on Mass Intellectuality

Ahead of our workshop on Mass Intellectuality, Joss Winn has argued the following about the term Mass Intellectuality.

A couple of people have questioned our use of the term ‘mass intellectuality’ for the title of our proposed book: ‘Mass Intellectuality: the democratisation of higher education. It’s a term that comes from Autonomous Marxism, based on Marx’s notion of the ‘general intellect’. Richard and I intend to introduce and discuss the term in our introduction to the book.

Here’s what Paolo Virno had to say about it:

“Mass intellectuality is the composite group of Postfordist living labour, not merely of some particularly qualified third sector: it is the depository of cognitive competences that cannot be objectified in machinery. Mass intellectuality is the prominent form in which the general intellect is manifest today. The scientific erudition of the individual labourer is not under question here. Rather, all the more generic attitudes of the mind gain primary status as productive resources; these are the faculty of language, the disposition to learn, memory, the power of abstraction and relation and the tendency towards self-reflexivity. General intellect needs to be understood literally as intellect in general: the faculty and power to think, rather than the works produced by thought – a book, an algebra formula etc. In order to represent the relationship between general intellect and living labour in Postfordism we need to refer to the act through which every speaker draws on the inexhaustible potential of language to execute contingent and unrepeatable statements. Like the intellect and memory, language is the most common and least ‘specialised’ conceivable given. A good example of mass intellectuality is the speaker, not the scientist. Mass intellectuality has nothing to do with a new ‘labour aristocracy’; it is actually its exact opposite.”

Source: ‘General Intellect by Paolo Virno

Mass intellectuality is against-and-beyond the restructuring of society for capitalist work and for the production, circulation and accumulation of value. As I write elsewhere on the co-operative university:

From such a reframing emerges a focus on alternative educational practices that develop socialised knowledge, or ‘mass intellectuality’, a direct, social force of production [which is socially useful, and based on an alternative value-form that will work in terms of the social reproduction of society in a different image.]. 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.”

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.


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