Call for contributions to a book on “Mass Intellectuality: The democratisation of higher education”

This is a final call for contributions to a book on “Mass Intellectuality: The democratisation of higher education” that Joss Winn and I are pulling together. More details are available here.

The book aims to provide international critiques and accounts of the crisis in higher education, with a focus on the creation of alternative forms. Its premise is that globally, higher education is increasingly unaffordable, its historic institutions are becoming untenable, and their purpose is resolutely instrumental. What and who have led us to this crisis? What are the alternatives? To whom do we look for leadership in revealing those alternatives?

The book’s starting point is that mass higher education is at the point where it no longer reflects the needs, capacities and long-term interests of society. An alternative role and purpose is required, based upon ‘mass intellectuality’ or the real possibility of democracy in learning and the production of knowledge.

We welcome anyone who is involved with and/or working on alternative higher education projects such as free universities, transnational collectives, occupied spaces, and co-operatives for higher education to contribute to the book. We also welcome those who are working inside the University to provide critical analyses of recent and existing efforts to develop alternatives to mainstream higher education.

If you would like to contribute to the book, please email Joss Winn as soon as possible. We will then be in-touch about submitting an abstract connected to intellectual leadership in higher education by 10 May.

NOTE: whilst Joss and I both work in UK higher education, we would welcome a range of voices in the development of the book. International, critical engagements with intellectual leadership are central to this project.

Professorial Inaugural: 2+2=5: The university and the secular crisis

My inaugural professorial lecture is scheduled for Wednesday 8 October 2014, at 6pm at DMU. I will try to stream it. I will post details of how to book to attend closer to the time.

A working abstract is given below.

However, I thought that we needed a double feature, with a short film that precedes the second feature. The short is currently in slide form and has been uploaded on my slideshare —> here.

NOTE ONE: this short needs to be consumed with Radiohead’s 2+2=5. You might be able to source that here, or here.

NOTE TWO: this short needs a digestif. Try this.

NOTE THREE: a playlist will follow.

Working abstract

What does it mean to teach and to study in the Twenty-First Century University? Is it possible to critique our academic labour as teachers and students, in order to overcome the alienation of our Twenty-First Century lives? 

In Volume 1 of Capital, Marx (p. 617) wrote that:

Modern industry never treats views or treats the existing form of a production process as the definitive one. Its technical basis is therefore revolutionary, whereas all earlier modes of production were essentially conservative… it is continually transforming not only the technical basis of production but also the functions of the worker and the social combinations of the labour process. At the same time, it thereby also revolutionizes the division of labour within society, and incessantly throws masses of capital and of workers from one branch of production to another. Thus large-scale industry, by its very nature, necessitates variation of labour, fluidity of functions, and mobility of the worker in all directions.

In the global North, the material consequences of this secular crisis of capitalism affect the University and higher education as one branch of production. As productivity across the economy stagnates and investment collapses, capital is being accumulated as money or as securitised assets, including student debts and institutional bond issues. Moreover, Capital, operating through transnational activist networks, is looking for ways to crack open and extracting the historic, socialised value contained in public education through labour arbitrage, outsourcing, philanthrocapitalism and privatisation.

This lecture will argue that the neoliberal assault on the idea of public higher education in the United Kingdom can only be understood against the idea of the secular crisis. It argues that the University is being redefined inside the systemic realities of capitalism’s drive to re-establish profitability and accumulation, which restructures universities as associations of competing capitals. A critical strand of this argument is the role of technology, in driving discourses of efficiency, marketization and entrepreneurial activity. Technology ties the University to the realities of capitalist work and reinscribes the capital-labour relationship immaterially. The illusion of technological innovation disables us from solving issues of social production, environmental degradation or global leadership.

In describing and analyzing this restructuring of the University, the lecture will engage with the idea of systemic domination in the name of value, and the activist focus on engaging with power constructed qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Thus, the lecture considers how a critique of the University inside-and-against the secular crisis might enable academics and students to develop educational spaces where knowing and subjectivity might be developed, based in-part on co-operative knowledge that is liberated from formal educational spaces. As Cleaver notes in his final two theses on the Secular Crisis, ‘the liberation of alternative, self-determined social “logics” outside and beyond that of capital’ is central to the development of a revolutionary subjectivity. Moreover, this subjectivity is entwined with the need to develop

[a] politics of alliance against capital… not only to accelerate the circulation of struggle from sector to sector of the class, but to do so in such a manner as to build a post-capitalist politics of difference without antagonism.

At issue is how educational narratives that emerge inside-and-against the market and the State, and which are social and co-operative, might be described and nurtured. One outcome might be the ability of academics and students to produce an alternative, qualitatively different idea of the University that is against-and-beyond the secular crisis.

On the co-operative university and the general intellect

The question, pace David Bollier, is whether academics and students as scholars can learn to see their labour in common, in order to think and to act co-operatively? From our re-reading of the Grundrisse, we are able to raise our concerns over the production and ownership of academic labour. We are able to explore how the idea of cognitive capital might underpin the concept of living knowledge, or the general intellect. Here Marx (p. 694) argued that the dynamics of capitalism meant

the accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital [machinery].

Through innovation and competition, the technical and skilled work of the socialised worker, operating in factories or corporations or schools, is subsumed inside machinery. Therefore, the ‘general intellect’ of society is absorbed into capitalised technologies and techniques, in order to reduce labour costs and increase productivity. As a result, ‘the human being comes to relate more as a watchman and regulator to the production process itself’ (Marx, p. 705).

Inside the University, how do we come to understand the mechanisms through which the general intellect is co-opted into technical and scientific processes that enable capitalist work and value production? Is it possible, inside the University, to reclaim them? This focus on the liberation of the general intellect provides a possible counterpoint to the fetishised myth of technology as the creator of value in the allegedly ‘immaterial’ production and accumulation of cognitive capital. As the University of Utopia argued:

As intellectual workers we refuse the fetishised concept of the knowledge society and engage in teaching, learning and research only in so far as we can re-appropriate the knowledge that has been stolen from the workers that have produced this way of knowing (i.e. Abundance). In the society of abundance the university as an institutional form is dissolved, and becomes a social form or knowledge at the level of society (i.e. The General Intellect). It is only on this basis that we can knowingly address the global emergencies with which we are all confronted.

What is needed is a focus on the possibilities that emerge from co-operative labour. Elsewhere, in speaking about the University as a worker co-operative, Joss Winn has asserted that

the university is already a means of production which capital employs together with academic labour to re-produce labour in the form of students, and value in the commodity form of knowledge. A worker owned co-operative university would therefore control the means of knowledge production and potentially produce a new form of knowledge.

Control of the means of production as a way to control the means of knowledge production and as a way of liberating the knowledge, skills and practices of the University for its broader, social use value. This means reframing an education that is driven by consumption, indenture and both social and personal alienation, so that it is based less on our outsourcing of services to private providers or the corporate university, and more on the productive relationships between teacher and student. Moreover these relationships might be reframed co-operatively as scholarship. Do we have the courage to work in common and co-operatively to reclaim the usefulness of our work and our time?

From such a reframing emerges a focus on alternative educational practices that develop socialised knowledge, or ‘mass intellectuality’, a direct, social force of production. As the University of Utopia argued

Mass intellectuality is based on our common ability to do, based on our needs and capacities and what needs to be done. What needs to be done raises doing from the level of the individual to the level of society.

This matters, of course, because as Andrew McGettigan notes discussing financialisation and higher education (ht Joss Winn):

unless academics rouse themselves and contest the general democratic deficit from within their own institutions and unless we have more journalists taking up these themes locally and nationally, then very little can be done. We are on the cusp of something more profound than is indicated by debates around the headline fee level; institutions and sector could make moves that will be difficult, if not impossible, to undo, whether it is negotiated independence for the elite or shedding charitable status the better to access private finance.

Joss Winn suggests that academics and students, acting as scholars, have three possible responses.

Conversion: Constitute the university on co-operative values and principles. Read Dan Cook’s report: ‘Realising the co-operative university‘.

Dissolution: Radicalise the university from the inside, starting with the relationship between academics and students. Read about Student as Producer.

Creation: Build experiments in higher education outside the financialised sector. Read about the Social Science Centre.

I questioned a while back ‘whether academics can develop alternative methods of liberating knowing and knowledge and organisation, and which are beyond the space-time of debt and privatisation.’ The three responses noted above are conditioned by the structural domination of wage labour, and the reality that the co-operative space has to exist inside the totalising relations of production of capitalist society. However, they offer alternative possibilities for liberating science and technology across society, and to enable what Arviddson calls the ‘free availability of General Intellect in the social environment [which] means that capital cannot exercise a monopoly over this productive resource. It can be employed for autonomous or even subversive purposes.’ The three responses above might act as critical sites in this struggle to recuperate the general intellect including: reclaiming public, open, virtual and face-to-face environments that enable globalised, socialised dissemination of knowledge, for example through copyfarleft and an education commons rooted in critical pedagogy; and the use of technologies to ground, critique and disseminate the community-building of alternative educational settings like student occupations, co-operative centres or social science centres.

These struggles for mass intellectuality are an attempt to build solidarity and sharing related to the social and co-operative use of the knowledge, skills and practices that we create as labour. This is deliberately opposed to their commodification, exchange and accumulation by a transnational elite. Thus, liberating science and technology from inside-and-against capital’s competitive dynamics is central to moving beyond exploitation. Inside critical and co-operative (rather than co-opted) educational contexts, the processes of learning and teaching offer the chance to critique the purposes for which the general intellect is commodified rather than made public. They offer the opportunity to reclaim and liberate the general intellect for co-operative use. The question, pace David Bollier, is whether academics and students as scholars can learn to see their labour in common, in order to think and to act co-operatively?

on digital literacy, use value and alienation

With Lucy Atkins and Josie Fraser, I’ve just had a paper published on Defining a self-evaluation digital literacy framework for secondary educators. The abstract for this paper connects educational policy to classroom practice, in order to support the creation of a framework that amplifies teacher-agency and the idea of radical collegiality. This is important in enabling teachers to engage in a conversation about reclaiming the spaces that are infused by pedagogy technology. In the face of UK Coalition Government and opposition Labour Party attacks on the professionalism of teaching staff, which further reproduce anxiety-driven performance management, this repositioning of digital literacy as a crack through which teacher professionalism might be reclaimed seems important.

The abstract goes as follows.

Despite the growing interest in digital literacy within educational policy, guidance for secondary educators in terms of how digital literacy translates into the classroom is lacking. As a result, many teachers feel ill-prepared to support their learners in using technology effectively. The DigiLit Leicester project created an infrastructure for holistic, integrated change, by supporting staff development in the area of digital literacy for secondary school teachers and teaching support staff. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how the critique of existing digital literacy frameworks enabled a self-evaluation framework for practitioners to be developed. Crucially, this framework enables a co-operative, partnership approach to be taken to pedagogic innovation. Moreover, it enables social and ethical issues to underpin a focus on teacher-agency and radical collegiality inside the domain of digital literacy. Thus, the authors argue that the shared development framework constitutes a new model for implementing digital literacy aimed at transforming the provision of secondary education across a city.

We argue that in moving beyond audit-based frameworks to one that is framed through trusted self-evaluation, it is possible to connect educational practices to pedagogy and continuing professional development. We speak about embedding self-review into the heart of a digital literacy project, and then deliberately connecting them to co-operative, practitioner-led development opportunities that are negotiated across a City. In focusing on the development of co-operative practices that are rooted in pedagogic practice, we argue that it is possible to strengthen radical collegiality, and thereby push back against policy directives that marketise and commodify the curriculum and reduce its meaning to entrepreneurial skills and employability. This focus on teacher-agency and co-operation, which pivots around a custom self-evaluation framework, demonstrates that city-wide pedagogic transformation through teacher empowerment is a radical possibility.

There are two ways in which this argument might be enriched. First, through a focus on the ways in which technologies and hence digital literacy might be used to democratise the classroom and to discuss alternative social forms. Second, on the contradictions between digital literacy formation and the ways in which technologies are alienating.

ONE. On digital and democratic literacy

One of the key contradictions that emerge from inside capitalism is that of the commodity framed by value. I have written elsewhere about how educational skills, services, practices, data and so on, are being commodified and accumulated by third parties or associations of capitals, through the control of information streams or access to software that is protected by patents or through the enclosure of the digital commons, and so on. However, in the literature there is little analysis of how digital skills, practices and knowledge might be developed, shared and re-purposed co-operatively inside and across the classroom, in order to describe an alternative world away from education for employability or entrepreneurship.

One way in which a dialogue around alternatives might emerge is through a focus on the social use value of those digital skills, practices and knowledge as opposed to their exchange value. The latter posits the market as the only mechanism through which students or staff can access or develop digital literacy as an individual use for them. Yet, there are examples in the Telekommunist Manifesto and from venture communism of how approaches to policy and practice of digital literacy rooted in peer production and copyfarleft might enable the social use of digital technologies to be amplified over-and-above their individuated, entrepreneurial accumulation and exchange. As Dmytri Kleiner argues in the Telekommunist Manifesto (p. 8):

We need venture communism, a form of struggle against the continued expansion of property-based capitalism, a model for worker self-organization inspired by the topology of peer-to-peer networks and the historical pastoral commons.

This means that inside and beyond the classroom, spaces are needed that refuse their co-option for the market and for the accumulation of wealth and power by an elite. This includes the ways in which public education is co-opted for a rentier class that harvests data, and sells and re-sells services, or the ways in which technologies are used to maintain alienating structures of domination over teachers and students who can be individually or as a fraction of a social class labelled as luddites or laggards or failing.

This labelling does little for the generation of social solutions to social problems, and risks exacerbating the disconnection between how people think and act with digital technologies, and how they engage in a broader political process. This disconnect is amplified through technological change that removes our collective power and autonomy, when all that teachers and students are left with is: the next upgraded mobile tool or tablet or bring your own device policy; the obsession with personalisation through access to data and information about performance or always-on social networks; the latest fetishized technological solution to engagement or emancipation; the monitoring and surveillance, including auditing, of performance through external frameworks; or whatever. Students and teachers are simply left with compensatory consumption and the outsourcing of solutions to social problems, and as they approach higher education they face increasing levels of debt and alienation. In part this is because those spaces that should be enabling students and teachers to develop creative alternative uses for skills, practices and knowledge are subsumed under exchange value and the desperate search for entrepreneurial truth.

Thus, we might question whether those digital literacies might be developed, in order to frame an alternative peer-produced pedagogy of care, which drives: collective uses for skills, practices and knowledge; social value rather than the desire to use education to accumulate money or private property; and associated educational forms, perhaps as open commons? In turn one might hope that it is possible to find ways to act co-operatively and to share resources that maintain their associational, not for-profit strength. As Kleiner argues (p. 28):

While copyleft is very effective in creating a commons of software, to achieve a commons of cultural works requires copyfarleft, a form of free licensing that denies free access to organizations that hold their own assets outside the commons.

This is the production of a pedagogic space that is against the ideological power, culture and democracy of money. This is the use and production of a digitally-infused education that denies the one per cent their ideological and practical pedagogic support. This builds upon the work of the peer-to-peer foundation in finding ways to generalise forms of peer production, peer governance, and peer property, in order to overcome three critical issues that fold education and digital contexts into their logics.

The first is that ‘The current political economy is based on a false idea of material abundance. We call it pseudo-abundance. It is based on a commitment to permanent growth, the infinite accumulation of capital and debt-driven dynamics through compound interest.’

The second is that ‘The current political economy is based on a false idea of “immaterial scarcity. It believes that an exaggerated set of intellectual property monopolies – for copyrights, trademarks and patents – should restrain the sharing of scientific, social and economic innovations. Hence the system discourages human cooperation, excludes many people from benefiting from innovation and slows the collective learning of humanity. In an age of grave global challenges, the political economy keeps many practical alternatives sequestered behind private firewalls or unfunded if they cannot generate adequate profits.’

The third is that ‘The pseudo-abundance that destroys the biosphere, and the contrived scarcity that keeps innovation artificially scarce and slow, does not advance social justice. Although people may have a formal legal equality of civil and political rights, serious and increasing material inequalities make those rights more nominal than real. At the other extreme, the polity explicitly grants human rights to the artificial legal construct of the for-profit corporation, a pathological institution that is solely beholden to its shareholders, and is constitutionally unable to take into account the common good.’

Michael Bauwens and Franco Iacomella argue that:

The peer-to-peer vision relies upon the three major sectors of society – the state, market and civil society – but with different roles and in a revitalized equilibrium. At the core of the new society is civil society, with the commons as its main institution, which uses peer production to generate common value outside of the market logic. These commons consist of both the natural heritage of mankind (oceans, the atmosphere, land, etc.), and commons that are created through collective societal innovation, many of which can be freely shared because of their immaterial nature (shared knowledge, software and design, culture and science).

They see this produced through

future political and cultural alliances… as a confluence of various global forces: 1) those working against the enclosure and the privatization of knowledge, which are simultaneously constructing new knowledge commons; 2) those working for environmental sustainability, including the protection of existing physical commons; and 3) those working for social justice on a local and global scale. In other words, we need a global alliance between the new “open” movements, the ecological movements, and the traditional social justice and emancipatory movements, in order to create a “grand alliance of the commons.”

The question then is what is the role of digital literacy and digitally-enabled educational spaces in creating such a co-operative dynamic? Is it possible to use copyfarleft against the use of Intellectual Property Rights as new sources of monopoly power for rentiers? Is it possible to liberate digital technologies infused as social use values through critical pedagogy, in order to open up new areas of class struggle? Is it possible to develop and protect the social and associational use value of the critical, educational, open Commons , in order to talk through alternatives? Is it possible to open out educational possibility through the knowledge commons or free access to higher education, rather than let them be structured through the market?

One critical context is a more critical understanding of how technological intensity, including the use of digital tools and the development of digital skills, tends to make labour redundant. Just as we embrace the range of technological possibilities of the open commons or of digital production, we also need to face the reality that capital uses technological and organisational innovation to discipline labour and to impose consumerism. Capital controls and deploys technology to squeeze value out of labour, be that through new pedagogies for the entrepreneurial self, or to leverage strategies for employability or internationalisation. At issue is how might we embrace digital literacy through a more democratic pedagogy and a co-operative classroom to enable its social use.

TWO. On digital literacy and technological alienation

For Marx (pp. 327, 330), the worker suffers a four-fold alienation.

First from the product of his labour, which becomes “an alien object that has power over him”.

Second in his working activity, which he perceives as “directed against himself,” as if it “does not belong to him”.

Third from “man’s species being,” which is transformed into “a being alien to him”.

Fourth, from other human beings, and in relation to their labour and the object of their labour.

Marx (p. 324) argued that

…the externalization of the worker in his product means not only that his labour becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently of him and alien to him, and begins to confront him as an autonomous power; that the life which he has bestowed on the object confronts him as hostile and alien.

In this view all labour under private property, rather than that which co-operatively shaped an associational and open society, is alienated because one has to work in order to live. This is an external, non-authentic life shaped by wage slavery and the spectacle of consumerism. Digital life is central to this focus on the consumption of skills or content or practice, rather than on open production and sharing. This is the logic of commodifying the social and the personal, in order that it can be marketised or monetised. Education is not immune from this process, as the prevalence of merchants across the compulsory and post-compulsory sectors attests.

At issue here is the extent to which the digital literacy agenda, or that of coding for kids, or MOOCs, or the generation of digital practices, is each connected to the forces of production of capitalist society. So how do they reproduce spaces for value creation and accumulation, or surveillance and performance management, rather than for personal or societal growth and mutuality? As Marx noted in the Grundrisse, this is connected to the objective conditions of living labour, which are increasingly framed by the need to be entrepreneurial, in order to survive a marketised life.

The objective conditions of living labour appear as separated, independent values opposite living labour capacity as subjective being… The objective conditions of living labour capacity are presupposed as having an existence independent of it, as the objectivity of a subject distinct from living labour capacity and standing independently over against it; the reproduction and realization, i.e. the expansion of these objective conditions, is therefore at the same time their own reproduction and new production as the wealth of an alien subject indifferently and independently standing over against labour capacity. What is reproduced and produced anew is not only the presence of these objective conditions of living labour, but also their presence as independent values, i.e. values belonging to an alien subject, confronting this living labour capacity. (pp. 461-2)

How is digital literacy used to reproduce the objective conditions inside which the teacher and student must labour? How does digital literacy appear as a natural value of entrepreneurial education confronting and alienating the teacher or student?

This then forces us to rethink how digital skills, practices and knowledge developed in the classroom and developed by social labour:

appear as the productive forces of capitalism… Collective unity in co-operation, combination in the division of labour, the use of the forces of nature and the sciences, of the products of labour, as machinery – all these confront the individual  workers as something alien, objective, ready-made, existing without their intervention, and frequently even hostile to them. They all appear quite simply as the prevailing forms of the instruments of labour. As objects they are independent of the workers whom they dominate. Though the workshop is to a degree the product of the workers’ combination, its entire intelligence and will seem to be incorporated in the capitalist or his understrappers, and the workers find themselves confronted by the functions of the capital that lives in the capitalist. (Marx, Capital Volume 1, p. 1054).

How do digital literacies, through the skills, practices and knowledge developed, and the frameworks that are used to measure or self-evaluate them, appear to be external to the teacher and student, and structuring of their labour and identity? How do they dominate the teacher and student so that they must be entrepreneurial or risk becoming unemployable? How do they invalidate and make anxious certain behaviours and performances? How do they structure and reinforce perceptions of professionalism? Again, we might ask how do we work against the use of digital literacy for exchange value, in order to liberate their social and mutual use value? As Marx argues in Capital Volume 3 (p. 959):

Freedom, in this sphere, can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.

How do we shape critical, digital spaces for collegial forms of continuing professional development that are productive of an alternative, radical pedagogy? How do we use such a radical approach to CPD, in order to shape a different social life?

on silence

I read this by Kate Bowles about speaking words that are true, necessary and kind.

And I read this by Kate Bowles about how that social media joke isn’t funny anymore.

Those two posts led to me to ask the following, open questions of anyone who wishes to use mental health and/or alcoholism as an amuse bouche on their social media platform(s). They were triggered by writing here.

  1. How do we use our established social media platforms to refuse to joke about mental health and alcoholism? How do we avoid the glib use of these conditions, in order to escape our trivialising of them? How do we engage with those who have experience of them so that we can make reasoned, evidenced, and practical arguments? How do we write in ways that are true, necessary and kind?
  2. If we do not struggle with “regular bouts of clinical depression, temporary insanity and chronic alcoholism”, should we really be joking about them? Really? If we don’t then from what basis are we writing and joking about them and why? Why these conditions and not others?
  3. How do we generate a collective understanding of the damaging impact of misinformed assertions about those conditions? How do we refuse writing about conditions that can actually trigger? How do we refuse and push-back against those misinformed, poorly-evidenced, fatuous pieces of writing that risk being forms of trolling?
  4. How do we avoid making tenuous and poorly-researched connections about the association between technology use (e.g. blogging) and mental health or substance abuse? Wouldn’t it be better to try to understand the conditions first? There is plenty of academic and user-centred literature available. How does our writing help those who are campaigning for better mental health or alcohol awareness?
  5. How do we develop a collective understanding of the actual impact on families and relationships of chronic alcoholism? How do we understand the impact on families and relationships of caring for someone with Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and/or Korsakoff Syndrome? How do we understand the pain of caring for someone as they develop alcohol-induced dementia? How do we show kindness and care to those who are forced to watch the struggle in life and death of the addict?
  6. How do we develop a collective understanding of how depression and substance abuse don’t emerge from the pressure of writing? How do we develop a collective understanding of how debilitating clinical depression is? How do we write and speak in ways that increase societal understanding or care for those who suffer? How do we avoid amplifying societal misunderstandings and assertions and prejudices?
  7. How do we use our privilege to hear others, and to care about others? How do we speak and write in ways that are true, necessary and kind, so that what we say is true, necessary and kind?
  8. How do we recognise that sometimes we need to apologise rather than give poorly thought through excuses for our apparent thoughtlessness? How do we recognise that sometimes silence is the thing?

on the triple crunch and the secular crisis of the University

I presented yesterday at the Plymouth University Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory annual conference. I spoke about the impact on higher education of climate change and liquid fuel availability, as symptoms of the secular crisis of capitalism. These are the triple crunch, or in sustainability circles the energy trilemma, and I have previously written about them here and here.

My slides are here.

However, these are the things I wish I had said.

ONE. This secular crisis of capitalism is the secular crisis of the University. This is the systemic inability to reassert stable forms of accumulation. This is the catalysis of a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, through: debts and indenture (for instance for students); the destruction of previously socialised and historically-accrued capital (for instance in the commodification and marketisation of public services like free education and healthcare, or access to natural resources); the imposition of precarity as a form of labour arbitrage (for instance, in benefit sanctions, casualised labour and zero-hour contracts); the increase in ‘asset value’ linked to commodities (from mortgages and buy-to-let, to futures in food and natural resources, and staples like gold); and the re-inflation of stock markets to pre-crisis levels.

In this secular crisis, the dislocation of the debt-driven indicators of economic growth from the realities of how value is created in the productive economy infects the University. It drives student debt, and the data-driven consumption of the idea of education. It drives the myth of the student-as-entrepreneur, who is able to recreate and reinvent herself as an autonomous wealth creator. It drives the myth that higher education exists for international competitiveness and employability, in the face of global labour arbitrage, the disciplining of dissent, the 40 year collapse in real wages, and the catastrophic rise in youth unemployment. It drives the financialisation of the student loan book, and the monetisation of the activities of the University through the bond markets.

In this secular crisis we witness academic subsumption under the rule of money. We witness academic inability to refuse the proprietary claims made for the rule of the market. These claims that are made for the market as the principal organising mechanism for our academic lives, and which cannot be refused, are our secular crisis. And do we wonder at our alienation under the re-inflation of a financial bubble that now re-defines academic study and work, and that will make the poor even poorer when it bursts? A market correction; which further corrects the idea of the University; which further disciplines the idea of the academic; because debt and immateriality cannot create value when it is dislocated from a productive life.

TWO. Indenture, precarity and correction: a collective threat to the social cohesion of our communities and our universities, precisely as they are to our cities and our nations. Where is this collective threat in our discussions of what a University is for? How are the relationships between the market and money, labour and production, value and values, connected to the University as engine for entrepreneurship or internationalisation or employment or creativity? Is the University redeemable?

THREE. And this point further coalesces around the University as energy sink; around the University as engine of value creation; around the University and gross domestic product. Because there is a strong correlation between liquid energy use and GDP, and yet as global energy demand is on the rise, our access to liquid fuel is forecast to decline. As the US Joint Forces Command reported in 2010:

A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions

And we have a recent UK Ministry of Defence Strategic Trends Programme report, which argued:

The western ‘way of life’ is often associated with ready access to a wide variety of consumer choice and relatively cheap energy. This is likely to be increasingly challenged as lifestyles follow GDP levels and ‘normalise’ across the globe. This trend will have significant impact within the US and the UK, where the way of life for the bulk of their populations may be challenged by rising energy and resource. prices, and the declining availability of finance to sustain discretionary spending.

There is no precedent for oil discoveries to make up for the shortfall, nor is there a precedent for efficiencies to relieve demand on this scale. And so the IMF have reported that:

our prediction of small further increases in world oil production comes at the expense of a near doubling, permanently, of real oil prices over the coming decade. This is uncharted territory for the world economy, which has never experienced such prices for more than a few months…

we suspect that there must be a pain barrier, a level of oil prices above which the effects on GDP becomes nonlinear, convex. We also suspect that the assumption that technology is independent of the availability of fossil fuels may be inappropriate, so that a lack of availability of oil may have aspects of a negative technology shock.

In that case the macroeconomic effects of binding resource constraints could be much larger, more persistent, and they would extend well beyond the oil sector.

And yet public sector debt, and student debt, and University debt, are burdens that ultimately require economic growth to pay them down. Or they demand the discipline of the State in enforcing the claims of the market to your/my/our labour. As Marx wrote:

the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working-day, no limit to surplus-labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working-day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working-days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working-day to one of definite normal duration. There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides. Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working-class.

Between equal rights force decides. Until our debts are redeemed. And if energy supply looks likely to constrain growth, well what then for the University? What then for our academic labour? What then for our equal rights?

FOUR. Maybe energy is the least of our worries. The Royal Society’s People and Planet report from 2012 argued that there is an urgent need to address issues of climate change and resource availability across the globe. The report argued:

in the most developed and the emerging economies unsustainable consumption must be urgently reduced. This will entail scaling back or radical transformation of damaging material consumption and emissions and the adoption of sustainable technologies. At present, consumption is closely linked to economic models based on growth. Decoupling economic activity from material and environmental throughputs is needed urgently. Changes to the current socio-economic model and institutions are needed to allow both people and the planet to flourish by collaboration as well as competition during this and subsequent centuries. This requires farsighted political leadership concentrating on long term goals.

Is this radical transformation the entrepreneurial, indebted, analytical, international, exchangeable University? And how is this University to make sense of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability? This is a report that indicates with high confidence that we are beyond the IPCC ‘marker’ scenario range, and are now at a fork between a mean global temperature rise of 1-3 degrees Celsius and one of 3.5-5 degrees Celsius. Whatever the opportunities this allegedly allows, what is the role of the University in asking questions about the activities it undertakes in contributing to such a rise? What is the critical role of academics in questioning the purpose and value of those activities, be they productive or unproductive? How on earth do universities, driven by internationalisation strategies, measure and reduce scope 3 emissions? What is the role of academics in asking whether this society regulated for the market is the only solution to the crunch of climate change?

FIVE. There is so much volatility and precarity that we might feel deadened by the question, “what is to be done?” And yet under different, collective and co-operative sets of organising principles, which in turn interconnect the State, the market and civic societies, alternatives have been possible.

  • In Cuba, high levels of educational participation and human welfare have been attained at lower levels of GDP and ecological impact.
  • In Bhutan, the Government attempted to index growth based on gross national happiness.
  • In Allende’s Chile, the CyberSyn project attempted to make “a deliberate effort to hand to the people the power that science commands, in a form in which the people can themselves use”.
  • In Mexico, the Zapatista Little Schools of Below, focused upon collective work as “one of the cements of autonomy, whose fruits usually spill into hospitals, clinics, primary and secondary education, in strengthening the municipalities and the good government juntas.”
  • In Ecuador, the National Plan for Good Living, spoke of five revolutions: democratic; ethical; economic; social; Latin American dignity; designed “to build a fraternal and co-operative coexistence.” This includes “the transformation of higher education and the transfer of knowledge in science, technology and innovation”, with practices focused upon diversity, participation, social and economic equality, and bio-knowledge (or an engagement with/care for the land/climate/environment).
  • Through the FLOK Society Transition Project, Michael Bauwens has spoken of the real possibilities for democratic innovation and civic driven change through: the creation of a participatory commons; the creation of entrepreneurial coalitions; the creation of a socially-nurtured, broad-based open commons that are fed in policy and practice; and nurturing solidarity co-operatives. In this way structure supports individual and co-operative agency that is participative, against the commodification of risk that emerges from the individuated consumption in the global North. As Bauwens argues:

we work in a triarchical way. We have the state. We have the civic society with the commons and we have the market with an ethical economy. We need to change all three at the same time and doing so will create a new democracy so we can no longer just talk about democracy and ignore the fact that our state has been captured by financial interests. We have to do something structurally about that. We cannot have a democracy that is actually isolated from the situation in which democracy operates.

  • The IPCC report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability asks us to focus on diversity and context, in order to think about complementary actions across levels, from individuals to governments, in reducing vulnerability and exposure to present climate variability. It asks us to focus on societal values, objectives, and risk perceptions. It asks us to be sensitive to context and the diversity of decision types, decision processes, and constituencies, although it is unable to escape Jameson’s stricture that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism. It asks us to think about short-termism or failing to anticipate consequences that can result in maladaptation. Whatever its boundaries, it asks us to think.

SIX. In the face of the triple crunch, of the volatility imposed by the interrelationships between peak oil, our climate realities, and the secular crisis of capitalism, is business as usual really possible for those who labour and study in higher education? How do we develop the usefulness of our work and ourselves, rather than their means for alienation and exchange?

What kinds of conversations are we having with society about the reality of our need for more sophisticated financial engineering to underpin increasing student debt and precarious futures? What kinds of conversations are we having with society about the market’s domination over our access to/use of liquid fuel, and the management of climate change?

What kinds of conversations should we be having with young people and their parents about the volatile relationships between debt, real wages, unemployment and precarity, in the face of the added volatility of access to the resources that keep the economy growing?

By refusing our critical, academic role in questioning whether there really is no alternative, what are we modelling for our students and our communities and our society? What alternative scenarios are we remembering and revealing and discussing and realising? How are we being careful in realising who has power-to produce the world? How are we being courageous in modelling questioning and difference and solidarity and association and participation?

Is academic neutrality, inside-and-beyond the University, really an option?

higher education and the triple crunch

I’m presenting at the Plymouth University Pedagogic Research conference on Wednesday, about higher education and the triple crunch.

There are some notes on the University and the secular crisis [crunch 1].

There are some notes on climate change and liquid fuel availability [crunch 2 and 3] here and here.

My slides are here.

on the University as anxiety machine

I would be your king

But you want to be free

Confusion and art

I’m nothing but heart

(as we stumble to the shore… as we walk into the night …. this before can’t say it anymore…)

Low. 2011. Nothing but Heart.

We think we know what the narrative is. But over time it fractures and cracks and dies and is reborn. As we fracture and crack and die and are reborn.

Inside this world, inside our history, inside this capitalism we fracture and crack under the stress of it all. The toxic stress of being for economic growth. Of being for an entrepreneurial life. Of giving away our labour. Of alienating our labour. Of giving away ourselves. Of alienating ourselves. We willingly give it up. This is the new normal. We willingly give up our very selves so that they can accumulate value. We accede to their dominance so that we can survive and breathe and have hope. Hope in the face of the reality that our fracture and our cracking are driven by their hegemony and their economic growth.

The power of their narrative of economic growth, which subsumes our labour, and that is visited upon the University. Their common sense. Their intellectual rigour. The new normal.

As Jehu argues:

The sale of labor power has the effect of scrubbing all the concrete manifestations of labor from our consciousness.

We are scrubbed clean of our humanity, and this is done systemically:

It does this by validating the reduction of our capacities to just another commodity in the market.

This is all we are. A reduction. Scrubbed of the potential of what our lives might be. Marketised. Abstracted from reality. Made contingent on the production of value. And as we have witnessed in countless testimonies the University is increasingly a space inside which this scrubbing, this abstraction, this contingency, plays out psychologically. So that our desire to be something other than an entrepreneur is disciplined. So that we witness:

For many, like myself, like those closest to me, anxiety and depression are not technical terms but personal experiences.

And we witness:

Too many casual academics find themselves barely surviving as they are suspended in a state of near constant poverty.

And we witness:

The evidence of our anxiety is not exactly hidden – it’s scattered across social media and in discussions within session-by-session teacher networks, that universities mostly don’t see. More and more stories are emerging in these networks about the hardships of poverty, and families under immense stress.

And we witness:

Studies have found that graduate school is not a particularly healthy place. At the University of California at Berkeley, 67 percent of graduate students said they had felt hopeless at least once in the last year; 54 percent felt so depressed they had a hard time functioning; and nearly 10 percent said they had considered suicide,

This is insidious. This latter-day higher education. This University as anxiety machine. This University as means for the production of anxiety. This University that forces us to internalise the creation of value and the extraction of value and the accumulation of value. This University that is recalibrated for value as we seek to resist in the name of teaching and learning and becoming and emancipation and us. The anxiety of the future collapsed onto the present; trumping the present; devaluing the present. The University not as a place where students can find themselves, but where they can create themselves. This is the University that demands we overcome our present imperfections; our present lack of impact; our present lack of student satisfaction; our present lack of staffing efficiency.

Future perfect trumps our present tense. Our present made tense.

As Giroux argues in Border Crossings, we might seek redress through the politicisation of our relationships inside the University, and by reflecting on the politics of pedagogic power.

Gramsci points to the complex ways [through hegemonic control] in which consent is organised as part of an active pedagogical process on the terrain of everyday life. In Gramsci’s view such a process must work and rework the cultural an ideological terrain of subordinate groups in order to legitimate the interests an authority of the ruling bloc. (p. 163)

What this maps onto is a project for

the construction of an educational practice that expands human capacities in order to enable people to intervene in the formation of their own subjectivities and to be able to exercise power in the interest of transforming the ideological and material conditions of domination into social practices that promote social empowerment and demonstrate possibilities. (p. 166)

What we might therefore do as educators is rethink how our pedagogic practices reveal and reinforce the hegemonic and objective material conditions of capitalist society. We might rethink how those practices enable teachers and students to define new relations of power that are against privilege. Such rethinking demands new relations of power inside the classroom that are against the taking and accumulation of power. Such rethinking demands democratic and participatory alternatives through which the curriculum and the relationships that shape it and the assessments that validate it are negotiated.

This is the dissolution of the University as a means for the domination/hegemony of a particular world view or a specific class. This is the dissolution of the University as a coercive space that is re-forged inside-and-against student-debt and impact and research excellence and analytics and employability and entrepreneurship. This is the dissolution of the University as the civil society of tenured professors versus casualised precariat. This is the dissolution of the consensus that reshapes the civil society of higher education in the interests of capital through the ideology of student-as-consumer. This is the dissolution of a higher education that is for materialism and value.

This is for the production of a University rooted in solidarity and co-operation. This is for the production of a University that is active and critical and popular.

The purpose of popular education is to enable those who are marginalized to become more fully human.  I see it as essential to facilitate not only action, but also critical refection on the consequences of action as an essential element of educational practice.  It contributes not only to learning, but to what Paulo Freire call the act of knowing. (Carlos Cortez Ruiz, p. 6.)

As Gramsci noted in 1916 this turns into “a problem of rights and of power”. This is the meaning of education as culture, and it is the relationship between political and civil society played out in the curriculum. In the prison notebooks (p. 330) Gramsci goes on to state that in whatever context, the problem of rights and power is a deeply conflicted, political process:

The average worker has a practical activity but has no clear theoretical consciousness of his activity in and understanding of the world; indeed, his theoretical consciousness can be “historically” in conflict with his activity. In other words, he will have two theoretical consciousnesses: one that is implicit in his activity and that really unites him with all his fellow workers in the practical transformation of the world and a superficial, “explicit” one that he has inherited from the past. The practical-theoretical position, in this case, cannot help becoming “political”—that is, a question of “hegemony.”

Inside the University, our confronting this as a political pedagogic process is, as Mike Neary argues, potentially revolutionary. At issue is the possibility that we might frame a curriculum that:

is driven by a lack of faith in the inevitability of progressive transformation, based on a negative rather than a positive critique of the social relations of capitalist society… the future is not the result of naturally upturning economic cycles, nor the structural contradictions of capitalism, but is made by the possibility and necessity of progressive social transformation through practical action, i.e., class struggle… the logic of revolution is not based on the call to some lofty liberal principle, e.g. social justice, or the empowerment of the powerless, but the more practical imperatives driven by the avoidance of disaster beyond human imagination.

Here it is worth highlighting Neary’s focus on Vygotsky’s belief in the revolutionary nature of teaching, where it emerges from inside the student as a social being. As Neary notes, teaching becomes radical where the social context of the curriculum is arranged by the teacher so that the student teaches themselves:

‘Education should be structured so that it is not the student that is educated, but that the student educates himself’ or, in other words, ‘…the real secret of education lies in not teaching’ (Vygotsky, 1926).

This is therefore beyond the impact of the teacher. This is beyond the student’s adaptation to the given teaching environment. This is for the creation of a person able to create and organise her own life as a pedagogic project. As Vygotsky notes in Shorter Logic this depends upon the ability to become concrete; to become for ourselves; to be.

… the man, in himself, is the child. And what the child has to do is to rise out of this abstract and undeveloped ‘in-himself’ and become ‘for himself’ what he is at first only ‘in-himself’ – a free and reasonable being.

And I am left wondering how to reconcile the University as an anxiety machine with the idea that the teacher might be revolutionary where s/he gives herself up to the process of arranging a practical, political pedagogy. This is revolutionary in the sense that bell hooks argued for an education that was more real, rooted in vivid, personal struggle against alienation and estrangement. This is the internalisation of the pedagogic process as a form of emancipation inside the student; and the restructuring of the student’s world based on the radical organisation of the classroom; and the student’s challenging of the prefigured world of the teacher in her everyday life and her every day actions; and the student’s on-going struggle to overcome the prefigured world of our political and civil society. This is the student’s struggle to be heard.

This is the same emancipatory process that Gramsci highlighted through his focus on critical awareness, the role of organic intellectuals who emerged through everyday life, and on the place of ‘common sense’ in maintaining hegemonic positions of power through civil society. However, it is also the same emancipatory process that underscores the therapeutic relationship. In therapy, Martha Crawford reminds us that the client/therapist relationship is potentially revolutionary in its identification and acceptance of limitations and past injuries as they are replicated and represented in present actions and thoughts and hopes, in order that these identifications and fractures might enable the self to be healed. For Crawford the deepest therapies change both client and therapist because they work from inside the client as social being.

We might also argue that the deepest pedagogic encounters change both student and teacher because they work from inside the client as social being. This is a relationship based upon identification and empathy, upon humane values of love, upon what we are willing to share and to bear co-operatively. This is the revolutionary, emancipatory space for teaching that is threatened inside the University as anxiety machine: what are we willing to share and to bear co-operatively? In the face of the iron law of competition and of value; in the face of the projection of the entrepreneurial self onto the curriculum and its relationships; in the face of the hegemony of efficiency and impact and satisfaction and growth; what are we willing to share and to bear co-operatively?

This is revolutionary teaching as a mirror that enables the student/teacher to overcome her being “trapped, lost, hypnotized by images of our own projected soul.” This is teaching as therapy inside the anxiety machine. This is teaching and learning as the ability to reflect; as the act of reflection; as the act of looking into one’s soul; this is our looking in the mirror inside the anxiety machine. The power of this is not to be understated. The threat of this is not to be understated because says Crawford:

Mirrors reveal to us what cannot be shown to anyone else, what we do not know, and perhaps don’t want to know about ourselves at all.

Perhaps the revolutionary teacher always asks what we are willing to share and to bear co-operatively?


Henry Giroux writes that:

The transformation of higher education into a an adjunct of corporate control conjures up the image of a sorcerer’s apprentice, of an institution that has become delusional in its infatuation with neoliberal ideology, values and modes of instrumental pedagogy. Universities now claim that they are providing a service and in doing so not only demean any substantive notion of governance, research and teaching, but also abstract education from any sense of civic responsibility. 

And we are caught and made fraught as our labour is stripped bare and alienated from us. As the corporate control of the University restructures our pedagogic agency into student satisfaction and consumption; as the corporate control of the University restructures our public scholarship into impact metrics and knowledge transfer; as the corporate control of the University restructures our solidarity into performance management; as the corporate control of the University attempts to restructure our souls, which have to cope with the dissonance of it all; as the corporate control of the University attempts to restructure our selves as we introject their performance management against our critical identity.

And Josh Freedman writes that this stress, this anxiety, this dissonance, is amplified though excessive University borrowing:

in the long-term, public and private nonprofit schools alike will find it even more difficult to provide a quality education to a wide array of the population. And in a battle between students, faculty, and creditors, the creditors right now have the upper hand – which calls into question the core of the future of American higher education.

And Eric Grollman writes about radical battle fatigue and survival:

Yet another painful reminder of how marginalized scholars are, at best, conditionally accepted in academiaEveryday, I am faced with the decision: group survival vs. individual survival.  Since these are opposing decisions, I rarely, if ever, experience both. Ultimately, I chose silence about the dining hall display; I picked “safely” keeping my job over the safety of Black people on campus.  By creating this blog, I am “taking one for the team,” enduring known and unknown professional risks in order to improve the lives of marginalized scholars.  Everyday that I wear a man’s suit, I am choosing professional safety (as well as safety from violence) over greater visibility of genderqueer people on campus.  Every interaction with a student or colleague — do I choose authenticity and social justice or safety and job security — carries the decision between my survival or my survival.  And, major decisions like making my research more “mainstream” to increase my professional status comes at the expense of my own authenticity and perspective. The very things I should and should not do as a tenure-track professor seem at odds with the very things I should not and should do as a Black queer person.

no chance of escape
now self-employed
concerned (but powerless)
an empowered and informed member of society (pragmatism not idealism)
fitter, healthier and more productive
like a pig
in a cage
on antibiotics.

Radiohead. 1997. Fitter Happier.

on academic labour and performance anxiety


ONE. The bleeding of our souls.

There is no escape from the living death of capitalist work (Dinerstein and Neary). This leads Cederström and Fleming to argue that our whole existence bleeds our souls in the name of value. The corporatisation of our lives bleeds our souls because:

The real fault-line today is not between capital and labor. It is between capital and life. Life itself is now something that is plundered by the corporation, rendering our very social being into something that makes money for business. We know them. The computer hackers dreaming code in their sleep. The airline stewards evoking their warm personality to deal with an irate customer…The aspiring NGO intern working for nothing. The university lecturer writing in the weekend. The call center worker improvising on the telephone to enhance the customer experience.

This is the world-for-acccumulation, against which Kate Bowles notes universities and academic labour are being restructured so that shame becomes a central tenet of everyday academic life.

We overwork because the current culture in universities is brutally and deliberately invested in shaming those who don’t compete effectively; as a correlative to this we are starting to value and promote to leadership roles people who really do believe in the dodgeball triumphalism of university rankings as a way of nurturing educational values and critical inquiry.

The cruelty of this shaming is that it passes itself off as supportive collegial celebration of the heroic few; it’s hard to call out precisely because it looks like a good thing.

Yesterday I argued that there is a broader set of questions for academics here, about how they approach organisational governance co-operatively, in order to generate solidarity that militates against the practices that devolve corporate leadership and responsibility for actions, and thereby enable performance management to become an internalised disciplinary activity. For Bowles, this is academic labour as labour that needs to stand against shame and being shamed through performance:

Being shamed isn’t the result of failing or refusing to participate in this system; it’s the result of being willing to supply your labour to enable competitiveness to work at all. Because there have to be losers, for there to be people who win.

TWO. Because there have to be losers, for there to be people who win.

The internalisation of performativity, alongside managerialism and marketization/the commodification of everyday practices, is as present inside the University as they are outside. Thus, academic labour is labour that needs to resist its reification and its alienation from its species. As Petrovic argued, as life, relationships, values, the soul, is recast for value or as value-laden, we witness:

[The] transformation of human beings into thing‑like beings which do not behave in a human way but according to the laws of the thing‑world. Reification is a ‘special’ case of ALIENATION, its most radical and widespread form characteristic of modem capitalist society

For Stephen Ball this is amplified by performativity that in-turn pivots around mechanisms for control and autonomy, and the deterritorialised nature of performance management so that it both appears and reappears inside-and-outside of the workplace. Thus, performativity is our lack of personal control over our labour, so that we seize on the enforcement of:

a technology, a culture and a mode of regulation that employs judgements, comparisons and displays as means of incentive, control, attrition and change – based on rewards and sanctions (both material and symbolic). The performances (of individual subjects or organisations) serve as measures of productivity or output, or displays of ‘quality’, or ‘moments’ of promotion or inspection. As such they stand for, encapsulate or represent the worth, quality or value of an individual or organisation within a field of judgement. The issue of who controls the field of judgement is crucial. (p. 216)

This is the entrepreneurial turn inside the University, as that working space mirrors the need to generate the creative-commodity economy outside. This turn recasts the academic as innovator whose formation inside-and-outside the University can be witnessed and judged as creative and valuable, not because it is useful but because it can be exchanged. This is not about the relationships that the academic has either with her peers, her students, or most importantly with herself. It is about the enclosure and commodification of that life under the organisation of the market.

THREE. Zero autonomy and performance anxiety.

Elsewhere I wrote that the impact of this need to perform and to be seen to perform is a function of a lack of autonomy. However, it is also formed of the systemic myth that is peddled about how if only we were more resilient then the world would be ours.

We are conditioned to rely on the rugged, resilient individual. To develop the rugged, resilient individual. And in the process we are all demeaned. In the process we are all alienated from our humanity.

In this, recognition of our alienation not as academics, but as labour and as labour-power, matters. This is an alienation from our very selves, as more is demanded of us: more extensive lists of projects to manage; the next EU bid to chase; your team’s development reviews to finalise faster; your own research to be done on your own time; your need to bring in external income to justify performing at that conference; more value to create; more capital to set in motion; more surpluses to be generated. This is the restructuring of the University as a business through your work and your alienated self.

This alienation is witnessed in Miya Tokumitsu’s connection of the relationship between academic practices and academic psychology:

Few other professions fuse the personal identity of their workers so intimately with the work output. This intense identification partly explains why so many proudly left-leaning faculty remain oddly silent about the working conditions of their peers. Because academic research should be done out of pure love, the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.

This underpins the increasing exploitation of the academic soul at work. It I why I was awake at 4am yesterday and today, worrying about those essays to be marked, about whether the three journal articles in review and the eight conference presentations accepted and the two book proposals and the proposed new Centre for Pedagogic Research are enough (enough already!) or made me a good enough academic (when I feel like a shameful fraud), and whether I am giving my team enough direction, and whether I need to find more time for trades union activities because solidarity is a weapon. Am I enough? Am I good enough? How am I judged, by you and by me? What is my value? Alienated from my self and my relationships through capitalist work.

And these fears and anxieties remind me that as I internalise a structural and structuring performance management, this is overlain on top of a hackneyed academic psychology that is prone to intense negativity, including: over-analysing my performance and my thinking until my mind bleeds; being convinced that everything has to be perfect for everyone forever, except for me; being unforgiving and overcritical of me; being unable to be in this world; being too deliberate in my use of language/discourse/action and search for hidden meanings where there may be none; making myself too responsible about stuff for which I am not responsible; and lacking faith in myself.

As Tokumitsu argues, this enables those in-power or with power-over the world to entreat educators to “do what you love”, and to give everything. This is hardly harmless. It reifies certain forms of work as loveable because they are intellectual or creative or social, rather than proletarianised, whilst its demands are made competitive and outcomes-focused and routine so that this very work underpins self-hatred. It is the sublimation and the very negation of the self; it is the identification of the ego with the performance; it is the bleeding of the soul. And the governor for this is the interplay between structural, organisational management, and crippling, personal, psychological self-doubt. Just work that bit harder, that bit faster, that bit better and we’ll tell you we are proud of you… And I read this into The Underbelly of Putting Yourself Last: Mental Illness, Stress, and Substance Abuse, and I read this into reports on mental health and Ph.D. study.

All this reminds me that a while back I wrote about courage and a friend’s cancer diagnosis that had been too long in arriving, and the realisation that “and now here we are.”

And now here we are. And for all sorts of reasons I read those five words with an intense scream against the pain that this life has become and the choices we are forced to make, in order to justify our lives as hard-working and worthy of justice. And I scream against the pain of the compromises that are contained in those five words. And I recognise that it is in the moment of a crisis that the things that we do, and the compromises that we make, to be a manager or a co-worker or for the clock or for impact or for efficiency or for whatever, resolve.

My alienated self; my soul at work; my mind bleeds; am I good enough? And I wrote to my friend over the weekend that this lack of autonomy was a form of structural domination, which wears us out socially and collectively, and which doesn’t matter to management because there is such a reserve army of labour to fill-in. The precariously employed, the casualised, the hourly-paid, the hopeful post-graduates, the lower-cost. So you have to perform, and this is their domination over us, reproduced through the logic of competition; competition between universities; competition between individuals; competition inside yourself.

FOUR. And it wears me out. It wears me out.

“You wear out, Ed Tom. All the time you spend trying to get back what’s been took from you, more is going out the door. After a while you just have to try to get a tourniquet on it… Anyway, you never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from…”

“They sat quietly at the table. After a while the old man said: She mentioned there was a lot of old pictures and family stuff. What to do about that. Well. There ain’t nothing to do about it I don’t reckon. Is there?”

“No. I don’t reckon there is.”

Cormac McCarthy. 2005. No Country for Old Men.

The logic of academic competition that owns you as you ask “do I do enough?” “Prove it.” The future owned by fear. The future of “I do enough”, “I am good enough”, owned by the past of “do I do enough?”, “was I good enough?” Never thinking “I am” because the shadow of “am I?” is unforgiving. The logic of academic competition that uses the National Student Survey, Research Excellence, impact metrics, restricted promotions processes, and so on, as forms of academic cognitive behavioural therapy; as forms of restructuring what it means to be an academic; reifying what it means to labour in a University, so that performance is internalised. So that guilt and shame trump solidarity, unity and faith. So that in the battle to survive we forget that capitalist work is ‘a form of living death’ (Dinerstein and Neary (ht @josswinn)).

This means that, in Ball’s terms, we are subsumed under an imperative that makes:

management, ubiquitous, invisible, inescapable – part of and embedded in everything we do. Increasingly, we choose and judge our actions and they are judged by others on the basis of their contribution to organizational performance, rendered in terms of measurable outputs (p. 223).

This is the battle between an academic ego-identity that is increasingly status-driven and reified, a managerial cadre that seeks control through its own autonomy and performance management techniques, and the possibility of a socialised self that might refuse capital as the automatic subject. In this we need to recognise the duality that, first academic labour is labour and is locked in a struggle with capital over the production of value, and second that increasingly this form of labour is revealed as kettled inside a structure that exists for the autonomy of Capital.

This autonomy is a battle over productive and useful time. As Marx notes in Capital Volume 2:

It is plain that the more the production time and labour-time cover each other the greater is the productivity and self-expansion of a given productive capital in a given space of time. Hence the tendency of the capitalist production to reduce the excess of the production time over the labour-time as much as possible. But while the time of production of a certain capital may differ from its labour-time, it always comprises the latter, and this excess is itself a condition of the process of production. The time of production, then, is always that time in which a capital produces use-values and expands, hence functions as productive capital, although it includes time in which it is either latent or produces without expanding its value.

Inside a competitive market, all of life must become productive of value, and idle or working time, has to be annihilated. The self that produces things that cannot be exchanged has limited value and must be annihilated. The life that is consumed by working time rather than productive time is inefficient, and must be recalibrated by speed-up, always-on, the annilhilation of space by time. This is our internalisation of the capital’s necessity for perpetual time-space transformations, in order to generate and accumulate surplus-value and wealth. This is the time-space transformation through student debt, financialisation, the international university, the MOOC, and the University as an association of capitals.

This is the demand that academic labour fights against its fixity inside the walls of the University.

This is the demand that academic labour is always-on, always circulating, always looking for spaces to generate value.

This is the bind that academic labour now finds itself in: based in a belief system based on love or care or the student experience; courted and reified as special and high status and as commodity; kettled by performance anxiety and performance management; disciplined by academic cognitive behavioural therapy; forced to be responsive to the university as competing business in a landscape that is being reterritorialised on a global scale; forced to reinvent itself for expansion and accumulation; never allowed to be.

Never allowed to be.

Never allowed to be.

And it wears you out.

Friction, co-operation and technology in the neoliberal university

I’m presenting at “Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology and resistance in May. My abstract is noted below.
In the Grundrisse, Marx argued that the circulation of productive capital was “a process of transformation, a qualitative process of value”. As capitalists sought to overcome the barriers to this transformatory process, they worked to revolutionise both the means of production via organisational and technological change, and circulation time via transportation and communication changes. Reducing friction in the production and circulation of capital is critical to the extraction of surplus value, and Marx argued that in this transformation “Capital by its nature drives beyond every spatial barrier [and]… the annihilation of space by time – becomes an extraordinary necessity for it.”
Higher education is increasingly a space which is being recalibrated so as to reduce friction and thereby to increase the mobility or fluidity of intellectual production and circulation. Thus, technology, technical services and techniques are deployed to collapse the interfaces between geography, space and time. However, this collapse also reveals the stresses and strains of antagonisms, as the friction of neoliberal higher education reform deforms existing cultures and histories. It also points to alternatives like those emerging from analyses of the Chilean CyberSyn project or the Ecuadorian National Plan for Good Living.
This paper argues that inside the University, the deployment of technologies, technical services and techniques enables education to be co-opted as an institutional means for production and control. As a result, academics and students are defined as entrepreneurial subjects. A question is the extent to which the friction that emerges from this neoliberal pedagogic project can be used to describe alternatives, and whether in the process it is possible to uncover ways in which education might be used for co-operation rather than competition, as a form of resistance.