on dismantling the curriculum in higher education

I’m presenting at the Bishop Grosseteste University learning and teaching conference on Monday 22 June.

There is a separate blog-post on my topic of dismantling the curriculum in higher education here.

The abstract and some references are linked here.

The slides for my presentation are here.

I’ve appended some notes below. [NOTE: I wrote them whilst listening to this set by Everything Everything at Glastonbury in 2013.]

ONE. A framing of sorts [slide 2]

We are subsumed inside a crisis of sociability. The politics of austerity, global socio-environmental crises, and the emotional crises of anxiety and self-harm internalised and reproduced through over-work, dominate and make our lives increasingly abstract. Inside higher education the curriculum reinforces this abstraction, so that we fetishise educational innovation as emancipatory, rather than working on abolishing the relations of production that drive us to ignore concrete, social emergencies. I wonder, therefore, whether listening to and interacting with voices that have been marginalised in the definition, regulation and governance of the curriculum might in-turn enable us to enact forms of educational repair. Might these forms of educational repair, situated as pedagogical projects, enable us to dismantle the dominant structures that abstract from us the ability to engage with global emergencies? Might we thereby catalyse new forms of sociability?

TWO. The curriculum as a technology [slides 5-9]

David Harvey reminds us of the importance of Marx’s method in revealing what lies beneath everyday abstractions like technology. In an important footnote to chapter 15 of Volume 1 of Capital, Marx highlights how an analysis of technology enables us to reveal:

  • the forms of production, exchange and consumption prevalent in any context (which may be rooted in joint venturing or entrepreneurialism);
  • how we relate to nature and the environment (for instance in our use and re-use of raw materials, or in the carbon locked into our internationalisation strategies);
  • the social relations between people (for instance, inside social centres or co-operatives, or managerial/technocratic settings);
  • our mental conceptions of the world, embracing knowledges and cultural understandings and beliefs (for instance our approach to indigenous cultures or immigration or digital literacy);
  • labour processes and production of specific goods, geographies, services or affects (for instance cloud hosting services or outsourcing, or zero-hours, precarious work, or emotional labour);
  • the institutional, legal and governmental arrangements that frame life (for instance national quality assurance and regulatory frameworks, or data protection and copyright law, or transnational trade partnerships); and
  • the conduct of daily life that underpins social reproduction (for example, the ways in which curricula are designed and delivered, or through which assessments are produced).

We might usefully substitute curriculum for technology in this analysis, in order to focus upon how lived pedagogical practices, incorporating design, delivery and assessment for/of learning, each reproduce certain ways of defining the world. Here the labour theory of value is important, particularly as we recognise that in the marketization and financialisation of higher education, the curriculum is being valorised. Thus, we might critique how our pedagogical work is subsumed under the circuits of money (indentured study through fees, organisational debt/surpluses), of production (rooted increasingly in data, the quantified self, learning gain), and of commodities (like content or assessments that can be hived off and financialised, or commodified services created from them).

The sociability that we once understood as emerging from the fluidity of the classroom is increasingly lost to us, as value (the determining purpose) drives sociability. This is the world of funding changes and austerity, which strip us of our autonomy. And this loss of fluidity and autonomy is a bereavement, because rather than the concrete relationships that we had to our curriculum, to our students, to our peers, to our learning, and to ourselves, our educational lives are restructured as accumulated value or impact or excellence or student satisfaction or whatever. And what does this do to us?

And what does this do to us?

And increasingly we have no time to think about what this does to us, as our future timelines are collapsed into a present, which demands that we focus on innovation overload: personal tutoring; peer mentoring; internationalisation/MOOCs; learning analytics; teaching excellence; learning gain/the HEAR; NSS, and assessment and feedback; responses to the removal of the DSA; employability/the FEER; scholarship/REF; and on; and on; and on; and on; and on. When what we would like to do is consider pedagogical design and delivery rooted in: communities of practice; social learning theory; assessment for/of learning; autonomous learning; student-as-producer; constructivism or connectivism; or whatever it is that tickles us.

But those days are gone.

THREE. The graduate with no future [slides 10-19]

Our reality is increasingly a series of abstracted, tactical exchanges, rooted in student fees/debt. However, that reality is framed by the on-going, systemic and global failure to re-enable stable forms of accumulation. And so in the United States (a bell-weather for English higher education reforms) we witness student debt driving short-term growth, with concerns being raised about the medium-term costs of loan repayments and defaults or delinquencies. Folded on top of indenture is the collapse in wages, with data suggesting that real incomes for those without a (professional) Masters Degree or Doctorate have collapsed. Moreover, there are increasing levels of precarity, not just amongst those looking for work, but also for those in work, who are working longer for lower wages and with lower levels of productivity. Significantly this also impacts families, some of whom feel helpless in the search for savings for their children’s college education.

And in the face of quantitative easing for those with power, we wonder about the legitimacy of the higher education system that we are reproducing. As we crave instead quantitative pleasing.

FOUR. Our curricula and us: more efficiently unsustainable? [Slides 20-27]

And the legitimacy of the social relations between people that we are perpetuating and reinforcing, are rooted in employability and entrepreneurialism and internationalisation and shorting the future. The jobs that we are told to prepare students for are steeped in services that are grounded in fossil fuels and commodities trading. Yet we know that this construction of the global economy is precarious, in the face of access to liquid fuels and the macroeconomic effects of binding resource constraints. And we also know that there is an increasing recognition that the global economy has to become electrified rather than dependent upon oil, and that this demands a new transformation of production and consumption and labour processes, as well as the knowledges and cultures that we produce and share and value.

And even more pressingly, we know that climate change is a global commons problem, forcing us to engage with the concrete realities of adaptation rather than mitigation. A transformation that is educational if it is anything.

And in the face of these realities how do our international curricula, or our curricula for enterprise or employability, or our digital strategies, or our [whatever] strategy, help us to adapt as a piece of collective work? As collective educational repair?

Or do they simply help us to mitigate the effects of placing our labour-power for sale in the market? Do our curricula simply help us to become more efficiently unsustainable?

FIVE. The curriculum and power [Slides 28-40]

And do we have any agency in framing what adaptation means and for whom? Because we know that education is being marketised and financialised, and that this process is being managed trans-nationally in order to catalyse a world market in educational commodities. As Stephen Ball argues we witness shifting assemblages or joint ventures of academics and think tanks, policy makers, finance capital, publishers, technology firms, philanthrocapitalists and so on, working together to reinforce and reproduce their power over the world. This power is immanent to the production, circulation and accumulation of value, but it emerges in their power-over our labour. As a result, the academic work of staff and students is recalibrated around its potential (as data or learning outcomes or accreditation or content) for exchange, rather than for public good or communal use.

And this is a structural adjustment policy grounded in formal scheduled teaching and pedagogical practice and curriculum design. A structural adjustment policy framed by commitments to roll-out a teaching excellence framework or enterprise for all, or by partnerships committed to learning gain. A structural adjustment policy underpinned by a “Small Business, Enterprise and Employability Act” that determines “to create an incentive and reward structure at universities by distinguishing the universities that are delivering the strongest enterprise ethos and labour market outcomes for their students.”

Because there is no alternative.

And this is a rich terrain for corporations that wish to monetise educational inputs and outcomes. Corporations that wish to create educational ecosystems as forms of cybernetic control, where risk inside the curriculum can be reduced, repurposed and valorised. This is the new normal: the quantified-self situated inside the quantified-curriculum, as previously marginal sectors of the economy are made explicitly productive.

This is no longer the formal subsumption of higher education under capitalist social relations, with the selling and renting of services and technologies and content to us, and the rise of indentured study, and simple questions of debt, profit and supluses. This is no longer a simple partnership between higher education and service providers.

  • This is the explicit repurposing of the labour-power of academics and students, rooted in the production of value for assemblages of universities and technology forms and private equity and publishers and whomever, acting transnationally as an association of capitals.
  • This is the reshaping of the social relations between academics and managers and students, rooted in a new mental conception of higher education as financialised, competing business.
  • This is new labour processes, and the production and circulation of specific, educational commodities.
  • This is new forms of academic labour being managed inside new institutional, legal and governmental arrangements, and the outcome is a new set of relationships that frame the conduct of daily, educational life.

This is the quantified-curriculum as the real subsumption of higher education under capitalist social relations.

SIX. The curriculum and anxiety [Slides 41-46]

And through the process of subsumption our souls are colonised. We find ourselves collaborating in our own alienation, because we have to in order to survive. And we find ourselves labelling self or other, as lacking entrepreneurial drive or being uncreative, or as a luddite, or poorly performing, or failing, or coasting, or disruptive, or troubled, or whatever we cannot bear to imagine we may become.

And the system’s determining force scrubs our souls.

In this moment do we see those other voices emerging, discussing inequality and the risks of dissociating the self as an abstraction from the everyday realities of those inequalities? And as our commitment to helping students to build mental [entrepreneurial] muscle for the marketplace is questioned, do we ignore those increasing narratives of anxiety and precarity?

And does our work become a culturally-acceptable self-harming activity? Has a sense of anxiety become a permanent state of exception amplified inside and against the currriculum?

SEVEN. #educationalrepair: another world is possible [slides 48-60]

In overcoming this cognitive dissonance, I am drawn to listen to those marginalised voices attempting to define safe spaces inside 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, in that 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.

So I listen to the ways in which the students who are “Dismantling the Masters House”, are asking “Why isn’t my professor black?” or “Why is the curriculum white?” And I listen to those who are working for #educationalrepair. And this leads us to question whether a canonical curriculum, rooted in a specific, abstracted cultural view of the world, can be anything other than “monstrous”? Indeed, can it enable us to confront global emergencies that have emerged from the dominance of that very cultural view of the world? This is a critical, pedagogical project rooted in the production, consumption and circulation of the curriculum.

Is it possible to refuse the quantified-curriculum, which amplifies certain agendas and forms of power, in order to transform education as a participatory, communal good in the face of crises of sociability? And we remember that this maps across to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. It called for strategies that are place and context specific, with complementary actions across levels, from individuals to governments. It positions this as contingent on, and sensitive to, societal values, objectives, and risk perceptions, with a recognition of diverse interests, circumstances, social-cultural contexts, and expectations.

And isn’t this a pedagogical project? Doesn’t this emerge immanent to a curriculum that needs to be dismantled if we are to engage with global emergencies?

And don’t we already have actually-existing examples of academics and activists and communities engaging with this work of dismantling our abstract experiences, and their concrete impacts?

And is it possible to draw on these examples, in order to associate #educationalrepair with wider societal repair? As a result might we build a curriculum that is engaged and full of care, and where we no longer simply learn to internalise, monitor and manage our own alienation?

And remembering bell hooks we know that this is a rejection of the quantified-curriculum, and a re-focusing upon self-actualisation as dynamic and fluid, and rooted in a different conception of what is to be done.


On common educational ownership and refusing human capital

ONE. Resistance is futile.

In discussing the financialisation of higher education, and the marketisation that is immanent to it, Andrew McGettigan has argued that:

I am frequently asked, ‘what then should be done?’ My answer is that unless academics rouse themselves and contest the general democratic deficit from within their own institutions and unless we have more journalists taking up these themes locally and nationally, then very little can be done. We are on the cusp of something more profound than is indicated by debates around the headline fee level; institutions and sector could make moves that will be difficult, if not impossible, to undo, whether it is negotiated independence for the elite or shedding charitable status the better to access private finance.

McGettigan’s most recent piece on the unfolding political economy of higher education and variable human capital, develops the argument that we are on the cusp of something more profound. This is rooted in a new policy framework inside which the practices of teaching and learning can be disassembled, commodified and traded/exchanged. This new policy framework is enacted through a variety of secondary legislation rather than a specific act of parliament, and seeks to turn the culture of higher education towards entrepreneurialism and social mobility. This culture is grounded in the family acting as a capitalist firm, rather than in other social formations, such as those that are co-operative and collective. Here, performance measurement and management dominate University life, and bring the relationships that emerge in the classroom and within families into stark, asymmetrical relation to the market. As a result, life inside-and-outside the classroom is collapsed around the need to generate value and exchange and enterprise. What happens inside the classroom becomes a primary, societal concern beyond the governance and regulation of individual universities or the higher education sector.

The Coalition government has quietly put in place a series of measures designed to support a new performance metric: repayment of loans by course and institution. It could become the one metric to dominate all others and will be theorised under the rubric of ‘human capital investment’.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employability Act received Royal Assent at the end of March 2015. Section Six of the bill is titled ‘Education Evaluation’… I quote [the Act]

[The measures] will also help to create an incentive and reward structure at universities by distinguishing the universities that are delivering the strongest enterprise ethos and labour market outcomes for their students.

Here, we have a clear flow between an enterprising policy framework and the imperative to generate learning gain. Thus, we witness the Higher Education Funding Council for England, working with partners like the RAND Corporation:

to develop better ways of capturing excellent educational outcomes, including new approaches to measuring students’ learning. Developing our understanding of student learning is integral to ongoing debates about the quality and impact of higher education, and how we evidence the value of investment in it.

This inter-relationship between teaching quality and outcomes is fore-grounded in the work of the UK Higher Education Academy, which argues that:

This [partnership] approach recognises that engaged student learning is positively linked with learning gain and achievement, and argues that partnership represents a sophisticated and effective approach to student engagement because it offers the potential for a more authentic engagement with the nature of learning itself and the possibility for genuinely transformative learning experiences for all involved. Hence we speak of engagement through partnership [emphasis added].

Whilst the focus on learning gain and achievement here is not specifically linked to performance management and financialisation, it provides a professionally-validated, evidential space for the overlay of financialised services onto the relationships between staff and students. This is a process of evidencing the value of education as a private and positional good.

TWO. Enterprise for everyone, all the time.

In this process of evidencing the value of investment in higher education, McGettigan notes the importance of Lord Young’s report for government, Enterprise for All, in which was “recommended that each course at each institution should have to publish a Future Earnings and Employment Record ‘so that students can assess the full costs and likely benefits of specific courses at specific institutions.’” And we should not be surprised to witness an opening-up and connecting of datasets around academic performance, retention and progression, the repayment of student fees, and future earnings profiles. Because in addressing the structural crises of the economy, new financial mechanisms are pivotal, as are new markets that enable exportable services that mitigate poor performance. And as a result, performance becomes a tradable commodity. And think of the opportunities for value creation if we can compare performance and earnings across programmes of study and institutions and cohorts. And think of the opportunities for value creation if we can re-engineer curriculum inputs so that we can reduce the risk of futures trading in educational outcomes and earnings.

And so the Enterprise for All recommendations included the creation of the Future Earnings and Employment Record (FEER).

In Higher Education we already have the Key Information Statistics, however, the passing of the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Bill, being discussed in the Houses of Parliament ahead of March 2015, will allow student records to be linked with HMRC tax records to provide a potentially richer pool of information. There will be added benefits for the Further Education sector such as improved access to self-employment data.

The linking up of datasets and preparation of relevant and reliable data will take many years, but the passing of the bill will be a positive leap forward. Only in time, as this information is worked through, will we understand the full extent of what can be achieved as a result of the bill and see the full potential of the FEER.

For McGettigan this policy space, framed by a cultural turn towards entrepreneurialism, underpins the co-option of teaching and learning for exchange.

In October 2013, David Willetts, then minister for science and universities, expressed his enthusiasm for a new research project funded by the Nuffield Foundation:

Professor Neil Shephard of Harvard University and Professor Anna Vignoles of Cambridge University are currently merging a wealth of data from the Student Loans Company and HM Revenue and Customs which should deliver a significant improvement in the current data on labour market outcomes of similar courses at different institutions.

…The project is titled ‘Estimating Human Capital of Graduates’ and seeks to assess how the future earnings of ‘similar students’ vary ‘by institution type and subject’:

If different degrees from different institutions result in very different levels of earnings for students with similar pre-university qualifications and from similar socio-economic backgrounds, then this might affect both student choice and policies designed to increase participation and improve social mobility.

Crucially then, undergraduate degrees are shaped and presented as the individual’s willingness to invest in her own human capital, in order to become productive and as a result socially-useful. One of the policy outcomes is the need to recalibrate HE around the logic of ensuring that the consumers of education have good enough data or information upon which to make their investment choices.

[Education is] a human capital investment that benefits the private individual insofar as it enables that individual to boost future earnings. Universities and colleges are then to be judged on how well they provide training that does indeed boost earnings profiles. Such ‘value add’ ’would displace current statistical concoctions based on prior attainment and final degree classification. The key device is loans: they go out into the world and the manner in which they are repaid generates information. Graduates then become the bearers of the units of account by which HE performance is set into a system of accountability: ‘What level of repayments is this graduate of this course likely to produce over the next 35 years?’

This restructures learning, teaching and scholarship. Structurally, academic work becomes a response to the realities of financiaisation, which re-purpose the design, delivery and assessment of the curriculum for exchange. What is the point of our flipped classroom or our social learning theory or our peer-assessment or our peer mentoring strategy, except as a means to measure learning gain? Our pedagogy is simply a means to produce/capture/use data to commoditise every curriculum asset (learning outcomes, curriculum delivery systems, progression data, content, assessments and grades and so on) to the benefit of finance capital, and the Government, through financial profits and rising asset values that correlate with bubbles and speculation. And given that so much of the UK’s economic growth is generated through services and consumption, this is unsurprising.

THREE. Historical anxiety and data.

McGettigan develops this point by situating it against its historical context, in the relationships between the government, education institutions, and both individuals and their families that were highlighted by Milton Friedman in The Role for Government in Education:

[Education is] a form of investment in human capital precisely analogous to investment in machinery, buildings, or other forms of non-human capital. Its function is to raise the economic productivity of the human being. If it does so, the individual is rewarded in a free enterprise society by receiving a higher return for his services.

The subsidisation of institutions rather than of people has led to an indiscriminate subsidization of whatever activities it is appropriate for such institutions to undertake, rather than of activities it is appropriate for the state to subsidise. The problem is not primarily that we are spending too little money … but that we are getting so little per dollar spent.

For McGettigan this is a critical point in re-structuring higher education.

And here is the rub. The growing and unexpectedly large subsidy built into the current iteration of fee-loan regime points to that same problem: the government is not getting the maximum from borrowers or from universities (which are using tuition fees to subsidise other activities like research). One might blame universities that set fees for classroom subjects at the same rate as lab-based subjects, that blanket £9 000 per annum, or loan funding offered for subjects that do nothing to boost graduate productivity. Either way, it points to the issue of mis-investment rather than underinvestment. Indeed, given the statistics on graduates filling posts that do not require graduate qualifications, from the human capital theory perspective, one might even use the language of overinvestment in HE. It is not clear to many whether the problems of the graduate labour market are recessionary, structural, secular or a combination of all three.

As David Willetts argued in Robbins Revisited “Without radical changes to how universities were financed however it was going to be difficult to change their behaviour. Now there is an opportunity to use our funding changes to push a real cultural change back towards teaching.” And, of course, one of the critical outcomes of this behavioural change is that academic work becomes suffused with anxiety, because judgements are being made. Is this course creditworthy? Is this course meeting externally-imposed standards that are financialised? Does this course have benefit for individuals and the institution in the market? Is this course entrepreneurial enough? Is this course a private, positional good? And flowing from those questions are judgements about the design and delivery of the curriculum, its content and its assessments. And these judgements enable a feeding frenzy for any public/private partner or joint venture that can offer tradable services that are designed for learning gain. This is the background noise that drowns out everything else inside the need to crack new markets for new services.

The current vogue for the private sector to use evidence to drive an allegedly neutral cultural and political space for policy is amplified through analytics and big data. These tend to frame the expectations of the voiceless student as a cipher for a weakly-theorised view of impact, efficiencies, personalisation, scaling, and service-led innovation. There is no space to discuss structural inequalities that amplify issues of autonomy or agency, or the ways in which consent is addressed inside the classroom. In this process, openness or transparency or accountability is no substitute for political engagement. Thus, this article on Lies, Damned Lies and Open Data argues that

Now we must renew the much larger battle over the role of evidence in public policy. On the surface, the open data movement was about who could access and use government data. It rested on the idea that data was as much a public asset as a highway, bridge, or park and so should be made available to those who paid for its creation and curation: taxpayers. But contrary to the hopes of some advocates, improving public access to data—that is, access to the evidence upon which public policy is going to be constructed—does not magically cause governments’, and politicians’, desire for control to evaporate. Quite the opposite. Open data will not depoliticize debate. It will force citizens, and governments, to realize how politicized data is, and always has been.

In her essay on the anxieties of big data, Kate Crawford enables us to wonder whether such a politicisation might emerge from an analysis of anxiety.

Already, the lived reality of big data is suffused with a kind of surveillant anxiety — the fear that all the data we are shedding every day is too revealing of our intimate selves but may also misrepresent us. Like a fluorescent light in a dark corridor, it can both show too much and not enough. Anxiety, as Sianne Ngai has written, has a temporality that is future oriented: it is an expectation emotion, and the expectation is generally of risk, exposure, and failure. British group Plan C in their blistering manifesto “We Are All Very Anxious” argue that anxiety is the dominant affect of our current phase of capitalism, engendering political hopelessness, insecurity, and social separation.

The current mythology of big data is that with more data comes greater accuracy and truth. This epistemological position is so seductive that many industries, from advertising to automobile manufacturing, are repositioning themselves for massive data gathering. The myth and the tools, as Donna Haraway once observed, mutually constitute each other, and the instruments of data gathering and analysis, too, act as agents that shape the social world. Bruno Latour put it this way: “Change the instruments, and you will change the entire social theory that goes with them.” The turn to big data is a political and cultural turn, and we are just beginning to see its scope.

FOUR. The academic bind: dismantling the curriculum.

McGettigan has connected issues of policy to the mechanics of financialisation through data, and highlights the bind that academics now find themselves in.

What I have outlined here, the coming wave of education evaluation’ threatens to supplant traditional understandings of universities as communities advancing public knowledge. Current regulations governing the awarding of degrees aver that standards are maintained and safeguarded only by the critical activity of the academic community within an institution. It will be harder and harder to recall that fact.

The risk is that academics seeking to resist this further privatisation of knowledge will be cast as vested interests seeking to protect an old, inadequate system lacking in transparency. We will end up on the wrong side of the argument. The difficulty: How to articulate what is threatened? How to defend forms of knowledge which are not subordinate to private returns? Academic freedom and autonomy now face a more pressing, insidious, financialised threat than the traditional bugbear of direct political interference. But all this may prove too abstract for effective resistance.

I have no glib solution to which you might sign up. But when hard times find us, criticism must strike for the root: the root is undergraduate study as a stratified, unequal, positional good dominating future opportunities and outcomes. What might find broader public support is a vision of higher education institutions that are civic and open to lifelong participation, instead of places beholden to the three-year, full-time degree leveraged on loans and aiming to cream off ‘talent’.

Striking at this root means working with students to question the reduction of our lives to economic value. What is certainly needed is a recognition that the forces of production across capitalist society, which are increasingly restructuring higher education as means of production, are also increasingly ranged asymmetrically against the everyday experiences of young people, whether that is in the curriculum or beyond. As Joss Winn has argued:

Students are more viscerally outspoken about the need for fundamental changes in the governance of their universities. In occupation – most recently at UCL, Goldsmiths, KCL, LSE, UAL, and in Amsterdam – they too demand democracy as a basic requisite for a free university.

Can academics support both critique and the development/nurturing of alternative forms of learning and teaching that in-turn push-back against the dominant political agenda that commodifies humanity? We see such possibilities inside alternative educational forms, and through the politics of occupations, as well as in the collective resistance to austerity in Europe. Somehow, this means taking Schumpeter’s point in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, that we need to reconnect our work against the dematerialised, defunctionalised and absentee domination of our lives, which is enacted through the market. There is a need to think through how the curriculum and its organising principles might be liberated as a form of open, co-operative, common property that is itself rooted in social struggle beyond the University.

Moreover, they force us to question how to dismantle the curriculum as it is co-opted of exchange, so that at the intersection of common goods, liberation and pedagogic practice, academics might question how to situate the financialisation of higher education, and the use of data and debt to drive control, inside collective action against the politics of austerity. As Winn goes on:

Critics of the ‘co-operative university’ have questioned our commitment to the idea of the ‘public university’. Indeed, co-operatives are anti-statist, but they also exceed the idea of ‘public ownership’ with that of ‘common ownership’, a social form of property that is the antithesis of the right of free alienability (which distinguishes capitalist private property). In short, co-operative higher education is entirely compatible with the idea of the ‘public’ if we reconceive it as an autonomous, open, democratically governed ‘commons’: An academic commons, democratically controlled by academic and support staff, students, cleaners and others.

However, in this move towards common ownership is the formation of a movement whose struggle is beyond the form of higher education, towards engaging with the concept of dismantling as it has been critically developed at UCL. The process of dismantling as it emerges from a critique of “racialised wrongs in our [academic] workplace and in the wider world” focuses upon:

  • unpacking the intellectual and moral arguments for Britain’s former Empire, [in order that] we can begin to challenge its legacies today;
  • analysing the dominance and subjugation which mark these racialised phenomena, we can begin to equip ourselves with the necessary tools to dismantle it; and
  • improving the way we engage with staff, students and the wider world, #DTMH seeks to contribute to a more equal and liberatory future in Britain and beyond.

The concept of dismantling emerges asymmetrically against the idea that the curriculum might be broken-up and commodified for exchange. We might, therefore, look at how this becomes a starting point for a wider questioning of issues of power and ideology inside the curriculum and its organising principles, so that we might offer a wider/societal critique of the co-option of the curriculum.

FIVE. On academic refusal.

As I argue elsewhere on the abolition of academic labour:

Here academics might usefully ask, what activities are we collectively willing to bear and how might they be determined, governed and regulated? This demands that the range of academic labourers, including full and assistant professors, adjunct and sessional instructors, teacher assistants and so on are able to consider points of solidarity rather than division. The work emerging around the new co-operativism, and the intellectual underpinnings of pedagogies like student-as-producer (Amsler and Neary 2012) and of organisations like the Social Science Centre (2014), offer a way of framing and reconceptualising the potential proto/rollback/rollout phases of a co-operative alternative to neoliberalism. This work is also a way of challenging the reality of the competitive restructuring of public higher education, and the idea that the university is for-profit and valorisation. Here it is the spread of ideas across transnational activist networks of co-operators that might enable a reconnection of academic labour as labour across society, in a form that enables it to support mass intellectuality rather than private accumulation (Virno 2001; Winn 2014). As the Social Science Centre (2014) states, hope lies in the “possibilities for associational networks” that critique higher education policy and practice…

This process demands the negation of the reified nature of academic labour, so that social values rather than value are at the core of how society is reproduced.

This demands that we re-engage with the ways in which the labour of academics and students is used by corporations, non-governmental advocacy organisations, and governments, in order to re-frame cultural and educational positions as entrepreneurial, in the name of exchange, the market and the rate of profit. Instead, might it be used co-operatively and in common for work beyond the classroom as it is marketised? Academic refusal to give consent cannot crystallise around silence. As teaching, learning and scholarship are co-opted by the market, in the form of value, money, learning gain or impact, other social or co-operative forms of value are marginalised.

By overcoming our unwillingness to discuss such marginalisation across both university governance and in the curriculum, and in learning from critiques centred on the idea of dismantling, academics might begin to address McGettigan’s point that “What might find broader public support is a vision of higher education institutions that are civic and open to lifelong participation, instead of places beholden to the three-year, full-time degree leveraged on loans and aiming to cream off ‘talent’.” This process of finding commonality and connection across a range of struggles is critical if we are to refuse

A system of educational production that is using learning gain and deliverology and data and performance anxiety to force us into new forms of cognitive dissonance rooted in narratives of labour-market readiness. Might we build something that is engaged and full of care, and where we no longer simply learn to internalise, monitor and manage our own alienation?


For a political economy of Massive Open Online Courses

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

There are 50 eprints available.

Abstract

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

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

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

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


reflections on the post-digital

In June 2009 the ‘52group’ gathered from across the Higher Education sector to consider the confluence of education and the digital. The result was a position paper entitled ‘Preparing for the postdigital era’. At the time the paper was largely met with a mixture of scepticism and confusion, a common response being “The digital hasn’t been superseded?”. Despite this, over the intervening years the term has slowly gained traction in educational contexts.

To what extent our original paper influenced the recent proliferation of the term is of course not clear but we see the concept being employed in various locations including last year’s SEDA conference: “Opportunities and challenges for academic development in a post-digital age” and a forthcoming conference hosted by Greenwich university: Flipping the Institution: Higher Education in the Post Digital Age. There are also numerous examples of the term casually making its way into strategic rhetoric in and around our institutions.

To mark the shift from Digital to Post-digital thinking members of the original ‘52group’ have each revisited the term to consider its definition and relevance five years on. This is my perspective.


An upcoming conference on the flipped university declares that we are living in a post-digital age that is

characterised by transitions of practice and redefining of the individual’s relationships with technology.

The conference seeks to address the question of “What does it mean for higher education to be in engaging in a post digital age? What does it mean for the learner of the future and of today?”

Since we met as the 52 Group back in 2009 the politics of austerity continues to subsume academic and student labour. The realities of this labour are less post-digital and more focused on the interrelationships between first, lives that are subsumed under the dictates of the productive economy, and second, the use of digital technology to proletarianise work. Digital technologies are used to enforce competition and financialisation, and drive the disciplinary control of data and debt, and this enforces widening inequalities inside higher education.

The process of proletarianisation is global, and is influenced both by national educational policy like indentured study and using HE as an export strategy, and internationally through the role of trade partnerships and innovations like MOOCs. Thus, we witness reports of adjunct professors who “don’t even earn the federal minimum wage”; and we witness postgraduate researcher-led committees that “have been pushing the[ir] University to honour the essential role that teaching assistants play in University life in the form of fair pay and treatment.”; and we witness self-imposed overwork as a form of self-harm; and we witness a documenting of the processes and pains of casualisation. As students and adjuncts are forced to sell themselves piecemeal they are forced to contend and compete globally. These proletarianised labourers are forced to compete as technological, entrepreneurial, and impactful. Their productive reality points to the future of the learner becoming that of a self-exploiting entrepreneur, beguiled by the promise of autonomy and ever-increasing standards of living, whilst in reality working longer and harder for lower rewards, whilst inequality widens on a global terrain. This echoes of Marx and Engel’s argument in the Communist Manifesto that competition and the expansion of value, driven by space-time compression across an international market, would proletarianise increasing amounts of work.

Across globalised HE, we witness zero-hours contracts, outsourcing, the need for collective action like the 3cosas, and so on. In a competitive, transnational educational market, academic labour rights will be threatened by the equalising pressures of transnational competition and productivity, which includes new forms of competition from private providers These might be rival organisations with degree-awarding powers, partnerships of accrediting organisations operating through MOOCs, or hedge funds providing venture capital for technologically-driven innovations. Here Will Davies’ recent work on neoliberalism is useful enables us to analyse capitalist work inside the flipped University, in light of self-exploiting entrepreneurial activity that is.

  • enacted through new combinations of technologies and practices to inject novelty into the circuits of capitalism;
  • operating through counter-acting norms that can never be stabilised;
  • rooted in a new productive environment that accommodates power: first in expanding the time-scale for returns; second in expanding the arena for competition; and
  • grounded in vision and desire.

The future of the learner is to be recalibrated as an entrepreneurial life, in order to widen the orbit of productive labour. In part, this is done through the individuated, technologised Self. It is also achieved through the entrepreneurial recalibration of the collective labourer. Critically, this means that universities as businesses are restructured for the production of surplus value, through organisational development, knowledge transfer, impact, technological innovation and so on. As the IT Consultancy Gartner notes:

Digitization is reducing labor content of services and products in an unprecedented way, thus fundamentally changing the way remuneration is allocated across labor and capital…. Mature economies will suffer most as they don’t have the population growth to increase autonomous demand nor powerful enough labor unions or political parties to (re-)allocate gains in what continues to be a global economy.

Those working in the University need to recover themselves from narratives of organising principles and curricula that are allegedly post-digital and flipped, in order to address the following.

  1. How might the notion of political decision-making or action be harnessed in ways that broaden the horizon of political possibility inside-and-beyond the University?
  2. How is it possible for individual agency and collective institutions to be criticized and re-imagined simultaneously, in order to overcome neoliberal narratives of technologised, self-exploiting entrepreneurial activity?

One possibility lies in the idea of the Commons and the praxis that emerges from commoning as a global idea of socialised solidarity, rooted in mass intellectuality and open co-operativism. This is a mechanism for framing a socially-useful higher education that recognises its own alienation. Refusing the post-digital, flipped proletarianisation of the University hinges on the creation of a ‘direct form of communal manifestations of life carried out in association with others – [that] are therefore an expression and confirmation of that social life’ (Marx on Private Property and Communism). This might be realised in spaces that incorporate increasingly alienated social forces in the global North, as well as those largely ignored in the global South. It demands a more mature discussion of the possibilities for pedagogic production as a social activity that are for-society rather than for-profit.


Further reflections on the Post-digital from members of the 52group:

Mark Childs: http://markchilds.org/2015/02/04/post-digitalism-an-evolutionary-perspective/

Dave Cormier:  http://davecormier.com/edblog/2015/02/05/looking-back-at-postdigital-6-years-later

Lawrie Phipps: http://lawrie.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2015/02/04/pd_review/

David White: http://daveowhite.com/post-digital-revisited/


Beyond the University? Protest and anxiety

Back in August 2012 I wrote a note on the subsumption of academic labour that included the following.

This latter point brings me to the politics of higher education and the ways in which political society advocates in the name of the real subsumption of academic labour to the dominant order. The political realities of Vice-Chancellors as CEOs of businesses for whom the reality is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall cannot be ignored. This places them in the context of networks of neoliberal, transnational advocacy networks. This political reality disciplines the actions that academic managers and administrators can take, either supported by the State or quiescent in the face of its power, and places them in opposition to those academics and students whose labour they need to recalibrate for the market.

As a result we see a range of political actions aimed at disciplining academics and students, including, but not limited to:

Similarly, this has given birth to a range of solidarity actionscommuniqués, and free universities, that are not simply a recasting of higher education in liberal terms around the notion of economic libertarianism or cost-free learning (as pervades the MOOC debate). These are deeply political claims for higher learning, and a critique and reclaiming of the university against-and-beyond capitalism.

However, the accrual of executive power within universities acting as corporations and the use of technology as a mechanism for surveillance and performance management, means that the explicit subsumption of academic labour under the realities of competition, productivity, efficiency and profit is inevitable. In this process the realities of force and political will by those with power-to create a dominant order trump individual protests. Force married to political will then invades the cultural realities of civil society, so that no matter how we argue for education as a public good, it is subsumed under the rule of money.

In this process of ensuring that the capitalist is the owner or proprietor of means of production on a social scale, the politics are the thing. How might a counter-narrative be generated that connects academic labour to student protests and the broader work of protests against austerity? What is the role of academic trades unions in coalescing and amplifying protest so that pushing-back against recalibration becomes possible? Or in the face of the logic of discipline and coercion, and a political will amongst networks of legislators and academic managers for recalibration, is the scope for the university to be regenerated as a space of resistance and protest too limited? In fact, is some form of exodus the only option?

It feels important to return to this point about our responses to subsumption, in light of the resurgence of student protest in the UK in the past few weeks, and the broader connections rooted in a counter-hegemonic solidarity. In particular the response of Jerome Roos in his Roar Magazine piece “From New York to Greece, we revolt ‘cus we can’t breathe” is important because it focuses on the concrete lack of justice. This also amplifies the demands of the students in occupation at Warwick, which centre upon justice and voice. The lack of a voice because the lack of justice is an illegal hold that restricts our space to breathe and live, and is a critical metaphor in protest and dissent. It leads Roos to note that (quoting Franz Fanon):

when we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.

And on Campus at Warwick, in the fight against its militarisation (#copsoffcampus), student activists state that:

Whilst we are viewed as consumers and not students, the higher education institution will continue to further marginalise and oppress those within and outside the university.

This reminds me of the Sussex students in occupation against privatisation and outsourcing of whom Gurminder Bhambra wrote:

The eviction and criminalisation of students involved in civil disobedience against policies with which they and many others fundamentally disagree is contiguous with other attacks that undermine our public university system. But despite the barriers put in their way, the ever-creative students at Sussex continue to find new ways to give voice to the broader movements of dissent.

What appears to be emerging is the University as a specifically-recalibrated form of anxiety machine, where the space itself acts as a crucible of projected anxieties and forms of social (self-)harm. The anxieties of senior managers forced to compete for artificially scarce resources in an increasingly marketised and financialised corporate space. The anxieties of the Police described in terms of the following practices by the Warwick branch of UCU:

A video, which was subsequently posted on YouTube, showed students being grabbed and pushed and having their hair pulled, followed by CS spray being used at very close range. Also in the footage, a taser gun can be seen and heard, and there have been subsequent reports that it may have been discharged against one student. At the time of writing, three students are being held at Coventry police station.

The anxieties of students revealed in this statement from a Warwick student activist who was arrested:

Activism is arduous – it is, for myself and I know many others, a flurry of sleepless nights; shirked self-care and study; perpetual vacillation between punishing, disenchanting sadness and the utmost euphoria; it is seconds, minutes, hours in prison cells which can’t quite be traced, which dilate and mystify and fade into oblivion; it is a state of flux, bound somewhere between fantasy and reality, a stasis of promise and despair; of internal conflicts and multiple houred debates which will never find resolution; it is mental health problems we can’t quite process or understand; it is daring to dream within a world of horrors and atrocities. It is all-consuming and obsessive, incarcerating as much as it liberating. 

Elsewhere I wrote about the University as anxiety machine, where the projection of anxiety emerged through the fabric of relationships.

This is the dissolution of the University as a means for the domination/hegemony of a particular world view or a specific class. This is the dissolution of the University as a coercive space that is re-forged inside-and-against student-debt and impact and research excellence and analytics and employability and entrepreneurship. This is the dissolution of the University as the civil society of tenured professors versus casualised precariat.

I wonder if the University’s functions now are being redesigned so that they reproduce a sense of anxiety as a permanent state of exception. Inside this marketised University space, the idea of the public is being atrophied, kettled, disciplined, sold-off. It is difficult to envisage how the University might be reclaimed. This is more so given the wider sense of social injustice, linked to the politics of austerity. Precarity and volatility, as Ilargi notes at The Automatic Earth, underpins the transfer of resources to those with power and the accumulation of wealth by an elite, which threatens a clash of social forces. This clash is already happening in student/worker occupations, indignations, demonstrations, strikes, and so on, that are aimed against neoliberalism and austerity across the globe. Ilargi notes:

If we presume that a connection exists between the increase in debt on one side and the increase in “asset value” on the other, then I would say chances are we’re looking at both a gigantic wealth transfer from the poor towards the rich and a huge bubble that allows that to happen, and that will make the poor even poorer when it bursts. Which seems inevitable, because debt by itself cannot create value.

And if I’m right, what we’re seeing is not the incredible resiliency of the markets, and no real increase in asset value, but an increase in the threat to the social cohesion of our communities, cities and nations.

However, student protests remind us that it is less difficult to see how higher education might be reimagined beyond the University, as a form of what William Robinson calls social movement unionism.

Increasingly, organizing the working class means organizing informal sector workers. It means shifting from an exclusive focus on the point of production to a focus on both the point of production and reproduction. That’s what the piqueteros do. They say that if you’re unemployed you can’t organize into trade unions and withhold your labour. If you’re structurally unemployed you have to disrupt the daily functioning of the system. Similarly, if you’re an informal sector worker you can’t make demands on capital in the same way as a formal sector worker. So increasingly, the type of working class organization we need must address both production and reproduction – social movement unionism, for instance, linking neighborhood struggles to formal worker centers and so forth. We have to recognise this and work to deepen the transnational character of these struggles across the world.

In reimagining higher education as a point of production, reproduction and circulation of alternatives, this week’s Co-operative Education conference is important through its focus on Education about co-operatives, Education for co-operatives, and Education in a co-operative way. What is needed is a sense of how and where the subsumption of academic labour might be refused, and a higher education rooted in mass intellectuality beyond the University may be a starting-point.

 


on the academic commons

Joss Winn reminds me that Karl Marx’s Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association, “The First International” in late October 1864, included the following statement about the political importance of collective work, association and combination, as a bulwark against the economic and political power of Capital. 

One element of success they [Labour] possess — numbers; but numbers weigh in the balance only if united by combination and led by knowledge. Past experience has shown how disregard of that bond of brotherhood which ought to exist between the workmen of different countries, and incite them to stand firmly by each other in all their struggles for emancipation, will be chastised by the common discomfiture of their incoherent efforts.

I think about this in academia today because Joss is running his final WordPress workshop (related to the Lincoln University Academic Commons). The Lincoln Commons, alongside the work of ds106 and collective work at University of British Columbia was the inspiration for the DMU Academic Commons, which is rooted in collective organising principles, in terms of its decision-making and production/consumption/distribution.

[The DMU Commons is] open, and will encourage generosity, respect, tolerance and sharing. Our DMU Commons will enable permeability and fluidity in collaboration, supporting autonomy in our shared production of DMU as a University committed to engaging with useful social reproduction. Our Commons will help shape DMU as a “knowing University”, where thinking is shared in public, in order to enable society/communities to solve problems, develop alternatives and innovate.

I have discussed the idea of the academic Commons under this tag, although I have been more specific about it, in terms of:

There are examples of student-led, staff-led, public/University spaces, curriculum, journal/publishing, and project sites on the DMU Commons, here.

Current blog-posts and updates are accessible from our aggregator, here.

These developments owe much to the work of Joss Winn and at DMU, Owen Williams.

This earth was made a common treasury/For everyone to share/All things in common.

Bragg, B. 1985. The World Turned Upside Down

 


For a political economy of open education

Tomorrow I’m speaking on a panel at The Centre for Disruptive Media at Coventry University. The panel is on “Open Education: Condition Critical”.

The purpose is to explore “opportunities to critically and creatively experiment with different ideas of what the university and education can be.”

Event details are at: http://criticalopeneducation.eventbrite.co.uk

My slides are at slideshare.net/richardhall.

I will make the following points in my 10 minutes on a political economy of open education.

ONE. It is worth checking out the following pieces on open in education.

TWO. I want to make three points. First, that a political economic analysis of open education reveals a revolutionising of the means of production and the disciplining of academic labour. Second, that open education is a crack through which we might analyse the interests that drive value production and accumulation, and their relation to power. Third, that we need to ask what is to be done, not in order to recuperate open education but to abolish it? How might we re-imagine the basis of education for an alternative form of sociability that is based on mass intellectuality and open co-operativism?

NOTE: here ds106 serves as a reminder of the relationships that might point towards an alternative.

THREE. Audrey Watters has written about the co-option of open/openness as a form of “Openwashing: n., having an appearance of open-source and open-licensing for marketing purposes, while continuing proprietary practices.” She argues that “I think the answer is more transparency about our politics. I think, in fact, the answer is politics.” This is a call to critique the interests that drive educational/technological innovation, and their interrelationships. Elsewhere Sarah Amsler has echoed this in a focus on critical pedagogy and the fearless university, when she talks about ‘a little more of a politicised relation to truth in affairs of education, knowledge and academic practice’.

FOUR. This form of political analysis stands in relation to value, and an engagement with value production and accumulation is central to any understanding of the condition of open education. For Marx in Capital Volume 2: ‘Value emerges as a form of sociability (as capital) from the unity of three circuits. It is formed of moments of the circulation of money, of production, and of commodities. The self-expansion of value is “the determining purpose, as the compelling motive.”’ How does open education emerge from the interrelationships and flows of money/debt/equity, the production of teaching and learning services, and of data/content? How does the unity of these three circuits reinforce hegemonic power? We might speak of openness as hope or emancipation or humanity, but as Anselm Jappe notes: ‘Accumulated value, and the power that flows from it, means that other forms of human or humane value in the production of commodities are marginalised.’

FIVE. A critique of open education from the standpoint of value is important because the idea of open [whatever] has been co-opted by those with power as and export/industrial strategy related to financialisation and marketisation. This is witnessed in statements by UK Government Ministers that “conventional universities no longer hold all the cards on how the higher education market develops”, and also by UK Opposition Ministers that “our goal is bold and simple: to build a bigger knowledge economy.” These policy statements are then amplified by entrepreneurial activity that is enacted through new combinations of technologies and practices to inject novelty into the circuits of capitalism. As Will Davies highlights, this focus on enterprise or entrepreneurship in policy and practice pivots around the creation of a new productive environment that accommodates power: first in expanding the time-scale for returns (debt and the future); and second in expanding the arena for competition (into the public sphere and into pedagogic practices). Thus, we witness Vice Chancellors like Martin Bean at the UK Open University stating that: “There is some fantastic work being done, but we need to keep our foot on the accelerator of innovation to think bigger, not just about reaching new audiences, but about revolutionising the traditional learning and teaching experiences.” Entrepreneurial activity underpins the production and circulation of value through commodity-dumping in new markets and by making established, public spaces productive.

SIX. This local policy/practice infrastructure is “enriched” by a transnational framework that seeks to create open markets in services and open access to procurement [see, Council of EU: http://bit.ly/1vOSUxF]. This framework then looks to reduce [through arbitrage] the labour content of services and products [see, Gartner: http://gtnr.it/17RLm2v]. Whilst other educational service providers look to create or co-opt “an ever-wider range of bigger and more complex standalone products and services to participating in more open, interoperable educational ‘ecosystems’, centered around learners [and learning outcomes]” [see, Pearson’s Five Trillion Dollar Question: http://bit.ly/1iaRaMp]. A Bain and Company note on a world awash with money highlighted the market/finance opportunities of a liberalised educational trading space. Opportunities focused upon: developing exportable services to increase revenues and profits [e.g. MOOCs and OERs]; upgrading low-tech products into premium consumer goods and services [e.g. curriculum components like assessment, and learning analytics]; making services bound by physical geography more portable and global [mobile commodity-dumping]; enabling leading universities in the advanced economies to accelerate the training of home-grown specialists in emerging economies; and importing “highly-skilled professionals from companies in developed markets, businesses in the emerging markets will not need to wait a generation for their own education systems to produce a skilled workforce”.

SEVEN. This open educational framework is then used by transnational joint-ventures, in order to leverage surplus value in ways that traditional universities could not do alone. In part this is achieved through the commodification of vast arrays of data, and the creation of new services, which in turn reflect the need to make academic labour productive of value. For example, Coursera partners include: venture capital: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, New Enterprise Associates, GSV Capital, International Finance Corporation, Learn Capital Venture Partners; educational publishers like Laureate Education; and transnational bodies like the World Bank. These transnational joint-ventures or associations of capitals demonstrate the interrelationship between profitability and investment. Here open education is a technical response of global capital to lower levels of profitability, the need to increase global consumption of educational services, and the demand to make previously marginal sectors of the economy explicitly productive. Thus, the impact of educational innovation is: first, as a means of leveraging the ratio of the total surplus-value produced in society to the total capital invested; second, a redistribution of surplus value from businesses that produce commodities or services like universities to those that market them or that lend money to make academic labour productive; and third, as a means of revolutionising the means of production and disciplining labour.

EIGHT. It is impossible to understand the role of open education without developing a critique of its relationships to a transnational capitalist class.

NINE. What is to be done? Is it possible to re-imagine the basis of education for an alternative form of sociability that is based on mass intellectuality and open co-operativism? The idea of re-producing the general intellect as mass intellectuality, or an alternative form of sociability that is beyond the market because it subsumes the market inside, and that is beyond financialisation because it liberates time, is critical. For Marx, the general intellect was: “the accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital [machinery].” A central concern is how to enact, produce and circulate contemporary space/time, so that the future is not foreclosed, and so that liberation-is-praxis. Liberation demands personal and public struggle, and leads us to question, pace Harry Cleaver, whether the idea of open education might be used to recompose the possibility of educational and societal struggle in more autonomous educational organisations and spaces that exist within and between both the university and the community. Here there is a focus on the forms of academic [i.e. staff and student] labour in order to politically recompose the division between the university [as a factory of ideas] and the community. Is it possible to use the idea of open, public education to abolish the university that is, and to re-produce the university of utopia as an alternative form of sociability?

TEN. There are important examples of struggles for alternatives.

In labour rights: 3cosas; the Australian Actual Casuals; Leeds Postgrads 4 Fair Pay.

In campaigning for the public university, and in the College of Debtors in Defiance, and in remaking the University.

In educational and co-operative spaces like the Social Science Centre, and Open Data Manchester, and in the FLOK Society project, and in the idea of the Commons and communing and commonism.

These examples remind us that it is possible to challenge a false idea of material abundance (rooted in normalised ideas of growth, accumulation and debt), alongside a false idea of immaterial scarcity (reinforced in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investments Partnership), and the pseudo-abundance that destroys the biosphere, and the contrived scarcity that keeps innovation artificially scarce. As Bauwens and Iacomella argue ‘we need a global alliance between the new “open” movements, the ecological movements, and the traditional social justice and emancipatory movements, in order to create a “grand alliance of the commons.”’

ELEVEN. We might ask whether educational practices that are rooted in open co-operativism provide a better alternative political economy and set of possibilities for struggle. Open co-operatives:

  • emerge from democratic governance and regulation of transnational worker co-operatives;
  • connect to the circuits of p2p production and distribution;
  • embody and critique/develop the open, democratic, autonomous, social focus of co-operatives;
  • define an alternative framework for the common ownership of products, assets and commodities;
  • enable a reclamation of public environments for the globalised, socialised dissemination of knowledge (e.g. copyfarleft);
  • connect a global educational commons that is rooted in critical pedagogy;
  • offer possibilities for the conversion, dissolution or creation of established/emergent/new educational institutions, which are themselves both transitional and pedagogic.

A focus on open co-operativism as a pedagogic process, rather than fetishizing open education as an allegedly emancipatory outcome, might enable a little more of a politicised relation to truth in affairs of education, knowledge and academic practice.


Notes on pedagogy, free time and the abolition of wage labour

I’ve been reminded this week, by Joss Winn’s excellent article “Writing about academic labour” that

There is an understandable tendency among critics of the current crisis in higher education to want to restore the university to what it once was, to defend the university from changing into something else, to resist the real subsumption of academic labour under capital. I think this misunderstands the university as a means of production and its historical role.

Joss analyses how the University is increasingly folded inside the ebb-and-flow of capitalism as a process of circulation in the name of value. The flow of circuits of production, commodity and money are structuring and re-structuring what it means to labour as an academic or as a student (wages for students, anyone?). In this way academic labour needs to be critiqued through labour theory, not in order to recuperate a golden age of scholarship and learning, but to re-appropriate and potentially liberate academics and students as organic intellectuals able to help society engage with critical, global problems. As Joss argues, central to this process is an understanding of academic work, by both academics and students, from the standpoint of labour.

When critically approaching the university as a means of production for the valorisation of capital, an emancipatory project must first focus on re-appropriating the means of knowledge production through efforts to control the substance of value: the labour process. This, I think, requires new models of democratic higher education organised directly through the co-operation of academic and student labour; models of practice which aim to re-appropriate the ‘general intellect’ (Marx 1973, 706) and which recognise “the existence of a growing gap between the sort of labour people continue to perform in a society mediated by labor and the sort of labor they could perform, were it not for this ‘necessity’ of capitalism.” (Postone 1993, 370) This effort must be grounded in a thoroughgoing critique of the political economy of higher education that starts from its most simple, immanent categories. It would recognise and develop the significant productive capacity of our existing historical conditions in a way whereby human knowledge or “mass intellectuality” (Dyer-Witheford 1999, 488) is seen as the emancipatory project rather than a resource for valorisation.

In a recent article “On the Abolition of Academic Labour: The Relationship Between Intellectual Workers and Mass Intellectuality”, I also argue for a critique of academic work as labour, in terms of:

  1. the mechanisms through which academic autonomy is increasingly alienated inside-and-against the University;
  2. how this alienation relates to the recalibration of the University as an association of capitals;
  3. how academic labour might be understood in concrete and abstract terms, and then abolished as part of a social struggle for subjectivity that is situated against value production and accumulation; and
  4. whether it is possible to liberate academic labour as a form of mass intellectuality that can be used inside and across society?

Akin to Joss, I also wondered about the potential for co-operative alternatives based on solidarity, where they connect to a radical, societal, democratic project of refusal, as transitional, pedagogical moments.

In this, both Joss and I focus upon Moishe Postone’s focus on time and labour as structuring capitalism’s domination.

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 1993, 373)

In this analysis, whilst transitional, co-operative organising principles are important, autonomy over time, and agency in the activities that are usefully and socially structured by time are pivotal. Here I am reminded of an excellent blog-post by Jehu on communism and wage-slavery, entitled (pace BB King) “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there”. Here Jehu states that the premise of communism or a post-capitalism cannot be rooted in the abolition of the wage, or in the working class wishing to give up the possibility of an improved standard-of-living rooted in a job that pays a decent wage. Who wants to give up their access to consumer goods and holidays, aside from the impact of indenture and [private/state] debt-bondage on the need to labour? Jehu notes:

why, in all of [the co-operative or solidarity economy or state capitalist/socialist] examples cited, do we never clearly see a path to the end of class, labor, property and the state? Because they can never move beyond certain definite limits, these systems always collapse into some new state, some new method of coercing labor, and some new form of property.

In this argument, post-capitalism “appears in this society as a catastrophe to existing society.” The end of capitalist work is stagnation, no-growth or de-growth, or the inability to buy a specific set of activities or things. This is economic depression, austerity, unemployment, debt and social dislocation. It is also asset and wealth transfer to a transnational elite. Critically, writes Jehu:

To go from a situation where everyone has to sell their labor power to communism under the premises of present society implies an ever bigger shitload of people can’t find work. Communism may be the end of wage labor, but getting to the end of wage labor implies ever increasing unemployment, competition to sell labor power and social disruption. And if people can’t find work, they will turn to people who promise to create work, not those who argue we can live without it.

Trying, then to fight or struggle for any alternative is placed asymmetrically against valorisation as the structuring reality of society, and which forces us at a deep psychological level to accept our alienation from ourselves, because for those who rely on a wage to survive “the end of wage labor [is] an actual mortal threat to [their] physical existence, as the threat of starvation.” Matters are worse, as Simon Clarke argues in an essay on neoliberalism, because:

While real wages may have risen, the creation of new needs by capital has meant that the socially determined subsistence needs of the population have risen more rapidly, forcing an ever growing proportion of the population to seek work to augment the household income in the attempt to meet those needs. At the same time, a growing proportion of the population is unable to meet the ever-increasing employment demands of capital, while those in employment face the ever-growing threat of losing their jobs.

And this precarious existence, coupled to consumer needs, has also faced an assault on societal benefits and collectively-negotiated safety nets:

the mounting cost of collective provision to counter the tendencies of capitalist accumulation has given force to the neo-liberal attempt to replace collective provision with private provision through insurance-based systems, which provides yet another channel through which capital can intensify the exploitation of the mass of the working population by intensifying and profiting from their fear of misfortune.

However, Jehu is clear that there is a distinction between the capitalist class, for whom the end of capitalism would be the end of production for value and power of the means, forces and relations of production, and the working class. Here control of the means of production of use values across society and the liberation of free time as a structuring reality of that society becomes a critical field of conflict, especially in terms of autonomy over the use of time or the availability of free-time.

Theoretically the separation of the production of use values from the production of exchange values can only begin once the productive activity of the working class is not solely engaged in production of exchange value. This requires society has free disposable time to engage in productive activities that do not and cannot in any way aim at producing exchange values.

In other words, the separation of production of use values from exchange values is possible only when free disposable time of society becomes the prime source of use values. I think this cannot happen until almost all (or at least the largest part) of the personal time of individuals in society is free disposable time. The larger the quantity of free disposable time society possesses, the more likely this free time will itself become the most important source of material wealth.

The problem we face at present is that the production of material wealth cannot be separated from the production of value, because the working class has very little time of its own to engage in any activity that is not premised on value production. This cannot be fixed by demanding the state create jobs, handout basic income, raise the minimum wage or other measures very popular on the Left right now. It cannot even be fixed by more advanced ideas like market socialism, cooperatives and even Soviet style central planning.

The problem is not how wage labor is organized, managed or compensated; it is how communists propose to abolish it in a way that does not result in a catastrophe.

In his analysis of neoliberalism, Simon Clarke argues that any struggle for the abolition of wage-labour and for transcending the structuring realities of capitalism runs counter to the realities of needing access to the next [smartfone] or holiday in the Sun or cultural activity, which in-turn requires a perpetual, fiscal transaction in the present. Any such struggle also runs counter to a hegemonic project aimed at the transnational incorporation of the present and the future inside the law of value. As a result all sociability and all of life are re-produced for value.

The economist critics of neoliberalism have repeatedly exposed how restrictive and unrealistic are the assumptions on which the neoliberal model is based. However, to argue that the neoliberal model is unrealistic is somewhat to miss the point, since the neoliberal model does not purport so much to describe the world as it is, but the world as it should be. The point for neoliberalism is not to make a model that is more adequate to the real world, but to make the real world more adequate to its model. This is not merely an intellectual fantasy, it is a very real political project, to realise which neoliberalism has conquered the commanding heights of global intellectual, political and economic power, all of which are mobilised to realise the neoliberal project of subjecting the whole world’s population to the judgement and morality of capital.

This underscores Ellen Meiksins-Wood argument 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.

These ideas of labour and time, pivoting around the twin aspects of the concrete and the abstract world, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to exist in a world structured around the wage, underpin the difficulties that Anselm Jappe highlights in his critical analysis of the impact of value and labour on our everyday narratives. He argues that a post-capitalist project would have to overcome the labour theory of value as it plays out in “othering”. He writes of

The difficulty of living in a society dominated by value necessarily leads to the creation of all sorts of ideologies to explain the suffering caused by such a society and that enable the subjects of labour to project onto others the qualities that they are forced to expel from themselves (e.g., “laziness,” “emotions”).

Critically we are reminded of these processes of projection that are themselves defences against the alienation of wage-labour in the State’s reaction to Occupy Democracy in London, and in the party of organised labour’s attack on immigration as a function of “progressive politics”, and in the party of organised labour’s belief that “if we want to live better than others, then we will have to be better than others”, and in the reaction of local businesses in #Ferguson Missouri to protests about the shooting of Michael Brown. In the latter it was reported by businesses that:

“I know customers who have left the area … I just want everything to go back to normal and everyone can do business again.”

“We’ve just been trying to go to work, business as usual – nobody wants to take the boards down until we see what happens. It’s more of the not knowing what’s going to happen next.”

Whither human or labour rights in the face of economic uncertainty? And who has power-over the narratives that other or that decide who is to be othered? Who has power-over narratives that dehumanise in the face of the scarcity of value? And what courage does it take to refuse or push-back against these narratives?

And earlier this week I saw the film made shortly after the occupation of the Horney College of Art, called The Hornsey Experiment. It reminded me that so many of the defences that appear to have emerged in short-order since 2008, as apparently governmental/neoliberal responses to the forms of direct action that are our collective opposition to the politics of austerity, were also present in the 1960s. That the courage it takes to refuse has a historical and material lineage that is often communal. At Hornsey, there was opposition to the marketization and accreditation of learning, and to the subsumption of learning and teaching for capitalist work, rather than as humanistic activities rooted in love. There was opposition that took the form of general assemblies and occupations. There was opposition that took the form of a new pedagogy of production, with clear links through to the liberation-praxis of the anti-University of London, the Mental Furniture Industry, and Project Sigma. There was opposition that was leaderless and invisible and which lacked demands. There was opposition that simply wished to enact power-over the production of art as a form of sociability, and power-over the organisation of the space, in ways that were against-and-beyond the formalised, accredited curriculum.

The oppositional pedagogy uncovered in the Hornsey Experiment reminded me of the dissonance that Nina Power wrote about, and which might be re-formed as a form of anti-cynicism to prevailing anti-humanist pedagogies.

Theories of universal pedagogy, that is to say, “a pedagogy that takes nothing for granted,” and the attempt to put these into practice may seem out of place in this brave new world of student consumerism and universities-as-businesses, an archaic throwback to outmoded, optimistic Enlightenment models of generic capacity and the promise of knowledge for all. Yet, perversely, the assumption of universalist, egalitarian, rationalist (although not in the sense the market would understand it) principles (or axioms, as we shall see) in education may be precisely the way out of a certain deep cynicism that pervades the attitudes of students toward their degrees, of lecturers to their students, and of the university to its responsibility to educate, and not merely to train.

The Hornsey Experiement was met with threats of Police dogs and barbed wire fences, alongside alleged criticism and cynicism from some local people. Moreover, under the promise of discussions about a new organisational structure, curriculum and pedagogical approach for the College, the occupation ended and was neutralised in the bureaucracy of the College’s administrative structures. The energy of the general assembly was dissipated in the dampening of the committee structure, and in the midst of deliberation in hegemonic structures those with power-over the College securitised the space so that occupations would be harder to achieve, and then excluded students who had occupied, and demanded that visibility and accreditation would be the productive order of things. As Bourdieu and Passeron argue in Reproduction in Education Society and Culture:

An educational system based on a traditional type of pedagogy can fulfil its function of inculcation only so long as it addresses itself to students equipped with the linguistic and cultural capital – and the capacity to invest it profitably – which the system presupposes and consecrates without ever expressly demanding it and without methodically transmitting it.

Those with power-over demand control over our sociability reinforced through a specific type of cultural value, which as Clarke, Jehu and Jappe note has a certain morality attached to it. It is inside-and-against this hegemonic, cultural normalisation that an alternative, transitional politics has to emerge, rooted in the idea of free time. For Alexander Trocchi, in the glow of Project Sigma, this meant the liberation of time for relatively elastic forms of spontaneity and experiment to take root:

Each branch of the spontaneous university will be the nucleus of an experimental town to which all kinds of people will be attracted for shorter or longer periods of time and from which, if we are successful, they will derive a renewed and infectious sense of life. We envisage an organization whose structure and mechanisms are infinitely elastic; we see it as the gradual crystallization of a regenerative cultural force, a perpetual brainwave, creative intelligence everywhere recognizing and affirming its own involvement.

However, at issue is still Jehu’s question of how any such spontaneous, pedagogical experiments enable us to work toward the abolition of wage labour in a way that does not result in a catastrophe. For Marx in The German Ideology this issue has to be addressed communally.

The transformation, through the division of labour, of personal powers (relationships) into material powers, cannot be dispelled by dismissing the general idea of it from one’s mind, but can only be abolished by the individuals again subjecting these material powers to themselves and abolishing the division of labour. This is not possible without the community. Only in community [with others has each] individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. In the previous substitutes for the community, in the State, etc. personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed within the relationships of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class. The illusory community, in which individuals have up till now combined, always took on an independent existence in relation to them, and was at the same time, since it was the combination of one class over against another, not only a completely illusory community, but a new fetter as well. In a real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association.

Quite how this is to be done in the face of socio-environmental catastrophe, the politics of austerity, crippling levels of personal and State debt, reduced access to cheap, liquid fuel, and the cultural imperative to maintain standards of living and growth-based agendas as the structuring realities of life is another issue.


Open Education: Condition Critical

On November 20th I’m speaking on a panel at The Centre for Disruptive Media at Coventry University. The panel is on “Open Education: Condition Critical”.

The purpose is to explore “opportunities to critically and creatively experiment with different ideas of what the university and education can be.”

Event details

Thursday November 20th 4:30-6:30pm

Coventry University, Disruptive Media Learning Lab, 3rd floor Frederick Lanchester Library

Free entrance. Please register at: http://criticalopeneducation.eventbrite.co.uk

Panellists

Sean Dockray (The Public School)

Richard Hall (De Montfort University Leicester)

Shaun Hides (Coventry University)

Sharon Irish (University of Illinois/FemTechNet)

Pauline van Mourik Broekman (Mute)

Panel scope

What for decades could only be dreamt of is now almost within reach: the widespread provision of free online education, regardless of a student’s geographic location, financial status or ability to access conventional institutions of learning. Yet for all the hype-cycle that has been entered into over MOOCs, many experiments with Open Education (OE) do not appear to be designed to challenge the becoming business of the university or alter Higher Education in any really fundamental way. If anything, they seem more likely to lead to a two-tier system, in which those who can’t afford to pay (so much) to attend a traditional university, or belong to those groups who prefer not to move away from home (e.g. lower-income families), have to make do with a poor, online, second-rate alternative education produced by a global corporation.

Open Education: Condition Critical will thus examine some of the opportunities that exist for experimenting, critically and creatively, with very different ideas of what the university and education can be in the 21st century. In doing so, rather than focusing on the 2012 batch of extremely publicity-savvy xMOOCs (Edx, Udacity, FutureLearn etc.), it will draw attention to a range of more radical developments in the Open Education arena. They include The Public School, FemTechNet’s DOCCs (Distributed Open Collaborative Courses), the self-organised ‘free universities’ associated with the Occupy, anti-austerity and student protests, and even so-called ‘pirate’ libraries such as libgen.org and aaaaarg.org.

Open Education: Condition Critical has been organised to mark the publication of Open Education: A Study in Disruption (London: Rowman and Littlefield International, 2014), co-authored by Coventry University’s Open Media Group and Mute Publishing as a critical experiment with both collaborative, processual writing and concise, medium-length forms of shared attention.


Notes from a place of resistance

These notes were written whilst listening to Rave Tapes by Mogwai and this alt-J performance on npr.

I attended a seminar in Brighton on Thursday called Resisting Neoliberal Education: Alternative Systems, Discourse and Practice. My notes and thoughts from the event follow.

ONE. In the round-table introductions I realised that of the 15 attendees, I only knew three people. That means there are 11 other stories of resistance in the room. That’s a lot of new potential energy and possibility for #solidarity and association, and also hope.

TWO. In the roundtable Stephen O’Brien from Cork spoke about how he had written a triptych on learning outcomes, and made a point about how certain language and meaning and ways of working in the world get written into culture so that resistance becomes difficult. Contesting the hegemonic power of learning outcomes in educational practice and theory situates us asymmetrically against Pearson Education and their absolute obsession with learning outcomes as an educational business model. It situates us against the idea that aligning high stakes testing and educational improvement is a form of economic patriotism. It situates us against the commodification of educational relationships through data-mining and learning analytics. It situates us with Walter Stroup and his “rebellion” against standardisation. In this I am reminded that the detail is really important, and that life histories of specific technologies (follow the technology), fiscal innovations (follow the money), and pedagogical innovations (follow the technique), enable us to see who has voice and power. Pace Marx (footnote 4, Chapter 15, Volume 1 of Capital), we might note:

[a specific innovation] 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.

Critical in understanding and critiquing capitalist social relations and alternatives to it, is a focus on how learning appears to us, and how it appears to those with power [or their power-over our power-to-do].

TWO. In the roundtable, someone, and it’s remiss of me to forget who, spoke of the “unattractive nature of academic life” in its current anxiety-hardened, precarious form. I think that collectively we were questioning the representation and formation of the University and the consequences for learning and teaching (as opposed to the student experience).

THREE. Several people spoke about the idea of the public good. Rarely did we mention co-operativism or the Commons. I think that in re-imagining the University inside a new form of sociability, this is a rich space of potential and possibility. Joss Winn’s blog-post on re-imagining pulls a lot of this together, including Mike Neary’s work on student-as-producer and the genesis of the Social Science Centre. There is also work to be done for us in thinking through and living the possibilities for transitional alternatives. I think that it is important to see alternative forms as transitional and pedagogic, and not to be fetishized. I reconsidered this in the face of Nadia Edmond’s (firm-but-fair) challenge to me about whether spaces like the Social Science Centre were alternatives that were sustainable or whether they are (my words) simply academic philanthropy. I also reconsidered this in light of remembering that the Really Open University had deliberately used the phrase “re-imagining the University.” The critical thing for me about the Social Science Centre is that it forms a laboratory for co-operative production, consumption and distribution that is about democratic organising principles (governance) for both the Centre and its activities, and its content (e.g. childcare arrangements, curricula, events). Whilst the current Know-How course might be represented inside some universities and through some courses, there are some “scholars” who do not wish to/cannot undertake such a course inside. Equally, the content and curriculum is co-negotiated and produced in a way that is different from the bulk of curricula inside. Finally, the production, consumption and distribution of the curriculum circulates inside-and-through the organisation of the Social Science Centre and informs its governance.

FOUR. A sense of work inside/outside the University was seen as pivotal in resisting or defining something different. This reminded me of Elise Thorburn’s brilliant article on autonomy and the Edufactory, in which she writes about the power-to-do that is situated in three strands: first, inside general assemblies as democratic governance and organisation; second, through militant research done in partnership; finally, through work done in public. I think this is the key to much of our re-imagining; that it is done in public as a democratic act of militant research. Someone at the seminar spoke of activist knowledge that “rows in behind”, as an act of solidarity and love. Through such acts, as a kind of solidarity economy, we might enable the amplification of alternatives as an asymmetrical definition of possible forms of sociability beyond the market. Here we might engage with the idea that no alternative is beyond the structural domination of capitalist social relations, but that we might take them to be transitional through a pedagogic appreciation of what it is to be in/against/beyond. But this takes courage and faith. Not to fetishise the institution, which is itself alienating, but to look for points of solidarity.

FIVE. Over lunch Steve O’Brien used the word monastic to describe much of his recent academic work. I love that term. I feel that in the aftermath of the moments of rage and impotence in the academic (staff and student) protests of 2010-11, for personal and academic reasons I became monastic, returning to theory and harvesting historical and material and global stories of resistance and alternatives and mending myself. There is something here about asking whether it is possible to rebuild oneself in the face of systemic alienation, as a brutal form of therapy, in order to embody one’s position. In order to return to a room where people can meet to listen and speak and voice effective demands.

SIX. Throughout I was reminded of fellowship and the links between fellowship, liberation and de/legitimation. This made me reconsider why I keep returning to this quote about liberation, the individual, the community and association, from Marx in The German Ideology:

The transformation, through the division of labour, of personal powers (relationships) into material powers, cannot be dispelled by dismissing the general idea of it from one’s mind, but can only be abolished by the individuals again subjecting these material powers to themselves and abolishing the division of labour. This is not possible without the community. Only in community [with others has each] individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. In the previous substitutes for the community, in the State, etc. personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed within the relationships of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class. The illusory community, in which individuals have up till now combined, always took on an independent existence in relation to them, and was at the same time, since it was the combination of one class over against another, not only a completely illusory community, but a new fetter as well. In a real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association.

This is about collective and invisible work in the name of counter-narratives and not fixed alternatives.

SEVEN. Ciaran Sugrue spoke about the defence mechanisms that individuals have as “multiple scripts” that are played out differentially depending on context. Steve O’Brien reminded me that F Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” These two interventions made me reconsider our defences against a world that is increasingly abstract and polarised around inequality and agony. This is especially so where Her Majesty’s Opposition in the UK, the Labour Party, accept an hour-glass economy and the fact that some people will be losers in a globalised economy. Here we might again ask what does it mean to be inside/outside and how are our multiple scripts or defences, acts of self-harm or self-care? The work of Frantz Fanon on cognitive dissonance is important for me here, especially in Black Skin, White Masks.

EIGHT. Throughout I had the work of Anselm Jappe on my mind, and the asymmetry between humane values and the production and accumulation of value. In spite of my knowing that sociability, solidarity, fidelity, courage, hope, whatever, are produced and reproduced inside-and-against private property and value, I am reminded that Jappe wrote:

The difficulty of living in a society dominated by value necessarily leads to the creation of all sorts of ideologies to explain the suffering caused by such a society and that enable the subjects of labour to project onto others the qualities that they are forced to expel from themselves (e.g., “laziness,” “emotions”). (p. 11)

But that in spite of this historically, material formation of values:

even value itself is not a “total” structure. It is “totalitarian” in the sense that it aspires to turn everything into a commodity. But it will never be able to because such a society would be completely unliveable (there would no longer, for example, be friendship, love, the bringing up of children, etc.). The necessity for value to expand pushes it towards destroying the entire concrete world and at every level, economic, environmental, social and cultural. The critique of value does not only foresee an economic crisis of unprecedented dimensions but also the end of an entire “civilisation” (if one can call it that). Even so, human life has not always been based on value, money and labour, even if it seems that some kind of fetishism has existed everywhere. (p. 12)

NINE. It feels important to me to have access to what someone called “resources for resistance”, to situate my work fixed in space-time, against those of others. I hope we can create such a collective thing. Someone else spoke of sharing stories and building life histories as a means of “keeping each other’s fire burning.” These are forms of Luddism. Forms of hacking. Forms of re-imagining.

TEN. I was reminded of Allyson Pollack’s work on an NHS Reinstatement Bill, as an act of courage, public justice and hope. I wondered about the possibility less for a manifesto, and more for a free, public Higher Education Re-instatement Bill.

ELEVEN. I read of Chris Hedges’ work on capitalism’s sacrifice zones, and the idea that “There are forgotten corners of this country where Americans are trapped in endless cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and despair as a direct result of capitalistic greed.” Moreover, these zones are deliberately sacrificed in the pursuit of profit: “These are areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. We’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed”. This reminded me that as Ellen Meiksins-Wood argued:

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.

In this she saw hope because:

the universalization of capitalism not just as a measure of success but as a source of weakness… It can only universalize its contradictions, its polarizations between rich and poor, exploiters and exploited. Its successes are also its failures… Now capitalism has no more escape routes, no more safety valves or corrective mechanisms outside its own internal logic… the more it maximizes profit and so-called growth – the more it devours its own human and natural substance.

This forced me to re-think:

  • Are there other ways of producing knowing? What authority does HE/do universities have?
  • In a knowing world, rather than a knowledge economy, what does the curriculum mean?
  • Does a pedagogy of production need to start with the principle that we need to consume less of everything? What does this mean for ownership of the institution at scale [local, regional, global]?
  • How can student voices help in the struggle to re-invent the world?
  • What is to be done?

TWELVE. I don’t think I used the word neoliberalism once. I realised that I have dropped it from my vocabulary as inappropriate. For me the issue is Capital and Labour, and neoliberalism was just a global, political economic, phase we were going through. This is about hegemony and counter-narratives. Here the work of William Robinson on global capitalism is important to me. Equally important is finding ways in which we can take the energy of the dominant discourse and (akin to a form of t’ai chi) displace it or use it against itself, by revealing stories of inhumanity and inequality and courage. Through an appeal to what it is to be a concrete human rather than an abstraction.