University of London Institute in Paris

9-11 rue de Constantine
75007 Paris

Stefano Harney will discuss racial capitalism, the ‘undercommons’ in the contemporary university, and his ongoing critical engagement with the limitations and possibilities of academic study today. His lecture will draw upon The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, the book he co-authored with Fred Moten, and his experience teaching in universities in Singapore, the UK and the US. For Harney and Moten, while ‘it cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge … it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment’, as the pressure to gain credit, pay off debt, and adapt to the requirements of logistics repeatedly obstruct the pursuit of meaningful study.

Against these restrictions, the ‘undercommons’ refers to a set of practices and possibilities – fostered by unrestricted sociality – that challenge the norms of the contemporary university. 

In light of this ongoing work, Harney’s talk will use the example of Singapore and the ‘excellent’ university, laying out undercommon grounds to offer possible answers to the questions: Can we understand corruption and meritocracy as two sides of the same coin? Does meritocracy stand in the way of our corrupting corruption, of our tendency to corrupt? How does merit enforce both a history of individuation and a history of racial capitalism?


Stefano Harney is co-author with Fred Moten of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Autonomedia/Minor Compositions 2013) and the forthcoming All Incomplete (Autonomedia/Minor Compositions 2020). Other books include State Work: Public Administration and Mass Intellectuality (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002) and Nationalism and Identity: Culture and the Imagination in a Caribbean Diaspora (London and Mona, Jamaica: Zed Books and the University of the West Indies Press, 1996).

He is honorary professor at the Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia, a visiting critic at Yale School of Art, and a visiting lecturer at the Dutch Art Institute. He was previously Professor of Strategic Management at the Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University, and Professor of Strategy at the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London.

Together with Tonika Sealy Thompson he runs Ground Provisions, a reading residency. He is also co-founder of School for Study, a collective of teachers in higher education experimenting with ensemble teaching.