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This is a scientific paper from December 2009 concerning Austria's Students Uprising and the "Uni brennt"-movement containing postcolonial theory.

Grassroots Revolution emerging occupied Audimax from a postcolonial perspective

“What I mean by utopistics, a substitute word I have invented, is something rather different. Utopistics is the serious assessment of historical alternatives, the exercise of our judgment as to the substantive rationality of alternative possible historical systems.” (Wallerstein 1989: 1)

A student activist was copying this excerpt on the wall of Austria`s second largest auditorium of our state university while I kept on supporting the squat as well and started to write this paper. What ignited at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna exactly one month ago has - by the time and through the engagement of masses of students and people who declared their solidarity – spread out to a conflagration covering large parts of Europe.

On 17th of November 2009*, the day of international student strike, thousands of people set off to streets in order to re-claim their demands and to demonstrate against the commodification of the education system and the aftermath of the Bologna-process** and its restructuring. The demonstration of our discontent mainly confronting these systematic changes as well as other precariates at our university was launched by the occupation of the biggest auditoriums (like the Audimax at University of Vienna) in Vienna and in a short period of time the squats popped out like mushrooms from other Austrian faculties who declared their so lidarity at the outset and a big amount of other European universities (especially in Germany) who catched the train in rapid succession. The movement has developed as the biggest student protetests since 1968.

It is the smoke of general discontent caused through the blazing bonfire against the way neoliberal politics is systematically eradicating the future of young people and getting instrumentalized for the global economy. I would like to get to the point of our desired change by using Paul Gilroy‟s words: “The „politricks‟ of the system is replaced by and authentic, immediate politics.” (Gilroy 1987: 317)

* This day – being the official International Student’s Day - refers to the incident in Prag in the year 1939 when nine Czech students were executed as a response to anti-Nazi demonstrations prompted by the death of Jan Opletal. In addition, all Czech universities were shut down and over 1200 Czech students were sent to concentration camps.

** It was designed at the University of Bologna in 1999 in order to create academic degree standards (bachelor/master) and a unified European higher education area at the loss of students individuality

2. Die Uni brennt! – Occupation and Resistance at the Audimax in Vienna

The self-description Die Uni brennt! expresses the dissatisfaction and hopelessness of Viennese students best, concerning the current protests and occupations at the University of Vienna. This fire which still maintains blazing hot, is not only a rhetorical fire but also a symbol for change in Austria's education system. The whole protest has got a very decentralized character being interconnected with a bunch of different institutes and faculties as well as human rights associations, freedom movements, workers alliance, lecturers, teachers, kindergarteners, artists and individuals in Austria and worldwide in order to strengthen a solidary network and improve the communication among this big variety of grassroots streamings. This very democratic bottom-up movement and revolt against the power structures of institutions like universities is the proof of the emancipation of the student perceived and treated as objects when the rise of a revolutionary voice causes the transformation towards a marginalized subject being a serious player in the education game.

The squatters have made advantage of contemporary media of all kind (especially the world wide web) in order to spread a revolutionary voice to the masses. Digital social networks offer an opportunity to individuals all across the globe to get involved into the basic-democratic process. The peaceful progress is an example for an alternative to the current hegemonic neoliberal system, creating a classless, autonomic movement where no institution acts like a representative for the students needs. The opinion of any individual (even if not a student) counts as much as a member of the student‟s political representative group called "ÖH". Within the first week more than one hundred working groups had been created out of nothing and their everyday‟s results are being presented in an open plenum where every present “guest” has got the right to vote. Gender mainstreaming and the inclusion of migrants and workers is being emphasized since day one and at any time it is proposed to maintain a balance concerning minority groups or people of different gender.

Through the appropriation of new media the latest news within these occupied auditoriums can be blazed abroad very rapidly. The movement has already caused a very broad media echo in a national and international spectrum in boulevard as well as renowned press. The cause of these aspiring students engagement was the reactivation of the public discourse about an out-of-date education system.

3. A Postcolonial Approach

The school of postcolonial studies is thought to be a reorientation of knowledge traditionally focused on the western hemisphere. The “discursive field” of the “West and the Rest” (Said 2003: 1ff.) evokes the eurocentric*** polarity between a linguistic construction called “the West” which undergoes critique on a normative basis and the powerless and objectified “Rest”. This universalistic approach to the production of knowledge triggers the need for continued anti-colonial struggle so as to eliminate the indirect rule****.
There is a need to break the concepts of “civilization” as well as the tradition of the eurocentric narrative through language, symbols, icons or abstract in order to dissolve the stress field between class with different privileges. The problem we face deals with an anti-revolutionary social class on the one hand and a conservative bourgeoisie which rules university and arts on the other hand causing a subordination of an oppressed “class”.
The only sustainable way to remove such inequality is through the action of deconstruction:

“deconstruction has been used effectively to reveal the Eurocentrism and cultural imperialism of the Western philosophy and literature that have been imposed upon the rest of the world.” (Tyson 1999: 373)

*** „the use of European culture as the standard to which all other cultures are negatively contrasted“ (Tyson 1999: 366)

**** A type of European colonial policy in which the traditional power structure is fully or partly incorporated into the colonial administrative structure.

3.1. Definition of Terms and Postcolonial Analysis on the Squat

Edward Said works and tries to explain the term “hegemony” and refers to Gramsci‟s prior “analytic distinction between civil and political society”.
The civil society is
“made up of voluntary (or at least rational and noncoercive) affiliations like schools, families, and unions, the latter [political society] of state institutions (the army, the police, the central bureaucracy [or in our case, universities]) whose role in the polity is direct domination.” But all what has to do with culture “is to be found operating within civil society, where the influence of ideas, of institutions, and of other persons works not through domination but by what Gramsci calls consent.” (Said 2003: 6f.)

The term “hegemony” denotes a form of leadership over culture and brings about a kind of “western” superiority which keeps on “overriding the possibility that a more independent, or more skeptical thinker might have had different views on the matter.” (Said [1978] 2003: 7)

Regarding our actual discussion about the university protests we can detect an analogy to the conception of hegemony as students are actually fighting the “colonial pillars” and authoritarian structures of their university by expressing their views on the current public education debates - representing a heterogenic field of proposals from the bottom instead of homogeneous orders from above – against uniformity and in favor of diversity.
In order to deconstruct something it is essential to use their language and terminology in Spivak‟s words a “persistent critique of what one cannot not want”. (Spivak 1996: 27f.)
According to an interview during a radio show from Radio Orange Spivak speaks about her role as a teaching assistant in Indian elementary schools and argues that the common, confrontational way of teaching is absolutely not suitable. Only literacy campaigns for marginalized groups are not enough – the important aspect is what you do with literacy. She goes further by claiming that it is wrong to teach them content instead of the rituals of democracy because only that way you avoid the preference of individuals and competition to a certain extent. More than that, she says that it is important to create a so-called “double mind” including democracy (equality) and class travel (fighting). (Spivak 2009)

In her idea of Marginalia***** she argues that hegemonic languages (like English) and its level is a bourgeois idea to keep the marginalized oppressed and the subalternity****** without a voice.
A possible way to escape this oppression is to use the concept of poetic language as well as the metaphor of historical language. While discussing subalternity, Spivak describes her perception of representations in two different ways: the first and rather political mode would be speaking for somebody through acting as an ambassador. The second possible form – mostly used in arts and philosophy - would spell Re-presentation embracing illustration or imagination. This leads to the binary stress field consciousness/representation versus conscience/Re-presentation. Hence the subject is not seen as a represented consciousness because representation can never be complete because spaces of controversy will always
remain. (Spivak 2004: 29ff.)

***** Refering to the margin/center-bipolarity

****** Subaltern is a term that commonly refers to persons who are socially, politically and geographically marginalized from the hegemonic power structure; to claim subalternity: to make anticolonial resistance visible and hearable

To come back to the university occupations – students made use (in a sub-, un- or conscious manner) of Spivak‟s theory of Marginalia. They don‟t want to be represented through a political agent like the ÖH, they use significant symbols, popular and poetic phrases as well as political action through theatre or flashmobs******* or protest lyrics in i.e. rap-rhymes. Another steady topic is the women who are underprivileged and have got no voice in society maintaining to fight sexism by creating a voice through radical anti-sexist language, etc.
These are all oppressed emotions that finally have got a valve to erupt in this context but have been backed up for a very long time and a lot of these feelings can be traced back to colonial structures. It was about time and this time the hegemonic system exaggeratedly oppressed the subaltern – that‟s why, not only the students, but also other parts of the civil society united in order to strike back on several layers.

Spivak underlines this way of counteraction perceiving critical interruption as positive aspects using the self-produced explanations as the grounds of actions. Therefore are the suggested and voted demands in every days plenum essential for the movement and create theoretical background of political and cultural practice. These demands should contain – what Spivak describes as “constructed binaries” – public (polical, economic, etc.) as well as private (emotional, etc.) attributes being interrelated in order to eliminate the hierarchy between these spaces. As a matter of fact, public must include private because she sees “how the center itself is marginal”. “The deconstructivist can use herself […] as a shuttle between the center (inside) and the margin (outside) and thus narrate a displacement.” (Spivak 2004: 140)

Linking the instrumentalization of new media like the internet for example - in line with the students protests – with the practice of decolonization I would like to re-interprete Bhabha in this place concerning the flow of information in a globalized “world made up of virtual transnational domains and wired communities that live vividly through webs and connectivities „on line‟”. (Bhabha 2004: 11)
To close the circle of argumentation I want to go back in time mentioning Foucault‟s theory of the reproduction of discourse, power and knowledge through language in different fields or institutions like – in our case – the university from a lot of unique individuals (Hall 1994: 150).

******* A large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse

“The central mechanism which Foucault posits to understand the process whereby historical individuals are subjected to these discursive positions is the operation of power within discourse.” (Hall 1994: 315)

4. Conclusio

As we can see by means of this document – there are several (and a lot more) linkages between the actual student protests and occupations at (at this time) more than fifty universities within Europe and the theories of postcolonial thinkers like Bhabha, Hall, Spivak or Gilroy.
The political struggle will continue as long as subaltern people will be performing actions against the hegemonic powerstructure created by the bourgeois elite in Austria and Europe in general. We have seen that they went too far with their neoliberal reforms transforming an objective institution like the university into an economic playground. Our youth that has been accused of being politically frustrated and inactive has shown to the public that they are no longer at ease and doing something against it. That‟s why I want to close this brief work about a huge project, demonstrating that alternative systems beyond “predatory capitalistic” is possible, with the words of Paul Gilroy:

“Disorderly protests reflect the experiences of participants and by conveying antagonism against the world as it is, they can be shown to embody a view of how participants would like it to be.” (Gilroy 1987: 324)

5. Bibliography

Bhabha, Homi K. ([1961] 2004): “Foreword: Framing Fanon” in Frantz Fanon. The Wretched of the Earth, Trans. Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press #

derStandard.at: Studenten europaweit auf den Straßen [access: 17.11.09]

Gilroy, Paul (1987): There Ain‟t No Black in the Union Jack. London: Routledge

Hall, Stuart (1994): The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power. In: Formations of
Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press

Hall, Stuart (1997): REPRESENTATION. Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: SAGE

Said, Edward W. ([1978] 2003): Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (2008): Can the Subaltern Speak? In: Can the Subaltern Speak? Postkolonialität und subaltern Artikulation. Vienna: Turia+Kant

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (2004): Explanation and Culture: Marginalia. In: Other Worlds. London/New York: Routledge

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (2009): Bauchbeinpo goes Spivak. In: Radio Orange
Sendungsarchiv [http://sendungsarchiv.o94.at/get.php/094pr2299]

Tyson, Lois (1999): “Postcolonial Criticism” Critical Theory Today. A User-Friendly Guide. New York/London: Garland Publishing

Wallerstein, Immanuel (1989): UTOPISTICS. Or, Historical Choices of the twenty-first Century. New York: The New Press

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