Two projects on digital literacies and some matters arising

I’m currently working on two Higher Education Innovation Fund projects that connect DMU into cultures/practices or discourses around what has been termed digital literacy. The first is called EARS2 (Electro-Acoustic Resource Site) and is a partnership between the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre and the Centre for Enhancing Learning through Technology, both at DMU. The second is a knowledge exchange partnership between Leicester City Council, with Josie Fraser as lead, and the CELT team, and focuses upon the digital literacies of secondary school teachers in the City. There is some emergent work in this area that has been undertaken with librarians across Leicester as part of the LCC Connect project.


  • The project is based on the idea of finding mechanisms for presenting aspects of listening/appreciation, understanding of concepts and creativity, interactively within a single learning environment – in our specific case related to the body of music known as sonic art or electroacoustic music.
  • A proof of concept will be fully developed, based on drupal, with a wide variety of multimedia tools made available within the system.
  • The project builds upon the internationally acclaimed EARS Pedagogical Project, and aims to translate this for young people at Key Stages 3 and 4.
  • The key is the development of a holistic system that addresses users at their own level, and that focuses on musical, acoustical and relevant technical terminology and related theory and skills.
  • At issue is how to engage more inexperienced users in the relationships between appreciation <-> understanding <-> creativity
  • The drupal-based repository will provide a node-based framework for managing a hierarchical structure of web-based learning objects, and support teacher-led, pre-programmed and ‘à la carte’ routes for progression. Progression will include a timeline/historical dimension, but its navigation will be concept driven.
  • For example, the use of sounds from the real world as musical content can be found in a few examples in traditional acoustic music, but it becomes a fact of life with the birth of musique concrète in 1948. It evolved into a ‘household word’ when sampling in music became ubiquitous and could be applied musically on anyone’s PC. Therefore the concept of sound sources from the real world as musical material will be related to today’s sampling culture as well as the genres that use such sounds and will furthermore be linked to opportunities to organise sounds musically in terms of the system’s architecture.
  • Central to the project is the translation of electro-acoustic concepts to the curriculum at Key Stages 3 and 4, and this will involve work with practitioners in schools and colleges in the East Midlands and with European partners.

 A Framework for Digital Literacies across Leicester City Secondary Schools

The aim of this project is to transform educational provision across the city in all secondary schools through the strategic implementation of a digital literacy framework. The project will develop a generic structure incorporating best practice and a toolkit which will enable educators and learners to share an understanding of what constitutes digital literacy and how it can be translated into educational practices.

The aim is that implementation of the developmental framework within the city’s secondary schools will enable the Council to:

  • Improve learner outcomes and raise standards at city-wide level
  • Create a networked learning infrastructure
  • Develop resilient learning strategies
  • Share knowledge more effectively
  • Increase confidence, capacity and capability at a time of reducing budgets
  • Maximise investment in ICT infrastructure, realised in Building Schools for the Future
  • Ensure that user behaviours relating to the use of ICT contribute to reductions in energy consumption

The project is ambitious. It is intended not only to transform education across the city but also to serve as an exemplar both nationally and internationally. As such, outputs will be designed to be customisable, adaptable and able to be re-purposed.

Schools will be supported in the development of an online presence and identity, particularly in relation to social and collaborative web-based environments. 

Beyond the project, the new model will be cascaded to the city’s primary schools. Hence, we hope that the project will generate social benefits for both learners and educators by enabling the Council to move the whole City a step forward in digital literacy skills.

Matters arising

The following issues are live for these two projects and connect them to broader, critical and political narratives. 

FIRSTLY. The development of digital or web or worldly literacies or competancies or skills is contested, in terms of their definition, scope and purposes, and the complexities of constructing narratives and authorship/identity.  There are also issues of how technologies are deployed to enable learners to move in excess of themselves in appreciating and making their own creative artefacts and their own life-world. 

SECONDLY. In this process of using technology to enable students to produce or make their own work, makerspace projects offer ways of viewing the production of hacked curriculum spaces, which connect social tools to resources and activities for personalised learning. Here, the development of individual self-efficacy inside social learning environments highlights the importance of understanding whether structured, personalised opportunities enable a movement from apprenticeship to journeyman to mastery in new learning situations. Critical in this process of making is the ability to work across disciplines, and to make sense of the world through hacking or cracking established pieces of work. 

THIRDY. A connected strand that is important here is the ability for learners to collaborate on-line, and to gain credit for the outcomes that they have achieved or the skills they have developed. The Mozilla Badges initiative forms one mechanism through which a student’s developing repertoire of skills might be recognised and represented. Learners might (collaboratively) create their own badges or collect those created by peer-groups, including on established social networks like Edmodo.

FOURTHLY. These approaches might enable the idea of student-as-producer, as a demand for re-forming the role of the student inside education as a maker or producer of their own lived experiences, to be critiqued. In this process, listening, comprehending, making and remixing, might enable students and staff to emerge as social beings rather than simply emerging as institutionalised agents.

FIFTHLY. These ideas of student-as-producer and a pedagogy of excess are geared to individual mastery inside social spaces that require communal problem-definition and solving, and political transformation. By integrating these concepts technologically inside and against the established social relationships that exist in, and are framed by, both institutions and more network-centred spaces like MOOCs, it might be possible that students will be able to develop their own literacies, skills, capabilities, social practices, whatever. The challenge is to work with teachers and students to frame a set of activities and governances in both the digital and real-world space that make sense to the student as she engages with understanding, listening, practicising, making, cracking and re-mixing.

SIXTHLY. A central issue will be defining the inter-relationships between the forms and content, governances and practices, which emerge in the range of real/virtual spaces for these projects. The allied questions that move this forward are then: what does political agency look like in these spaces? And how can such agency be enabled?

A note on technologies for control, systemic violence and the militarisation of higher education

In their review of militarism and education normal, Meiners and Quinn argue that there is a three-fold mechanism by which public education in the United States is shaped through hegemonic militarisation: by offering a perception of choice to those denied any such choice as a result of their socio-economic status – where enlisting is an institutionalised way out of poverty and is catalysed through connections between education and the military; by serving as a catalyst for innovation and change in the forms of education, through taking-over schools/colleges and militarising the curriculum; and by using the vast revenues devolved to the military for research inside education. This latter point is critical for these authors when they turn their gaze to higher education.

[M]ilitarization, according to researchers, asymmetrically shapes contemporary higher education, channeling resources to sub-fields within science, engineering, mathematics, and particular areas of linguistic and political inquiry, while the remaining disciplines—art and humanities, in particular—receive no military dollars.

The interaction between the military and the pedagogies of/curriculum for technology is not new. Beyond the neuroses of the battle for education inside the Cold War, Dyer Witheford and de Peuter have argued in Games of Empire that the production of games like America’s Army and the development of augmented/virtual spaces in partnerships between the military and university knowledge labs enable capital to leverage the power of the state to ‘reassert, rehearse and reinforce Empire’s twin vital subjectivities of worker-consumer and soldier-citizen’. With a focus on the marketing of the game Full Spectrum Warrior, they highlight how curricula designed around the cultures of game production, as well as the processes/relationships of modding and hacking, demand “the total obedience of the culture industry to the protocols of the War on Terror – its immediate ingestion and reproduction of the state’s paranoias”, and that“new kinds of militarized formats” fuse “technological innovation and the erotic charge of combat” in “renewed, compulsive militarization”. Such compulsive militarisation is made manifest in the connections that emerge between firstly the virtual frontline, secondly coding and narrative and design inside/beyond the classroom, and thirdly the living room as space for play.

The ways in which the interplay between formal/informal spaces for educational engagement and the neoliberal development of curricula enables societies of control to emerge, is also seen in the normalisation of technologies for the management of risk and in promoting the idea of acceptable, business-like performance/attitudes in students and teachers. Here the demand to maintain the duality of worker-consumer and soldier-citizen results in the development and use of technologies for systemic violence through control. Thus, in the physical campus we see the increased use of kettling and a para-militarised response to dissent, with little opposition offered by institutional senior managers or staff. The classic example in the global North lies in the student protests and occupations at UC-Berkeley in 2011, which highlighted the increased politicisation of young people, the increased militarisation of our campuses, and the increased bravery of people as co-operative social forces in the face of State authoritarianism. However, the global South has also born witness to widespread use of military force/technologies in the spaces around campuses and student life, as witnessed in Chile. The result is the enforcement of consent through coercion, and a diminution/marginalisation of the space for alternative narratives to develop.

In part, the use of force on campus enables corporations to overcome the attrition on the rate of profit that emerges from the unnecessary circulation time of immaterial commodities like credit default swaps realised as student loan debts, and in part it enables the State to discipline the thinking/actions of those citizens who feel that they might be anything other than those twin subjectivities. As the interplay between subject-identities and the system is normalised and structured through debt, those identities/attitudes/actions are controlled and managed through the mining of data and an obsession with analytics. Surveillance and monitoring become means by which technologies can be used to effect biopolitical power, or the subsumption of individual wills to the creation of value. Thus, the use of management data to normalise and marginalise, and therefore overcome the risk inherent in the use of debt/future earnings/labour to secure an increase in the rate of profit, is key. Debt-fuelled economic growth demands that the management of risk, including the risk that students might be other than businesslike, should be controlled. Anything that is seen as abnormal in this space is disciplined. Such discipline includes use of physical force by paramilitary police on campus, but it extends beyond this, to the increasing homogenisation of campus-based or institutional technologies through public/private partnerships, and the refusal to support marginalised innovations, often located in open source communities. The physical space is coerced and enclosed, in order that capital can legitimise the extraction of value from the virtual.

However, even those more marginal spaces risk replicating the systemic inequalities and acts of violence that are catalysed by hegemonic positions. As Hoofdargues, all forms of activism/innovation risk their own subsumption inside structural regimes of domination. In fact

the current mode of [neo-liberal] late-capitalism relies on the continuous extension and validation of the infrastructure and the optimistic discourses of the new information technologies. Discourses that typically get repeated in favour of what I designate as the emerging speed-elite are those of connection, instantaneity, liberation, transformation, multiplicity and border crossing

Thus, even those educators who claim to be hacking or co-creating or accelerating ‘new spaces’, or personal learning environments/MOOCs as opposed to institutionalised systems, are operating inside structures which were created with the goal of facilitating global capitalism and its elites, and “that allow for the on-going perfection of military power through technologies of surveillance”. Whether such surveillance takes place in institutional or personal or massively-open learning environments is irrelevant when it is performed inside the totalising logic of capital. Thus, Hoofd argues that “The idea that subjectivities from social movements are in any way less produced by neo-liberal globalisation is highly problematic.” For Hoofd, these movements might form the collective opposition realised in the EduFactory, but her concerns might also be extended to those radical education projects discussing an exodus from formal higher education, or those communities and networks engaged in innovations against the grain of the institution. Without a structural critique that ‘outs power’ as decisions are made, the systemic violence and alienation enacted in the name of capital cannot be escaped. This makes the co-option of educational performance by the state for control or for violence or by the military a normalised outcome. 

Thus, education and educational innovation/transformation is folded inside a discourse that threatens alienation and violence, in the name of value and the reproduction of established, hegemonic positions of power. It is inside this connected set of spaces that the connections between the military, the market/corporations and public education needs to be discussed. If we are really for education as transformation there is no ignoring of the ramifications of:

  1. the recent discussion of the relationship between DARPA, hackerspaces and schools;

  2. the neoliberal networks that connect Blackboard to the Pentagon;

  3. the neoliberal networks that connect Pearson to the US Department of Defense through educational innovation and assessment, and then to its own policy think tanks that are setting an agenda for educational marketisation;

  4. the connections between hacking competitions, education departments and national security, and the co-option of hacking as a pedagogy of/curriculum for control;

  5. the use by Universities of drones, through which The Salon reports connections between the U.S. military, academic research, and defence contractors;

  6. public/private partnerships in the UK that focus upon wireless video surveillance;

  7. the deep connections between the military and research inside UK universities; and

  8. the disconnect between our activist promotion of technologies that are apparently transformative in the global North at the expense of their implication in war in the global South, like the Raspberry Pi.

Hersch, in her review of the ethics of university engagement with/research for the military, noted several preliminary conclusions.

  • Military research on offensive weapons is considerably more likely to contribute to reducing than increasing security.

  • By diverting resources from other areas, military research both distorts the research climate and balance between different subjects and reduces the resources available for creative holistic approaches to conflict resolution.

  • Banning military research is not counter to academic freedom, but such a ban would be difficult to achieve in the short term.

  • The resources associated with military research and the associated research climate may be impeding genuinely creative and innovative research, which often takes place at the boundaries.

  • Useful civilian spin-offs from military research is totally unfounded as a basis for justifying military research.

My contention is that we need to ask fundamental questions about the ways in which our educational spaces and the technologies we actively deploy inside them, contribute to: the normalised violence of coercion or control or marginalisation of students; or the militarisation of the physical spaces of our campuses; or the direct co-option of our own/our students’ immaterial labour in making stuff for the military. As the storify that describes one narrative of the connection between DARPA and Make notes, at issue is the possibility of creating non-militarised spaces that are not underpinned by systemic violence. As austerity bites and as the State, alongside transnational global capital, seeks to reinforce its control over the debt-fuelled obligations of its worker-consumers, the role of the University in applying a critique of the ways in which such control is engineered and our complicity in it has never been more necessary.

A note on humanity or ethics, mobiles and the Raspberry Pi

I have argued elsewhere about the resources for a critique of mobile learning and its relationship to notions of capital and what Hardt and Negri have termed Empire. I have just submitted a draft book chapter on this issue, in which I quote several passages from Peter Eichstaedt’s work on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This work highlights the issues of labour rights, resource accumulation, geographical dispossession and supply-chains that underpin the means of production and distribution of mobile technologies. Notably this focuses upon the production and distribution of coltan and tin, although it also connects to conflicts over other resources. An analysis of this work might be tied into the human and labour rights of those engaged both in mining the resources that enable technologies to scale efficiently and in the assembly of those products.

These abuses are connected through webs of transnational global finance, mining corporations and media firms to the educational practices that are increasingly common in the global North, and which underpin the active re-production of the imperatives of capital. Ware has argued that:

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

Eichstaedt writes that despite the relatively small role that tin and coltan from the DRC play in the global market for rare earth metals, the revenues flowing from the control of mines in the east of the country is hugely significant in terms of local geo-politics. He notes

That significance can be counted in the millions of dollars and the millions of lives lost or damaged over the past sixty-five years in the worst human death toll since World War II.

Global Witness argued that

In their broader struggle to seize economic political and military power, all the main warring parties have carried out the most horrific human rights abuses, including widespread killings of unarmed civilians, rape, torture and looting, recruitment of child soldiers to fight in their ranks, and forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. The lure of eastern Congo’s mineral riches is one of the factors spurring them on. By the time these minerals reach their ultimate destinations – the international markets in Europe, Asia, North America and elsewhere – their origin, and the suffering caused by this trade, has long been forgotten.

In terms of the global supply of rare earth metals like coltan, a small amount comes from the DRC, which means that for transnational corporations, invoking due diligence policies for these mines is not worth the cost. Thus, there is little incentive for those corporations to invest in tracking systems or in maintaining the mines, and their withdrawal means that miners will be left without incomes or placed at the mercy of militias and less scrupulous governments. At issue then is the extent to which educators who are framing a demand for [mobile] learning are implicated, through their relationships as consumers or promoters of the hardware of multinational companies that may source conflict minerals.

For Eichstaedt it is here that the personal becomes political and might underpin action.

We all use and depend on all sorts of high-tech devices in our daily lives… We are all linked on our shrinking planet… Forming personal and lasting bonds with people is the most effective and powerful way to effect change… Feet on the ground, followed by time, toughness, and commitment to change is needed. Nothing less. 

Educators are nodes in networks of power that form circuits for accumulation and profit and the re-production of the structures and agency of capital. These structures cover all of human life, though marketing, game-play, work, privatisation of public assets, data mining, advertising, the constant renewal and upgrades of mobile technologies and so on. It is these networks that then underpin ‘immaterial labour’, through the commodification of our desire for play or for the latest cheap, powerful, miniaturised device.

Thus, for instance, the ‘Raspberry Pi‘ is connected to the desire to engage young people in programming through affordable, flexible, mobile devices that reveal the inner workings of the machine as it relates to programming. Yet, there has been little discussion of the component parts that make up the machinery, and how they are sourced. The machine uses a broadcom corporation bcm2835 SoC (system-on-a-chip). According to a company engagement report made by the Triodos ethical bank in 2011, broadcom was uneligible for ethical investment during that financial year because of their performance regarding conflict minerals, co-operation with repressive regimes and on human rights.

Recently, the <nettime> email list has focused a little on “Conflict minerals and radical impotence”. The original posting is here. The attempt to create a discussion on the ethics of the production practices on the Raspberry Pi site is here. It includes a site moderator declaring:

I will be keeping an eye on it [this discussion] and if it degenerates into outraged moral pouting, then closed it will be.  Oh btw, isn’t Ethics in Howondaland?

The originator of the discussion thread then posted a response that he received from Raspberry Pi, which can be read here. The manufacturers dismissed the issue because “it’s almost impossible to avoid conflict minerals, [and that’s why we ignore them]”. There are three issues that emerge here. Firstly, why do manufacturers ignore ethical or moral positions? Secondly, why do they seek to dismiss those who raise legitimate questions about the production practices that underpin those technologies? Thirdly, how are we as educators or users of technology in the Global North culpable in not asking questions or lobbying or refusing?

It isn’t especially difficult to ask questions, and the Enough project provides company rankings based on surveys of the 21 largest electronics companies to determine what progress they are making toward conflict-free supply chains and a conflict-free mining sector in the DRC. In the case of the Raspberry Pi, I recognise the desire to engage children in the process of making things and in understanding the craft of work with software or hardware, in all its forms. However, I am unnerved by the refrains of radical impotence that emerge when we [refuse to] discuss our [ethical/moral/humane] use of technologies, just as I am unsure about our engagement in defence-driven education projects, or our uncritical promotion of cyber security challenges. Each of these initiatives connects to wider spaces or networks or hegemonies that link education to issues of ethics or morality or humanity.

As one <nettime> contributor argued:

We used to evaluate our electronic devices on criteria such as price, computational power or interface design. Some of the more politically-inclined users prefer devices that support open source operating systems rather proprietary ones. But, given the state of the world, we should also consider ecological and social impacts of a company’s practices as important criteria.

Some, like the ETICA project, have made a start.

Some, like, have started to map out how our tech addiction hurts people.

We might continue to ask, what is to be done?

On Elsevier and the academic project

The Cambridge Mathematician, Tim Gower, has highlighted a campaign against the publisher Reed Elsevier for the tripartite crimes of: high pricing; bundling, which pushes what Gower hints are inappropriate or poor quality journals with those that are good; “ruthless” behaviour in cutting off access to all their journals where libraries attempt to negotiate better deals; and their support for SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act. Whilst Gower mentions earlier criticism of business practices, the main thrust of his argument is outrage over the pricing of and access to publically-funded research. In fact, Gower accepts the commercial logic of publishing’s current stranglehold over higher education as a business. He argues:

Returning to the subject of morality, I don’t think it is helpful to accuse Elsevier of immoral behaviour: they are a big business and they want to maximize their profits, as businesses do.

However, in an earlier set of criticisms about Elsevier, Tom Stafford reminds us of that Company’s involvement in arms fairs and the subsequent academic campaign against them. This was very much an ethical campaign of academic groups working in association with organisations like Campaign Against The Arms Trade. For Stafford, unlike Gower, the ethics of business were central:

I felt that Elsevier were making academics complicit in the arms trade and that this was something we, collectively, could take a stand on and where I, personally, could effect a difference.

In part the success of the campaign outlined by Stafford was based on de-legitimisation of Elsevier’s engagement in the arms trade through its involvement in arms shows, and linking this to pre-existing, global networks and associations, in order to hit the company’s economic value(s).

The pre-existing global networks that academics define offer more than a limited, horizon for their activism, beyond perceptions of academic freedom, or open access, or monetisation, or the alleged needs of developing countries. However, the case against Elsevier’s engagement in the arms trade for profit throws the limited and limiting scope of much academic argument for/against methods of production/distribution of content into sharp relief. Too often the only language that we have is money. Money as value is almost the only form of academic cohesion that we are able to articulate. Thus, David Wiley opines that “Open education currently has no response to the coming wave of diagnostic, adaptive products coming from the publishers” and calls for more(state?) funding “Because this stuff costs so much to do, if no one steps up to the funding plate the entire field is at serious risk.”

And yet the State and its institutions (at least in the global north) have demonstrated a willingness to enclose and discipline academic practice in multiple ways, from physically kettling students to psychologically kettling academics through the REF. Moreover, the landscape of higher education is riven with State-encouraged public/private partnerships, outsourced technologies/services, knowledge transfer/exchange partnerships, engagements with closed services for the production/distribution of content/learning. This historic enclosure of academic work, reinforced through governmental regulation, then enables rent to be extracted by corporations, in the form of subscriptions or licenses.

The key here is that the value of our work, or our labour, forms part of the productive/distributive relations of capitalism. This is not a debate that stops at the simple production of reified content or open educational practices. In short academic labour or immaterial labour or cognitive capitalism has value, in-part through its production of immaterial things in the form of content, and profit can be squeezed from it. In a time of austerity, rents provide a more sure form of income; so why should we see any respite for those who are forced to license or rent spaces that have been regulated away from open/enclosed? In fact, as the rate of production of surplus value from riskier, financialised, private ventures is reduced, a migration towards enclosing public spaces and extracting value from them is natural. As I have argued elsewhere

This amounts to a form of what Christopher Newfield calls “subsidy capitalism”, which “means that the public, directly or indirectly, does not participate in the investment, research, and development decisions that remake society year in and year out. It hands over resources and all decision rights at the same time.”

And so there are two issues interconnected here, and they are linked to the value of academic work as labour. The first is the reality of academic work inside capitalism, which means a reduction of the debate about open education to the addition of value and the subsumption of open under dominant labour processes. As Joss Winn and Mike Neary point out hacking, hacktivism and open source cultures have had some impact here, but the discussion of open educational resources has tended to reduce to commodification and an inability to critique academic labour inside cognitive capitalism.

The second issue is the reality of academic practices compromised inside the logic of profit maximisation. In this reality we find, for instance, mathematician’s railing about Elsevier’s business model (whilst at the same time recognising the logic of these business practices) but we hear silence on the issue of Blackboard’ engagement with the Pentagon, our re-selling of Apple as an educational technology in spite of its human/labour rights’ record (although we might comment on its foreclosure on developers), or the enclosure issues I raised previously in this post on the war on public education.

Yet, as Tony Hirst reminds us here, we have a history of examining and re-examining our complicity or otherwise in State-sponsored narratives of privatisation/enclosure/injustice. Hirst argues this point for data, but it applies for the politics of any academic field:

1) there may be stories to be told about the way other people have sourced and used their data. Were one report quotes data from another, treat it with as much suspicion as you would hearsay… Check with the source [sic.].

2) when developing your own data stories, keep really good tabs on where the data’s come from and be suspicious about it. If you can be, be open with republishing the data, or links to it.

This view is amplified through connection to the “hopes” of World Bank insider, Michael Trucano, when speaking of mobile learning, that:

in 2012 practical insights into what this mobility might mean for both educators and learners based on real life experiences will emerge in greater volume and depth, so that policymakers and planners can make more informed decisions about how to direct increasingly scarce resources in ways that are cost-effective and impactful.

And the point may then be that in our re-examination of our academic labour practices we need to be explicitly political. It is not good enough to accept the polyarchal limits of our work, as they are defined by money, marketisation and impact, but to fight for some other form of value that defines our social relationships. Stafford argued

that the institutional rational that defines the modern corporation is pathological, creating them so that they fundamentally cannot take account of any humane values, being motivated solely by the pursuit of profit.

This moves us beyond the disempowerment of special pleading or cries for different funding models. It is the recognition of the responsibility of academics to extend the terrain for struggle, so that we might reassess the production and distribution of our work, our cultures and our academic society, for something more humane. This might be in fighting for open access, or in taking part in the struggle for alternatives, or in publically debating University governance and financialisation, or in critquing the spaces for occupation. But it has to be about more than the poverty of efficiency, subsidy and impact.

Educational technology, hacktivism and the war on public education


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The politics of educational technology

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 9 June 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet the historian Ellen Meiksins-Wood has noted that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 14 December 2010

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

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

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

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