Educational technology, hacktivism and the war on public education


In 2006, John Denham, Labour MP and former cabinet minister, argued in the Chartist that

All public services have to be based on a diversity of independent providers who compete for business in a market governed by Consumer choice. All across Whitehall, any policy option now has to be dressed up as “choice”, “diversity”, and “contestablity”. These are the hallmarks of the “new model public service”.

This morning Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, widened the space through which public or socialised goods could be enclosed, marketised and commodified within education as a new model public service, as he scoped a space for technology in education that was primarily economic, de-politicised and privatised.

Gove’s focus was laid bare from the very outset o his speech at BETT. He began not by championing teaching or teachers or the education sector, but “by congratulating all the companies in this Hall. British companies are world-leaders in the field of educational technology…” This is central for Gove as a member of the UK Coalition Government, precisely because that Government is closing down all public discourse that threatens or questions private profit maximisation or the extraction of value by corporations from our previously accrued social goods. Progress is to be realised by the privatisation and marketisation of public assets, and education is a pivotal terrain for making concrete and securing this neoliberal agenda. Thus, the only discourse that gains public space is framed by employment, labour (or capitalist work), commerce, industry and economics. This is now central to our educational culture. There is no place and no space for a critique of state subsidies for private gain or the politics of our education system, or how our education might enable other, dissenting or marginalised possibilities to be deliberated.


For Gove, the imperative behind linking markets and technology is key because “with each new gadget, each huge leap forward, technology has expanded into new intellectual and commercial fields.” More importantly and ominously, Gove re-framed the Coalition’s attack on education as a social good, originally signalled in HE through the Browne Review and in primary/secondary education through its White Paper, by folding into it the progressive, reductionist logic of technology. He argued:

Almost every field of employment now depends on technology. From radio, to television, computers and the internet, each new technological advance has changed our world and changed us too. But there is one notable exception. Education has barely changed. Our school system has not prepared children for this new world. Millions have left school over the past decade without even the basics they need for a decent job. And the current curriculum cannot prepare British students to work at the very forefront of technological change.

So there we are. Technology is revolutionary. Technology enables progress. Technology enables growth. But our schools and our teachers have failed our children as workers. And as a result millions of students lack basic skills. And we risk economic stagnation as a result.

And yet as Christopher Newfield argues in his work the new proletarianisation, it is difficult to sustain this positivist view argument for the generalised, emancipatory potential of technological skills, because under capitalism technologies are used to promote consumption, production gains or to increase the rate of profit. The logic of their use and deployment is for productivity gains, or for workplace monitoring and surveillance and management and stratification, or to catalyse the creation of value by opening up/harnessing new markets, or by stimulating innovations that further valorise capital. Thus, Newfield highlights three different types of knowledge or skill:

  1. Type C is ‘commodity skills’, which are ‘readily obtained’ and whose possessors are interchangeable. This category includes most ‘pink collar’ work that involves skills like ‘typing and a cheerful phone manner’.
  2. Type B is ‘leveraged skills’, which require advanced education and which offer clear added value to the firm that hires such skill, and yet which are possessed by many firms. Computer programmers or network administrators are examples of essential employees who worked long and hard to acquire their knowledge, and yet who are relatively numerous. Ironically, they may have entered the field because it was large: its size may have signalled to them when they were picked a major in college–and to their stability-minded parents–something like ‘the high-tech economy will always need computer support specialists’. Yes, but not any particular computer support specialist, and not at a very high wage.
  3. Type A consists of ‘proprietary skills’, defined as ‘the company-specific talents around which an organization builds a business’. The knowledge manager must nurture and cultivate only the skills that directly contribute to the firm’s propriety knowledge, and stamp out (or radically cheapen) the first kind of knowledge worker, whose skills are interchangeable commodities. Only the star producers–those who create proprietary knowledge–enable the firm to seek rents, and only they are to be retained, supported, cultivated, and lavishly paid.

Yet Gove’s speech re-enforces one of the entrenched myths of educational technology discourses in that it alleges the democratic-yet-neutral tendencies of technology, where all have the opportunity to profit from becoming the Type A workers that Newfield analyses. In Gove’s view, technology, coupled to re-skilling teachers and defining a new ICT curriculum for business, will enable economic equality of opportunity. However, in discussing Education and Inequality, Sean Reardon, argues for the United States that:

It is well known that economic inequality has been growing in the U.S. since the 1970s. Less well known, however, is the fact that inequality in educational success has also been growing. The difference in average academic skills between high and low-income students is now 30–40 percent larger than it was 30 years ago.

So family background has become increasingly determinative of educational success, and educational success, in turn, has become increasingly determinative of economic success. The American dream has moved farther out of reach for lower-income children.

What has caused this rise in educational inequality? Contrary to popular rhetoric, our schools are not worse than they used to be. The average nine-year-old today has math skills equivalent to those of the average eleven-year-old 30 years ago. Nor have test scores or college completion rates for students from low-income families declined; they simply haven’t risen nearly as fast as those of high-income students. Although there are striking inequalities in the quality of schools available to children from low- and high-income families, these inequalities do not appear larger than in the past. Furthermore, if schools were responsible for widening educational inequality, we would expect that test-score gap to widen as students progress through school. But this does not happen. The test-score gap between eighth-grade students from high- and low-income families is no larger than the school-readiness gap among kindergarteners. The roots of widening educational inequality appear to lie in early childhood, not in schools.

Reardon argues that “Stagnant incomes have left the poor and working-class without the resources to give their children the improved educational opportunities and supports that the children of the rich enjoy.” Marx saw this when he wrote that “Technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations.” Moreover, this disengagement with the politics and reality of poverty and class, means that we prioritise “the [perceived] affordances of educational technology” (participation, horizontal organisational structures, opportunity etc.) over-and-above the implications of increasing proletarianisation in the service-sector and the routinisation of work that is based on outcomes and technologically-mediated prefomance, and which is reinforced by the reduction of social mobility under capitalism. As Paul Mason highlights, this is amplified through the idea of the disenfranchised graduate loaded with debt and with no future.


Pace Gove, some commentators have tried to re-shape the discussion about digital skills or literacy or computer science, to which his speech contributed. Josie Fraser, in her post Computer Science is not Digital Literacy argues “for ways in which young people can become active in creating and critically engaging with technology [as citizens]”. Pat Parslow’s post on Digital Literacies, schools and the Guardian argues prosaically for users as “confident explorers of the ‘digital space’, able to learn new systems without attending courses (or at least, without having to attend too many).” However, the dominant space for a discussion of digital literacy or an ICT curriculum is economic and not social. The recent Guardian article Pupils need to understand computers, not just how to use them, notes that

Michael Gove, has “sat up and listened”, says Ian Livingstone, one of the founders of the gaming company Games Workshop. He co-authored an influential report for the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts on the future of the UK gaming industry, which concluded that it was losing its edge on the rest of the world.

In this drive for “edge”, education is subsumed under the dictates of profitability, competitiveness and the commodity form. There can be no other way. And this logic is further revealed in the Coding for kids campaign, which has no politics in its statement of intent. The campaign was catalysed by an e-petition to the UK Government, which was justified in Emma Mulqueeny’s, Teach our kids to code e-petition, through the assertion that digital technology, the reproduction of our social world and economic growth are connected:

It is not yet awesomely cool to be able to build digital tools that shape the way the rest of us operate in our worlds, both social and work-based. Not in the UK anyway. And I could see this having a profound effect on our worldwide digital economy and reputation in the very near future

Mulqueeny goes on to celebrate Rushkoff’s assertion that “the difference between being able to code and not being able to code, is like being the driver or the passenger”, further demonstrating how technology is used to define what is contested within the positivist and progressive claims about its affordances for economic agency. In this case, coding skills, rather than their subsumption under the deeper structures of capitalist society that disenfranchise the many, are at issue. Thus, we never get to a deliberation of whether coding and hacking and open source might be used as a means of re-imagining our world.

The polyarchic parameters of this discourse are re-produced by Gove at BETT, as he attempts to constrict what we can discuss in terms of technology-in-education, reinterpreted by some as “digital literacies”. What we can discuss legitimately is kettled and cordoned and enclosed by economics and not politics. This notion of what it is legitimate to discuss is critical, and Gove uses it to further the mythology of a neutral, positivist technological paradigm being fused under education. He argued that

technology will bring more autonomy to each of us here in this room. This is a huge opportunity. But it’s also a responsibility. [So] We want to focus on training teachers. Universities, businesses and others will have the opportunity to devise new courses and exams. In particular, we want to see universities and businesses create new high quality Computer Science GCSEs, and develop curricula encouraging schools to make use of the brilliant Computer Science content available on the web.

This amounts to a form of what Christopher Newfield (in a separate blog-post) call “subsidy capitalism”, which “means that the public, directly or indirectly, does not participate in the investment, research, and development decisions that remake society year in and year out. It hands over resources and all decision rights at the same time.” Gove’s focus on business defining the curriculum/teacher training mirrors Newfield’s point that:

There is a profound cultural limitation at work here: American leaders see the agencies responsible for social benefits as categorically less insightful than the financially self-interested private sector, even though the latter are focused entirely on their own advantage. As it is now, the future emerges in erratic bursts from the secret development operations at companies like Google (e.g. this radio report on the sudden appearance over Silicon Valley of The Cloud). We are having an increasingly difficult time imagining a collective future that emerges from common activity.

Thus, for Gove there is a lack of a meaningful commentary about poverty or equality and their relationship to educational attainment and wealth, and no focus on the educational research that highlights the links between class and educational outcomes. This sets a direction of travel for public policy that disables our ability to imagine a collective future, and is further reduced by Gove’s eulogising of a few, self-made men like Zuckerberg and Schmidt, without a meaningful discussion of these cultural leaders’ approach to the production of our common wealth or social goods.


The risks of this approach and the domination of corporate power over our digital lives, and our digitalised spaces and time, has been analysed by Cory Doctorow, in Lockdown, The coming war on general-purpose computing. Doctorow highlights how the information economy is realised through the subsumption of our everyday engagement with technology and digitised content under private property and copyright law. Thus, our activity is reduced to “a tedious enumeration of every permutation of things people do with information—and what might be charged for each.” The result of this commodification of our virtual lives is a need to “control how people use their computers and the files we transfer to them.”

This is the world onto which Gove’s speech about educational technology, teacher training, the ICT curriculum and the value of student’s as workers, needs to be mapped. In this world, states Doctorow, the following practices occur and are contested.

  1. Human rights activists have raised alarms over U-EFI, the new PC bootloader, which restricts your computer so it only runs “signed” operating systems, noting that repressive governments will likely withhold signatures from operating systems unless they allow for covert surveillance operations.
  2. Sony loaded covert rootkit installers on 6 million audio CDs, which secretly executed programs that watched for attempts to read the sound files on CDs and terminated them. It also hid the rootkit’s existence by causing the computer operating system’s kernel to lie about which processes were running, and which files were present on the drive.
  3. Nintendo’s 3DS opportunistically updates its firmware, and does an integrity check to make sure that you haven’t altered the old firmware in any way. If it detects signs of tampering, it turns itself into a brick.
  4. On the network side SOPA, the U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act, bans innocuous tools such as DNSSec—a security suite that authenticates domain name information— because they might be used to defeat DNS blocking measures. It blocks Tor, an online anonymity tool sponsored by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and used by dissidents in oppressive regimes, because it can be used to circumvent IP blocking measures.
  5. The Motion Picture Association of America, a SOPA proponent, circulated a memo citing research that SOPA might work because it uses the same measures as are used in Syria, China, and Uzbekistan. It argued that because these measures are effective in those countries, they would work in America, too!

What is clear here is the contested and deeply politicised terrain on which the use and development of educational technology is played out. Yet, it is missing from the Coalition Government’s education agenda. In fact, their explicit attempt to reduce this discourse to economic utility, and to ignore the impact of poverty and economic inequality, and to forget or marginalise the political structures and organisation that is impacted by and revealed through technology, demonstrates further that this educational space is now open for enclosure under private property, and for further subsidy capitalism.


The crack in this revealed assault on education as a public good is Gove’s final statements connecting “an open-source curriculum” and “Disapplying [sic.] the ICT programme of study”. Gove talks here about freedom, and enabling teachers “to cover truly innovative, specialist and challenging topics.” This might be seen as an attempt by capital or corporations to enter, control and enclose what has previously been seen as open source or as the terrain previously set-out and negotiated by hacktivists. However, it does open up a space for educational technologists working with programmers and educationalists to challenge the dominant logic of how we construct and re-produce our educational worlds as commonly-defined, social goods. This does not disavow coding for kids, or digital literacies, or the reproduction of teacher training. It just doesn’t do it simply for corporations or for profit maximisation. And where it is for those ends, that realisation must be critiqued and deliberated both inside and beyond the formal curriculum.

For we exist in a world that faces socio-environmental crises, and which is in the midst of a global crisis of capitalism. It is simply not good enough that our discourse as educators is focused upon employability or economic growth. The agenda for our development of digital literacies, or for an ICT curriculum, or for redesigning our teacher training, lies beyond the demands of transnational finance capital or of commerce or of industry, as realised by the state-under-capitalism, for marketised skills. Testing and deliberating global solutions demands an engagement with politics, and with politics as they are revealed through technology. Overcoming global problems demands that we do not simply outsource solutions, but that we use and engage with technology co-operatively and socially, in order to consider whether the society we have built and re-produce is indeed the one we need.

In this those engaged in the operationalisation of technology-in-education might consider their activist stance. Is Gove’s industrialised, economically-driven and enclosed world really the best we can hope for or create? Given those advances in bio-engineering, in microcomputing, in shared services etc. that he advances, is it really all we can do to hope for the further commodification of our existence, and the production of an educational experience that is shackled to that end? If the answer is yes then we are all impoverished. The crisis demands that we consider how the actions we take and the technologies we deploy contribute to poverty and the stratification of society; how they contribute to state subsidized capitalism and proletarianised work; how they re-produce inequality; and how they disable us from acting co-operatively in society. But we might also consider how to re-engage our actions and the technologies we deploy asymmetrically; to refuse and push-back against marketisation, to realise the possibilities of the hacker ethic, and to use technology to describe more social forms of value.

If Gove wants “an open-source curriculum”, then we should give him “activism 101”, “protest 101” and “hacktivism 101”.

Triple crunch and the politics of educational technology

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 4 November 2011

I want to make a brief return to one implication of the ideas fleshed out by Joss Winn earlier this year in a post on the Triple Crunch, which focused on peak oil, climate change and the economic realities of business-as-usual, and then in my response on Triple Crunch and the Politics of Educational Technology. This implication is the role of academics and scholars; it is academic activism.

In his post Joss wrote: “It’s time that a co-ordinated effort was made by the sector to examine these issues in detail, involving academics from across disciplines as well as business continuity managers and VCs”. I concluded that academics and scholars might usefully contribute to story-telling that enables us “to critique in common the ahistorical truisms of liberal democracy, that technology and education can only meaningfully serve capitalist expansion, through discourses of finance capital that are related to value-for-money, efficiency, private/public, and the market.” We used the detail of climate change and liquid fuel availability inside our reality of capitalist social relations, to question the idea of the University.

This morning I read three things that stimulated a return to this question.

1.   The weekly Oil Depletion Analysis Centre’s Newsletter (for 4 November 2011). In developing an analysis of the week’s events that impact on liquid fuel availability, the newsletter highlighted the Euro bailout and Greek politics, persistent Brent crude oil costs of$100/barrel, the UK Coalition Government’s decision to halve the feed-in tariff for solar energy, and a report from Cuadrilla Resources that it was “highly probable” that earthquakes in Blackpool were caused by their fracking activities. ODAC highlighted that:

“The UK today represents a microcosm of the current energy dilemma. Oil and gas production are in decline, energy costs are rising, and the race to avoid the worst impacts of climate change requires drastic cuts in emissions. Shale gas, along with tar sands and shale oil, offer an illusion that business might be able to continue as usual, but these are lower quality resources in terms of the energy they require to produce, pollution, and emissions. They are not the cheap energy sources on which our economy depends, and betting on them risks slowing the transition to a more resilient energy future.”

We might then ask, how are Universities addressing this dilemma in their forms, practices and research engagement?

2.   In a note on #OccupyLSX, Pierce Penniless argues for political engagement and action that is deeply connected to everyday realities. He argues that:

“We are living in an extraordinarily hot political moment, in which people’s politics are changing rapidly – and in which systemic popular dissent is more visible than it has been for a long time. That it is systemic is most interesting: for all the reductive slogans about bankers and their bonuses, the political conversation that emerges in the camp is far more about systemic change than some peculiar bad bankers.”

PP grounds an issue I made around the time of the occupation of the Michael Sadler building in Leeds last November, in arguing for a process of deliberation focused upon re-production of our everyday realities. PP argues that his main point is to encourage experienced political activists to engage. However it might also be written about academics and scholars in grounding, theorising and supporting the development of alternatives. He writes:

“you need to engage this movement, and it won’t be comfortable doing so. I was down there almost continually, and one thing that’s striking is that its representation online bears little resemblance to what’s actually happening in reality. What’s happening is happening there, not on the computer screen.”

We might then ask how are academic and scholars addressing this dilemma in their practices and research engagements? How are we becoming activist? What are we working for?

3.   Etienne Dubuis in Le Temps (in French, but translated at WorldCrunch), picks up on a point that has been increasingly made in Africa, about corporate land-grabs in what the global North terms “developing nations”. In this capitalist accumulation by dispossession universities in the global North are implicated in a process that reveals real-world examples of the impact of the triple crunch:

“The increasing production of biofuels also explains why international buyers are becoming so interested in purchasing agricultural lands, while the 2008 economic crisis also heralded land ownership as a relatively safe investment alternative.”

Whilst Dubois questions “how the benefits should be divided among investors, host states and local communities?” We might also ask how the risks are divided, and aligned with this what is the role of the universities in the global North and their internationalisation agendas?

In trying to open some of these debates up to a trans-disciplinary audience, and to one which is also focused on technology, Joss and I have a paper being published in e-Learning and Digital Media later this month, in which we consider:

the impact that peak oil and climate change may have on the future of higher education. In particular, it questions the role of technology in supporting the provision of a higher education which is resilient to a scenario both of energy depletion and the need to adapt to the effects of global warming. One emerging area of interest from this future scenario might be the role of technology in addressing more complex learning futures, and more especially in facilitating individual and social resilience, or the ability to manage and overcome disruption. However, the extent to which higher education practitioners can utilise technology to this end is framed by their approaches to the curriculum, and the sociocultural practices within which they are located. The authors discuss how open education might enable learners to engage with uncertainty through social action within a form of higher education that is more resilient to economic, environmental and energy-related disruptions.It asks whether more open higher education can be (re)claimed by users and communities within specific contexts and curricula, in order to engage with an increasingly uncertain world.

In the paper we hint at a re-focusing on deliberation; and a need to find spaces for such deliberation. This includes active engagement with the politics of events that is unfolding around us, at Occupy Wall Street, or Occupy Oakland, or in critiquing communiqués, or in delivering sessions at Tent City University as Mike Neary has recently, or at more established community events. This is part of the struggle for alternative ways of producing our realities and distributing our abundance and overcoming scarcity. Thus Joss and I argue for

social relationships that are redefined by educators and students, and [a] focus on people and values that is in turn assembled through open education. In overcoming alienation and disruption, a resilient education underpinned by open technologies and architectures enables us to critique and overcome unsustainable, commodified, institutionalised forms of education. The challenge is to develop such a critique in the face of everything.

This last statement is refracted by the key point that I take from PP’s cry for experienced activists to work within and for what might be at #occupylsx and at the aligned Tent City University. Only I look at it in terms of experienced academics working in similar spaces to help shine a light on what is denied in our world. To shine a light on the denial of a meaningful conversation about alternatives, in the face of the crisis that is revealed in austerity, in climate change, in resource depletion and in peak oil. And which is revealed at first in the Global South, but as ODAC highlights, which is also so much closer to home than we are allowed to imagine in our desperation for sustainability or business-as-usual.

And we might then reflect on the scholarly role given in A Message to Wisconsin’s Insatiable Workers and Students earlier this year:

Teachers, elaborate your teach-ins. Tell your story, encourage everyone you touch to say why collective struggle (not just bargaining) is a necessary part of our position in this world. Talk about your dying grandmother. Talk about your difficult addictions. Talk about history. This law is an attempt to conceal the realities of our daily lives and to liquidate those stories from the future. Reveal this, and make possible the education that was never allowed in school.

NOTE: Third University will be leading sessions as part of Leicester’s Community Media Week this Sunday and Monday, on social media for protesters. The focus will be on safety and story-telling. I will also be helping at a teach-out as part of Tent City University next Wednesday, on the implication of these issues on academic activism. In solidarity.

The Paradox of Openness: the true cost of giving online

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 8 September 2011

At ALT-C 2011 I took part in a symposium on the Paradox of Openness: the true cost of giving online. I blogged about what I might say, as an introduction. In my five minutes and in the discussion that followed the following twelve points arose.

ONE. In his book on the Cuban Revolution in the Twenty-First Century, George Lambie argues that academia is locked into problem-solving theory. This is aimed at supporting, interacting with, and adjusting the dominant order. This leads to the artificial organisation and construction of knowledge, which in turn closes off a revelation of how society works. It depoliticises and avoids. It is not critically open. It disempowers us in our attempts to transform the world.

TWO. Thus, we need an ontological critique, as a process of analysis of how we experience the world and how we accept the elite’s interpretive myths – their hegemony over us. We need a revelation or a revealing or a revolution in our ways of thinking.

THREE. Through this revealing we need a critique of established ideological or intellectual frameworks. We need a critique of their legitimacy within higher education. This forms a set of political acts, which is itself open to critique.

FOUR. This critique, and our work and our labour are historically situated. Our critiques of what is “open” (whatever that is) within higher education are historically situated. They are situated within capitalist work as our living history and our lived experiences.

FIVE. When we develop a critique of “open”, we might consider its history as a re-ordering of business-as-usual in the years since 2006. We might consider a critique of open as a critique of formal, institutional higher education, but which has thus far been limited to a re-ordering of business-as-usual, with no deeper ontological base. Thus, in higher education we might consider “open” in light of Phase 1 of the JISC/HEA OER programme that began in 2009. We might also consider its history in light of the maturation and analysis of MOOCs since 2008. We might also consider that since 2006 we have seen global attempts at reordering business-as-usual, in the form of capitalist work, through problem-solving or enclosure, in the following spaces.

  • In the UK, the final term of the last Labour Government saw the governance and funding of higher education migrated to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the publication in 2009 of Higher Ambitions, which began a process of the neoliberal enclosure of university life.
  • In 2009 the think-tank demos published Resilient Nation and The Edgeless University, both of which were attempts to recalibrate how we think about managing disruption and the ways in which Universities might become open in their practices. At the same time, the new economics foundation published The Great Transition, which was a blueprint for its future work on de-growth and zero growth economics, and the working practices that underpin capitalist work.
  • We now know from Wikileaks’ cables that in 2007-09 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia admitted that it had been historically overstating its oil production capability by 40%, just as Richard Heinberg was writing about peak everything (2007). In 2010 the International Energy Agency’s Annual Report confirmed the reality of peak oil in that same period.
  • In 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed and governments globally were drawn into fiscal measures to maintain business-as-usual; the aftermath saw an enclosure of future life and work though austerity and indenture.
  • In 2008, the UK Government passed the Climate Change Act, which attempted to problem-solve the issue of de-carbonisation through legislation.
  • In these actions or Acts or publications, we see an array of attempts at problem-solving individual issues, or at enclosing our lives through indebtedness or the privatisation of public assets or a lack of transparency about liquid fuels and so on. This enclosing is more than closure, because enclosure implies privatisation or property rights, or power-over a space in order to seek profit (financial or rental) from it. Alternatively, spaces might be closed but operate through, for example, consensus or for reasons of safety, outside the treadmill logic of competition or profit-maximisation or accumulation or a need to increase the rate of profit. Yet, try as we might to see our discussion of “open” within education framed by issues that reveal a new ontological space, critique of that very space is closed off to us. Our discussion is framed by a specific set of crises that are symptomatic of capitalism, and that are disconnected. As a result, in the possibilities we envisage, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism.
  • In the face of the violence of the dispossession or enclosure of our futures, we need a revelatory politics of what we might call “open”.
    • Yet our politics of open is closed to the problem-solving logic of value-for-money, efficiency and productivity.
    • Yet our politics of open is closed to the proletarianisation of academic life and the appropriation of our labour.
    • Yet our politics of open is closed to the intensification and assurance of our labour.
    • Our politics of open does not allow us to critique our work in the face of the discipline of debt and the kettle.
    • And so our academic life is closed to a discussion of the politics of ”open”, and a concomitant critique of formal higher education – our politics is enclosed within the dominant logic of capitalist work, which subsumes our power-to create the world through its power-over our labour.
    • And meanwhile, as our students are attempting to re-create and re-imagine their world in occupation, and as our students are fighting for an open public higher education, we tell ourselves stories of co-production and enfranchisement enclosed by business-as-usual.
    • And as David Willetts tells us that we “use ICT for the right reasons”, we might critique what this means for our re-production of ourselves and the world. For as Marx suggests, our enculturation and use of technology is much more complex: “Technology discloses man’s mode of dealing with Nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them.”

SIX. And there is hope. There is hope that beyond the commodification of “open” as a resource or a course, and its subsumption under capital, we might rethink our practices and our labour through:

SEVEN. A critique of our social relationships as consumers, producers and contributors, within and beyond our networks (witness open source and the cloud and institutionalisation);

  • Transformatory engagement that attempts to dissolve higher education into the fabric of society as higher learning (witness activist academics or academic bloggers or open scholarship and data);
  • A reinvention of higher education in public, through an open critique of its historical forms that recognises its enclosure within capitalist work and its symptomatic crises.

EIGHT. Within these revelatory activities, we need the confidence to recognise that we might have to operate as infidels, rather than heretics or visitors or residents. Our roles as infidels will challenge problem-solving norms, and the established hegemonic order that defines our work. It might refuse to accept the intellectual parameters of those elites that shape the world in which higher education operates. This is not about adjusting the horizons of our world. It is about cracking and re-framing and transforming them through our activism.

NINE. Thus, we might reveal a paradox of “open”: namely that its very enclosure within business-as-usual, and our inability to think the unthinkable and step beyond it, is too often what is closes its practices to us. Through our focus on problem-solving, and our disregard for ontological critique, our “open” strategies are constrained or contained or neutered. We might ask then, in the battle of ideas, and before we define and dissect “open”, what are we for when we are for open?

The true cost of openness

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 1 September 2011

Closure and exclusion

Following his leadership of the successful Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) occupation and work-in of 1971-72, the Communist and trades unionist Jimmy Reid was elected as Rector of the University of Glasgow. In his Rectoral Address Reid argued that

Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today… it is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It’s the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making.

Since May 2010 the UK’s Coalition Government have been quickening the pace of enclosure of our public spaces; of our exclusion from the preserved, open and shared places in which our society is re-invented. Within this process of exclusion and of enclosing space and time (both the present and, collapsed into it, the future), debt presents itself as a cold and calculating means of collectivised, individual indenture. And the formal, historical University as a site of social contribution, that once lay within and yet against the calculating, coercion of accumulation and the market is closed down within that very logic.


And in that logic, the processes of exclusion, enclosure and indenture are violent. They do violence to the history of the University. They do violence to the hope and to the reality of higher learning as an escape from socio-environmental crisis. As a result they do violence to the possibility of our collective being and becoming. They do violence to us.

Incarceration (or the kettle)

It is in this violent, enclosing space that the activities of the University emerge and are re-produced. It is in this space that higher learning and its social relationships cycle and re-cycle. It is in this space then that “open” risks becoming a fetish, closed to critique and uncritically cloaked in a veneer of co-production, or sustainability, or value-for-money, or efficiency. It is as if “open” or “openness” offers us liberation or emancipation within the coercive, competitive reality of capital power-over our labour. It is as if “open” might reshape the activities of higher education, in spite of the shackling of the University to accumulation by dispossession and the dictates of the market. So “open” risks becoming a distraction; a wish that we might avoid the incarceration that capital enforces on our labour-power, through the discipline of technological surveillance, order, productivity, efficiency, debt.


Thus the institutionalisation of open education risks becoming yet another alienating practice precisely because, as Winn argues, “it is just another way of creating capital out of immaterial labour”. A formalised, institutionalised, “open” education threatens us with: proletarianisation and deskilling through mass-production, automation and standardisation; the totem of efficiency and an increase in the rate of profit; the reification of the resource as product; and pedagogy-as-production, curricula-as-distribution and learning-as-consumption. In our apolitical discourse about the free movement and regeneration of reified things, we risk amplifying the commodification of “open” education through liberal property laws (Creative Commons) that guarantee a level of autonomy to digital objects over and above the rights of teaching (labour) and learning (apprenticeship) from which they are abstracted, and which is placed under the control and supervision of quality assurance, productivity and impact measures.


And yet we see the crisis all around us. Our environment is polluted. Our environment is despoiled. Our technologies are underpinned by corporate imperialism, war and human rights atrocities. Our technologies are a mechanism for profit and enclosure and the re-inscription of power. Our world-in-the-cloud is increasingly parcelled off into clearly demarcated, outsourced, privatised applications. And through our outsourced connection to the operation and production of technologies, and our consumption of them within a history of capitalist work, we are displaced from contributing towards worldly wisdom. We are increasingly separated, in part by by the disarming disguise of technology, from the reality of our being. This is our ongoing crisis.


A critique of “open” stands against business-as-usual. It offers “open” as a public concern – a form of contribution that is against what the University is becoming. Its realisation offers safe spaces where associations can be developed. And that is closed to monitoring and ordering and control and profit. And that is against the social re-ordering of our lives for enclosure, the extraction of surplus value and of capitalist valorisation. And that is messy in its social re-formations, in its consumption and in its production, and in how individual contributions are assembled. For as Marx wrote:

only in association with others has each individual the means of cultivating his talents in all directions. Only in a community therefore is personal freedom possible… In a genuine community individuals gain their freedom in and through their association.

And so we might ask what the hacker ethic, and what Lulzsec and Anonymous, offers us? We might ask what open source development offers us? We might ask what a more nebulous, less ordered and monitored and modelled form of “open” offers us? What does openness at the margins, beyond the formally-enclosed institution offer us?


Dyer-Witheford offers us hope in the histories of the Commons:

A twenty-first century communism must also be envisioned as a complex unity of terrestrial, state and networked commons, but the strategic and enabling point in this ensemble is the networked commons, which opens possibilities for new combinations of planetary planning and autonomous association.

These histories offer a critique of the ahistorical truisms of our being, that technology and education can only meaningfully serve capitalist expansion, through discourses of order and finance capital that are related to value-for-money, efficiency/productivity/profit, private/public, and the market. The global contribution of skills, alongside stories in which they might be situated, exists in spaces that remain as yet unenclosed. These spaces might be harnessed collaboratively for more than profiteering, or the extraction of surplus value or further accumulation or financialisation, or alienation or violence.

In and beyond technology we teach and re-think these practices and these ways of thinking every day with other staff and students and within our communities of practice. But they need to be politicised in the face of the crisis, because they flow through our being and our power-to create the world. As Marx highlighted

Technology discloses man’s mode of dealing with Nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them.


We need the confidence to imagine that our skills might be shared and put to another use. We need the confidence to defend our physical and virtual commons as spaces for contribution, through production and consumption. We need the confidence to think ethically through our positions. We need the confidence to live and tell a different, overtly political story of “open”.

This might mean less of a focus on “open” and more on “autonomy” against capital. For Tiqqun has argued that

“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.

Reflections on the politics of dashboards and Green IT

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 16 June 2011

Howard Noble from the JISC Open to Change project has blogged about the recent energy dashboards event held in Oxford. This event focused upon a number of emerging themes.

  1. How to represent/visualise energy data so that those who use institutional infrastructure can see the impact of their work? An outcome of the work on dashboards was that whilst some are seeking to reveal cost in terms of everyday activities that make sense to individuals, like the equivalent number of cups of tea that could be made, users of energy generally think about [are encouraged to think about?] their energy use as a cost in cash-terms. Money is the dominant metric in this approach to visualisation.
  2. Much of the focus appears, as yet, to be focused on individual behaviour change, rather than seeing this as a mutual, co-operative endeavour. There are plenty of examples of how networks or communities coming together can engage in a discussion about resilience, rather than sustainability, for example, Transitions Towns, Dark Mountain, the Co-operative College. However, this involves a focus, less on personalisation, which is a driving characteristic of societal and educational “value”, and more on mutualism, negotiation and collaboration.
  3. This need to re-focus discussion upon shared use of space and energy within it demands meaningful, long-term, public engagement. This is one of the outcomes of the DUALL project at DMU, and its successor GreenView, which wishes to enter into negotiation with people about “the impacts of our individual and collective actions, notably our increasing energy use and consumption of goods and services.” This includes technologies that are locally-hosted, but also those which are out-sourced to the cloud. Exactly where are we shifting our carbon commitments, so that we can shift any medium-term environmental risk off our short-term balance sheets?
  4. Thus, I think it is important to see energy dashboards in the context of a deliberative process that surrounds the discussion and opening up of visualisation data as a crack in our accepted norms of energy use. The process of opening-up our energy data, and opening up the production process that underpins those data needs to drive a wider discourse around our socio-technical activities within higher education. We need to move away from seeing dashboards as an end in themselves, as a set of data to be turned into a commodity that can be traded, exchanged or quantified in a league table. We need to use those data and their representation as a way to unpick the activities we engage in within Universities. In a draft article [under review], Joss Winn and I look at such activities in light of emissions and peak oil, and argue for a higher education where:
  • educational technology is a public rather than a private or institutionalised good with an acceptance of less energy-intensive, individualised access to processing power;
  • there is prioritisation of digital technologies in strategies for community consensus-building;
  • Universities are networks that act as hubs for local, community-level engagement with technologies, and high-level digital processes;
  • individual access to the web is less of a right than community access, based on a literacy of openness. Open is central;
  • outsourcing decisions are based on community need related to a critical analysis of environmental impact, rather than on a discourse of cost-effectiveness;
  • persistent and on-going procurement and renewal of hardware and software is rejected, in favour of re-use and re-purposing; and
  • students and staff produce and share their open curricula and artefacts, through trans-disciplinary approaches to global crises, like peak oil and climate change.

Engaging with a critique of the Triple Crunch and developing meaningful alternatives means that we need to think beyond business-as-usual, as realised through investments in a Green New Deal or long-term investments or out-sourcing risk and impact, in order to engage socially with the work, tasks and activities of our everyday, educational lives.

This means that we need to move away from a focus on values and attitudes to engaging with the deep, structural issues that are revealed by the work we undertake. How do the teaching, administrative and research processes of the University bind us into unsustainable practices [in terms of peak oil and carbon emissions], and make our communities less resilient? I am thinking of this in terms of our instant, recurrent, personalised, intensive use of energy-through-high-technology. How might energy dashboards and the information they project, help us to open up a dialogue about the ways in which we live our educational lives?

One lesson from the workshop is that we have a tendency to outsource, and that this makes us less well able to engage in a discussion of responsibility at scale. This might be in terms of institutional outsourcing of our carbon, or personal outsourcing of solutions to Government. This point has been reiterated in terms of corporate influence of public policy making and a withering of democratic engagement, in opposition to the social uses of technologies that should enable communities to share in “collaboration, process, experience, expertise, and knowledge”.

This is, of course, more difficult in a space where the rule of money and the invisibility/ubiquity of energy dominate the landscape, and where there is little discussion of complexities like the Jevons Paradox or alternative ways of working. We need to re-think our educational activities, in order to think about dashboards not as the next commodity or means of acquiring research funding, but as indicators of our shared consumption and production. We need fewer futuristic, positivist stories of green technologies, or green energy, and more focus upon our histories of adapting to energy shortages across communities. Meaningful public engagement is critical here, because Universities are located in time and space, and through community activity, external income generation, distance learning and outsourcing, they have a considerable carbon/energy footprint/requirement.

Clearly, this work demands a politics of energy use within and across higher education, which does not just engage students and staff with energy-as-money, but with issues and ideas of peak oil and consumption/production, and with their necessary activities/technologies. Until we have such a deliberative policy, dashboard-related work risks being the next commodity, or end-point, that salves our liberal, democratic consciences about energy use, but which actually change nothing. Hope lies in the dashboard and its production as a cipher for deliberation and socio-cultural change.

The politics of educational technology

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 9 June 2011

Last week Joss Winn reminded me of the urgency of the work that he and I have been doing in the last year around resilience, tied to the impacts of liquid fuel availability/costs, peak oil, climate change and the treadmill logic of capitalism. Reflecting on the triple crunch of energy, economy and emissions, Joss ended his piece by stating that:

“It’s time that a co-ordinated effort was made by the sector to examine these issues in detail, involving academics from across disciplines as well as business continuity managers and VCs. We really do need to start ‘thinking the unthinkable‘…”

Whilst both he and I have been blogging about resilient education for a while, five issues have begun to pinch, which ought to re-focus those of us in higher education and in educational technology, on the politics of our position. These are big issues that threaten to overwhelm us. But they cannot be ignored.

1.    Global socio-political disruption: the media has focused in on what has been termed the Arab Spring, with an overt focus on Libya [see below on oil], and has tended to overlook analyses of tensions in either the United States based on unemployment figures and the deficit, or across Europe in Greece and Spain. This is then connected to issues around youth unemployment, which in turn has implications for discussions of what our higher education is for, and for whom our higher education exists, and who is abandoned by us. We might usefully reflect on the New College of the Humanities farrago, in light of our educational approach to social justice and inclusion. More importantly, in Western economies struggling under the weight of fiscal stimulus, needing to reduce deficits and structural debt, with pensions and an ageing population to consider, the inter-relationship between higher education and the politics of austerity need to be critiqued and alternatives developed. This is especially important in our current political space, because, as Paul Mason notes: “At the heart if it all is a new sociological type: the graduate with no future”.

2.    Local socio-political disruption: the emerging neoliberal higher education project is contested. However, we exist in a space where the routine brutalisation of our young people on our campuses is tolerated, where those who dare to criticise established positions of power are termed terrorists, and where our use of social media for local and national organising comes under attack. Neocleous argues that “the logic of ‘security’ is the logic of an anti-politics in which the state uses ‘security’ to marginalize all else, most notably the constructive conflicts, the debates and discussions that animate political life, suppressing all before it and dominating political discourse in an entirely reactionary way.” Higher education should be the battle of ideas. If we truly believe in the transformatory power of social media, then we need to use itto contest these hegemonic positions.

3.    The economy: our framing of higher education rarely considers either the politics of our work or global economic outlook, for example in terms of the threat of a technical US default on its debt or China’s emerging lack of resources. Our planning and our thinking are around business-as-usual, as if higher education existed in a global, political economic bubble, in which the contradictions of capitalism remain someone else’s problem. That’s before we stop to think about the impact on other people of our consumer-driven lifestyles and work and higher education.

4.    Personal and institutional debt: Williams has noted that, in the move from education as a public good to becoming an individual commodity: “student debt, in its prevalence and amounts, constitutes a pedagogy, unlike the humanistic lesson that the university traditionally proclaims, of privatization and the market.” This is reiterated in the development and focus of the New College of the Humanities. However, it also refocuses the future of higher education and its funding mechanisms [in a world that faces the disruptions noted above], and the fear that middle of the road universities will soon be in the middle of a funding crisis. Paul Mason has also highlighted how finance capital in the West repackaged debt and risk in the sub-prime crisis. Are we about to see the same in the form of commodity-trading in student-driven debt? How does a pedagogy of debt enable the resilience of communities-of-practice or individuals?

5.    Energy and climate change: liquid energy is the key issue that we choose to ignore, and which is inextricably tied to the economic issues noted above. This ranges from the impact of geopolitical instability in Libya, to our desperate rush for tar sands in Madagascar, to the problems of energy policy and climate change objectives. So we focus upon green league tables or Masters degrees in the Economics of Transition, and do not consider them within a deeper critique of our dominant political-economic paradigms. Our debt-fuelled higher education is about to be driven by consumption of learning as a commodity. What will be the impact of that increase in economic spending on emissions and energy use? How will that frame resilience?

Technology is implicated throughout these issues, from governmental control/abuse of social media use and data, to feeding fears of anti-intellectualism, and through carbon emissions and the use of liquid energy. More importantly, it also fuels a myth of progress, tied to economic growth and libertarian utility, set apart from a deeper engagement in the history of struggle and the politics of its development and use. We tend to forget our history, in a rush for the future, and where we do remember our memories only stretch as far as Web 1.0. We might use the term Luddite related to technology, but we have no idea of the history of that term and what the Luddites were fighting for, and how technology was implicated through its non-neutrality in that story. The term is pejorative of those deemed anti-progress, and yet the real issue, as Feenberg has argued, is that ” technology is not a destiny but a scene of struggle.”

Yet the historian Ellen Meiksins-Wood has noted that:

‘we’re living in a moment when, for the first time, capitalism has become a truly universal system…. Capitalism is universal also in the sense that its logic – the logic of accumulation, commodification, profit-maximisation, competition – has penetrated almost every aspect of human life and nature itself’.

Our education and our use of technologies are implicated. In order to understand our present position, and to develop alternatives that matter, we need stories and metaphors and critiques of where we are. There are elements of this, for example in the work of Feenberg, but we need a coherent, contextualised history and a politics of educational technology more than ever.

This is emering elsewhere, outside the formalised educational institution. On Sunday night a UKUncut conversation on Twitter opened up a possibility for discussing a history of direct action, using the #DAHistory hashtag. We also have clear examples of where technology has been critiqued and is being developed politically in the form of oppositional spaces. We also have examples of hacktivism and network movements in opposition to the global incorporation of networked technologies. Critiquing power relationships within our use of technology is important because, as DSG have noted “Governments are responding with a conscious and concerted effort to reframe cyber activity and activism as criminality against state and capital, which, no doubt, will soon be upgraded to a form of terrorism. This bears analogies to similar reframing of narratives around workers movements throughout the 19th and 20th Century, not least the “strategy of tension” in Italy in the 1970s.”

In the face of disruptions, and the return of politics in an era of austerity, those of us who work in education and technology might usefully ask: what is to be done?

Postscript: the importance of metaphors and stories of technology-in-education

We have a narrative emerging about the contradictions in the cycles and circuits of capitalism, and the place of technology in those contradictions. Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greg de Peuter raise this in terms of games and the creative industries, arguing that the commodification and exploitation of “creatives”, gamers and hacker culture, is a form of “playbor”, which subsumes the desire to play games within the profit-motive. They argue that we need to understand this process of subsumption, in order to find ways around it, and to challenge it. These challenges might echo the revelations about of Sony’s attempts to silence speech that reveals security flaws about its PlayStation hardware, or they might echo the emergent history of hacktivism against Sony. Both de Peuter and Dyer Witheford argue that the dominant narratives of educational technology, for example of Web 2.0 technology as user-generated and hence emancipatory, or of learning analytics as allegedly leading to efficient, personalised teaching and learning, or of technology as implicitly progressive, need to be critiqued within a more substantive history of capitalism and the western, liberal state.

In doing this, Dyer Witheford argues for an alternative narrative, one of possibility, framed by the revitalisation of the commons:

“A twenty-first century communism must also be envisioned as a complex unity of terrestrial, state and networked commons, but the strategic and enabling point in this ensemble is the networked commons, which open possibilities for new combinations of planetary planning and autonomous association.”

This narrative of the insertion of global networks of capital within higher education feeds a second metaphor, that of the shock doctrine. Klein’s work on shock opens up a way of viewing what Hardt and Negri call Empire and what those who follow Deleuze and Guattari frame as immaterial labour within a networked reimagining of our global social relationships. We might now usefully work in common to reveal the impact of this shock within UK higher education, on issues of debt as a form of indentured labour, and of the discipline of the kettle and order, and of the ways in which states attempt to utilise technologies to impose order and control. Such a revelation demands rhizomatic or permeable working across disciplinary boundaries, in ways which develop resilient alternatives to dominant, powerful narratives of the purposes of our lives.

Each of these stories offers hope. Hope in that we might use them as metaphors to help us explain our world, in light of global crises; in order to understand how our behaviours and our cognitive dissonance impacts consumption and production in this world. As a result we might try to build something different. In the worst case scenario, these stories might help us work with others to become more resilient at scales and in networks that matter to us.

These stories enable us to critique in common the ahistorical truisms of liberal democracy, that technology and education can only meaningfully serve capitalist expansion, through discourses of finance capital that are related to value-for-money, efficiency, private/public, and the market. A global range of skills, alongside stories in which they might be situated, exist in spaces that remain as yet unenclosed. These spaces might be harnessed collaboratively for more than profiteering, or the extraction of surplus value or further accumulation or financialisation, or alienation. We teach and re-think these skills and these ways of thinking every day with other staff and students and within our communities of practice. We need the confidence to imagine that our skills might be shared and put to another use. We need the confidence to defend our physical and virtual commons as spaces for production and consumption. We need the confidence to think ethically through our positions. We need the confidence to live and tell a different story of the purpose of technology-in-education.

Towards a critique of mobile learning

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 20 May 2011

Mobile and wireless technologies are often described in terms of efficiency and productivity, or in terms of their provision of “flexible and timely access to learning resources, instantaneous communication, portability, active learning experiences and the empowerment and engagement of learners, particularly those in dispersed communities.” (JISC, 2011) Given the research and funding agenda, pedagogic case studies tend to focus upon outcomes for learners and teachers. They rarely critique these technologies beyond: the pedagogies deployed; technical issues; and the spaces and places in which they are deployed (Traxler and Wishart, 2011).

Such a pedagogically-driven analysis risks describing mobile technologies as socio-culturally neutral, against their absorption within social relationships and networks of power, based on their enculturation (Feenberg, 1999). In developing a more critical view of mobile learning there are three areas that might be developed: firstly, against pedagogies of consumption; secondly, for social justice and ethical imperatives; and thirdly, within analysis of energy availability. We might then ask, what is to be done?

Against a pedagogy of consumption. The pervasiveness of mobile hardware and software, and the persistent desire to upgrade, risks further privatising our education. Thus, educators might usefully ask whether a focus on mobile Apps, as opposed to the mobile web, reinforces a pedagogy of consumption through the commodification of content (Jarvis, 2010). This is based in-part on transnational software and hardware corporations driving content-based innovations that encloses and threatens the idea of the open web (Rupley, 2010; Silver, 2010), within the context of their brand and procurement processes, and the dominance of their cultural perspectives (Dyer Witheford and de Peuter, 2009). Moreover, we risk leveraging education into the almost constant need to search for the latest technological innovation or handset upgrade. This obsession with chasing the next innovative tablet or handset or application and therefore with power-over our access to resources, rather than on producing or enhancing or challenging or reforming our social relationships, needs to be critiqued.

For social justice and ethical imperatives. The labour rights, resource accumulation, geographical dispossession and supply-chains in which our uses of mobile technologies are implicated also need critique. Factories in which the iPad, iPod and iPhone are made in China have seen an abuse of workers’ rights and disturbing levels of suicide (Coonen, 2010; Hickman, 2010). Closer to home, there are also reports of alleged tax avoidance by mobile phone operators against the common good (UKUncut, 2011). More disturbingly, Hari (2011) has recently looked historically and materially at the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In over a decade of fighting, more than 5 million people have been killed, and Amnesty International (2011) have documented human rights’ abuses including gang-rape, mutilation, enforced disappearances and the militarisation of young boys and men. In this war, Hari emphasises the material importance of the DRC’s mineral deposits, and in particular Coltan, which

“is essential for the power-storing parts of cell phones, nuclear reactors, Play Stations, and computer chips. Coltan is increasingly exploited in the mountains in the conflict torn eastern part of the country… As coltan is necessary for the high-tech industry and as demand increases, motivation to pull out of the DRC by Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi decreases.” (Ware, 2001)

So, it is argued that these minerals are the driving forces for war, and that those who benefit are multi-national corporations involved in western high-tech innovation and development. A UN Experts’ Report (2008) argued that

“exporters and consumers of Congolese mineral products should step up their due diligence efforts by publicly disclosing evidence that would demonstrate that they are not knowingly purchasing tainted minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The place of energy availability and climate change. There is an emerging critique of the issue of sustainability tied to the viability of capitalist work within the context of reduced liquid resource availability, and a lack of control over carbon emissions (Greer, 2011; Pielke, 2010). Consideration of these implications is a reminder that higher education (HE) does not operate in a vacuum (Thrift, 2010). In particular, peak oil, or the point at which the maximum rate of oil production is reached, is a critical issue. Following this peak, oil production declines due to exponentially falling supply. Oil and coal are embedded in the production processes for the tools that we consume (Winn, 2010), with the production of carbon emissions as one outcome. Is our constant renewal of a range of personal technologies sustainable? In the production process for mobile technologies we also outsource our production of carbon to “developing economies”, without bearing the full cost. Is this morally acceptable? To what extent do we dissociate ourselves and our use of our tools from their global outcomes (Greer, 2011; The Oil Drum, 2010).

Each of these three critical domains implicates and enmeshes our use of mobile technologies within the web of a global market (Deleuze and Guattari, 2004; Hardt and Negri, 2000). Yet these webs of capitalism and transnational power-relationships keep those of us who notionally benefit from mobile technologies at a distance from the effects of our consumption. Hardt and Negri (2000) note that “Machines and technologies are not neutral and independent entities. They are biopolitical tools deployed in specific regimes of production, which facilitate certain practices and prohibit others.” Dyer Witheford and de Peuter (2009) argue that whilst devices are enslaving, this is not to deny that they are pleasurable, but we need to recognise how that pleasure itself channels power. We need to critique the realities of our uses of technology, in order to imagine alternatives.

What is to be done? Clearly global solutions are required to the catastrophes outlined above. However, educators might think about the following in their lives and practices.

  • How do we lobby vendors, providers, re-sellers, commissioners, in order that they justify the extraction of the materials, and the production processes, that they use for their products? How do we do this in association with others and in our daily work?
  • How do we work for technological decisions, like procurement, outsourcing etc., to be based on community need related to a critical analysis of socio-environmental impact and human rights, rather than on a discourse of cost-effectiveness, monetisation, economic value, and efficiency?
  • How do we lobby for consensus in open systems architectures, focused upon open-sourced, community designed and implemented technologies?
  • How do we work for a digital or technological literacy that is ethical? How do we work up an ethics of mobile learning?

In Nostromo, Joseph Conrad (1963) wrote about the social and material history of the Congolese, as their land was despoiled and as they were colonised in the nineteenth century:

“There is no peace and no rest in the development of material interests. They have their law, and their justice. But it is founded on expediency, and is inhuman; it is without rectitude, without the continuity and the force that can be found only in a moral principle.”

Our current use of mobile technologies needs to be recast in light of a critical history of their production and consumption to imagine alternatives beyond the rule of efficiency and money, in order to reclaim our humanity.


Amnesty International (2011). Democratic Republic of Congo. Retrieved from

Conrad, J. (1963) Nostromo: a tale of the seaboard. London: Dent.

Coonen, C. (2010b).Two more suicide bids at iPad plant hours after media tour. Retrieved from

Deleuze,G., and Guattari, F. (1984). Anti-Oedipus : capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Athlone.

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

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

Greer, J.M. (2011). The onset of catabolic collapse. Energy Bulletin. Retrieved from

Hardt, M., and Negri, A. (2000). Empire. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Hari, J. (2011). Dying for a mobile phone. Retrieved from

Hickman, M. (2010). Concern over human cost overshadows iPad launch. Retrieved from

Jarvis, J. (2010). iPad danger: app v. web, consumer v. Creator. Retrieved from

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The Oil Drum. (2010). The Science of Oil and Peak Oil Revisited. Retrieved from

Pielke, R. Jr. (2010). The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming. Lyndhurst, NJ: Barnes and Noble.

Rupley, S. (2010). Mobile Apps: The Ultimate Threat to Search Engines? Retrieved from

Silver,J. (2010). Google-Verizon Deal: The End of The Internet as We Know It. Retrieved from

Thrift, N. (2010). A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational-ethical dilemma). GlobalHigherEd. Retrieved from

Traxler, J., and Wishart,J. (eds 2011). Making mobile learning work: case studies of practice. Bristol: Escalate.

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The Empire of things: our mobile and our dehumanisation

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 12 May 2011

“There is no peace and no rest in the development of material interests. They have their law, and their justice. But it is founded on expediency, and is inhuman; it is without rectitude, without the continuity and the force that can be found only in a moral principle.”

Joseph Conrad in Nostromo

 On BBC Radio 4 last night, Johann Hari spoke about the devastating war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hari looked historically and materially at this war, which has seen more than 5 million people killed in over a decade of fighting, along with human rights’ abuses including gang-rape, mutilation, and enforced militarisation of young boys and men. Moreover, Amnesty International have consistently argued that those seeking to protect and enhance human rights in the DRC suffer threats and intimidation, and that the public administration has also utilised “excessive use of lethal force, arbitrary arrest and detention and enforced disappearances”.

Hari’s historical point critiques the dominant western narrative about this conflict, which has tended to view the war as connected to the Rwandan civil war and genocide, and which has post-colonial overtones framed by moral, ethical and cultural development. Instead, Hari emphasized the material importance of the DRC’s mineral deposits, and in particular Coltan, which

“is essential for the power-storing parts of cell phones, nuclear reactors, Play Stations, and computer chips. Coltan is increasingly exploited in the mountains in the conflict torn eastern part of the country. The Rwanda and Uganda backed rebels have primary control over the ore and are reaping huge profits which maintain and finance the protracted war. It is estimated that the Rwandan army made $20 million per month mining coltan in 2000. As coltan is necessary for the high-tech industry and as demand increases, motivation to pull out of the DRC by Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi decreases.”

So, it is argued that these minerals are “the driving forces for war”, and that those who benefit are multi-national corporations involved in western high-tech innovation and development. A recent UN Experts’ Report argued that

“exporters and consumers of Congolese mineral products should step up their due diligence efforts by publicly disclosing evidence that would demonstrate that they are not knowingly purchasing tainted minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Too many comptoirsare exploiting the legal distinction between themselves and negociants to claim they do not know the origin of the minerals they purchase, when clearly they often do, and, if they do not, it would be fairly easy to find out.”

This implicates me in that war and in that gang-rape and in that child labour, and demands that, at the very least, I ask the multinational company from which I buy my next device from where they source the minerals that are extracted for its production.

Yet I am also implicated and enmeshed within the web of a global market, in which the commodification of subjectivity is paramount, and in which my power is limited. One of the issues here is the functioning of what Hardt and Negri have called Empire, a new planetary regime in which the economic, military, administrative and communicative components combine into a system of power “with no outside”. Empire is a twenty-first century critique of global capital, which now taps its subjects as labour-power and also as consumers, learners and raw materials. Deleuze and Guattari have also argued the case that capitalism is now a planetary “production machine”, assembled from flows of labour, finance and technology, where the quest for profit drives new technical machines, new products and practices, cracks old habits, and throws all bounded domains or territories (that are geographic, social and subjective) into upheaval. It then reterritorialises these domains through enclosure, policing and commodification.

For Hardt and Negri, Empire is a regime of Foucauldian biopower, exploiting social, subjective and biological life in its entirety, for profit. So Empire and the transnational corporations that form nodes of power within it, and whose networks are circuits for accumulation and profit, covers all of our lives, though marketing, game-play, work, privatisation of public assets, data mining, advertising, the constant renewal and upgrades of technologies etc.. Critics like Virno, Tronti, Hardt and Negri have related the power of Empire to what is termed “immaterial labour” that is “the labor that produces the informational, cultural, or affective element of the commodity.” Our desire for play or for the latest device feeds Empire and the commoditisation of everyday life. This is the Empire of Things, supported by a socially diffuse intellectuality and set of desires, which is in turn generated by a vast educational apparatus.

It is not just in the DRC where these issues of high-tech needs feeding alienating behaviours are being uncovered. There are reports of workers’ rights being abused in FoxConn factories in China, which supply Apple, of game-farming in virtual sweatshops for western clients, of alleged tax avoidance by mobile phone operators against the common good. Yet the webs of Empire, its transnational circuits of raw materials, value and power keep those of us who notionally benefit from the immiseration of others at a distance from the effects of our consumption. We are disconnected from the implications and outcomes of our actions in queuing for and consuming the iPad2 or whichever new technology we favour. Instead, our discourse and our spectacle is about whether this new Chinese corporation might threaten Apple’s iPhone dominance, or the implications of that fragmentation of Android as a platform for App development, and its concomitant threat to Google’s business model. More occasionally it is about how our western, liberal data-rights are being infringed, or about how the police are using mobile technology to target protesters, or upon the impact of mobilles on bee populations. It is almost never about gang-rape and vaginal mutilation in Africa.

Virno argued that Empire keeps truths in the world at a safe distance, so that excessive consumption, equivocation over morality and ridicule of marginalised voices can enable endless, repetitive practices of commodification in a world where there are seen to be no alternatives. Cynicism becomes the defining feature of the emotional situation of our politics today – what on earth can we do about such powerlessness and distress? There is one final point that illuminates this cynicism, and that is the attack on humanities and critical theory by western governments. We are seeing UK Universities radically restructuring their academic portfolios in the name of business and the market. We are seeing a political attack on the nature and meaning of history. We are seeing a world in which the future is collapsed into the present, in order that we chase progress and development and the next upgrade. We are seeing what Marx called the annihilation of space by time. We do not stop to consider what we are doing, and alternative narratives are subject to ridicule.

At the CAL11 conference, when I presented a paper on the political economy of educational technology [slide 30], I was asked “just what are you expecting us to do”? My answer at the time was that I am not expecting you to do anything. But that I am expecting you to critique your position; to think about the ramifications of your activities and consumption; to think about your humanity. So, what is to be done by individuals and educators? Virno argues that the dominant order is destroyed “not by a massive blow to the head, but through a mass withdrawal from its base, evacuating its means of support”. This exodus also constructs a new alternative. It is defection as reconstruction, and relates to what Hardt and Negri have termed the Multitude. The multitude refers to new movements opposing global capital. It is a refusal to submit to the rule of money. The multitude refers to subjective capacity, social movement and political protest. Where these coalesce they point beyond Empire, through the realisation of alternatives.

However, we need to develop places to discuss what might be “beyond”, and how that might function. This demands that we critique the realities of our uses of technology. Hardt and Negri note that “Machines and technologies are not neutral and independent entities. They are biopolitical tools deployed in specific regimes of production, which facilitate certain practices and prohibit others.” Our engagement with devices leads Hardt and Negri to argue that “the multitude not only uses machines to produce, but also becomes increasingly machinic itself, as the means of production are increasingly integrated into the minds and bodies of the multitude.” This is developed by Dyer Witheford and de Peuter, who argue that whilst devices are enslaving, this is not to deny that they are pleasurable, but we need to recognise how that pleasure itself channels power.

Clearly global solutions are required to the catastrophes outlined by Hari in the DRC. However, I need to think about the following in my life and in my practice.

  • How do I lobby vendors, providers, re-sellers, commissioners, in order that they justify the extraction of the materials, and the production processes, that they use for their products? How do I do this in association with others and in my daily work?
  • How do I work for technological decisions, like procurement, outsourcing etc., to be based on community need related to a critical analysis of socio-environmental impact and human rights, rather than on a discourse of cost-effectiveness, monetisation, economic value, and efficiency?
  • How do I work for the use of technology in open education, rather than in a post-colonial discourse focused upon new markets?
  • How do I lobby for consensus in open systems architectures, focused upon open-sourced, community designed and implemented technologies? How do I argue that educational technology is a global and public, rather than a private or institutionalised, good?
  • How do I work for a digital or technological literacy that is ethical? How do I work up an ethics of digital literacy?
  • How do I think about the history and not the future of educational technology, so that I understand the ramifications of my actions and consumption?
  • How do I campaign for alternatives, within our everyday capitalist reality, in order to look beyond it? Where does social technology fit in that revolutionary space?

Joseph Conrad wrote about the social and material history of the Congolese, as their land was despoiled and as they were colonised in the nineteenth century. He referred to the broader colonization of Africa in an essay as “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration”. As an educational technologist I need to rediscover my history, in order to reclaim my humanity.

OER, capital and critical social theory

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 30 January 2011

In his post on Openness, Socialism, and Capitalism, David Wiley argues for the reform of a particular form of capitalism within education that should enable taxpayers to recover the value of OER-as-commodity, in the same way that they would receive the value of any other commodity in a functioning market. Wiley argues that “The symmetry of the transaction is part of the fundamental social contract that allows markets to function.” Joss Winn has already argued that Wiley has misunderstood the historically-situated significance of capitalism and OER, and has demonstrated the complex nature of the (OER-as-)commodity form through which capital can extract relative surplus value from labour and, within the context of capitalist work, how the production of OERs is a way in which capital uses technology to discipline labour.

There are two ways in which this analysis of OERs might be developed further. The first is in the need to situate OERs within the totality of critical social theory as applied to education, rather than simply treating them as fetishised commodities or shareable goods. The second relates to how their development connects to an increasingly neoliberal higher education that is being exported from the West to “developing” nations, as part of a social contract enforced upon them, through for instance the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme, and which is a form of primitive accumulation.

Wiley argues that within a perfectly-functioning capitalism our purchasing habits “are all governed by our common understanding of this commonsense behavior society expects of us”, namely that we get a commodity to the value of what we pay for it. However, Winn has demonstrated that the market doesn’t operate in this way, and that the effects of coercive competition are to make more complex the effects of costs, relative surplus value and profit throughout the supply chain, so that the commodity purchased realises more than just its price. The alleged social contract in this space is not neutral or of a fixed composition. It is eternally shifting depending upon the dictates of private property (who owns the means of production or the commodity), and the way in which value is realised/optimised. Moreover, the commodity also reveals the social relations of capitalist work that underpin this contract. The current clamour over petrol price rises in the UK highlights this, where we see competing interests, a fluctuating cost and price based on a variety of supply- and demand-side inputs, government intervention and geo-politics all intervening between the consumer and the commodity.

Into this, we cannot abstractly throw a concept like openness and hope that it can/will humanise capital. The domination of space and time by capital and the social relations that are revealed by it, demonstrate that openness is an illusion. Openness in the production, sharing and reuse of commodities, in the face of coercive competition that forms a treadmill for the production of value, needs to be analysed in relation to power. Who controls the means of production has the power to frame how open are the relations for the production or consumption of goods or services, in order to realise value. Capital needs to valorise and reproduce itself. The totality of this need, rather than the rights of taxpayers, shapes how human values like openness are revealed and enabled.

Therefore, central to this view of the value of OER, or for that matter openness – either to consumers or taxpayers – is to place it within the totality of capitalist work. Lukács identified the value of critical social theory in providing a totality of historically-situated social reproduction that was all-pervasive. In Volume I of Capital, Marx noted

Technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations.

Within this totality, the parts of the system acquire properties that have meaning, in relation to their connections that are uncovered through dialectical analysis. Without such a dialectical analysis all we are left with is a desperate hope that we can make the elements of capitalist work that we deem to be dysfunctional work more humanely or correctly or perfectly. Yet as as Žižek argues, our liberal aim “to democratise capitalism, to extend democratic control to the economy by means of media pressure, parliamentary inquiries, harsher laws, honest police investigations and so on” is doomed to fail. The socialism to which Wiley loosely points would be one such attempt to rework market capitalism in the favour of labour or the taxpayer. A more radical view is that OERs can never be a representation of, or a catalyst for, a means of humanising capitalist education. The more radical view is that, in deconstructing one element of education, like the OER, we require a critique of its place in the whole edifice of capitalist education as a functionary of the system of capitalist work. From there we can position the development of radical alternatives, like who owns the value of the outputs of our labour-power.

In this view, OERs can be implicated in a broader totality or production, consumption and re-production of social relations, which is historically situated with capitalism. Winn notes the importance of this when he notes that “capitalism is not isolated to private trade or the markets but impacts all aspects of a capitalist society. It is a social totality subservient to the production of value.” This totality is in constant flux and motion, and reveals what Marx termed ‘the annihilation of space by time’. This control over technology, in order to speed the production of relative surplus value and the circulation of commodities, is one means by which the reproduction of capitalist work can be assured.

A critique of the place of OER within capitalist work is critical to engaging with the idea of the University and higher education in the face of neoliberalism. The dominant position here is currently ‘sustainability’, which is a cipher for extending relative surplus value. In the face of this, Winn states that “When we talk about the sustainability of OERs or business cases for the production of OERs, we’re talking about how to measure the value of this endeavour and usually this is through attracting external grants and raising the profile of the institution in some way”. For Wiley the matter seems to focus more upon “the basic principles of capitalism”, where payment for a service like education [e.g. taxation] is an entitlement to receipt of any and all outcomes possible from that payment, rather than that payment [taxation] forming part of a deeper social, and not personal, engagement. Thus the production of OERs through taxation demands “that these products either be placed in the public domain or licensed with an open license”.

However, what is currently being revealed, either in the US through the new federal education fund that is making available $2 billion to create OER resources in community colleges, or in the UK through the HEFCE Online Learning taskforce report, Seizing the Opportunity of online learning for UK higher education, is a focus upon accelerating the precepts that underpin growth or business-as-usual, with the attendant neoliberal threats that I outlined in my post on internationalisation and the shock doctrine. In particular, these focus upon the promotion of western higher education as a vehicle for market fundamentalism, cloaked in terminology like “value-for-money”, “efficiency and scale”, and “international demand and competition.” Given the scale of the global disruptions that we collectively face, this narrow focus on economic growth, driven by an agenda of debt reduction, privatisation, contract working, consumption and financialisation [or those structural adjustment programmes], seems illogical. However, it does seem easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

The current approach demonstrates a homogenised and Western-capitalist view of higher education, where OERs in Africa produces western case studies in English, where open case studies from Nestle are used as an exemplar of a single unifying corporate culture for development, or where McKinsey claim that there are elements of excellence in taxpayer-funded education that are generic and profitable. This space is framed by the necessity of economic growth. Where Prime Minister Cameron states that there is no alternative to the global free market liberalisation of trade, and where Western neoliberalism holds sway over those practices, what price openness in education funded by taxpayers? What price co-operation where coercive competition is demanded by those who require 3% growth? Higher education is framed by these dominant concerns.

Werner Bonefeld has recently written about the cuts agenda in the UK. He has argued that “It is a struggle against the reduction of life time to labour time. The fight against cuts is in fact a fight for a life.” This is the true nature of the struggle for the University and the place of our productive capability in that struggle. It is not the struggle to receive what we think we deserve in a market that alienates and impoverishes and immiserates on a global scale. It is not the struggle to assess how as consumers we recover the value we think we deserve from a commodity. It is the struggle to recover our power-to create our world that is at issue. In this we need to recognise how we critique what is done to us, and the totality of the spaces in which we produce and consume. This is about understanding how our wage labour and our labour-power sits in opposition to the power of capital. It is about how we have the power of emancipation in our ability to produce rather than simply to consume. That emancipation will never be revealed in our role as taxpayers. This is about control of the means of production and the spaces of consumption, shared in common, in the face of financial disorder and austerity, and capital’s quickening of the pace of privatisation. In fighting this, I am interested less in the value of what I consume as an individual through a social contract (that is in-turn the outcome of my ordered and governed life-as-labour), and more interested in my association with others in the creation of my life-world. In this we are reminded by Marx that it is:

only in association with others has each individual the means of cultivating his talents in all directions. Only in a community therefore is personal freedom possible… In a genuine community individuals gain their freedom in and through their association.

A revised note on technology, outsourcing and the privatisation of higher education

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 14 December 2010

In a recent note on technology, outsourcing and the privatisation of higher education, I argued that hegemonic economic arguments, uncritically focused on short-term efficiency gains and the perceived flexibility of cloud-based provision, is accelerating the commodification of IT services, systems and data. A core strand of this is that the dominant logic “makes no attempt to focus upon an institution as a complex socio-cultural set of spaces, within which technology and those who work with it are situated.”

My belief that we are witnessing “an emerging crisis of the public space” revealed in-part through technological outsourcing, privatisation and enclosure has been amplified by recent, global socio-cultural events. These events highlight the power of capital in enclosing our places for co-operation.

  1. In an excellent commentary on Amazon’s decision to abandon Wikileaks, John Naughton claims that the migration to the cloud offers problems for those who dissent from prevailing narratives of power. The political pressure brought to bear on Amazon, and its decision not to support a counter-hegemonic or alternative position, for reasons that are extra-judicial, is concerning for democratic engagement on-line. Naughton quotes Rebecca MacKinnon: “A substantial, if not critical amount of our political discourse has moved into the digital realm. This realm is largely made up of virtual spaces that are created, owned and operated by the private sector.” Therefore the control of spaces for deliberation, where controversy can be played out is compromised by the interplay between power and capital. It should be noted that the Wikileaks farrago has been critiqued as business-as-usual, in that “The leaking performed by Wikileaks does not imply the disclosure of the web of power that government puts into motion”. However, the attack on dissent matters in a world where autonomous student and academic activists are using the web to oppose the dominant logic of those in power, and where the state is physically opposing forms of protest.
  2. MacKinnon goes on to state that “The future of freedom in the internet age may well depend on whether we the people can succeed in holding companies that now act as arbiters of the public discourse accountable to the public interest.” The web is entwined with our social forms – it provides a space to widen our engagement with education, with exchange and production, with communities in their struggle for justice. The web forms a space, embedded within our view of social forms, within which ideas of our shared public goods can be defended and extended. In the logic of capital, where cuts and privatisation, or the marketisation of our lives, are being catalysed at an increasing velocity, the spaces we defend and extend for shared social value are critical. However, it is clear that whilst the state has moved to enclose and brutalise physical space, through the use of militarised tactics like kettling people, in an attempt to reduce dissent via shock therapy, such coercion on-line also needs to be resisted in the name of democracy.
  3. Resistance is difficult to achieve for it rests on a view of the commons or public goods, which in-turn stands against the dominant logic of all spaces opened up for the exchange of commodities. Dyer-Witheford has demonstrated how the tensions between exchange for sharing, versus co-operation for sharing are exacerbated in the violence of the virtual space. Dyer-Witheford sees some hope in the concept of the multitude raised by Negri and Hardt in opposition to the power of capital that re-produced systemically, beyond national borders, as Empire. The multitude offers hope because it re-connects opposition towards the alienating, dehumanising effects of capitalism and coercive competition, by way of a proliferation of autonomous spaces. It re-connects opposition into the ethics of peer-to-peer sharing and the hacker. It offers a metaphor for multiple ways to dissolve the toxicity of capitalism into a new set of deliberated social forms. In this we need to reconsider our approach to the personal and towards celebrating libertarian views of the individual that commodify our privacy, or at least the state’s control of it. This is why the place of hacktivism, in and against capital’s dominant social forms and their shackling of our labour and social lives to an economically-determined set of outcomes, is important. Hacktivism as “electronic direct action in which creative and critical thinking is fused with programming skill and code creating a new mechanism to achieve social and political change” is critical in “securing the Internet as a platform of free speech and expression.” Increasingly, this work will be needed as the state marketises or closes down our public spaces for free speech and expression, and forces public bodies like Universities to privatise and valorise their work, conditioned by debt.
  4.  In the face of an homogenised life, we can view the autonomous nature of student occupations of physical and virtual space as a protest without co-ordinates or co-ordination. The lack of leadership in the face of a militarised response has enabled the multitude of dissenting voices to work towards a network of dissent that is able to theorise and critique a position beyond fees and cuts to teaching budgets. The dominant logic is one of resistance to capital, visited symptomatically through fees, cuts to public services, financialisation of debt, and corporate tax avoidance. One possibility is that the use of cloud-based social media, which is at once open source and proprietary, peer-to-peer, shared and closed, offers ways for those in opposition to subscribe to a broader critical and social opposition in developing this critique. This is not the world of the lone reviewer or subscriber, who can rate/subscribe to other lone reviewers. This is the world of security in the social; it is the world of re-production and sharing as social exchanges and social activities that are not-for-profit. They need to be defended and not proscribed.

There is an emerging concern that the privatisation and outsourcing of spaces and opportunities by Universities, driven by cost and an agenda of debt, is a real risk to freedom-of-speech and dissent. Where private firms are able to control public discourse, and where the internet becomes tethered or enclosed, there are no guarantees that we will be able to challenge. There is no guarantee that we will not be kettled or coerced where we protest on-line. The privatisation of our academic spaces threatens a negation of the critical, social life. It needs to be deliberated before that possibility is destroyed.