Technology and co-operative practice against the neoliberal university

I’m presenting at the CAPPE Neoliberalism and Everyday Life conference on Thursday in Brighton, on Technology and co-operative practice against the neoliberal university. My slides are available here. I will be arguing three points.

ONE. Technology reveals an entrepreneurial reconfiguring of the idea of the University, which is increasingly witnessed in/catalysed by the policy/practice statements of politicians like David Willetts and Liam Byrne. The roll-out of innovations like the FEER amplify this narrative. However, critiques of the pedagogic pathology of entrepreneurialism are emerging (e.g. in Will Davies’ new book on the Limits of Neoliberalism), related to the expansion of the market and the use of debt to foreclose on the future. These critiques force us to question the ways in which entrepreneurial techniques are being used to recalibrate the University and the relationships between students/staff and students/debt, as higher education is restructured for value. Moreover, they reveal a deeper relationship between transnational frameworks, technology and higher education.

TWO. Technology is a crack through which we might analyse the interests that drive value production and accumulation, and their relation to power. Technology is one mechanism for managing the structural crisis of capitalism by opening the public sector to capital accumulation on a global terrain and across time. It also enables labour arbitrage to take place on that same scale, catalysed by transnational activist networks. Technological innovations might usefully be seen as responses to: lower levels of profitability across global capitalism; increasing global, educational consumption; and making previously marginal (and public) sectors of the economy explicitly productive. Technological innovation is therefore: a way of leveraging the ratio of the total surplus-value produced in society to the total capital invested; a mechanism for the redistribution of surplus value from businesses that produce commodities or services like universities to those that market them or that lend money to make academic labour productive; a way of revolutionising the means of production.

NOTE: it is important to see technological change is the result of social forces in struggle and the need to overcome the temporal and spatial barriers to accumulation. This needs to be seen in terms of the production and accumulation of value in order to reproduce power-over the world. This is the power of transnational capitalism over the objective material reality of life, and which is reinforced technologically and pedagogically. To argue for emancipation through technological innovation is to fetishise technology and to misunderstand how technology is shaped by the clash of social forces and the desire of capital to escape the barriers imposed by labour.

THREE. What is to be done? A re-imagination based on mass intellectuality and open co-operativism. Here I ask Inside the University, can educational technology be (ref)used politically to recompose the realities of global struggles for emancipation, rather than for value? Is there a co-operative crack through which “mass intellectuality” might be liberated or emerge? I look to some of the work that Joss Winn and I have done on open co-operativism and mass intellectuality to suggest the following discussion points for the co-operative, public university as an associational network.

  • Can the co-operative, public university be configured along the lines of the democratic governance and regulation of transnational worker co-operatives?
  • Can the co-operative, public university connect to the circuits of p2p production and distribution?
  • Can the co-operative, public university reflect the open, democratic, autonomous, social focus of co-operatives?
  • Can the co-operative, public university define a framework for the common ownership of products, assets and commodities?
  • Can the co-operative, public university represent a reclamation of public environments for the globalised, socialised dissemination of knowledge (e.g. copyfarleft)?
  • Can the co-operative, public university help to connect a global set of educational commons rooted in critical pedagogy?
  • Can the co-operative, public university be based on Winn’s ideas of conversion, dissolution or creation, as a transitional and pedagogic project?

Friction! co-operation and technology in the neoliberal university

On Thursday I’m presenting at Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistance at the University of Nottingham. I’ll be speaking about co-operation and technology in the neoliberal university. The abstract is appended below and the slides are here.

Abstract

In the Grundrisse, Marx argued that the circulation of productive capital was “a process of transformation, a qualitative process of value”. As capitalists sought to overcome the barriers to this transformatory process, they worked to revolutionise both the means of production via organisational and technological change, and circulation time via transportation and communication changes. Reducing friction in the production and circulation of capital is critical to the extraction of surplus value, and Marx argued that in this transformation “Capital by its nature drives beyond every spatial barrier [and]… the annihilation of space by time – becomes an extraordinary necessity for it.”

Higher education is increasingly a space which is being recalibrated so as to reduce friction and thereby to increase the mobility or fluidity of intellectual production and circulation. Thus, technology, technical services and techniques are deployed to collapse the interfaces between geography, space and time. However, this collapse also reveals the stresses and strains of antagonisms, as the friction of neoliberal higher education reform deforms existing cultures and histories. It also points to alternatives like those emerging from analyses of the Chilean CyberSyn project or the Ecuadorian National Plan for Good Living.

This paper argues that inside the University, the deployment of technologies, technical services and techniques enables education to be co-opted as an institutional means for production and control. As a result, academics and students are defined as entrepreneurial subjects. A question is the extent to which the friction that emerges from this neoliberal pedagogic project can be used to describe alternatives, and whether in the process it is possible to uncover ways in which education might be used for co-operation rather than competition, as a form of resistance.


The implications of Autonomist Marxism for research and practice in education and technology

I have a new article out in Learning, Media and Technology, with the fun title of “The implications of Autonomist Marxism for research and practice in education and technology”. The article is available (if you subscribe) here. Sadly, the article is only available behind a paywall, although there are 50 free copies here. I was approached by the editor to write a theoretical piece for Learning, Media and Technology. I accepted because that is the kind of thing that academics do. Martin Weller writes critically about open access and open scholarship. Wherever possible I will try to find ways to publish openly, as I did with this article on digital literacy.

The abstract is appended below.

Abstract

This article considers the relevance of Autonomist Marxism for both research and practice in education and technology. The article situates the Autonomist perspective against that of traditional Marxist thought – illustrating how certain core Autonomist concepts enable a critical reading of developments in information and communication technology. These include notions of the ‘social factory’, ‘immaterial labour’ and ‘cognitive capital’, the ‘general intellect’ and ‘mass intellectuality’, and the ‘cybernetic hypothesis’. It is argued that these perspectives are particularly useful in enabling a critique of the place of education and technology inside the circuits and cycles of globalised capitalism. The Autonomist approach can be criticised – not least for its apparent network-centrism and its disconnection from the hierarchical, globalised forces of production. Nevertheless, this position offers a powerful ‘way in’ to understanding education and technology as key sites of struggle. It lays bare the mechanisms through which technology-rich educational settings are co-opted for work, while also suggesting possibilities for pushing back against the subsumption of contemporary education for capitalist work.


on digital literacy, use value and alienation

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

The abstract goes as follows.

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

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

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

ONE. On digital and democratic literacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Bauwens and Franco Iacomella argue that:

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

They see this produced through

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

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

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

TWO. On digital literacy and technological alienation

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

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

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

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

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

Marx (p. 324) argued that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Technology and co-operative practice against the neoliberal university

I’m presenting at the the CAPPE Neoliberalism and Everyday Life conference next September, at the University of Brighton. My abstract is below.

Abstract: Neoliberalism is a global pedagogical project aimed at the dispossession of free time so that all of life becomes productive, and education is a central institutional means for its realisation. This project aims at marketising all of social life, so that life becomes predicated upon the extraction of value. In part the deployment of technologies, technical services and techniques enables education to be co-opted as an institutional means for production and control. This occurs inside both formal and informal educational institutions and spaces, like universities and MOOCs, as one mechanism to offset the tendency for the rate of profit to fall and to re-establish accumulation. This pedagogic project also tends to recalibrate and enclose the roles of staff and students as entrepreneurial subjects, whose labour is enabled through technology. This is achieved through learning analytics, big data, mobility and flexibility of provision, and so on. This paper will analyse the relationships between technology, pedagogy and the critical subject in the neoliberal University, in order to argue for the use of technology inside a co-operative pedagogy of struggle. This demands that we ask what education is, before we ask what it is for, or the place of technology-enhanced learning in the university. The article considers whether it is possible to uncover stories of how and where education might be used for co-operation rather than competition, and what technology-enhanced co-operative education might look like?


On circuits of affect and resistance

This post was written whilst listening to LCD Soundsystem’s last concert at Madison Square Garden.

ONE. Circuits of affect and resistance

Yesterday I attended an ESRC seminar series on Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights. The seminar was on Affective Digital Economy: Intimacy, Identity and Networked Realities. One of the key points that emerged from the day was the need to reconnect a political critique into the lived realities of social spaces like the Allsorts Youth Project, or in work related to transnational communications amongst a diaspora, or where we are thinking about the relationships between spaces, surveillance and mental health. In particular the event had me considering how we abstract the specificities of our individual or community-based struggles, in order:

  1. To find sites of solidarity that enable us to push back against the alienation of capitalist work and the marginalisation or labelling of our identities;
  2. To recognise how we might resist capital as the automatic subject, from the standpoint of labour;
  3. To understand and analyse the relationships between affects, cognition and kinaesthetics, and how they are captured and then subsumed under the circuit of production.

One outcome of this is the extent to which we might see the social circuits of affect or emotion, not as a means for converting immaterial labour into the commodity form, but as a mechanism for refusing and then interrupting the circuits of production, commodity or money capital. This might be done by revealing our systemic alienation from the products of our labour, from our labour itself, from ourselves and from our species-being. Or it might be done by opening-out spaces for sharing rather than trading, and for use-value rather than exchange-value. Or it might be done by redefining the organising principles on which technological systems, technologies and data are used, so that they are co-operative rather than marketised and securitised. Or resistance and pushing-back might be something else entirely.

TWO. Some notes on affect, immaterial labour and cognitive capital

One of the points of contention during the day was whether affect or emotion was a commodity or could be commodified. From my perspective, there was a large amount of confusion around this point, and it connects affect, cognitive capital and immaterial labour. For Beradi, a focus on affect or emotion reveals the mechanisms through which the human soul is commodified through data, databases, being always-on, perceived speed-up, network-centrism and so on, and can thereby be put to work. In this Autonomist tradition, the autonomy or ability of globalised labour to develop its own self-awareness and to utilise technology to act for-itself is critical. Thus, feeling is critical. Here there is no outside of capitalism, and overcoming the alienation of capitalist work demands mechanisms that push back against it, and structures that are beyond its value-form. This idea of negating capital from the point-of-view of the working class as revolutionary social subject is revealed in the epithet in-against-beyond, and predicates critiques of the structures that reproduce capitalism’s domination, like the State and its educational institutions. It is important to recognise that in this view capital needs labour in order to be valorised, but labour does not need capital and is therefore potentially autonomous. This self-awareness or subjectivity is not automatic and demands a co-operative species-being that is cognitively, affectively and kinaesthetically aware.

In classical Marxism, material production forms the basis of all social life and drives the objective history of capitalist social relations. However, radical shifts in technology are important because they revolutionise the valorisation process. For Marx, the magnitude of the value of labour is driven by the labour-time that is socially necessary to produce a specific commodity ‘under the conditions of production normal for a given society and with the average degree of skill and intensity of labour prevalent in that society’ (Marx 2004, p. 129). Thus, academic labour is particularly valuable as a result of the amount of socially-necessary labour-time embedded in its products, which integrate specialised cognitive and material means of production. This promises the capitalist high rates of surplus value extraction or rental income from patents or licenses. However, the people and skills that support such high-end commodity capitalism, are both menial and leverage, and can be made precarious or be outsourced. One outcome of this cognitive work is a view that the material, objective world is replaced by a subjective immateriality that is increasingly inscribed digitally, and which suggests a limitless expansion of the system across the social factory.

Therefore, inside education a focus on immateriality encourages an analysis of the struggle between labour and capital in the creation and commodification of what is termed cognitive capital. Technology is a critical force in the production and accumulation of cognitive capital because it as Žižek notes, it ‘reduces everything to functions and raw materials’, with the result that individual emotions and affects, cultural cues and mores, and the construction of the relations between individuals ‘are themselves the very material of our everyday exploitation’. Educational contexts are vital in enabling capital to find circuits for extracting value from socio-emotional or personalised learning, using technologies like smartphones or personal learning networks. These mechanisms enable capital to enclose and commodify an increasingly fluid and identity-driven set of social relations, which themselves form the basis of further exchange. These processes of exchange are catalysed by, for example, the sharing of personal information on cloud-based social networks that can be aggregated and data-mined. Thus, all activity or work inside the social factory, including the processes of learning serve as the basis for developing new services and applications. For Beradi (2009, p. 90) this construct emerges across the length, breadth and depth of cyberspace from the immaterial labour of knowledge-workers who

move to find signs, to elaborate experience, or simply to follow the paths of their existence. But at every moment and place they are reachable and can be called back to perform a productive function that will be reinserted into the global cycle of production. In a certain sense, cellular phones realize the dream of capital: that of absorbing every possible atom of time at the exact moment the productive cycle needs it. In this way, workers offer their entire day to capital and are paid only for the moments when their time is made cellular. Info-producers can be seen as neuro-workers. They prepare their nervous system as an active receiving terminal for as much time as possible. The entire lived day becomes subject to a semiotic activation which becomes directly productive only when necessary.

In this view, social relations are increasingly structured by technically-mediated organisations like schools and the University, which then re-inscribe socio-political hierarchies that are increasingly technological, coercive and exploitative. This coercive and exploitative set of characteristics is driven by the competitive dynamics of capitalism, and especially the ways in which the socially necessary character of the labour-power expended in producing a particular commodity or innovation or technology is diminished over-time. This reduces the value of knowledge and specific immaterial skills in the market, resulting in a persistent demand to innovate, to become entrepreneurial or to hold and manage proprietary or creative skills.

Thus, constant innovation becomes a central pedagogic project, for instance in: monitoring and stimulating cognition through pervasive technology and mobility; enforcing private property rights through intellectual property and patent law so that a knowledge-rent economy can take hold; opening-up public data and knowledge so that new cloud-based services based on learning analytics can be developed and marketised; amplifying innovations around internationalisation like MOOCs and open educational resources so that world markets of consumption and production of commodities and cognitive capital are opened-up; and organising, disciplining and exploiting an immaterial workforce, orcognitariat’. This is a terrain of conflict, especially as the processes that deliver cognitive capital involve the development of cyborgs or the fusing of objectivised, fixed machinery and human subjects. Instead of the promised technologically-fuelled reduction in toil and labour-time, technology ‘suffers a dialectical inversion and becomes the most unfailing means for turning the whole lifetime of the worker and his family into labour-time at capital’s disposal for its own valorisation’ (Marx, 1993, p. 532).

In the Autonomist tradition, the concept of immateriality is tied to the production of living knowledge, or the general intellect, which offers a theoretical tool to analyse the transformation of labour and knowledge production through the integration of science and technology across society. Thus, it is important that the immaterial world of capital, in which it is believed that accumulation can occur without material production, is inverted so that the fetishised myth of technology as the creator of value is replaced by an analysis of co-operative, socialised labour-power. This can be revealed through a critique of Marx’s (1993) concept of the general intellect, inside-and-against a networked, globalised production/consumption process, as it emerges as mass intellectuality.

THREE. Some criticisms of immateriality or affective capital

Criticisms of Autonomist Marxism have focused on its apparent network-centrism and its concomitant disconnection from the hierarchical, globalised forces of production that shape our objective social reality. The same is also true of those who would make claims for affect or emotion as commodity, or themselves as the source of value (see below Camfield, 2007; Davies, 2011; Robinson, 2004). In particular, there is a tendency to forget the realities of privatisation and outsourcing to the global South, and for the accumulation of natural resources, like rare earth metals, oil and coal, and human capital from that same space, alongside cataclysmic environmental despoilation. Thus, as Camfield (2007, p. 31) argues

biopolitical labour… fails to make distinctions between the different forms of production involved in the production of all that falls within the scope of ‘social life itself ’. In a highly abstract sense, it is possible to talk of labour producing goods, services, social relations, and human subjectivities. Yet it is essential to be able to distinguish the production of ourselves as human subjects through our relationships with nature and each other in determinate socio-material conditions and particular historical moments from the production by humans of, say, microprocessors. Very different kinds of production processes and products are involved. Labour is at the heart of them all, but at different levels of abstraction and in different social forms.

Moreover, entrepreneurial education and the promise of technology in the global North support precarious work and hyper-exploitation for those without proprietary skills, alongside reinforcing transnational hierarchies. Thus King (2010, p. 287) notes that ‘From a structural perspective, even with the transformative powers of digital technology, we are not moving into a post-capitalist age. The fundamental property relationships that underpin the class structure remain intact and have sharply intensified.’ The question is whether and how the connections between sites of exploitation including education and technology can be made.

What might be noted of the Autonomist approach is that its broader categories enable a critique of capitalist work in the networked society, which point to how the whole of human life is systemically enclosed and mined for new services. The connections between immaterial or affective labour in the production of cognitive capital, and their connections to the broadening and deepening of the accumulation of value across the whole of society restructured as a factory, point towards the mechanisms through which technology-rich educational settings are co-opted for work.

When we use the term capital, we might reflect on how it is not only value-in-motion, but also an alienating social relation based on specific, totalising organising principles that are themselves coercive. Any notion of choice, ethics, morals, identity, empowerment, agency and so on, can only emerge as objectified or alienated inside and subjugated through this totality. So affective capital points to asymmetrical power relations, separation, alienated labour and being, and fetishized relations. For example, for a community forced out of its homeland by war, that maintains contact via a synchronous technology like skype, we might ask how they and those of us who tolerate this state-of-being are alienated at each point by capital: in the geographical struggles for means of production that drive war; in the struggle for self-worth and betterment that force us to migrate to earn a wage to subsist; in the promise of a better life that can only exist as capitalist work and the entrepreneurial or neoliberal self; in the fetish of familial or communal connection through the use of technology. In each case, those communities are separated from the land, from their labour, from their society and ultimately from themselves.

One problem of the use of terms like affective capital is that it risks reducing people to human capital or means of production, which are themselves dehumanising. We risk accepting our alienation through its temporary and marginal technological amelioration. Perhaps what is needed is a critique of the forms of political economy/political debate/politics of austerity/war that force us to view human lives and society as restricted by the idea of economic/exchange value. What is certainly needed is a recognition that the forces of production across capitalist society, which are increasingly restructuring all of life as means of production, are also increasingly ranged asymmetrically against the everyday experiences of young people. The question for academics is how to support both critique and the development/nurturing of alternative forms of society that in-turn push-back against the neoliberal agenda that commodifies humanity, including through the co-option and subsumption of affect or emotion or “the subject”.

FOUR. Some references on Autonomia or affect or immateriality

Amsler, S., and M. Neary. 2012. Occupy: a new pedagogy of space and time? The Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies 10, no. 2: 106-38.

Arviddson, A. 2007. Ethical Economy. P2P News 156. http://integralvisioning.org/article.php?story=p2p156.

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

Bonefeld, W. 2010. What is the alternative? Shift Magazine 11. http://shiftmag.co.uk/?p=400.

Burston, J., N. Dyer-Witheford, and A. Hearn. 2010. Digital labour: Workers, authors, citizens. ephemera 10, no. 3/4: 214-221

Camfield, D. 2007. The Multitude and the Kangaroo: A Critique of Hardt and Negri’s Theory of Immaterial Labour. Historical Materialism 15: 21-52.

Casarino, C. and A. Negri. 2008. In Praise of the Common: a conversation on philosophy and politics. Minneapolis, MI: University of Minnesota Press.

Cleaver, H. 1992. The Inversion of Class Perspective in Marxian Theory: From Valorisation to Self-Valorisation. In Open Marxism, Vol. 2, Theory and Practice, ed. W. Bonefeld, R. Gunn, and K. Psychopedis, 106-44. London: Pluto Press.

Cleaver, H. 2002. Reading capital politically. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Davies, J.S. 2011. Challenging Governance Theory: From Networks to Hegemony. London: Policy Press.

Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari. 1983. Anti-Oedipus. London: Penguin.

Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus. London: Continuum.

Dyer-Witheford, N. 1999. Cyber-Marx: cycles and circuits of struggle in high-technology capitalism. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Dyer-Witheford, N. 2004. Autonomist Marxism and the Information Society. Canberra: Treason Press. http://libcom.org/library/autonomist-marxism-information-society-nick-witheford.

Dyer-Witheford, N. 2010. Digital labour, species-becoming and the global worker. ephemera 10, no. 3/4: 484-503.

Dyer-Witheford, N., and G. de Peuter. 2009. Games of empire: global capitalism and video games. Minnesota, MI: University of Minnesota Press.

EduFactory (2013). EduFactory. http://www.edu-factory.org/wp/.

Foucault, M. 1977. Discipline and Punish. New York: Pantheon.

Foucault, M. 1990. The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon.

Guattari, F., and A. Negri. 1985. Communists Like Us: New Spaces of Liberty, New Lines of Alliance. New York, NY: Semiotext(e).

Hall, R., and B.C. Stahl. 2012. Against Commodification: The University, Cognitive Capitalism and Emergent Technologies. tripleC: Cognition, Communication and Co-operation 10, no. 2: 184-202.

Hardt, M., and A. Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hardt, M., and A. Negri. 2004 Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. London: Penguin.

Holloway, J. 2002. Change the World Without Taking Power. London: Pluto Press.

King, B. On the new dignity of labour. ephemera 10, no. 3/4: 285-302.

The London Edinburgh Weekend Return Group. 1980. In and against the state. London: Pluto Press.

Marazzi. 2008. Capital And Language: From the New Economy to the War Economy. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext.

Manzerolle, V. 2010. The Virtual Debt Factory: Towards an Analysis of Debt and Abstraction in the American Credit Crisis. tripleC: Cognition, Communication and Co-operation 10, no. 2: 221-36.

Marx, K. 1993. Grundrisse. Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin.

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. 2010. Student as producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde? Learning Exchange, 1 (1). http://learningexchange.westminster.ac.uk/index.php/lej/article/view/15.

Neary, M. 2012. Teaching Politically: Policy, Pedagogy and the New European University. The Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies 10, no. 2: 233-57.

Negri, A. 1988. Revolution Retrieved: Selected Writings on Marx, Keynes, Capitalist Crisis and New Social Subjects, 1967-83, trans. E. Emery and J. Merrington. London: Red Notes.

Negri, A. 1989. The Politics of Subversion: A Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Negri, A. 1991. Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse. New York, NY: Autonomedia.

Newfield, C. 2010. The structure and silence of Cognitariat. EduFactory webjournal 0: 10-26. http://www.edu-factory.org/edu15/webjournal/n0/Newfield.pdf.

Novara Media. 2013. Immaterial Labour Isn’t Working. NovaraFM 2 (38). http://novaramedia.com/2013/04/immaterial-labour-isnt-working/.

Robinson, W.I. 2004. A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World. Baltimore, MA: John Hopkins University Press.

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.

Thorburn, E. 2012. Actually Existing Autonomy and the Brave New World of Higher Education. Occupied Studies. http://bit.ly/xzcPRO.

Tiqqun. 2001. The Cybernetic Hypothesis. http://bit.ly/mTWhMI.

Tronti, M. 1971. Operai e Capitale. Einaudi: Turin.

Tronti, M. 1979, Lenin in England. Red Notes Working Class. Autonomy and the Crisis. London: Red Notes.

Vercellone, C. 2007. From Formal Subsumption to General Intellect. Historical Materialism 15: 13-36

Virno, P. 2001. General Intellect. http://www.generation-online.org/p/fpvirno10.htm.

Virno, P. 2004. A Grammar of the Multitude. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e).

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

Winn, J. 2012. Open Education: From the Freedom of Things to the Freedom of People. In Towards Teaching in Public, ed. M. Neary, H. Stevenson, and L. Bell, 133-47. London: Continuum.

Winn, J. 2013. Tag Archive: Immaterial Labour. http://josswinn.org/tag/immaterial-labour/.


On Autonomist Marxism and the affective economy

I’m speaking on 29th November at an ESRC seminar series on Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights. The seminar is on Affective Digital Economy: Intimacy, Identity and Networked Realities.

Whilst Josie Fraser will be speaking about our Digital Literacy Leicester Framework Project, I will briefly develop a critique rooted in political economy. My own thinking in this area is derived from a reflection on the autonomist Marxist position that relates the affective domain and network governance to core concepts of the social factory, immaterial labour and cognitive capital, the general intellect and mass intellectuality, and the cybernetic hypothesis. I am interested in how these concepts enable a critical reading of socio-economic developments in information and communication technology. This is particularly important in enabling a critique of the place of education and technology inside the circuits and cycles of globalised capitalism, which is too easily defined as frictionless and networked in the face of the hegemonic realities of hierarchical, transnational forces of production. So my take is that we might use these categories of affective labour etc. to critique how technology-rich educational settings are co-opted for work, in order that possibilities for pushing back against the subsumption of life for capitalist work might be developed.

The seminar offers a space to discuss this theoretical framework/the development of alternatives in the context of the following two questions:

*  Who are the major actors currently shaping this economy and how?
*  What are the major dangers and risks in affective digital economy?

This is especially so in the context of the intention of the ESRC seminar series that: “At this moment of potentially profound changes in policy and practice, it is crucial to bring together actors with contrasting interests and perspectives to help inform and stimulate further debate and research.”

NOTE: the Occupied Times provides quite a nice description of how our consumption of technologies, and our disengagement or anaesthetised view of them as empowering, is totally disconnected from the material realities of their production. So our circuit in space-time of the consumption of technologies and the affective production of digital artefacts, fails to connect or recognise the everyday realities of the appropriation of lives and livelihoods that exists either in the mines that produce the raw materials (Tin, Coltan etc.) that go into our consumer technologies or the factories that build them. The clean outer shells of our hardware and software tools distance us from the immiseration of other human beings and forms a layer of false consciousness. Beneath the cloud and inside the tablet lies a proletarianised hell, reinforced with every click.

For the citizen and end-user, the experience of technology throughout post-WWII decades has been one of increasing degrees of separation between the internal blood and guts of the machine – from hardware to code – and the soft, alluring outer shell of the commodity form. All the traces of isolation and alienation that stem from this formula place an increasing number of steps between the immediate sensory encounter and the reality of the machine.

To catch a glimpse of the world removed at the heart of this machine, consider this century’s resources warfare in Congo. With the tech sector operating on the back of corporate appetite, the pressure to produce is carried from the drawing boards of Silicon valleys to the point of production’s material origin. In Congo, where demand for hi-tech device resources such as Tantalum has escalated in recent years beyond the capacity to supply, this pressure has only served to fuel the wider conflict over the control and appropriation of these resources. This situation is estimated to have claimed the lives of more than 5 million people, making it the world’s deadliest conflict since the second world war.

Here we can trace commodified communications technology born from the arse-end of violence to the mouth of your receiver. From ass to mouth – the food chain of 21st century technology production crosses gulfs, from violence to exploitation, until reaching civility; a history revealed only through the will to examine the world beneath the shimmering electronic propaganda of the new Samsung or Apple device.

We find ourselves removed from the very tools we use, encountering an unarticulated domain between production and use. The space-time contours of everyday social life are dramatically revised. This is especially true in our use of technology and how we mediate our relationships with the ‘real world’, as it becomes harder and harder to define and separate our technological identities from the idea that we also exist ‘in real life’. Our agency, as political beings, flows in between these spaces; interacting and composing itself from the vast caches of information that circulate on the network while at the same time being coerced by the near-universal grammar of our state of technology.


Critical perspectives on educational technology: some notes

Yesterday’s symposium on critical perspectives on educational technology made me think about the following issues.

FIRST. How do we understand the structuring effects of the educational and pedagogic structures in which we work? How do we understand the ways in which those structures prefigure the impact or effects of any intervention? How do we understand how the very structures in which we are hoping to promote or provoke transformation, in themselves work to restrict, discipline or kettle transformation. How do we move beyond the problem-solving perspective of educational innovation, in order to situate the use of educational technology inside transnational systems of domination?

SECOND. How do we understand how such transformation is itself kettled by the circuits of capital? In particular how do we understand the mechanisms through which our lived educational work falls under the treadmill logic of accumulation and the rate of profit? How do we work to understand how Capital as the automatic subject structures our struggle for emancipation or transformation? How do we work to describe and then to critique that struggle?

THIRD. If we are defining something, some intervention, or some innovation as valuable, then we need to describe and discuss what valuable/value means. Inside capitalism value has a specific description and sets of precepts that flow from it. Moreover it is dynamic and fluid. Capital is value in motion. So can we describe something else that is a different type of value? Can we do this based on co-operation or co-operative or social practice(s)?

FOURTH. Keith Turvey made me think about the ways in which commodities like a book of logarithm tables might be inscribed with historical meaning and social value, and how those shared commodities might be used as points of solidarity in describing the world. Through a process of participatory narrative design (of practices, knowledges and skills) we might define something that is spatially or socially or historically different. More importantly we might use specific commodities to explode the relationships and conceptions and organising principles that are congealed in them. So how might we disassemble a tablet or piece of software or network, to look at the labour and human rights revealed inside it/them? How might we look at how their production and consumption processes place us in-and-against nature? We need to analyse specific technologies in light of David Harvey’s re-reading of footnote 4 of Chapter 15 of Volume 1 of Capital. He argues that they reveal the following.

  1. Technological and organisational forms of production, exchange and consumption.
  2. Relations to nature and the environment.
  3. Social relations between people.
  4. Mental conceptions of the world, embracing knowledges and cultural understandings and beliefs.
  5. Labour processes and production of specific goods, geographies, services or affects.
  6. Institutional, legal and governmental arrangements.
  7. The conduct of daily life that underpins social reproduction.

FIFTH. I needed to be clearer in my argument. It was this: it is impossible to critique educational technology without addressing its place inside a global system of capitalism; this system is struggling to re-establish stable forms of accumulation and rates of profit, and this struggle is usefully analysed as a secular crisis; one systemic response to this crisis, catalysed by a transnational activist network that includes academics, has been to use technologies and techniques to open-up public education for the market because there is no alternative; detailing the use of specific technologies like Blackboard as a LMS, or Pearson as a publisher, or the use of tablet technologies, enables critical questions to be asked about the relationships between education, technology and the market in the reproduction of Capital as a social relationship;  asking these questions also enables us to ask whether there are alternative organising principles beyond the market, namely through co-operation, that might enable us to describe alternative forms of value and alternative societies; there are stories from South America and Latin America that are not to be fetishized, but which offer an alternative perspective; in light of the dehumanising effects of neoliberalism, the recent IPCC report on climate change, and the Royal Society’s People and Planet report, we need to ask whether there is another way.

SIXTH. I needed to make it clear that this is not just abstract, and that I try to enact critique in my work at the Social Science Centre or in alternative projects, and in my work on the Digilit Leicester Project, and in catalysing the DMU Academic Commons. These are political, they are about reflexivity and self-awareness,  and they are about the struggle/courage for different organising principles.

SEVENTH. These resources are useful ways forward.

Affinities on The New Cooperativism: http://bit.ly/187iT8R

De Peuter and Dyer Witheford on Commoning: http://bit.ly/Ve2cE9

Draft report on the contribution of cooperatives to overcoming the crisis: http://bit.ly/1gyzDtk

Lambie on Cuba: http://bit.ly/mIdVzV

Lebowitz on Co-Management in Venezuela: http://bit.ly/1awBnOF

Office Central de la Coopération à l’Ecole: http://www.occe.coop

The Schools Co-operative Society: http://bit.ly/z1YmCA

Joss Winn on Helplessness: http://josswinn.org/2013/07/helplessness/

The Republic of Ecuador. National Development Plan: National Plan for Good Living 2009-2013: Building a Plurinational and Intercultural State. http://bit.ly/GQJi0M

Student as producer: http://studentasproducer.lincoln.ac.uk/

Ds106: http://ds106.us/

Zibechi, R. 2013. Autonomous Zapatista Education: The Little Schools of Below. http://bit.ly/19XfrAF

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

Cleaver, H. 1979. Reading Capital Politically, University of Texas Press: Austin, TX, p. 161. http://libcom.org/files/cleaver-reading_capital_politically.pdf


The University, technology and co-operation

On Tuesday 15 October I’m presenting something on “The University, technology and co-operation”, at the Critical Perspectives on Educational Technology symposium at the University of Brighton, UK.

There are some notes on a co-operative pedagogy of struggle here.

My slides are here.

The Spotify playlist that accompanies the talk is here.


The Digilit Leicester Project

The Leicester Digital Literacies Framework (Digilit Leicester) Project is a two-year, whole-city, educational intervention that pivots around a knowledge exchange partnership between Leicester City Council and De Montfort University. It is led by me and Josie Fraser, with Lucy Atkins as the Research Associate. The project’s website is at: http://www.digilitleic.com/

The project runs from 2012-14 and is in-part funded through the Higher Education Innovation Fund. It aims to support staff development in the area of digital literacy, through the development and implementation of a self-evaluation framework for secondary school teachers and teaching support staff. The concept of digital literacy is increasingly recognised as a critical terrain for 21st Century life, with digital competence identified by The Council of the EU and the Department for Education, as well as agencies like NAACE and JISC.

The DigiLit Leicester Project is the first of its kind in Europe. No other research project has attempted to collect information about staff skills and confidence in digital literacy on this scale, and thereby attempted to connect teacher-agency, school development and City-wide transformation. One of the critical points about the project is its grounded nature: using a process of pedagogic self-evaluation to scale school and City-wide innovation and change.

The project is designed to ensure school staff and learners are getting the most from the significant investment in technology being made across the City as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme, and that the 23 BSF schools are able to make best use of technology to meet their aspirations for transforming educational provision. The Council’s Youth Engagement Project in 2010/11, and the recent Leicester Child Poverty Commission report also catalysed Digilit Leicester. At issue is what digital literacy means in practice for secondary schools, in terms of staff skills, practices, knowledge and confidence, and how that supports young people.

The project does not intend to provide a prescriptive list of skills, which all staff must master, or to reduce digital literacy to a discussion of tools. Instead, Digilit Leicester’s work pivots around a process of pedagogic self-evaluation through a toolkit. The framework is based on six themes: Finding, Evaluating and Organising; Creating and Sharing; Communication, Collaboration and Participation; e-Assessment and Feedback; E-Safety and Online Identity; CPD. However, in order to support teaching staff in making sense of their skills, practices and knowledge, the Framework incorporates four, differentiated levels: Entry; Core; Developer; Pioneer.

Digilit Leicester has achieved the following.

  1. A definition of digital literacy with staff in Leicester: “Digital Literacy refers to the skills, attitudes and knowledge required by educators to support learning in a digitally-rich world. To be digitally literate, educators must be able to utilise technology to enhance and transform classroom practices, and to enrich their own professional development and identity. The digitally literate educator will be able to think critically about why, how and when technology supplements learning and teaching.”
  2. The creation of a self-evaluation framework for educators. This aids staff in reflecting on their use of technologies to support teaching and learning. It has been worked on by 450 secondary school staff who have received individual feedback.
  3. The creation of a set-of targeted digital literacy resources.
  4. The production of an initial report, which includes information about the digital literacy framework and survey.
  5. A set of school reports for each BSF school with aggregated data that enable negotiated action plans. A City-wide report will follow in September 2013, which will highlight those pockets of excellence which exist across the City, in order both to share best practice and to identify where gaps exist.

This work has enabled a baseline for digital literacy to be drawn-up across the City. The next stage is to support innovation through targeted projects aimed at teachers, schools and the City working with DMU staff (e.g. in the Square Mile). This will then lead to a second iteration of the Framework survey, in order to see if the baseline has shifted. The Centre for Enhancing Learning through Technology team at DMU will be working to transfer the Framework into the University, to support innovation in professional development as part of the new DMU ELT programme-of-work.

The DigiLit Leicester project has received international acclaim, as one of five winners of the Reclaim Open Learning Innovation Challenge, an international contest sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Media and Learning Hub, and MIT Media Lab. Josie has written about our award and what the project means.