Published, The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the end of The End of History

The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the end of The End of History has been published by MayFly Books, and is available as a download from the MayFly website. If you do read/download from there please consider donating to support this valuable, radical open access press. NB it can be purchased from Amazon, although it is print on demand, so other retailers should be available.

Endorsements can be viewed here.

There is a synopsis here.

There is a podcast here.

I presented some ideas, with a recording and Q&A here.

A video dialogue with Joel Lazarus on his Agent of History site will follow.

There is a published article here.

There is music by Rae Elbow and the Magic Beanhere. NB a wonderful, full album in partnership with Rae Elbow will be released with the book. It’s a multimedia sensation.

I’m presenting on this in June at both Durham University and also Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland. You will be able to sign-up for the latter from the Philosophy of Higher Education website.


A bunch of decolonising stuff

I’m pleased to be contributing to a Decolonising Critical Thought Workshop on 5 May. My position statement is given below.

Through my own practice as research and evaluation lead for the Decolonising De Montfort University (DDMU) project, I am drawn to your question on: What are the risks of institutionalisation, co-optation, etc. and how can they be avoided?, and a related question: what is the purpose of the University in an age of intersecting crises?

DDMU attempts to make sense of EDI work (e.g. Race Equality Charter), in terms of more radical movements. This brings the University into relation with individual and communal issues of whiteness, double and false consciousness, and behavioural code switching. Inside formal structures, built upon cultures and practices with historical and material legitimacy, engaging with such issues is challenging. The tendency is for formal accreditation, managed through established methodologies, risk management practices and data reporting.

I am interested in how we might open-out discussions that situate the communal articulation of the institution against the development of authentic relationships as a movement of dignity. This connects to post- and anti-colonialism, making visible subaltern or subordinate identities, black power and indigeneity, and critical race or anti-racist studies, alongside critiques of education, including critical university studies and the abolition of the University. At the intersection of critical for and decolonising, I am interested in thinking through whether another University is possible, or even desirable.


In other news, I have a co-authored paper forthcoming in a special issue of Teaching in Higher Education,  on Possibilities and complexities of decolonising higher education: critical perspectives on praxis. Our paper is a critical analysis of the work of DDMU, in relation to the structures, cultures and practices of universities. The abstract and structure are given below.

Hall, R., Ansley, L., Connolly, P., Loonat, S., Patel, K., and Whitham, B. (2021). Struggling for the anti-racist university: learning from an institution-wide response to curriculum decolonisation. Teaching in Higher Education, Special Issue, Possibilities and complexities of decolonising higher education: critical perspectives on praxis. DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2021.1911987 and https://dora.dmu.ac.uk/handle/2086/20773

Abstract: Increasingly, institutions are amplifying work on race equality, in order to engage with movements for Black lives and decolonising. This brings universities into relations with individual and communal issues of whiteness, white fragility and privilege, double and false consciousness, and behavioural code switching. Inside formal structures, built upon cultures and practices that have historical and material legitimacy, engaging with such issues is challenging. The tendency is to engage in formal accreditation, managed through engagement with established methodologies, risk management practices and data reporting. However, this article argues that the dominant articulation of the institution, which has its own inertia, which reinforces whiteness and dissipates radical energy, needs to be re-addressed in projects of decolonising. This situates the communal work of the institution against the development of authentic relationships as a movement of dignity.

Keywords: Black Lives Matter; critical race; decolonising; institutional change; whiteness; university

Structure: Introduction: an intersecting critique; Decolonising DMU: a critique of the University; Cultures of whiteness; Structures of dissipation; Practices of inertia; Decolonising the idea and practice of the University.


With Raj Gill and Sol Gamsu, I am working on A paper for a special issue of higher education, entitled Higher Education in the Eye of the COVID-19 Storm. Our paper has the working title:

‘Whiteness is a moral choice’: The idea of the University at the intersection of crises.

The proposed abstract is below.

Since the acceleration of a commodified higher education environment in England under the Coalition and successive Conservative governments, funding, regulation and governance of universities has become a contested terrain. Such contestation reveals a rupture in the very idea of the University, which makes clear the contingencies underpinning both the student-as-consumer in a deregulated market, and a renewed, fetishized, public university. These symbolic ideas of the institution have been cracked by the everyday realities of a confluence of crises.

Beyond existential crises like climate forcing, specific ruptures have led to a fundamental questioning of social institutions, cultures and practices. In particular, the conjuncture of Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matters have exposed the limitations of dominant and alternative imaginaries of higher education, which tend to be framed by whiteness. At a time when university workers were already engaged in industrial action over #fourfights, this conjuncture highlighted deep, intersectional injustices at the centre of these institutions, in spite of institutional engagement with standardised forms of accreditation, like Athena Swan and the Race Equality Charter. Struggles against structural inequalities erupted at the intersection of: first, differential workload, casualisation and pay; second, the marginalisation of black communities and communities of colour, in social outcomes through Covid-19; and third, the ongoing brutalisation of black communities and communities of colour, when they address state institutions.

Working through documentary and policy analyses, this paper articulates the ways in which these injustices are imminent to the idea of the University. This questions how this allegedly liberal institution is reproduced through whiteness as a site of othering. As a process of separation, divorce, alienation and estrangement between people, othering pivots around whiteness as a moral choice. As a result, this paper describes how the idea of the University has been explicitly revealed through this conjuncture as a means of distorting the subjectivities of all those who labour inside it, for inhuman ends. In critiquing, for instance, the Department for Education’s recent Restructuring Regime, this argument highlights the ideological positioning of economic value, productivity and surplus as mirrors that make certain bodies, cultures and practices visible and reinforces structural inequalities. Yet, in an age of crisis, this ideological positioning is in conflict with new social movements pushing to break the mirrors of whiteness and look for alternative pathways. Here, we question whether the University is able to move beyond the reproduction of structural inequality, in order to contribute to the abolition of the present state of things?


The Hopeless University

It looks likely that my next monograph, The hopeless university: intellectual work at the end of the end of history will be out with MayFly Books in early May.

There is a synopsis here.

There is a podcast here.

I presented some ideas, with a recording and Q&A here.

There is a published article here.

There is music by Rae Elbow and the Magic Beans here. NB a wonderful, full album in partnership with Rae Elbow will be released with the book. It’s a multimedia sensation.

Endorsements

In defining his position as a Marxist, Raymond Williams wrote that the most formidable task of all is to show the connections between “the formations of feeling and relationship which are our immediate resources in any struggle”. In Hopeless University Richard Hall takes up this task seriously. He helps us to understand how the current “university-as-is” relies on the universalization of anxiety and the spread of alienation. They are means through which it sustains its reign during the very last of its days, literally, at the end of the End of History. Moving from hopeless hierarchies, elitists privileges, widespread pathologies of the capitalist academic workplaces to ineffective positivist methodologies that lay at the core of the contemporary university, Hall criticizes the widespread culture of self-harm, imposed precarity, senseless competition, to address the contradictory essence of the hopeless institutions. We are dwelling in this contradiction. It makes our days unbearable; it makes us dire and dull; it prevents us from breaking the vicious circle of hope and despair. However, we know all too well that hope is no plan for liberation from this condition. Hall suggests that to escape it, we need to find the strength in what we have and who we are – in our daily practices of solidarity and mutuality, in our acts of self-care and kindness. By these means, we can finally face the call to starting the exodus from the tight walls of our “sausage factories”. The Hopeless University is the first and necessary step on this long path.

Krystian Szadkowski, Institute of Philosophy, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland.

In The Hopeless University Richard Hall builds on his previous book The Alienated Academic as he argues against the University in its current form. While already exploring hopelessness and the corresponding Weltschmerz academics feel towards their place of work in his previous works, he delves deeper into the idea of refusing what the University has become; an anxiety machine responsible for its workers’ ill-health, PhD students’ anxiety and depression and even academics’ and students’ suicides, for the sake of producing labour power and capital. Not only does the book reflect on the circumstances of those involved, it also situates the University within the socio-economic and socio-environmental crises that are currently taking place on a global scale. In doing so, Hall includes a critique of the University’s response to events such as the Black Lives Matter movement or the Covid-19 pandemic, highlighting its incompetence to offer solutions and position itself as anything but an anti-human project that puts profit before people. Casual workers have become more casualised, those with caring responsibilities are left to carry the burden, and work life further intrudes into private life through increased workloads that are to be done from home, resulting in a constant connection to the institution. Hall reiterates the non-neutrality of the University and its complicity in the reproduction of inequality and inequity, as those in precarious position are further exploited when they are gendered, racialised, disabled and/or queer. Thus, he does not treat these groups as an afterthought, despite him not facing the same challenges, making this book a good reminder for those who occupy “safe” positions within the academy to remember their privileges and continue to challenge their institutions on behalf of those who might not have the same degree of freedom. Towards the end of the book, Hall calls for the abolition of the University as we know it, for steps to be taken that are impossible in the hopeless institutions that currently exist. His critical analysis throughout the book leads Hall to conclude that only when the forces and relations of production are dismantled, another University, one that fosters community and promotes solidarity not just within the elitist walls of the institutions but also outside by joining working class organisation, can be possible, if at all.

Svenja Helmes, PhD student at the University of Sheffield and co-author of Life for the Academic in the Neoliberal University.

At the end of The End of History, we urgently need brave voices to tell us that, no matter how fervently we might hope, we must confront the stark truth that everything may well not turn out all right; to confront ourselves in and of this truth; and to begin the necessary process of grieving this truth. Richard’s forensic deconstruction of the capitalist university, and the senses of hopelessness and helplessness it generates, leaves us unable to deny this truth any longer. Yet, it is Richard’s unflinching commitment to a dialectical materialism that enables him to reveal how the transformative power of truth takes seed when we finally and fully allow it into our hearts. It is in this heart-centred dialogical process of reintegration within and reconnection without that he locates not just the healing power of sharing our stories, but the first stirrings of a movement. It is a movement of negation of the Hopeless University’s own negation of our difference and denial of our being; a movement of the deepest, most essential yearning for our personal and collective authentic becoming; and, therefore, a movement with the capacity to imagine, explore, and organically establish modes, cultures, and even institutional forms of knowing that can birth a new system of social metabolism beyond capital’s tyrannical reign.

Each page of this wonderful book is filled with vulnerability, courage, wisdom, and, above all, love. Richard combines all four of these qualities in his refusal to offer any strategic blueprint for an alternative post-capitalist university and in his invitation to us to sit – to sit with ourselves and with each other, with our wounds and our pain, to sit with the bewildering but beautiful entangled messiness of our lives and our world, and to sit attentive at last to a present that can integrate and be fertilised by a past in order to conceive a new dawn yearning to be born.

Joel Lazarus, University of Bath.


Submitted: The hopeless University

I have finally submitted my manuscript for The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the end of The End of History. I blogged about my initial proposal here, and spoke about it on this podcast. It builds upon this article from June of this year.

The contents are currently structured as follows.

Chapter 1: A terrain of hopelessness at the end of The End of History

  • Introduction: the value of the University
  • The value of the University-in-crisis
  • Structural adjustment and hysteresis
  • The University at The End of History
  • The reproduction of hopelessness inside the University
  • Dialectics of hopelessness
  • The University at the end of The End of History

Chapter 2: Hopeless struggle in the anxiety machine

  • The University as an anxiety machine
  • A meritocratic framing of hopelessness in the anxiety machine
  • The immoral economy of the University
  • The political economy of hopelessness
  • The commodification of hopelessness
  • The institutionalisation of intersectional hopelessness
  • A hopeless struggle

Chapter 3: Forms of hopelessness

  • Introduction: hopeless ventures
  • Flows of hopelessness
  • Restructuring the concrete reality of hopelessness
  • Hopeless associations and joint ventures
  • Financialised abjection
  • Metabolic unfreedom
  • Venturing beyond hopelessness

Chapter 4: Pathological hopelessness

  • Introduction: surplus everything
  • The pathology of the anxiety machine
  • University ill-being
  • The University peloton
  • Reification and social metabolic control
  • For infinite humanity?

Chapter 5: Methodological hopelessness

  • Introduction: socially-useful hopelessness
  • The dialectics of the University
  • The University and negation
  • Assemblages of separation
  • Socially-necessary labour time
  • The University-in-itself, for-value

Chapter 6: A Movement of the Heart

  • Introduction: moving with hopelessness
  • A dialectical movement
  • Entangled subjectivities
  • Composting the anti-human University
  • An indignant movement of dignity

Chapter 7: Beyond the University at the end of The End of History

  • Introduction: is another university desirable?
  • Forms of antipathy
  • Cultures of antipathy
  • Practices of antipathy
  • The place of intellectual work at the end of The End of History

 


radical pedagogies livestream

Tomorrow, Thursday 19 September, De Montfort University is hosting “Radical Pedagogies: Macpherson 20 Years On”. The main focus of the event will be on how radical pedagogies can be used to highlight and address issues relating to race and institutional discrimination.

I have previously blogged about the event, including the call for papers.

The full programme is also online now. We are intending to live stream several sessions as follows:

09.45-10.15: welcome

10.15-11.15: Silhouette Bushay’s keynote on hip-hop pedagogy

14.45-15.50: panel discussion on radical pedagogy and challenging racial discrimination

16.00-17.00: local educators’ panel discussion

The live stream will be available from our conference homepage (you will need to scroll down the page).

We are also planning to record each of the presentations in the breakout discussion/workshop sessions. There are abstracts for these available. The presentations will be available on the website too. We will be using #radicaldmu19 to curate the dialogue from the day.

There are thematic streams on:

  • challenging institutional racism in education;
  • radical Pedagogies in practice;
  • against the attainment gap;
  • decolonisation in practice;
  • narrating raced and gendered experiences in education;
  • disappearing narratives.

It promises to be a great event.


New book project: The hopeless university

In other, exciting news, I have agreed with Mayfly books, based in Leicester, to produce a new monograph on academic life. Mayfly are extending their work on critical university studies, and have also published Ansgar Allen’s The Cynical Educator and Toni Ruuska’s Capitalism, Higher Education and Ecological Crisis. Mayfly also publishes the journal ephemera: theory and politics in organization.

Working with Mayfly is important because I am particularly interested in supporting radical publishing houses that are open, or that resist the subsumption of academic work by corporate publishers. Transparent, democratic engagement is very important to me, and in my role is something I can help celebrate and support. It is why I have been a trustee of the Open Library of Humanities.

Anyway, the book has the working title:

The hopeless university: intellectual work at the end of the end of history

The book will integrate some thinking I have been doing since the publication of The Alienated Academic. I guess its starting point is that I want to tell my story beginning from the last story I told. So, it continues to develop some of the common themes I play around with, including: hopelessness and helplessness inside the University; University as an anxiety machine; the almost overwhelming sense of Weltschmerz felt inside educational institutions; the University predicated upon alienated academic labour-power; and, the University as an abject space, unable to engage meaningfully with crises of social reproduction. It asks whether it is possible to refuse the University as is, as a trans-historical space that can only exist for capital?

I want to think through the re-emergence of engagement with ideas of hope, and their relationship to progressive politics and horizons of educational possibility. In part, I do this because I believe the current situation to be hopeless. I have written about this here. Or you could also read the chapter on Weltschmerz in The Alienated Academic. Or check out some of my other writing here.

So, the structure will focus upon: terrains of hopelessness; hopeless struggle; forms and structures of hopelessness; cultures and pathologies of hopelessness; practices and methodologies of hopelessness; hopeful despair; and the potential for hope at the end of the end of history.

I have shamelessly stolen the idea of the end of the end of history from the guys at Aufhebungabunga: The global politics podcast at the end of the End of History. From a left perspective. The idea of the end of the end of history exposes the fraud at the heart of narratives of the end of history, and of the inevitable, timeless, transhistorical victory of capitalism. This is a narrative generated from a North Atlantic context, which lays out space-time as a capitalist entity, and forecloses on all possible historical, material futures. No new history of struggle or resistance can emerge, precisely because all such struggles and resistances are subsumed as Capital, and its institutions re-purpose all of social life in the name of value, production, profit and surplus. In this subsumption of social life, the University is a critical node precisely because it provides a constant funnelling of individuals into a normalised existence framed by debt and work. In this way, it is hopeless to imagine any other form of historical and material existence beyond the freedom offered through an individual’s sale of labour power in the free market. Beyond the institutions of capitalist society, life has limited meaning.

Yet, in analysing the place of the University at the end of history, we note that it is situated inside a terrain of global, socio-economic and socio-environmental crises, which have been amplified during the ongoing secular crisis of capitalism. Once more, capitalism as a means of social organisation is under threat from ruptures both inside and outside of work, grounded in intersectional, temporal and geographical injustices that erupt from points of labour and points where labour touches society. A range of indigenous resistances, struggles grounded in race, gender, disability and class, emergent revolts against toxic ecological policies, resistance to economic and political populism, each place the institutions of capital in stark opposition to the everyday, lived experiences of individuals and communities struggling for life. The historical and material realities of existence, of social reproduction, of struggle, have returned with a vengeance.

So, the plan for the book is predicated upon the following precepts. This is its current direction of travel. Although I have some Hegel and Marcuse to read first, alongside a bunch of stuff on rage, courage, justice, faith, and solidarity movements that are indigenous, identity-driven and intersectional. I have to revisit some stuff on hope too…

  1. The University has become a place that has no socially-useful role beyond the reproduction of capital, and has become an anti-human project devoid of hope. It projects and protects a condition that is irredeemable. It is hopeless in all senses, and this reflects its inability to respond meaningfully with crises that erupt from the contradictions of capital, including that between capital and climate. Yet in its maintenance of business-as-usual, the University remains shaped as a tactical response to these contradictions.
  2. The book describes and analyses this position against the terrain of higher education (HE) in the global North. It does so in relation to the ways in which the University has been re-engineered in relation to the law of value. This process of subsumption situates the University inside a transnational geography of accumulation. This changes the very idea of the University, and what it means to work inside the Academy, such that they are emptied of political, democratic content, and instead reorganised around surplus. The University has become a key site for reproducing the separation of polity and economy.
  3. The fixation on surplus, efficiency, enterprise, excellence, impact, and so on reinforces a turn away from intellectual practice as a use-value for individuals, such that it has a focus upon the creation of commodities that have exchange-value. This relentless process can only be met by hopeless struggles inside the University, or a retreat into helplessness by academics and students, in the face of authoritarian performance management.
  4. These hopeless struggles are analysed in terms of: first, forms of hopelessness imposed by institutional structures: second, the diseased, pathological hopelessness that the University represents through its normalisation of cultures of ill-being, overwork and privilege; and third, the methodological, process-based hopelessness engendered by everyday academic practices that are enforced by toxic managerialism.
  5. Emerging from an analysis of the intersection of these forms, pathologies and methodologies of hopelessness is a moment of hopeful despair, grounded in the ability of labour to awaken to its predicament both inside a crisis-driven institution, and at the level of society. In this way, the book calls for the dissolution, dismantling or detonation of institutions that engender hopelessness and helplessness, including the University.
  6. The book closes with a discussion of the idea of hope, and its intersection with institutions of formal HE or informal higher learning, at the end of the end of history. The realisation of the impossibility of recovering stable forms of capitalist accumulation, the collapse of socio-environmental systems, widespread forms and structures of inequality and inequity, and the rise of political and economic populism, have foreclosed upon our collective inability to imagine that another world is possible. We are no longer living at the end of history. Rather we need to imagine the idea of the intellectual work at the end of the end of history.
  7. Therefore, the book addresses the following questions. How have we been betrayed by the University? In this sense, what is the University not capable of becoming, being, knowing and doing? Can mapping the University as an anxious, abject, hopeless space, distorted and exploited by Capital, enable us to define a counter-cartography? Is another education possible?

Radical Pedagogies: Macpherson 20 years on

Conference call: Radical Pedagogies: Macpherson 20 years on

Radical Pedagogies: Macpherson 20 years on

Thursday 19th September 2019

De Montfort University, Leicester

#RadicalDMU19

Call for papers (Please note that the call for papers has been extended to Friday 5th July.)

In November 2018 the University of Kent hosted the first event organised by Radical Pedagogies: The Humanities Teaching Network in Higher Education. This group was established as “a forum for Lecturers, Educators, Administrators and students to share resources and discuss innovative pedagogy and praxis.”

It is with great pleasure that De Montfort University (DMU) will be hosting the second Radical Pedagogies event in conjunction with the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre and the Freedom to Achieve project at DMU. The main focus of the event will be on how radical pedagogies can be used to highlight and address issues relating to race and institutional discrimination. This event is not constrained by subject area, discipline or geographical location and is not just open to academics. We hope that researchers, PhD students, learning technologists, library professionals, academics, teachers, parents, students, educational activists and anyone interested in radical pedagogies, both within the UK and internationally, will consider contributing to and attending the event.

We are therefore looking for proposals for papers and interactive sessions (the more interactive the better!) or more innovative and radical session proposals for this one-day event.

On the 20th anniversary of the publication of Macpherson Report into the death of Stephen Lawrence, we are reminded that Macpherson made reference to organisations and areas beyond merely the police force when he was referring to the problem of institutional racism. Paragraphs 6.54 and 45 state that:

6.54 Racism, institutional or otherwise, is not the prerogative of the Police Service. It is clear that other agencies including for example those dealing with housing and education also suffer from the disease. If racism is to be eradicated there must be specific and co-ordinated action both within the agencies themselves and by society at large, particularly through the educational system, from pre-primary school upwards and onwards.

45.15 There was a weight of opinion and concern in relation to two specific aspects of education. First the failure of the National Curriculum to reflect adequately the needs of a diverse multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. Secondly the number of exclusions from schools which were apparently disproportionate to the ethnic mix of the pupils.

What followed were recommendations 67 and 68:

67. That consideration be given to amendment of the National Curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism, in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society.

68. That Local Education Authorities and school Governors have the duty to create and implement strategies in their schools to prevent and address racism. Such strategies to include: that schools record all racist incidents; that all recorded incidents are reported to the pupils’ parents/guardians, school Governors and LEAs; that the numbers of racist incidents are published annually, on a school by school basis; and that the numbers and self-defined ethnic identity of “excluded” pupils are published annually on a school by school basis.

This event is an opportunity to explore and discuss issues such as (although not exclusively):

  • how far recommendations 67 and 68 have been implemented and had an impact, not just in schools, but across the education sector?
  • whether a focus on the curriculum goes far enough in addressing institutional racism in education?
  • has the focus on working class white boys shifted the attention/discourse away from institutional racism in education?
  • what needs to be done to close the attainment gap?

We therefore welcome proposals for sessions which address some of the above broad themes.

Please note that the call for papers has been extended to Friday 5th July.

The call for papers is here: Radical Pedagogies Call for papers

Other indicative areas for discussion are:

  • anti-oppressive teaching practices;
  • punk pedagogy;
  • the role of the marketisation of higher education on radical pedagogies;
  • critical race theory;
  • intersectionality and pedagogy;
  • the role of radical pedagogies in reducing attainment gaps;
  • institutional discrimination and radical pedagogy;
  • student experiences in the classroom; and
  • the role of parents/carers as educational activists.

The aim of this event is to encourage participants to push the boundaries of current educational and pedagogic practices.

Please submit a 500-word abstract, or a 2-minute video clip by Friday 5th July 2019 to RadicalDMU@dmu.ac.uk

This event is a free, one-day, event. Travel bursaries are available. Please contact us for further details.

To book on the conference, click here.


Paperback version of Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education

I’m really pleased that a paperback version of Joss Winn and my 2017 edited collection, Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education is now available. This makes this important work on re-imagining HE much more accessible.

For more details on the book, including the key features and chapters see: https://bit.ly/2UaoI0G

For details on how to get hold of a copy, see: https://bit.ly/2toybqZ


education, technology and the end of the end of history

In June 2009, a group of people who loosely knew each other, or were connected through emergent social networks and individuals, gathered for discussion about the intersection of education and digital technology. This collective, known as the ‘52group’, gathered from across the Higher Education sector in the global North produced a position paper entitled ‘Preparing for the postdigital era’.

At the time the paper was largely met with a mixture of scepticism and confusion, a common response being “The digital hasn’t been superseded?” Despite this, over the intervening years the term has slowly gained traction in educational contexts. In 2015, to mark the shift from Digital to Post-digital thinking, members of the original ‘52group’ individually revisited the term to consider its continued definition and relevance. My own response is here, with links to reflections from the other members of the group.

In 2019, Petar Jandrić (editor of the newly founded journal Postdigital Science and Education) discovered the original position paper and 2015 responses. Delighted by this rare opportunity to examine ten years of development of the concept of the post-digital, Petar contacted the group with a request to revisit the theme in 2019. Dave Cormier has posted his reconsideration here. Mine is appended below, with an extended bibliography.

NB After the fact, and following a decade of attempting to reconsider my position in light of intersectional and indigenous struggles, I note that the 52 Group consisted of white men of a certain generation, with plenty of social and intellectual capital, each working in the global North. It would be interesting to critique these positions and possibilities, in light of status, privilege and power. That is not to say that the original members of the group did not do this, just that there is more to say.


ONE. No shade in Capital’s shadow.

When the 52 Group originally met to discuss the intersection of education and digital technology the world was very different. It was more hopeful for connectedness and meaningful forms of connectivity. Such forms of connectivity were rooted in the humane, and in liberal values, which naturally emerged from the dominant political economic order. This order tends to describe the relationship between technology and society (or technology and the reproduction of that society) in positivist or determinist terms. Moreover, it does not help us to reimagine society in the face of crises, precisely because technological determinism reinforces the idea that we have reached the end of history. As a result, the limits of our imagination can only be shaped by finessing our future through our capitalist present.

Yet, in the intervening decade we have witnessed: the ongoing struggle of the global economy to overcome the crash of 2007; the rise of economic populism and the reinforcement of political binaries; the imposition of austerity politics, with differential impacts for specific populations; an inability to deal with crises of the environment; and on and on. We have witnessed the ongoing separation of politics and economy, such that solutions to these ongoing ruptures cannot be imagined beyond the existing, dominant mode of production.

This dominant mode of production warps our imagination through imposition of technological solutions. Such solutions are used not for humane values, rather for the generation of surplus that can be accumulated. Surplus emerges in the form of economic value, wealth in the form of profit or money, or time that can be diverted to more work, either collectively or on the individual self. Technological solutions are central to the accumulation of surplus, and as a result they are used inside capitalist production processes to discipline labour, to drive efficiencies in the use of labour power, to create new commodities, and to generate new markets.


TWO. Techno-discipline

At the intersection of education and technology, the work of students, academics and professional services staff is disciplined through workplace and attendance monitoring, performance dashboards, and the imposition of rating and excellence systems that seek to reshape affective labour processes. The labour processes of students and academics are increasingly commodified, as pedagogic processes and content are opened out such that new infrastructure and data services can be extracted by private providers and resold into the sector. The teaching, scholarly and research activity of the University is conditioned by discourses of employability, entrepreneurship, excellence and impact, and shaped by the intersection of performance data around debt, future earnings and learning outcomes. Moreover, these intersections are enabled globally, through flows of resources from the global South to the global North, with commodity-dumping in the opposite direction.

Individual bodies are conditioned collectively against dominant norms of production, shaped by an idealised view of how education and technology are generative of productive, human capital. As a result, digital technology is folded inside an apparently never-ending terrain of competition at the level of the individual, the subject, the institution and the nation. Digitally-reinforced performance metrics impose digitally-reinforced performance management.

Moreover, in this idealised view of production, in the technology-rich university of the global North, the reproduction of enriched human capital rest upon the ongoing exploitation of other bodies. These bodies undertake estates-related activities, cleaning, porterage, cooking and purchasing/logistics, at work and in the home. These bodies exist in low-wage, sub-economies that are often precarious and lacking in labour rights, such as pensions, maternity/paternity cover, holiday and sick pay. These bodies are often marginalised along intersections of gender and race.


THREE. Ongoing techno-colonisation, exploitation and expropriation.

The only space for radical imagination appears to be in the further, ongoing colonisation of the body and the Self by digital technology, as a means of generating surpluses. This is not the 52 Group’s original conception of ‘the act of [technology’s] colonisation, or appropriation, by people into their lives.’ Rather it is Capital’s colonisation of the soul in the ongoing search for surplus. Here, there is an overlay of these terrains of competition in ongoing corporate processes of exploitation and expropriation. Such processes limit the energy and capacity that societies have for re-imagination, precisely because these become bounded by the competition between humans and machines. Again, the 52 Group argued that ‘As digital technology is culturally normalised it becomes ever more transparent’, yet whilst technology and its commodities may be built upon ideas of openness these ideas do not enable transparency. Rather they are a legal terrain for the enforcement of privatisation and commodification through intellectual property, copyright, and patents.

Human engagement with technology has always had a contested history, in which individuals or groups or States attempt to break or harness specific technologies for particular political ends. Now, such contestation is amplified at the boundary between the human and the development of 5G cellular networks, cloud native applications, artificial intelligence, nanotechnologies, convergent technologies including biotechnologies, and the Internet of things. Interactions at these boundaries then enforces human-machine intersections with digital, monopoly capitalism in the form of Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, and the rise of alternate geopolitical rivals, in particular from China. As a result, techno-colonisation of what it means to be human is amplified.

In the original, 2009 conception of the post-digital, the 52 Group wrote:

Not only is the digital subservient to the social, it is, in some ways (and soon most ways), transparent.

Over the course of a decade this statement has become a dystopian pivot for understanding more than the relationship between digital technology and the social. It becomes a pivot for understanding the convergence of the personal/the person and a range of technologies (cognitive, biological, nano), in order to subsume what it means to be human fully under the dictates of capitalist reproduction. This has been described in terms of the post-information human or the post-human, or analysed in terms of what it means to be post-human. In these descriptions, society has viewed technology through an economistic lens, reinforcing the separation of politics and economics, and denying the potential for a reintegrated political economy that radically reimagines society. As a result, social reproduction cannot be viewed beyond the lens of capital, and technology cannot be viewed beyond the lens of expanding the field of accumulation.


FOUR. Techno-humanism at the end of the end of history.

In a crucial part of the original statement, the 52 Group write:

The obsessiveness associated with digitalism seeks to see innovation as the search for meaning (or use) in the newest technology. Innovation in a postdigital era is more effectively articulated as being associated with the human condition and the aspiration toward new or enhanced connectedness with others.

Existence at the alleged end of history can only define enhanced connectedness through the dystopian subsumption of the flesh under emergent technologies like biometrics, neurotechnology, human genetic engineering and 3D bioprinting, and speculative technologies like the exocortex. The terrain of aspiration is shaped through the exploitation of the flesh and of the mind, through the augmentation enabled by technology, and the ongoing expropriation of what it means to be human. Of course, it is imperative that we recognise that these moments of exploitation and expropriation are rooted in wider, intersectional injustices.

Populations struggle to imagine futures beyond socio-economic or socio-environmental problems where these do not emerge from experts, technocrats or technologists. Human-machine or environment-machine augmentation are sold as enhancement; as logical, next transhistorical steps. This is precisely because our imagination cannot be allowed to view solutions to such problems as anything other than mechanistic and economy-driven. They are devoid of political content, in part because imagining a different history is too threatening to the established order.

Yet, this is exactly what is required – a radical, political horizon, which is reinforced through a radical, political imagination. A radical, political imagination that seeks to renegotiate the relationship between humans and technologies, grounded in the inter-disciplinary re-integration of life. So that it becomes possible to reimagine the relationship between humans and technologies at the end of the end of history. So that it becomes possible to reimagine the relationship between philosophy and the natural sciences, or between the social and natural sciences. This is a reintegration of the material modes of production with what it means to be human.

In terms of the intersection between education and technology, the focus must shift towards intellectual work, as opposed to academic labour, being recombined at the level of society to ensure that knowledge is socialised rather than privatised. Moreover, productive technologies need to be collectively controlled, such that the things that societies actually need in order to flourish, namely socially-necessary goods and services, can be produced in ways that reduce the waste of time, energy and lives. Waste, the counterpoint to surplus, emerges from the production of useless commodities.

The integration of technologies with a new political economy reduces the space and time required for the production of the things needed for self-sufficiency. It widens as base for autonomous existence. The very automation or human-machine augmentation and symbiosis that capital demands and develops in order to discipline and control labour makes possible an exodus from the society of capitalist work. This potential erupts through the radical redisposal of the surplus time that arises as an outcome of that automation, alongside the new ways in which different groups can interconnect in that surplus time. At issue is less the reality of automation at the end of history, and more the role of human dignity in rupturing the end of history.

This rupturing is the end of the end of history. The liberation of science and technology from capital’s competitive dynamics emerges as a new political horizon erupts. This is central to moving beyond capital’s digital colonisation of humans, such that it can exploit and expropriate what it means to be human and humane. Instead of the intersection of education and technology, we might speak of convergence, such that students, professional services staff and academics are able to focus upon the relationship between freedom and necessity, in order to widen the former and reduce the latter.

At the end of the end of history, can we make it possible to focus on alternative educational practices that develop socialised knowledge as a direct, social force of production? At the end of the end of history can we re-imagine ways to deny capital’s abstract, normalised monopoly over the productive resources and potential of society? In this moment, it may be that educational contexts form dynamic sites in the struggle to recuperate social productive power, where they are predicated upon the dignity of inclusive and participatory work. A starting point is recognising flows of power and privilege that are reinforced digitally, and opening out political structures for refusing techno-fuelled colonisation.


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Presentation on the Co-operative University and anti-technocracy

A couple of weeks ago I presented at the Contemporary Philosophy of Technology seminar series, at the University of Birmingham. My talk was on the idea/reality of the Co-operative University and anti-technocracy. The issues that I was interested in raising were as follows.

  • What is the relationship between the proposed Co-operative University and the regulatory environment predicated upon competition between providers, at the level of the individual, the subject and the institution?
  • How might the historical and material reality of co-operatives unable this relationship to be critiqued? How might the historical and material reality of co-operatives generate lessons for the Co-operative University?
  • What is the governance and management relationship between the proposed the Office for Students as the regulator, the Co-operative University, and any federated curriculum delivery organisations?
  • Is it possible to align the hopes and aspirations of the staff and students committed to the Co-operative University, who are brutalised inside the academic peloton, to the reality of an organisation that has to compromise with/exist within this competitive environment?
  • What is the role of technology in enabling such an alignment? In particular, what is the relationship between platform co-operativism and the Co-operative University?
  • How might the experiences of actually-existing co-operatives, and the example of the Co-operative University, enable us to dismantle and then abolish the University?

The slides for this are available on my SlideShare.

There is a recording over at the CPT YouTube channel. This is too depressing for me to watch, so I won’t watch it. If it’s full of factual inaccuracies let me know and I’ll make amends. Promise.