Adam Curle: Education for Liberation and the potential for mass intellectuality

On Monday I’m at the University of Bradford speaking at a panel session at the Peaceful Relations and the Transformation of the World: An Academic-Practitioner Dialogue on Peace in the 21st Century. The panel is on Prospects for Peace Education in the Neoliberal Era. In order to ground my work at the intersection of peace studies, the idea of the University, and the concept of mass intellectuality, I have written an essay, attempting to connect Adam Curle’s Education for Liberation from 1973 with our current condition in higher education in the global North. The essay ends by pointing to our work on mass intellectuality inside-against-and-beyond the neoliberal university.

I wrote it whilst listening to Annie Mac Presents.

ONE. A shared humanity

We do not need education without needing a world that is being destroyed.

Our emphasis is on education: within the reality of our social relations, confined by the struggle of daily life, against the hierarchical relations between institutions, academics and students.

We share our work in education so that one day we might become free through education. It can feel like a hopeless act of hope yet as a conscious act of anti-alienation, sharing can be emancipatory.

We have been objectified as Teachers and Learners. These are illusory concepts. Sharing is to resist the commodification of our lives and escape the measures of Capital, its controls of ‘quality’ and its life-support machine of ‘efficiency’.

Sharing brings curricula to life as a flow of ideas, an unstoppable, irrepressible mass intellectuality that recognises no disciplines and responds to every act of discipline.

The University of Utopia (n.d.). Anti-Curricula. A Course of Action.

In Education for Liberation, Adam Curle argues for the creation of new educational conditions that refuse the ongoing deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of everyday life, in order to enable individuals (and families, communities, societies) to address themselves.

we try to create conditions in which the fewest obstacles are placed in the way of people coming to terms with themselves.

Curle, A. (1973). Education for Liberation. London: Tavistock, p. v.

NOTE: hereafter reference to this volume is given simply by ‘Curle’ and the relevant page number.

What Curle laid bare in 1973 was the intersectional realities of poverty, oppression, exploitation, hunger, disease and emotional sickness, and a recognition that ‘if all these things were abolished’ then what would be left is our shared humanity. This idea of a shared humanity picks up our utopian desire to connect, not through the exchange-value of our education commodified as a service or financialised and marketised through debt and performance metrics, but by sharing what is socially-useful. This process of sharing knowledge, skills and literacies both inside and outside the formal institution, dissolves the boundaries of that institution. As a result, it resists the enclosure of the university and its knowledge, and pushes back against the idea that the market is the sole arbiter of access to that knowledge.

Moreover, the sharing that rests on dissolving the boundaries that exist: between the inside and outside of the university; between students and teachers; and between those who know and those who do; forms a moment of resistance to the idea that the market is the only way that we can address global emergencies. These emergencies demand social action taken at the level of society. For Curle there is a sense of needing to overcome this restricting alienation because:

Education enslaves: men and women become free through their own efforts. (p. 1)

TWO. The structuring realities of value

The historical context for Curle’s work on education and liberation is important. He is writing shortly after Nixon unilaterally ended the Bretton Woods international monetary system, and as the post-war Keynesian compromise was ending. These are way-markers on the path to neoliberalism that placed an aesthetic appreciation of (economic) value, rather than (humane) values, centre stage. Yet for Curle, ‘the keystone is justice rather than wealth’ (p.1), and this opens-up potential connections between social justice movements and those looking for post-capitalist alternatives, as a response to the emergent, globalised phase of capitalist development. However, this work of connection frames the problems of justice and wealth through political economy, and one that reclaims wealth as social, and specifically as a collective power-to do or to create the world, separated out from accumulated, individualised forms of wealth (as money or financial assets). This is the material and immaterial wealth of art, science, technology and knowledge, which rest on social relationships that themselves refuse to be organised through private property, wage labour and the market.

As Curle was writing, Autonomist Marxism emerged as a conglomerate of different perspectives, drawing on the Italian Operaismo or Workerist Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Autonomist Marxism enabled a focus on the question of why capital moved beyond national boundaries in the post-war years and how it was transformed into a globalised, transnational apparatus for accumulating wealth. Critically, this tradition sought to understand the changing nature of the structure and agency of the working class as the neoliberal phase of capitalism intensified. In this analysis, education is crucial in examining the ways in which labour could form oppositional spaces or cracks through which to resist and push-back against the alienation of exchange and the market. Thus, Autonomist critiques of education focus upon the ability of the student/teacher to develop her own self-awareness and to utilise technology to act for herself. This emancipatory project is revealed as in-against-beyond, which questions the structures that reproduce capitalism’s domination, like the State and its educational institutions. These questions emerge from inside those structures and from perspectives that are against them, so that alternatives that lie beyond might be opened up. This recognises that capitalism is a totalising, social universe, and opens-up a global terrain of struggle for autonomy that includes education.

The struggle to control labour presents the working class (including in the roles of student and teacher) with potential educational tools to develop new points of resistance. In developing such alternatives, there are a number of key ideas that emerge from the Autonomist tradition that are useful in addressing how education relate to the agency of the working class, acting for itself:

Each of these concepts forces a reconceptualisation of how we address the production and circulation of social wealth, materialised not as money or surplus-value, but as our social needs and capacities. For Curle (p. 4) this approach, if not the conceptualisation, was central to a project of overcoming the competitive materialism that emerges from global networks of exploitation. That Curle was able to identify and analyse such networks can be traced forwards to the work of Stephen Ball on transnational activist networks that seek to open-up the terrain of education for-profit. These networks of private equity, publishers, policy-makers, pedagogues, think-tanks, educational technology corporations, venture capitalists, and so on, help to deterritoriaise and reterritorialise education, so that only surplus-value can be liberated. As a result:

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.

Jappe, A. 2014. Towards a History of the Critique of Value. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism. 25(2): 11.

As Curle argues (p. 5), as these asymmetrical power relations flood through education, ‘one party to a relationship, the weaker, is impeded through the quality of a relationship, from achieving his [sic.] human potential.’ Thus, formal, institutionalised education (and it is such that supplies much of the context for Education for Liberation) ‘reinforces unpeaceful situations’ (p. 6), rooted in belonging-identity and competitive materialism (pp. 7-8). Here Curle’s work traces the outlines of later analyses of the dehumanization inherent in capitalist social relations and the law of value, in particular the impact of capitalism as a totalising system on individual and collective self-worth. For Curle this emerges as guilt and shame. As Jappe notes:

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.

Jappe, A. 2014. Towards a History of the Critique of Value. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism. 25(2): 11

Yet Curle’s work on situating education for liberation inside dominant ideologies or the system, also connects to alternative possibilities outlined in more mainstream thinking.

When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals.

social customs and economic practices, affecting the distribution of wealth and of economic rewards and penalties, which we now maintain at all costs, however distasteful and unjust they may be in themselves, because they are tremendously useful in promoting the accumulation of capital, we shall then be free, at last, to discard.

Keynes, J.M. 1930. Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.

THREE. On prefiguration and a new education

In responding to this clash of value and values, Curle emphasizes the need for a new education, which demands ‘an alien form of society’ that values the human, or our shared humanity. This is the possibility of personal evolution, or ‘higher-awareness (awareness-identity)’, formed inside a counter-system of education rooted in altruism (or #solidarity) (pp. 8, 9). This counter-system has echoes of Gramsci’s work on hegemony and counter-hegemony, rooted in acknowledging, analysing and abolishing power. For Curle (p. 10), such a counter-system would have higher levels of (social) awareness (beyond value). It would be grounded in awareness-identity (social connections against-and-beyond the market), and as such it would be altruistic and empathetic with peaceful relation that are loving and supportive. Moreover, it would be based on co-operative and egalitarian democracy.

In addressing how education relates to the creation of such a counter-system, Curle (p. 17) diagnoses that we need to reveal the reality of the system as is. Here, hegemony rests on imparting the knowledge needed by the system to reproduce itself by establishing within us the goals that are also of value to the system. In the UK we can witness this in the HE White Paper and the emerging HE and Research Bill, with its focus on human capital theory in education, to be implemented through teaching intensity, productivity, teaching excellence and performance management.

Curle’s responses echo those academic-activists who continue to resist, refuse and push-back against the on-going assault on the idea of higher education. These responses are rooted in prefiguration. For Curle, the existence and celebration of ‘Different values jeopardize what they have, thus endangering their belonging-identity’ (p. 21, emphasis added). As Sarah Amsler notes, prefiguring the kind of world we wish to see is an on-going process that is generative, iterative and educative. It is the governance and organisation of life as a pedagogical project, which enables the negation of that which is dehumanising or alienating. Connecting to Curle’s hope for justice, this is the negation of our negation.

Moreover, such prefigurative and utopian engagements also enable and share moments of solidarity. In developing Curle’s counter-system, this means thinking through the potential for waves of struggle, which demonstrate solidarity between various groups of workers and others across society impacted by austerity. Points of solidarity include: the embodied toll that neoliberal restructuring and austerity takes on mental and physical health, including in families; the control of performance and activity; the reduction of life to work; and, the inability of the curriculum to manage issues of crisis concerning poverty, climate change, on-going colonialism and so on. Points of solidarity connect:

  • Academic staff who are subject to increased workload and performance management;
  • Academic staff whose workload requirements are marginalising the rest of their lives, as parents, carers, partners, friends, so that never-ending, entrepreneurial work dominates;
  • Students whose work is defined by debt as a commodity or purchased as a service, rather than being regarded as work that should be reimbursed through a wage;
  • Students whose education is solely predicated on productivity and employability, with contributions to social or care work being marginalised;
  • Student of colour, who are protesting and refusing the on-going colonisation of the curriculum;
  • Precariously-employed graduate teaching assistants, or those for whom tenure is becoming an impossibility;
  • Professional services staff for whom the restructuring of back-office functions entails outsourcing or an attrition on labour rights, and amplifies forms of social dumping;
  • Graduates saddled with increasing amounts of debt and weak job prospects, in the face of automation, on-going recession, and so on;
  • Teachers in Primary and Secondary Education, whose work is covered by the Educational Excellence Everywhere White paper, which promises the privatisation and data-driven commodification of pre-HE education;
  • Teachers in Primary and Secondary Education, whose work is also affected by the Small Businesses, Enterprise and Employment Act (2015), which enables metrics and longitudinal data to be collated about individuals to drive the production of economic value;
  • Community groups fighting for social justice, for instance in refugee, housing or gender rights; and
  • Workers in notionally public-facing industries, where ideas of public service or the public good (contested as those terms are) are being lost, and for whom the realities of austerity are disciplinary (such as the campaign for an NHS Reinstatement Bill).

Here there is a need to redefine the terms of resistance as cross-sectoral, acting communally or socially, precisely because those communal or social aspects of our identities are being marginalised or reduced, as work and productivity becomes totalising. There is a need to see this work as educational, rooted in a governance framework and organisation that prefigures what we desire. For Curle this is a constant practice of revealing and resisting minor oppressions that gradually erode our awareness, such as the symbolic racialised nature of the curriculum. Thus, resistance offers the potential for re-humanizing activities (p. 87).

Such forms of resistance also question the very nature of our curricula, and raise the issue of whether our work should be on dismantling the curriculum. Curle wished to see a curriculum that strengthened justice and peace, so that individuals could self-actualise, rather than instantiating a curriculum that is mindless, dehumanizing and intellectually worthless for so many with ‘subtly obnoxious hidden’ elements. Here there is resonance with Rhodes Must Fall and campaigns like #whyismycurriculumwhite, which force us to consider how to connect the inside and outside of the classroom to everyday oppression, and to consider an engaged pedagogy that is infused critically.

To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who teach who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred; who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.

bell hooks (1994). Teaching to Transgress. London: Routledge, p. 13.

Progressive, holistic education, “engaged pedagogy”… emphasizes well-being. That means that teachers must be actively involved committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.

bell hooks (1994). Teaching to Transgress. London: Routledge, p. 15.

FOUR. Against power inside and outside the classroom

The power relations reinforced through the market, wage labour and property relations deny the essential humanity of the teacher-student relationship. Moreover they deny the self-actualisation (awareness-identity) of the individuals in that relationship, both inside and outside the classroom.

Curle (p. 35) hints at this issue of power, referenced above in terms of hegemony and counter-hegemony (the counter-system), when he refers to the altered psychological reality in which authority is shared. He writes that ‘the best way of promoting an appreciation of social justice may be through building a just and equal society in the classroom’ (p. 42). This reminds us of the work of John Holloway on how to change the world without taking power. Here the altered psychological state is not one of taking power, in order to reproduce both it and its injustices. Rather we refuse to reproduce power relations that disable our self-determination. They key is to focus co-operatively on creating a society in which people determine its development.

Like Curle, Holloway is clear that we have to change the world. However, there is no focus on taking State power. Instead he points towards new structures shaped by our agency and autonomy in doing socially-useful things. This concept of doing socially-useful things again relays back to Curle’s awareness-identity and refusal of competitive materialism. However, for Holloway there is a clear distinction between our power to do things (our creative power), and other’s power-over us or over our power to do things. Wage labour and debt (Holloway’s rule of money) offer others the power to command, and they reveal the structuring logic and power of capital, including across the terrain of higher education. The crucial thing for Holloway, as it was for Curle, is that this power to create and to command is a social power. In Holloway’s terms:

Our power to do is always a social power, is always a collective power, our doing is always part of the social flow of doing.

[In its co-option by capital] the social power to do becomes broken, it becomes transformed into its opposite, which is the power of the capitalist to command the doing of others.

Holloway, J. (2005). Change The World Without Taking Power.

The problem for educators is that inside the classroom and through the curriculum peace can only ever be an aspiration, because our educational work is alienated from us by capital. What we produce as educators or students is commodified as knowledge transfer or in the form of credits. How we produce as educators or students is governed by performance management or made efficient through technology and organisational development. The relationships that we produce as educators or students are governed by metrics and ideas of consumption and purchase, so that our relationship to ourselves becomes framed by enterprise or employment or future earnings. In this, as staff and students we are objectified because we are commanded.

In moving against these flows of educational alienation, our struggle is to build up our power to do differently and socially.

Our logic is just the contrary, it is the logic of coming together, it is a logic of recovering the subjectivity, which is denied by capital. Subjectivity not as an individual subjectivity, but as a social subjectivity.

if we think of the struggle to change society as class struggle, then it is fundamental to see this struggle as being asymmetrical. And once we start to reproduce their forms, and once we start to think of our struggle as being the mirror image of their struggle, then all that we are doing is reproducing the power of capital within our own struggles.

revolution is a question rather than an answer, because the revolutionary process in itself has to be understood as a process of asking, as a process of moving out, not of telling peoples what the answers are, but actually as a process of involving people in a movement of self-determination.

Holloway, J. (2005). Change The World Without Taking Power.

Here then, prefigurative activity as an educational process, operating inside and outside the classroom is central, and it rests on autonomous forms and spaces for action. This means developing confidence in our own structures, in our own time, and in our own space, and as a result develop new ways of (re-)imagining society. As Curle notes (p. 62), it is a process of re-learning the Self.

An ideal society would be self-creating. If it is self-creating, if it is self-determining, then in a sense it doesn’t make sense to project an ideal organization, because the ideal organization would be created by the society itself. 

Holloway, J. (2005). Change The World Without Taking Power.

This process of idealisation, self-determination or community self-actualisation (awareness-identity rooted in altruism and solidarity) is a pedagogical project. Moreover, it is developed at the level of the community (i.e. it is not grounded in the institutions of the State that support the system that Curle speaks against). Here, the community is the educating subject and the whole person (cognition, emotion and body) are forged in a process of subjectification rather than commodification. As Curle identifies (p. 67) this requires liberation from educational roles and pedagogic relations of power. It is reflected in writings about the Little Schools from Below.

The Zapatista schools, in which more than a thousand of us set foot in autonomous communities, was a different mode of learning and teaching, without classrooms or blackboards, without teachers or professors, without curriculum or grades. The real teaching begins with the creation of a climate of kinship among a multitude of subjects instead of dividing educators with power and knowledge from naïve students that need to be inculcated with knowledge.

The pedagogic principles are rooted in:

  • the social politics of counterinsurgency;
  • autonomy that is seated in community control;
  • collective work as a foundation of autonomy;
  • the new cultural politics, which is rooted in family relations and is diffused throughout Zapatista society.

Zibechi, R. 2012. The Schools From Below: “A non-institutional education, where the community is the educating subject”.

This has a more insurgent and overtly post-capitalist flavour than that sketched by Curle. However, the latter still identified the concept of school or of schooling as enabling ‘a highly individual exploration by children of themselves and their world.’ Bound by the need to work, Curle highlights that such an exploration would lead to specialisation and training, although the genesis would be interest rather than position or status. Moving beyond a world of capitalist work, for the abolition of wage labour, takes a transformation of mind. Thus, Curle questions ‘Is there any point of working within the system; and can we work outside it?’ (p. 43).

FIVE. Towards mass intellectuality: higher education and responses to the secular crisis of capitalism

One response to this is Curle’s work on awareness and identity through social action or praxis (c.f. Curle, A. Mystics and Militants: Study of Awareness, Identity and Social Action. London: Tavistock). What he calls for is material, cultural and social development that enables:

a coherent philosophy of the relationship of education to society which would make it possible for the real strength of affective education to be directed towards transforming the social setting which neutralizes so much good contemporary work in education. (p. 62)

Thus:

Education for liberation must, in fact, include instruction in the techniques for creating social change, for building the counter-system. (p. 80)

Education building a peaceful society through connection to our humanity. Liberation from habits of thought, action, and feeling that make us less than human, and that transform the system into a counter-system. Against the institutionalised (though the network) nature of low awareness, belonging-identity and competitive materialism. The human spirit rather than distorted psychological needs. (p. 127)

We know that the secular crisis of capitalism has generated a structural adjustment policy across the terrain of higher education, which reshapes the relationships between academics and students. We know that in this crisis is revealed the ‘means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour’ (See: Keynes, J.M. 1930. Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren). We know that the system’s counter-measures cannot resolve its underlying problems, rooted in expansion and accumulation, and that those very counter-measures undermine capitalism’s legitimacy (See: Cleaver, H. 1993. Theses on Secular Crisis in Capitalism: The Insurpassability of Class Antagonisms). We know that the heart of the issue is the collapse in the production for profit by the private owners of the means of production, which has led to deleveraging, liquidation, reduced investment, austerity, indenture and so on. We know that even the authors of the neoliberal moment speak of systemic stagnation (with demographic and educational imbalances, inequality and debt), the failure of monetary policy; below-trend aggregate demand/growth and chronic under-investment, and a need to re-focus on Human Capital Theory, entrepreneurialism, the family as the unit of investment, and future earnings potential (See: Summers, L (2014). Reflections on the ‘New Secular Stagnation Hypothesis’ In: Tuelings, C and Baldwin, R eds.  Secular Stagnation: Facts, Causes and Cures. London: Centre for Economic Policy Research Press, pp. 27–38). This secular crisis swamps socio-environmental and socio-cultural crises that have disproportionately affected the global South, and which have amplified the impacts of the on-going coloniality and patriarchy of power. As we know, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.

In this context it is clear that higher education is in crisis. The idea of the public university is under assault, and both the future of the sector and its relationship to society are being gambled. Higher education is increasingly unaffordable, its historic institutions are becoming untenable, and their purpose is overwhelmingly instrumental. What are the alternatives? As Curle asks, ‘Is there any point of working within the system; and can we work outside it?’

One way of addressing this is by relating education to the concept of mass intellectuality, which emerges from Marx’s work in the Grundrisse on the ‘general intellect’. Marx argued that the dynamics of capitalism meant:

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].

Through innovation and competition, the technical and skilled work of the social individual, operating in factories, corporations or schools, is absorbed into the things she produces. It is alienated from her, and therefore, the ‘general intellect’ of society, i.e. its general capacity for science in the broadest sense, is absorbed into capitalised technologies and techniques, in order to reduce labour costs and increase productivity.

With the crisis of funding, regulation and governance of higher education, there is a need to understand: first, the mechanisms through which the general intellect is absorbed into the total social production process of value, to which universities contribute; and second, how academic practice enables or resists such co-option. This calls attention to the proliferation of alternative educational practices, which are themselves re-imaginings of the idea of the University as a site for the production of knowledge. These alternatives are rooted in the desire and potential for reclaiming the knowledge, skills, practices and techniques that form the general intellect, in order to produce and circulate new forms of socially-useful knowledge or ways of knowing, being in and creating the world.

From this reclaiming or liberation of the general intellect, away from the valorisation of capital, emerges ‘mass intellectuality’ as a direct, cognitive and social force of production that exists as an increasingly diffuse form of intellectuality. In this form it circulates as a ‘commons’ that is pregnant with critical and practical potential but still remains marginal in the face of general commodity production. As a result, it is constantly being recuperated by capital in the form of the ‘knowledge economy’ or ‘cognitive capitalism’. Virno (2001) argues that

Mass intellectuality is the prominent form in which the general intellect is manifest today. The scientific erudition of the individual labourer is not under question here. Rather, all the more generic attitudes of the mind gain primary status as productive resources; these are the faculty of language, the disposition to learn, memory, the power of abstraction and relation and the tendency towards self-reflexivity.

The concept of mass intellectuality refers to knowledge and forms of knowing that can be and are being valorised by capital, but also refers to that same knowledge’s immanent (negative) and pre-figurative (positive) critical and re-constructive potential for new forms of sociality. In this way, mass intellectuality implies a struggle over the proletarianisation of cognitive and affective forms of labour, and its emancipatory implications, as the embodiment of the cumulative history of science.

The process of liberating and reclaiming the knowledge, skills, practices and techniques that are produced inside higher educational contexts is central to moving beyond exploitation and valorisation in the market, and in creating democratic, co-operative alternatives. This implies a critique of subjectivity, in its relationship to the prevalent mode of (knowledge) production. As a result, the critical-practical solutions to global, socio-environmental problems need not be framed around economic growth and business-as-usual. This enables a refocusing on the potential for the democratic or co-operative reproduction of the University, and a level of productive, scientific and social knowledge that exists as an immanent, transgressive potential across capitalist societies.

This process argues for the democratisation of higher education as an emancipatory project that must re-appropriate the means of knowledge production in the labour process, and nurture the co-operation of academics and students. By uncovering the widespread, objective conditions for the alienation of the products and processes of higher education from their social utility, it is possible to describe actually-exiting alternatives that identify the material conditions for new democratic models of knowledge production and education.

SIX. Uncovering collective, pedagogic potential

In our collective work on Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education, student- and academic-activists have attempted such an uncovering, in order to situate higher education against the ongoing crisis of capitalism with responses from inside and outside the University. We articulate the limits of formal HE, including the binaries of public and private, in a range of national contexts, with a connection to traditions of critical pedagogy in which critical knowing has always been existential, collective and transformative. We challenge the hegemonic framing of learning as separate from society and everyday life.

Our opening section focuses on Power, History and Authority inside formal higher education, and asks what and who has led us to this crisis of higher education? What forms of resistance are taking place inside the University? Here we focus our attention on the following.

  • Struggles inside the classroom over the labour of students and academics, and the potential responses that are enabled through critical pedagogy.
  • The lessons to be taken from the development of co-operative higher education.
  • A theoretical understanding of academic practice by students and staff as public intellectualism, as a form of mass intellectuality.
  • The co-option of open access, which questions the societal value of business-as-usual models for public, higher education.

Our second section examines Potentialities for change and radical experiment in various transnational contexts. We ask whether it is possible to re-imagine the University democratically and co-operatively? Case studies here include the following.

  • Engagement with Brazilian resistance to extreme neoliberalism in the pedagogic practices of the Landless Movement. This discusses the impossibility of being an intellectual worker in the neoliberal university.
  • Discussion of Scottish higher education with reference to case studies of environmental justice, resistance to gender-based violence and trades union activity. This situates the experience of the knowledge worker against that emerging from within social movements.
  • An engagement with strands of mass intellectuality as they emerged historically in Bradford University’s Peace Studies curriculum and the CommUNIty project, as they were infused with a material and cultural analysis of sociability in Latin America.
  • A reflection on the meaning and purpose of arts education in its relationship to societal leadership as it emerges in the global North.

Our final section is rooted in Praxis, and looks at practical, alternative initiatives that are rooted in critical pedagogy and physical places beyond the University.

  • The Birmingham Autonomous University declare six theses on the collective failings of the hegemonic, methodological University, and the possibility that exists for creating a co-operative form of societal engagement.
  • An auto-ethnography of an alternative education project in Oxford, UK, the People’s Political Economy, which is framed by the idea of the organic intellectual in society.
  • A critique of the Lincoln Social Science Centre, UK, which offers a means of analysing the governing principles of transnational alternatives, in order to frame questions about their co-operative and democratic, practical and theoretical viability.
  • An eco-critical, thematic approach to mass intellectuality, rooted in the ethics of environmentalism. This enables the alternatives discussed in this book to connect to a wider environmental and transition/resilience agenda and its relationship to formal higher education.
  • A comparative analysis of indigenous communities and women of colour in the Escuela Política de Mujeres Pazifica, and the Family Inclusion Strategy Hunger collective based in the Hunter Valley, Australia. This analysis specifically relates co-operative, inclusive educational practices of creating ourselves, our relationships and communities differently.

Our work is rounded off with an evaluation and systematic critique of the collaborative approach adopted in its production. How might co-operative writing and publishing inside the University enable voices to be heard that are against and beyond the valorisation of academic labour?

SEVEN. Postscript

These struggles for mass intellectuality are an attempt to build solidarity and sharing (as forms of awareness-belonging) rather than to enable commodification, exchange and accumulation (as competitive materialism and belonging-identity). Thus, liberating science and technology from inside-and-against capital’s competitive dynamics is central to moving beyond exploitation. This is a pedagogical project and therefore education is central to society’s potential to re-imagine.

Radical alternatives rooted in co-operative practice offer mechanisms through which new forms of social power might challenge, resist and push back against the marketisation of public education, indentured study, and the hidden curriculum that asserts the primacy of value-for-money, impact metrics, productivity and efficiency. This helps to reveal how the effects of financialisation and marketisation across an increasingly global, social field like education might be inverted and resisted. This begins by revealing the objective, material realities of social life, so that we might give voice to possible, prefigurative alternatives. Mass intellectuality as a frame of reference enables those alternatives, pace Adam Curle, to encourage different ways of thinking about the role, value and form of higher education institutions in society. This is one possible route to the peaceful, liberated social relations that Curle imagined.


Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education

Working with 20 co-authors, Joss Winn and I have just submitted the manuscript for Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. The edited collection forms part of Bloomsbury Academic’s series on Perspectives on Leadership in Higher Education. Assuming that the review process goes to plan, the book is slated for publication in early 2017.

The original summary, description and key features of the book are noted below. The proposed table of contents is appended thereafter.

Summary

Drawing on the activism of academics and students working in, against and beyond the neo-liberal university, this book critiques academic leadership through the concept of mass intellectuality, with an analysis of the crisis of higher education and the alternative forms that are emerging from its ruins.

Description

Higher education is in crisis. The idea of the public university is under assault, and both the future of the sector and its relationship to society are being gambled. Higher education is increasingly unaffordable, its historic institutions are becoming untenable, and their purpose is resolutely instrumental. What and who have led us to this crisis? What are the alternatives? To whom do we look for leadership in revealing those alternatives?

This book brings together critical analyses of ‘intellectual leadership’ in the University, and documents on-going efforts from around the world to create alternative models for organising higher education and the production of knowledge. Its authors offer their experience and views from inside and beyond the structures of mainstream higher education, in order to reflect critically on efforts to create really existing alternatives. In the process the volume asks is it possible to re-imagine the University democratically and co-operatively? If so, what are the implications for leadership not just within the University but also in terms of higher education’s relationship to society?

The authors argue that mass higher education is at the point where it no longer reflects the needs, capacities and long-term interests of global society. An alternative role and purpose is required, based upon ‘mass intellectuality’ or the real possibility of democracy in learning and the production of knowledge.

Key features

  1. The book critiques the role of higher education and the University as an institution for developing solutions to global crises that are economic and socio-environmental. In this way it offers an analysis of the idea that there is no alternative for higher education but to contribute to neoliberal agendas for economic growth and the marketisation of everyday life. The restrictions on the socio-cultural leadership that emerge inside the University are revealed.
  2. The book describes and analyses concrete, alternative forms of higher education that have emerged from worker-student occupations, from academic engagements in civil society, and from the co-operatives movement. These projects highlight a set of co-operative possibilities for demonstrating and negotiating new forms of political leadership related to higher learning that are against the neo-liberal university.
  3. The book argues that the emergence of alternative forms of higher education, based on co-operative organising principles, points both to the failure of intellectual leadership inside the University and to the real possibility of democracy in learning and the production of knowledge. The concept of ‘Mass Intellectuality’ as a form of social knowledge that is beyond the limitations of intellectual leadership inside the University is critically developed in order to frame socially-useful responses to the crisis.

Contents

Introduction

  1. Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education ~ Richard Hall and Joss Winn

Section One: Power, History and Authority

  1. Pedagogical Labour in an Age of Devalued Reproduction ~ Stevphen Shukaitis
  2. Co-operation, leadership and learning: Fred Hall and the Co-operative College before 1939 ~ Tom Woodin
  3. Academic Voices: from Public Intellectuals to the General Intellect ~ Mike Neary
  4. Openness, Politics and Power ~ Martin Paul Eve

Section Two: Potentialities

  1. The (im)possibility of Mass Intellectuality: Viewing Mass Intellectuality through the lens of the Brazilian Landless Movement ~ Joyce E Canaan
  2. Still spaces in the academy? The dialectic of university social movement pedagogy ~ Eurig Scandrett
  3. Bradford’s Community University: From ‘Constellations of Knowledge’ to Liberating the ‘General Intellect’? ~ Jenny Pearce
  4. Aesthetic Education, Critical Pedagogy and Specialist Institutions ~ Jonathan Owen Clark and Louise H. Jackson

Section Three: Praxis

  1. Six Theses In, Against and Beyond the University ~ Birmingham Autonomous University
  2. Reconciling mass intellectuality and higher education: lessons from the PPE experience ~ Joel Lazarus
  3. Somewhere Between Reform and Revolution: Alternative Higher Education and ‘The Unfinished’ ~ Gary Saunders
  4. Permaculture education as ecology of mind: the head, hands and heart of transformation ~ Tom Henfrey
  5. Mass Intellectuality from the Margins ~ Sara C. Motta

Conclusion: Politics, Aesthetics and Democracy

  1. Practicing What We Preach? Writing and Publishing In, Against and Beyond the Neoliberal University ~ Gordon Asher

notes on social media for researchers

With Julia Reeve, I have just returned from leading session for 10 PGR students from across all four of DMU’s faculties on social media for researchers. Our notes are given below. Here are the slides.


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

A1: Knowledge Base

B3: Professional and career development

C1: Professional conduct

D2: Communication and dissemination

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


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

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

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

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

For Communication and Dissemination (D2), we focused on the following.


We also looked at some specific cases of how researchers have used social media and our interpretation of that use (or what we think is interesting/possible). These include the following

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


notes on desire, anxiety and academic luddism

Stay in the shadows/Cheer at the gallows/This is a round up/This is a low flying panic attack

Radiohead. 2016. Burn the Witch.

ONE: showing-up as the limit of our educational hopes

Years ago I wrote the following about our relationship to the University.

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 teams and individuals. I wonder whether the focus on productive labour, on the socially necessary labour time of abstract academic work, and the entrepreneurial turn across higher education, each create an atmosphere of anxiety. I wonder whether the reproduction of an ambiance of anxiety is a co-operative endeavour that emerges from inside the University as a means of production that is governed by metrics, data and debt, and out of which value is scraped through the alienation of time. This reminds me of persistent inferiority and internalised responsibility, and of the shock doctrine that recalibrates what is possible.

Are defence or refusal possibilities inside the University as an anxiety machine? What is the psychic impact of: alienated labour; the disciplining of academic labour; the cognitive dissonance inherent in the contradictions of abstract/concrete labour; the rule of money? How do we learn to self-care as opposed to self-harm inside the University? One of the ways in which self-care might emerge is in looking at who is pushing back against financialisation and alienation, be that in casualised labour, or trades union anti-casualisation strategies, or through a precariat charter, or in actions like 3cosas, or in post-graduates for fair pay. These are not organisations of those with tenure, but they force us to consider both the university as anxiety/performativity machine and the idea of making opposition public, as an association of the dispossessed or impacted. They reignite the concrete/abstract relationship between higher education and the public.

Did we hope that these things would pass, and that we would not end-up being recast over-and-over inside the university as an ever-expanding site for the consumption of our educational souls and the re-production of their domination over our pedagogical possibilities? I wonder if we simply hoped that the global crises of social reproduction that we face on a daily basis would somehow not infect the university. That somehow the distilled class hatred of the HE White Paper, with its relentless focus on the rule of money, on elites, on a degree as a token of bourgeois, elitist consumption and position, on the deconstruction of higher learning as services to be commodified and purchased, would not come to pass. That somehow we would find the collective will to stitch the university back into the context and form and content of those crises, so that we could find meaningful responses to the brutality of austerity, to the brutal circulation of refugees, to the ideological brutality of Prevent and Islamophobia, and our on-going inability to care enough about environmental degradation.

And we have failed to find the collective will. We somehow felt that it was enough to be spared the rod. Or that even if we were not to be spared taking our place in the brutal execution of austerity, then we could at least find spaces for self-care as opposed to self-harm. That we could still show-up for our students or for each other, or maybe even, at a push, for ourselves.

TWO: the university as machinic whole

And all the time are revealed global narratives that bear witness to the machine-like qualities of the university as it morphs and re-morphs into something that is beyond our control. Something that is beyond our imagination. Our working lives reimagined as exchangeable or tradable services. Our working lives broken down through workload plans and performance management, so that our everyday activities can be monitored and measured, and then flung back into the machine, in order that the machine can be repurposed. Our turnaround times for assessments; our loading for preparation; our scholarly outputs; our annual teaching loads; our key performance targets; our national student survey data; our teaching excellence; our casualised contracts; our adjunct status; our educational everything; and more.

So that the university becomes a site for the ever more efficient consumption, or purchase and distribution, of societal hopes and desires. The rule of money ensures that that the university can only expand based upon the control of flows of energy that underpin these hopes and desires. So that the productive futures of our students and their families depend upon the efficient and maximised production of value, recomposed as future earnings or employability. Where the production of value is a fusion of, first, humanity made productive and efficient, and second, renewed capital infrastructure, so that the space and time of the university can be made to operate as a self-regulating and machine-like, capital-sink.

And we are reminded that in The Grundrisse, Marx wrote:

Real wealth manifests itself, rather – and large industry reveals this – in the monstrous disproportion between the labour time applied, and its product, as well as in the qualitative imbalance between labour, reduced to a pure abstraction, and the power of the production process it superintends. Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself. (What holds for machinery holds likewise for the combination of human activities and the development of human intercourse.)

The creation of a system of higher education intensifies the context and reality of teaching and learning, in order to drive efficiency and productivity. More technology; more efficient processes; more metrics; more performance management; less trust in the unprogrammable human; more trust in the programmable and knowable data; more. And the generation of a market through competition will ensure the domination of constant capital and infrastructure, and the power of organisational development and technology. These will ensure that the constant innovation in the motive parts of the machine determine the on-going extraction and circulation of surpluses. The machine will demand the on-going alienation of the general intellect from us, and we willingly offer this up, in the hope that we can be spared the worst.

We innovate. We manage our own performance. We offer up new efficiencies. We over-produce research and knowledge exchange or transfer. We are impactful. We do not protest the loans, or the new providers, or the reduction of educational faith and hope to commodities, or the reduction of our assessment to the machine or the learning analytics. We do not go into occupation of the terms of the struggle or the site of the struggle. We sit and hope that they do it to Julia.

And again we are reminded that in The Grundrisse, Marx wrote:

No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing [Naturgegenstand] as middle link between the object [Objekt] and himself; rather, he inserts the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it. He steps to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor. In this transformation, it is neither the direct human labour he himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but rather the appropriation of his own general productive power, his understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence as a social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth.

This is the systematic conversion of our work into the definite functions of the machine. So that our work as students, or professors, or professional services staff, or adjuncts, and our work as researchers or teachers or students, and our work as managers or admissions staff or on open days, and on and on, are sites for the generation of new pieces of apparatus; new parts of the machinic whole. A machinic whole designed to be productive and to generate surplus, and inside which the generation of educational hope and faith and possibility are desires that can be reduced to means of production.

THREE: higher education and the machining of desires through anxiety

And the persistent re-production of the machine enables those desires to be machined. And the machining of those desires, the re-working of those desires, is made possible through anxiety. The anxiety that is both ours and of our students. And the terrain for this is widened because the machine is infrastructure and constant capital but it is also our culture and our language and our pedagogy and our curriculum and our very, educational breath. As Virno states:

the so-called ‘second-generation autonomous labour’ and the procedural operations of radically innovated factories such as Fiat in Melfi show how the relation between knowledge and production is articulated in the linguistic cooperation of men and women and their concrete acting in concert, rather than being exhausted in the system of machinery.

It is our concrete acting in concert that is needed, wanted, desired by the machine. So we remember that in Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari wrote how

There are no desiring-machines that exist outside the social machines that they form on a large scale; and no social machines without the desiring machines that inhabit them on a small scale.

That the desires we internalise from the machine are the machine’s own desires for efficiency and mindfulness and resilience. The machine’s projected desires for production and productivity and intensity, internalised by us, so that our desires are alienated and disfigured. So that we have impact or excellence. That the social desires projected into our students, for elite consumption and competition and educational positionality or comparability, for future earnings and employability, recalibrate our own desires as well as our students’ own.

Our desires situated within a field of desire recalibrated by the market. So that our higher education is disfigured through competition. So that our place in it becomes unknowable beyond the measurement of the market. And our recognition of this disfiguring is the site of our anxiety, just as we hoped that by becoming complicit with it we might save ourselves from the worst of it. Yet all along we are subordinated to the machine’s desire for our anxiety. For The Institute for Precarious Consciousness:

Today’s public secret is that everyone is anxious. Anxiety has spread from its previous localised locations (such as sexuality) to the whole of the social field. All forms of intensity, self-expression, emotional connection, immediacy, and enjoyment are now laced with anxiety. It has become the linchpin of subordination.

The lynchpin of our subordination: my availability for my students; my teaching preparation; my relationship to my precariously-employed peers; my turnaround times; my willingness to sit on committees; my NSS scores; my TEF scores; my REF scores; my on-line presence; my impact; my scholarly outputs; my innovation; my everything. My desperate everything, including the subordination of life to work, as a means for the internalised production of anxiety that will help me to re-produce the desires of the machine for productivity and intensity.

Anxiety, alienation, desire, competition, subordination. A machinic whole.

FOUR: on academic luddism

And we recognise the damage that this does to us, as we are stripped of our educational connection to our students or our precariously-employed peers, or to our partners in other, soon-to-be-competitor institutions. The Institute for Precarious Consciousness recognise “the breakdown of all the coordinates of connectedness in a setting of constant danger, in order to produce a collapse of personality.” To struggle against this stripping-away is anxiety-inducing as we resist where we think we have limited agency. Or else it leads us towards dissociation, as we deny we have any power so we may as well exist elsewhere (behind our metrics). Or else it leads towards micro-management of our everyday experiences, so that we feel we can exert some control: at least I can negotiate the limits of my own [impact/excellence/data-driven] exploitation.

And in Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari wrote of the conflicted nature of desire. That our own, concrete educational desires, for emancipation, are subsumed and disfigured by the abstracted desires of the machine. That recognising that the true liberation of our concrete desires, against their bastardisation as data about future earnings, employability and enterprise, requires that we rethink our re-production of the machine, and its anxious control.

If desire is repressed, it is because every position of desire, no matter how small, is capable of calling into question the established order of a society: not that desire is asocial, on the contrary. But it is explosive; there is no desiring-machine capable of being assembled without demolishing entire social sectors. Despite what some revolutionaries think about this, desire is revolutionary in its essence — desire, not left-wing holidays! — and no society can tolerate a position of real desire without its structures of exploitation, servitude, and hierarchy being compromised.

Through Virno, we stretch this focus on desire by relating it to what has been taken from our public education and sequestered as private-property. This is re-imagination as a form of desiring activity that is against the State and against the market, that is against the enslaving of lives through competition, that is against the idea of what the university has become, and that is against intensity, impact, resilience, mindfulness, excellence, whatever.

the question is whether the peculiar public character of the intellect, which is today the technical requirement of the production process, can be the actual basis for a radically new form of democracy and public sphere that is the antithesis of the one pivoting on the state and on its ‘monopoly on political decision’. There are two distinct but interdependent sides to this question: on the one hand, the general intellect can affirm itself as an autonomous public sphere only if its bond to the production of commodities and wage labour is dissolved. On the other hand, the subversion of capitalist relations of production can only manifest itself through the institution of a public sphere outside the state and of a political community that hinges on the general intellect.

For The Institute for Precarious Consciousness this subversion is situated against anxiety:

what we now need is a machine for fighting anxiety – and this is something we do not yet have. If we see from within anxiety, we haven’t yet performed the “reversal of perspective” as the Situationists called it – seeing from the standpoint of desire instead of power. Today’s main forms of resistance still arise from the struggle against boredom, and, since boredom’s replacement by anxiety, have ceased to be effective.

Instead they argue that we need to:

  • Produce new grounded theory relating to experience, to make our own perceptions of our situation explicit, recounted, pooled and public;
  • Recognise the reality, and the systemic nature, of our experiences;
  • Transform emotions through a sense of injustice as a type of anger which is less resentful and more focused, and as a move towards self-expression and resistance;
  • Create or express voice, so that existing assumptions can be denaturalised and challenged, and thereby move the reference of truth and reality from the system to the speaker, to reclaim voice;
  • Construct a disalienated space as a space for reconstructing a radical perspective; and
  • Analyse and theorise structural sources based on similarities in experience, to transform and restructure those sources through their theorisation, leading to a new perspective, a vocabulary of motives.

The goal is to produce the click — the moment at which the structural source of problems suddenly makes sense in relation to experiences. This click is which focuses and transforms anger. Greater understanding may in turn relieve psychological pressures, and make it easier to respond with anger instead of depression or anxiety. It might even be possible to encourage people into such groups by promoting them as a form of self-help — even though they reject the adjustment orientation of therapeutic and self-esteem building processes.

Above all, the process should establish new propositions about the sources of anxiety. These propositions can form a basis for new forms of struggle, new tactics, and the revival of active force from its current repression: a machine for fighting anxiety.

New propositions as a basis for new forms of struggle. And we remember that we might need to become academic luddites as a basis for a new form of struggle. That in order to overcome the loss of time and agency, and the stripping away of our curriculum-power and our educational intellect and our pedagogical capacities into the machine, we need to insert ourselves differently into the anxiety-machine. That we need to consider how we resist the subsumption of the university and of higher education further into the re-production of a system of alienation, precisely because it is a system of alienation, and not because our is privileged, skilled, crafted, abstracted work. This is a resistance of social rather than occupational displacement, precisely because the terrain of higher education has become a means for the re-production of specific, alienating desires across society.

We owe our publics and our society that much at least.

Thus, it is against what education is becoming, solely as a means to re-imagine what society might be, that we might strike. That we might strike to reclaim the parts of the machine that are socially-useful: the knowledge, the curriculum, the relationships, the technology, the language, the culture, and more. This is the reclamation of educational exchange-value as social use-value. Reclaiming and repurposing the parts of the machine that enable us to share our solidarity with other public workers who are being brutalised. That we might reclaim and repurpose the parts of the machine that enable us to provide solutions to global crises, rather than waiting for the market to act. That as a by-product or as a lever, we might refuse our abstracted labour where we can, as external examiners, or as reviewers for for-profit journals, or in working to rule, or wherever.

However, whilst these spaces inside the machine are a terrain for struggle, this also emerges from attempts to reclaim and to repurpose time. Slowing production and circulation and consumption time across a sector or across a society is a reminder of our humanity. It reminds us that our labour-power (and labour-time) is the source of all value. That exploited and dehumanised labour is the source of all value. As Marx argued, Capital’s desire to reduce labour-time is twinned with its desire to endless extract surplus value from that very labour as its source of power. It wishes to annihilate labour-time at exactly the moment that it desires to expand its potential for exploiting that labour-time. How then is this tension to be amplified inside the university and in solidarity actions across higher education and within society, without generating further levels of anxiety and performance and precarity? How do our struggles reclaim time from inside-and-across the terrain of higher education as a form of machine-breaking that repurposes the machine? For Marx, such struggles are rooted in the free development of individualities through associations that demonstrate the limited and limiting rule of value over our lives. They are rooted in pedagogies and curricula for association; in solidarity actions and solidarity economies; in co-operation and co-operative education.

The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.

Forces of production and social relations – two different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.

There is something here about our collective liberating of the forces of production; our revealing and recomposing our social relations; our recognition and reclamation of time as a pedagogical project. With our students and our peers, and beyond them into society. Of finding collective spaces and times, in order to generate forms of academic luddism. As a form of academic machine-breaking that reconnects and recombines the machinic whole with its social whole for a different purpose that is calibrated by a different time.

The question is then how? And maybe when?


on the HE White Paper and academic practice

I

As I read the White Paper and the technical consultation on the TEF, I realise that I have spent so much time protesting the UK Government’s assault upon the collective, academic labour of the staff and students who work in higher education. I remember that I think of this as collective, associated labour, and yet the Government’s assault is driven by the human capital that can be accumulated and circulated by individuals and their families, or by universities as competing capitals. There is a different shape or form to the view of social relationships inside the university or inside the classroom that is articulated by those of us who see education as an act of love, as opposed to those who can only articulate it through the market and modes of incentivisation. And much of the White paper scopes a regressive space that wishes to marketise love and care if it must, or to marginalise them so that teaching intensity and student outcomes and data on future earnings can be optimised.

I remember that I wrote against learning gain and the ways in which data is used to kettle academic labour.

I remember that I wrote against the HE Green paper, situated through the Treasury’s Productivity Plan, in its obsession with teaching intensity.

I remember that I wrote some notes on saying no to the TEF, and then about the noose of student choice contained in the HE Green Paper.

And for a while I have been considering this in terms of the on-going proletarianisation of the University, in particular as it then relates to academic overwork.

And it is exhausting being against this wide-ranging assault on academic labour, academic practice, academic development, and academic identity. It is exhausting realising that their assault on the fabric of what we might refer to as public or social, and then later as a good, is the dismantling of the spaces that we once regarded as autonomous. Equally, it is exhausting bearing the brunt of their anger about our social, cultural, intellectual or oppositional capital. Knowing that their anger kettles our academic practice as staff and students. Knowing that their anger reshapes the funding, regulation and governance of the space, so that what we do has to be restructured so that it performs. Knowing that the marketisation of the space and the on-going demand for competition will force managers inside universities to recalibrate these as places for the expansion of value, and the production of surpluses, and the production of educational commodities.

And as a result, any attempt to push-back, so that education becomes an act of care, or a form of wider moral, pedagogic responsibility beyond the market, and beyond human capital theory, becomes increasingly difficult. In this moment the White Paper reveals a dominant position that stipulates improvement and enhancement as a functional imperative, shaped by employment and future earnings data.

II

And we remember that there have been evaluations of teaching and learning enhancement that view academic practice as a developmental and pedagogical activity.

there is evidence of strong institutional engagement with the national Enhancement Themes as a driver for development in learning and teaching and associated staff development. While there remains a need to encourage wider and more consistent staff engagement in this area, staff who are involved affirm the positive impact of such engagement. The combined impact of revised promotion criteria, clearer career paths and more strategic approaches to staff development is positive, and is contributing to improved staff development provision to encourage greater engagement with pedagogical and enhancement-led initiatives.

QAA. 2011. Learning from ELIR 2008-11 Staff development: Developing, sharing and recognising good practice, p. 1.

However, as a note on the WonkHE coverage of the White paper, Where is the ‘teaching excellence’ in TEF? argued, developing national enhancement themes or reflective practice is silenced. Or treated with silence, and silenced in the process.

This morning’s White Paper, though ostensibly focused on “teaching excellence”, will not attempt to support academics in developing their own teaching practice – there will be no research projects into HE teaching at a local or national level, and no attempt to understand or collate what makes for excellent teaching, either generally or subject by subject. The TEF is a stick to draw teaching into compliance with institutional and sector norms, not a carrot to encourage the sector to examine in an evidence based manner whether these norms are the right ones.

Today’s White Paper talks at length about teaching excellence, but it won’t support excellent teachers. Neither will it develop excellence in teaching.

This is a central point made by the Second HE Convention in their open letter (NOTE: which is still open for signatures):

Students are supposedly ‘at the heart of the system’, yet the quality regime proposed – the Teaching Excellence Framework – includes no direct measures of teaching quality. Rather it is designed to facilitate increases in fees,

As Andrew McGettigan argues, the White Paper distils the Government’s animus to the established higher education order, in order to focus on student/family choice and the role of challenger institutions, in disrupting complacent or ‘coasting’ institutions. This is its sole relationship to teaching quality, the learning environment and student outcomes.

‘The primary goal is to raise quality’ and the idea is that this is best achieved by having weaker institutions end provision, and stronger institutions replace them (this also applies to individual academics. Hence there is no mention of methods to help individuals improve).

The only issue apparently is to ensure that current students are protected: previously solutions to this conundrum included ideas about ABTA-style bonds, and the Green Paper cycled through a series of options: “an insurance policy, a bond, reserve funds, or Escrow accounts.”

There is no focus on academic practice or enhancement. There is only the signal that academics need to maintain their own career-ready capital, by becoming more entrepreneurial in retrofitting their work to the labour market outcomes of their students. As I note elsewhere this deterritorialises and then creatively destroys both the classroom and the relationships that exist within it.

It is impossible to reconcile the central conditions of the [White] Paper and the [HM Treasury] Productivity Plan to non-marketised/financialised pedagogic relationships. This is the prescribed direction of travel that frames the classroom economically though relations of production that subjugate people, as human capital that can be made productive through discipline.

As McGettigan notes of the context for the White Paper:

it’s hard to give any credence to these market reform measures if they are meant to advance quality: there is no explanation as to what they will be and what evidence supports them. We seem to be asked to ‘feel the radical commitment’, but it all seems rather to express an astonishing level of resentment against the history and autonomy of the established sector. BIS and the Treasury seem to have lost any perspective on what problems there might be in the sector and how they might be solved constructively.

III

So what is left for institutions, in navigating their way through this morass? The TEF assessment criteria on pp. 13-16 of the technical consultation, are outcomes-driven and functional, and leave limited space for reflective practice by individuals or teams. In fact, they will tend to catalyse a range of additional educational services that will affect academic workloads, related to mentoring, personal tutoring, employability, technological innovation, alongside the outsourcing or insourcing of others, such as study skills. These will become increasingly critical because they help delineate graduate work-readiness beyond the content of their degree, thus helping employers overcome issues of ability-bias and signalling (people who exhibit characteristics that the labour market values like a strong work ethic or sense of conformity tend to get more education. They will therefore underpin future metrics.

Further, as UCU have noted, the precarious and insecure nature of academic employment is a painful issue, in terms of developing careers and reward/recognition, and engagement with teaching quality and professional development. Increasingly, institutional context will matter here, because as the White Paper notes throughout, competition is the pivot for reform. Yet inside the system, this will be defined through competition and appeals to the choices made by students and their families.

By introducing more competition and informed choice into higher education, we will deliver better outcomes and value for students, employers and the taxpayers who underwrite the system (p. 8)

So academics and subject teams need to get their story straight for students/families, institutional managers, and for risk-based quality assurers

There are strong arguments to encourage greater competition between high quality new and existing providers in the HE sector (p. 8)

They need to do this as self-exploiting entrepreneurs because the White Paper notes

We must establish a robust framework for gathering the information to measure teaching in its broadest sense (p. 10)

TEF judgements will be made against agreed criteria by an expert peer review panel including employers and students, and based on a combination of core metrics and short institutional submissions (p.19)

Here the section on metrics in Chapter 3a and Annex C from p. 45 in the TEF Technical Consultation are key to the ways in which academics and institutions who wish/need to play along, can then respond.

The emphasis in the provider submission should be on demonstrating the impact and effectiveness of teaching and its outcome (p. 28).

This response is likely to shape any institutional/provider narrative (the short institutional TEF submissions) that enables competitive edge to emerge. And this is the critical moment in this White Paper – that the Government wishes to catalyse a higher education terrain solely defined by work/human capital and the production of value. Thus, the institutional context that will form part of the regulatory landscape will be shaped by this. How will academic teams or institutions describe to students/families and the sector how they “meet expectations”, are “excellent” or “outstanding”?

How they answer this will relate to the place of pedagogical or enhancement-related innovations inside institutional culture: as imposed and functional (training), or as developmental and reflective. This will then inform the renewal or restructuring of academic careers rooted in teaching, such that outcomes- and risk-based refocusing recalibrates progression through Post-Graduate Certificates, internal teaching excellence awards (including applications for readership/professorship by pedagogic practice), and then potentially national awards (if they still exist), alongside an institution’s relationship to the UK Professional Standards Framework. How will this outcomes- and risk-based refocusing, rooted in competition, connect to teaching innovation funding and projects? How will the professional identity or professionalism of academics be supported, rather than eroded as the University is proletarianised?

IV

The White Paper notes the complexity in trying to measure the effectiveness of teaching.

Other important aspects include weighted contact hours and teaching intensity. There is strong evidence that such factors make a difference to students: the HEPI/ HEA 2015 Survey showed that contact hours correlated with both student satisfaction and perceptions of value for money. However, we recognise that these are difficult to measure, if we are to capture the complexities of digital delivery, peer assisted learning and the difference made by both varying class sizes and the status of those carrying out teaching (p. 48)

Yet, in order to drive productivity academics and their managers are coerced into conformity, in order to reinforce hegemony. What we see is that the raft of proposals is an attempt to subsume academic life, so that it becomes more productive, competitive, entrepreneurial and atomised.

The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers. The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move — these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour. The means — unconditional development of the productive forces of society — comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.

Marx. Conflict Between Expansion Of Production And Production Of Surplus-Value. Capital, Vol. 3.

Revealing the ways in which the White Paper is part of a process of on-going expropriation and pauperisation, of everyday life, of academic autonomy, of care and love inside the classroom, of academic development, is a starting point.

What follows must describe and play-out the conditional development of the social productivity of academic labour, for an alternative set of values beyond the market and instrumental financialisation.

Here we might ask, what can we do in association to resist and refuse the disciplinary instrumentalism of the White Paper and the TEF?

What can we do in association with those struggling for labour rights like trades unions, or with cross-sector groups like the HE Convention/Campaign for the Public University?

What can we do in association to refuse the competitive urges of some university “leaders”?

What can we do in association to frame a counter-position that frames an alternative vision for higher education?

What can we do in association with other public-facing workers, in education, in health, in social care, and so on, to define an alternative vision for our collective work? Can we use this as a moment to define alternatives to the law of value as the organising principle for social life?


Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education

With Keith Smyth I have a new article out in a special edition of the Open Library of Humanities journal on The Abolition of the University. Our article is titled: Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education.

Abstract

The higher education curriculum in the global North is increasingly co-opted for the production of measurable outcomes, framed by determinist narratives of employability and enterprise. Such co-option is immanent to processes of financialisation and marketisation, which encourage the production of quantifiable curriculum activities and tradable academic services. Yet the university is also affected by global socio-economic and socio-environmental crises, which can be expressed as a function of a broader crisis of social reproduction or sociability. As the labour of academics and students is increasingly driven by a commodity-valuation rooted in the measurement of performance, the ability for academics and students to respond to crises from inside the university is constrained by the market. This article argues that in understanding the relationship between the university and society, and in responding to a crisis of sociability, revealing the bounded nature of the curriculum is central. One possible way to address this crisis is by re-imagining the university through the co-operative practices of groups like the Dismantling the Masters House community and the Social Science Centre. Such an exploration, rooted in the organising principles of the curriculum, asks educators to consider how their curriculum reproduces an on-going colonisation by Capital. It is argued that such work enables a re-imagination of higher education that is rooted in a co-operative curriculum, and which might enable activist-educators to build an engaged curriculum, through which students and academics no longer simply learn to internalise, monitor and manage their own alienation.

Keywords: community; curriculum; praxis; sociability; university


notes on social mobility and hierarchy in HE

This is a long post. It was written whilst listening to Springsteen’s Nebraska, which somehow became Springsteen’s The Rising, before I noticed.

ONE. Open intensity.

Elsewhere I have argued against teaching intensity that

The [Treasury Productivity Plan] places universities squarely in the frontline of [] restructuring around service redesign, workforce [efficiencies], and technology/data. Here the key is productivity that emerges from a freeing up of the market, so that capital and labour can flow between sectors or across sectors, and so that new associations of capitals or businesses emerge. Here service redesign is a function of HE providers working in partnership with hedge funds, publishers, technology corporations, and so on, so that capital can be reallocated. Productivity also emerges from efficiencies that emerge inside and across existing providers, whereby human capital might be reallocated. Critically, for the health of the economy as a whole, the Plan supports

disruptive innovators and ensures competitive pressure on the tail of low productivity firms. This requires an open economy with flexible and competitive markets, where expanding firms can access the labour, land and finance they need (p. 81).

Open intensity. A productive life. Life as work. The new normal.

What then followed was the proposed structural adjustment of HE to meet the needs of the Treasury’s Productivity Plan, as articulated through the HE Green Paper and the proposed TEF. This was rooted in the need to drive productive labour and entrepreneurial activity by institutions and individuals/families, in the generation of their own social and cultural capital. However, it was also grounded in the need to overcome ability bias that affects the decision made by employers (of the work-readiness of graduates), and the ways in which market/marketable signals are transmitted between individuals, HE providers and employers. Here the State’s ability to sponsor privatisation by opening up access to, and flows of, its aggregated data (in loan-books, tax data), is crucial.

Information about the quality of teaching is also vital to UK productivity. In an increasingly globalised world, the highest returns go to the individuals and economies with the highest skills. However, the absence of information about the quality of courses, subjects covered and skills gained makes it difficult for employers to identify and recruit graduates with the right level of skills and harder for providers to know how to develop and improve their courses. (p. 19)

TEF should also prove a good deal for employers and the taxpayer. The aim is to improve the teaching that students receive, which in turn should increase their productivity and help them secure better jobs and careers. It should enable employers to make more informed choices about the graduates they recruit… (p. 21)

This deterritorialises and then creatively destroys both the classroom and the relationships that exist within it.

It is impossible to reconcile the central conditions of the Green Paper and the [HM Treasury] Productivity Plan to non-marketised/financialised pedagogic relationships. This is the prescribed direction of travel that frames the classroom economically though relations of production that subjugate people, as human capital that can be made productive through discipline.

And Warwick for Free Education also called this out.

Student choice’ is rendered little more than a token appeal and performative platitude within this context: which in truth reflects not an autonomy to manoeuvre within Higher Education as one wills, in pursuit of passions, creativity and personal flourishing, not a democratic control over the content of one’s education, but an ability to differentiate a selection of University options from a range of sophisticated branding and varying fees, functionalized by a value-for-money, career prospects oriented calculation.

Warwick for Free Education. 2016. On the Politics of Consultation.

TWO. Variable human capital and the rule of money.

The market-driven possibilities have been crystallising since the Browne Review. The desire for comparisons between academic abilities, and to evidence how participation in higher education contributes to human capital development, is almost overwhelming. However, comparisons between individuals, courses, institutions on a national and global scale reduce our pedagogy to their financialised data. For some time now, we have been informed that the market will decide, once the market has the data, grounded in student outcomes (learning gain), learning environment and teaching quality (excellence/intensity).

Learning gain measures… can also be used to support accountability, promote transparency and enable comparability of the outcomes of higher education (pp. xii-xiii)

Changes in financing of higher education have also served both to underline the importance of quality in higher education, and position student choice as a key concern for the sector. Students’ expectations in terms of their course and experience are increasingly becoming a concern of universities and policy makers, and institutions have sought to provide more information to prospective students on the value of degrees… (p. 2)

McGrath, C..H., Guerin, B., Harte, E., Frearson, M. and Manville, C. 2015. Learning Gain in Higher Education. Cambridge: Rand Corporation.

As McGettigan argues this is translated into policy that seeks to parasitise the idea of higher education by hyper-financialisation:

the transformation of higher education into the private good of training and the positional good of opportunity, where the returns on both are higher earnings. Initiation into the production and dissemination of public knowledge? It does not appear to be a concern of current policy. Such an anti-vision of higher education – let the market determine what should be offered – unfortunately meshes with a stratified higher education sector which mirrors an increasingly unequal society. (p. 2)

Potential applicants to colleges and universities will in future benefit from information on the ‘employability and earnings’ of each institution’s alumni and alumnae. I quote:

[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. (pp. 2-3)

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. (p. 3)

McGettigan, A. 2015. The Treasury View of HE: variable human capital investment. Goldsmiths: PERC.

THREE. Towards the quantified curriculum

This offers some context for this week’s Institute for Fiscal Studies report (Britton et al.) on How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. The report highlights its own methodological constraints, and these are noted by Louisa Darian: the researchers only explore institutional differences across Russell Group universities that agreed, [and] had sufficient sample, to analyse (19 out of the 24 total); the researchers did not ask universities outside of the Russell Group if they would participate; the research covers a sample of just 10 per cent of all borrowers since 1998 and cannot control for the location that the graduate is now located (important given local labour market variations); it doesn’t take account of those who drop-out of university, and excludes the 15 percent of students who don’t take out a student loan; it is unable to capture which graduates in the study undertook further education or training after graduation; it is unclear how less selective institutions, that pride themselves on the support they provide students to succeed in employment, compare against more selective ones; and there is limited exploration of the lower earnings of Creative Arts students.

However, the IFS’s research demonstrates a critical moment in developing a methodology to explore, and potentially further monetise, the connections between Government-owned student loan book data and income tax records, through an emerging connection to subject of study and institution, as well as demographic data about students. In this way it develops the work proposed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) in its Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act: Education Evaluation fact sheet. Thus, Britton et al. argue that:

For the first time we use these administrative data to characterise the properties of earnings for sub-populations of borrowers (graduates) and shows how they vary by gender, degree subject and higher education institution.

This second approach can be used to provide a conditional estimate of the earnings of graduates from different institutions or taking different degree subjects, after controlling for differences in some key characteristics of the individual or the institution and is our approximation of a value-added measure of the university by subject. We are mindful however, that selection into degree courses will mean that our estimates are not going to tell us about the causal impact of a particular degree on earnings. Further we do not have detailed information about the education achievement or other characteristics beyond gender and age of non-graduates and hence, whilst we can compare graduate earnings to non-graduate earnings, we cannot calculate a formal rate of return on a particular degree. Instead we focus on measures of variation in graduates’ earnings that are themselves of considerable value.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, pp. 3-4.

As Liz Morrish notes elsewhere about the DBIS Education Evaluation Fact Sheet this approach enables policy-makers to display

a discursive masterstroke, with a chaining of ‘learning outcomes’, ‘performance data’, ‘accountability’, ‘interventions’, and then serving the whole salad up as a solution to ‘social mobility’. And [this] re-designates universities as mere factories for the production of labour inputs…

Morrish, L. 2015. It’s Metricide: Don’t Do It.

However, as Britton et al. highlight, the next step is to differentiate between such factories, and their value-added contribution. A critical issue is one of unintended consequences in that policy-making that is allegedly about the interrelationship between human capital and social mobility may tend to reinforce establish hierarchies and dominant positions.

researchers have not thus far been able to assess adequately how graduate earnings vary according to the university attended. Theoretically we would expect that different institutions may add different amounts of human capital value and hence influence students’ success in the labour market.

the current information available to students strongly under reports the diversity of graduate earnings across subject and institutional choices. This is likely to be more damaging for students who come from families and communities who are less informed about potential HE choices.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, pp. 6, 5.

A second issue is one of ability bias and signalling (people who exhibit characteristics that the labour market values like a strong work ethic or sense of conformity tend to get more education). Havergal highlighted the importance of getting better data on the relationship between education, earnings and ability bias, in order to enable employers to make more informed judgements about who exactly had work-ready skills, rather than those who merely signal the possibility.

The generic, non-subject-specific exams will be trialled by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to evaluate whether they could be used to measure undergraduates’ “learning gain” – the improvement in skills and competencies made by students during their time at university.

The results of any nationwide standardised test could also be used to compare institutional performance, and may form a key metric in the planned teaching excellence framework.

Havergal, C. 2015. HEFCE to pilot standardised student tests. Times Higher Education.

As Britton et al. note, this matters because:

Estimating the causal impact of education on earnings is challenging, due problems with ability bias driving degree choice and the difficulty in separating the productivity value of education from its signalling value.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 5.

What is required in order to modernise higher education is more than the quantification of the student, in her relationship with their institution and course, but the quantification of her whole social and educational life history, so that her productivity/learning gain, and work readiness can be made available to prospective employers. A knock-on is the quantification of the curriculum, including the labour that flows through it and from which derives the surplus value (and profitability or productivity) of the institution.

One step that would be particularly helpful would be to link HMRC data to the National Pupil Database and data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency to enable us to compare students with identical school achievement who come from higher/lower income households and reduce ability bias. With this additional data will we be able to estimate models that better control for the individual’s own level of pre higher education achievement.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 56.

FOUR. Social mobility as self-exploiting entrepreneurial activity

The social capital of the family, as the purchaser of educational services commodified as a positional good, is central to the development of policy that asserts the importance of social mobility. This means more transparency over the flows of data about individuals and their own performance, and access to those data by service innovators and entrepreneurs. These latter include the individual student and her family, which needs to build its own social and intellectual capital, in order to succeed in an increasingly competitive market. This is not just the cognitive skills that HE provides, but is also the work-ready skills that are not measured by HE.

Over and above differential access to different types of HE, individuals’ socioeconomic background may also continue to have an effect on their labour market outcomes after graduation. This might be because students from more advantaged backgrounds have higher levels of (non-cognitive) skills (see for example Blanden et al. (2007)) skills that are not measured by their highest education level, or by their degree subject or institution. Alternatively, advantaged graduates may earn more because they have greater levels of social capital and are able to use their networks to secure higher paid employment. The literature on this is quite limited in the UK but does suggest that graduates from more advantaged backgrounds, particularly privately educated students, achieve higher status occupations and earn a higher return to their degree.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 7.

In order to succeed, the student and her family must become ever-productive, self-exploiting entrepreneurs.

This appears to be especially the case for women. In comparing Cambridge, Warwick and Southampton, it was noted that:

graduates from the University of Cambridge have the highest earnings for the upper part of the earnings distribution, with more bunching across institutions at the 50 percentile level. There is much more variation at the higher quantiles. The gaps between the universities seem more pronounced for men than for women…, an effect which we will see holds up for a wider set of [Russell Group] HEPs.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 27.

With caveats, Britton et al. then uncover emergent findings related to the following.

The differences between institutions are expected when we account for the differences in the background variables that influence earnings. Mean differences in earnings across most institutions are not sizeable once we take account of the fact that different types of student sort into different institutions. (p. 35)

The quantity of variation in graduates’ earnings within an institution. (p. 35)

The figures also illustrate the large gender gap prevalent for many institutions, particularly at the top end of the earnings distribution. (p. 35)

The very low earnings of graduates from most institutions at the 20th percentile of the distribution, although this low earning share is lower than we see in the non-university population. (p. 36)

A major issue for those concerned with improving social mobility is the extent to which students from lower income families are disproportionately likely to be found in these groups of much lower earning graduates. (p. 36)

Some very locally focused institutions may struggle to produce graduates whose wages outpace England-wide earnings, which include those living in London etc. (p. 36)

There are subjects where institutions matter a great deal in immunises the student against low earnings through their subject choice. For some institutions, subject choice really does matter, while for others, less so. (p. 38)

Within institutions, subject group choice is important, especially for higher earners, with LEM (law, economics and management) graduates having higher earnings than graduates in STEM or in OTHER subjects. (p. 39)

Although institutional effects are large in these data, institution choice does not fully insure people against low earnings. (p. 39)

Subject choice matters a lot in some cases, but much less so in others. Medicine and Economics stand out in particular in terms of their higher earnings (both are subjects with relatively few graduates), while graduates of Creative Arts and – to a lesser extent – Mass Communication tend to go on to achieve lower earnings. (p. 41)

The differences in earnings across subjects get compressed once we take account of the fact that graduates with different characteristics take different degree subjects at different institutions. (p. 45)

We conclude that there is clearly less variation in graduate median earnings by institution group once one takes account of student characteristics and degree subject. (p. 47)

Darian highlights three implications for policy related to: funding (the market responsiveness of institutions in subjects offered with implications for RAB charges); student choice (the information available through the TEF and Key Information Sets as a proxy of teaching quality and value-added); and social mobility (the role of social and cultural capital, disadvantage, and admissions policies). It also appears that there are class-based implications that intersect with issues of gender, ethnicity (and racial discrimination), and regional labour market disparities (see, Britton et al., pp. 48-52).

NOTE: the class-based implications that intersect with issues of gender and racial discrimination, feed into issues like UCU’s work on gender pay gaps and the work of collectives like Rhodes Must Fall. It is here that issues of hierarchy and hegemony need to be challenged as hyper-financialisation exacerbates social injustice in the university and the curriculum.

Higher education does not therefore appear to have eliminated differences in earnings between students from lower and higher income backgrounds… while the impact of coming from a high income background is strong right through the distribution, in particular it helps protect against low earnings, and provides much greater opportunity for much higher earnings. We reiterate that our approach here does not allow us to necessarily assign causality to these relationships, due to unobservable characteristics we are unable to control for, such as intelligence or degree classification. However, on the other hand, we believe our crude measure of parental income almost certainly biases the impact down.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 52.

This process of reinforcing hierarchy and hegemony and the individual, family, subject and institutional levels, is an echo of the warning of Wilsdon et al., in terms of research metrics. In particular, where institutions are competing for fine margins in income through selective student recruitment (a form of signalling), the indicators used to separate them may drive changes in academic supply and discipline academic labour with unforeseen circumstances.

[T]he use of such indicators is felt by many to risk reinforcing a hierarchical system of institutions that may lead to simplistic comparisons. Such comparisons are hard to justify when aggregate scores show statistically insignificant differences – indeed, an over-emphasis on a small set of indicators risks encouraging perverse behaviour within and across institutions. Comparisons between institutions may lead to an unhelpful focus on the ‘top’ universities worldwide and foster a narrow definition of excellence; such a focus is not likely to be relevant to the institutional goals of universities, where the balance of research and teaching, the geographical focus and disciplinary distinctiveness may vary considerably.

Wilsdon, J., et al. 2015. The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management, pp. 75-6. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4929.1363

FIVE. The disciplining of academic labour

The labour rights of those who work in HE (students as well as staff) for whom earnings-related data further quantifies the curriculum through performance management, is becoming the defining issue inside the university. Britton et al. make a clear point in summary about supply-side issues and the flexibility of the academic labour market.

[I]nstitutions preferring to offer more places for lower cost courses since fees do not typically vary by subject. Staffing creative arts degrees is likely to be much cheaper than staffing degrees in Economics, Law and Maths and Computer Science. These findings have implications for our understanding of the nature of subsidy of higher education. Given the relatively low earnings of graduates with degrees in some subjects, the level of public subsidy for these graduates is likely to be greater than for other graduates in other subjects, such as economics, even given the lower costs of provision for some subjects as compared to others. Making this explicit when considering the shape of higher education and in particular where any further expansion might take place would seem important.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 55.

This brings us back to the DBIS Education Evaluation Fact Sheet, which noted that the process of linking datasets would enable “a much richer understanding of the impact of education and family income on labour market outcomes and develop a better understanding of social mobility”, alongside broadening “the range of information available to parents and students”. Crucially:

The measures will enable information on earnings and employability to be evaluated more effectively which will inform student choice. This data, presented in context, will distinguish universities that are delivering durable labour market outcomes and a strong enterprise ethos for their students.

DBIS. 2015. Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act: Education Evaluation fact sheet

This signals the subsumption of academic labour under a barrage of new public management techniques for internalising control and producing value. This catalyses ongoing sets of research outcomes that are predicated on, and which further predicate, the financialisation of education, through the ongoing market-orientation of pedagogic practice. This foregrounds the generation of a bureaucracy for impact, learning gain, teaching excellence, underpinned by strategies for enterprise and employability, with new forms of quality assurance rooted in those same predicates.

The issue then is whether teachers accept the enforced internalisation of value-added related to employability and enterprise. A risk here is that academics are led towards learning gain, and fail to notice the noose of financialisation that is being prepared, and that our hopes for enriched learning outcomes form the market’s means of hedging against future performance. Equally, there is a risk that they are disabled in addressing the ongoing reproduction of hierarchies across society and within the HE sector. Here the ramifications that HE reinforces dominant positions that are gendered, racialized and class-driven needs to be confronted. Against this, existing and emerging corporate work on learning gain, productivity and value-added, enterprise and employability, and teaching excellence, underpin the process of hyper-financialising education. If they fail to address this fact, academics risk forgetting that this is about the labour rights of students as well as themselves.

This matters because, as McGettigan notes

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

McGettigan, A. 2015. The Treasury View of HE: variable human capital investment. Goldsmiths: PERC, p. 7.


openness and power

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

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

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

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


notes on academic overwork and surplus value

I

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

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

II

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

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

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

Inside all sectors of the economy, and now revealed inside higher education, growth is connected to ongoing processes of proletarianisation. These processes are catalysed technologically to promote consumption, production gains or to increase the rate of profit. The logic of innovation is for productivity gains, or for workplace monitoring and surveillance and management and stratification, or to catalyse the creation of value by opening up/harnessing new markets, or by stimulating innovations that further valorise capital. Thus, Christopher Newfield highlights three different types of knowledge or skill, which we might usefully relate to the expansion of capitalism through the generation of surplus-value (through the disciplining of labour and the utilisation of labour-power as a commodity).

Type C is ‘commodity skills’, which are ‘readily obtained’ and whose possessors are interchangeable. This category includes most ‘pink collar’ work that involves skills like ‘typing and a cheerful phone manner’.

Type B is ‘leveraged skills’, which require advanced education and which offer clear added value to the firm that hires such skill, and yet which are possessed by many firms. Computer programmers or network administrators are examples of essential employees who worked long and hard to acquire their knowledge, and yet who are relatively numerous. Ironically, they may have entered the field because it was large: its size may have signalled to them when they were picked a major in college–and to their stability-minded parents–something like ‘the high-tech economy will always need computer support specialists’. Yes, but not any particular computer support specialist, and not at a very high wage.

Type A consists of ‘proprietary skills’, defined as ‘the company-specific talents around which an organization builds a business’. The knowledge manager must nurture and cultivate only the skills that directly contribute to the firm’s propriety knowledge, and stamp out (or radically cheapen) the first kind of knowledge worker, whose skills are interchangeable commodities. Only the star producers–those who create proprietary knowledge–enable the firm to seek rents, and only they are to be retained, supported, cultivated, and lavishly paid.

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

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

III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


notes in support of Rhodes Must Fall

I

My two most recent articles have referenced Rhodes Must Fall. The first, “Re-engineering higher education: the subsumption of academic labour and the exploitation of anxiety” (with Kate Bowles), argues that narratives of solidarity, in particular from marginalised voices, might help academics and students to analyse and then move beyond their alienated labour. It develops a point that I have been trying to articulate about the process of abolishing academic labour. The second, “Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education” (with Keith Smyth), argues that the university is reproduced by global socio-economic and socio-environmental crises, which can be expressed as a function of a broader crisis of social reproduction or sociability. One possible way to address crisis is by decolonising and then re-imagining the university through the co-operative practices of groups like the Dismantling the Master’s House community.

In both instances I have been trying, with my collaborators, to imagine what educational repair might look like. The idea of educational repair is critical because it focuses on liberating the curriculum as a social use-value, through a critical questioning of the received canon and the pedagogic practices that reinforce or reproduce hegemonic, social positions. One reading of educational repair is that by revealing and then challenging the racialized nature of the curriculum, it becomes possible to enable repair as a form of social justice. Just as the dominant social goals of education enact forms of violence against specific groups by marginalising or silencing them, more progressive pedagogic practices enable repair to the fabric of society and education. This is one of the key reasons why I support Rhodes Must Fall.

II

A range of campaigns by students and staff of colour have emerged as critical, transnational and local movements and moments in the struggle against power and capital in the university. These include: Rhodes Must Fall; the work of Cambridge students to get the Benin Cockerel statue returned to Nigeria; Dismantling the Master’s House at University College London, and related campaigns around #whyismycurriculumwhite and #whyisntmyprofessorblack; the campaign at Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, #StandWithJNU; and the campaign to get the Harvard Law School to drop its shield because it incorporates the crest of Isaac Royal Senior, who built much of his wealth through slave labour.

As Azad Essa argues:

From Delhi to Addis Ababa to Durban, students have recognised that a grand collusion of capital and state is in the process of destroying their futures. The status quo is untenable.

In India, the rage manifests itself against caste inequalities, misogyny, communalism, and rising Hindu authoritarianism that hides itself under an agenda of “development” and “Make in India” or “India shining”.

In South Africa, the rage seen over the past six months over tuition fees and outsourcing, is a refusal to accept continued economic apartheid that excludes the majority of black South Africans under the guise of the “rainbow nation” and “non-racialism”.

[D]issent is not just restricted to education fees – students are demanding a decolonisation of syllabus, language, and the very ways in which knowledge has become a tool to keep people from thinking.

Azad Essa. #StandWithJNU and #FeesMustFall: The reemergence of the student movement.

I read these campaigns inside the university through a deeper connection with the work of those fighting for Black Lives Matter, and in particular its focus on restorative justice across society.

We are committed to collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension all people. As we forge our path, we intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.

The guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter campaign, focused upon intersectional empathy and justice, might be the organising principles for a deeply pedagogical, alternative social form.

The collective work of students/staff across higher education matters because the university is a critical node inside which the intersection of societal injustices, through class, gender and race are revealed. For instance, campaigns like 3cosas demonstrated the asymmetrical impact on women of colour of the disparity between university and contract workers, in terms of sick pay, holidays and pensions. Injustice is also revealed through the governance and regulation of the university, and in the definition, design and delivery of its curricula. In particular, as a recent ContestedTV round table on What has and what will #RhodesMustFall achieve?, the movement is detonating issues that flow from the symbolism of artefacts (be they statues or the curriculum) inside and beyond higher education. These include the following.

  • The role of knowledge production in the heart of the historic British Empire, as an ongoing process for the transnational, colonial production/reproduction of capital. This does not accept the premises on which the curriculum and the university are built, namely dispossession. The legacy of Rhodes is the legacy of corporations and vested interests that despoil the planet continuing to enact their legitimacy through philanthropic work inside HEIs. This forces us to question how we conduct ourselves today, and how our educational cultures, curricula and organising principles enact violence in contemporary society
  • The hegemonic cultural context of knowledge production, scholarship and research, which reiterates the white voices that are to be heard and those (non-white) that are silenced. As a result, the power that is reinforced in the classroom defines who speaks/listens/assesses and on what terms. Importantly, the curriculum is often presented as neutral, in spite of its context.
  • That the construction of the curriculum and its assessment enforce differentials in attainment that then form the reproduction of racialized inequalities. Wider societal inequalities are amplified inside the university.
  • Control of the curriculum ensures that political knowledge and therefore political activism is limited. Cybernetic forms of control, through the reduction of the curriculum to a system prescribed by functions, feedback, analytics, and degrees of control, then tends to naturalise assumptions about performance. This risks creating ghettos inside-or-outside the curriculum.
  • The thinking led us into this wider crisis of sociability, which infects political economy and our global socio-environment, is not that which will liberate us. Moreover, the trans-historical nature of this thinking, rooted in neo-colonial, capitalist discourses, is provincial and racialized.
  • What is required is a decolonisation of the hierarchy of knowing/doing, inside the university, which then pushes back against fetishized university knowledge both in terms of its content and organising principles. This work sees the university as a node for the intersection of protest, where links to local communities emerge against a reified academia in response to concrete issues.
  • This movement of decolonisation cannot be created through university diversity manuals, which sidestep the everyday realities of silencing and political activism, and which ignore the intersection of race, gender and class. As Tadiwa Madenga notes “I also think it’s important to recognise the word that they will never use, which is decolonisation. They will always only ever use diversity. There is a reason they don’t want to even touch that word.”
  • Symbols, like statues and curriculum, remind us of the systematic violence on which much of higher education is built; they form reminders of accumulation by dispossession. They force us to interrogate domination. This is a process of decolonising our minds that is a reference point in the creation of counter-hegemony in the movement to abolish power.
  • The movement to decolonise or dismantle the university in its current form is one of disrupting the function of Empire, primarily in support of decolonising the global South (the former colonial/neo-colonial world). This is an entry point into a wider discussion about decolonialism and structural forms of racism.

When probed about what they mean by ‘history’, many of our critics actually reveal a deep ignorance of Africa, and Rhodes. What they really express is a desire to preserve infantile fables that reinforce their identities. History is not as simple or static as colonial apologists want it to be: removing the statue from its current position would itself mark the moment at which Oxford entered a more honest present. We should not be so overawed by history that we are afraid to make it.

By calling for the removal of the Rhodes statue, RMF wants to show just how far Oxford will go to defend the indefensible. Just how unwilling it will be to look itself in the mirror. Just what reflexes still dominate its systems of power.

Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh. Rhodes Will Fall.

III

Support for Rhodes Must Fall is immanent to academic activism, and the refusal of instrumental, conservative ideological positions that stress the exchange-value of higher education over its social, use-value. This forces us to question our engagement with the heart of the university, as a functional, technocratic space dominated by business cases for growth that are rooted in new markets rather than reparation. As Giroux argues, this is never enough.

In an age of overwhelming violence, war, and oppression, universities must create formative cultures that allow students to assume the role of critically engaged citizens, informed about the ideologies, values, social relations, and institutions that bear down on their lives so that they can be challenged, changed, and held accountable

Thus, intersectional, intergenerational movements that refuse the violent imposition of hierarchies onto our lives enable alternative infrastructures to be imagined. Student activism against such imposition has been, and continues to be, met with state-sanctioned violence. In the accelerated implementation of neoliberalism within the UK, opposition is branded as outlaw or is brutalised in the kettle. As societies are disrupted by climate change, debt, food production and energy availability, there is a quickening of the transformation of the state towards an iron cage of control, in the name of business-as-usual, growth and capital. And all this is a world where, as Žižek argues, our liberal aim is “to democratise capitalism, to extend democratic control to the economy by means of media pressure, parliamentary inquiries, harsher laws, honest police investigations and so on.” Žižek queries whether it is enough that “the institutional set-up of the (bourgeois) democratic state is never questioned.” We might argue that very set-up is demarcated by gender, race and class, and is framed by the failure of liberal democracy to humanise in the face of the State’s oppression and antagonism.

And so Rhodes Must Fall resonates for me with something I noted a long time ago:

what is needed is our co-operative conquest of power as a step towards the abolition of power relations. At this point we are able to re-inscribe a different set of possibilities upon the world. At this point we are able to move beyond protest about economic power and occupations of enclosed spaces, to critique how our global webs of social relations contribute to the dehumanisation of people, where other humans are treated as means in a production/consumption-process rather than ends in themselves able to contribute to a common wealth… As the everyday is folded into the logic of capital, and the everyday is subsumed within the discipline of debt and the apparent foreclosure of the possibilities for an enhanced standard of living for us all, then the everyday becomes a space in which revolt can emerge.

This echoes John Holloway’s work against power.

For what is at issue in the revolutionary transformation of the world is not whose power but the very existence of power. What is at issue is not who exercises power, but how to create a world based on the mutual recognition of human dignity, on the formation of social relations which are not power relations.

We cannot live in ignorance of the power relations that dominate our lives. As teachers we cannot teach in ignorance of the power relations that dominate our lives. As students we cannot learn in ignorance of the power relations that dominate our lives.

NOTE: Danica Savonick and Cathy Davidson have produced An Annotated Bibliography of Important Recent Studies of Gender Bias in Academe. It includes a growing range of analyses of the struggles that are being recounted in the university, including the following (chosen here for their focus on gender and race).

Chavella T. Pittman. 2010. “Race and Gender Oppression in the Classroom: The Experiences of Women Faculty of Color with White Male Students”. In Teaching Sociology.

Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzalez, and Angela P. Harris, eds, 2012. Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Boulder: University Press of Colorado. Available at: http://www.usu.edu/usupress/books/index.cfm?isbn=8695
https://www.facebook.com/PresumedIncompetent?ref=br_tf

Joan C. Williams, Katherine W. Phillips, and Erika V. Hall. 2014. “Double Jeopardy? Gender Bias Against Women of Color in Science”. The Center for WorkLife Law.

These might also be extended to focus upon the experience of precariously employed staff, the mental health of graduate students and staff, the labour conditions of professional services staff, and so on.

IV

The political economics of this struggle are also critical, and reinforce the position of the university as a node in the flows and reproduction of global capital, in its productive, cultural and intellectual forms. Reflecting on Holloway’s discussion of the constrictive nature of capital and that the only autonomy possible exists for capital itself, we might think about the relationship of the university and struggle inside the university to this system of domination.

The argument against this is that the constitutional view isolates the [University] from its social environment: it attributes to the [University] an autonomy of action that it just does not have. In reality, what the [University] does is limited and shaped by the fact that it exists as just one node in a web of social relations. Crucially, this web of social relations centres on the way in which work is organised. The fact that work is organised on a capitalist basis means that what the [University] does and can do is limited and shaped by the need to maintain the system of capitalist organisation of which it is a part. Concretely, this means that any [University] that takes significant action directed against the interests of capital will find that an economic crisis will result and that capital will flee from the [University] territory.

As Mike Neary notes: “The struggle is not for the University, but against what the University has become.” This includes the role of the University in processes of global labour arbitrage, which strengthen the transnational power of activist networks that are using education as a countermeasure against a global reduction in the rate of profit. Thus, the World Bank Education Sector Strategy ties educational innovation and the rights of the child to ‘strategic development investment’, with an outcome being a strengthening of those labour pools for privatised knowledge, innovation, and enterprise. The globalised deployment of technologies is critical in this process, and underscores the aims of organisations that sponsor capitalist development through philanthropy, as philanthro-capitalism. Moreover, educational technology becomes a fundamental strand of a strategy for commodity-dumping and value extraction from other arms of the globalised system, including the flow of skilled labour from the global South to the global North.

This matters in the context of Rhodes Must Fall because, as Michael Roberts argues:

the huge low wage proletariat that has emerged in the last 30 years is the key to the profits of imperialism, transferred from the South to the North… In 2010, 79 percent, or 541 million, of the world’s industrial workers lived in “less developed regions,” up from 34 percent in 1950 and 53 percent in 1980, compared to the 145 million industrial workers, or 21 percent of the total, who in 2010 lived in the imperialist countries (p103). For workers in manufacturing industry, this shift is more dramatic still. Now 83 percent of the world’s manufacturing workforce lives and works in the nations of the Global South.

Roberts quotes John Smith’s recent book on super-exploitation:

The wages paid to workers in the South are affected by factors that have no bearing on or relevance to the productivity of these workers when at work, factors arising from conditions in the labor market and more general social structures and relations affecting the reproduction of labor-power, including the suppression of the free international movement of labor and the emergence of a vast relative surplus population in the Global South. This knocks a large hole in the tottering edifice of mainstream economics.

The exploitation of labour has increased through a shift in both absolute surplus value through a longer working day and a surplus population, and in relative surplus value through technological and organisational innovation, which both reduce the value of labour-power. However, a raft of super-exploitative movements impact workers globally by driving wages below the value of labour power, through an attrition on labour rights, an assault on social care and pensions, zero-hours contracts and precarious employment, enforced entrepreneurship, and so on. Moreover, this super-exploitation is also cultural, and ignores the fact that much growth or GDP in the global North, including that which is produced inside universities, is predicated upon resources from the global South.

much of the value in, say, US GDP is not value created by American workers but is captured through multinational exploitation and transfer pricing from profits created from the exploitation of the workers of the South. GDP confuses value creating with value capture and so does not expose the exploitation of the South by the imperialist North: “GDP as a measure of the part of the global product that is captured or appropriated by a nation, not a measure of what it has produced domestically. The D in GDP, in other words, is a lie.” (Smith, quoted by Roberts, p278).

Moreover, for Smith there are critical questions that have ramifications for the organisation and reproduction of the higher education as a node in a global web of production, namely:

the exploitative character of relations between core and peripheral nations, the higher rate of exploitation in the latter, and the political centrality of the struggles in the Global South (p223).

At issue are the connections between super-exploitation in both the global North and South, and struggles to decolonise not just the academy but our minds, as we become aware of the intersecting domination of our capitalist system of producing life as it plays out in race, gender and class terms. As Roberts argues

There may well be more room for imperialism to exploit the proletariat globally and so counteract falling profitability again, for a while. There are still reserve armies of labour from the rural areas in many countries to be drawn into globalised commodity production (and yes, often at below-value wages). But there are limits to the ability of imperialism to raise the rate of exploitation indefinitely, not least the struggle of this burgeoning proletariat in the South (and still substantial numbers in the North).

How we connect local examples of historical, material and on-going super-exploitation and dehumanisation, that respect and emerge through campaigns like Rhodes Must Fall, is one step in a movement of abolition.

V

I want to think about this movement in the context of the abolition of academic labour, in particular through an intellectual (rather than fetishized and academic) mental inversion. This takes Rhodes Must Fall as prefigurative of an alternative form of society that is decolonising its racism and neo-colonialism, as a precursor to decolonising our minds from capital. Here intersectional forms of solidarity, between communities fighting for reparative justice in a range of contexts, is central. These are systematic problems that demand a systematic movement the constituent elements of which articulate collective solidarity, and that contribute practices to that wider struggle. These situate the university as a node in the flows of capitalist social relations, and as such it becomes a space that needs to be refused, abolished, overcome, and reimagined through a process of social transformation.

At present the reproduction of the university for value is underwritten by a social infrastructure that has been corporatized. Indenture, bonds, debts, precarious employment, ad so on each reinforce the domination of a specific, financialised view of life, which then squeezes the space for students and staff (let alone activists) to reproduce themselves beyond the market. What movements like Rhodes Must Fall may offer us is an idea of an alternative infrastructure that gives us the capacity to move consistently against forms of oppression and domination, both inside-and-outside the university. This inside/outside context is important where we recognise that they have weaponised social reproduction (how we find the resources to remake ourselves for the market), in its racial, gendered and class-based forms. In so doing, we may be able to generate serious alternative versions of reproduction, where more exclusive forms are increasingly closed to many of us through the State.

As Robin D. G. Kelley argues, a movement for imagining alternatives operates both inside-and-outside, and enables:

black students to choose to follow Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s call to become subversives in the academy, exposing and resisting its labor exploitation, its gentrifying practices, its endowments built on misery, its class privilege often camouflaged in multicultural garb, and its commitments to war and security.

However, Kelley is sanguine about the political limits of such practices in the face of silencing and (de)legitimisation.

The fully racialized social and epistemological architecture upon which the modern university is built cannot be radically transformed by “simply” adding darker faces, safer spaces, better training, and a curriculum that acknowledges historical and contemporary oppressions. This is a bit like asking for more black police officers as a strategy to curb state violence. We need more faculty of color, but integration alone is not enough. Likewise, what is the point of providing resources to recruit more students of color without changing admissions criteria and procedures? Why do we stay wedded to standard “achievement” measures instead of, say, open admissions?

Here there is a connection to the reality that the university is constrained by its position inside a wider, transnational geography and topography of capitalist domination.

A smaller, more radical contingent of protesters is less sanguine about the university’s capacity to change. Rejecting the family metaphor, these students understand that universities are not walled off from the “real world” but instead are corporate entities in their own right. These students are not fighting for a “supportive” educational environment, but a liberated one that not only promotes but also models social and economic justice. One such student coalition is the Black Liberation Collective, which has three demands:

1) that the numbers of black students and faculty reflect the national percentage of black folks in the country;

2) that tuition be free for black and indigenous students;

3) that universities divest from prisons and invest in communities.

Kelley makes the key point that through diversity and equality legislation, universities will become marginally more welcoming for black students, but they are wedded to systems of production that are alienating. As a result they cannot deliver the social transformation that Marx sees as central to humanity.

Harney and Moten disavow the very idea that the university is, or can ever be, an enlightened place, by which I mean a place that would actively seek to disrupt the reproduction of our culture’s classed, racialized, nationalized, gendered, moneyed, and militarized stratifications. Instead they argue that the university is dedicated to professionalization, order, scientific efficiency, counterinsurgency, and war—wars on terror, sovereign nations, communism, drugs, and gangs. The authors advocate refuge in and sabotage from the undercommons, a subaltern, subversive way of being in but not of the university. The undercommons is a fugitive network where a commitment to abolition and collectivity prevails over a university culture bent on creating socially isolated individuals whose academic skepticism and claims of objectivity leave the world-as-it-is intact.

This work is grounded in political education and activism that takes place outside the university. This work reveals the tensions of existing and being reproduced both inside-and-outside the university.

Why black students might seek belonging and inclusion over refuge is understandable, given their expressed sense of alienation and isolation, combined with the university’s liberal use of the family metaphor. It also explains why students are asking the university to implement curriculum changes—namely, the creation of cultural-competency courses, more diverse course reading lists, and classes dedicated to the study of race, gender, sexuality, and social justice. They not only acknowledge the university’s magisterium in all things academic, but they also desperately wish to change the campus culture, to make this bounded world less hostile and less racist.

But granting the university so much authority over our reading choices, and emphasizing a respect for difference over a critique of power, comes at a cost. Students not only come to see the curriculum as an oppressor that delimits their interrogation of the world, but they also come to see racism largely in personal terms

Violence was used not only to break bodies but to discipline people who refused enslavement. And the impulse to resist is neither involuntary nor solitary. It is a choice made in community, made possible by community, and informed by memory, tradition, and witness. If Africans were entirely compliant and docile, there would have been no need for vast expenditures on corrections, security, and violence. Resistance is our heritage.

And resistance is our healing. Through collective struggle, we alter our circumstances; contain, escape, or possibly eviscerate the source of trauma; recover our bodies; reclaim and redeem our dead; and make ourselves whole.

This, for me, is a key moment in my support of Rhodes Must Fall. That it offers us this: the possibility to love, study and struggle (c.f. Kelley) for reparative justice. It therefore offers us the possibility of reconciliation that reject the borders of exploitation. In the face of global crises of sociability, it prefigures alternative, mass intellectual and conceptual possibilities.

It is a choice made in community, made possible by community, and informed by memory, tradition, and witness.