A Dangerous Place to Be: Identity, Conflict, and Trauma in Higher Education

Author(s) : Matthew H. Bowker, Author(s) : David P. Levine

A Dangerous Place to Be: Identity, Conflict, and Trauma in Higher Education

Book Details

  • Publisher : Routledge
  • Published : April 2018
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 160
  • Category :
    Forthcoming
  • Category 2 :
    Trauma and Violence
  • Catalogue No : 39101
  • ISBN 13 : 9781782204992
  • ISBN 10 : 1782204997

Also by David P. Levine

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This book investigates recent conflictual events on college and university campuses, including protests directed at university leaders deemed victimizers, debates over the inclusion of “trigger warnings” on course materials, demands for “safe spaces,” denials of venue to controversial speakers, rejections of free speech as a norm governing campus interactions, and calls for the resignation or expulsion of students, faculty, and administrators.

The authors suggest that such conflicts in universities express, with particular poignancy, difficulties encountered in the process of identity-formation, difficulties that include the management of ambivalent desires and fantasies concerning the relations between the ideal of self-determination and the protection offered by groups, the interpretation of encounters with difference, the movement from life in the family to life in civil society, and the need to find safety in the inner world as well as danger in the world outside.

What makes the links between university-based conflict and the vicissitudes of identity difficult to see is that most controversies have been marked by efforts to ignore or disguise experiences in individuals’ inner worlds and to focus, instead, on groups, group identities, and group fantasies about victimization that offer collective (social) defenses. A Dangerous Place to Be strives to clarify these links by applying psychoanalytic insights to several cases emblematic of recent university conflicts, revealing them to be enactments of inner dramas involving the discovery of difference in the self and in others.

Reviews and Endorsements

‘In recent years, issues surrounding identity politics on campus have been the subject of a good deal of commentary. Much of this commentary has cast off more heat than light. Matthew H. Bowker and David P. Levine not only bring a fresh and lively new perspective to these issues, but – and this is the great achievement of the book – recast the very terms of the question. Focusing on the place of colleges and universities as transitional spaces between family and civil society, Bowker and Levine argue that the character of controversies over race, trigger warnings, and campus speech must be understood within the context of, on the one hand, early identity formation, and, on the other, the changing economic functions of the university. This is a rich and ambitious book that raises the level
of conversation. It is, at times, provocative, but never fails to be thought-provoking.’
––Jeremy Elkins, Bryn Mawr College

‘Campus politics has become a core site of the extreme weaponisation of language. It is “generation snowflake at its most narcissistic”; it is “the intransigent oppressiveness of the old white patriarchal elite”. It is… well, any of these and more: the invective is exhaustive and exhausting. Matthew H. Bowker and David P. Levine, though, are not having any of that. In this timely and important volume, they set out a different perspective, psychoanalytical at its core, which uses Winnicott’s object relations theory as the lens through which to examine how early experiences within the family establish identities that may subsequently struggle with voice, safety, self-realization, and being, and how universities in their own socio-economically imposed re-identification may inadvertently replicate and reinforce these forms of damage. Bowker and Levine insist on the deployment of understanding, not moral posturing, and remind us that the empathetic but objective calm of the psychoanalyst’s intervention could offer spaces for the safe, contained development of self-knowledge more useful to young people than being dismissed as “over sensitive” or taken entirely at face value. Everyone who works in, thinks about, studies in, or believes they have the measure of the contemporary campus should read this book.’
— Liz Frost, UWE Bristol, editor of the Journal of Psychosocial Studies

‘In an excellent work with a critical crescendo, Bowker and Levine trace universities’ attempts to relativize and compartmentalize students’ cultural boundaries into a motley compilation of identities that is then envisioned in a utopian manner. The authors generate a discourse that examines the underlying assumptions about college students as somehow morally defective and in need of indoctrination, illuminate the process by which groups develop a sense of being historical victims as well as a fear of strangers, and incisively outline how the sloganeering of a pro-diversity identity entails unintended and potentially deleterious consequences. These processes have implicitly legitimized voluntary segregation and neotribalism, whereby students are given cues for prejudging one another through their own politics of exclusion. A vitally important work that critically examines how universities have overextended their efforts at creating a fantastic utopia.’
––Jack Fong, California State Polytechnic University

About the Author(s)

Matthew H. Bowker is Clinical Assistant Professor of Humanities at Medaille College in Buffalo, NY. Educated at Columbia University and the University of Maryland, College Park, he brings psychoanalytic, literary, and intellectual-historical approaches to topics in political theory. He has published numerous papers on social theory, ethics, and pedagogy and is the author of several books on the psycho-politics of contemporary life, including: Ideologies of Experience: Trauma, Failure, Deprivation, and the Abandonment of the Self, D.W. Winnicott and Political Theory: Recentering the Subject (with A. Buzby), Rethinking the Politics of Absurdity: Albert Camus, Postmodernity, and the Survival of Innocence, Escargotesque, or, What Is Experience?, Albert Camus and the Political Philosophy of the Absurd: Ambivalence, Resistance, and Creativity, and Ostranenie: On Shame and Knowing.

David P. Levine is Professor Emeritus in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He holds a PhD in economics from Yale University and a Certificate in Psychoanalytic Scholarship from the Colorado Center for Psychoanalytic Studies. Prior to his retirement, he held academic positions at Yale University and the University of Denver. In addition to his work in political economy, he has published numerous books in the field of applied psychoanalysis, including most recently Psychoanalysis, Society, and the Inner World: On Embedded Meaning in Politics and Social Conflict, Psychoanalytic Studies of Creativity, Greed, and Fine Art: Making Contact with the Self, Object Relations, Work, and the Self, The Capacity for Civic Engagement: Public and Private Worlds of the Self, and The Capacity for Ethical Conduct: On Psychic Existence and the Way We Relate to Others. He is a member of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations and served for several years as a member of the Executive Board of the Colorado Society for Psychology and Psychoanalysis.

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