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Links below are to short articles, essays and selected conference proceedings.



Larry Catá Backer, “The University in the Age of the Learning Factory: Dueling narratives in the culture war around higher education,” Academe (American Association of University Professors Magazine (Nov/Dec 2017)). Also Available HERE.

The culture war over how people understand the American university is entering a decisive stage. Contrasting narratives about the character of the university are used as weapons in conflicts over the university’s purpose, its societal role, and the roles of students, faculty, staff, and administrators.

On one side stands the narrative, painstakingly fashioned over the course of the last century, of the traditional ideal of the university. According to this narrative, the university is a place where knowledge is produced and disseminated by an autonomous professional faculty in accordance with the inherent logic of the academic disciplines within which knowledge production is organized. In the ideal university, students acquire experience through supervised teaching and research under the direction of faculty. On the other side stands the narrative of the university as its emerging operational reality—a corporatized institution designed to prepare workers for global or local labor markets at the least possible expense. In this narrative, the university’s stakeholders are increasingly understood as factors in the production of future workers and as sources of funding (through tuition payments, grants, and alumni contributions). And graduate students, especially, are seen as service workers, contributing to a reduction in the cost of producing and disseminating knowledge for the market.



Larry Catá Backer, Havana, City of the Dead, CubaCounterpoints (April 2017).

Where a city lays its dead to rest says much about the living. This past March, 2017, eleven graduate students from Pennsylvania and I visited two of Havana’s cemeteries: these cities of the dead set in stone a particular vision of the culture and history of the colonial and pre-1959 bourgeoisie on the island; one that reflects and reinforces the invisibility and neglect of the laborers that sustained the former. . . .



Larry Catá Backer, “Commentary on Michael Strauss’s Essay: “Returning Guantanamo Bay to Cuban Control“, in Papers and Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) 26:74-81 (2016). Available.

The legalization of the international sphere has been growing since the end of the last century.2 It is producing some sometimes significant transformations in the way in which people and institutions approach issue in relations among states, and international public and private actors, including powerful civil society actors. Legalization is supposed to provide all of the benefits of law within states. It reduces asymmetries of power in dispute resolution. It provides certainty both in the substantive rules to be applied and in the process used. It is meant to regularize relations and to reduce conflict by making the scope of rights and obligations clear. And lastly it is supposed to provide a mechanism that appears both fair and legitimate to all parties. This process of legalization has been most successfully developed in the economic sphere and as a critical factor in the success of globalization. . . .


Larry Catá Backer, “Embracing a 21st Century Planning Marxism Model: The Cuban Communist Party Confronts Crisis, Challenge and Change in its 7th Congress, ” in Papers and Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) 26:188-208 (2016).

The 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) was held just weeks after the historic visit of United States president Obama to celebrate the normalization of relations between the Republics of the United States and Cuba.1 The official press of China described the 7th PCC Congress as a great success.2 More importantly, it celebrated that success in terms that profoundly resonate in China—reform and opening up that preserves the socialist path and the vanguard role of the ruling party.3 From this perspective, the great success of this Congress was ultimately capped by its transitional aspects. With echoes of Chinese wariness of cults of personality and entrenched leadership, the reports of the 7th PCC Congress focused on the ability of the vanguard Party to prepare for a succession of leadership—and survive. “This Seventh PCC Congress will be the last led by the historic generation,” Castro said at the closing ceremony of the four-day party congress, where delegates gave his brother, revolutionary leader and former President Fidel Castro a standing ovation.” . . .



Larry Catá Backer, U.S. Cuban Policy After Obama, CubaCounterpoints (December 2016).

The November 2016 U.S. presidential elections substantially changed the course that had been charted for the process of normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations.  What had been a process driven in large part from the Executive wing of the U.S. government and underscored by a host of executive orders meant to “make facts,” within which normalization might proceed on the basis of bilateral negotiations, has been swept aside.  The President-elect has expressed his intention to renegotiate—and possibly to cancel—“the deal.” On November 28, 2016 Mr. Trump tweeted: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.” Complicating things further is the passing of Fidel Castro this week. . . .


Larry Catá Backer, “The Military, Ideological Frameworks and Familial Marxism: A Comment on Jung-chul Lee,“A Lesson from Cuba’s Party-Military Relations and a Tale of ‘Two Fronts Line’ in North Korea,” in Papers and Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) 25:165-171 (2015).

For the last 25 years, the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) has sought to embed analysis of the special case of Cuba within the mainstream of discussion of law, economics, politics, and culture. That process has sometimes found resistance in the long cultivated notion that the Cuban situation was sui generis, a porridge composed of equal parts colonialism, cultural hegemony, geography, race and religion, cooked in a pot created by the Cold War of the last century and stirred by the fairly large ladle that is the product of an ideology of developing states. Yet that sui generis is more a product of the romanticism of Europe and North America than any reality, combining large dollops of Caribbean exoticism, Gnosticism in political conflicts, and the exportation of ideological battles between the European and North American left and right.