Better policymaking needs democracy

Over at WonkHE, Sol Gamsu and I have a piece on better policy-making through democratic renewal. This connects to our recently-edited collection for the Centre for Labour and Social Studies on A New Vision for Further and Higher Education. In the WonkHE piece, we argue:

It is time that the politics of education was created by the grassroots – it is time for staff and students to recognise their collective potential and push for democratic renewal. 

Authors from the report will be discussing the horizons of possibility for this vision at the Labour Party conference with Jo Grady (UCU General Secretary Elect) and a Labour Party MP on Tuesday 24 September in Brighton.


Social Epistemology: On Authoritarian Neoliberalism and Poetic Epistemology

I have an article accepted for publication in a special issue of Social Epistemology: a Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy that picks up on some work I have been doing previously on authoritarian neoliberalism (see presentations and notes from a BERA Special Interest Group symposium here and here). The article also attempts to maintain some momentum around academic labour, academic practice, knowledge formation and the critical terrain of decolonisation. In this, I explicitly connect to Audre Lorde’s work on life as a poetic existence.

The special issue as whole looks at the intersections of higher education and the University, neoliberalism as a contested terrain/heuristic, technologies and technocratic forms of management, and subjectivities. My abstract and references are appended below. The other contributors and pieces are as follows.

Robert Antonio: ‘Ethnoracial Populism: An alternative to Neoliberal Globalization?’

John Holmwood and Chaime Marcuello-Serovs: ‘Challenges to Public Universities: Digitalisation, Commodification and Precarity’

Elio di Muccio: ‘Core HR in British Higher Education: For a Technological Single Source and Version of the Truth?’

Justin Cruikshank: ‘Economic Freedom and the Harm of Adaptation: On Gadamer, Authoritarian Technocracy and the Re-Engineering of English Higher Education’

Liz Morrish: ‘The Accident of Accessibility: How the Data of the TEF creates Neoliberal Subjects’

Ross Abbinnett: ‘The Anthropocene as a Figure of Neoliberal Hegemony’

Jana Bacevic: ‘Knowing Neoliberalism’

ABSTRACT

As one response to the secular crisis of capitalism, higher education is being proletarianised. Its academics and students 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 geogra- phical 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 decolonisa- tion. 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.

KEYWORDS

Academic labour; authoritarian neoliberalism; decolonisation; poetic epistemology

REFERENCES

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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. doi:10.1353/ff.2013.0006.

Azar, R. 2015. “‘neoliberalism, Austerity, and Authoritarianism.” New Politics XV (3). https://newpol.org/issue_post/neoliberalism-austerity-and-authoritarianism/

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

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

Bhambra, G. 2017. “Brexit, Trump, and ‘methodological Whiteness’: On the Misrecognition of Race and Class.” The British Journal of Sociology 68 (1): 214–232. doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12317.

Bruff, I. 2012. “Authoritarian Neoliberalism, the Occupy Movements, and IPE.” Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies 1 (5): 114–116.

Bruff, I. 2014. “The Rise of Authoritarian Neoliberalism.” Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society 26 (1): 113–129. doi:10.1080/08935696.2013.843250.

Bruff, I., and C. B. Tansel. 2018. “Authoritarian Neoliberalism: Trajectories of Knowledge Production and Praxis.” Globalizations. doi: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.

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Davies, W. 2016. “The New Neoliberalism.” New Left Review 101: 121–134. https://newleftreview.org/II/101/william- davies-the-new-neoliberalism

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O’Dwyer, S., S. Pinto, and S. McDonagh. 2018. “Self-Care for Academics: A Poetic Invitation to Reflect and Resist.” Reflective Practice 19 (2): 243–249. doi:10.1080/14623943.2018.1437407.

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Power and Education Special Issue: Neoliberalism and Primary Education

With Mark Pulsford, I have co-edited a forthcoming Special Issue of Power and Education, with contributions that ground neoliberal policies and logics in the everyday routines and practices within Primary school communities.

The special issue is titled:

Neoliberalism and Primary Education: Impacts of neoliberal policy on the lived experiences of primary school communities

The original call for papers is available here. I also have some notes taken from a BERA critical theory special interest group symposium on neoliberalism and education.

The papers to be included are as follows and in this order:

Editorial: Neoliberalism and Primary Education: Impacts of neoliberal policy on the lived experiences of primary school communities (authors: Richard Hall and Mark Pulsford)

How neoliberal policy inhibits partnership-building in the primary phase: A new social movements approach (Michael Jopling – published online first)

Local authority instrumental music tuition as a form of neo-liberal parental investment: findings from a deviant, idiographic case study (Ross Purves – published online first)

Power, influence, and policy in Arizona’s education market: “We’ve got to out-charter the charters (Amanda U Potterton – published online first)

Making little neoliberals: the production of ideal child/learner subjectivities in primary school through choice, self-improvement and ‘growth mindsets (Alice Bradbury)

A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Let Our Kids be Kids Protest (Angela Sibley-White – published online first)

Go into school, get a cushy job, move to a better area: male primary school teachers, neoliberalism and hierarchies of person-value (Mark Pulsford – published online first)

The issue of the whole will be published in November 2019.


Paperback version of Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education

I’m really pleased that a paperback version of Joss Winn and my 2017 edited collection, Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education is now available. This makes this important work on re-imagining HE much more accessible.

For more details on the book, including the key features and chapters see: https://bit.ly/2UaoI0G

For details on how to get hold of a copy, see: https://bit.ly/2toybqZ


education, technology and the end of the end of history

In June 2009, a group of people who loosely knew each other, or were connected through emergent social networks and individuals, gathered for discussion about the intersection of education and digital technology. This collective, known as the ‘52group’, gathered from across the Higher Education sector in the global North produced a position paper entitled ‘Preparing for the postdigital era’.

At the time the paper was largely met with a mixture of scepticism and confusion, a common response being “The digital hasn’t been superseded?” Despite this, over the intervening years the term has slowly gained traction in educational contexts. In 2015, to mark the shift from Digital to Post-digital thinking, members of the original ‘52group’ individually revisited the term to consider its continued definition and relevance. My own response is here, with links to reflections from the other members of the group.

In 2019, Petar Jandrić (editor of the newly founded journal Postdigital Science and Education) discovered the original position paper and 2015 responses. Delighted by this rare opportunity to examine ten years of development of the concept of the post-digital, Petar contacted the group with a request to revisit the theme in 2019. Dave Cormier has posted his reconsideration here. Mine is appended below, with an extended bibliography.

NB After the fact, and following a decade of attempting to reconsider my position in light of intersectional and indigenous struggles, I note that the 52 Group consisted of white men of a certain generation, with plenty of social and intellectual capital, each working in the global North. It would be interesting to critique these positions and possibilities, in light of status, privilege and power. That is not to say that the original members of the group did not do this, just that there is more to say.


ONE. No shade in Capital’s shadow.

When the 52 Group originally met to discuss the intersection of education and digital technology the world was very different. It was more hopeful for connectedness and meaningful forms of connectivity. Such forms of connectivity were rooted in the humane, and in liberal values, which naturally emerged from the dominant political economic order. This order tends to describe the relationship between technology and society (or technology and the reproduction of that society) in positivist or determinist terms. Moreover, it does not help us to reimagine society in the face of crises, precisely because technological determinism reinforces the idea that we have reached the end of history. As a result, the limits of our imagination can only be shaped by finessing our future through our capitalist present.

Yet, in the intervening decade we have witnessed: the ongoing struggle of the global economy to overcome the crash of 2007; the rise of economic populism and the reinforcement of political binaries; the imposition of austerity politics, with differential impacts for specific populations; an inability to deal with crises of the environment; and on and on. We have witnessed the ongoing separation of politics and economy, such that solutions to these ongoing ruptures cannot be imagined beyond the existing, dominant mode of production.

This dominant mode of production warps our imagination through imposition of technological solutions. Such solutions are used not for humane values, rather for the generation of surplus that can be accumulated. Surplus emerges in the form of economic value, wealth in the form of profit or money, or time that can be diverted to more work, either collectively or on the individual self. Technological solutions are central to the accumulation of surplus, and as a result they are used inside capitalist production processes to discipline labour, to drive efficiencies in the use of labour power, to create new commodities, and to generate new markets.


TWO. Techno-discipline

At the intersection of education and technology, the work of students, academics and professional services staff is disciplined through workplace and attendance monitoring, performance dashboards, and the imposition of rating and excellence systems that seek to reshape affective labour processes. The labour processes of students and academics are increasingly commodified, as pedagogic processes and content are opened out such that new infrastructure and data services can be extracted by private providers and resold into the sector. The teaching, scholarly and research activity of the University is conditioned by discourses of employability, entrepreneurship, excellence and impact, and shaped by the intersection of performance data around debt, future earnings and learning outcomes. Moreover, these intersections are enabled globally, through flows of resources from the global South to the global North, with commodity-dumping in the opposite direction.

Individual bodies are conditioned collectively against dominant norms of production, shaped by an idealised view of how education and technology are generative of productive, human capital. As a result, digital technology is folded inside an apparently never-ending terrain of competition at the level of the individual, the subject, the institution and the nation. Digitally-reinforced performance metrics impose digitally-reinforced performance management.

Moreover, in this idealised view of production, in the technology-rich university of the global North, the reproduction of enriched human capital rest upon the ongoing exploitation of other bodies. These bodies undertake estates-related activities, cleaning, porterage, cooking and purchasing/logistics, at work and in the home. These bodies exist in low-wage, sub-economies that are often precarious and lacking in labour rights, such as pensions, maternity/paternity cover, holiday and sick pay. These bodies are often marginalised along intersections of gender and race.


THREE. Ongoing techno-colonisation, exploitation and expropriation.

The only space for radical imagination appears to be in the further, ongoing colonisation of the body and the Self by digital technology, as a means of generating surpluses. This is not the 52 Group’s original conception of ‘the act of [technology’s] colonisation, or appropriation, by people into their lives.’ Rather it is Capital’s colonisation of the soul in the ongoing search for surplus. Here, there is an overlay of these terrains of competition in ongoing corporate processes of exploitation and expropriation. Such processes limit the energy and capacity that societies have for re-imagination, precisely because these become bounded by the competition between humans and machines. Again, the 52 Group argued that ‘As digital technology is culturally normalised it becomes ever more transparent’, yet whilst technology and its commodities may be built upon ideas of openness these ideas do not enable transparency. Rather they are a legal terrain for the enforcement of privatisation and commodification through intellectual property, copyright, and patents.

Human engagement with technology has always had a contested history, in which individuals or groups or States attempt to break or harness specific technologies for particular political ends. Now, such contestation is amplified at the boundary between the human and the development of 5G cellular networks, cloud native applications, artificial intelligence, nanotechnologies, convergent technologies including biotechnologies, and the Internet of things. Interactions at these boundaries then enforces human-machine intersections with digital, monopoly capitalism in the form of Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, and the rise of alternate geopolitical rivals, in particular from China. As a result, techno-colonisation of what it means to be human is amplified.

In the original, 2009 conception of the post-digital, the 52 Group wrote:

Not only is the digital subservient to the social, it is, in some ways (and soon most ways), transparent.

Over the course of a decade this statement has become a dystopian pivot for understanding more than the relationship between digital technology and the social. It becomes a pivot for understanding the convergence of the personal/the person and a range of technologies (cognitive, biological, nano), in order to subsume what it means to be human fully under the dictates of capitalist reproduction. This has been described in terms of the post-information human or the post-human, or analysed in terms of what it means to be post-human. In these descriptions, society has viewed technology through an economistic lens, reinforcing the separation of politics and economics, and denying the potential for a reintegrated political economy that radically reimagines society. As a result, social reproduction cannot be viewed beyond the lens of capital, and technology cannot be viewed beyond the lens of expanding the field of accumulation.


FOUR. Techno-humanism at the end of the end of history.

In a crucial part of the original statement, the 52 Group write:

The obsessiveness associated with digitalism seeks to see innovation as the search for meaning (or use) in the newest technology. Innovation in a postdigital era is more effectively articulated as being associated with the human condition and the aspiration toward new or enhanced connectedness with others.

Existence at the alleged end of history can only define enhanced connectedness through the dystopian subsumption of the flesh under emergent technologies like biometrics, neurotechnology, human genetic engineering and 3D bioprinting, and speculative technologies like the exocortex. The terrain of aspiration is shaped through the exploitation of the flesh and of the mind, through the augmentation enabled by technology, and the ongoing expropriation of what it means to be human. Of course, it is imperative that we recognise that these moments of exploitation and expropriation are rooted in wider, intersectional injustices.

Populations struggle to imagine futures beyond socio-economic or socio-environmental problems where these do not emerge from experts, technocrats or technologists. Human-machine or environment-machine augmentation are sold as enhancement; as logical, next transhistorical steps. This is precisely because our imagination cannot be allowed to view solutions to such problems as anything other than mechanistic and economy-driven. They are devoid of political content, in part because imagining a different history is too threatening to the established order.

Yet, this is exactly what is required – a radical, political horizon, which is reinforced through a radical, political imagination. A radical, political imagination that seeks to renegotiate the relationship between humans and technologies, grounded in the inter-disciplinary re-integration of life. So that it becomes possible to reimagine the relationship between humans and technologies at the end of the end of history. So that it becomes possible to reimagine the relationship between philosophy and the natural sciences, or between the social and natural sciences. This is a reintegration of the material modes of production with what it means to be human.

In terms of the intersection between education and technology, the focus must shift towards intellectual work, as opposed to academic labour, being recombined at the level of society to ensure that knowledge is socialised rather than privatised. Moreover, productive technologies need to be collectively controlled, such that the things that societies actually need in order to flourish, namely socially-necessary goods and services, can be produced in ways that reduce the waste of time, energy and lives. Waste, the counterpoint to surplus, emerges from the production of useless commodities.

The integration of technologies with a new political economy reduces the space and time required for the production of the things needed for self-sufficiency. It widens as base for autonomous existence. The very automation or human-machine augmentation and symbiosis that capital demands and develops in order to discipline and control labour makes possible an exodus from the society of capitalist work. This potential erupts through the radical redisposal of the surplus time that arises as an outcome of that automation, alongside the new ways in which different groups can interconnect in that surplus time. At issue is less the reality of automation at the end of history, and more the role of human dignity in rupturing the end of history.

This rupturing is the end of the end of history. The liberation of science and technology from capital’s competitive dynamics emerges as a new political horizon erupts. This is central to moving beyond capital’s digital colonisation of humans, such that it can exploit and expropriate what it means to be human and humane. Instead of the intersection of education and technology, we might speak of convergence, such that students, professional services staff and academics are able to focus upon the relationship between freedom and necessity, in order to widen the former and reduce the latter.

At the end of the end of history, can we make it possible to focus on alternative educational practices that develop socialised knowledge as a direct, social force of production? At the end of the end of history can we re-imagine ways to deny capital’s abstract, normalised monopoly over the productive resources and potential of society? In this moment, it may be that educational contexts form dynamic sites in the struggle to recuperate social productive power, where they are predicated upon the dignity of inclusive and participatory work. A starting point is recognising flows of power and privilege that are reinforced digitally, and opening out political structures for refusing techno-fuelled colonisation.


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Slides for Bath Spa Presentation: The Alienated Academic

On Wednesday I’m presenting at Bath Spa in an open discussion of my book, The Alienated Academic.

The slides are appended below.

NOTE: I will only speak for 20 minutes but wanted to present a full slide-deck.


on abolishing the academic’s number one fetish: their own world-historical importance

There has been so much discussion of potential job losses across institutions; there has been so much discussion of how negotiations over the USS Pension Scheme will play out; there has been so much discussion of the impacts of the ONS review of the decision of how to treat student loans in the public accounts; there has been so much discussion of the impact of the Augar Review of post-18 education. There has been so little discussion of what this means politically for academic labour.

That isn’t to say that there has not been an on-going statement of how academic work is adversely, toxically, negatively disassembling what it means to be human inside the University. For instance, a recent tweet from an academic at Leeds, liked almost 5,200 times, points to the impact on mental health of the apparent disregard that management have for their academic labourers.

Only, in the thread that follows, academics are not regarded as labourers, rather their fetishised status as privileged knowledge workers takes on the usual, depressing and reified narrative in which individuals who have worked for doctorates are commodified as assets. This represents an ongoing failure to engage with the political economy of academic work, and to see it for what it is: the everyday, coercive re-sale of alienated labour-power, which results in the everyday estrangement of the individual from herself and her community. This community includes the students whom she must sort and separate and grade, her peers against whom she must compete for status and privilege and resources, and her Commons whom she must use as an asset or develop as a market for knowledge transfer or exchange.


Describing the depressive position of academic life is one thing; analysing and moving beyond it demands socially-useful theory, rooted in the ongoing reproduction of alienating capitalist social relations. Academic impact and the public good are socially-useful for capital, and demand a different kind of analysis. Instead praxis demands that rather than fetishising academic labour, we see it for what it is – brutally alienating. As Ansgar Allen wrote in his review of The Alienated Academic, my argument is a:

critique of the academic’s number one fetish: their own world-historical importance, its role in their enslavement to a work ethic built on alienation, and their participation in wider flows of capitalist destruction. Though many in the academy may think otherwise: another world is not possible, at least not a world that issues from the labour of the current academic, however radically inclined.

Thus, my opening chapter focuses upon the academic labourer becoming awakened.

This is a book about estrangement and alienation in academic life; about being a stranger to the nature of your own scholarly work, to yourself and to your peers. This is a book about moving beyond the surface perception of academic work as a labour of love or privilege, in order to understand its essence inside increasingly alienating contexts.

Hall, R. 2018. The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University. London: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 1.

In expanding upon this idea that work is a withering form of living death rooted in personal losses, and that academia is not privileged and that it is not a labour of love and that in the process of fetishising it we diminish ourselves, I argue that this stops us from seeing the inability of the University to address global emergencies.

Proletarianisation renders institutions hopeless spaces for addressing the wider ramifications of the crisis of value. The University framed by a secular crisis of the value-form remains unable to address fundamental global problems like climate change, because its interaction with the world is mediated through the market, the division of labour and commodity-exchange.

It is increasingly unclear how these institutions and their curricula enable global societies to adapt through collective, educational repair. This is precisely because HE institutions are limited to their ability to coerce individuals in placing their labour-power for sale in the market.

ibid., p. 57

This idea that academics fetishise and universalise their own labour as an objective, public good does nothing but cripple any hopes of self/social-care or renewal.

Academics have been nudged towards accepting these forms of crippling enslavement by focusing upon the alleged privilege of working in education, and the self-sacrifice of public service. This has been a way in which capital has been able to compel overwork and exhaustion across a social terrain… Estrangement from the self emerges from the loss of subjectivity and sensuous, creative practice, inside relations of production with increased technical composition.

As a process of reproduction the labour process forms a motive power underpinning the expanding circuit of alienation, A-A’. This expansion shapes subjugation, because the potential of the labour-power inside each individual labourer cannot be realised except through the objective conditions of capitalist work for value.

Ibid., p. 169

The question is then possibly Lenin’s, what is to be done? Or perhaps Nietzsche’s what next? Later in the book, I argue that individual academics must confront alienating conditions of work that reproduce estrangement across social and personal terrain, at the level of society.

As a growing surplus population drags the experience of exploitation and immiseration from the margins of academic society into its core, through performance management and precarious employment, there is potential for indignation and degradation to be generalised. At issue is how to place transformation of the mode of production at the heart of the matter, rather than amplifying hopelessness. As practices from the racialised, gendered, disabled, homosexual and queer margins of the global North and the global South move back to the centre of production, engagement in survival programmes as a precursor to dismantling the mode of production, are crucial for academics. Academic privilege and hegemonic, alienating academic norms need to be checked by learning from alternative life experiences. This demands a new war of position in the name of survival pending revolution, rooted in co-operation and accepting of the reality that Keynesian, welfare capitalism cannot be reinstalled. Instead, academic hopelessness needs to stimulate an alternative social function as the basis for abolishing wage labour.

Ibid., p. 181


It is not enough to discuss academics as a homogenous group or with an ability to work collectively to confront their conditions of production, in order to challenge the relations of production that are so clearly toxic to so many. It is clear that academics exist in a range of constantly shifting, determinate conditions, which are re-shaping the ways in which academic labour functions through the application of new forms of organisation, precarious employment, rounds of voluntary severance and reorganisation, the imposition of new technologies, policy edicts which drive competitive demands, and so on.

Moreover, these conditions are different for a range of sub-groups and communities of whatever academia is or might be. Where the experience is defined by norms set against the idea of the successful White, male, heterosexual, able Professor, the rest of the academic peloton is forced to recalibrate itself will be recalibrated by this privilege. What this then means if you are an academic of colour, female, have a caring responsibility, are ill, whatever, is that you have to suck it up or take that next course on mindfulness or resilience, or decide that perhaps this isn’t the place for you.

This means that uncovering political composition needs more attention by academics as they try to work for solidarity and collective action. This composition is effectively the ways in which labour organises and resists the labour process itself, in part generated through struggles over pensions or workload or whatever, and which is aimed at refusing the imposition of a new technical composition of capital across the terrain of academic work, which can only ever aim at reproducing exploitation. This technical composition is the ability of capital to annihilate the costs of labour-power whilst enforcing productivity gains or longer working hours upon those who remain. It is no wonder that we see an increase in the academic gig-economy, increasingly technological performance management, a rise in the reserve army of PhD labour with no apparent future, and a narrative that fetishises human capital development with the risk owned by the individual academic.


Of course, one of the issues here is that labour-power is the source of value inside capitalism, and so by annihilating labour capital undermines itself though a crisis of profitability. Yet in order to overcome the political composition of labour, capital has constantly to innovate its technical composition. Is it possible then to use this as a moment to challenge alienating work? Is it possible to analyse the political composition of academic labour, in order to refuse a technical recomposition designed to extend the universe of value?

The theory of class composition restates the problem of power in a perspective where recomposition is not that of a unity, but that of a multiplicity of needs, and of liberty.

Negri, A. (1979). Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse. London: Pluto Press, p. 14.

The problem with not being able to do this analytical work, is that the academic has no starting point for refusal, other than a lamentation or a scream against the latest indignity. One result is that there may be anger, but there can be no indignation. For whilst Marx argued that the individual worker would only ever become “an appendage” and mutilated or fragmented, with her family thrown under the juggernaut of capital acting as a werewolf or a vampire, too many academics still cling to the ideas of status and privilege are themselves underpinned by hope rather than hopelessness. This means that there can only be space for anger rooted in powerlessness at the latest excellence framework or demand for impact or research audit or student evaluation or workload plan. And anger rooted in powerlessness leads to a depressive position.

And so the question becomes how to decompose academic labour. How do academics analyse their own social organisation in relation to capital? How do they unpack the conditions and relations of production, where they are employed inside the University acting as a means for the production of value, in concert with transnational finance capital, global educational technology/publishing firms underwritten by venture capital, and policymakers working in partnership with transnational bodies like the World Bank or IMF, and where their work is conditioned by student debt? It is important that this work is done, because the particular situation of the academic is her starting point for analysing the lack of solidarity amongst academics as a group, and for realising the relative solidarity between sub-groups of academics who continue to be made marginal inside the system of hegemonic production. Moreover it is a starting point for realising the relative solidarity between subgroups of academics and a movement beyond the University of groups and individuals made marginal.


Here, class is not enough. As a result, it is important to look at the differential conditions of labour for: Professors; tenured staff; professional services staff; students; postgraduate teaching assistants; precariously employed staff; and to do this in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and so on. Because it is clear that in order to leverage change inside the Academy, as a moment of prefiguring change outside the Academy, or perhaps where change inside the Academy is immanent to change outside, some people have too much to lose. Too much privilege, too much status, too many resources, and for some, the process of proletarianisation has not impacted enough to spark their solidarity.

It is the proletariat who, for Marx, with a revolutionary class, and the potential for change then stems from those (academics) with nothing left to lose. This means that such a workerist analysis of the condition of academic work needs to consider how that work is integrated into capitalist social relations and relations of production. It needs to consider the divisions that exist between academics, and how those divisions or separations are maintained. This includes disciplinary separations reinforced through league tables and excellence frameworks, as well as separations of status and privilege.

Moreover, such a(n academic) workers’ enquiry might connect academic labour to the idea of autonomous activity outside the University and whether they offer moments of subversion or transgression against the value-relation. Do they enable hegemonic social relations to be subverted? Moreover, is there space for decomposing academic labour, such that the divisions noted above might be dissolved as a stage in moving towards the abolition of that labour, rather than its fetishisation and accompanying hopes that a Utopian state can be restored? Instead, this recognises that academic labour, like all other forms of labour, is not privileged. It is always in a process of being dominated, exploited, reengineered and repurposed for-value, as capital struggles to annihilate its own dependency upon labour-power. This demands that academics see their conditions of labour as continually-changing, and that the only redemption lies in accepting the hopelessness of a compact with a system of exploitation.

The power therefore lies in attempting to see that individuals working collectively makes the world, and need to be alive to both its historical and current, material realities, in order to develop new forms of struggle. Capital’s ongoing struggle to decompose and recompose academic labour means that there can be no Happy New Year, in which a system of exploitation governed through competition and mediated through private property (in the form of knowledge), the division of labour, commodity-exchange and the market, is given away by those with power-over us. There will be no Happy New Year, which is better for our fragmented physical and mental health, precisely because just like the old year, the New Year will be built upon alienated labour-power. Understanding the political economy of academic work is a starting point for establishing our own power-over the world, our own weaknesses, our own associations and spaces of solidarity, such that we might decide what next or what is to be done?

However, this cannot be disaggregated from wider struggles in the world to decolonise, or for gendered rights, or for disability rights, or for environmental rights, or for whatever. This means that different forms of organisation might be needed inside the University and beyond, which also recognise the historical and social specificity of those contexts, whilst working towards dissolving the boundaries between them. This dissolution is the recognition by the academic that she is a socialised worker, and that in this dissolution lies her ability for self-actualisation as a form of self-mediating activity not conditioned by competition, excellence, impact, entrepreneurship, employability, the market, whatever.


If you have no engagement with political economy, good luck with that, because the system wishes to reduce you to your alienated labour-power. And what is worse, it wishes to annihilate the value of that labour-power in every moment of every day, through competition with others on your administration, teaching, assessment, scholarship, research, public engagement, impact, excellence, unemployability, and it wishes to do this transnationally. It is no wonder that your physical and mental health is fragmented, commodified, made toxic.

labour increasingly struggles to be integrated into a global, alienating, social metabolic control, with ramifications for domination and subordination. Thus, a primary aim for revolutionary practice rooted in revolutionary pedagogy is not simply to overthrow capital, but to abolish it as the means of regulating society.

The critical moment for alienated academic labour, is to treat the University as context for radical research that might produce living knowledge capable of revolutionary practice at the level of society (Roggero 2011). It has no revolutionary moment beyond this position, and instead can only act for the recuperation and reproduction of the capital relation. An academic, workers’ enquiry is a departure point for enabling ‘the worker to develop the capabilities of [her] species’ (Marx 2004, p. 447), which will dissolve the capitalist mode of production inside a new, non-alienated mode.

Without such a theorisation it becomes impossible to negate the capital-relation through the expansion of the realm freedom and autonomy. Instead, the focus becomes about issues of free speech, academic autonomy, resistance to casualisation, and other tactical reforms of an otherwise brutalising system. [Revolutionary praxis] entails a focus upon the production of the self as a pedagogic moment grounded in self-mediation as the key organising principle for life.

Ibid., pp. 232, 234, 248

Merry Christmas.


Presentation on the Co-operative University and anti-technocracy

A couple of weeks ago I presented at the Contemporary Philosophy of Technology seminar series, at the University of Birmingham. My talk was on the idea/reality of the Co-operative University and anti-technocracy. The issues that I was interested in raising were as follows.

  • What is the relationship between the proposed Co-operative University and the regulatory environment predicated upon competition between providers, at the level of the individual, the subject and the institution?
  • How might the historical and material reality of co-operatives unable this relationship to be critiqued? How might the historical and material reality of co-operatives generate lessons for the Co-operative University?
  • What is the governance and management relationship between the proposed the Office for Students as the regulator, the Co-operative University, and any federated curriculum delivery organisations?
  • Is it possible to align the hopes and aspirations of the staff and students committed to the Co-operative University, who are brutalised inside the academic peloton, to the reality of an organisation that has to compromise with/exist within this competitive environment?
  • What is the role of technology in enabling such an alignment? In particular, what is the relationship between platform co-operativism and the Co-operative University?
  • How might the experiences of actually-existing co-operatives, and the example of the Co-operative University, enable us to dismantle and then abolish the University?

The slides for this are available on my SlideShare.

There is a recording over at the CPT YouTube channel. This is too depressing for me to watch, so I won’t watch it. If it’s full of factual inaccuracies let me know and I’ll make amends. Promise.


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.

 


writing about/against/beyond the alienated academic

You have to know what’s wrong before you can find what’s right

Toni Morrison. Song of Solomon.

as far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.

Carl Jung


A book against academic labour

I have just submitted my final draft of a monograph for Palgrave Macmillan, in their Marxism and Education series, entitled The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy inside the University. This book reflects my work inside and outside the University over the course of the last decade. In this time, we have witnessed the re-engineering and repurposing of higher education, and the impact this has had on academics, professional services staff and students. In part this catalysed my engagement in a range of protests and occupations in 2010-11, alongside my work in co-operatives like the Social Science Centre in Lincoln and Leicester Vaughan College, and with the Open Library of Humanities. This stitches my thinking and my practice into other co-operative movements for dignity, and against the indignity of capitalist work.

However, my thinking and my practice have also been challenged personally, through a decade-long commitment to therapy. On one level, this work represents my attempt to understand, manage and move beyond manifestations of depression and anxiety, including their displacement or appearance as overwork. On a deeper level, it has been fundamental in enabling me to understand my own essence, in terms of how and why I have, at times, been estranged from myself and the world. This book encapsulates a moment and a movement in my recovery of myself in the world.

In terms of the themes of the book, 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. As a result, it forms an attempt by me to engage with Marx’s conceptions of estrangement and alienation, in particular focused upon being and becoming, dignity and indignity, objectification and subjectivity, and the possibility for recovering autonomy.

As a result, this is not a book that describes academic life from the perspective of academic labour, in order to recover some idealised or utopian notion of the University. Rather, it is against academic labour, as a case study of the exploitation, expropriation and domination of labour by capital. Rather than reifying or attempting to recover academic labour, I attempt to situate the academic labour process, academic knowledge production, the academic self and academic communities against Marx’s conception of alienation, in order to look towards its abolition. This is influenced by Moishe Postone’s work on capital as a totality that is constituted as the automatic subject through social labour, and in particular the duality of abstract and concrete labour. This refuses the fetishised notion that labour is capital’s opposite and nemesis.


Alienated academic labour and the law of value

I am not using academic labour to critique the crisis of higher education (as a strand of the secular crisis of capital). Rather academic labour is the object of this critique, in order to work towards its abolition. Central to this is an understanding of academic labour in its relation to the structuring reality of the law of value. Understanding how value mediates social reproduction is crucial in understanding whether an alternative form of self-mediation beyond value, rooted in humane values, is possible. Here the work of István Mészáros, Peter Hudis and Simon Clarke are important in enabling me to understand the relationship between alienated labour and second-order mediations that appear to structure the world. This enables us to take a negative dialectical approach, in order to strip back the manifestations of our alienation in anxiety, ill-being, overwork and so on, and to work through their relationship to money and the market, and beyond that to the production of surplus-value, surplus populations and surplus labour, rooted in the division of labour, commodity-exchange and private property, which themselves emerge from alienated labour.


Indignation and dignity

However, in the book I am increasingly drawn towards the relationship between indignation and dignity as a response. Here, the work of John Holloway is important to me as is work around the Zapatista movement. This enables us to connect academic practice to societal, intellectual practice, including that fought for by academic and student activists in occupations and social movements. This is a key connection, and stitches my thinking into intersectional struggles for dignity. As a result, I have been trying to challenge my white, male privilege throughout the book, by connecting to a range of activists fighting for justice. These include: Sarah Amsler; Joyce Canaan; Melonie Fullick; Karen Gregory; Liz Morrish; Sara Motta; Kehinde Andrews; Sara Ahmed; Gurminder Bhambra; Kalwant Bhopal; George Ciccariello-Maher; Nathanial Tobias Coleman; Ana Dinerstein; Emma Dowling; Akwugo Emejulu; Silvia Federici; Priyamvada Gopal; bell hooks; Tressie McMillan Cottom; and Heidi Mirza.

I constantly question whether my thinking, writing and practice has done these inspirational people justice. This also forces me to question constantly my own naïveté in understanding by the positions. Attempting to connect in this way is not a moment of co-option, rather a moment of solidarity. It is an attempt to stitch my own practice into a wider tapestry of refusal, or of the indignation that emerges from capital’s subsumption of our lives and its denial of our dignity. Developing a front of understanding, rooted in a richer understanding of the differential experience of exploitation and domination, is crucial in developing empathy and solidarity, as a movement towards autonomy.


Beyond recent work on the crisis of higher education

This is important because recent work which offers a perspective on the crisis of higher education has tended to focus on the mechanics and ideological underpinnings of marketisation and financialisation, which are often in defence of the ‘public university’ or attempts to discuss public funding, regulation and governance. In general, these focus upon the education sector of the economy, the HE sector as a whole, or make the University the unit of analysis, and several focus on the mechanics or roll-out of neoliberalism. However, there are few books that focus on the academic and her labour as the unit of analysis, and none that do so in the context of the critical terrain of alienation.

Thus, I use a critical social theory of alienation (which has a rich analytical tradition that serves as a heuristic for critiquing academic identity and academic labour). This is a way into a discussion of the abolition of academic labour and the role of public intellectuals in the generation of mass intellectuality, and is framed by the work of Mark Cowling, John Holloway, Peter Hudis, Marcello Musto, Sean Sayers, and Amy Wendling, among others.


The structure of the book

The argument is broken down into three sections and nine chapters. These are as follows (with chapter abstracts).

Chapter 1: Awakenings (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter scopes and situates academic work against the key themes that underpin that work as alienating practice. It begins by addressing how the idea of academic labour as privilege blinds its practitioners to their estrangement from the products and process of work, alongside the relationships that emerge there, both in terms of the self and with peers. The chapter argues that academic being and becoming is stunted through the divorce of the academic from her labour, which is then overlain by a series of fetishes, including the student experience and ideas of educational value-for-money. This emerges from alienated labour, which is itself hidden by second-order mediations like private property, commodity exchange and the division of labour. This catalyses processes of proletarianisation through commodification, which are addressed in relation to the extant literature on the crisis of academic work.

Section 1: the terrain of academic labour

Chapter 2: Crisis (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter details the mechanisms through which the secular crisis of capitalism is restructuring academic labour. This is in terms of policy that shapes a competitive environment, the financialisation of academic work through student debt, bond markets and so on, and through the commodification and marketisation of the outputs of academic work. Here, I describe how the incorporation of academic labour into the self-valorisation process of capital through research and pedagogic innovation enables a critique of the proletarianisation of the University.

Chapter 3: Alienation (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter situates Marx’s analysis of estrangement, alienation, fetishisation and reification against academic labour. It does this through a focus on the activity of production, in its relationship to material and philosophical conceptualisations. As a result, a dialectical understanding of the layers of objectification, separation, mediation and identity-development emerges. This categorical analysis enables an unfolding of capitalism’s mode of social metabolic control, and its relationship to individual essence, human capital theory, and the reality of being othered or negated inside the system. This develops an analysis of the expanding circuit of alienation (A-A’), and the potential for its overcoming through a focus on the richness of human experience.

Section 2: the terrain of academic alienation

Chapter 4: Knowledge (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter analyses the alienation of the products of the academic’s labour, as teaching or research, which are commodified and marketised for their exchange-value rather than their social utility. This is related to the competitive restructuring processes of research and teaching impact measures. Critical here is a connection to the internalisation by the academic of the disciplinary force of performance management, in the production, ownership and distribution of the products of academic labour. Marx’s conception of the general intellect as a form of alien knowledge and property, and its relationship to the separation of subject curricula and research, is important in describing capitalism as a naturalised system. Here the relationship between subjectivity and objectification, use and exchange, and the potential for new forms of humanism related to the functions of academic knowledge are developed.

Chapter 5: Profession (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter frames a discussion of whether it is possible for academics to move beyond fetishing their own labour-power as privileged. I ask whether it is possible to reflect at a social-level on the alienation of academic labour-power in terms of the alienation of labour-power in general? The chapter focuses upon the mediated conditions of work, in order to unpick the proletarianisation of academic labour-power. As a result, it becomes possible to describe the autonomy of capital as opposed to labour, and to uncover its ideological basis.

Chapter 6: Weltschmerz (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter develops the alienation of the academic from herself, as she is increasingly made and re-made as an academic entrepreneur whose labour only has worth where it is value. As a result, the internalisation of specific behaviours that are disciplinary becomes a key outcome for the system of production, with concomitant manifestations of physical and psychological distress. Here ideas of anti-humanism and dehumanism, linked to melancholy, anxiety and ill-being are analysed in relation to the proletarianisation of the University as an anxiety machine. The chapter addresses how formal and real subsumption, in terms of the re-engineering of the governance of higher education and the reproduction of academic labour in the name of value, feed off and into alienation.

Chapter 7: Identity (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter address the alienation of the academic from her species through the iron law of competition, reinforced through global academic labour arbitrage, research and teaching metrics, and performance management. The argument connects academic labour to the hierarchical, globalised forces of production that shape capitalist social relations, in order to discuss the form and the organising principles under which academic labour is subsumed for value. The chapter argues that academics have a tendency to reify their own labour such that it becomes something that they struggle for, rather than against. However, repeatedly adopting this approach can only lead to a sense of helplessness and alienation from other forms of globalised labour. By refocusing on the form of labour in general, rather than the specific content of academic labour, it becomes possible to move beyond reification towards struggle.

Section 3: the terrain for overcoming alienation

Chapter 8: Indignation (structure here)

Abstract

This chapter focuses upon the role of intellectual labour in a range of transnational struggles for an alternative form of social metabolic control. Pivoting around counter-hegemony and anti-power, the focus is upon the movement of dignity in the development of revolutionary subjectivity. This chapter discusses the possibilities for autonomous action by academics, which in-turn demonstrates solidarity or association with a range of struggles against labour.

Chapter 9: Autonomy (structure here)

Abstract

In this chapter, autonomy is critiqued in light of the duality that: first, capital is the automatic subject searching to secure permanent self-valorisation; and second, that our search for autonomy-beyond-labour is the crisis of capital. This struggle pivots around emancipation from labour, and for self-mediation as the key organising principle for life. The chapter focuses on the role of academic work and intellectual labour in developing the realm of autonomy/freedom and reducing the realm of heteronomy/necessity. Here there is a focus upon the richness of human life and the development of alternative forms of social metabolic control. The argument regards alienation and its revelation as a necessity in the transformation to life under communism. Thus, the chapter discusses the potential for the social, collectivised use of academic labour, through the liberation of socialised skills, practices and knowledge from inside the University.


The process of writing as a movement of becoming

The process of writing the book demonstrated to me how far I have come from my PhD, undertaken back when Methuselah was a boy. A year of reading about: academic labour; the labour theory of value; alienation in Marx and Hegel; academic knowledge production and the academic labour process; academic identity and academic being/becoming; and intersectional analyses of labour and the academic experience. This year of reading was distilled down into 300 pages of notes, on top of my already existing, published work on alienation and mass intellectuality. One crucial angle to this was to reflect on my reading through a series of conversations with academics about injustices rooted in (dis)ability, gender, race and sexuality.

This was then distilled down into the nine chapters. I was originally going to have eight, with the last two stitched together. However, I wanted to push myself beyond my usual focus upon explaining (and obsessing about) the crisis through negative critique, and instead to focus upon the possibilities for an alternative mode of becoming rooted in a movement of dignity pointing towards autonomy.

Structuring and restructuring the chapters took a month and underpinned a writing process that mirrored my PhD process – effectively hoover up as much research and reading as possible, structure the notes very closely into a potential argument that speaks to my soul, and then write obsessively. This meant that each chapter was written in around a week, beginning at the start of January. Since then I have written 70,000 words, with two re-drafts/re-readings. In part, using Dragon Naturally Speaking to write/speak/dictate the book has altered the process.

In this moment, I have had to think long and hard about self-care, in the balance between writing and life, and between work and life. Walking and music have been crucial to me.

The scariest moment has been in asking people I trust, including a couple of people I have not met but whose expertise and way of being in the world is an inspiration, to read and provide feedback. This is a moment of high anxiety, to the extent that I tweeted:

You know that moment when you decide to send something to someone who you really admire to read/comment on, when you feel you aren’t fit to lace their boots (professionally)? And that gut-wrenching anxiety? Well that.

This is a moment of baring my soul, of extreme vulnerability, of hope and the fear of despair. As much as I try to sublimate the fear of despair, it often ruptures my being. However, it is important to note that whilst researching and writing I have come off anti-depressants and begun the process of leaving therapy. This is a moment of taking ownership of my life – a movement for autonomy.

It is also important to note that this has happened whilst holding down my role at work, and also attempting to support those leading the Leicester Vaughan College project. This has meant having to work weekends and evenings – there is a conversation here about whether this says something about my estrangement from my wider life. It clearly says something about the integration of my work with my life; the integration of my thinking about my life beyond my labour.

In many respects this has also been a very difficult time for me, and my thinking around alienation has been reflected in my everyday life. A friend asked me what I would do once the book was submitted, given that it has taken up so much of my existence and helped me to redefine myself. She acknowledged that it had helped me to work through and beyond some difficulties, and that it had also served as a distraction. She is right that there is a moment of grief in its submission, and one that mirrors the loss involved in leaving therapy. A loss of the self and my relationship to a fetishised or reified other, to which I have projected bits of myself. However, through this mirroring, there is also a moment of reclamation – of reclaiming my life, potentially with a renewed way of examining it, and the ability to move beyond those things that we fetishise in the world.

A moment of pointing towards values rather than value. This is the real movement.


Music

In the process of writing the book, I have obsessively listened to the following whilst writing and walking and thinking. Maybe they tell us something about the contours of the book.

  1. Mogwai: Every Country’s Sun.
  2. Mogwai: Quay Sessions.
  3. Everything Everything: Night of the Long Knives.
  4. King Creosote: Astroman Meets Appleman.
  5. King Creosote: Diamond Mine.
  6. Jen Cloher: Jen Cloher.
  7. Sharon Van Etten: Glastonbury 2015.
  8. Wild Beasts: Smother.
  9. Wild Beasts: Two Dancers.
  10. Joe Goddard: Electric Lines.
  11. Public Service Broadcasting: Every Valley.
  12. Phoenix: lollapalooza 2013.
  13. This Is The Kit: Moonshine Freeze.
  14. This Is The Kit: Where It Lives.
  15. Sampha: Process.
  16. Shostakovich: symphonies number five, seven and nine.
  17. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie and Lowell live.
  18. Bon Iver: live on NPR.
  19. Hot Chip: live at Pitchfork, Paris.