In search of a way out from the decay of the public sphere in neoliberal societies

This year’s Congress of the Free / Slow University of Warsaw is devoted to the debate on the ongoing and disturbing transformations of the mechanisms of culture and knowledge creation. Various attempts at “reforming” academic and cultural activity consist in implementing neoliberal principles of social life organisation through privatisation, commodification, commercialisation, managerisation as well as focus on competitiveness and short-term effectiveness. As a project of hegemonic nature, such formatting occurs also in other domains: health care, education, transport, social insurance system etc.

Art and science are subjected to models that function on the basis of short-sighted economic calculation, with an exclusive aim of profit maximisation for a narrow circle of capitalists. Institutions of culture are to function like creative industries, NGOs like effective profit-oriented enterprises and universities are to convert into knowledge factories that produce flexible and mobile workforce.

The side effect of these processes comes in the form of a progressive decay of the public sphere. Ensuring access to culture and education was traditionally perceived not only as a mission but also as a necessary condition for universal democracy. Now, art and science are to establish an “enterprise-friendly” environment, or even, in the best-case scenario, transform autonomous institutions into capitalist companies. Instead of a public good, they are to generate nothing else than artifacts and expertise of doubtful quality, whose task is not in the least disseminating critical civic consciousness, but increasing profit rate.

Yet, we are under no delusion. We are interested neither in a return to the bygone era of enlightened dictatorship and state control nor in the march towards the bright future of common poverty, to which the neoliberal project will inevitably lead us. Therefore, we have no intention whatsoever of defending public bureaucracy against free-market managerism and the reverse. We treat both forms of management as a threat to the existence of universally favourable as well as accessible culture and academic knowledge. In our opinion, today both these spheres demand genuine grassrooting, network-based administration and access universalisation. Merging reflection in the two domains – culture and science – in which many of us are concurrently engaged, we stand a better chance of making a right diagnosis, developing mechanisms of resistance and finding alternative models to neoliberal projects.

Mechanism of action

Three-day seminar of the Free / Slow University of Warsaw is devoted to a lively debate on specific case-studies developed by a group of curators, artists, theorists and activists from the entire Europe. Study of the problem is merged with a critical analysis of its system-related conditions in a comparative perspective – among various countries and fields of art and science. The recurring theme of the entire seminar is the exchange of practical experience, search for alternatives and mapping resistance mechanisms.

Participation in the seminar is possible exclusively upon prior enrolment, number of participants is strictly limited due to intensive character of work. Therefore we recommend attending every day of the Congress.

Please send applications (including a bio and a short explanation note on why you are interested in the subject of the seminar) to the address:

Programme of the Congress also includes afternoon open meetings during which seminar participants will present the course of debates to a broader audience. Reports from the Congress will appear on our website on an ongoing basis.