent works include Le Socialisme Libérale (2006) La pensée anti-68 (2008); Le Colloque Walter Lippman: Aux origines du “néo-libéralisme” (2008) and Néo-Libéralisme(s): Une archéologie intellectuelle (2012). 

7. The Bullingdon Club is a notoriously exclusive, all-male student society at Oxford University; its membership is reportedly limited to twelve at any given time, and members often have links to the upper echelons of business or political (especially Conservative) circles in Britain and internationally. This initiation ritual was first reported in an Oxford University newspaper, and subsequently picked up by publications such as The Sunday Times, The Mirror and The Daily Mail. The Club did not issue any denial of the report. The character of the initiation would tune with another widely-publicised activity of the Club (of which Boris Johnson, the current Mayor of London, was a member at the same time as David Cameron), which involves causing determined, extensive damage to the interiors of restaurants – there is an eighty-five year-old standing ban on the Club’s meeting within fifteen miles of Oxford University. Laura Wade’s play Posh – due to be filmed next year – dramatises the antics of ‘The Riot Club’, inspired by reports of the Bullingdon Club’s activities. 

8. Kristeva will be familiar to most Anglophone readers, but Serres and Latour perhaps less so. Michel Serres (b. 1930) is a philosopher and currently Professor of French at Stanford University. His works include Conversations on Science, Culture and Time (1995), a series of interviews with Latour; The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies (2008); Variations on the Body (2012); and forthcoming is Times of Crisis: What the Financial Crisis Revealed and How to Reinvent Our Lives and Future (2014). Bruno Latour (b. 1947), is a philosophically-trained anthropologist and sociologist who has been influenced by Serres; he writes on the history and sociology of science, particularly the scientific method, and is a critic of currents of thought in the social sciences which reject realism. His major works in English include Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (1986); We Have Never Been Modern (1993); Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy (2004); Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (2007); and most recently An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns (2013).

9. “In the universities, we are told that education and the discipline ought to be determined by the students, and that the representatives of the students ought effectively to manage the institutions. This is nonsense – manifest, arrant nonsense; but it is nonsense which it is already obligatory for academics and journalists, politicians and parties, to accept and mouth upon pain of verbal denunciation and physical duress.” (See Powell, Reflections: Selected Writings and Speeches, edited by R. Collings, London: Bellew, 1992: 114).

The title and year of Powell’s speech are worth reflecting on, in light of Professor Gane’s remarks above regarding Thatcherism having come into the ascendancy against the backdrop of a Britain then widely considered ungovernable. A year before that 1970 speech, the Commander of Allied Forces in Northern Europe, General Sir Walter Walker, had remarked, in response to a French railway strike which held up Italian troops bound for Copenhagen to take part in a NATO exercise, that such incidents reminded the alliance that “the enemy within could be as dangerous as the enemy without” (The Glasgow Herald, September 26 1969: 13). After his retirement in 1972, General Walker would go on to found an anti-communist group in Britain called Civil Assistance, which called on Britain to submit to the appointment of a Leader figure who would crush civil disobedience and root out communism (it would also supply volunteers in the event of a general strike, and it mooted the raising of a civilian army). One of his refrains in advocating these measures was the need to defeat “the enemy within”. The apparently widespread enthusiasm for the opinions of Walker – who supported the appointment of Powell as Prime Minister – which received much media coverage through 1974, alarmed the Labour government of the time. An episode of the 2012 BBC documentary The Lost World of the Seventies alleged that evidence had come to light suggesting Walker may behind closed doors have been sounding out support for a coup d’état to unseat Harold Wilson’s government.  

10. “There’s certainly some disenchantment in the air. Having said that, the idea of the decadence of the West is part of its cultural language. The West has always delighted in imagining its own death” Paroxysm: 41

 

Mike Gane is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Loughborough University. He is the author of Baudrillard: Critical and Fatal Theory; and Baudrillard’s Bestiary: Baudrillard and Culture (both Routledge, 1991); Jean Baudrillard: In Radical Uncertainty (Pluto Press, 2000); the editor of Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews (Routledge, 1993); and the four-volume Jean Baudrillard (Sage, 2000). His other works include French Social Theory (Sage, 2003), which traces the vicissitudes and development of social theory in France from the post-revolutionary period to the cusp of the third millennium; On Durkheim’s Rules of Sociological Method (Routledge, 1988); The Radical Sociology of Durkheim and Mauss (Routledge, 1992); Harmless Lovers? Gender, Theory and Personal Relationships (Routledge, 1993) and Auguste Comte (Routledge, 2006).