on the HE and Research Bill as a terrain of alienation

ONE. Universities as tools of economic progress and social mobility.

The HE Bill reaching the Lords has catalysed a fresh discussion around ideas, first, of the University itself, and second, of academic freedom. These are the perceived form/purpose and content of our higher education system. Lord Wolf’s first amendment to the proposed Bill sought to specify what a university is understood to be, and attempted to stitch into this an idea of autonomy and freedom.

UK universities: functions

(1) UK universities are autonomous institutions and must uphold the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech.

(2) UK universities must ensure that they promote freedom of thought and expression, and freedom from discrimination.

(3) UK universities must provide an extensive range of high quality academic subjects delivered by excellent teaching, supported by scholarship and research, through courses which enhance the ability of students to learn throughout their lives.

(4) UK universities must make a contribution to society through the pursuit, dissemination, and application of knowledge and expertise locally, nationally and internationally; and through partnerships with business, charitable foundations, and other organisations, including other colleges and universities.

(5) UK universities must be free to act as critics of government and the conscience of society.

Contestation in the Lords, and between Lords and Commons, reveals the extent to which policymakers are struggling to make higher education fully subservient to the needs of the wider economy. Moreover, it reveals the constrained position of the opposition to the Bill within this dominant, economic narrative. This is a moment in which education as a fulfilling life-activity, or a process of emancipatory self-actualisation is subsumed and then transformed, precisely because that wider economy has been stagnating for almost a decade, with low levels of profitability and investment, and as a result weak growth and productivity. Moreover, it risks further contraction in the face of Brexit.

As the economic base of society weakens, the infrastructure that emerges from it and which helps shape it is damaged. The on-going (historical) narrative that seeks to re-engineer (materially) universities/higher education by subsuming them explicitly under processes for generating economic growth was re-emphasised by Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, in his response to the first Committee day in the Lords.

[T]here is an urgent need for innovation, particularly in the form of flexible programmes with strong employer engagement offering faster routes into work than the traditional three-year residential degree programme.

For too many high quality new institutions able to do just this, however, the path to degree awarding powers is blocked by inherently anti-competitive requirements that force them to find a competitor who will ‘validate’ their provision before they can issue their own degrees.

This Bill will make it easier for a new generation of institutions to cater to the aspirations of a new generation of learners and deliver the skills necessary to keep our economy globally competitive, while maintaining the high standards that underpin its international reputation.

It will also ensure that ensure that our universities are delivering for the students and families who invest so much in a university education. Those paying £9,000 per year deserve value for money and this Bill will deliver it.

We will not tell universities what or how to teach, but we will demand that their teaching delivers good outcomes, in the form of students who complete their degrees and progress to highly skilled employment.

One thing, though, will not change through these reforms and that is our commitment to institutional autonomy and academic freedom, the essential attributes for the enduring success of any system of higher education.

This Bill is no grab for control of an autonomous sector.

This is a Bill that consistently recognises and protects that autonomy. And it does so while removing a regulatory system from a bygone era, and replacing it with framework that can truly respond to the challenges of the 21st Century.

Jo Johnson: We must break open the higher education closed shop. Conservative Home. 10 January 2017.

This is a call for re-engineering the terrain of higher education by: innovating in the creation of new academic commodities through which students and their families, operating as firms, can invest in their own human capital (as self-exploiting entrepreneurs); speeding-up the circulation of those academic commodities by overcoming practices that are inherently anti-competitive; connecting the purpose of higher education and universities to the realities of the global economy, and hence of monopoly finance capital; and focusing teaching on good outcomes, as defined by degree-completion and progress to highly skilled employment. Johnson’s claim to recognise and protect institutional autonomy can only be situated inside these political economic realities, which are themselves shaped by an on-going (secular) crisis of capitalism.

One of the manifestations of that economic crisis is how it continues to leach (toxically) into the politics of higher education, and the social relationships that define the university and its perceived autonomy. Those who argue for maintaining academic autonomy, in terms of the management and governance of standards, regulation and quality, situate that plea against a diverse ecosystem of providers that “can create, develop and teach an incredibly wide range of courses that meet the needs of over 2 million students and responds to the workforce needs of the country.” A struggle over standards and regulation, as mediations of autonomy, is a struggle over power and is a political manifestation of an economic reality that grounds the university in the production, circulation and accumulation of capital. Thus, Lord Stevenson, shadow higher education minister in the House of Lords, argued that:

Universities across the world have multiple and complex roles in society – something from which we all gain. They are at their best when they are autonomous independent bodies, with the freedom to develop a range of missions and practices. While at the same time being public institutions, although not in the public sector, they serve both the knowledge economy and the knowledge society, and are tools of economic progress and social mobility.

Moreover, he then situated academic freedom against that reality of universities as tools of economic progress and social mobility. Stevenson went on:

Universities also use the precious safe harbour of academic freedom to seek for truth wherever it is to be found, and publish it for all to see and discuss. They transmit and project the values of openness, tolerance, enquiry and a respect for diversity that are key to civilisation in our increasingly globalised world.

TWO. Objectification for-profit

Those values that universities allegedly transmit and project stand on shaky ground (witness struggles and occupations on campuses that protest: first, labour rights, casualization and precarity; second, the implementation of the TEF; third, rent hikes; fourth, cops on campus; fifth, Rhodes Must Fall; and so on). Those same values of openness, tolerance, enquiry and a respect for diversity are framed within a specific capitalist formulation and re-production of the world, which has a limited toleration for dissent. This is made starker as the overall (lack of) profitability of the economy defines what can be tolerated.

This is amplified by a further amendment to the Bill in the Lords. As Andrew McGettigan notes, the second amendment “on the establishment of universities – opens with two clauses that will hurt the government further with their bar on profit.”

(1) UK universities must be bodies corporate, primarily located in the United Kingdom, and established on a not-for-profit basis.

(2) UK universities are public bodies, contributing to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at high levels of excellence.

Johnson continually fudges the main issue – access to public funding. What the new providers want is subsidies for their profit-making.

In the wider political economic realities inside which higher education and universities are reproduced, the first two amendments are inextricably linked. What can autonomy and freedom possibly mean inside organisations that are themselves objectified for-profit, and inside which the logic of money (as debt, surplus, external income, consultancy, spin-off or spill-over and so on) is so dominant?

this process of objectification in fact appears as a process of dispossession from the standpoint of labour or as appropriation of alien labour from the standpoint of capital.

Marx, K. 1993. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. Penguin: London.

The values of openness, tolerance, enquiry and a respect for diversity, and the potential for autonomy and freedom, and their social potential rather than their fetishized position inside objectified institutions, ought to aim at the enrichment of the human being, for her inner, socialised wealth rather than her private enrichment.

The need for money… the true need produced by the modern economic system, and it is the only need which the latter produces.

Marx, K. 1844. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

Increasingly money replaces the real object and dominates the subject. In it needs and powers coincide in an abstract way: only those needs are recognized as real needs by an alienated society which can be bought by money i.e. which are within the reach and power of money.

Mészáros, I. 2005. Marx’s theory of Alienation. Merlin: London, p. 179.

What is hidden, or revealed, depending on the level of analysis is the idea/purpose and content of the university as it is structured through its (academic) labour. As István Mészáros notes in his work on Marx’s theory of Alienation, as capitalistically-structured activity, labour is the ground of all alienation, structured through human activity, the division of labour, commodity exchange and private property. The socio-historical mediations of private property – commodity exchange – division of labour infect the university just as they do any other firm, and education as they do any sector of the economy. What the HE and Research Bill seeks to do is to amplify this process of objectification, such that academic labour is increasingly alienated.

Many of the rebuttals of the proposed Bill are manifestations of moments of alienation, through which productive activity (and hence the development of self-consciousness) is objectified. Thus, Warwick for Free Education stated: “We are at a truly pivotal moment for higher education. This government is set to usher in the full marketisation of the sector, with devastating consequences for both students and staff.” In announcing the NUS’s NSS boycott, Sorana Vieru argued:

there’s one more myth that has to be busted – that this government cares about students. In parliament on Monday, pushed on the link between TEF and fees, Jo Johnson MP said that he had heard no voices in the education sector speaking out against the link between TEF and fees. Either Johnson can’t hear our voices, has forgotten meeting us to talk about the TEF or he doesn’t see us as part of the system.

Not content with dismissing our existence, Johnson has also conceded that these metrics are not perfect and are instead part of a “pilot”. If this doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about this government’s attitude to students I don’t know what will. An experiment with our education, warned against by experts, which will skyrocket fees, change the face of the education sector and potentially close institutions down.

Cares, attitudes and needs are shaped by productive activity, in the form of academic labour, which produces an alienated consciousness that reflects alienated activity. It reflects our labour’s self-alienation.

Thus, throughout much of this discussion there is an idealisation of the abstract (economic, productive, entrepreneurial) individual. As Mészáros argues (ibid., p. 81), ‘In place of man’s [sic.] “consciousness of his species” we find a cult of privacy and an idealization of the abstract individual.’ This idealisation is rooted in the governing mediations of private property – commodity exchange – division of labour, through which, first the university is being re-engineered (subsumed), and second, the cares, attitudes and needs of students and staff (as forms of autonomy) are further alienated. Overcoming these alienated mediations and transcending, overcoming or suppressing alienation depends not on abstracted ideals of academic freedom or institutional autonomy, or fetishized values locked inside institutions that are being made unsustainable, but concrete practices aimed at:

The supersession of alienation through the abolition of “alienated mediation” (i.e. from capitalistically institutionalized second order mediation) through the liberation of labour from its reified subjection to the power of things, to “external necessity”, and through the conscious enhancing of man’s “inner need” for being humanely active and finding fulfilment for the powers inherent in him in his productive activity itself as well as in the human enjoyment of the non-alienated products of his activity [sic.]

Mészáros, I. 2005. Marx’s theory of Alienation. Merlin: London, pp. 91-2.

Or as Lenin argued (General Works, Vol 38), this work aims at transforming the practically alienated relation of man to his objective essence, revealed though private property – commodity exchange – division of labour.

THREE. Paradise lost

So our responses to these processes are the revelation of the objectification and alienation of our work as they are intensified through capitalist crisis. Our screams of outrage at the lack of attention to our cares or needs are a function of the enclosure of this field of possibility. Such enclosure is described for the natural sciences in the process of industrialisation by Mészáros, and we might also reflect on how this academic life is subsumed inside the circuits of capitalist reproduction.

The role of social needs and preferences in scaling down the infinite to the finite is extremely important. However – and this is the point Marx is making – in an alienated society the process of scaling down itself, since it is “unconsciously” determined by a set of alienated needs, is bound to produce further alienation: the subjection of man to increasingly more powerful instruments of his own making. The structure of scientific production is basically the same as that of fundamental productive activity in general (all the more because the two merge into one another to a considerable extent): a lack of control of the productive process as a whole; an “unconscious” and fragmented mode of activity determined by the inertia of the institutionalised framework of the capitalistic mode of production; the functioning of “abstractly material” science as a mere means to predetermined, external, alienated ends. Such an alienated natural science finds itself between the Scylla and Charibdis of its “autonomy” (i.e. the idealisation of its “unconscious”, fragmentary character) and its subordination as a mere means to external, alien ends (i.e. gigantic military and quasi-military programmes, such as lunar flights). Needless to say, the subjection of natural science as a mere means to alien ends is by no means accidental but necessarily connected with its fragmented, “autonomous” character, and, of course, with the structure of alienated productive activity in general. Since science develops in a fragmented, compartmentalised framework, it cannot conceivably have overall aims which, therefore, have to be imposed on it from outside.

Mészáros, I. 2005. Marx’s theory of Alienation. Merlin: London, pp. 102-03.

This lack of control, fragmentation and abstraction of possibility, through which capital defines and repurposes autonomy as alienated activity (private property – commodity exchange – division of labour) is contrasted with the ‘twofold alienation of the sphere of speculative thinking’, such as philosophy. Here we might think of the ways in which autonomy and freedom are constricted through the fragmentation and abstraction of disciplines and institutions, under the iron law of competition. Thus, alienation extends:

(1) from all practice – including the, however alienated, practice of natural science – and (2) from other theoretical fields, like political economy, for instance. In its speculative “universality” philosophy becomes an “end in itself” and “for itself”, fictitiously opposed to the realm of means: an abstract reflection of the institutionalised alienation of means from ends. As a radical separation from all other modes of activity philosophy appears to its representatives as the only form of “species-activity”, i.e. as the only form of activity worthy of man as a “universal being”. Thus instead of being a universal dimension of all activity, integrated in practice and in its various reflections, it functions as an independent (“verselbständigt”) “alienated universality”, displaying the absurdity of this whole system of alienations by the fact that this fictitious “universality” is realised as the most esoteric of all esoteric specialities, strictly reserved for the alienated “high priests” (the “Eingeweihten”) of this intellectual trade.

Mészáros, I. 2005. Marx’s theory of Alienation. Merlin: London, p. 103.

Thus, as described for the natural sciences and philosophy under industrial production, so we might analyse the entrepreneurial university and the teaching excellence of fragmented disciplines. As a result, we see the private property of intellectual or cognitive capital, made productive through commodity exchange, and reinforced through the division of labour that is reproduced as precarious employment or performance management or teaching-only contracts. The lack of a theoretical position taken by those who practice academic labour (and the general lack of praxis that emerges inside universities except in specific, exceptional circumstances) leaves discussions over autonomy, freedom, and the values that universities allegedly transmit and project as a form of academic labour’s self-alienation.

If the “abstractly material” character of the particular natural sciences is linked to a productive activity fragmented and devoid of perspectives, the “abstractly contemplative” character of philosophy expresses the radical divorce of theory and practice in its alienated universality. They represent two sides of the same coin: labour’s self-alienation manifest in a mode of production characterised by Marx and Engels as “the unconscious condition of mankind”.

Mészáros, I. 2005. Marx’s theory of Alienation. Merlin: London, p. 103.

This position is reinforced because the form of private property – commodity exchange – division of labour that is reproduced through academic labour reinforces what Marx called ‘Movable property’s civilised victory’. This is the uncontested truth that the increasingly globalised world, shaped by transnational competition and dominated by monopoly finance capital, demands the production and circulation of material and immaterial commodities as the pure expression of capital. Marx argued that this process reveals capital’s strong points (beyond its weak ones, such as its surface immorality like the reduction of student life to employability) but that in the process of its becoming fully-developed labour is more fully estranged or alienated.

This underpins the possibility of overcoming such an estrangement from what it means to be human, in particular where alienation is revealed as ways of living that are being made unsustainable. This might include the increases in student debt, the increase in precarious employment or casualization, the reduction in costs (wages) of teaching at the expense of investment in capital infrastructure and buildings, the intolerance of dissenting positions on campus, and so on. For Marx, this reveals the tensions between marketised, economised existence that is predicated on the ‘increasing value of the world of things’ at the expense of the ‘devaluation of the world of men’. The questions are whether that world can be superseded, and what is the role of the University in that overcoming?

FOUR. Sociality: overcoming a terrain of alienation?

Human nature (“sociality”) liberated from institutionalized egoism (the negation of sociality) will supersede “reification”, “abstract labour”, and “imaginary appetites”. it is not difficult to see that as long as competition is the governing power of production, or in other words, so long as “cost-effectiveness” is the overriding principle of productive activity, it is quite impossible to consider the worker as a man at the various stages and phases of the cycle of production. Human activity under the conditions of competition is bound to remain wage-labour, a commodity submitted to the “natural law” of the objective, independent needs of competition. Similarly, it is easy to see the relevance of the supersession of competition to the achievement of the human requirements of the self-fulfilling activity (as opposed to “abstract labour”, the negation of sociality) and to the elimination of “imaginary appetites”.

Mészáros, I. 2005. Marx’s theory of Alienation. Merlin: London, pp. 149-50.

The life of the university is increasingly regulated and governed as coerced activity. It is against this reality that thinking of academic freedom or university autonomy becomes meaningless through its particularity rather than its universality. This is because projecting such states or values into a wider society that is itself grounded in coerced activity is meaningless. Moreover, what is being projected into society is the value of abstract labour (for entrepreneurship or employability or knowledge economy) rather than concrete, human activity (to tackle crises of social reproduction like climate change or poverty). The key is less fetishized autonomy and freedom inside universities, and more a struggle for universal overcoming ‘in the political form of the emancipation of the workers’ (Marx).

Freedom, academic or otherwise, needs to be focused on a transcendence of alienation in social practice, and a recognition that achieving freedom or autonomy can only be derived from sociality constructed through social processes and activities. This is our common ability to do and our comprehensive social practice. It is only by overcoming the mediations of private property – commodity exchange – division of labour across a social terrain, rather than in the objectified setting of reified academic practice, that something more socially-useful might be enacted. This means opening-up a terrain for directional demands and the social strike, rooted in association and negating the idea that freedom is either transcendental or exists by the grace of another human being. What we strive for here is the ‘self-mediated being of nature and of man’ (Marx).

This self-mediated being stands against the mediations of private property – commodity exchange – division of labour.

‘privatization’ means abstracting (in practice) from the social side of human activity. If, however, the social activity of production is an elementary condition for the human existence of the individual (with his increasingly complex and socially embedded needs), this act of abstracting – whatever form it might take – is necessarily alienation, because it confines the individual to his ‘crude solitariness’. Society is man’s ‘second nature’, in the sense in which the original natural needs are transformed by it and at the same time integrated into an enormously more extensive network of needs which are all together the product of socially active man. To abstract therefore from this aspect of man in the cult of the self as opposed to social man amounts to the cult of an oversimplified alienated self, because the true self of the human being is necessarily a social self, whose nature is ‘outside itself’, i.e. it defines itself in terms of specific and immensely complex interpersonal, social  relations.

Mészáros, I. 2005. Marx’s theory of Alienation. Merlin: London, pp. 174-5.

This is defined through forms of sociality that refuse the spiritual and physical dehumanisation of commodity production. Here the praxis of those who labour in higher education (staff and students) matters because the space needs to open-out to bleed into society beyond the commodity production for the knowledge economy, the fragmented division of academic labour and the subsumption of academic life inside private property and intellectual property. This is a practical task of generating and sustaining self-conscious human activity, as opposed to alienation from our work, its products, nature and the world, our species-being or our peers, and ourselves.

the fight against alienation is the struggle to rescue humans from ‘the extension of products and needs falls into contriving and ever-calculating subservience to inhuman, refined, unnatural and imaginary appetites.’ This alienated state which is characterized not only by the artificial ‘refinement of needs’ but also by ‘their artificially produced crudeness’, makes a mockery of man’s desires to extend his powers in order to enable himself to realize human fulfilment, because this increase of power amounts to the ‘extension of the realm of the alien powers to which man is subjected’.

Mészáros, I. 2005. Marx’s theory of Alienation. Merlin: London, p. 179.

For Mészáros , teaching is central to this project of becoming self-mediating because it expresses a specific relation to a specific, historically concrete alienated object. The practice of teaching, and enabling anyone to teach, raises consciousness (as opposed to alienated consciousness of commodity production) as a human society. This is not the consciousness of a negation (of alienation) but of a positivity (of human nature divorced from the mediations of private property – commodity exchange – division of labour).

At the moment the realization of academic freedom as academic purpose is impossible because it is simply the means to an abstract, financialised end. Overcoming this is rooted in forms of sociality that are grounded in social wealth and the ‘rich human being’ and ‘rich human need’. This is a totality of life-activities, the realisation of which exists as an inner necessity, as need (Marx). This is also the integration of the private and public in ways that resist objectification and alienation, in order to overcome ways of being that are made increasingly unsustainable through hegemonic economic directives. This is a world for:

the real human individual and the unity of opposites (public/private, production/consumption, doing/thinking, means/ends), without which there can be no overcoming of alienation. Private life has to acquire the practical consciousness of its social embeddedness, but also that personal life has to be personalised; also creative/productive/enriching consumption, and enjoyable production; subjectless, abstract having must acquire a concrete being; practical thinking related to the real (non-alienated) need of humans; doing that has lost its unconscious coercive character and become self-conscious free activity.

Mészáros, I. 2005. Marx’s theory of Alienation. Merlin: London, pp. 185-6

It is here that the struggles for university autonomy or academic freedom matters because education is the critical terrain for self-mediation. Such self-mediation embraces and relates first, activities that give life meaning across a social context, and second, the needs, attitudes and cares that reinforce that meaning as self-consciousness. This takes the form of self and social educating; it is the overcoming of the domination of externality (private property – commodity exchange – division of labour). Thus, these struggles matter where they are related to social forms of autonomy and freedom as universal self-mediation. They matter where they are the beginning of a refusal of private property – commodity exchange – division of labour, rather than an affirmation.

performance information and data-driven academic anxiety

I’ve just submitted a chapter for a book project being managed out of the University Estácio de Sá in Rio de Janeiro. The editors have four previous volumes entitled Education and Technology: Partnerships (although the original idea is a little lost in translation), published as yearly e-books that disseminate research conducted mainly in Brazil and Portugal. Previous material is available in their blog (in Portuguese) https://ticpe.wordpress.com/publicacoes/.

In 2016, the editors plan to do something different through a special volume entitled Education and Technology: critical approaches. My chapter is titled Performance information and data-driven academic anxiety, and the abstract is given below.


This chapter argues that data is the bleeding edge of educational innovation. By following the traces and trails of data, it is possible to uncover where education is being cracked open for the production, circulation and extraction of surplus value. In part these processes of cracking are amplified by the on-going financialisation and marketisation of higher education that continue to kettle academic practices of teaching and research. By uncovering the flows of value, it is also possible to demonstrate the transnational associations of capital that are profiting as a result of the data-driven reimagining of higher education.

This uncovers mechanisms grounded in: enforced, public and open, educational data production; the enclosure and commodification of open and public data for-profit; the selling and re-selling of newly-commodified and technology-rich services back into open and public spaces; the generation of a rentier higher education economy rooted in high technology; the use of secondary legislation or policy related to employment and entrepreneurial activity, alongside primary legislation, to drive change; the exacerbation of debt and indentured study; and, the use of technology in performance management of academic labour.

The chapter articulates these processes in the context of global socio-economic and socio-environmental crises and their symptoms, and in particular the generation of academic anxiety. Such anxiety emerges against the on-going precarity described by students and academic staff through technologically-mediated performance management. As a result, the chapter asks what can be learned from counter-hegemonic projects, in order to describe alternative uses for educational data?

Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education

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

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


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


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

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

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

Key features

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



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

Section One: Power, History and Authority

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

Section Two: Potentialities

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

Section Three: Praxis

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

Conclusion: Politics, Aesthetics and Democracy

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

notes on leaving: vulnerability; directional demands; possibility

On vulnerability

The HE systems of developing countries become more vulnerable to dominance from abroad, while the hybrid nature of the HE systems in most developed countries means that the protection offered by the GATS exemption of ‘services supplied in the exercise of government authority’ has little value in practice…

Finally, it is clear that the outcomes of the TTIP and TiSA negotiations will be heavily influenced, on the European side, by the complexions of the new Parliament, the new Commission, by the identity of the new presidents of Council and Commission and of the new head of external relations. These factors introduce further unpredictability into an already complex situation.

European Universities Association. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). EUA, Background Paper, January 2014.

Best case scenario? There’s continuity of the ministerial responsibilities in BIS and the Bill receives parliamentary scrutiny which shapes it into a better piece of legislation. Worst case? The whole thing is shelved and the sector is faced with with the omnishambles of the short-term Brexit fall-out in addition to the disappearing prospect of overdue legislation for the the advancement of the sector.

Ant Bagshaw, Is the Higher Education and Research Bill dead?

It is not one ideology about the world and Britain’s place in it against another, it has become the old versus the young, the rich versus the poor, the university graduate against the labourer. Dangerous stuff.

David Kernohan, FOTA BREXIT nonsense update 2

This isn’t just a debate where the university sector has a partial opinion from the outside, making contributions about why Brexit would be bad for the finer details of research policy and universities’ business plans. Higher education, or lack of it, is at the heart of what this debate means for our country. Higher education is the core constituency of one of the sides of this divide, and lack of higher education is a central characteristic of the opposing side. Both sides reflect completely different Britains, and the referendum campaign has shown how little they understand each other…

The most overwhelming Leave constituencies are a social milieu that is remote, both literally and figuratively, from higher education: Clacton, Merthyr Tydfil, Boston and Skegness, Easington (County Durham), Barnsley East, Great Yarmouth, Great Grimsby, Walsall North, Stoke-on-Trent North, Rhondda, Blaenau Gwent, Kingston-Upon-Hull East, and Bolsover. Class, education and geography dominate above all else, far more so than the policy debates about the economy and immigration.

David Morris, Experts ignored – time for reflection

On directional demands

This is clearly not the result that many young people wanted or voted for, but most important now is to ensure that students and young people are involved in the decisions that have to be made that will shape their future. We have urgent questions about how the vote to leave will affect students, particularly EU students in the UK and UK students studying in the EU, and call on the government to offer clear assurances to them about their situation.

Megan Dunn, NUS President writes letter to PM

I can feel a sense of shock and dismay among many colleagues today. The ultimate antidote is to be found in the young people you work with. We face a different future: how will you help them prepare for it? How will you help them do better than we did?

Russell Hobby, Brexit will lead to delay in policy – but frustrations should be channeled into positive action

Only a rupture with the institutions of austerity will create the space necessary for the development of a People’s Europe. We need a new union that gives people’s rights primacy over and above the interests of transnational capital, and that defends the free movement of migrants not just within Europe but also from outside it.

John Hillary, War on Want.

Those who want to avoid conservative outcomes must fight for an alternative. That means formulating policy platforms with wide appeal that reconnect with disaffected citizens. It means arguing for ideas and mobilising people to achieve one’s ends, rather than relying on undemocratic institutions to work against the people’s stated preferences. These are the basic functions of a political party. If the Labour Party cannot do these things, it deserves to lose. If it cannot reverse its decline from a popular force into an electoral machine for elite politics, it deserves to crumble into irrelevance so that something better can be born.

Lee Jones, The EU Referendum: Brexit, the Politics of Scale and State Transformation

On possibility

In effect, Podemos’ electoral programs in the various elections – European, municipal, regional and now general elections – set out to give political expression to their myriad demands present in the documents of the hundreds of ‘platforms’ that formed the backbone of Marea Verde. Significantly, within the parameters of the broad consensus provided by the ‘platforms’, education emerged as a fundamental right, rather than simply training, emphasizing its social role in reducing inequalities and as a key instrument for the construction of a more just and cohesive society.

This vision for education that forms the basis of the educational model that Podemos proposes today is openly opposed to the ruinous policies of privatization in education that began in Europe in the 1980s.

It strongly opposes these practices with a keen awareness that the future fabric of our society fundamentally rests on today’s model of education. Faced with the rise of selfish individualism, the depletion of social resources and rights, and the social polarization of a mercantilist and competitive model of schooling, Podemos proposes a model promoting inclusion, diversity, collaboration and openness to the community as fundamental to its success

Cecilia Salazar-Alonso, Podemos on education: the education ‘we can’ have

nationalist resentment is not the only story. Many working class people reject racism – especially in London. The people of Spain and Greece show that a politics of hope is possible in their struggles against austerity, despite the awful conditions they face. Like it or not, the struggle ahead will be over the meaning of Brexit. This is a huge challenge for people who believe in solidarity, open borders, love the diversity immigration brings and reject the delusion that stopping immigration will mean more jobs for “British workers”. At its height in the early 2000s, the anti-globalisation movement rallied around the slogan “another world is possible”. Our common challenge is to find a way of making it happen.

Jonathan Davies, The Coming Fight Over Brexit

The Other Education began in the hearts and thoughts of our communities, where we spoke out to demand education. We decided to create this new, autonomous education so that we can teach and learn in our own language, with our own culture and traditions

Zapatista Education Promotor, Mayan Schools of Dignity

You’ve had a few hours to mourn. Are you going to let the right wing take this as their own or create your own grass roots movements.

Lisa Mckenzie

Our response has begun. The launch of the Alternative White Paper in Parliament on 13 June must mark the beginning of a big movement to restate the argument for Public Higher Education and to build the kind of opposition that will be necessary to defeat the HE Bill. The Parliamentary launch saw the Labour and Liberal Democrat spokespeople for Higher Education speak against the Bill and for the vision espoused in the Alternative White Paper: for Higher Education worthy of the name, understood as a public good, and accessible to all who can benefit.

HE Convention Steering Committee

Re-engineering higher education: the subsumption of academic labour and the exploitation of anxiety

With Kate Bowles, I have an article coming out in volume 28 of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, entitled:

Re-engineering higher education: the subsumption of academic labour and the exploitation of anxiety

The article looks at the psychological impacts on academics and students of the re-engineering of HE, and of concomitant academic overwork. It undertakes this from a transnational perspective, with a focus both on anxiety amongst academic workers including students, and on the idea of the University as an anxiety machine. The article is in a special issue that employs Marx and Engels’ critical categories of labor, value, the commodity, capital, etc. in reflexive ways which illuminate the role and character of academic labor today and how its existing form might be, according to Marx, abolished, transcended and overcome (aufheben). Our focus is on the concept of subsumption.

The abstract is appended herewith.

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

notes in support of Rhodes Must Fall


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

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


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

As Azad Essa argues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh. Rhodes Will Fall.


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

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

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

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

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

This echoes John Holloway’s work against power.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


against the HE Green Paper

Turn the light out say goodnight, no thinking for a little while

Let’s not try to figure out everything at once

It’s hard to keep track of you falling through the sky

We’re half awake in a fake empire

The National. 2008. Fake Empire.

I wrote this as I listened to Ones and Sixes, by Low.

ONE. A smokescreen

In an important echo of the academic labour protests of 2010-11, the collective Warwick for Free Education argue On the Politics of Consultation that “The Green Paper consultation is a charade… serving as a smokescreen to conceal the upward redistribution of wealth operationalized by market mechanisms.” In particular, they provide a mirror to the idea that the Green Paper realises ‘student choice’ as a socially-useful driver. In fact, what is shaped by the Green Paper is a reductionist, rationalist view of the student as a purchaser of educational services-as-commodities. This shaping has remained relatively unchallenged across the sector by established positions and hegemonic groupings (such as UUK, university mission groups, competing vice-chancellors and so on), although there has been meaningful dissent and the definition of alternatives from inside academic communities.

What this focus on student choice in the Green Paper then highlights are the asymmetrical power relations that exist in this struggle over both the shape and the soul of higher education. Those who work within the sector (fractions of the total population of both students and staff) are faced down by global networks of policy-makers, finance capital, the purveyors of educational services, alongside those working inside the sector who believe that there is no alternative, and that this employability strategy or that consumerisation policy will save us. Even worse, in these asymmetries too many of us remain blind to the painful realities of precarity and debt that infect our academic society. Moreover, this is all framed by national/transnational regulation, for instance through the competition and markets authority (CMA) and the impending Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

And the noose of student choice tightens.

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

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

As a result, we are left with a vacuous academic politics that has its forms and content hollowed out, in a moment where national attempts at collective refusal lack the energy that erupted post-Browne (although strands are maintained by the Campaign for the Public University, UCU, the Campaign for the Defence of the British University and so on), so that finding collective spaces to push-back becomes difficult. Finding the energy to push-back is then constricted because academic labour increasingly faces struggles on a local level as university bureaucracies recalibrate institutions as competing businesses. This includes disciplining the workforce through new workload agreements, absence management policies, and the use of technologies that increase the consumerisation of the student experience and that reduce academic-agency. It also includes performance-management through increased metric-stress (NSS, TEF, REF) and the devolved responsibility for league table positions that internalises innovation-overload. One of the results is increased anxiety and an inability to respond to the myriad harms that are inflicted on the sector, like the removal of the disabled students’ allowance, the removal of bursaries for student nurses, or the increasingly precarious employment terms for many staff.

In the face of such local and national redefinition of the terrain on which higher education operates, the Green Paper presents a world that appears lost because there is no space for any alternative, except at the margins. As a result the proposed consultation is at best “technical” in nature.

[T]he entire façade of consultation is unravelled as little more than a superficial tapping in to the already most privileged voices within a policy framework fixed in principle and intention but malleable on some technicalities. It is an ostensibly equitable process of debate which is situated on the terrain and terms of the powerful. Again, the language of ‘choice’ betrays itself here, never entailing the determination and formation of our education in accordance with student voices, but simply the expression of those voices by proxy through the market and elite figures, borne out by the patronising assumption that we as students do not know what is in our best interests, but that those decisions are best rendered by the (unstable, destructive, prone-to-crisis) market.

Indeed, there is little opportunity or capacity to raise an opposition in principle or totality to the Green Paper, to challenge the essential notion of the market provision of education. Instead the questions are leading, inaccessible, naturalising of market mechanisms, and intended to advantage voices already situated within positions of power.

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

Power. Always asymmetrical.

TWO. Refusal

I find myself increasingly disabled from responding, and I feel anxious about this. I feel that I do not wish to waste my energy, or to legitimise their acts of destruction by co-operating with them and their political theatre. However, the very act of refusal has to be reinforced through acts of creation, in engagement with work on the Co-operative University or with local, alternative educational projects, or through solidarity between student unions and trades unions, or by direct work with trades unions on campus, or at the Second Convention for Higher Education.

NOTE: Should you wish to engage, then details of the consultation are available here, and Martin Eve’s principled and robust response has been openly licensed so that you can hack it and repurpose it. If you want to read more on the Green paper, then there I started a job lot of links, although they are not up-to-date.

In my own struggles to engage, I feel parallels with Carl Death’s work on climate change summits as theatre and exemplary governmentality. He argues that:

the symbolic, performative and theatrical roles that summits play in persuading global audiences that political elites are serious about issues such as sustainable development or climate change are a crucial element of their continued prominence. In this sense, they are a key technique through which ‘advanced modern capitalist consumer democracies try and manage to sustain what is known to be unsustainable’ through ‘the performance of seriousness’ and symbolic politics (Blu¨hdorn and Welsh 2007, p. 198).

Consultation must be seen to be done, in order to legitimise power, and as a result it becomes a very specific form of performance. Thus, engagement with consultation risks reinforcing dominant hierarchies and hierarchical relationships, and concomitant established privileges and rationalities. As Death continues:

These dangers include their questionable efficacy in addressing some of the structural and discursive power relations which have produced the contemporary crises of environment and development, as well as their reliance on a highly individualised model of political agency, the sidelining of more democratic and collective forms of politics, and the disciplining of political participation towards norms of consensus and cooperation.

Critical, dissenting and conflicting forms of engagement are less valued or useful within this rationality of government, and protestors are, therefore, likely to be marginalised and criminalised.

My own position on the Green paper was developed in the immediate aftermath of its publication, and focuses on the specific amplification of productivity and teaching intensity, which appear to have received little attention elsewhere. I am Against teaching intensity.

We are therefore pushed towards the acceptance of further state-sponsored privatisation of HE. This is not re-imagining the university through learning, teaching or pedagogy, but an unmaking of the university in the name of service redesign, workforce restructuring/efficiency and global, high-tech enterprise. This is HE deterritorialised for productivity, so that only those [academics, students, institutions] ‘that innovate and present a more compelling value proposition to students will be able to increase their share’ (p. 54). As a result what emerges from the Green Paper is an assault on collective work: the collective work of students unions; and of the collective work of students and staff as academic labour. Instead we are forced into asymmetrical relationship to the reality of our fetishized and rugged individualism in the market. Here our pedagogic decisions and the relationships that flow from them are to be governed by the TTIP, the CMA and the proposed Office for Students.

I argue that it is increasingly important to situate the revolutionising of higher education by successive Governments socially, against wider and increasingly desperate attempts to generate productivity and to stave off crisis. In this, I ask whether the concepts of social strikes and directional demands might enable us to refuse our subjugation under consultations that are smokescreens.

to situate the restructuring of HE against other social strikes and directional demands, forms one means of pushing-back against the ideas of teaching excellence intensification and of staff/students reduced to human capital… common struggle is critical in refusing the precepts of the Green Paper. Such common struggled would join with those who are calling for refusal of TTIP, beyond education and in terms of other social goods like healthcare. It would connect intergenerational refusals of debt and indenture, which are shackling families with debt so that they become competitive rather than co-operative. It would connect with others who are precariously employed, in order to work-up moments of refusal and negation, and to demonstrate alternatives.

This doesn’t negate extending refusal to the terrain of higher education, and for revealing the reality that

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

At issue is how to connect opposition to teaching intensity and learning gain, to rent strikes and labour relations/rights inside the University (including those of students), alongside the fight for living wages and pension rights for professional services staff, and then beyond to the complex and heterogeneous global struggles for liberation. This means that ‘a lot of things need to be changed on the ground in order for a massive economic and political transformation to be possible’ (Steven Shaviro). But we have to begin somewhere.

THREE. Something more urgent.

I am also anxiously aware both of what is missing from the Green Paper, and of our inability to recover those missing strands, and this also makes me recoil from the consultation. In particular, COP21 followed closely on the Green Paper’s publication, having been signalled for months as a critical moment in the global struggle for a habitable ecosystem/ecology/metabolism/planet. Yet, the idea that higher education might contribute to a response to socio-environmental crises is nowhere to be seen. Here the smokescreen prevents us from seeing the catastrophe unfolding, because we can only respond to the parameters set by learning gain and teaching excellence intensity.

Our obsession with economic productivity and competition, alongside the invisible hand, student choice, and academic performativity, disables the core functions of higher education to contribute solutions to anthropogenic forcing. This is notwithstanding the research and scholarship that goes into the work of the Inter-Governmental Panels, alongside projects like Making Science Public, the actions of academic activists, and so on. At our core, what is our response to James Hansen’s articulation that “[The Paris Agreement is] a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned”?

The core of our labour inside higher education matters, because as Johanna Oksala notes in The Paris Climate Deal: Just Words?

To get to the promised 1.5°C would require either sucking back green house gases already in the atmosphere with technologies that are, for all practical purposes, non-existent, or achieving a near-complete decarbonization of the world economy in the next couple of decades. This would mean no gasoline-fueled cars, no oil-fueled ships or planes, and no coal-fired power plants by 2050.

How can higher education respond to this proposed re-engineering of the economy, when the only frame of reference we have is competitive rather than co-operative? How can higher education respond to COP21’s recognition of the need to divest from fossil fuels when its core business is predicted on consumption and future carbon emissions? There is no alternative to the acceleration of business as usual. In a depressing echo of the Green Paper’s obsession with the market as arbiter of the allocation of resources, including people, Oksala notes:

It doesn’t even matter much what governments do; what matters is how the markets behave. The Paris deal is essentially an attempt to stop the climate change with the same means that are responsible for causing it: free-markets and their superior ability to provide information and allocate resources in a way that no political process ever could. The optimism of the Paris deal is grounded on the redemptive power of the invisible hand.

Debunking this myth has to be the real target of our criticism. The capitalist world economy is structurally reliant on constant economic growth and cutthroat competition between companies and nations. Giving up cheap energy, cheap food and cheap raw materials is fundamentally against its logic. If we are genuinely going to tackle climate change in a way that has at least some semblance to justice on a global scale we can no longer afford to have economic growth as the goal of good government in the overdeveloped countries, but have to fundamentally restructure our capitalist economies. We have to make a controlled transition to degrowth and promote the accompanying expansion of activities not governed by the pursuit of maximum economic productivity and profit.

While we would all love to believe that stopping climate change implies exciting innovations and creates new jobs, realistically, the transition to decarbonized societies cannot be presented as an option motivated by the economic opportunities it affords. The hard truth is that it necessitates real costs, sacrifices and painful choices, at least in the global North. The most serious hypocrisy represented by the Paris deal is not the empty promises, but the fact that no politician is prepared to admit the inherent connection between constant economic growth and climate change.

If climate change is a systemic problem rooted in the production, circulation and accumulation of capital (or human activity), then how we decide and reproduce its infrastructure, how we use available resources (energy and carbon), and how we consume the world is critical. This includes the role of higher education and the place of universities in that definition. Yet the political options inside the Green paper give us no boundaries for alternative, collective, social practices, or alternative, co-operative ways of reproducing the world. It offers us no collective hope. Even worse it cannot do so because education is folded inside multilateral trade agreements such as the TTIP.

And I reflect on the fact that Alberto Saldamando argues that

The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more. It promises to privatize, commodify and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes such as REDD+ projects. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south. Case-in-point, the United States’ climate change plan includes 250 million megatons to be absorbed by oceans and forest offset markets. Essentially, those responsible for the climate crisis not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it as well.

Those responsible for the climate crisis not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it as well. How does the Green paper enable us to address this, in its acceleration of our productivity, and the amplification of our obsessions with entrepreneurial activity, employability, internationalisation, metricide, and the market?

FOUR. Saying and doing “no”.

Because I want to say no. There is something more urgent. I want to let the Green paper through my fingers and to revisit the IPCC’s Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers. I want to revisit the realities of business-as-usual (the constant revolutionising of production and consumption) in light of this reality

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. (p. 4)

I want to question whether the core business of precarious and indentured productivity and teaching intensity in higher education can continue given that:

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks. (p. 8)

Anthropogenic GHG emissions are mainly driven by population size, economic activity, lifestyle, energy use, land use patterns, technology and climate policy. (p. 8)

I want to question how our internationalisation strategies and our coming subsumption under TTIP enables us to adapt to the reality that:

Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development. (p. 13)

How does re-gearing higher education around productivity and teaching intensity enable us to adapt to “[r]ising rates and magnitudes of warming and other changes in the climate system, accompanied by ocean acidification, [that] increase the risk of severe, pervasive and in some cases irreversible detrimental impacts”? (p. 13) How does the Green Paper enable us to recalibrate higher education around solutions to mass extinctions, food (in)security, unequal or limited access to natural resources and water, health problems, and population displacement? Is there an alternative use-value for higher education that refuses its reduction to exchange?

How does the Green paper enable us to re-think higher education for both adaptation and mitigation, as “complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change.” (p. 17) Crucially, the IPCC Synthesis Report states that

Adaptation planning and implementation at all levels of governance are contingent on societal values, objectives and risk perceptions (high confidence). Recognition of diverse interests, circumstances, social-cultural contexts and expectations can benefit decision-making processes. Indigenous, local and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change, but these have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts. Integrating such forms of knowledge with existing practices increases the effectiveness of adaptation. (p. 19)

Given the Government’s decisions to cut funding for domestic energy efficiency, to withdraw support for the Green Sky project (on green fuels), and to ditch engagement in carbon capture and storage projects, this is no surprise. In fact, Benny Peiser, writing in The Spectator, injects some hegemonic realism in stating that “This voluntary agreement also removes the mad rush into unrealistic decarbonisation policies that are both economically and politically unsustainable.”

NOTE the use of “mad” as derogatory, uneconomic, marginalised, and othered.

Here the IPCC offer some points of departure that might form directional demands.

Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Effective implementation depends on policies and cooperation at all scales and can be enhanced through integrated responses that link adaptation and mitigation with other societal objectives. (p. 26)

Adaptation and mitigation responses are underpinned by common enabling factors. These include effective institutions and governance, innovation and investments in environmentally sound technologies and infrastructure, sustainable livelihoods and behavioural and lifestyle choices. (p. 26

Here, educational options are framed as potential approaches for managing the risks of climate change through adaptation. These include: awareness raising & integrating [awareness] into education; gender equity in education; extension services; sharing indigenous, traditional & local knowledge; participatory action research & social learning; knowledge-sharing & learning platforms. (p. 27) But where are the potential spaces for such activities in a Green paper that is situated to deliver productivity gains through learning gain and teaching excellence, driven by intensity of activity?

The Green Paper offers us little then, in term of shaping educational behaviours and cultures that might influence energy use and associated emissions with a high mitigation potential. It’s obsession with capital and human intensity that change consumption patterns and emissions through complementary technological and structural changes. I think this is the root of my refusal to engage. The anxiety over my “No”. The reality that I need to say “no”. That my saying and my doing should be something other than their political theatre.

on dismantling the curriculum in higher education

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

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

The abstract and some references are linked here.

The slides for my presentation are here.

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

ONE. A framing of sorts [slide 2]

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what does this do to us?

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

But those days are gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because there is no alternative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the system’s determining force scrubs our souls.

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

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

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

In overcoming this cognitive dissonance, I am drawn to listen to those marginalised voices attempting to define safe spaces inside which the collective work of dismantling can begin. This work of dismantling is rooted in revealing power structures and ways of building the world that are alienating, in that they strip our work, our cultures, our relationships and ourselves from us, in order to valorise them or to silence them. This work of dismantling operates at the level of the institution and the classroom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a political economy of Massive Open Online Courses

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

There are 50 eprints available.


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

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

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

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

on the proletarianisation of the University

The subsumption of academic life, through competition and financialisation, and driven by the disciplinary control of data and debt, enforces widening inequalities inside higher education (HE). Moreover, subsumption works to modify the processes of accumulation, which enable academic labour, in the form of student labour-power or staff teaching or shared research, to be proletarianised. The process of proletarianisation is global, and is influenced both by national educational policy like indentured study and using HE as an export strategy, and internationally through the role of trade partnerships and innovations like MOOCs. The end result is an increase in the number of academic labourers, in the form of postgraduates who teach, adjuncts, casual teachers, associate/full professors, and crucially students, who lack control over the means of production. In each of these cases individual labourers survive by selling their labour-power in the market.

This is the relationship between labour-power and subsumption/accumulation across areas of work that were previously regarded as beyond the market. What is revealed in this process is the dispossession of individual and collective autonomy and time. The autonomy that is dispossessed relates to what can be produced and the process of production. The time that is dispossessed is both the present and the future that is foreclosed as it is alienated. This alienated labour-power is scrubbed clean of its usefulness beyond that dictated in the market by metrics, impact and satisfaction. What emerges is the substitution of that alienated labour-power for that which was previously locally-bargained, with control over the means of production residing transnationally rather than at a local level.

For Marx and Engels, in the Communist Manifesto, this process of proletarianisation accompanied the globalisation of the circuits of production. This is reinforced for transnational HE through its explicit connection into the circuits of value production and accumulation, inside mechanisms like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Marx writes in the Communist Manifesto:

In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed — a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.

Thus, we witness reports of adjunct professors who “don’t even earn the federal minimum wage”; and we witness postgraduate researcher-led committees that “have been pushing the[ir] University to honour the essential role that teaching assistants play in University life in the form of fair pay and treatment.”; and we witness self-imposed overwork as a form of self-harm; and we witness a documenting of the processes and pains of casualisation. As students and adjuncts are forced to sell themselves piecemeal they are forced to contend and compete globally. These proletarianised labourers are forced to compete as technological, entrepreneurial, and impactful.

For Michael Richmond, one outcome of this process is that people are forced to become self-exploiting entrepreneurs, beguiled by the promise of autonomy and ever-increasing standards of living, whilst in reality working longer and harder for lower rewards.

The point here is that you’re not just supposed to be paid nothing and get treated like garbage, you have to act like this is all part of your career plan. The demand here is a performative one. I had to “show him that I wanted it” – a demand that is largely unquantifiable but nevertheless psychically demoralising, designed perhaps to differentiate the boss from their staff affectively, even morally, in an industry of surprising equality of immiseration between the ostensible capitalist and the worker.

The reality is that, besides the social status and the myth of the autonomous entrepreneur, the role is a miserable one. They put in longer hours than anyone, often paying themselves poverty wages at first and taking no money out of the business (in fact, usually the opposite) as it often isn’t profitable anyway.

With such a configuration of production, the worker is sometimes left without a traditional boss to hate – leaving either an abstract concept of “the system” or, more likely, themselves, as the culprit. Meanwhile the entrepreneur, no less guided by the coercive laws of competition as any 19th century factory owner or Google CEO, no longer lives the capitalist’s dream of not having to work as instead they play several roles at once, often further hampered by actually “believing” or being emotionally invested in what they’re doing.

[W]orkers’ and managers’ immiseration coincide, where the exploited and the self-exploited service richer or credit-worthy consumers while the rentier class hoovers up most of the dosh through property and financial gatekeeping. The self-exploiting entrepreneur, beguiled by the promise of creative control and autonomy, more often than not ends up merely acting as a node for the flow of capitalist social relations.

Michael Roberts has argued cogently how the technologised, entrepreneurial individual is an outcome of the pressures of competition as they emerge from the market correction and deleveraging in the global economy. He has also argued that the crisis is one of profitability and investment, and is affecting both compensation for labour and hours worked. The end-product is that people are being forced into precarious, self-employment (as self-exploiting entrepreneurs) and are working longer hours for lower pay, whilst inequality widens on a global terrain. This is an echo of Marx and Engel’s argument in the Communist Manifesto that competition and the expansion of value, driven by space-time compression across an international market, would proletarianise increasing amounts of work.

Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by the increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of machinery, etc.

Across globalised HE, we witness zero-hours contracts, outsourcing, the need for collective action like the 3cosas, and so on. In a competitive, transnational educational market, academic labour rights will be threatened by the equalising pressures of transnational competition and productivity, which includes new forms of competition from private providers. These might be rival organisations with degree-awarding powers, partnerships of accrediting organisations operating through MOOCs, or hedge funds providing venture capital for technologically-driven innovations. Whilst these innovations need to be analysed in terms of the tensions that emerge between the forces of technological production and individual labour time that can be exploited or alienated, they are also driven by a need to overcome the historic tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

This acceptance of immiseration is one outcome of recalibrating higher education inside a national export strategy. In his higher education position paper, Robbins Rebooted, Liam Byrne MP, argued that:

If we want a model of more inclusive growth, where more people earn more – at the top of the hourglass, then we need a higher education system that helps to build better jobs and equips people with the skills for high skilled, high value-added, non-routine jobs.

It reminded me of something blunter that Paul Hofheinz, President of the Lisbon Council said to me…: “if we want to live better than others, then we will have to be better than others.”

So our goal is bold and simple: to build a bigger knowledge economy

This is an acceptance that for vast swathes of the global population there is only immiseration and low-skilled, low value-added, routine jobs in a transnational market. This is about competition and the incorporation of HE inside that logic, so that competition is driven by precarity and casualisation and competition between entrepreneurs.

Here Will Davies’ recent work on neoliberalism is useful enables us to analyse capitalist work inside academia in light of (self-exploiting) entrepreneurial activity that is:

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

The avaricious desire is therefore to recalibrate the whole of existence as an entrepreneurial life, in order to widen the orbit of productive labour. In part, this is done through the individuated, technologised Self. It is also achieved through the entrepreneurial recalibration of the collective labourer. Critically, this means that universities as businesses are restructured for the production of surplus value, through organisational development, knowledge transfer, impact, technological innovation and so on. As Marx argued in Chapter 16 of Capital:

Capitalist production is not merely the production of commodities, it is essentially the production of surplus value. The labourer produces, not for themself, but for capital. It no longer suffices, therefore, that they should simply produce. They must produce surplus-value.

That labourer alone is productive, who produces surplus-value for the capitalist, and thus works for the self-expansion of capital. If we may take an example from outside the sphere of production of material objects, a schoolteacher is a productive labourer, when, in addition to belabouring the heads of their scholars, they work like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out their capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation. Hence the notion of a productive labourer implies not merely a relation between work and useful effect, between labourer and product of labour, but also a specific, social relation of production, a relation that has sprung up historically and stamps the labourer as the direct means of creating surplus-value. To be a productive labourer is, therefore, not a piece of luck, but a misfortune.

To re-quote Michael Richmond:

The self-exploiting entrepreneur, beguiled by the promise of creative control and autonomy, more often than not ends up merely acting as a node for the flow of capitalist social relations.

A critical issue for academics and students as labourers emerges from the process of their working lives as they are rooted in the creation of circulation of services that are compensated through “a share of the surplus product, of the capitalist’s revenue” (Marx, Grundrisse). Thus, those who labour to provide a service, alongside those who labour to produce surplus value, are faced by capital’s drive to expand and accumulate value, and to reduce costs in the face of maximising profit. For Marx, profit was key in disciplining and exploiting (productive) labour and in driving down labour costs. Thus, in speaking about the relationship between public infrastructure, [technological innovation], the role of the State and the drive for private profit, Marx argued the following.

The separation of public works from the state, and their migration into the domain of the works undertaken by capital itself, indicates the degree to which the real community has constituted itself in the form of capital. A country, e.g. the United States, may feel the need for [technological innovation] in connection with production; nevertheless the direct advantage arising from them for production may be too small for the investment to appear as anything but sunk capital. Then capital shifts the burden on to the shoulders of the state; or, where the state traditionally still takes up a position superior to capital, it still possesses the authority and the will to force the society of capitalists to put a part of their revenue, not of their capital, into such generally useful works, which appear at the same time as general conditions of production, and hence not as particular conditions for one capitalist or another – and, so long as capital does not adopt the form of the joint-stock company, it always looks out only for its particular conditions of realisation, and shifts the communal conditions off on to the whole country as national requirements. Capital undertakes only advantageous undertakings, advantageous in its sense. … Capital must be able to sell the [technological innovation] in such a way that both the necessary and the surplus labour are realised, or in such a way that it obtains out of the general fund of profits – of surplus values – a sufficiently large share to make it the same as if it had created surplus value. The highest development of capital exists when the general conditions of the process of social production are not paid out of deductions from the social revenue, the states taxes – where revenue and not capital appears as the labour fund, and where the worker, although he is a free wage worker like any other, nevertheless stands economically in a different relation – but rather out of capital as capital. This shows the degree to which capital has subjugated all conditions of social production to itself [Marx, Grundrisse)

Critically, proletarianisation is amplified not only by the privatisation of the conditions for social reproduction but also by the demand for labour to be productive (i.e. to expand capital). As soon as it becomes unproductive, then it will not be employed or it will be outsourced. Investment in new physical and virtual spaces through which surpluses can be invested and returns taken out is pivotal in the expansion of capitalism. Thus, the idea of traditional HE needs to be addressed against the production and circulation of value, and in response to potential blockages that might induce a crisis by constricting capital flows. Innovations like MOOCs might fruitfully be analysed against these potential constrictions or barriers to the social reproduction of capital, which maintain an increase in the rate of profit and leverage further investment.

Thus, Marx and Engels argue in the Communist Manifesto, emerges a:

class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce.

The growth of technological and entrepreneurial activity inside and against the University forms a way for capital to leverage the ratio of the total surplus-value produced in society to the total capital invested. Educational innovation also enables a redistribution of surplus value from businesses that produce commodities or services like universities to those that market them or that lend money to make academic labour productive. Therefore, it becomes important to analyse the role of innovation in revolutionising the means of production and in proletarianising the University. One signal that this is occurring is Pearson’s focus on “doubling the amount of really high value learning [at no extra total cost]” through: being more global; being more mobile; thinking holistically; being absolutely obsessed with learning outcomes. Pearson argue:

building an ever-wider range of bigger and more complex standalone products and services to participating in more open, interoperable educational ‘ecosystems’, centered around learners

Responses to this entail a critique of academic labour inside the University and across the terrain of HE that also includes open environments and Commons. Such responses might usefully focus on the following.

ONE. Critiques of the value of academic labour, as it is generated both by tenured/non-tenured staff and through the labour of the student. This will enable the latter to become more than the carrier of technologised, entrepreneurial value, born out of the marriage of debt and data. Recalibrating the work of academics (and sub-strata of academics, like adjuncts, tenured/untenured and so on) and students as labourers, and therefore as the working class governed by the wage relation (even where it is debt-driven), is critical in refusing proletarianisation. This has implications for the control of time and the autonomy of capitalist work. Academics and students may feel that they have more autonomy, but the wage-relation and the real subsumption of work affects that reality. As Marx notes in Wage Labour and Capital

the putting of labor-power into action — i.e., the work — is the active expression of the laborer’s own life. And this life activity he sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life. His life-activity, therefore, is but a means of securing his own existence. He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labor itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another. The product of his activity, therefore, is not the aim of his activity.

But the worker, whose only source of income is the sale of his labor-power, cannot leave the whole class of buyers, i.e., the capitalist class , unless he gives up his own existence. He does not belong to this or that capitalist, but to the capitalist class ; and it is for him to find his man — i.e., to find a buyer in this capitalist class.

Even the entrepreneur as commodity-producer is obliged to sell her products in competition. Critically, the means of production inside HE, in terms of the content, the infrastructures, the data and learning analytics, the applications and so on, are not owned by the entrepreneur unless she becomes a member of the capitalist class. Generally, the technologised, entrepreneurial labourer is forced to sell her labour-power and her products as commodities for a wage.

TWO. Critique of the mechanisms through which debt/indenture and the need to compete on a global terrain for a wage underpin proletarianisation. This means that transantional businesses governed by partnerships accords like the TTIP have power over labour and can restructure on a global basis, underpinning labour arbitrage.

THREE. The ways in which the expansion of the circuits of value-production and accumulation dominate the why of education, and underpin increasing academic alienation as autonomy over the mode and means of production are lost.

A critical issue is whether there are moments of solidarity across the academic labourer as a collective worker (student, worker, tenured/non-tenured academic and so on), in order to support collective action that looks towards the abolition of alienation through the abolition of capitalist work. Otherwise, as Marx notes in Wage Labour and Capital, academic labour will be increasingly subject to regulation through the exhausting logic of competition.

Now, the same general laws which regulate the price of commodities in general, naturally regulate wages , or the price of labor-power. Wages will now rise, now fall, according to the relation of supply and demand, according as competition shapes itself between the buyers of labor-power, the capitalists, and the sellers of labor-power, the workers. The fluctuations of wages correspond to the fluctuation in the price of commodities in general. But within the limits of these fluctuations the price of labor-power will be determined by the cost of production, by the labor-time necessary for production of this commodity: labor-power.

What, then, is the cost of production of labor-power?

It is the cost required for the maintenance of the laborer as a laborer, and for his education and training as a laborer.

The squeeze on remuneration and the potential for solidarity amongst collective labour has been argued by the IT Consultancy Gartner:

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

Following on from Will Davies’ work, we might ask whether and how solidarity can be sought that refuses or pushes-back against proletarianisation in and through the University? In particular, the following questions feel important.

  • How might the notion of political decision-making or action be harnessed in ways that broaden the horizon of political possibility inside-and-beyond the University?
  • Does such deliberation lead to stagnation or reconfiguration? Do planning, debt and data subsume the future to incentivised utility-maximisation?
  • How is it possible for individual agency and collective institutions to be criticized and re-imagined simultaneously, in order to overcome neoliberal narratives?

Thus, academics might ask whether, in a globalised life that is restructured around the metrics of efficiency, value, enterprise, and where social life is restructured for-profit, are there alternative, qualitative descriptions of life that might enable alternatives to be developed? One possibility lies in the idea of the Commons and the praxis that emerges from commoning, which is a global idea of socialised solidarity. Elsewhere I have argued for a critique rooted in mass intellectuality and open co-operativism, as a mechanism for framing a useful higher education that recognises its own alienation through

  • democratic governance and regulation of transnational worker co-operatives
  • connections to the circuits of p2p production and distribution
  • pedagogic moments that reflect the open, democratic, autonomous, social focus of co-operatives
  • a framework for the common ownership of products, assets and commodities
  • a reclamation of public environments for the globalised, socialised dissemination of knowledge (e.g. copyfarleft)
  • connecting a global set of educational commons rooted in critical pedagogy
  • conversion, dissolution or creation of co-operatives that are transitional and pedagogic

Refusing the proletarianisation of the University hinges on the creation of a ‘direct form of communal manifestations of life carried out in association with others – [that] are therefore an expression and confirmation of that social life’ (Marx on Private Property and Communism). This might be realised in spaces that incorporate increasingly alienated social forces in the global North, as well as those largely ignored in the global South. This requires that we have a more mature discussion of the possibilities for pedagogic production as a social activity that are for-society rather than for-profit.

In part this recognises that HE is folded into the circuits of capitalism precisely because no space is more important for the generation and accumulation of the knowledge, practices and skills produced co-operatively at the level of society, as ‘mass intellectuality’. Is it possible that a critical political economy of higher education as it is proletarianised might offer a way of developing an emancipatory critical pedagogy on a global scale? Might such a political economy enable the knowledge, practices and skills produced socially and co-operatively inside-and-beyond HE to underpin new social relations of production as a pedagogic project beyond the market?