Dismantling the curriculum in higher education

On 22 November I’ll be speaking at the University of Greenwich Open Lecture Series, on the issue of dismantling the curriculum in higher education. I will build on my work on academic alienation, mass intellectuality and decolonising the curriculum. The abstract is appended herewith.

The higher education curriculum in the global North is increasingly co-opted for the production of measurable outcomes, framed by determinist narratives of employability and enterprise. Such co-option is immanent to processes of financialisation and marketisation, which encourage the production of quantifiable curriculum activities and tradable academic services. Yet the university is also affected by global socio-economic and socio-environmental crises, which can be expressed as a function of a broader crisis of social reproduction or sociability. As the labour of academics and students is increasingly driven by a commodity-valuation rooted in the measurement of performance, the ability for academics and students to respond to crises from inside the university is constrained by the market.

This discussion argues that in understanding the relationship between the university and society, and in responding to a crisis of sociability, revealing the commodification of the curriculum is central. This enables us to discuss the possibility that an open curriculum rooted in ideas of mass intellectuality might enable new forms of social wealth to emerge in opposition to a curriculum for private/positional gain. One possible way to reframe the curriculum is by re-imagining the university through the co-operative practices of groups like the Dismantling the Masters House community and the Social Science Centre. Such an exploration, rooted in the organising principles of the curriculum, asks educators to consider how their curriculum reproduces forms of colonisation. It is argued that such work enables a re-imagination of higher education that is rooted in an engaged and co-operative curriculum, with a focus on praxis.


Against boundaries: Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education

On Thursday I’m speaking at the University of Worcester Teaching and Learning and Student Experience Conference . The title of my talk is Against boundaries: Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education, and will be based on this Open Library of the Humanities paper. The abstract is appended below, and the slides are posted below that.

The higher education curriculum in the global North is increasingly co-opted for the production of measurable outcomes, framed by determinist narratives of employability and enterprise. Such co-option is immanent to processes of financialisation and marketisation, which encourage the production of quantifiable curriculum activities and tradable academic services. Yet the university is also affected by global socio-economic and socio-environmental crises, which can be expressed as a function of a broader crisis of social reproduction or sociability. As the labour of academics and students is increasingly driven by a commodity-valuation rooted in the measurement of performance, the ability for academics and students to respond to crises from inside the university is constrained by the market. This keynote argues that in understanding the relationship between the university and society, and in responding to a crisis of sociability, revealing the bounded nature of the curriculum is central. One possible way to address this crisis is by re-imagining the university through the co-operative practices of groups like the Dismantling the Masters House community and the Social Science Centre. Such an exploration, rooted in the organising principles of the curriculum, asks educators to consider how their curriculum reproduces forms of colonisation. It is argued that such work enables a re-imagination of higher education that is rooted in an engaged and co-operative curriculum, with a focus on praxis.


BLTC17, The really open university: working together as open academic commons

On Wednesday I’m speaking at the Brookes Learning Teaching Conference 2017. I love this kind of invite, which enables a testing of ideas and a lot of listening to the practices, activities and hopes of others. My abstract is detailed below, with the slides posted after that. The talk enables me to return to that practical work I was engaged with in 2010-12, around the idea of/re-imagining the university. It also enables me to reflect on my recent work inside the University, on commons and co-operative practices.


This talk questions the role of pedagogic scholarship and innovation in addressing global crises of social reproduction. It argues that working together has both possibilities and impossibilities, which need a richer discussion inside the University.

In the past decade, fall-out from the Browne Review has given birth to a number of alternative education projects. These alternatives focused on creating spaces and curricula that prefigure more democratic ways of doing higher education, in which the boundaries between student and teacher are dissolved and where co-operation and peer-projects between scholars become fundamental. Examples include the Social Science Centre in Lincoln and the Really Open University in Leeds. These projects developed grounded, co-participatory scholarly communities, which acted as incubators for pedagogies like Student-as-Producer (Neary and Winn 2011; Pusey 2016).

However, they also share characteristics with transnational platforms like #RhodesMustFall and#Whyismycurriculumwhite, in attempting to push back against the structuring logics represented by the curriculum (Hall and Smyth 2016). These platforms also connect to co-operative forms of higher education like Mondragon University in the Basque country, the Little Schools of the Zapatista Movement, and the education sector of the Brazilian Landless Movement.

Reflecting on these alternative forms is helpful in analysing our responses to the crisis of higher education, in order to locate spaces for truly progressive pedagogies inside the university. If such spaces do exist, on what are they based and what is their relationship to the curriculum? How do they enable academics and students to respond to issues of inclusivity and diversity, collaboration and peer production? Three responses may be considered:

  • open, academic commons supporting a sharing economy inside and across a porous interdisciplinary curriculum;
  • safe, scholarly communities of practice, perhaps forming solidarity economies that refuse enclosure; and
  • positioning the university and curriculum within (and against?) the development of ‘mass intellectuality’, or socially-useful knowledge produced outside the university.

References

Hall, R., & Smyth, K. (2016). Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education. Open Library of Humanities, 2(1), p.e11. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/olh.66

Neary, M., & Winn, J. (2011). The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In M. Neary & J. Winn (Eds.), The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience (pp. 192–210). Continuum. Retrieved from http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/1675/

Pusey, A. (2016). Pusey, A. (2016). Strike, occupy, transform! Students, subjectivity and struggle. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 26(2), 214-32. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08841241.2016.1240133


notes for ‘alternative education’

On Wednesday I wrote that a while back I’d been asked to contribute to some work-in-progress on the idea of dangerous words. The three terms I selected were ‘immiseration’, ‘managerialism’, and ‘alternative education’. The work-in-progress hasn’t progressed so I’ve decided to publish what I wrote a year ago, starting with ‘immiseration’ and ‘managerialism’, and finally with ‘alternative education’ today.

The brief given was to:

  • explore the connections between a particular set of selected terms and their role in contemporary social relations, where these words function as one aspect of social relations and not as ‘empty signifiers’;
  • question the increasing use of some words in the public and private domains and to explore the effects of these words and the logic that underpins them, on meaning-making and on creating possibilities for improving life;
  • critique these terms as one aspect of social relations in education;
  • discuss acts of separation that are made possible through simultaneous processes of distinction, differentiation and stratification, whilst bearing the possibility for their representation.

The idea is to uncover tools to refuse the neoliberal/capitalist idea of education as a neutral and technical process, which in-turn imposes its ideology on us. This ideology uses a language that teachers, educators, researchers, students and parents are encouraged to co-opt. Occupying and refusing certain words, and finding alternative ways of doing, making, creating, sharing, pooling, gifting (against producing, services, productivity, entrepreneurialism and so on), are critical moments in resistance and refusal. Ultimately they are critical moments in a process of liberation.

Alternative Education

Alternative education raises questions about whether another world is possible. Alternatives ask educators and students to question the governance, regulation and resourcing of hegemonic, institutionalised forms of education, alongside their curricula, through both negative critique and prefigurative practices. The idea of an alternative questions the legitimacy of formalised spaces, often standing against both their forms and content, and as a result defining an educational undercommons (Harney and Moten 2013). Such an undercommons is a space for solidarity and resistance, from where resources and relations can be drawn. It might exist inside formal education, as a sector of the economy or in its institutional forms. An undercommons forms an underground that enables subversion and new forms of organisation, and which problematises dominant narratives about education (for entrepreneurship, growth, sustainable development and so on).

In this being inside-and-against the school or the university, alternative education takes the perspective of voices that are marginalised because they are racialised, gendered or rendered economically-valueless or indebted, in order to re-imagine and re-produce new forms of educational life or sociability. The idea of an alternative also emerges beyond formalised spaces, in autonomous communities that exist beyond the school or university as it is re-purposed as a factory (Cleaver 2002; The University of Utopia n.d.).

This idea of alternatives being in, against and beyond recognises that hegemonic educational institutions have been subsumed within the circuits of capital. This means that the governance and forms of such institutions, and the work of academics, professional service staff and students, have been re-engineered by capital on a global terrain. Moreover, the labour that takes place inside these institutions is repurposed and re-produced in its relation to money capital, productive capital and commodity capital, in order to generate surplus value, surpluses, profits and so on. The domination of capitalist social relations over academic labour is driven by the abstracted power of money and the generation of surplus value. This opens up the possibility for alternative forms of education, both inside formal spaces and beyond the boundary of the formal, to become new sites of struggle in response to the on-going crisis of sociability. This crisis is signalled by the co-option of socially-useful knowledge, or the general intellect, so that it can be valorised (Hall 2014; Virno 2004). Educational relationships have been productively intensified in order to facilitate the expansion of capital, rather than for the solution of global, socio-economic and socio-environmental crises. Inside the school or the university, educational innovations are fetishised as emancipatory, whereas in working against and beyond these spaces, scholars in alternative educational spaces are working to abolish the relations of production that drive societies to ignore concrete emergencies (Hall and Smyth 2016).

From inside-and-against the hegemonic institution, alternatives articulate the limits of formal education, including its problematic nature as a public or private good (Marginson 2012). Here, the idea of the school or university as a form of enclosure of knowledge and practice is refused through public intellectualism or educational activity that is conducted in public. Such activities widen debates over ideas and fields of study beyond the academy to the public, in that they refuse both the colonisation of disciplinary spaces by academics and the delegitimation of certain voices. This public activity contains the germ of militancy (Neary 2012; Thorburn 2011) because it aims to do and then to be counter-hegemomic. As a form of workers’ enquiry, militancy in research or pedagogic practice points towards projects that produce knowledge useful for activist ends. This may take the form of open education or scholarship that refuses neoliberal recuperation (Eve 2015) for the production of marketised outcomes like performance data, or new spaces for the generation of surpluses or profits. Such refusals question the societal value of business-as-usual models for public, higher education (Open Library of Humanities 2016).

However, experiments that are against hegemonic practices also offer the potential for radical experiment, alongside the re-imagining of education as a distributed, co-operative, democratic activity. Such experiments question education’s relationship to society. Prefigurative responses then emerge in the pedagogic practices of social movements rooted in pedagogy (Caldart and the Movement of Landless Workers 2011), and through forms of resistance inside the university grounded in community and environmental justice (Pearce 2013), resistance to gender-based violence, and trades union educational activity (Scandrett 2014). This work situates the experience of the educator and student against that which emerges from within social movements, in order to address the possibilities for alternative forms of knowing and being. Here traditions of critical pedagogy are central to the ways in which critical knowing and being emerge to challenge the dominant framing of learning, teaching and scholarship as separate from society and everyday life (Amsler 2015; Motta 2016).

Work that emerges beyond formal educational contexts is situated in practical, alternative initiatives that point towards alternative, societal re-imaginings of education. Such re-imaginings are forms of autoethnogaphy, framed by the idea of the student or educator as co-operative activist, and as such operating collectively through organic intellectualism (the Social Science Centre 2016; People’s Political Economy 2013). Such alternatives offer a means of using critical sociology and critical pedagogy to analyse concrete moments of crisis of specific communities, such as the politics of austerity and climate justice (Buxton and Hayes 2015; Lockyer and Veteto 2013).

In particular, these alternatives are infused by comparative analyses with the pedagogic practices of indigenous communities and people of colour (Motta 2016; Zibechi 2012), for whom the crisis of sociability imposed by capitalism is on-going, historical and material. These analyses specifically relate co-operative, inclusive educational practices of creating and legitimising communities, and challenge the on-going colonisation of knowing and being. They offer ways to refuse the dominant power relations of knowledge production inside contemporary capitalism, and instead speak of decolonisation by feminised and racialised subjects on the margins. This enables those projects to establish unique analyses of educational possibility from within new, emancipatory horizons. These analyses recognise the desire for progressive and democratic forms of education: first, in terms of its governance and politics, and the social relations that circulate inside educational spaces; and second, in terms of enacting radical pedagogies grounded in the abolition of power relations in the classroom.

From this complex educational ecosystem, alternatives sit against the neoliberal enclosure of existing structures and forms, like the school and university. They stress: first, democratic activity, based upon a radical politics; second, militant research strategies, which see research as a tool for political action and for widening the field of struggle against the re-production of alienating forms of education; third, the re-definition of scholarship undertaken in public, as a revolutionary activity. In a politics of community engagement and cross-disciplinary activity, and in radical education collectives, these strategies form cycles of struggle that point towards possibilities for: detonating the school or university (Amsler and Neary 2012); using prefigurative pedagogical practices that enable labour to become the crisis of capital, so that it might become for itself rather than being for capitalisation or valorisation (Occupied California 2010; Holloway 2002); and describing what society might become (The School or Designing a Society 2016).

Alternative education is a reminder of how the sociability that was once understood as emerging from the fluidity of the classroom is increasingly lost to educators and students, as value (the determining purpose) now drives sociability. This is the world of financialisation and marketisation, which strip academics, professional services staff and students of their autonomy. Thus, educational lives are restructured as accumulated value, impact, excellence, student satisfaction and employability. It is here that alternative education offers a way of disengaging from these normalised behaviours, in order to re-engage with problems of the global commons. The alternative is a form of collective, educational repair, rather than our response to crisis focusing upon becoming more efficiently unsustainable.

By engaging with marginalised voices inside, against and beyond educational contexts, alternatives attempt to define safe spaces through which the collective work of dismantling can begin. This work of dismantling is rooted in revealing power structures and ways of building the world that are alienating, because they they strip our work, our cultures, our relationships and ourselves from us, in order to valorise them or to silence them. This work of dismantling operates at the level of the institution and the classroom, but it also operates at the level of society (Hall and Smyth 2016; Motta 2016; Rhodes Must Fall 2016). Thus alternative education establishes sociability as the critical, pedagogical project, grounded in actually-existing examples of academics, activists and communities engaging with the work of dismantling our abstract experiences, and addressing their concrete impacts. As a result, it is possible to associate educational repair with wider societal repair, where it is framed by a re-focusing of life upon self-actualisation as dynamic and fluid, and rooted in a different conception of what is to be done (bell hooks 1994).

References

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

Buxton, N. and Hayes, B (eds. 2015). The Secure and the Dispossessed. London: Pluto.

Caldart, R.S. and the Movement of Landless Workers (2011). ‘Pedagogy of the landless, Brazil’, in Wrigley, T., Thomson, P., and Lingard, B. (eds), Changing schools: Alternative ways to make a world of difference, pp. 71-84, Routledge: London and New York.

Cleaver, H. (2002). Reading Capital Politically. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Eve, M. 2014. Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hall, R. (2014). On the abolition of academic labour: the relationship between intellectual workers and mass intellectuality. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique, 12 (2), 822-37. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://www.triple-c.at/index.php/tripleC/article/view/597/638

Hall, R., and Smyth, K. (2016). Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education. Open Library of the Humanities, 2(1), p.e11. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/olh.66

Harney, S., and Moten, F. (2011). The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. New York: Minor Compositions.

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

hooks, bell (1994). Teaching to Transgress. London: Routledge.

Lockyer, J., and Veteto, J. (eds. 2013). Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Permaculture, Ecovillages and Bioregionalism. Oxford: Berghahn.

Marginson, S. (2012). The Problem of Public Good(s) in Higher Education. 41st Australian Conference of Economists. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/people/marginson_docs/ACE2012_8-12%20July2012.pdf

Motta, S.,and Cole, M. (2016). Constructing 21st Century Socialism in Latin America: the Role of Radical Education. London: Palgrave MacMillan.

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

Occupied California (2010). After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://libcom.org/files/afterthefall_communiques.pdf

Open Library of Humanities (2016). Retrieved 5 July 2016 from https://olh.openlibhums.org/

Pearce, J. (2012). Power in Community: A Research and Social Action Scoping Review. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://www/ahrc.ac.uk/Funding-Opportunities/Pages/Connecte-Communities-Scoping-Studies-and-Research Reviews.aspx

People’s Political Economy (2013). 2013 Inaugural Report: from foundations to future. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from https://agentofhistory.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ppe-report-2013.pdf

Rhodes Must Fall. (2016) Rhodes Must Fall. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://rhodesmustfall.co.za/

Scandrett, E. (2014). Popular Education methodology, activist academics and emergent social movements: Agents for Environmental Justice, Interface: a Journal for and about Social Movements, 6 (1): 327-334.

School or Designing a Society, The (2016). Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://www.designingasociety.net/

Social Science Centre, The (2016). Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://socialsciencecentre.org.uk

Thorburn, E. (2012). Actually Existing Autonomy and the Brave New World of Higher Education. Occupied Studies. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://bit.ly/xzcPRO

University of Utopia, The (n.d.). Anti-Curricula: A Course of Action. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://www.universityofutopia.org/sharing

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

Zibechi, R. (2012). Territories In Resistance: A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements. Oakland, CA: AK Press.


the porous university

There’s a call out for participation (in person, online or via a provocation) at a symposium to be held on Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th May 2017 University of the Highlands and Islands, Inverness Campus.  The symposium is called The Porous University – A critical exploration of openness, space and place in Higher Education.

The question that interests me most is: what is the role of open academics in dealing with problems ‘in the world’?

My response will draw upon Foucault’s idea (in La société punitive, p. 33) that:

The daily exercise of power must be considered a civil war: to exercise power is, in a certain way, to wage civil war and all the instruments, the tactics, one can identify, the alliances, must be made analysable in terms of civil war.

It will also draw upon Guattari’s analysis (in de la production de subjectivité) of capitalist deterritorialisation, which:

[involves] the continuous disruption of production, the ceaseless dismantling of social categories, insecurity and eternal movement… all the while referring to universalizing perspectives, has, historically, never been able to achieve anything but withdrawal into itself, nationalist, classist, corporatist, racist, or paternalist, reterritorializations.


The really open university: working together as open academic commons

I have been asked to speak at the Brookes Learning Teaching Conference 2017. I love this kind of invite, which enables a testing of ideas and a lot of listening to the practices, activities and hopes of others. My abstract is detailed below. The talk enables me to return to that practical work I was engaged with in 2010-12, around the idea of/re-imagining the university. It also enables me to reflect on my recent work inside the University, on commons and co-operative practices.


This talk questions the role of pedagogic scholarship and innovation in addressing global crises of social reproduction. It argues that working together has both possibilities and impossibilities, which need a richer discussion inside the University.

In the past decade, fall-out from the Browne Review has given birth to a number of alternative education projects. These alternatives focused on creating spaces and curricula that prefigure more democratic ways of doing higher education, in which the boundaries between student and teacher are dissolved and where co-operation and peer-projects between scholars become fundamental. Examples include the Social Science Centre in Lincoln and the Really Open University in Leeds. These projects developed grounded, co-participatory scholarly communities, which acted as incubators for pedagogies like Student-as-Producer (Neary and Winn 2011; Pusey 2016).

However, they also share characteristics with transnational platforms like #RhodesMustFall and#Whyismycurriculumwhite, in attempting to push back against the structuring logics represented by the curriculum (Hall and Smyth 2016). These platforms also connect to co-operative forms of higher education like Mondragon University in the Basque country, the Little Schools of the Zapatista Movement, and the education sector of the Brazilian Landless Movement.

Reflecting on these alternative forms is helpful in analysing our responses to the crisis of higher education, in order to locate spaces for truly progressive pedagogies inside the university. If such spaces do exist, on what are they based and what is their relationship to the curriculum? How do they enable academics and students to respond to issues of inclusivity and diversity, collaboration and peer production? Three responses may be considered:

  • open, academic commons supporting a sharing economy inside and across a porous interdisciplinary curriculum;
  • safe, scholarly communities of practice, perhaps forming solidarity economies that refuse enclosure; and
  • positioning the university and curriculum within (and against?) the development of ‘mass intellectuality’, or socially-useful knowledge produced outside the university.

References

Hall, R., & Smyth, K. (2016). Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education. Open Library of Humanities, 2(1), p.e11. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/olh.66

Neary, M., & Winn, J. (2011). The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In M. Neary & J. Winn (Eds.), The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience (pp. 192–210). Continuum. Retrieved from http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/1675/

Pusey, A. (2016). Pusey, A. (2016). Strike, occupy, transform! Students, subjectivity and struggle. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 26(2), 214-32. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08841241.2016.1240133


writing about academic labour

I have three things recently published or forthcoming that are about academic labour and its relationship to society. These pick-up on two themes that have been increasingly important to me: first, academic alienation and anxiety, or the idea that the University is an anxiety machine; and second, the potential for mass intellectuality as a form of liberatory praxis.

The first piece focuses on the processes of subsumption that are reshaping academic labour, and the resultant impact on individual’s subjectivity and health. Co-written with Kate Bowles, this takes the idea of the University as an anxiety machine, and is called Re-engineering Higher Education: The Subsumption of Academic Labour and the Exploitation of Anxiety. The abstract is as follows:

This article analyses the political economy of higher education, in terms of Marx and Engels’ conception of subsumption. It addresses the twin processes of formal and real subsumption, in terms of the re-engineering of the governance of higher education and the re-production of academic labour in the name of value. It argues that through the imposition of architectures of subsumption, academic labour becomes a source of both overwork and anxiety. The article employs Marx and Engels’ categorizations of formal and real subsumption, in order to work towards a fuller understanding of abstract academic labour, alongside its psychological impacts. The article closes by examining whether narratives of solidarity, in particular from marginalised voices, might help academics and students to analyse and then move beyond their alienated labour.

The article is published in a special issue of Workplace: A journal for Academic Labor, edited by Karen Gregory and Joss Winn, on Marx, Engels and the Critique of Academic Labor.

The second is a book chapter in a collection entitled The Philosophy of Open Learning: Peer Learning and the Intellectual Commons, edited by Markus Deimann and Michael A. Peters. My chapter is called Another World is Possible: The Relationship between Open Education and Mass Intellectuality.

This piece critiques the promise of open education through the concept of mass intellectuality that I have discussed elsewhere, and which is becoming increasingly important to me as a way of analysing the idea of higher education in an age of crises. In the chapter I connect open education to the proletarianisation of higher education, and go on to ask the following.

  1. How is it possible to re-imagine open education, in order to overcome proletarianisation through technologised, self-exploiting entrepreneurial activity?
  2. How might open education broaden the horizon of political possibility inside-and-beyond HE, as a pedagogic project?

My response is rooted in sharing and grounding collective practices for open and co-operative education through democratic pedagogy and organising principles.

The third is the book Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education, which I have co-edited with Joss Winn. The summary, description and chapter/author list is given here. It’s good to see this work moving towards fruition, precisely because it’s a discussion of the potential for actually existing liberation.

Central to Marx’s conception of the overcoming of capitalism is his notion of people’s reappropriation of the socially general knowledge and capacities that had been constituted historically as capital. We have seen that, according to Marx, such knowledge and capacities, as capital, dominate people; such re-appropriation, then, entails overcoming the mode of domination characteristic of capitalist society, which ultimately is grounded in labor’s historically specific role as a socially mediating activity. Thus, at the core of his vision of a postcapitalist society is the historically generated possibility that people might begin to control what they create rather than being controlled by it.

(Postone, M. 1996. Time, Labor and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 373)


openness and power

I have an article published on SpringerLink, as part of the Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory, edited by Michael Peters. The article is on openness and power. The full article is available here. I’ve appended the introduction below.

Openness as a set of practices has received less attention from practitioners and researchers than the specifics of producing and distributing open educational resources (OERs) or engaging in open education through innovations like massive online open courses (MOOCs). As a result, openness as a philosophical position and its relationships to power inside and outside formal educational contexts has also remained relatively undeveloped to date. However, it is possible to identify key arguments that enable the relationship between openness and power to be framed.

  1. Who defines openness, and what remains open or closed, inside and outside formal educational contexts? This includes the relations of power between transnational bodies, state agencies, education providers, corporations, and individuals.
  2. How does the political economics of openness reveal relations of production that are themselves rooted in power? This includes work on ideas like the commons, the public university, MOOCs, open data, information justice, and free culture.
  3. These associations also map onto discussions of openness, in terms of scholarship, authentication, publishing and access, data, and so on. How do these commodities of openness relate to social relations of power?
  4. The associations between openness and power map onto a number of terrains grounded in the self, including: the rich history of open education in community, cooperative, adult, and workers’ education; pedagogic research focused upon personalization, collaboration, and networks; critical or radical pedagogy around emancipation and self-actualization; Marxist critiques of education as it is restructured through processes of commodification and valorization. Can these terrains be brought into relation?
  5. Is it possible to scope a future for openness as it relates to power? In particular, how does current research and practice enable thinking about openness in terms of utopias or dystopias?

This entry will pick up on each of these areas in turn, in order to frame the social nature of openness in educational contexts. As a result, its relationship to concerns of democracy, social justice, and freedom, through processes for knowledge consumption, production, and distribution, will be developed.


notes on academic overwork and surplus value

I

In a presentation at DMU today Bahram Bekhradnia of the Higher Education Policy Institute argued that research inside universities was being conducted at the expense of teaching. His evidence for this was not academic staff workload data, but student study time. The latter emerges from his reading of HEFCE’s REFLEX project on flexible working plus the HEPI/Which? Student Academic Experience Survey from 2013. Student study time is lowering, therefore the value of degrees was lowering (as less labour was embedded in them), and therefore staff could refocus on research.

I remain unconvinced by this apparent correlation between variability in the average student study time and reallocation of time by academics between research and teaching. In particular, I do not think that it adequately reflects issues of workload stress and overwork in the sector, which have been highlighted by UCU, and in countless narratives about quitting higher education, and to which I referenced in my recent post about overwork. A counter-narrative is that the amount of surplus-labour being undertaken by both academics and students, and accumulated as surplus-value by institutions is growing. This is not a zero-sum game between research and teaching. Rather it is on-going and constant expansion of the research/teaching system, rooted in the search for absolute and relative surplus-value. It is the incorporation of everyday life as working time, so that academics extend their working day/days, so that they can increase their research and teaching and administrative outputs.

II

It is important to see this work of teaching and of research in terms of absolute and relative surplus-value.

The goal of capitalist production is not value, but the constant expansion of surplus value – the amount of value produced per unit time above and beyond that required for the workers’ reproduction. The category of surplus value not only reveals that the social surplus is indeed created by the workers, but also that the temporal determination of the surplus implies a particular logic of growth, as well as a particular form of the process of production.”

Barbara Brick and Moishe Postone (1982). Critical Pessimism and the Limits of Traditional Marxism,Theory and Society, 11(5) 636.

Inside all sectors of the economy, and now revealed inside higher education, growth is connected to ongoing processes of proletarianisation. These processes are catalysed technologically to promote consumption, production gains or to increase the rate of profit. The logic of innovation 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, Christopher Newfield highlights three different types of knowledge or skill, which we might usefully relate to the expansion of capitalism through the generation of surplus-value (through the disciplining of labour and the utilisation of labour-power as a commodity).

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’.

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.

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.

In an indentured world focused on economic growth above all else, not everyone will enjoy the life-styles of those who produce proprietary knowledge. Through global labour arbitrage, businesses including universities ensure that commodity and leverage skills are outsourced/mechanised and that their costs are driven down. Conversely the hunt is always on for new knowledge to be valorised through exchange or transfer or through entrepreneurial activity, spill-overs and incubation.

In terms of teaching and research this bears some further analysis, especially related to the strands of teaching that enable proprietary skills to develop. These might emerge from the use of a teaching excellence framework as a gateway to drive data around teaching quality, learning environment and student outcomes/learning gain, which can be commodified so that new services can be exchanged. A side benefit is that these data then enable a medium-term justification for raising fees rooted in the competitive edge that can be generated from innovations in the production and circulation of education-as-a-service. This echoes the research terrain shaped around impact, which generates forms of proprietary knowledge.

III

Crucially, the distinctions between absolute and relative surplus value are important in engaging with the forms and content of academic labour, and an understanding of overwork (and its health-related impacts). A starting point here is a recognition that the academic working-day forms: first, the necessary labour required to enable the academic-as-labourer to re-produce her costs as wages: and second, the surplus-labour that can be materialised as profit (surpluses). In more under-developed capitalist production processes, like nascent teaching excellence processes or fee-driven contexts like that in English higher eduction, the search by universities is primarily to increase the absolute, social amounts of surplus-value that can be produced and accumulated. This happens by extending the working day, or by locating new international or lifelong markets from which to accumulate. Here the more limited returns available, plus the underdeveloped market/financial mechanisms, mean that there is less innovation that can reduce socially necessary labour time. A teaching excellence framework is situated against that, in order to generate productivity gains (and overwork).

However, competitive advantage can be gained by those universities that can innovate their academic production, so that they teach/assess/research in less labour time than that which is generally socially necessary. These universities have the possibility to produce more surplus-value relative to those with which they compete, in part because of the new capability and in part through increased capacity (generated by efficiency savings). As a result, these universities can then revolutionise the relations of production through new labour relations and working conditions. Thus, we see new management methods, workload agreements, absence/attendance management policies, and so on.

In terms of teaching, which has been weakly marketised and financialised, potential crises of underconsumption and weak profit/surpluses are offset by extending the working day, so that just-in-time teaching can take place or assessment turnaround times can be met, or so that new teaching technologies can be deployed. This process of searching for absolute surplus-value generates overwork, but it also reaches limits, in terms of the length of the working day or limited academic skillsets. As a result, universities see the application of more productive technologies or techniques that restore competitive advantage and relative surplus value. The search for relative surplus value attempts to make superfluous any academic labour (teaching, assessment, scholarship, administration, research) that is unproductive.

There are clearly contradictions between the commodity, leverage and proprietary skills of academic labour for teaching and those for research, and their relation to the generation of profit/surpluses, and as a response to sector-wide competition. The result is not research at the expense of teaching. It is the movement of absolute and relative surplus-value across the terrains of teaching and research, as a response to crisis. A further contradiction is revealed between, first the university’s need to reduce the costs of the academic labour-power that drives commodity production and exchange value (the socially-necessary labour time), and second the university’s need for new, entrepreneurial and creative concrete labour of academics in teaching and research. This underpins the constant revolutionising of the forces and relations of production, and the demand for constant reskilling and overwork. As Meyerhoff et al. Note, these contradictions flow throughout the university.

Even radical faculty who seek to enact transformations outside the university find themselves performing within the university as managers not only of their own labor, but of that of their students and their colleagues, designing curriculum and imposing regulations that require students be physically present and adopt a certain performative attitude during class time through the coercive metrics of attendance and participation grades.

Meyerhoff, E., Johnson, E., & Braun, B. (2011). Time and the University. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 10(3), 493.

The ramifications of these contradictions for universities, and the compulsion to generate both absolute and relative surplus-value, emerge from David Kernohan’s Summary of HE-related implications of 2016 Budget.

The digital revolution is transforming the world of work. As working lives lengthen and jobs change, adults will need more opportunities to retrain and up-skill. This Budget announces that, for the first time, direct government support will be available to adults wishing to study at any qualification level, from basic skills right the way up to PhD. During this parliament, loans will be introduced for level 3 to level 6 training in further education, part-time second degrees in STEM, and postgraduate taught master’s courses.

To promote retraining and prepare people for the future labour market, the government will review the gaps in support for lifetime learning, including for flexible and part-time study. The government will bring together information about the wages of graduates of different courses and the financial support available across further and higher education to ensure that people can make informed decisions about the right courses for them.

The government will continue to free up student number controls for alternative providers predominantly offering degree level courses for the 2017-18 academic year. The best providers can also grow their student places further through the performance pool.

Here is the investment in human capital that drives personal, debt-fuelled investment in education, connected to data-driven marketisation and financialisation, and further privatisation. This is education as the lifelong search for absolute and then relative surplus-value, through individual and institutional competition, grounded in the market and finance.

IV

At issue is what is to be done? One route for the generation of alternatives is to analyse the content and forms of academic labour in terms of social labour. This seeks to abolish the fetishised role of the academic whilst retaining the intellectual content of its labour at the level of society. Thus, intellectuality/intellectual activity would become a communal good, and its social development would stand against overwork.

Now if this assumption is made, the general character of labour would not be given to it only by exchange; its assumed communal character would determine participation in the products. The communal character of production would from the outset make the product into a communal, general one. The exchange initially occurring in production, which would not be an exchange of exchange values but of activities determined by communal needs and communal purposes, would include from the beginning the individual’s participation in the communal world of products… labour would be posited as general labour prior to exchange, i.e., the exchange of products would not in any way be the medium mediating the participation of the individual in general production. Mediation of course has to take place.

Karl Marx. 1986. Grundrisse. London: Penguin, p. 108.

Joss Winn quotes Peter Hudis in his analysis of this passage, with ramifications for this discussion of absolute/relative surplus-value, and individualised overwork, in the context of alternative, communal activity that is defined socially rather than abstractly.

First, Marx acknowledges that labour would have a ‘general’ character in a new society. However, its generality would be radically different from what exists in capitalism, where discrete acts of individual labour become connected to one another (or are made general) through the act of commodity-exchange. In contrast, labour becomes general in the new society prior to the exchange of products, on the basis of the ‘the communal character of production’ itself. The community distributes the elements of production according to the individuals’ needs, instead of being governed by social forms that operate independently of their deliberation. Labour is general insofar as the community directly decides the manner and form of production. Marx is not referring here to the existence of small, isolated communities that operate in a world dominated by value-production. As noted above, Marx never adhered to the notion that socialism was possible in one country, let alone in one locale. He is pointing, instead, to a communal network of associations in which value-production has been superseded on a systemic level. Labour is therefore directly social, not indirectly social.

Second, Marx acknowledges that exchange of some sort would exist in a new society. However, exchange would be radically different from what prevails in capitalism, which is governed by the exchange of commodities. Instead of being based on exchange-values, prices, or markets, distribution would be governed by an exchange of activities that are ‘determined by communal needs and communal purposes’. The latter determines the exchange of activities, instead of being determined by the exchange of products that operate independently of it.

Third, Marx acknowledges that social mediation would exist in a new society. However, mediation would be radically different from that under capitalism, where it has an abstract character, since ‘mediation takes place through the exchange of commodities, through exchange value’ and money. In socialism, in contrast, ‘the presupposition is itself mediated, i.e., communal production, community as the basis of production, is assumed. The labour of the individual is from the outset taken as [directly] social labour’.

See Joss Winn. 2015. Communism In Practice: Directly Social Labour.

(Hudis, P. (2013) Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism, Leiden: Brill. pp. 110-113.)

In overcoming overwork revealing the processes for the generation of absolute and relative surplus-value through academic labour are central. This is not a trade-off between research and teaching. This is addressing a culture of overwork and illness that is being structurally imposed as teaching intensity, learning gain, teaching excellence, and which is manifested as anxiety and illness. Only in this way can a discussion of meaningful, communal alternatives situate intellectual work at the level of society, rather than fetishised and exploited academic labour at the level of the market.


On the Open Library of Humanities

I’m really excited to have become a Trustee for the Open Library of Humanities. Martin Eve and Caroline Edwards have been working tirelessly on developing financial/governance, technological, academic and social models for the OLH as an alternative, open access publishing platform for peer-reviewed work.

In Opening the OLH, Martin and Caroline note that:

in the age of digital reproduction the circulation of our academic humanities journals is decreasing (because our libraries cannot afford to subscribe in the face of an increasing volume of published material and hyper-inflationary journal price increases), even while we have the technological capacity to disseminate and preserve our work online. Meanwhile, the benefits of open access to the humanities disciplines are clear. Unless we extend access to our work to broader publics, our claims to engender critical thinking in the demos are ill founded.

This raises critical points about the interface between academic labour and its commodities, and both the institutions inside which academics work and the publishers who control much of the terrain through which that work is distributed. In the face of a changing political economic landscape of higher education, overlain by new technological infrastructures, the idea of academic labour as a communal or public good and its relationship to the demos, becomes central. This is especially the case in the face of socio-environmental and political crises.

The OLH begins a process of engaging academics with alternative economic, governance and infrastructural possibilities for securing access to their research. This process is messy and conflicted, but it is focused upon making something that is rooted in our social wealth and our sociability.

As with most dreams of universal education, though, there has often been staunch resistance in the humanities to open access. One of the principle reasons for this is that the economic models that are being implemented by traditional publishers are uniquely unsuited to our disciplinary areas. Article processing charges (APCs), in which authors or their institutions are asked to bear the entire labour costs (and any profit/surplus) of a publisher, become unaffordable in the humanities disciplines, as opposed to in our counterpart fields in the natural sciences where the model may work. The diversion of scant humanities funding to compensate lost profits for journal publishers undermines the claimed meritocratic nature of academic publishing as well as damaging the career prospects of those without recourse to such funding… What we have so far is the seed of a scalable model for journal transition to open access in the humanities that does not rely on payment from authors or readers.

You can find out more about the OLH here.

So far 101 institutions have signed up to support the federated model that the OLH describes. There is a list here.

The current OLH cost model, with information on institutional sign-up, is here.

Seven journals are now hosted on the OLH, including the OLH megajournal. Check out 19, an interdisciplinary studies journal on the long nineteenth-century. If you are an author you can submit here.

There is an important reference point for research integrity here, and about the connection with the REF here.

This is an important moment because it is about generating alternatives that are publically- or communally-facing, and which begin to push-back against the outsourcing of the distribution of knowledge to for-profit entities. In this way it forces a re-engagement with, or a re-questioning of, the purpose of academic labour, including its governance and financing. It forces us to ask questions about how and where we engage, and about the ways in which academics might work co-operatively in order to take back power-over the things/relationships that they produce.

Perhaps this is also a moment to think again about the collective, social, common wealth of our labours, and their social uses rather than their exchange-values. Perhaps we might then question how, rather than being a different form of appearance (for-profit) of the wealth that is produced through academic labour, open access (or openness) might instead enable a discussion about a different, concrete (as opposed to abstract) reality.

Addendum

Becoming a Trustee of the OLH is also a really important, therapeutic moment for me. In 2011 I gave up being a Trustee of Birmingham Christmas Shelter, and being Deputy Chair of Governors at Forest Lodge Primary School in Leicester. I gave these roles up because doing a job outside of my full-time work was debilitating. Also, I was en route to a second breakdown and the weight of extra responsibility was too much. Four years later, I received an email asking me to consider becoming a Trustee on the day I found out I was accepted as an Independent Visitor for a looked-after child. Serendipity is an amazing thing. These two new roles are fundamental to a process of healing, and to anchoring the new, concrete narrative (of a life beyond anxiety) that I am trying to internalise.