against teaching intensity

My reading of the Higher Education Green paper sits alongside that of the Universities and Colleges Union, with its highlighting of the critical absence of staff inside education policy. My reading emerges against the UK Treasury’s Productivity Plan, Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation, which stresses the important of human capital intensity. This is a key theme that underpins the Green Paper, and is a central site of potential refusal by academics and students, with pedagogic engagement as a point of departure. My reading is then situated through recent work on social reproduction and the crisis of sociability that is enforced through the hegemony of marketization and financialisation, and which is realised as exploited and alienated academic labour.

Whilst the sector has been used as a means to enforce primitive accumulation, for instance in international markets, it is also being structurally adjusted through the processes of real subsumption. There are vanguards of academics and students who have already experienced and refused these processes and to whom we might listen in becoming our own moments of refusal. In the process we might refuse to compromise with the Government in its measurement and monitoring of academic labour and in its reduction of teaching to ideas of excellence intensity that quantify the classroom. This is a reframing of the Green Paper in the broader, social context of refusal.

ONE. A note on productivity and the loss of time

Marx saw important interrelationships between the production of surplus-value and the length of the working day, the intensity of labour, and productivity (the productiveness of labour).

[W]e have seen that the relative magnitudes of surplus-value and of price of labour-power are determined by three circumstances; (1) the length of the working-day, or the extensive magnitude of labour; (2) the normal intensity of labour, its intensive magnitude, whereby a given quantity of labour is expended in a given time; (3) the productiveness of labour, whereby the same quantum of labour yields, in a given time, a greater or less quantum of product, dependent on the degree of development in the conditions of production.

Here the management and intensity of work-time and free-time become a key terrain of struggle between Capital and Labour. However, the struggle is itself re-shaped by both competition and the stimulation of new, tradable needs and desires, which push the forces of production and the relations of production into tension. This underscores the tensions that emerge from Marx’s ‘Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’:

At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.

In Capital, Marx described these tensions in terms of: first, ‘enforcing economy in each individual business’; and second

by its anarchical system of competition, the most outrageous squandering of labour-power and of the social means of production, not to mention the creation of a vast number of employments, at present indispensable, but in themselves superfluous.

Much of our toil is superfluous to the purpose of meeting our basic needs. Instead we are compelled to generate an ever-expanding range of services or products, and to chase them into new terrains or markets. As wasteful is the realisation that we aim to become more productive in the hope that we will have more free time, and yet the system colonises and co-opts that free time, and enforces yet more productivity. We are subjected to increasing levels of excellence intensity of labour across our working lives. And this intensity of labour underscores the desperate search for surplus-value and its materialisation as profit. As a result, Marx argued that we witness how

In capitalist society spare time is acquired for one class by converting the whole life-time of the masses into labour time.

TWO. The Treasury, human capital and productivity

HM Treasury of the UK Government have attempted to re-frame the struggle between the material, productive forces of society and the existing relations of production, through its productivity plan: Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation. The Plan centres productivity and intensified work on an ideological terrain that situates our means of reproducing society or our social relationships, solely through work. All of life is our duty to capitalist work.

Productivity is the challenge of our time. It is what makes nations stronger, and families richer.

The drivers of productivity are well understood: a dynamic, open enterprising economy supported by long-term public and private investment in infrastructure, skills and science. A nation flourishes when it uses the full skills of all its people in all parts of that nation. (p. 1)

The Productivity Plan is central to an analysis of the HE Green Paper, which situates higher learning through human capital theory. This is a critical insight flowing from Andrew McGettigan’s work on The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment, which sees ‘undergraduate study as a stratified, unequal, positional good dominating future opportunities and outcomes.’ Thus, the Treasury argue (p. 8) that

Our excellent university sector cannot be kept competitive, and open to all who can benefit, unless we make hard choices about funding.

These hard choices are foregrounded here as the Teaching Excellence Framework [TEF] ‘to sharpen incentives for providing an outstanding education to students’, and also increased competition from new entrants to the HE market to ‘deliver better value for money’.

Investment is an essential part of raising productivity. In today’s economy that is not simply a matter of increasing the stock of machines, equipment and essential physical infrastructure but also, crucially, the development of human and intellectual capital. (p. 15)

The TEF is therefore a critical moment of real subsumption that intensifies academic activities, in terms of how the curriculum is structured and delivered, and how it is monitored. The TEF ‘will inform student decision-making, continue to support a high average wage premium for graduates and ensure that students’ hard-won qualifications keep their value over time’ (p. 28). Thus, as John Holmwood argues for the Green Paper, we might note that the Plan ‘represents the familiar neo-liberal package of de-regulation via markets together with strong central direction’, which reinvents work/Academia itself ‘increasingly [as] a ‘Big Data’ project’. In the case of Academia the contexts for this project are now both teaching and research.

In terms of readjusting the relations of production, the Plan hollows out a space to be governed by a modern competition toolkit and the active choices of consumers.

Competitive markets are fundamental to fostering productivity growth. They compel firms to be more efficient and innovative, allow new businesses to enter markets and ensure that the best firms grow (p. 59).

During the last Parliament, the government created the independent Competition and Markets Authority [CMA], bringing existing competition authorities into a more streamlined body and modernising the competition toolkit. The government’s role is to ensure that the regime continues to be amongst the best in the world… to ensure that consumer enforcement capability effectively supports competition and better regulation objectives (p. 60).

The disruption of cultural norms that have been negotiated over time is central to this approach. The Plan’s digital-determinism (and the re-focusing on Digital Transformation) sits at the centre of a desire to break-up unproductive positions and to forge industry transformation. In part this is by breaking established labour relations. In part it is situated through transnational engagements between service providers like universities, and service innovators like communications and infrastructure corporations, or financiers like venture capitalists. These new transnational associations, pivoting around enterprise are ‘driving productivity by ensuring that firms continually strive to improve their efficiency and better meet customers’ needs’ (p. 61). The transnational imperatives of such innovations are central to the Plan’s proposals for exports and international markets, but also to ‘further trade liberalisation’, including The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) (p. 67).

Yet, as Holmwood notes for the HE Green Paper, it elides enterprise, active consumption and growth, whilst ignoring the structuring realities of an economy rooted in precarious employment and debt:

All values are reduced to economic values, but in place of a promise to re-balance the economy, the economy is increasingly directed toward short-term profits and financialisation. Economic inequalities widen, the proportion of ‘graduate jobs’ declines, and the claim that this can help increase social mobility is increasingly hollow.

However, the Treasury view situates these entrepreneurial processes of financialisation and marketization inside the drive for public sector productivity rooted in the needs of employers. Moreover, it ties efficiencies to issues of labour intensity that are shaped by Single Departmental Plans, ‘which will identify key priorities for every department, and will act as a vehicle to link inputs to outputs’ (p. 75). The Plan notes that November’s Spending Review will focus attention on: service redesign and value-for-money; restructuring organisation and workforce; and prioritising technology and data. In part this is a response to a perception of poor decisions ‘about resource allocation across the economy, preventing capital and labour from finding their most productive uses and weighing on productivity growth’ (p. 76). However, it is also a response to ‘the relatively low cost of labour since the crisis [that] may have led firms to substitute away from investment, reducing the effective amount of capital workers can use and thus reducing productivity’ (p. 76).

The Plan places universities squarely in the frontline of this restructuring around service redesign, workforce, and technology/data. Here the key is productivity that emerges from a freeing up of the market, so that capital and labour can flow between sectors or across sectors, and so that new associations of capitals or businesses emerge. Here service redesign is a function of HE providers working in partnership with hedge funds, publishers, technology corporations, and so on, so that capital can be reallocated. Productivity also emerges from efficiencies that emerge inside and across existing providers, whereby human capital might be reallocated. Critically, for the health of the economy as a whole, the Plan supports

disruptive innovators and ensures competitive pressure on the tail of low productivity firms. This requires an open economy with flexible and competitive markets, where expanding firms can access the labour, land and finance they need (p. 81).

Open intensity. A productive life. Life as work. The new normal.

THREE. Teaching Excellence Intensity

HM Government’s Green Paper, Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice, looks to enact the Productivity Plan inside English HE, and roots its proposals as the denial of a history of work on teaching quality and quality enhancement. It collapses the contexts of struggles over: teaching and pedagogy; existing educational inputs and outputs; the idea that students are purchasers, consumers and/or producers; and determinants of value for money that are held by families as purchasers, taxpayers as underwriters, and employers as innovators. These contexts are collapsed onto one ideological terrain that seeks to delegitimise alternative conceptualisations of HE.

The HE Green paper amplifies the roll-out (c.f Stephen Ball) of a specific neoliberal agenda, which has a long ideological lineage, through which the terrain for the marketization of everyday life was prepared. In English HE this is witnessed in the recent history of: the move of universities and HE into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; the raising of fees under New Labour; the Browne Review; the ramping-up of fees, and the HE White Paper under the Coalition. These moments normalised the idea of mass HE rooted in active consumer choice and open data, career-ready human capital, and global competition (p. 10). Thus, these moments prepare Academia for short-term productivity fixes that are rooted in bureaucracy, and which demand that students and academics surveil and monitor themselves, in the name of:

the development of a positive work ethic, so that they can contribute more effectively to our efforts to boost the productivity of the UK economy (p. 11).

This is a productivity that is shaped by:

(1) the length of the [academic] working-day, or the extensive magnitude of [academic] labour; (2) the normal intensity of [academic] labour, its intensive magnitude, whereby a given quantity of [academic] labour is expended in a given time; (3) the productiveness of [academic] labour, whereby the same quantum of [academic] labour yields, in a given time, a greater or less quantum of product, dependent on the degree of development in the conditions of [academic] production.

In order to develop the forces of academic production, active consumer choice is central, and this emerges against data about ‘Course quality, teaching intensity and contact hours’ (p. 11). Entrepreneurial intensity is central to this prescription for academic productivity. UCU’s response presents a counter-narrative that teaching is an inclusive, collegial endeavour, and that is enriched through peer-review, and which depends upon the labour conditions of both teachers and students.

Everyone recognises the need for high quality teaching, but unless government places staff at the centre of the process and addresses underlying issues like casualisation, low status of teaching, lack of career progression and lack of funding, the green paper is unlikely to achieve its stated objectives

This focus on the Green paper as an attack on labour rights and conditions of work, designed to drive service redesign and workforce efficiencies, questions whether, as David Kernohan notes, ‘the TEF can become a [] vehicle for a community of interest based around a common idea’, without being centred around academic labour struggles. In particular, this is because academic labour and teaching intensity are rooted in attempts to de-professionalise HE. As UCU note, any TEF will be transplanted onto a fractured terrain.

Temporary contract working is endemic across UK higher education, with 69,000 (43%) out of a total of 161,000 contracted academic staff on non-permanent contracts. Among 40,000 teaching only staff, 29,435 (73%) have non-permanent contracts. These figures do not include the 75,000 so called ‘atypical’ academic staff who are also largely engaged in teaching but who are usually employed only on an as and when basis and have little access to CPD, career development or other scholarship opportunities

These data about teaching excellence intensity might enable conversations about: the precarious, indentured reality of English HE; how tuition fees are spent (p. 12), which discusses the labour costs of the work of students as well as staff, and then re-opens debates about wages for schoolwork; HE as exchange-value and tradable asset, rather than publically- or socially-useful value; changes to behaviour that are grounded in interpretations of projections about future earnings, which are themselves historically-hedged; changes that emerge from inside pedagogic relationships and through the curriculum; and a desire to limit higher learning to data and value-for-money:

The TEF will increase students’ understanding of what they are getting for their money and improve the value they derive from their investment, protecting the interest of the taxpayer who supports the system through provision of student loans. It should also provide better signalling for employers as to which providers they can trust to produce highly skilled graduates. (pp. 12-13)

This is the proposed structural adjustment of HE to meet the needs of the Treasury’s Productivity Plan.

Information about the quality of teaching is also vital to UK productivity. In an increasingly globalised world, the highest returns go to the individuals and economies with the highest skills. However, the absence of information about the quality of courses, subjects covered and skills gained makes it difficult for employers to identify and recruit graduates with the right level of skills and harder for providers to know how to develop and improve their courses. (p. 19)

TEF should also prove a good deal for employers and the taxpayer. The aim is to improve the teaching that students receive, which in turn should increase their productivity and help them secure better jobs and careers. It should enable employers to make more informed choices about the graduates they recruit… With higher returns, more graduates will be able to pay back more of their loans, reducing the amount that needs to be subsidised by the taxpayer in the longer term. This is on top of the benefits to taxpayers from having a stronger economy powered by a higher skilled workforce. (p. 21)

This is the excellence intensification of academic labour rooted in a restructuring of the relations of production through explicit connections to active consumer choice and a functioning competition and markets authority (p. 27), which can ensure that the HE terrain is opened-up for trade liberalisation and the TTIP. As Datta has argued, TTIP is pivotal because it protects access to the market for corporations operating across borders. Moreover, the UK Government has made no reservations to the application of these protections in education, and indeed the coupling of the Green Paper and the Productivity Plan to TTIP mean that ‘the experiment in the market operation of the higher education sector could potentially be irreversible’.

The last leaked draft of TTIP is expressed as applying to services which are performed commercially. In an education market which is characterised by a mixed economy of both privately and publicly funded, profit-making and non-profit making institutions, education services are likely to be treated as within the scope of the TTIP treaty.

The excellence intensification of academic labour is shaped by three aspects (p. 32): teaching quality (TEF); learning environment [which demands that universities open themselves up to part-privatisation for the service redesign and workforce efficiencies of the Productivity Plan]; and student outcomes and learning gain [data]. This is Holmwood’s Academia as big data project amplified by human capital intensity, alongside the incorporation of ‘new common metrics on engagement with study (including teaching intensity) and learning gain, once they are sufficiently robust and available on a comparable basis’. This is not just the excellence intensity of work, but the intensity of motivation to work. It is also the shaming of those who do not enhance ‘Student commitment to learning – including appropriate pedagogical approaches’, or ‘Teaching intensity – measures might include time spent studying, as measured in the UK Engagement Surveys, proportion of total staff time spent on teaching’ (p. 32).

It is important students have information about the composition of the course, including contact hours, to help them make informed choices about the course they choose to study. The CMA identified this as being material information likely to be required by the Consumer Protection Regulations, and as part of the payment, service delivery and performance information required to be provided pre-contract under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations. (p. 32)

In order to avoid metricide, or the inability to financialise positive outputs/outcomes because of poor data, competition will compel universities to drive down on staff working conditions, including new workload arrangements and increased surveillance of teaching, research and administration. As Andrew McGettigan has noted ‘if you work in HE, then pay bargaining is going to be a dismal business for the foreseeable.’

We are therefore pushed towards the acceptance of further state-sponsored privatisation of HE. This is not re-imagining the university through learning, teaching or pedagogy, but an unmaking of the university in the name of service redesign, workforce restructuring/efficiency and global, high-tech enterprise. This is HE deterritorialised for productivity, so that only those [academics, students, institutions] ‘that innovate and present a more compelling value proposition to students will be able to increase their share’ (p. 54). As a result what emerges from the Green Paper is an assault on collective work: the collective work of students unions; and of the collective work of students and staff as academic labour. Instead we are forced into asymmetrical relationship to the reality of our fetishized and rugged individualism in the market. Here our pedagogic decisions and the relationships that flow from them are to be governed by the TTIP, the CMA and the proposed Office for Students.

FOUR. Value-for-money: there is no alternative.

This policy space is further constrained by money, and in particular cash-flow forecasts and the need to generate operating and investment surpluses. As noted by HEFCE in its Financial health of the higher education sector, 2014-15 to 2017-18 forecasts ‘relatively small changes in key assumptions can have a significant impact on an HEI’s ability to generate surpluses’ (p. 1). This shifting terrain of short-term signals being shaped by active consumer choice and competition is overlain onto a

trend of falling liquidity (cash) and increasing sector borrowing… The sector expects its liquid funds to fall from £7.7 billion as at 31 July 2014 to £5.0 billion as at 31 July 2018, equivalent to 67 days of expenditure; the lowest level reported since 31 July 2006. At the same time, the sector expects borrowing to increase from £6.7 billion at the end of July 2014 to £9.2 billion at the end of July 2018, by which time the sector would be in a net debt position of £4.1 billion. The trend of increasing borrowing and reducing liquidity is unsustainable in the long term. (p. 2)

Crucially, the Financial Health report notes that as ‘charities, HE institutions are obligated to ensure that they remain sustainable and do not expose themselves to undue risk. Strong liquidity is particularly important given the level of uncertainty and risk that currently exist in the sector’ (p. 2). Yet as McGettigan notes, the corporate forms of English universities and their relation to finance capital have been continually questioned.

In 2013, a government report on HE as an export suggested that universities should consider whether charitable status (and ‘objects’) had outlived its usefulness. [He quotes]

Although this [charitable status] model has many strengths, it does not lend itself to rapid growth. The governance structures and obligations of charities, or of bodies of similarly ancient pedigree established by Royal Charter or equivalent instruments, were not designed to grow rapidly, or to run a network across the world.

This trails the Green Paper’s questioning of the governance arrangements of universities so that they better reflect business needs (p. 68), and which then enable engagement with venture capital. This potentially connects to HEFCE’s argument that ‘forecasts assume that the capital markets continue to have confidence in the sector, which depends upon their risk assessments of the sector and individual HEIs’ (p. 3), and the Green paper’s focus on weak or low-quality providers exiting the market, in order that the sector can leverage confidence and finance. As McGettigan notes elsewhere, the real significance of the Green Paper may turn on the proposed changes to the corporate form and governance structures of universities, by enabling private and venture capital to establish associations or joint ventures. Through governance and corporate form, the relations of production across the sector are to be recalibrated, so that teaching excellence intensity can be normalised. Thus, HEFCE’s warning (p. 26) that ‘The reduction in cash balances, the increase in borrowings, and the increasing volatility of income streams point to an increase in finance risk’, folds pedagogic practices and the framing of teaching excellence inside a wider struggle over the financial viability of the sector and of academic labour.

FIVE. What is to be done?

Martin McQuillan asks:

is there any voice today that has the political credibility and intellectual capacity to offer an alternative vision for universities in England? Will one emerge from within the sector? University leaders should not be distracted by the shiny new bauble of achieving Level 4 TEF status. As custodians of our universities they need to think about what is best for higher education in England. Is it really the end of the post-war dispensation of public institutions and public service and the opening up of those institutions to global equity capital? There is a choice to be made here and it is a more profound one than our next mobile phone provider.

Responses from UniversitiesUK, and groups like Million+ and the Russell Group would suggest forms of compromise. Equally, the inability of groups like the Association of National Teaching Fellows to reconcile student work as a form of academic labour that might have points of solidarity with the work of academics, means that notionally professional groups are unable to confront the crisis of social reproduction that is the enclosure and marketization of HE. Moreover, as Kernohan and McQuillan note, the Green Paper either targets managers in the performance management of staff through the data-driven normalisation of practice, or it enforces structural adjustment inside institutions so that more students can be recruited and taught more efficiently. Hence we witness the abundance of technological innovations designed to reproduce the learning environment as a precursor for the restructuring that will be required in order to deliver learning gain. Here is the terrain over which collectivised teaching excellence will be lost to individuated teaching intensity.

The most meaningful questions emerge from the labour movement, from specific student groups, or from academic associations that attempt to make concrete the lived reality of Government reforms, for instance in terms of student debt or academic precarity.

Bringing in experts, we ask: what are income-contingent loans, who profits from your debt, how does the experience of having debt affect student wellbeing and life chances, and in what ways do fear of debt and the types of loans that are sold to students perpetuate inequalities? We also hear from activists on how debt can be resisted and how we can move from the idea of individual responsibility to collective action.

Students in debt

The document’s logic has “students” at the heart of the system. If and only if those students can afford to pay higher fees, study full-time, and what they want is what employers want.

Sorana Vieru

And in a terrain that is described fiscally, where money is the critical and universal reference point for academic value that is itself immanent to future earnings, it becomes difficult if not impossible to imagine, as Emran Mian argues, ‘that university teachers can choose how to influence these metrics positively, in dialogue with other subject specialists.’ The political economics are increasingly loaded against academic labour in its relationship with institutional managers who, as McQuillan argues elsewhere, are invoking a disciplinary framework designed to break collective bargaining and collective working arrangements. Moreover, even if, as Mian notes, ‘university teachers take the lead on talking and responding to their students – they’re much closer, if you like, to the critical market-moving information’, it is unclear how such depoliticised talking will trump the governing power of performance metrics that militate against the messy and complex realities of the delivery of the curriculum. It is particularly unclear how this will play-out in the face of the reproduction of an increasingly precariously employed, efficiency-scarred, technologized and redesigned academic labour force. As a result, such talking risks becoming a form of hedging against the quantified curriculum, rather than emerging over time through classroom relationships. In any case, those relationships will be increasingly and intensively squeezed by managers gaming the TEF.

SIX. On the crisis of academic sociability

There is increasing emphasis being placed on the global crisis of sociability that is Capital’s inability to re-establish stable forms of accumulation. This crisis is one of social reproduction that amplifies and exacerbates the worst excesses of the market.

  • It is witnessed through the frame of care-based work, which enables individuals to be reproduced or to get some of their physical needs met (childcare, housework, and so on), by outsourcing it to family members or employees, so that wage-earners can return to the market each day to sell their labour. This work of care is gendered and racialized.
  • It is witnessed through increasingly precarious employment, the assault on social security, State repression of marginalised groups, unaffordable rents, mental health crises, lack of access to basic amenities including water and healthcare, and disciplinary policing.
  • It is witnessed in the rise of companies purportedly involved in the sharing economy like Uber, AirBnB, TaskRabbit and Postmates, which enable a digital transformation of sectors of the economy whilst failing to provide any form of social security or employment rights.
  • It is witnessed in the inability of indebted individuals and States to lift externally-imposed capital controls, and in the profusion of anti-labour trades union legislation.
  • It is witnessed in the increasing failure of the curriculum across the globe to respond to its racialized nature, leading to academic struggles like #rhodesmustfall, #millionstudentmarch and #whyismycurriculumwhite. In large part these struggles are fuelled by the indignation of students of colour against the on-going colonial condition of the university as an export strategy for specific hegemonies.

This is the separation of workers from their means of subsistence or reproduction, or the increasingly precarious state of that separation, which legitimises particular voices, such as those promoting intensity/productivity/excellence. Keir Milburn argues that this ‘subordinates you to a timing and framing determined by someone else’s strategy’.

As Devi Sacchetto argues, this applies transnationally because ‘The geography of production is now organized in different areas depending on the kind of commodities that are produced and on the lead and sub-contracting firms’. Thus, it applies across HE because the university is being reconstituted as the producer of commodities rather than relationships and practices, in-part through changes to its corporate form and governance that usher in new joint ventures.

In response to the generalised (non-HE) crisis of sociability, there has been a call for the social strike, as a means of generating alternative political actions rooted in solidarity across social relationships. Such actions connect society and the factory through the critique of social conditions that tend to immiserate.

Overcoming the limits of present forms of organization means to cut across the artificial division between labour and social struggles, and to bring organization on a transnational level, coming to terms once for all with the fact that the national level of action is by now clearly insufficient to build an effective power. Labor and social struggles must find a common political ground of connection.

Final document from 1st Transnational Social Strike Meeting.

This is increasingly live because, as Alisa Del Re notes:

In Europe the reproduction of individuals is subject to a continuous fluctuation between “social” and “private.” The social is the space of direct manipulation, organized by laws, public expenditures, customs, and moral rules that crush the individual’s ability to desire. The private is coarsely idealized as the space of freedom, but in most cases it reveals itself as the dominion of neglect, misery, frustration, powerlessness, and loneliness.

It becomes important to ask how we might ‘organize vulnerability and turn it into political action’ on a scale large enough to enable new relations of social reproduction that respond less to the market and transnational prescriptions of what market freedom entails. Such a reimagining would focus upon a social reproduction that was rooted in equality between different human bodies, rather than being rooted in the equality of data flows. Such a reimagining has to find spaces inside the university, but increasingly it has to hear and propagate those alternatives that emerge beyond, in social centres or on the Commons, or in responses to austerity.

Thus, a critical response to the HE Green Paper is

making the new conditions visible, disrupting the circulation of capital and directly socialising, collectivising and communising our social relations, reproduction and struggles… Most obviously this involves striking (or otherwise acting) in ways that maximise feelings of collectivity and enhance general levels of sociability.

Keir Milburn

A social strike is a strike that occurs on multiple terrains and spaces. By this I mean it’s a strike that is not confined to one workplace, sector or locality. It’s not enacted by a single homogeneous subject but by a multitude of different subjects. It allows some fluidity in changing from one identity to another, say from worker to mother to student and back again. It isn’t defined by the singular identity of worker, a worker that is always a worker regardless of the multiple other demands from other ‘roles’. After all work is omnipresent, it continues long after we leave our official places of work, we work as producers but also we work on the other side of the relationship, as consumers, as clients and service providers. The social strike offers the possibility of building up relationships of solidarity, communication, knowledge, and shared culture, and in doing so recognising their importance in twenty-first century class formation. To be able to strike today means we cannot strike on only one terrain. To disrupt the flow of capital  we need to block all of its avenues – both metaphorically and literally.

Alex Long

Thus, working to situate the restructuring of HE against other social strikes and directional demands, forms one means of pushing-back against the ideas of teaching excellence intensification and of staff/students reduced to human capital. Such moments of solidarity are intentionally counter-hegemonic and would highlight how so much of social [academic] reproduction is predicated on voluntary, unwaged labour, such as that enacted in the home or by students, or by precariously employed labour. Such moments of solidarity would be rooted in specific, social and directional demands grounded potentially in the liberation of free time beyond teaching or study intensity, or in the idea of debt-free education, or in a re-focusing of education on collective well-being, or in harnessing education to global emergencies like climate change. They would need to connect, in Bue Rübner Hansen’s terms, academics and students to ‘[a] constitutive heterogeneity of the exploited and expropriated populations of the world’, which recognises ‘the self-organization and composition of differences and particularly of different strategies of life and survival.’

In these terms, common struggle is critical in refusing the precepts of the Green Paper. Such common struggled would join with those who are calling for refusal of TTIP, beyond education and in terms of other social goods like healthcare. It would connect intergenerational refusals of debt and indenture, which are shackling families with debt so that they become competitive rather than co-operative. It would connect with others who are precariously employed, in order to work-up moments of refusal and negation, and to demonstrate alternatives. Critically, Hansen notes, this is predicated upon collective work.

the practical task of class composition – which is necessary for posing the problem of the abolition of the proletarian condition concretely instead of remaining stuck in mutual competition and abstract hope – consists in developing collective strategies of life and survival which either combine, supplement or make superfluous individualized forms of reproduction.

Here academics and students have a central role because

theory, considered as a part of such movements, is the active effort to disseminate strategies of combination and struggle, and of elaborating commons and transversal points of connection between different struggles. Taking seriously the fact that resistances and networks of solidarity preexist irruptions of open struggle means to go beyond the faith in spontaneity. This entails an ethics of militant, embedded research, knowledge production, and popular pedagogy, which proceeds through practices of collectively mapping of the possibilities of composition, and reflections on how to connect and extend networks of trust and solidarity. It implies sharing tools of organizing and tactics of struggle, taking measure of the rumors and whispers, and engaging in small struggles in ways that can help them transform fear and mistrust into courage and solidarity.

As Marx argued in the Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council of the First International, this implies aiding ‘every social and political movement tending in that [same] direction’.

It is impossible to reconcile the central conditions of the Green Paper and the Productivity Plan to non-marketised/financialised pedagogic relationships. This is the prescribed direction of travel that frames the classroom economically though relations of production that subjugate people, as human capital that can be made productive through discipline.

Discipline is basically the mechanism of power by which we come to exert control in the social body right down to the finest elements, by which we succeed in grabbing hold of the social atoms themselves, which is to say individuals. Techniques for the individualization of power. How to supervise [surveiller] someone, how to control his conduct, his behavior, his aptitudes, how to intensify his performance, multiply his capacities, how to put him in a place where he will be most useful: this is what I mean by discipline.

Michel Foucault, “The Mesh of Power.”

Revealing the increased disciplining of social reproduction reveals the crisis of sociability that infects HE, and yet it also offers directions for alternatives. At issue is how to connect opposition to teaching intensity and learning gain, to rent strikes and labour relations/rights inside the University (including those of students), alongside the fight for living wages and pension rights for professional services staff, and then beyond to the complex and heterogeneous global struggles for liberation. This means that ‘a lot of things need to be changed on the ground in order for a massive economic and political transformation to be possible’ (Steven Shaviro). But we have to begin somewhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *