Academic Spotlight: Kieran Allen
Kieran Allen is a Senior Lecturer of Sociology in UCD. He’s been in UCD since 1996, spent time as the Head of the School of Sociology, has had a long and active political career as a Marxist, being instrumental to the formation and rise of political party People Before Profit; has extreme respect for evidence based research, prefers to study the powerful rather than the marginalised, and has a very salient diagnoses of the current economic system in it’s capability to address climate change.
Welcome to Academic Spotlight! This new segment takes a look at the people behind the research and lectures in UCD. Have you ever wondered what your lecturer does when they’re not spouting academic jargon in front of a half empty lecture hall? This segment aims to look at the people behind that front and delve into what makes them tick.
Kieran Allen is a widely outspoken UCD Professor. I sat down with him and talked about everything from UCD’s changes over the years, to tackling climate change through alternatives to capitalism. Let’s dive in!
Lecturing in UCD seems fairly daunting, spending several hours each day in front of hundreds of students, speaking from almost an hour. But what’s it really like?
“It’s not as hard as working in a gold mine,” says Allen. “I also used to be a primary school teacher for many years, so it’s not as hard as [that]. Lecturing is enjoyable in a sense that you’re engaging with ideas. What I find most rewarding is hearing opinions, and also seeing how students use arguments that I generate, which they may criticise, and I sometimes come back on.”
Allen’s current subject of research fits into his mantra of studying the powerful:
“At present I am doing research on Tax Haven Ireland, which is looking at how this country has become a respectable tax haven for big business. I think people will be most familiar on the Apple case, where Apple were paying less than 1% of its profits on tax. But it goes much deeper.”
As an academic researcher, Allen sees research as a fluid and continual process: “You can’t put a timeframe on research. The type of research I’m doing, I can work away on a Sunday evening, reading very boring tax studies. Is that work or is it not work? Or do I have a sadistic pleasure in reading it, it’s very hard to quantify.”
Changes to Administration
Professor Allen talks about how UCD has changed over the years, with recent years pointing towards “a distinct shift towards neoliberalism,” something Allen doesn’t favour at all.
“There is a general tradition in academia, that academics would have a greater say in the running of their workplace. The change over the last 20 years has been greater managerial control. Whether that operates distinctly at a school level or not, is a matter for debate.”
“Prior to 1996, my impression was that UCD was a fairly conservative University that would have had the traditional academic to student relationship. It wasn’t so concerned about money. It was a relatively privileged institution. […] In the 90’s/early 2000’s there was a distinct shift towards a more neoliberal university. Neoliberalism as a distinct outlook, doesn’t emphasise public service. [It] emphasises the need for more private funding, sees the institution like the university composed of various units that are in competition with each other. The atmosphere tries to make a public institution act like a private corporation. I would say neoliberalism has had a big impact upon UCD.”
I asked Allen if there was one piece of advice,he could give to a UCD student, on anything at all in which he thought was beneficial. He replied: “Relax. As best you can, relax and enjoy education while you can.”
Allen’s political career has spurred his interest in academics since the beginning. His PhD was based on Fianna Fáil’s dominance in Irish politics at the time.
“I do not go along with the notion that academics are neutral and above politics. I don’t think that’s true; I do think many academics think they are neutral and above politics. All of us have a certain view about how society is organised, should be organised, the relationship of human beings to the natural world. We all have these implicit views. Politics is simply about how power is exercised in society and how it should be exercised.
“I’m a left-wing activist, I’m a Marxist and active in People Before Profit. I don’t think that makes me a less objective researcher. I remain deeply faithful to the evidence. I think it’s possible to be both objective and to be engaged.”
“At the moment we live in a deeply unequal society. […] I think it’s important to study the powerful, and to reveal how their privileges. As so far as my academic skills go, I try to put myself at the service of people who are trying to change this society. For me, the most practical way of doing that is through being part of social movements.”
“You also need to supplement social movements with organising with a political party, which is what I try to do with People Before Profit.”
We also spoke about climate change and the youth of today beginning to galvanise behind social movements to tackle this issue.
“I think young people in particular recognise that climate change is a real threat to them. The predictions for 2050 for global warming are pretty dire. […] The underlying dynamic of the movement is quite left wing. If you live in a society that has to expand at a rate of 3% a year, and the resources are not unlimited, then obviously at some point that economy is going to have problems.”
“I think we’re in a transition phase, and up to now the main culture of neoliberalism is to blame individuals,” Allen goes on to suggest how the emerging social movements of today gear their blame towards big corporations and system-wide criticisms. Recent climate strikes have heard chants such as “System Change, Not Climate Change”, pointing towards an anger at the current economic system and its ability to tackle climate change.”
Finally, I asked Allen about UCD’s attitude towards knowledge and how that’s changed over the years. He responded: “Of course [UCD] has lost the goal of pursuit of knowledge! It’s rather taken a side-track towards knowledge that can be commercialised or turned into a pseudo commodity. […] It’s taking a slightly more narrow view of what knowledge is.”
Conor Capplis – Editor