notes on the cybernetic hypothesis

I spoke last night at an event hosted by the Breaking the Frame collective. Breaking The Frame is based on the idea that everyone has the right to take part in decisions about technology. The collective aims to break the frame that conceals the politics of technology — to expose the common roots of the wide-ranging social and environmental problems caused by technologies.

My talk followed that of Ursula Huws of the University of Hertfordshire who described the terrain that defines the relationship between the digital and capitalism. There are details of the event, and other events in this series, here.

I was asked to speak about The Cybernetic Hypothesis, which was published by the collective that produced Tiqqun (reparation, restitution, redemption), a French journal with two issues in 1994 and 2015. It was argued that Tiqqun was a space for experimentation (pace The Situationists). It was an attempt at bridging the gap between theory and a number of practices and certain ways of “being together”. At issue was how to recreate the conditions of another community. See The Theory of Bloom and Introduction to Civil War for more information about Tiqqun’s philosophical basis.

Joss Winn’s notes on Reading the Cybernetic Hypothesis are especially helpful in unpacking the concepts developed in this short-ish tract (published in Tiqqun 2, and 43pp in eleven sections). Below, I detail the core themes I wished to open-out, alongside some further reading.


Cybernetics and control

It is important to situate the Cybernetic Hypothesis against the history and development of cybernetics, which was amplified in the aftermath the Second World War across a range of (inter-)disciplines. In particular, it focused upon structures, constraints and possibilities for homeostasis/regulation across specific systems. This focused around work involving to designate what was hoped would be a new science of control mechanisms, in which the exchange of information, four flows of data as real-time feedback mechanisms, would play a central role.

In discussing the cybernetic vision, Peter Galison argues that ‘Cybernetics, that science-as-steersman, made an angel of control and a devil of disorder.’ As a result, resistance (developed in the final three sections of The Cybernetic Hypothesis) has pointed to mechanisms that increase disorganisation, noise, and uncontrollability, such as capacity, panic and fog, as ways to resist silence and control.

Here it is worth reflecting on Brian Holmes’ work on control, in terms of the continuous adjustment of an apparatus, or an environment, according to feedback data on its human variables. The environment is overcoded with an optimizing algorithm, fed by data coming directly from you and me. In this way we might view our use of social media, search engines and the Internet of things is a way of mapping ourselves both into a wider value-chain (with differential spatial and temporal aspects) and into a new political terrain. See Holmes’ work on Do Cybernetics Dream of Digital Resistance?, and this video on the society of Control: The Neoliberal Civilization.

What emerges in this analysis is a complex architecture the lies beyond the surveillant-architecture of the panopticon, where transnational activist networks (operating as geographies of neoliberalism) continually attempt to manipulate the environments in which individuals exist. This takes the form of ensuring risk-management by focusing on governing networks (as opposed to network governance) exerting hegemonic forms of social authority in a new ways. It also ensures that the system acts as a form of semi-autonomous ‘piloting’ (according to Tiqqun), through which new forms of accumulation can be generated rooted in the circulation of value. One key outcome is control of the future for consumption, and smoothing out outliers, which may form a terrain for resistances and rupture (in the form of reparation, restitution and redemption). For Tiqqun:

It is no longer a question of static order, but of dynamic self-organisation. The individual is no longer credited with any power at all: his knowledge of the world is imperfect, he doesn’t know his own desires, he is opaque to himself, everything escapes him, as spontaneously co-operative, naturally empathetic, and fatally interdependent as he is. He knows nothing of all this, but THEY know everything about him.

Thus, we might see the role of cybernetics in the interlocking systems that congeal as capitalism as enabling a set of holistic, self-regulating, self-organising processes, which in turn underpin a stable equilibrium between interdependent elements. It should be noted that the original hopes for cybernetic theory were in part grounded in systems as self-organising, although this potentially leads to increased complexity and noise, and the possibility for rupture. Such ruptures stand against the production of an objectively-controlled, stable society; such ruptures are amplified by slowing or breaking the flows of information and data. This is important because, as Tiqqun note:

That is to say, cybernetics is not, as we are supposed to believe, a separate sphere of the production of information and communication, a virtual space superimposed on the real world. No, it is, rather, an autonomous world of apparatuses so blended with the capitalist project that it has become a political project, a gigantic “abstract machine” made of binary machines run by the Empire, a new form of political sovereignty, which must be called an abstract machine that has made itself into a global war machine.


Chile/CyberSyn

In her brilliant MIT PhD, Jessica Eden Miller Medina described the use to which the Chilean state, under Presidents Frei and Allende (and then repurposed under Pinochet), put computers as technologies of the state. She refers to these technologies as “state machines.”

These new record-keeping technologies and practices, including early computers and tabulating machines, in turn allowed state officials to plan economic policies and simulate their effects; map the national population statistically with increasing accuracy; and keep detailed inventories of national resources. The resulting databases in turn shaped future economic policies and their underlying theoretical frameworks, the behavior of international lending agencies, perceptions of government efficacy, and levels of public satisfaction. They also created new forms of state control.

Rationalization, organization, coordination, and, at bottom, tecnificacion not only played a crucial role in Frei’s economic policies for development, but also the social changes outlined in the “revolution in liberty” and the president’s dream for modernizing the state so that he might create a better society.

Crucial here was the focus on the relationship between technical relations of production and political vision. Miller Medina quotes President Allende’s speech welcoming visitors to the Cybersyn Operations Room:

We set out courageously to build our own system in our own spirit. What you will hear about today is revolutionary – not simply because this is the first time it has been done anywhere in the world. It is revolutionary because we are making a deliberate effort to hand to the people the power that science commands, in a form in which the people can themselves use it.

However, inside Chile, there were problems in realising a new social terrain, because of: the relationship between deliberative democracy and the realpolitik of power relations; the messiness of economic planning and information at different levels of state and society, from the factory/community to central government; and because of the messy relationship between economic planning and social revolution. That said, analysing examples like CyberSyn, the involvement of the FLOK Society in delivering Ecuador’s National Plan for Good Living, and the Lucas Plan, each offer alternative ways of exploring the relationships between human activity, human needs and technology.


Relationship to capitalism

The development of cybernetics is a systemic, structural and secular response to the issue of maintaining stable forms of accumulation and avoiding crisis inside capitalism. It is a response to the question of how to develop new forms of value without a fatal disequilibrium arising? For Tiqqun:

It is the tool by which capitalism has adjusted its capacity for disintegration and its quest after profit to one another. A society threatened by permanent decomposition can be all the more mastered when an information, an autonomous “nervous system” is in place allowing it to be piloted.

As a result, cybernetics acts as a lubricant for circulating and extracting value, using control devices to maximize commodity flows by eliminating (or at least reducing towards zero) risk and slow-down. One key issue is the relationship between value and machinery (or state machines), which tends to generate surplus population and to generate popularisation/proletarianisation. Harry Cleaver argues that this forces us to consider the conditions under which people become surplus to a capitalist system based on the imposition of work both waged and unwaged. As Amy Wendling notes this is crucial because “the social tyranny of exchange-value is so comprehensive that it determines how things are made and even what is made […] Capitalism does not care if it produces quantities for use; it cares about producing profit.”

One way of reframing this, which we can imagine emerging from an analysis of cybernetics in Chile or Ecuador, is to recognise how productivity reduces people to appendages of the machine through Capital’s autonomy over the General Intellect. As Marx writes in volume 1 of Capital:

The productive forces… 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.

We may consider resisting through the recognition of our collective knowledge, skills and capabilities as forms of mass intellectuality, which might be liberated in those unalienated areas of our lives yet to be colonised by capital. This leads us towards a struggle against work. As Moishe Postone argues, this is fundamental because the machining realities of the world we are in

opens the possibility of large-scale socially-general reductions in labor time and fundamental changes in the nature and social organization of labor. Yet these possibilities are not realized in capitalism.


Resistance

In discussing a co-operative pedagogy of struggle, I argue:

The fight against forms of cybernetic control is not one of destroying or refusing high technology, but rather focuses upon using technology and technique to reveal the internal, totalising dynamics of capitalism. From this position, alternatives rooted in self-organisation and a societal complexity based on variety, improbability, and adaptability emerge. For Tiqqun, this forms the negation of the cybernetic hypothesis through a return to what it means to be human. A critical role for educationalists using technology inside-and-against the cybernetic hypothesis is to develop educational opportunities that highlight the development of counter-narratives of commons, co-operation, sharing, and openness, and against the separation and alienation of money, price, quality, and competition. As Tronti (p. 105) argued, at issue is the extent to which the forms of control that pervade human existence inside the social factory can be revealed and alternatives critiqued so that ‘capital itself [] becomes uncovered, at a certain level of its development, as a social power’.

Here we remember that Kautsky in discussing the class struggle argued:

The economic machinery of the modern system of production constitutes a more and more delicate and complicated mechanism; its uninterrupted operation depends constantly more upon whether each of its wheels fits in with the others and does the work expected of it.

Here there is an argument that the complexity of the wheels make up the capitalist machine offer moments of slow-down and machine-breaking. For Tiqqun, this did not mean a better, or more democratic use of technology inside capitalism. It meant a different set of social and humane formations:

a cascade of devices, a concrete government-mentality that passes through [inter-subjective] relations. We do not want more transparency or more democracy. There’s already enough. On the contrary – we want more opacity and more intensity.

Attacking the cybernetic hypothesis – it must be repeated – doesn’t mean just critiquing it, and counterposing a concurrent vision of the social world; it means experimenting alongside it, actuating other protocols, redesigning them from scratch and enjoying them.

For the collective moments of reparation, restitution and redemption were to be sought: in the increase in moments of panic disequilibrium; in the generation of noise; in becoming invisible inside the system; in the duality of sabotage and retreat; through deliberate slow-down; through humane, rather than technologically-mediated encounters; by increasing the space for opaqueness and fog. It was argued that “Speed upholds institutions. Slowness cuts off flows.”

This reminds us of Marx’s conception in the Grundrisse of the social cost of productivity and technological intensification:

The more developed the capital, therefore, the more extensive the market over which it circulates, which forms the spatial orbit of its circulation, the more does it strive simultaneously for an even greater extension of the market and for greater annihilation of space by time. (If labour time is regarded not as the working day of the individual worker, but as the indefinite working day of an indefinite number of workers, then all relations of population come in here; the basic doctrines of population are therefore just as much contained in this first chapter on capital as are those of profit, price, credit etc.) There appears here the universalizing tendency of capital, which distinguishes it from all previous stages of production.

For Tiqqun, then, the point was widening the space for autonomy.

It gives itself the means of lasting and of moving from place to place, means of withdrawing as well as attacking, opening itself up as well as closing itself off, connecting mute bodies as bodiless voices. It sees this alternation as the result of an endless experimentation. “Autonomy” means that we make the worlds that we are grow. The Empire, armed with cybernetics, insists on autonomy for it alone, as the unitary system of the totality: it is thus forced to annihilate all autonomy whenever it is heterogeneous. We say that autonomy is for everyone and that the fight for autonomy has to be amplified. The present form taken on by the civil war is above all a fight against the monopoly on autonomy. That experimentation will become the “fecund chaos,” communism, the end of the cybernetic hypothesis.


There are some outstanding issues which need to be addressed as part of this discussion.

  • Issues of intersectional oppressions, which are reinforced cybernetically, including the emotional and psychological toll this takes. This is then related to reproduction of white, male, hetero-normative power.
  • The role of accelerationism: see Jehu’s discussions over at The Real Movement.
  • An engagement with issues of proletarianisation, and working class composition, autonomy and power. This leads to a discussion of the abolition of alienated-labour, across the wider social terrain.
  • How do we use narratives to generate forms of solidarity, and in order to offer examples of rupture and alternatives? Here I am interested in the tactics offered by PlanC in generating a machine for fighting anxiety.

NOTE: I have written about cybernetics in the context of the relationship between Autonomist Marxism and eduction, and also in terms of emerging technologies and commodification. There are useful resources in the reference lists.


Performance information and data-driven academic anxiety

I have a chapter in a new open access e-book. The book is entitled: Education and Technology: Critical Approaches. The book is in Portuguese and English, and can be accessed here.

My chapter is: Hall, R. (2017). Performance information and data-driven academic anxiety. In eds L.A da Silva Rosado and G.M. dos Santos Ferreira, Education and Technology: critical approaches. Rio de Janeiro: University Estácio de Sá Press, pp. 185-205.

The abstract for my contribution is as follows.

This chapter argues that data is the bleeding edge of educational innovation. By following the traces and trails of data, it is possible to uncover where education is being cracked open for the production, circulation and extraction of surplus value. In part these processes of cracking are amplified by the on-going financialisation and marketisation of higher education that continue to kettle academic practices of teaching and research. By uncovering the flows of value, it is also possible to demonstrate the transnational associations of capital that are profiting as a result of the data-driven reimagining of higher education. This uncovers mechanisms grounded in: enforced, public and open, educational data production; the enclosure and commodification of open and public data for-profit; the selling and re-selling of newly-commodified and technology-rich services back into open and public spaces; the generation of a rentier higher education economy rooted in high technology; the use of secondary legislation or policy related to employment and entrepreneurial activity, alongside primary legislation, to drive change; the exacerbation of debt and indentured study; and, the use of technology in performance management of academic labour. The chapter articulates these processes in the context of global socio-economic and socio-environmental crises and their symptoms, and in particular the generation of academic anxiety. Such anxiety emerges against the on-going precarity described by students and academic staff through technologically-mediated performance management. As a result, the chapter asks what can be learned from counter-hegemonic projects, in order to describe alternative uses for educational data?

Keywords: Big Data; Commodification of Education; Academic Labour; Academic Anxiety.


New article: technology, co-operative practice and the neoliberal university

I have a new article out in Interactive Learning Environments. It is based on some work I was involved in with in 2013 with Helen Beetham, Debbie Holley and John Traxler, including a panel at ALT-C on global crises and responses, and an Alpine Rendez-Vous. My article has the following, snappy title: Technology-enhanced learning and co-operative practice against the neoliberal university.

The article is available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10494820.2015.1128214

There is an eprint here: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/QPWM8ZPsjxtVP4dJKqZP/full

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 Massive Open On-line Courses, 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. At issue is the extent to which this neoliberal project can be resisted or refused, and alternatives described. This article 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 ways in which education might be used for co-operation rather than competition, and what technology-enhanced co-operative education might look like?

 


Student Achievement in the Digital Age: How emergent technologies can enhance the academic experience

I’m presenting at The Northern Universities Consortium (NUCCAT) annual conference in Manchester tomorrow.

The abstract I agreed in appended below, alongside the key points that I will try to make about the issues and practices that are affecting how higher education institutions address the intersection of student achievement (with a proxy of future earnings and employability), digital transformation (in order to generate economic growth/productivity), and the wider academic experience (bridging institutional/social spaces and the public/private).

Abstract

This discussion will highlight educational developments in student and staff digital literacy. It will highlight some of the good, bad and ugly institutional considerations that emerge from international project-work on: technology-enabled, alternative forms of accreditation such as open badges; learning analytics and data mining; education-as-a-service rooted in cloud computing; student-as-producer, connected to personalisation and content creation/curation; and digital footprint and professional identity.

The examples developed will focus upon both institutional and hosted solutions, like Blackboard, Moodle, WordPress and Turnitin, alongside technologies used for non-institutional, informal learning. The institutional and individual implications of these innovations will be related to strategies for professional development, technology and data infrastructures, and governance/legal issues. As a result participants will be asked to consider how their own practices might be affected, and what they might do as a result.

Key Points

ONE. I will discuss an institutional space that is framed in three ways. The first relates to digital transformation and productivity, as it emerges from the policy space for higher education. The second asks us to reconsider which students’ academic experiences are we referring, when we talk about achievement and enhancement? The third tries to situate the relationship between technologies and student achievement, against emergent pedagogical practices.

TWO. [slide 5] The policy/practice space for English HE and technology is being reduced to discussions about performance and productivity related to teaching intensity, student commitment to learning, and the nature of the institutional learning environment (c.f. HE Green Paper). These discussions are shaped by HM Treasury Productivity Plan, which grafts education onto ideas of digital transformation and market-led disruption of established positions. Together these two policy documents situate the relationship between education and technology in terms of human capital theory. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employability Act (2015) includes a section on ‘Education Evaluation’ that promotes human capital development (skills, expertise, employability, intellectual capital, entrepreneurialism and so on), as a catalyst for further financialisation and market-driven innovation [see slide 5 and David Willetts’ view of technology and educational disruption].

The terrain of English HE is also affected by trade liberalisation and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Innovation Partnership, through which education services are likely to be in-scope. This matters because technology enables and is enabled by a rich, transnational ecosystem that involves: academics; publishers; HE institutions; venture capital; non-profits [see slide 6, on the MOOC Universe]. In supporting institutions in making sense of this shifting terrain, Jisc is working on building digital capability with a focus on digital leadership, digital pedagogy/literacy, and digital efficiencies. Here institutions are thinking less about technologies (Blackboard, WordPress, Turnitin, whatever), and instead are thinking about services for students (Replay, Social, Assessment, Learning Resources etc.).

THREE. [slide 7] The interactions between policy and practice change the contexts that enable student achievement, both inside and outside the institution. These contexts are rooted in ideas of “intensity”, “productivity” and “gain”. In order to deliver these, institutions are thinking less about technologies and more about aggregated services for students and staff. These include the following.

  • Data services: learning analytics; open data; c.f. emerging concerns over The Patriot Act, Safe Harbour, and information governance
  • Replay/Learning Content: open repositories; enterprise reading lists; multimedia
  • Accreditation: open badges; e-portfolios; competency-based accreditation
  • Personalisation: universal design for learning; assistive technologies; productivity tools; mobile
  • Social: open education (MOOCs); cloud-based services

FOUR. [slides 8-13] There is a hegemonic or dominant view of students that emerges through the imposition of specific technologies as universal for learning, teaching, and assessment (e.g. learning management systems like Blackboard, multimedia tools like Panopto, or assessment tools like Turnitin). This applies across all levels and for all students, in spite of the developmental basis of those technologies and the enterprise implementation of them.

However, we might question whether these technologies, and our related pedagogic approaches [flipped classroom, bring your own device, universal design for learning, and so on] are enhancing the academic experience of specific students and therefore alienating/disabling others?

The dominant, universal narrative of technology is connected to universal ideas of “progress”, “efficiency”, “employability”. Thus, Pearson speak of technologies in an ecosystem that is: more global; more mobile; holistic; being absolutely obsessed with learning outcomes. Here emergent technologies are linked to the production and circulation of data, which dominates the landscape.

There are important, alternative uses of technology outside formal HE. One such is ds106 (digital storytelling 106), which enables community-based, transnational learning and accreditation. The ds106 space is user-created and curated, and connects to issues of: student-produced, multimedia content; collectively-produced and assessed student outputs or products; the ability to remix and repurpose content, including assessments; alternative forms of accreditation, including open, peer reviewed badging for skills, practices and literacies; and, the relationship between accredited activities and activities that enable sharing of the studet experience (e.g. a radio station).

A more militant story is told by student groups inside formal HE, which are forcing institutions to confront the legacies of colonialism and a racialised curriculum. These include the Why is My Curriculum White? and Rhodes Must Fall Collectives. They force us to question whether emergent technologies can enhance the academic experience for all students, if we do not understand the range of those experience. Does our use of technologies reinforce specific world views and cultural perceptions? How might we use them to challenge established forms of learning, teaching and assessment? For example, how does the digital content that we make available shape a particular, cultural frame of reference? Do our strategies for multimedia enhancement, like lecture capture (an awful phrase), risk some students being unable to speak in class, because they fear being recorded? Do our strategies for e-assessment increase stress on some groups of students?

FIVE. [slides 14-24] The relationship between emergent technologies and student achievement is shaped in a number of ways. I will focus on four.

The first is the increasing complexity of ecosystems available inside and beyond formal HE. This means that institutions are looking to create services for the delivery of: content; assessment; multimedia; social learning; personalised data/information. These are developed digitally, and mean that institutions are extending the backbone of their learning management systems (e.g. Blackboard) through: assessment tools (e.g. Turnitin); social tools (e.g. WordPress/academic commons, plus Campus Pack); interaction tools (e.g. PollEverywhere, TurningPoint, DisplayNote); content tools (e.g. Panopto, Talis Reading Lists); Productivity Tools (e.g. Google Drive, Office365); and collaboration tools (e.g. Blackboard Collaborate, MS Lync, Skype). This is mapped historically for DMU here and here. However, note that Blackboard have a range of platforms (technologies) in Learn, Collaborate, Connect, Mobile an Analytics, which themselves connect to other services (e.g. assessment and feedback).

The second is competency-based learning, like standardised testing, and which can be modelled and enable normalisation and sharing across programmes in different institutions. Here digital transformation grounded in data and content architectures, and e-assessment and e-feedback policies, map onto and potentially change pedagogic practices. Issues of academic autonomy, and tensions between what assessment is to measure and why are live.

The third is the ability to connect institutional and public/personal technologies, so that students and staff can operate across boundaries. This is a more networked approach, witnessed in public good projects like DMU’s Square Mile, and in the Domain of One’s Own project at University of Mary Washington. However, it also needs higher levels of digital literacy amongst staff and students, in order to engage with issue of professionalism, privacy, data protection and interoperability/sharing. It is also affected by institutional policies for social media use and codes of conduct/regulations.

The final point is digital transformation, which emerges from partnerships between HE and technology forms, but also from innovations in network/storage and communications. These innovations are rooted in flows of data and content, and a widening of communications channels, and they tend to blur the boundaries between the institution and the public space (e.g. in the idea of the Cloud). As a result they impact staff and student digital literacy (the skills, knowledge and practices that an individual or community can utilise to work on-line). The Digilit Leicester project is an example of wide-ranging digital, educational change.

SIX. I end with four caveats.

  • Think about data governance at all levels, especially in light of the EU ruling on safe harbour.
  • Think about how to support staff and student management of their own digital identity and footprint, for instance focused upon issues of professionalism and e-safety.
  • Think about digital privacy, for instance student/staff rights to anonymity in spaces that are to be recorded. Do technologies affect our ability to create safe spaces for dialogue?
  • Think about digital literacy, for instance the alignment of staff/student digital skills and practices.

Critically questioning educational innovation in economics and business: Human interaction in a virtualising world

I’m speaking at the Educational Innovation in Economics and Business (EdinEB) conference next Wednesday (3 June), in Brighton. The conference is focused on the interplay between theory and practice, with the focus on “Critically questioning educational innovation in economics and business: Human interaction in a virtualising world”. The abstract is here. The slides are below, followed by some key points.

ONE. A framing of sorts [slides 2-4]

The idea of educational innovation is subsumed under the circuits of commodity production and money. We are sold the idea that such innovation is emancipatory for learners, freeing them as competitive and entrepreneurial in selling their labour-power and themselves. In the face of the politics of austerity, global socio-environmental crises, and the emotional crisis of sociability and anxiety, are the market and a financialised existence the only way?

TWO. Innovation as fetish [slides 5-11]

The global North is awash in educational innovation that is being driven by the law of value, and the motive desire to make previously socialised contexts like higher education productive. In particular, we see: the focus on families operating as private capitals, investing in their own, permanent re-skilling so that they are competitive; the disciplinary focus on the educator’s professional development and productivity, especially related to digital literacy; and an obsession with data as a means of prediction rooted in financialisation.

THREE. Innovation and the secular crisis [slides 12-21]

Educational innovation needs to be analysed in relation to hyper-financialisation, which itself sits inside the secular crisis of capitalism. Here the work of Marx is enlightening in enabling us to analyse our social forces of production and the relations of production that dominate our lives and our environment. The issue then is one of power and the mode of production of our everyday lives. Moreover, this is situated against the self-expansion of value, which then marginalises or co-opts our very humanity. The failure of self-expansion has catalysed what is called the secular crisis as a failure of monetary policy, or a failure of profitability, and has resulted increasingly in the delegitimisation of capitalism, and the very education innovations that are being forced upon us. Overwork, anxiety, depression, bewilderment are functions of this delegitimisation. Have we failed, or does the mode of production fail us? How therefore do we enable the self-expansion of quantitative pleasing rather than projecting our neuroses which are themselves forms of false consciousness?

FOUR. Innovation and the sociability of academic work [slides 22-40]

Higher educational innovation alters the sociability of academic work, as it drives exchange rather than use and performance management. In this way it becomes a fundamental element in a structural adjustment policy that reshapes the relationships between academics and students. There is a range of policy pronouncements [Willetts and Byrne via the Social Market Foundation, and Rizvi et al via the IPPR], policy tools [like the Future Earnings and Employability Record, and the Teaching Excellence Framework], and funding streams that drive innovation [like learning gain], which enable transnational associations of capitals to drive variable human capital investment, financialisation and marketization. Here we see the work of Pearson driving the joy of data, venture capital investment in MOOCs, and Bain and Company’s response to “a world awash in money”. Educational innovations are sold to higher education as personalisation, or retention, or employability, or whatever. However, they are developed: in response to the development of a world market; in order to make previously marginal sectors of the economy explicitly productive; as a way of leveraging the ratio of the total surplus-value produced in society to the total capital invested; and to revolutionise the means of production.

FIVE. What is to be done?

SIX. Innovation and the colonisation of the soul [slides 41-44]

This is just a note on who has power in a world where environmental and production costs have been outsourced to the global South, and where the compulsion for innovation is driven by specific groups of men. What is the relationship between hegemony and counter-hegemony, as revealed through educational innovation?

SEVEN. Abolishing educational innovation [slides 45-56]

The general intellect offers us a way of reframing educational innovation for alternative purposes beyond the market, at the level of society. The key here is how to define a different form of sociability, so that we are able to address global crises more appropriately. In this model there is a need to abolish the distinction between the University-as-factory and society, so that concrete collective work as a social force of production enables different ways of addressing problems. Here we have examples of innovative thinking and modelling from inside the University that focus upon the struggle for alternatives. These include The University of Manchester Post-Crash Economics Society and the Women’s Budget Group. We also have examples of innovative thinking and modelling from outside the University that focus upon the struggle for alternatives. These include People’s Political Economy and the Social Science Centre. We also have examples of the innovative thinking and modelling from inside-and-outside the University that focus upon the struggle for alternatives. These include the Manchester Open Data Project, the Telekommunist Manifesto, and the FLOK Society. The examples demonstrate that the process of innovation might be repurposed for outcomes that lie beyond the market, and which are shaped through critical pedagogy and co-operative practice.

EIGHT. Is it possible to innovate against the rule of money? Is it possible to innovate so that learning and teaching enable self-actualisation in a world that is framed by emergencies?


Critically questioning educational innovation in economics and business: human interaction in a virtualising world

I’m speaking at the Educational Innovation in Economics and Business (EdinEB) conference on 3 June, in Brighton. The conference is focused on the interplay between theory and practice, with the focus on “Critically questioning educational innovation in economics and business: Human interaction in a virtualising world”. I will be speaking about the following…

Abstract

The global economic crisis of 2008 has been followed by a persistent recession, with low levels of growth, weak aggregate demand, and high levels of underemployment or unemployment. This forced an engagement with the idea that the global economy is witnessing a secular stagnation or crisis, which has in-turn recalibrated the landscape of English higher education, with implications for the idea of the University. This process has amplified the twin forces of marketization and financialisation that are reconstituting the higher education sector for the production, circulation and accumulation of value.

As a result of this restructuring for value, educational innovation has been subsumed under political economic realities, which stipulate that there is no alternative to the logic of choice and competition. This political economy is underscored culturally and pedagogically through an obsession with innovation that includes: redefining academic labour as entrepreneurial or for employment; enforcing a creative curriculum; amplifying the use of data to establish learning gain; co-opting the staff/student relationship as partnership; developing internationalisation strategies through open education.

This keynote will argue that educational innovations might usefully be examined in light of the relationships between: technological and organisational innovation; the dominant political economy that is affecting competing educational providers; the disciplinary role of the State in shaping an educational space for further capital accumulation; and the subsumption of open networks to the realities of performativity and performance management. The argument will situate educational innovations inside-and-against Capital’s drive to subsume labour practices inside technologically-mediated forms of coercion, command and control, rather than to enable social mobility or emancipation.

It will be argued that the ways in which such educational innovations and the services that are derived from them are valorised might offer a glimpse of how the processes that drive capital accumulation might themselves be resisted. The argument will draw on the examples of The Post-Crash Economics Society (PCES) at the University of Manchester, the People Political Economy Project in Oxford, the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics (ISIPE), and the Rethinking Economics conference, in order to examine the social relationships that emerge around notionally neutral, educational innovations. We might then ask, is it possible to reclaim human interaction and sociability in a virtualising world?


on educational technology and divestment

I spoke yesterday about the relationships between higher education institutions, the policy makers who frame the space inside which the University is being financialised and marketised, the technology companies which are attempting to leverage value from the education sector, and the finance/venture capitalists that are underwriting educational technologies. There is a slideshow on my slideshare, and a podcast of the session here.

I have written elsewhere about the implications of this transnational network, or association, of capitals both for higher education practice and for students and academics. I have also written elsewhere about the power of such a dominant network of merchants in higher education. I have also written elsewhere about how these networks amplify the militarisation of higher education. However, there is one specific point that I made yesterday, which I wish to reiterate here, which is connected to divestment. The recent occupation by students at the London School of Economics included in its list of demands divestment, stating:

We demand that the school cuts its ties to exploitative and destructive organisations, such as those involved in wars, military occupations and the destruction of the planet. This includes but is not limited to immediate divestment from the fossil fuel industry and from all companies which make a profit from the Israeli state’s occupation of Palestine.

This idea of questioning which firms, companies, products, whatever, universities invest in recomposes any discussion of educational technology. There are some fundamental questions here about the networks of hegemonic power that universities are folded into, which link technology and data mining firms, venture and finance capitalists, academics, and the military. So we might ask, for example:

Who supplies our virtual learning environment?

Is there a parent company?

What are the relationships of the parent company to finance or venture capital?

What other companies does this parent company own? What activities are they involved in? Securitisation? Training the military? Biotechnology?

What networks of power is the company that supplies our virtual learning environment mapped onto?

What networks of power is the University mapped onto through its connections rooted in educational technology?

Through its deployment of educational technologies, how is the University complicit in activities that reinforce and reproduce hegemonic power? How does it reinforce and reproduce unsustainable narratives of growth? Given the energy and carbon embedded in high technologies, how does such deployment map onto concerns voiced by the keep it in the ground campaign?

This final question is rooted in our academic engagement with high technology firms that are seeking to use education in order to expand the orbit for value accumulation and extraction, in particular where fundamental questions are being raised about the impact on the global climate of unrestricted models of economic growth. All of a sudden we are forced to ask fundamental questions of political economy about the educational technologies that we deploy.

Clearly inside a policy space that is being opened-up for-profit through competition, divesting from such webs is problematic, and demands a larger conversation about the idea of the University as a public good. In the UK, former Universities Minister, David Willetts argued “conventional universities no longer hold all the cards on how the higher education market develops.” Around the same time, the Institute for Public Policy Research noted in its report, Securing the future of higher education that there was a need to open the market-up through: first, access to open data (which would increase accountability and consumerism); second, the rule of money in underpinning efficiency and improving the student experience; and third, by encouraging competition from new providers who would bring innovation, entrepreneurialism and cost-efficiency.

As Will Davies notes in the limits of neoliberalism such entrepreneurial activity is enacted through new combinations of technologies and practices to inject novelty into the circuits of capitalism. These associations of capitals, or venture capitals, which are able to leverage value transnationally are rooted in competition and an idea of entrepreneurial activity that is rooted in a new productive environment that accommodates power: first in expanding the time-scale for returns; second in expanding the arena for competition.

Investment in educational technology is also a space which, as Audrey Watters notes in Men Still Explain, is dominated by men from the global North.

Culturally. Ideologically. There’s a problem with the Internet. Largely designed by men from the developed world, it is built for men of the developed world. Men of science. Men of industry. Military men. Venture capitalists. Despite all the hype and hope about revolution and access and opportunity that these new technologies will provide us, they do not negate hierarchy, history, privilege, power. They reflect those. They channel it. They concentrate it, in new ways and in old.

There are serious questions about whether academics and students are content with these hegemonic positions and whether we are able collectively to understand the role of educational technology inside our universities and colleges without developing a critique of its relationships to a transnational capitalist class. We might wish to use such a critique to question where academic labour is invested and from where is might be divested. Such a critique needs to be aligned with the realities of divestment from fossil fuels. This is a political issue that is in tension with the realities of the security state and the regimes of power that are maintained through transnational flows of capital, and which educational technology reveals. We should be seeking to discuss on campus whether we are content with our educational connections to educational technology products that are rooted in financialised and marketised responses to the secular crisis of capitalism. We should be seeking to discuss on campus how educational technology reinforces our implicit, academic links to venture capital, private equity, the military and security firms.

My presentation closed with two questions.

Inside the University, can educational technology be (ref)used politically to recompose the realities of global struggles, rather than for value?

What does divestment imply for the use of educational technology?

We should be seeking to discuss on campus what our activities and our relationships help to legitimate, and whether a diversity of alternative positions is possible beyond the market and those who maintain the power of the market over everyday, public life.


against educational technology in the neoliberal University

On Wednesday I’m presenting at the University of Westminster’s Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI). The talk discussion is titled: against educational technology in the neoliberal University. There are details/an abstract here.

My slides are available from my slideshare.


For a political economy of Massive Open Online Courses

I have a new article out in Learning, Media and Technology, titled “For a political economy of Massive Open Online Courses”. The abstract and keywords are below.

There are 50 eprints available.

Abstract

In understanding the changes that are impacting the global higher education sector, developing a critique of the relationships between technology and technological innovation, new managerialism and financialisation, and the impact of the secular crisis of global capitalism, is critical. Moreover, it is important to critique these changes historically and geographically, in order to understand how political economics shapes the space in which higher education policy and practice is recalibrated for capital accumulation and profitability.

This article will argue that educational innovations like MOOCs might usefully be examined in light of the relationships between: technological and organisational innovation; the historical tendency of the rate of profit to fall that is affecting competing educational providers; the disciplinary role of the State in shaping an educational space for further capital accumulation; and the subsumption of open networks to the neoliberal project of accumulation and profitability. Such an analysis then enables a critique of the claims that are made for open networks in delivering new forms of sociability that transcend structures of power and domination.

As a result of this political economic critique, the article will situate the emergence of MOOCs inside-and-against Capital’s drive to subsume labour practices inside technologically-mediated forms of coercion, command and control. It will argue that the ways in which MOOCs and the services that are derived from them are then valorised might offer a glimpse of how the neoliberal educational project is disciplining academic labour and how it might be resisted.

Keywords: academic labour; MOOC; rate of profit; sociability; technological innovation


Notes on Social Media for Researchers

The slides to accompany this presentation to DMU PGR students can be found here.

The session will focus on linking our individual use of social media to researcher development, through the Vitae RDF, and especially in terms of developing the following capabilities:

A1: Knowledge Base

B3: Professional and career development

C1: Professional conduct

D2: Communication and dissemination

The session will also demonstrate the potential of social media for academic practice/scholarship in public, and for co-operative, scholarly work. It will close with some considerations for future practice for PGR students.


Last week I emailed the 22 signed-up attendees with three questions. What follows are the responses from five DMU PGR students.

  • Which social media tools do you use?

RESPONSE: I currently use Facebook on a personal basis and LinkedIn on a professional basis.

RESPONSE: I don’t really use social media (except occasional work on Facebook and networking on LinkedIn).

RESPONSE: Mainly, I use social media (Facebook & Tumblr), but not for academic purposes.

RESPONSE: I use social media for personal use but intend to use Twitter mainly for my research to keep up to date with what other people in my field are doing and to promote my research.

NOTE: These responses made me consider issues of academic identity formation and boundaries between academic/professional practice and the Self/personal identity.

  • What do you use them to achieve in your academic work?

RESPONSE: I have been hearing about how I should be using twitter from a research/professional basis so am trying to increase my use of twitter now.

RESPONSE: I am connecting with other researchers, keeping an eye on hashtags such as #phdchat for useful information and contact with fellow phd students.

RESPONSE: I would really like to learn what platforms I should be using and how to use them best to engage for success in my phd. Am I doing the right things?

NOTE: These responses made me consider whether there are ever “right things” in research or in the use of specific tools for research? What are good enough approaches? They also made me consider the balance of time/investment and the development of social or cultural “capital” and what this means for practice.

  • What would you like to cover in the session or in a follow-up discussion?

RESPONSE: I’m very interested in how social media can contribute to participatory action research with young people and how it can be used to effectively disseminate research findings & recommendations in ways that can have an impact.

RESPONSE: Probably achieve some marketing of work/ideas and networking.

RESPONSE: I would be interested to understand how others successfully use social media for academic purposes. By successful, I mean more than just adding people into friends lists – for example: did they obtain research projects? did they enter networks that otherwise could not have taken part?

NOTE: These responses made me consider the relationships between social media and collective work across networks and research groups.

NOTE: In the session I will also ask participants to consider the following question.

  • What are the ramifications of your work being social?

The connections between the Vitae Researcher Development Framework and specific technologies are important.

For Knowledge Base (A1), which focuses on subject knowledge, research methods, academic literacy and so on, I will focus on the following.

For Professional and Career Development (B3), which focuses on career management, CPD, responsiveness, reputation and networking, I will focus on the following.

For Professional Conduct (C1), which focuses on Ethics, legal requirements, IPR and copyright, co-authorship, I will focus on the following.

For Communication and Dissemination (D2) I will focus on the following.


I will then look at some specific cases of how researchers have used social media and my interpretation of that use (or what I think is interesting/possible). These cses will include the following

  1. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s site that acts as a pivot for other engagements. The structure of the site enables ready access to a wealth of public scholarship, with pointes to “most read” work. There are also links to speaking/engagement events, as well as external content/multimedia. The site enables an understanding of the relationship between the public, social media and personal academic formation.
  2. Lucy Atkins adventures in EdTech, is a representation of a journey through a PhD. Lucy uses PhD notes grounded in verbs to articulate the process of the PhD, using a standard open technology. It then links to her Twitter feed to enable a public face at low cost.
  3. The transition through a PhD can be analysed through on-line engagements like #phdchat, and also the updates to networks like the Guardian HE Network. However there are also therapeutic networks for PGR students, and other support networks that relate not just to PhD study, but also to the precarious nature of labour in academia.
  4. There is a wealth of useful material on academic writing using social media, including seven reasons why academic blogging is valuable. The DMU Commons is a space for open writing at DMU.
  5. Social media can be used effectively for collective work/co-operation. Joss Winn’s site acts as a blog and a site for notes, as well as pointing to his academic writing, and presentations, but it also highlights the scholars that he follows, and his networks. This has reputational consequences.
  6. The use of social media enables alignment with research nodes/centres/projects, as witnessed by the DMU Centre for Pedagogic Research and the Digital Building Heritage project, both on the DMU Commons.
  7. The use of social media enables participation with user communities, for instance: the DMU Square Mile project on the Academic Commons; the Galaxy Zoo; and the RunCoCo project.
  8. These tools enable public Scholarship. See, for example: Melonie A. Fullick interviews Raul Pacheco-Vega; Doug Belshaw’s Never Ending Thesis; and The Social Science Centre.

There are some follow-on resources for attendees about work at DMU.

DMU Commons: http://our.dmu.ac.uk/

DMU/CELT Guidelines when using Social Media Technologies for Teaching http://bit.ly/1iDiIc2

See also DMU Email, Internet and Social Media Policy: briefing; policy

DMU Library Copyright pages: http://library.dmu.ac.uk/Support/Copyright/


There are also some matters arising for PGR students to consider.

  • What is the balance between the intensity of reading/research needed for a PhD, versus the intensity of networking that you are willing to commit?
  • How risk averse do you *need* to be when working with social media?
  • How open do you *need* to be when working with social media, and with other researchers, students, research stakeholders, participants, supervisors and so on?
  • What is the balance between soft and hard publishing?
  • How do you use your networks to challenge your own orthodoxy/previously held views and conceptions?
  • What permissions do you need to use public or published stuff?
  • What permissions do you want to give your public or published stuff?
  • Think about your identity across disparate platforms. How coherent do you need it to be?
  • Think about being true, necessary and kind on-line.
  • Think about your e-safety, especially in terms of your personal relationships with those you know or don’t know, the institution/your funder, the State.

Slides 8-12 in the presentation are amended from “Social Media for Researchers” by Tanya Williamson and Louise Tripp at Lancaster University Library.

The presentation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.