University melodramas
The claim of reason
in Tragic encounters and ordinary ethics
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This chapter explores the moral traditions that have shaped the university with its idealised vision of rational debate by offering a detailed account of the sources, dynamics and consequences of a public debate about the academic boycott of Israel. Showing how this university sought to materialise a liberal model of communication governed by rules of neutral, rational debate and secular norms, I highlight the paradox inherent in this attempt to dramatically perform communicative rationality. The discussion then situates this need to display an idealised image of the university committed to free speech within the context of wider pressures associated with neo-liberalism and securitisation. The final section of the chapter then explores the consequences of the academic boycott event, which fixed participants in rigid, partisan positions. I argue that, in the process of affirming this rationalist self-image, the university disavowed its own historical involvements in colonial oppression and ongoing inequalities, so concealing relationships of power. Bringing my analysis of the dramaturgy of this event together with interview material, I show how this polarised debate repressed and shamed aspects of students’ political commitments which could not be voiced in these terms.

Tragic encounters and ordinary ethics

Palestine– Israel in British universities


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