On authoritarian neoliberalism and poetic epistemology

Back in June I spoke at the BERA social theory and education SIG symposium about authoritarian neoliberalism and the alienation of academic labour. My focus was on authoritarian neoliberalism as a heuristic for analysing the idea of the University, and in particular knowledge production as a means of reproducing the capital-relation, and the possibility for developing alternative conceptions. These alternative conceptions erupt from an analysis of voices made marginal inside the capital-relation, including indigenous communities. This leads towards a set of spaces and histories composed by methodologies that are new and challenging and exciting to me.

This work is also new and challenging and exciting to me, because it demands an engagement with the literature around the problematic of neoliberalism, and the imposition of authoritarian modes of coercion and discipline, which are punitive on specific communities, individuals and bodies. My focus in this has tended to be on the capital-relation, picking up on the work of Simon Clarke in his neoliberal theory of society. However, my focus has also been shaped by my engagement with the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at DMU, including its focus on governance and austerity, and resistance and mobilisation under austerity.

My conversation with participants at the BERA symposium was followed by an invitation from Justin Cruickshank at Birmingham to contribute to a forthcoming special issue for Social Epistemology: A Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy, on neoliberalism, higher education and technology. This was the first major thing I had written since I submitted my manuscript for The Alienated Academic, and it forced me to re-engage with the process of research and writing. It was an important step, to take a breath and refocus, and to consider how to move my thinking in a fresh direction.

I am really grateful to Justin for this invitation, because since I submitted The Alienated Academic I had been all played out. This was a function of needing to recalibrate my institutional role and repositioning myself as an academic, but also the fact that for 15 months I had been reading, researching and then intensively writing 70,000 words. In that time I had been trying to get my head around intersectional issues and narratives, the work of Hegel and Feuerbach, the eruption of literature around alienation in the 1960s and 70s, and the relationship of each of these to both Marx and academic labour. By the time I’d submitted in early May I was dreading the peer review process, partially because I was scared of what would be said about my work and partially because I simply didn’t have the energy to rewrite chapters, sections or even paragraphs.

Yet, this new work on authoritarian neoliberalism enabled me to develop some thinking about knowledge production and the use of knowledge, the role of higher education, and some emergent and naïve engagement with indigenous and aboriginal methodological approaches. It has coincided with the emergence of some new energy, for teaching, for educational practice, for my work outside the University, the podcasting, and for writing. It may be happenstance or coincidence that this invitation came at this point; but I’m grateful nonetheless.

The structure for the article is noted immediately below, and is followed by the abstract and references. I hope that the article is good enough, but I wanted to celebrate both the process and the community that supports it.


  • Authoritarian neoliberalism and academic labour
  • Authoritarian higher education in the global North
  • An emergent appreciation of more humane knowledge
  • Dismantling knowledge production in higher education


As one response to the secular crisis of capitalism, higher education is being proletarianised. Its academics and students, increasingly encumbered by precarious employment, debt, and new levels of performance management, are shorn of autonomy beyond the sale of their labour-power. One heuristic for analysing this response is authoritarian neoliberalism, imposed as a means of enacting disciplinary practices in the name of the market with an anti-democratic rationale. This has a distinctly technocratic focus, rooted in techniques of performativity, including audits and assessments of teaching, research and scholarship, grounded in productivity, the management of time and value-creation. However, there are a range of intersectional and geographical responses to such an imposition, through which it is possible to describe alternatives to these architectures of subsumption. In particular, a second heuristic emerges which challenges the restructuring of the University in the global North, erupting from struggles for decolonisation. Here, Audre Lorde’s invocation to an integrated, poetic existence that situates bodies in places, and respects feelings and emotions as the site of epistemological development and understanding, underpins the possibility for dismantling hegemonic knowledge production. The article examines whether humanist narratives of solidarity, in particular from marginalised voices, might help academics and students to analyse their alienated labour and to imagine that another world is possible.


Ahmed, S. 2012. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ahmed, S. 2017. Living a Feminist Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Amsler, M. 2017. “Responsibilisation and leadership in the neoliberal university: a New Zealand perspective.” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 38 (1): 123-37.

Andrews, K. 2018. Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the Twenty-First Century. London: Zed Books.

Arvin, M., E. Tuck, and A. Morrill. 2013. “Decolonising feminism: Challenging connection between settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy.” Feminist Formations, 25 (1): 8-34.

Azar, R. 2015. “Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Authoritarianism.” New Politics XV (3).

Aztlán, A. 2017. “Trumpism, Authoritarian Neoliberalism, and Subaltern Latina/o Politics.” Journal of Chicano Studies 42 (2): 147-64.

Ball, S. 2012. Global Education Inc. New Policy Networks and the Neoliberal Imaginary. London: Routledge.

Barnett, R. 2016. Understanding the University: Institution, Idea, Possibilities. London: Routledge.

Bhambra, G. 2017. “Brexit, Trump, and ‘methodological whiteness’: on the misrecognition of race and class.” The British Journal of Sociology. 68 (1): 214-32.

Bhambra, G., D. Gebrial, and K. Nisancioglu, eds 2018. Decolonising the University. London: Pluto Press.

Bruff, I. 2012. “Authoritarian neoliberalism, the Occupy movements, and IPE.” Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies 1 (5): 114-16.

Bruff, I. 2014. “The Rise of Authoritarian Neoliberalism.” Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society 26(1): 113-29. doi.org/10.1080/08935696.2013.843250

Bruff, I., and C.B. Tansel. 2018. “Authoritarian neoliberalism: trajectories of knowledge production and praxis.” Globalizations. 10.1080/14747731.2018.1502497

Canaan, J. 2017. “The (Im)possibility of Mass Intellectuality: Viewing Mass Intellectuality Through the Lens of the Brazilian Landless Movement.” In Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education, edited by R. Hall and J. Winn, 69-80. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

CASA. (n.d). A home online for casual, adjunct, sessional staff and their allies in Australian higher education. http://actualcasuals.wordpress.com/

Connell, R. 2013. “The neoliberal cascade and education: an essay on the market agenda and its consequences.” Critical Studies in Education 54 (2): 99-112. 10.1080/17508487.2013.776990

Davies, W. 2016. “The New Neoliberalism.” New Left Review, 101. https://newleftreview.org/II/101/william-davies-the-new-neoliberalism

Davies, W. 2017. “Elite Power under Advanced Neoliberalism.” Theory, Culture & Society 34 (5-6): 227 – 50. 10.1177/0263276417715072

DBIS. 2015. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act. London: HM Stationery Office. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/26/pdfs/ukpga_20150026_en.pdf

de Sousa Santos, B., ed. 2007. Cognitive Justice in a Global World: Prudent Knowledges for a Decent Life. New York: Lexington Books.

DET. 2016. National Strategy for International Education 2025. https://internationaleducation.gov.au/International-network/Australia/InternationalStrategy/Pages/National-Strategy.aspx

DfE. 2017. The Higher Education and Research Act. London: HM Stationery Office. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/29/pdfs/ukpga_20170029_en.pdf

Dinerstein, A. 2015. The Politics of Autonomy in Latin America: The Art of Organising Hope. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hall, R. 2015. “The University and the Secular Crisis.” Open Library of Humanities 1 (1): p.e6. 10.16995/olh.15.

Hall, R. 2018. The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hall, R. and J. Winn, eds 2017. Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Harris, K, A. Schwedel, and A. Kim. 2012. A world awash in money. http://www.bain.com/publications/articles/a-world-awash-in-money.aspx

Hillman, N. 2016. “The Coalition’s higher education reforms in England.” The Oxford Review of Education 42 (3): 330–45. 10.1080/03054985.2016.1184870

HM Treasury. 2015. Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation. London: HM Treasury. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/443898/Productivity_Plan_web.pdf

King, T. 2003. The truth about stories: a native narrative. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc.

Lorde, A. 2013. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. London: Penguin.

Marginson, S. 2016. Higher Education and the Common Good. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Press.

Marx, K., and F. Engels. 2002. The Communist Manifesto. London: Penguin.

McGettigan, A. 2015. “The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment.” Political Economy Research Centre Papers Series 6. www.perc.org.uk/perc/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/PERC-6-McGettigan-and-HE-and-Human-Capital-FINAL-1.pdf.

Moten, F., and S. Harney. 2013. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Brooklyn: Minor Compositions.

Motta, S. 2018. Liminal Subjects: Weaving (Our) Liberation. London: Rowman & Littlefield International.

Newfield, C. 2016. The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Newman, J. 2012. Working the Spaces of Power: Activism, Neoliberalism and Gendered Labour. London: Bloomsbury.

O’Dwyer, S., S. Pinto, and S. McDonagh. 2017. “Self-care for academics: a poetic invitation to reflect and resist.” Reflective Practice 19 (2): 243-49. OECD 2018. Public Financial Management: An overview. http://www.oecd.org/dac/effectiveness/pfm.htm

Pasquale, F. 2016. “Two Narratives of Platform Capitalism.” Yale Law and Policy Review 309. https://ylpr.yale.edu/two-narratives-platform-capitalism.

Pasquale, F. 2018. “Tech Platforms and the Knowledge Problem.” American Affairs II (2). https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2018/05/tech-platforms-and-the-knowledge-problem/.

Roberts, M. 2018. The Long Depression: How it Happened, why it Happened, and what Happens Next. London: Haymarket Books.

Steinþórsdóttir, F.S, T.M. Heijstra, and P.J. Einarsdóttir. 2017. “The making of the ‘excellent’ university: A drawback for gender equality.” ephemera: theory and politics in organization 17 (3): 557-82.

Styres, S. 2018. Literacies of Land: Decolonising Narratives, Storytelling, and Literature. In Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View, edited by L. Tuhiwai Smith, E. Tuck, and K.W. Yang, 24-33. London: Routledge.

Tansel, C.B. ed., 2017. States of discipline: Authoritarian neoliberalism and the contested reproduction of capitalist order. London: Rowman & Littlefield International.

Tuck, E., and K.W. Yang. 2012. “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society 1(1): 1-40.

Tuhiwai Smith, L., E. Tuck, and K.W. Yang eds 2018. Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View. London: Routledge.

Wilson, S. 2008. Research as ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Blackpoint: Fernwood Publishing.

access to/cost of the alienated academic

A few people have contacted me about the cost of my book with Palgrave, the alienated academic. I raised this with the publishers who replied:

I would advise that your colleagues check if they have access to the book via Springer Link through their institution as this will allow them to download it for free. We are now also able to offer the book as part of the Springer My Copy service. This means that the book is available as a paperback immediately after publication to those whose institutions have access to the book via SpringerLink. This edition is priced at £24.99 and further information is available here.

Working in HE: an alienating labour of love?

Over at WonkHE I have an opinion piece related to my book on the alienated academic, called Working in HE – an alienating labour of love? 

This is a companion piece to something I wrote last year for WonkHE on the rise of academic ill-health. It picks up on the first chapter of my book on awakenings, and later chapters on identity and Weltschmerz. The abstract of those are located here (scroll down).

There is a collection of blog posts, and some other bits on this site under the alienation tag.


on therapy and praxis and critical hope

Elsewhere, I write:

it is meaningless for me to separate out my work inside and outside the University from the work I continue to undertake on myself. It is meaningless for me to separate out my labour as something unique in the practice of my life.

After a decade in therapy I am moving to sessions every other week. For a long time I was having weekly sessions; for a long time I was having twice-weekly sessions; for some time I needed three sessions a week. The memory of all of this resonates; remembering why I needed this resonates. Who I was is who I am is who I will be.

I have written about this here, and here, and here, and here, and in all my writing about anxiety and the anxiety machine and alienation.

So it feels important to mark this agreement to move to sessions every other week. I feel compelled to sit with the importance of this. It is a very significant moment for me in my movement towards myself, and it carries with it all sorts of emotions, rooted in loss, grief, possibility, hope and peace. I see the early years of therapy about discovering or recovering or witnessing my courage and faith in myself, with the middle years doing some things that were focused upon finding justice for myself, and it is now that I can work through hope towards finding some peace. And this is repetitive in new ways and is never linear. In all this I continue to draw from my stories, and the emotional, relational, spiritual and cognitive knowledge they enable, as a well. I continue to reproduce those stories and new knowledge about myself in the world.

I also want to recognise the mutuality of this – I am very mindful of sitting with, and respecting my therapist’s position, care and love. I am mindful that there is a strong relational accountability between us. I am mindful of how this resonates across my relationships. Increasingly, I feel that I can recognise and respect this mutuality and solidarity, including with myself. I feel that the core of me lies in being accountable to my relations where that is possible, and that is a very beautiful thing.

I feel that there is a different moment of reconnection between me and the world. I see this in terms of the stories that have emerged through my work on myself. I also see this in terms of the places that I have sat in, the lanes that I have walked down, the roads that I have cycled, and the music that I have listened to, amplified in the last decade. This reconnection demonstrates to me that my work, practice, customs, values, life is not linear and that they are moving away from their assumptions.

Because I am letting go, I see the futility in my previous attempts to re-inhabit my own soul with the idea of being better or well; a newly-enclosed or commodified self. Rather, I understand why that belief or assumption was necessary for me for a while, in order to survive, but now I want to let go of my past assumptions and fetishes, and instead to think about myself in my relationships to me and others. There is something here about my sovereignty over my own story. There is also something here about my wanting to understand other people’s sovereignty over their own stories, and to try to learn from those. In this I take great strength from (indigenous and non-indigenous) stories and struggles for decolonising and dismantling and being inside-and-against-and-beyond (settler) colonialism.

So much of the therapeutic relationship is imminent to my life, my writing, my everyday practice, and the values that I carry forward. The decision to change the frequency of sessions has amplified this for me. To respect my position and my self-understanding, alongside my engagement with the complexity of the world and the communities/friends that I live and work alongside; I think that is enough.

I come back to stories because I remembered this quote from King (p. 32):

the truth about stories is that that’s all we are. You can’t understand the world without telling a story. There isn’t any centre to the world but a story.

I love this, because it articulates the validity of our own experience (and I am in acceptance of mine), and also what we have to learn from other people’s stories – it helps to understand our incompleteness and to create a richer, more storied relationship, rooted in dignity. This is trust in the sacred nature of journeying with others – to accept the risks, anxieties, possibilities. To honour relationships where possible; and also to accept that some relationships cannot work, and that I cannot be accountable to or in them.

And this is inextricably tied to my work as I consider my teaching. I will be working with first-year undergraduates on a new module, on evidenced-based teaching and learning.

In treating this module as a process, as being and becoming, I hope that we can generate new stories for people that respect the humanity of their places, philosophies, practices/practise, values and epistemologies.

I hope that the process we engage in will be focused upon knowledge production from the ground up, as lived experience, which connects people, stories and places in concrete ways.

I hope that we can understand how people and place form relationships that are accountable to each other in some way, which is constantly in negotiation rooted in care, dignity, duality, respect and responsibility.

I hope that we can engage with forms of thinking, acting, and being that emerge in relationship with decolonisation, so that we can imagine and embody our humanity, rather than enclosing and severing ourselves inside abstracted relations of domination.

I hope that we can generate thinking that refuses the assumptions of linear history, and of teleological, positivist narratives of development. In this, I hope that we can give voice to the ebb-and-flow between the past, present and future, and understand how this is rooted in ideological positioning that needs to be decolonised before it can be abolished.

I hope that we can create a module as a process that resonates with our lives, giving participants the power to make change, and to refuse the colonisation of other people’s lived experience, in particular through the imposition of idealised, white, male, able, cisnormative positions.

I hope that we can reflect on how our thinking and activity carries the possibility of care and/or harm, and potentially silences or gives voice to individuals and groups who are included/othered.

I hope that we are able to draw attention to dominant positions and modes of power, the ways in which hegemony is reproduced and recaptured as an ethical moment, so that we can hold a mirror up to power. This involves an engagement with knowledge, language, relationships, culture, so that we recognise our responsibilities as intellectuals, our positioning and that of others, so that intersections of privilege and non-privilege can be outed and reworked.

I hope that I am able to do the work necessary to enable my students to understand my story, in terms of this module, and that I am able to do the work necessary to understand their position. It is not good enough for us to demand that our students must do the work of travelling to our position. It is enough for us to engage with our students on their own terms, and to help them to find their own pathways that intersect their past, present and future.

I hope that we can be against utopian readings of the world. I hope that we can push towards “the next now”, which itself prefigures a better world. I hope that we can bear witness to each other’s legitimate movement in this process.

I hope that we can situate the reciprocity of relationships, and a variety of cultural positionalities, through storytelling and a recognition of the non-neutrality of language in its relationship to power and domination. Some of this is about memory and remembering; some of it is about generating new stories as we experience the module as a process.

I hope that we can experience the module as a decolonising pedagogic praxis; as a journey that refuses the inhumane reduction of our relationships to a risk-based approach to commodified pedagogic development.

I hope that we can develop epistemic range rather than epistemic enclosure, and enable each other to produce and recognise knowledge with the whole of our being – emotion, cognition, experience.

I hope that we can refuse deficit thinking about ourselves and others.

As Castenell and Pinar argue (p. 4):

we are what we know. We are, however, also what we do not know. If what we know about ourselves – our history, our culture, our national identity – is deformed by absences, denials, and incompleteness, then our identity is fragmented. Such a self lacks access both to itself and to the world. Its sense of history, gender and politics is incomplete and distorted.

My therapy playlist is here.

The bibliography that underpins this post is rooted in my attempts to appreciate narratives for decolonising and of indigeneity.

Ahmed, S. (2012) On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Arday, J., and Mirza, H.S. (eds 2018). Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bhambra, G. (2017) Brexit, Trump, and ‘methodological whiteness’: on the misrecognition of race and class. The British Journal of Sociology, 68 (1): 214-32.

Bhopal, K. (2018). White Privilege: the myth of a post-racial society. Bristol: Policy Press.

Byrd, J.A. (2011). The transit of empire: Indigenous critiques of colonialism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Calderon, D. (2014). Speaking back to manifest destinies: A land education-based approach to critical curriculum inquiry. Environmental Education Research, 20 (1): 1-13.

Clark, I. (2018). Tackling Whiteness in the Academy. https://tinyurl.com/yct8qvp8

Goeman, M. (2013). Mark my words: Native women mapping our nations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

The Human, Social, Political Sciences (HSPS) Cambridge Graduates and Current Students (2018). Decolonial Reading List (2018-2019). https://tinyurl.com/yd2se387

Joseph, Tiffany and Laura Hirshfield. 2011. ‘Why don’t you get somebody new to do it?’ Race and cultural taxation in the academy. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34 (1): 121-41.

Salmón, E. (2012). Eating the landscape: American Indian stories of food, identity, and resilience. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Smith, L.T. 1999/2012. Decolonising methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Lyndon: Zed Books.

Steinþórsdóttir, F.S., Heijstra, T.M. and Einarsdóttir, P.J. (2017) The making of the ‘excellent’ university: A drawback for gender equality. ephemera: theory and politics in organization, 17 (3): 557-82.

Tuck, E., and Guishard, M. (2013). Un-collapsing ethics: Racialised sciencism, settler coloniality, and an ethical framework of the colonial participate treat action research. In T.M. Kress, C.S. Malott, and B.J. Portfilio (eds), Challenging status quo retrenchment: New directions in critical qualitative research. Charlotte: information age publishing, 3-27.

Tuck, E. And Yang, K.W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society, 1 (1), 1-40.

Tuck, E. And Yang, K.W. (2018). Series Editor’s Introduction. In Tuhiwai Smith, L., Tuck, E., and Yang, K.W. (eds), Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View. London: Routledge, x-xxi.

Tuhiwai Smith, L., Tuck, E., and Yang, K.W. (eds 2018). Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View. London: Routledge.

Wilson, S. 2008. Research as ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Blackpoint: Fernwood Publishing.

Published… the alienated academic: the struggle for autonomy inside the University

I have a new monograph out with Palgrave Macmillan, entitled The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University

The book’s abstract is as follows: Higher education is increasingly unable to engage usefully with global emergencies, as its functions are repurposed for value. Discourses of entrepreneurship, impact and excellence, realised through competition and the market, mean that academics and students are increasingly alienated from themselves and their work. This book applies Marx’s concept of alienation to the realities of academic life in the Global North, in order to explore how the idea of public education is subsumed under the law of value. In a landscape of increased commodification of higher education, the book explores the relationship between alienation and crisis, before analysing how academic knowledge, work, identity and life are themselves alienated. Finally, it argues that through indignant struggle, another world is possible, grounded in alternative forms of organising life and producing socially-useful knowledge, ultimately requiring the abolition of academic labour. This pioneering work will be of interest and value to all those working in the higher education sector, as well as those concerned with the rise of neoliberalism and marketization within universities.

I have written about this project, including the abstracts for each of the nine chapters here.

If you would like a copy for review, please contact Palgrave Reviews and/or drop me a line. Equally, if you would like me to come and discuss the book at seminars/workshops, students or staff, or with union representatives/members, please let me know. There will be a book launch here at DMU in the autumn.


for Joyce Canaan

On Sunday I had the deep privilege of attending the funeral of Joyce Canaan. This was a service of celebration led by Joyce’s family who were held in the embrace of her friends as they carried her body to rest in the earth, whilst her heart, soul, dignity, courage, faith, perseverance, care and love are carried through us into new spaces and times. I have never been to a more beautiful and dignified funeral; one which celebrates the individual in the collective; one which enables a fuller and deeper engagement with the lifelong process of mourning; one which reminds us of the pain we are collectively able to bear, and the love we are collectively able to share.

I first met Joyce in 2013 at a critical pedagogy conference that she was keynoting in Edinburgh. For some time I had been reading her work at the intersection of neoliberal higher education, critical pedagogy, protest, developing alternatives and critical hope. At this conference I was speaking about the relationship between technology and the proletarianisation of academic labour, alongside our options for resistance. Her questions to me were also an invitation to conversation – what might we do to move beyond the current state of things? Is another world possible? It was only later that I realised we had been on the same marches and had tried to avoid the same kettles, and that she, like I, was probably ‘a thug’ in the eyes of the establishment.

Her questions formed an opening far removed from others who have asked me subsequently to describe this new world I wish to see, as if we already have the answer. Joyce refused to occupy this fatalistic position and instead saw that we must be indignant about and refuse injustice, and in the moment of refusal, we must also prefigure and then ask questions about how we reproduce our world. In my own thinking and practice, Joyce’s invocation to think prefiguratively has been transformative, and rooted in years of struggle against the same white, male, heterosexual, ableist voices that have brought us to the brink. Joyce helped to open my heart to the violence of silencing, and in the process to the range of voices and experiences that empower our collective search for alternatives.

Joyce amplified my engagement with alternatives from the margins, howsoever these are described, through a rich description, analysis and connection with narratives of dispossession, rooted in the material of our individual and collective identities. As she fell ill, I had the great pleasure of being able to help her prepare her chapter for our edited collection on mass intellectuality and democratising higher education. She was writing about the educational experiences of the Brazilian landless movement, from her first-hand engagement. She was writing about the problems of interpretation and meaning between the marginalised (in this case in the global South) and those with power (those seeking to reinvent life experienced from the global North). She was writing about new forms of critical engagement between people and their material existence, in order to generate knowledge that could challenge and abolish power.

It was a joy to be able to help her finish this chapter, and to be acknowledged in its notes. It was only later that I made the humane connection between our engagement on this writing and why I felt drawn to visiting Joyce as her cancer took hold of her body. It was in several visits to her home and her time in the hospice that I realised what a gift our relationship was to me. This may have developed had she not been ill, or had we met earlier. However, I am not left with the regret of this as a missed opportunity because of the visceral sense of solidarity and justice that flowed between us. This was the sense of being held in a relationship and of being heard. She told me that whilst we had not known each other very long she felt that she knew me; for me this is rooted in the dignity of listening, and the empathy and compassion that emerges where there are tendrils of separate existences that share certain characteristics. It had solidarity at its core. Those visits to see Joyce felt like seminars, as we discussed the crisis of higher education, the alienation of academic labour, and the spaces for critical hope. They felt like moments of breaking bread with a friend, as we discussed family, love and life.

Even whilst she was in the hospice, Joyce was fighting to understand the opportunities for a cooperative existence, which were only ever amplified for me in witnessing the number of people who wanted to sit with her and her family at this time. The last time I saw her in the hospice, she spent the first hour sleep as I tried to understand what it means for us to sit with each other at every stage of our lives; for us to understand our mortality. After she awoke, we spent two hours together and I cannot remember for the life of me what we discussed. What we discussed is irrelevant – the only thing that matters was the relationship, and the connections through that relationship that continue to sustain me. The other relationships, which in-part through Joyce, continue to sustain me. As I reached the door of the ward at the hospice something in my soul overtook me and it became very important to turn and tell her “I love you”.

Over the months that I came to understand Joyce a little more fully, I came to see a cussed, argumentative, wilful, courageous, faithful, anti-fascist seeker of justice, who was so devoted to her family and friends. She struck me as someone who was full of humane contradiction; a woman who reminded me how flawed we all are, and how beautifully human that very fact is. Always challenging in her indignation, she was also a reminder of the possibility for dignity.

This interrelationship between indignation and dignity, played out across society and with those closest to us, never simply emerges from a single life, rather it flows between lives as moments of love and solidarity. Joyce’s funeral demonstrated this fact. The humanist celebration of her life, led by her family, was an absolute joy to attend. A celebration in word and with song; a celebration of memory and adversity and hope; a celebration of cartoons in Chicago; a celebration of “fuck Banner Theatre”; a celebration of climbing hills; a celebration of demonstrations and protests; a celebration of being a partner, an out-law, a grandmother, a friend.

It felt so important that her natural burial was undertaken by those who loved her. That we could each take turns in laying her to rest. The sound of the Earth hitting her coffin as her family and friends sang and shovelled was heartbreaking just as it was energising. The ownership that we took of her body, and the deeply spiritual nature of the moment, mirrored the deep interconnection that her life had with so many others. It was a beautiful moment of dignity, respect, justice and peace. I cannot imagine holding and caring for someone you love in any other way. I cannot imagine being more in touch with one’s own soul, whilst holding those of others, as we collectively suture our broken hearts in the act of both burying and releasing our love. I thank her family for this – the demonstration of their strength, perseverance, love and care was natural and normal and every day. To witness this, and to be accepted as a part of it, was such a gift.

It feels important to me to write this not only to honour Joyce and our relationship. It feels important to write this because her work and her practice brought me to share a very spiritual place with several people who have also been inspirational in my own life and work. Mike, Sarah, Gordon, Joel, Elio and Alpesh have each and collectively been with me in the struggle for a better world, and in prefiguring more humane ways to engage in education. It was a privilege to share Sunday with them, and to be reminded of our shared humanity.

On Monday I found out that my monograph on academic alienation had been published. I like to think that Joyce would have wanted to read it, and to challenge me about my own position and preconceptions, and to call me out about my interpretation of power and privilege and what to do about it. And I would have told her to fuck off because I don’t know. And then we would have discussed it. I know that she would have done this from a position of care, faith and love, and so would I. Because relationships are complicated, but there is always critical hope.

In reflecting on the intersections in time of Joyce’s funeral and the publication of my book (happenstance, I know), I have been forced to consider my own sense of self and self-identity. My friend Michael asked me whether I was pleased with my book, and wanted to use it to help change the world. I rather scornfully said that the book was written for me, so that I could be heard, and that I didn’t care if it was read because the world is fucked and what could I do? I’ve been talking about this stuff for years, protesting for years, doing voluntary work for years, and the world is still borked. Moreover, after a decade in therapy I am tired of fighting. So all I can do is be a good man on an everyday level, and mourn the fact that my writing won’t change anything because collectively we lack the will.

But this isn’t the case, and I apologise to my friend who pointed to the light, although I couldn’t see this until Sunday. I have been forced to consider how I accept myself in the world and how I am connected to others. I have been forced to consider whether this is a closing of sorts – of old and unhelpful ways of thinking about myself rooted in an unkind past – a past in which I was unkind to myself. I have been forced to consider whether this is an opening of sorts – of recovering what I want to keep about myself, and reflecting on the kind of person I want to be, flaws and all. I have been forced to consider how we might believe that another world is possible, and to prefigure it.

Perhaps this is what the commune of the living and the dead teaches us.

RIP Joyce.

Postscript: my friend Gordon noted that I always have a soundtrack for things, and he is right.

There is a collaborative Spotify playist here.

My initial soundtrack for all of this is as follows.

King Creosote: Bats in the Attic

Sufjan Stevens: There is No Shade in the Shadow of The Cross

LUMP: Late to the Flight

Mogwai: Ratts of the Capital

Bon Iver: 33 “God”

Bon Iver: Calgary

Bon Iver: re:stacks

Jon Hopkins: Everything Connected

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds: Jubilee Street

Let’s Eat Grandma: Falling Into Me

Daughter: Youth

Everything Everything: Ivory Tower

Floating Points: Peroration Six

The Future Sound of London: Plazmatical

Underworld: Two Months Off

James Blake: I Need a Forest Fire

Massive Attack: Unfinished Sympathy

PJ Harvey: The Whores Hustle and The Hustlers Whore

Portishead: Biscuit

Pulp: I love life

Queens of the Stone Age: … Like Clockwork

Sharon Van Etten: Afraid of Nothing

Alison Kraus: Down to the River to Pray

The practicalities and pedagogies of adult learning co-operatives: the case of Leicester Vaughan College

I’m presenting tomorrow at the SCUTREA 2018 conference on Lifelong Learning and the Pedagogy of Hope at the University of Sheffield.

I am presenting on the development of governance and pedagogic practices of Leicester Vaughan College, which is a Community Benefit Society.

The conference paper, co-written with Malcolm Noble who is also a director of the College, is here.

The slides for my talk are here.

neoliberalism, the capital-relation and education

I spoke at the BERA social theory and education SIG symposium yesterday. My slides and initial thoughts are here.

These are the thoughts I had when statements and people stopped or challenged me during the day.

ONE. Analyses of neoliberalism enable us to position ourselves in terms of democratic engagement or the de-democratising of life-activity, in the face of mediations (and in particular the market). Such analyses offer neoliberalism as an omnipresent and omnipotent form of habitus. In return, we see neoliberalism as a threat to common sense, and we believe that if we can decode it, then we can move beyond its refusal of our humanity, and that we can move to less harmful social relations inside capitalism. This discounts the reality that neoliberalism is the latest (potentially) instantiation of the capital-relation – the latest instantiation of capital’s domination and exploitation of our labour-power. It needs to be addressed in such terms. Critique must be anti- or post-capitalist or it can offer no hope.

TWO. Neoliberalism is not a threat to common sense. It is the new, abstracted common sense that is the reinterpretation of capital, in order to maintain capital’s subjectivity and autonomy. If we are critiquing neoliberalism or seeking new ways of understanding it, we are moving towards a new common sense. A new common sense that reflects an alternative way of producing society. However, inside a totalising, hegemonic system the tendency is that such alternatives will be co-opted for the reproduction of that system. In imagining a new common sense, we have to situate this against the violence of abstraction imposed by capitalist social relations. Waged work reduces our activity to abstraction, through exchange, the market, commodification, division of labour, private property and the role of money. A new common sense is required that situates our life activity against these mediations, in order that we can describe and move beyond them. And, of course, we have examples of alternative forms of common sense, in autonomous centres in Latin America, in the little schools of the Zapatista movement, in the community work of the Black Panthers, in family inclusion groups in indigenous communities, in the co-operative movement.

THREE. Our work makes us ill. Our work makes us precarious. Our work dominates and exploits our lives. In our analyses of neoliberalism, and the ways in which they infect our educational relationships and settings, we must move beyond the analysis of symptoms. We must move towards a deeper uncovering of the bastardisation of social relationships, which exist in order to generate flows of surplus labour, time, value and power that can be commodified. Social or liberal democracy lies at the heart of this process. It is inextricably entwined with neoliberalism, as the development of the autonomy of capital. It will not save us, however deep our analysis of and resentment towards neoliberalism.

FOUR. If we are exemplary neoliberals, we need to examine how that relates to our academic or educational labour, in order to refuse that labour. This work must be done at the level of society, through intellectual work that refuses to fetishise specific forms of knowledge, or specific spaces for knowledge production, like schools and universities.

FIVE. This means that we can, of course, reflect upon how neoliberalism works to govern through ideas of market freedom and the individual autonomy of market actors, operating cybernetically through ready access to performance information. We can reflect upon how neoliberalism works to discipline us through our internalisation of self-government, responsibility, human capital enrichment and close attendance to our personal risk profiles. We can reflect upon how neoliberalism instantiates itself through discourses of impact, excellence, efficiency, employability, entrepreneurship, productivity, and so on. However, as we chase neoliberalism in its authoritarian, promiscuous, libertarian appearances, we risk losing sight of how it masks the deeper, substantive matter of the capital-relation.

SIX. So we need to engage with the history and heuristics of neoliberalism, as they relate to the circuits and cycles of capital, in particular in their historical development following the Nixon Shock and the end of the Bretton Woods agreement of the early 1970s, the role of oil and the development of the petrodollar, responses to collapses in the global rate of profit, the need to recalibrate global economic output in terms of services and manufacturing, changes in the technical composition of capital through the deployment of technology, the collapse of state socialism and a socialist market economy, and so on. Clearly, we also need to engage with the material and geographical differences in the deployment of, and responses to, neoliberalism, for instance in terms of resistance in Latin and South America, and the role of the State alongside transnational organisations in that process. We do this work because of what it enables us to hear, voice and see.

SEVEN. This historical, material, geographical set of narratives around the deployment of neoliberal governance and resistance to it, enables us to map the relationship between capital and labour, and to engage with issues of economic populism, in particular as they relate to the socio-economic core of specific economies/nations and their margins. This core and margin exist both inside the nation-state and globally for specific economies, and affect the ideological positions taken by populist leaders. One issue is how to bring these positions into the classroom/curriculum, in order that we move beyond demonising, and in order to show how these are vectors of exploitation on a global scale. This returns our educational relations to an engagement with capitalist social relations, and the relationship between work and surplus, capital and labour, autonomy and domination. This is a process of refusing colonisation by certain narratives, and of generating new forms of humanist identity.

EIGHT. Here, the intersections of race, gender, ability, sexuality and class are fundamental to any analysis of alternatives. Finding spaces (that are safe and which respect power-relations and asymmetries) to share is central to this process. Deliberation, taking time, being critical, being anti-algorithmic, being optimistic, confirming/legitimating/hearing others, are crucial. These disrupt the flows that reproduce capital through its subordination of labour. This is a deeply anti-capitalist, and post-capitalist approach, because it creates spaces that are against commodification, and which are rooted in the kinds of humanism denied systemically in the market. This is a risky strategy precisely because of the system’s ability to morph and reproduce itself anew. Here we may question whether there are responses to new repositionings of patriarchy. How do we engage with issues of agency and voice? How do we move beyond the fetishisation of salvation or redemption inside the system that is toxic to us? How do we find spaces to grieve and manage negative emotions or perception, rather than accepting the system’s desire to performance manage them to the periphery? How do we use grief as a step in a movement?

NINE. Is it possible to have hope inside institutions that are hopeless? Is it possible to have hope inside institutions that are abject? Is it only possible to hold Gramsci’s position of the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will? In particular, inside institutions grounded in manufactured and manufacturing consent, is it possible to develop critical hope, beyond market-based, ordered liberties? As we see our very selves colonised by the commodity, how do we generate hope and action?

TEN. So focusing upon a critique of neoliberalism(s) and its characteristics, as an explanatory critique of the state we are in, enables resistance to be minimalised, where we focus upon values like trust, or a return to social democracy and a better capitalism, or the hunt for new forms of democratic leadership, or where we think that a fight for autonomy inside the current system can be won. Instead, I am interested in engaging with those characteristics as heuristics that reveal the deeper reality of our sociability, or ability to reproduce society. Performance, market, competition, liberties/rights, cybernetic management of risk, governance theory, coercion, corporate parasitisation, shadow/parallel governance and finance structures, each point towards forms of revelation around illness, precarious employment, overwork, labour relations, and then onto issues to do with the way in which society is reproduced through the organisation of work. Here, we begin to think about critiques of power, domination and exploitation in the generation of surplus. Moreover, we begin to think about these symptoms and their causes as ontological or pedagogical at the level of society, because they place certain discourses at the heart of who we are.

ELEVEN. Movement is everything. Is our current appreciation of neoliberalism simply a light critique of capital? Might it be something more in using the visible, theorised characteristics of neoliberalism as a means to reimagine the capital-relation? Might it be something more in moving to a position where we can critique neoliberalism as a moment in a movement against capital?

TWELVE. What does this mean for education? What does this mean for the re-imagination of the curriculum? What does this mean for the relationship between student, teacher, administrator, bureaucrat, school, university, State and so on? What does this mean for the abolition of education, the abolition of status and bureaucratic educational structures, the abolition of the curriculum, such that intellectual work happens at the level of society, in order to move beyond the violence of abstraction and to address crises? How do we do this work humanely, when capital (whether in its neoliberal form or some other guise) seeks to eviscerate our humanity?

The day promoted me to consider some key issues for one of my PhD students who is working on the lived experiences of primary school communities under neoliberal policy. I wrote to her that “I think the following concepts/issues are interesting. I do not intend to unpack them here, rather to leave them as things for you to investigate or ignore. You are perfectly at liberty to ignore.” There is a shout-out here to the work of the Manchester School here, and especially Steve Courtney, Helen Gunter and Carlo Raffo. These questions/points are stream-of-consciousness and not fully formed. Like most of my work, tbh…

  1. Is neoliberalism the new common sense? Or is it a threat to common sense? Check out the work of Stuart Hall on this. Is neoliberalism anything other than promiscuous capital, able to reshape and reproduce itself depending upon historical and material conditions of production?
  2. How does neoliberalism (if there is such a thing), and its contested characteristics (if there are such things), relate to capitalist social relations?
  3. Our communities simply exemplary neoliberal structures for governance?
  4. What does individual autonomy, in particular in relation to constitutional rights and market-based liberties/freedoms, mean?
  5. In terms of community, what does disciplinary control, responsibility and self-government mean in practice?
  6. How is the lived experience of primary school communities affected by economic populism (Brexit, Trump etc)? How does this affect the relationship between race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and their intersections?
  7. Can community ever be a safe space? How can new narratives be developed that challenge patriarchy?
  8. Does neoliberal feminism(s) affect your research?
  9. Do communities struggling inside neoliberal governance have any space for hope? Or are they simply hopeless? Is there a place for critical hope, in particular in relation to school cultures, choices, governance/governmentality, managed consensus and manufactured consent?
  10. What is the role of teacher professionalism and pupil agency in the creation of neoliberal subjects, or their refusal?
  11. Under neoliberalism, what does voice mean inside/outside the classroom, or inside/outside the curriculum? How does voice relate to the commodification of the community and its activities?
  12. What does it mean for communities to be simply coping and surviving rather than thriving, inside a mediated life-activity, governed by performance management, competition in the market?
  13. How do communities interact and interrelate with algorithmic-control mechanisms and the domination of performance data? How do cybernetic forms of control enable, disable, reform and deform communities? Are they simply vectors for colonisation?
  14. Our explanatory critiques of neoliberalism simply means for reproducing a refined neoliberal project, in which resistance can be minimalised?
  15. In terms of understanding the lived experience of communities, how does internalised performance management and self-governance do the job of the State?
  16. How do we explain the bastardisation of values in the face of value as it is enabled through neoliberal governance? How is trust dehumanised in the face of risk? How is generosity dehumanised in the face of the commodity and commodity-exchange? How is courage dehumanised in the face of competition in the market?
  17. What is the relationship between accountability and autonomy, when policy is affected by transnational activist networks operating as geographies of neoliberalism, encompassing policymakers, educational leaders, finance capital, credit ratings agencies, educational publishers, and so on?
  18. Is it possible to repopulate and re—agent spaces for alternative imaginings of society?
  19. Is it possible to humanise our managers? Or must they all go?
  20. Neoliberal leadership in all its forms (relational, distributed, heroic) is simply the operation of governance at a distance, and the imposition of managerial discipline. How does this impact the lived experience of primary school communities? How does this relate to school refusal, homeschooling, deschooling?
  21. What is the impact of corporate school leadership, infected by the corporation, with its imposition of signature pedagogies, performance management, performance data and cybernetic control, on the school community?
  22. Is the primary school community curated by or a curator of neoliberalism? Is the market at the core of who/what the community is and stands for?
  23. What would a post-neoliberal primary school community look like?
  24. Steve Courtney spoke about being on or off the bus – those who fit in, and are common/shared travellers on a neoliberal journey can stay on the bus. What does this mean for communities that most fitting, fall off or fall out of the bus? How do bodies ensure that they are aligned with the local delivery of national reforms, rather than being wilful in refusing those reforms?
  25. Can we see neoliberalism as an habitus, comprising vectors of choice and non-choice, voice and non-voice, value and non-value, core and periphery?
  26. Where is it possible to intervene? Or are we being ontologically reshaped by forms of neoliberal engagement that are pedagogical and operating at the level of society?
  27. How do you relate your lived experience of primary school communities that are English and rooted in the global North, albeit containing individuals and cultures from the global South, to conceptually a morph is definitions of neoliberalism?
  28. To what extent does neoliberalism depend upon our conviction that positivism, which is theory free and evidence-based, and inside which certain voices are sanctioned, is the most appropriate response to the politics of austerity and the crisis of value?
  29. How is this maintained through the politics of desire? (c.f. Spinoza) How does the characterisation of leadership maintain desire? How does the fetishisation of desire_the fetishisation of leadership?
  30. What is the relationship between the lived experience of primary school communities and macroeconomic trends?
  31. Steve Courtney spoke about the role of theory, and in particular the relationship between functionalist and social critical theory. The former is designed to remove dysfunctions, to be based on “science” and “evidence” cometary positivist, cybernetic and theory-free. The latter relates to power, context and theory. Here we see the rise of the leadership industry, which maintains a harder distinction between leaders and followers – see work on network governance and governing networks. This enables functionalism to do the discursive work of neoliberalism in maintaining impact, excellence, efficiency, entrepreneurship, in the face of educational values. This is the triumph of marketisation and authoritarianism.
  32. What are the roles of the subaltern and subordinate in this analysis?
  33. How do we use this analysis, embedded in critical social theory, to render visible the differential and differing effects of power? How do we use theory to expose power, in order to recontextualise and in order to avoid ontological or epistemological closure?
  34. How do we engage with the reality that neoliberalism offers the promise of mobility and individual/familial agency, in the face of narratives of welfarism that stress its disabling effects?
  35. What metaphors does the individual/community used to describe itself? What metaphors does the individual/community use to describe the educational setting?
  36. Is it possible to dismantle neoliberalism without coming into asymmetrical relation with capital? Is a focus on neoliberalism a safe option, which denies the ability to decode the capital-relation?


Burman, E & Miles, S 2018, ‘Deconstructing supplementary education: From the pedagogy of the supplement to the unsettling of the mainstream‘Educational Review.

Courtney, S 2018, ‘Privatising educational leadership through technology in the Trumpian era‘ Journal of Educational Administration and History, 50.

Courtney, SJ & Gunter, HM 2015, ‘Get off my bus! School leaders, vision work and the elimination of teachers‘ International Journal of Leadership in Education, 18(4): 395-417. DOI: 10.1080/13603124.2014.992476

Courtney, S & Gunter, H 2017, Privatizing leadership in education in England: The multiple meanings of school principal agency. in D Waite & I Bogotch (eds), The Wiley International Handbook of Educational Leadership. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc., pp. 295-310.

Davies, J 2011, Challenging governance theory: from networks to hegemony. Bristol: Policy Press.

Raffo, C & Gunter, H 2008, ‘Leading schools to promote social inclusion: developing a conceptual framework for analysing research, policy and practice’ Journal of Education Policy, 23(4): 397 – 414. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680930801923799

Rayner, S, Courtney, S & Gunter, H 2017, ‘Theorising systemic change: learning from the academisation project in England‘ Journal of Education Policy. DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2017.1327084

Rowlands, J & Rawolle, S 2013, ‘Neoliberalism is not a theory of everything: a Bourdieuian analysis of illusio in educational research’ Critical Studies in Education, 54(3): 260 – 72. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2013.830631

Social Theory Applied: https://socialtheoryapplied.com/

authoritarian neoliberalism and the alienation of academic labour

I will be developing some of my thinking about HE at a British Educational Research Association symposium, Debating theories of neoliberalism: New perspectives and framings in education research tomorrow.

My abstract and references are here.

The flyer can be downloaded here.

My slides are appended below.

The argument I intend to make pivots around the following points.

Note that references are also appended below.

I will be developing some of my thinking about HE at a British Educational Research Association symposium, Debating theories of neoliberalism: New perspectives and framings in education research tomorrow.

My abstract and references are here.

The flyer can be downloaded here.

My sides are appended below.

The argument I intend to make pivots around the following points.

ONE. The recent history of academic labour articulates its re-engineering in order that it can reproduce value, or at least become productive of value. This history demonstrates the ways in which academic labour has been conditioned to that end, through the disciplinary apparatus of the State, in the form of the deployment of a militarised apparatus (for instance on demonstrations against fees, or with the increase of cops on campus), and in terms of secondary and primary legislation rooted in finance capital. This is a disciplinary reimagining of the University.

TWO. Here, we remember that Marx and Engels wrote that the State is a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. In our academic context, this forces us to imagine the transnational networks that act as a structure for maintaining the circuits and cycles of capital, which act as flows of power. The whole bourgeoisie incorporates vice chancellors, finance capital, credit ratings agencies, educational publishers/service providers, policymakers and so on. In a post-crisis world, the university is being repurposed such that it acts as a vector for the extreme tensions between conditions of production and the forces of production. This incorporates technological and organisational changes, which are materially affecting the technical composition of academic capital. Here, the State represents the normalisation of specific forms of administration that rest upon a legacy of domination, and the exploitative nature of capitalist social relations.

THREE. It is, therefore, important that we remember how the state militarised against student and staff protests in the UK in 2010-11. This is a marker, a backstop, a baseline for what the orderly application of liberties looks like. It describes the refusal of rights.

FOUR. There are certain heuristics or modes of analysis that emerge from literature on authoritarian neoliberalism, which serve to illuminate the relationship between the State and academic labour.

The first is Stephen Ball’s work on the neoliberal terrain for global education, including its philosophical underpinnings and ways in which the state rolls-back existing narratives and structures, ahead of a re-modelling of/as desire. A pivotal moment in this is the maintenance of order, with its focus upon liberal or social democratic interpretations of engagement with mediations like the commodity, the market and the division of labour, which in turn form ordered liberties that maintain risk profiles. These are not the same as a struggle for rights.

A second is Ian Bruff’s focus upon a cultures, relations, work, activities and so on that are for the market. The market mediates flows of power, through flows of surplus, and yet market is not necessarily free. This inevitably focuses upon coercion in maintaining specific risk profiles and in generating forms of data and information, which themselves generate non-democratic ways of working through policies of inclusion and exclusion or marginalisation that reinforce inequality. We are connected to Raewyn Connell’s analysis of social relations that are immanent to the market, such that narratives are framed continuously in asymmetrical relation to the market.

Third, we are reminded of the corporate parasitisation of the State, such that the latter becomes a vector for the former, in particular in terms of the governance, regulation and financing of State-sponsored activities and infrastructures. These are often viewed in pragmatic terms, as a new normal that simply reinforces existing structures, or as forms of elite power that reinforce and are reinforced by specific mediations. Here I refer to the work of Bob Jessop and Will Davies.

A fourth, critical point is about how these activities reinforce marginalisation for specific bodies that are unable to move through social structures, because of the abstract way in which those structures are reproduced for value. Here, the work of Sara Ahmed, Gurminder Bhambra, and Janet Newman on issues of gender and race (and the intersection of those issues) highlights both the ways in which marginalisation is reproduced (and to what ends), and also enables us to analyse how the processes of marginalisation are infecting segments of society previously inoculated, through the politics of austerity.

Finally, we remember how the state creates a disciplinary infrastructure through gag laws, C51 in Canada, by enabling institutions to prohibit demonstrations, through the use of kettling, and so on. This forms a precursor to policy-related authoritarianism. This policy-related restructuring of academic labour includes accountability regimes, focused upon the minutiae of academic work such as Reform’s criticism of grade inflation, alongside the fear generated by immigration regimes. This is a process of enabling forms of autonomy as types of controlled liberty, rooted in risk profiles that relate to the generation of human capital.

FIVE. The experience of crisis, as the violence of abstraction, creates a new normal or a new form of common sense, which is rooted in the desire to make previously unproductive sectors of the economy productive of value. Productivity is everything. Thus, as Marx and Engels understood, universities are at risk of market exit and under the pressure of new market entrants, as well as being forced into competition for new, overseas markets as a new colonialism, and through performance management in debt are forced to exploit existing markets more thoroughly. This includes the exploitation of their own labour force, who are made responsible for the risk to their own position.

SIX. The State defines its relationship to academic labour through a policy narrative that serves a pedagogic function at the level of society. This focuses upon the reification of human capital, which offers a particular mode of attention or orientation from academic labourers made responsible for enriching their own skills, knowledge and capabilities. Moreover, they are made responsible for generating surplus through productive activity. However, this sits in tension with capital’s drive to annihilate the labour component of work, as a result of which that work tends to be proletarianised. Finally, the implementation of policy through league tables and performance management tends to internalise responsibilisation as a form of discipline that stands against wilful behaviour.

SEVEN. The subsumption of HE and the University as a radical restructuring of academic labour serves to generate new forms of competition, as institutions strive for competitive advantage (relative surplus value). However, the implementation of policy through, for instance, the role of the Office for Students, places the academic and the student (and her family) in an invidious position as they are forced to internalise performance, and the generation of data about performance, alongside a liberal perception of the value of learning for its own sake – even though the latter is marginalised. As a result, deep levels of cognitive dissonance erupt, framed by the contention that trust-based relationships can only be mediated in the (unfree, unequal, coercive) market. Moreover, we are told that these relationships can only be mediated inside a properly-functioning market calibrated by meaningful performance data, and this reinforces the transnational activist networks of educational service providers/publishers, policymakers, non-governmental organisations and so on, which act to crack the sector for value. Our lives are folded into these moments, for value.

EIGHT. A crucial set of responses, as stories from inside the University, emerge, pivoting around casualisation/precarious employment, ill-being and ill-health, suicide and quitting. These demonstrate the deep levels of estrangement and alienation at the levels of: academic labour-power; products of academic labour; academic communities; and the individual academic’s humanity. It becomes important to strip away the layers in which such estrangement or alienation are revealed: illness/overwork; precarity and the attrition on labour rights; the role of money; the extraction of value/surplus-value; the control of labour-power; the mediation of private property; and the reality of alienated-labour. From here emerge anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness, loss, and our restricted ability to grieve.

NINE. There is a critical point about the differential impacts of this upon different bodies, and the ways in which those differences are reinforced intersectionally. Analyses of the power and privilege of certain bodies enable the alienating whole to be revealed, whilst also enabling narratives of overcoming involving decentring, refusing responsibilisation, solidarity in the face of coercion, listening to/refusing to accept the silencing of certain voices, and the instantiation of humanity/self-actualisation.

TEN. Moments of listening form a movement towards self-actualisation and also focus upon de-fetishising academic labour, in order to re-focus upon its abolition at the level of society. For Marx and Engels, the crucial moment is the reintegration of intellectual work at the level of society, with a focus upon undermining the violence of abstraction and instituting a new form of common sense. This stands against the outsourcing of solutions to boffins or experts or scientists, because those solutions and that expertise exists at the level of society, in forms that have been seized by the authoritarian State acting for capital.

ELEVEN. We need to be against what the University has become. We need to be against what academic labour has become. We need to imagine a new movement that erupts as abolition.


Ahmed, Sara. 2012. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ball, Stephen. 2012. Global Education Inc. New Policy Networks and the Neoliberal Imaginary. London: Routledge.

Bhambra, Gurminder. 2017. Brexit, Trump, and ‘methodological whiteness’: on the misrecognition of race and class. The British Journal of Sociology. 68 (1): 214-32.

Bruff, Ian. 2014. The Rise of Authoritarian Neoliberalism. Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society. 26 (1), 113-29. https://doi.org/10.1080/08935696.2013.843250

CASA. n.d. A home online for casual, adjunct, sessional staff and their allies in Australian higher education. http://actualcasuals.wordpress.com/

Clarke, Simon. 1991a. The State Debate. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Clarke, Simon. 1991b. Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology: From Adam Smith to Max Weber. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Connell, Raewyn. 2013. The neoliberal cascade and education: an essay on the market agenda and its consequences. Critical Studies in Education, 54 (2): 99-112. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2013.776990

CUPE3903. n.d. Representing, Organizing and Activating the Contract Faculty, Teaching Assistants, Graduate Assistants, and Research Assistants @ York University, Toronto, Canada. Accessed April 27, 2018. http://3903.cupe.ca/

Davies, Will. 2017. Elite Power under Advanced Neoliberalism. Theory, Culture and Society. 34 (4-5): 227-250. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276417715072

DBIS. 2015. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act. London: HM Stationery Office. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/26/pdfs/ukpga_20150026_en.pdf

DfE. 2017a. The Higher Education and Research Act. London: HM Stationery Office. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/29/pdfs/ukpga_20170029_en.pdf

DfE. 2017a. Securing student success. Government consultation on behalf of the Office for Students. London: HM Stationery Office. https://consult.education.gov.uk/higher-education/higher-education-regulatory-framework/

Dyer-Witheford, Nick. 2015. Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex. London: Pluto Press.

Engels, Friedrich. 2009. The Condition of the Working Class in England. London: Penguin.

Gabriel, Deborah and Shirley Anne Tate. 2017. Inside the Ivory Tower: Narratives of women of colour surviving and thriving in British academia. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.

Hall, Richard. 2018. The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Subjectivity inside the University. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hall, Richard and Kate Bowles. 2016. Re-engineering higher education: the subsumption of academic labour and the exploitation of anxiety. Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor 28: 30-47. Available: http://bit.ly/2dQMx8X

HM Treasury. 2015. Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation. London: HM Treasury. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/443898/Productivity_Plan_web.pdf

Jessop, Bob. 2016. The heartlands of neoliberalism and the rise of the austerity state. In: Springer, Simon, Birch, Kean and Julie MacLeavy (eds). The Handbook of Neoliberalism. Routledge, London, 410-421.

Marx, Karl. 1993. Grundrisse: Outline of the Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1998. The German Ideology: including Theses on Feuerbach and Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. New York: Prometheus.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 2002. The Communist Manifesto. London: Penguin.

Morris, Amanda. 2015. The Rise of ‘Quit Lit’: What It Is and Why It Matters [Opinion]. Noodle.com. http://bit.ly/2dAimp9

Narayan, John. 2017. Huey P. Newton’s Intercommunalism: An Unacknowledged Theory of Empire. Theory, Culture and Society. [Online first] Accessed April 27, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276417741348

Neary, Mike. 2017. Pedagogy of hate. Policy Futures in Education, 15 (5): 555-563.

Newman, Janet. 2017. The Politics of Expertise: Neoliberalism, Governance and the Practice of Politics. In: Higgins V., Larner W. (eds) Assembling Neoliberalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 87-105.

O’Dwyer, Siobhan, Sarah Pinto and Sharon McDonagh. 2017. Self-care for academics: a poetic invitation to reflect and resist. Reflective Practice 19 (2): 243-49.

Saccaro, Matt. 2014. Professors on food stamps: The shocking true story of academic in 2014. Salon. http://www.salon.com/2014/09/21/professors_on_food_stamps_the_shocking_true_story_of_academia_in_2014/

The University of Utopia. n.d. Anti-Curricula: A Course of Action. Accessed April 27, 2018. http://www.universityofutopia.org/sharing

Wendling, Amy. 2009. Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

On Platforms for Co-operative Knowledge Production

Over at the Institute of Education, Tom Woodin is editing a collection to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Co-operative College. The collection is titled: Learning for a Co-operative World – Education, Social Change and the Co-operative College, and I have morphed my chapter away from higher education, to focus upon the relationship between platforms, cooperation and knowledge production.

Below I give an overview of what I have been focusing upon, with my reference list.

A kind of abstract or structure.

The struggle for knowledge

This struggle over knowledge production, and its commodification both of knowledge and the labour-power that produces that knowledge, is a crucial moment of re-imagination in the face of crisis. I question how this struggle enables individuals and communities to challenge the hegemonic idea of transhistorical, educational institutions, through their claims over knowledge, its production and governance, and the data that flow from it.

The value of co-operative knowledge

Value is fundamental in understanding the production, circulation and consumption of knowledge. Through the capital-relation, the production of knowledge is rooted in oppressive social relations, governed by the need to extract surplus-value in the production process, through an attrition on labour rights or the proletarianisation of that labour. Against the second-order mediation of our engagement with knowledge, enacted through private property, the division of labour and separation of disciplines, and commodity exchange, is it possible to liberate socially-useful knowledge?

The platform against knowledge production

However, this liberation (or the potential for reimagining) situates knowledge against ideas of communal production and solidarity on the global Commons, and forces us into a critique of the relationship between communities and technology, in part mediated through the idea of platforms. This critiques ideas and practices of technology-rich, co-operative knowledge production, in order to discuss whether they enable (only certain?) communities to reconstitute their own lived experiences, or whether Capital’s cybernetic control mechanisms simply reterritorialise these experiences for value, whilst marginalising or making invisible other lived experiences.

The knowledge potential of platform co-operativism

The political economy of the platform is a governance risk for societies where those platforms dominate the economic mediation of society by monopolising its hardware and software. One response to this points towards platform co-operativism, with co-operative principles and values shaping the governance, regulation and funding of the platform, such that knowledge infrastructures are shaped as collective rather than private goods. However, such open practices are often rooted in radical disintermediation of access to the Commons, and this risks ignoring the implications of structural forms of privilege and power, alongside differential knowledge and literacy amongst certain groups. It also risks ignoring how the structure of the Commons might act as a barrier to certain groups, in terms of governing principles, the lived experience of co-operation, sharing access to data, and the open sharing of the full range of knowledge, skills and capabilities.

Another world is possible

At issue is how we find co-operative mechanisms for dissolving knowledge production that has been enclosed inside institutions into the fabric of society, in order to enable communities to widen their own spheres of autonomy. This is important if the co-operative and open development of knowledge through platforms is to challenge intersectional injustice, rather than simply to replicate it. In this way, the development of the realm of autonomy requires that open and platform co-operatives prefigure the world they wish to see.


Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a Feminist Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Amsler, S. (2015). The Education of Radical Democracy. London: Routledge.

Bauwens, M. (2014). Open Cooperativism for the P2P Age. Available at: https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/open-cooperativism-for-the-p2p-age/2014/06/16

Berardi, F. (2009). The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy. Translated by F. Cadel and G. Mecchia, with preface by J. Smith. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

boyd, d. (2017). The Radicalization of Utopian Dreams. Available at: https://points.datasociety.net/the-radicalization-of-utopian-dreams-e1b785a0cb5d

Breidlid, A. (2013). Education, Indigenous Knowledges, and Development in the Global South. London: Routledge.

Canaan, J. (2017). The (Im)possibility of Mass Intellectuality: Viewing Mass Intellectuality Through the Lens of the Brazilian Landless Movement. In Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education, edited by R. Hall and J. Winn, 69-80. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Ciccariello-Maher, G. (2017). Decolonizing Dialectics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Clarke, S. (1991). Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology: From Adam Smith to Max Weber. London: Palgrave.FH

Cleaver, H. (2017). Rupturing the Dialectic: The Struggle against Work, Money, and Financialization. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

de Peuter G., and Dyer-Witheford N. (2010). ‘Commons and Cooperatives’, Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action, 4(1), pp. 30-56.

de Sousa Santos, B. (ed. 2007). Cognitive Justice in a Global World: Prudent Knowledges for a Decent Life. New York, NY: Lexington Books.

Deleuze, G., and Guattari, F. (1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, G., and Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press..

Dinerstein, A. (2015). The Politics of Autonomy in Latin America: The Art of Organising Hope. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dyer-Witheford, N. (2004). ‘1844/2004/2044: The return of species-being’, Historical Materialism, 12(4), pp. 3-25.

Feenbery, A. (1999). Questioning Technology. London: Routledge.

FLOK Society. (n.d.). Available at: http://commonstransition.org/flok-society/

Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin.

Gorz, A. (1982). Farewell to the Working Class: An essay on Post-Industrial Socialism. London: Pluto Press.

Haiven, M. (2014). Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power: Capitalism, Creativity and the Commons. London: Zed Books.

Hall, G. (2016). The Uberfication of the University. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press.

Hall, R., (2015a). ‘The University and the Secular Crisis’, Open Library of Humanities, 1(1), p.e6. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/olh.15

Hall, R. (2015b). ‘For a Political Economy of Massive Open Online Courses’, Learning, Media and Technology, 40(3), pp. 265-86.

Hall, R. (forthcoming). The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hall, R., and Winn, J. (eds 2017). Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury Academic

hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. London: Routledge.

Huws, U. (2014). Labor in the Global Digital Economy: The Cybertariat Comes of Age. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

ICA. (n.d.). Available at: https://ica.coop/

IOO. (n.d.). Available at: https://ioo.coop/

PCC. (n.d.). Available at: https://platform.coop/about/consortium

Kornberger, M., Pflueger, D., and Mouritsen, J. (2017). ‘Evaluative infrastructures: Accounting for platform organization’, Accounting, Organizations and Society, 60, pp. 79-95. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.aos.2017.05.002, 1-17.

Lazzarato, M. (2014). Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity. Cambridge, MA: Semiotext(e)/MIT Press.

Lorey, I. (2017). Labour, (in-)dependence, care: Conceptualizing the precarious. In E. Armano, A. Bove and A. Murgia, Mapping Precariousness, Labour Insecurity and Uncertain Livelihoods: Subjectivities and Resistance. London: Routledge, translated by A. Derieg, 199-209.

Marcuse, H. (1998). Technology, War, and Fascism, Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Vol. 1. Ed. D. Kellner. New York: Routledge.

Marx, K. (1866). Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council: The Different Questions. Available at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1866/08/instructions.htm

Marx, K. (1970). Critique of the Gotha Programme. In Marx and Engels Selected Works, Volume Three, 13-30. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Marx, K. (1974). Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Marx, K. (1991). Capital, Volume 3: A Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin.

Marx, K. (2004). Capital, Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin.

Marx, K. (2008). Wage-Labour and Capital. Cabin John, MD: Wildside Press.

Marx, K., and Engels, F. (1998). The German Ideology: including Theses on Feuerbach and Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. New York: Prometheus.

McGettigan, A. (2015). The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment. Political Economy Research Centre Papers Series 6. Available at: http://www.perc.org.uk/perc/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/PERC-6-McGettigan-and-HE-and-Human-Capital-FINAL-1.pdf

McMillam Cottom, T. (2016). Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy. New York: The New Press.

Mészáros, I. (2005). Marx’s Theory of Alienation. London: Merlin Press.

The Midnight Collective. (2008). ‘The New Enclosures’. In Subverting the Present Imagining the Future: Insurrection, Movement, Commons, ed. Bonefeld, W. New York, NY: Autonomedia, pp. 13-26.

Miller Medina, J. E. (2005). The State Machine: politics, ideology, and computation in Chile, 1964-1973. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, MIT. http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/39176

Neary, M. (2011). ‘Student as Producer: A Pedagogy for the Avant-Garde; Or, How Do Revolutionary Teachers Teach?’ Learning Exchange, 1(1). Available at: http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/4186/

Neary, M., and Winn, J. (2017). ‘There is an alternative: a report on an action research project to develop a framework for co-operative higher education’, Learning and Teaching: The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences 10 (1). Available at: http://www.berghahnjournals.com/view/journals/latiss/10/1/latiss100106.xml

Newfield, C. (2010). ‘The structure and silence of Cognitariat’, EduFactory webjournal, 0, pp. 10-26. Available at: http://firgoa.usc.es/drupal/files/Newfield_0.pdf

NSPD. (2013). Ecuadorian National Plan for Good Living, 2013-17. Available at: http://www.planificacion.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/12/Buen-Vivir-ingles-web-final-completo.pdf

Pasquale, F. (2016). ‘Two Narratives of Platform Capitalism’, Yale Law and Policy Review, 309. Available at: https://ylpr.yale.edu/two-narratives-platform-capitalism

Pasquale, F. (2018). Tech Platforms and the Knowledge Problem. American Affairs, II(2). Available at: https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2018/05/tech-platforms-and-the-knowledge-problem/

Procomuns. 2016. Summary: procomuns statement and policies for Commons Collaborative Economies at European level. Available at: http://procomuns.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/CommonsDeclarationPolicies_eng_v03_summary.pdf

P2P Foundation (n.d.). Available at: https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/

Roggero, G. (2011). The Production of Living Knowledge: The Crisis of the University and the Transformation of Labor in Europe and North America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Scholz, T. (2016). Platform Cooperativism. Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy. New York: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

Srnicek, N. (2017). Platform Capitalism. Bristol: Polity Press.

Southwood, I. (2017). Against currency, against employability. In E. Armano, A. Bove and A. Murgia, Mapping Precariousness, Labour Insecurity and Uncertain Livelihoods: Subjectivities and Resistance. London: Routledge, 70 – 81.

Tronti, Mario. 2012. Our Operaismo, New Left Review, 73, pp. 119–39.

van Dijck, J., & Poell, T. (2018). Social media platforms and education. In The SAGE Handbook of Social Media, eds J. Burgess, A. Marwick, & T. Poell. London: SAGE, pp. 579-591.

Vercellone, C. (2007). ‘From Formal Subsumption to General Intellect: Elements for a Marxist Reading of the Thesis of Cognitive Capitalism’, Historical Materialism, 15(1), pp. 13-36.

Wendling, A. (2009). Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation. London: Palgrave Macmillan.