The Hopeless University

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

There is a synopsis here.

There is a podcast here.

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

There is a published article here.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Joel Lazarus, University of Bath.

Critical Reflections on the Language of Neoliberalism in Education

In order to celebrate the publication of the Routledge collection, Critical Reflections on the Language of Neoliberalism in Education, the Education Division at De Montfort University is holding a panel discussion reflecting on neoliberal discourse and language in education. The book focuses upon how particular words endanger the possibilities for a humane education, whilst others enable educational possibility. The panellists will discuss some of these words, and open up a discussion about the power of words in all of our educational contexts.

It’s being held online (link below) from 13.30-15.00 (GMT) on Wednesday 3rd March, and features the editor, Spyros Themelis (University of East Anglia), Maria Chalari (European University Cyprus) and Eleftheria Atta (P.A. College, Larnaka), and me. Whilst Maria and Eleftheria will focus upon ‘educators’ as a word of possibility, I will focus upon ‘immiseration’ and ‘managerialism’ as endangering words, and will question whether ‘alternative education’ might enable something else.


Submitted: The hopeless University

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

The contents are currently structured as follows.

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

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

Chapter 2: Hopeless struggle in the anxiety machine

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

Chapter 3: Forms of hopelessness

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

Chapter 4: Pathological hopelessness

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

Chapter 5: Methodological hopelessness

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

Chapter 6: A Movement of the Heart

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

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

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


Platform Discontent against the University

I have a chapter out in an open access book, The Digital Age and Its Discontents: Critical Reflections in Education.

I’ve written about Platform Discontent against the University. The abstract is below and the full chapter is available here.

The chapter addresses: Technology and the Capitalist University; Technology and Academic Labour; Discontent and the Re-imagination of the Institution;  Platform Discontent as a Social Movement; and, Beyond the University.


Inside the University, technology shapes productive moments of capitalist expansion. As such, it is deployed in order to eviscerate academic labour costs and labour time, while promising to liberate the academic worker through free time. Thus, digital technology both re-engineers education in the name of entrepreneurialism and competition, and forces academics and students to struggle to enrich their human capital. In terms of responses to this re-engineering, this has led to discussions about accelerationism or the possibility of fully automated luxury communism. One outcome is a consideration of ways in which technology can liberate the direct producers of knowledge to cooperate through associations that widen their autonomy. However, while this work challenges the hegemonic idea of transhistorical, educational institutions with a particular focus on knowledge production and its uses, it runs into their integration inside the universe of value. Value forces institutions and managers to performance-manage academic labour, in ways that can be analysed through the idea of platforms as a mechanism that expands capital’s cybernetic control. This chapter critiques ideologies and practices of technology-rich institutions, in order to discuss whether the educational technology and workload management platforms that are used to control academic production might act as sites of discontent and alternatives that enable communities to reconstitute their own lived experiences. Is it possible to develop forms of platform discontent, which lie beyond simple discontent against platforms and instead enable communities to widen their own spheres of autonomy?

Podcast episode seven and alienated knowledge production

Episode seven is up over on the podcast channel, I’ve been talking with John Coster about coffee, documentary media and the boundaries between us, with a particular focus upon academic work and public engagement.

I’ve also been speaking at Academics, Professionals and Publics: Changes in the Ecologies of Knowledge Work. My slides on alienated knowledge production are below. Next week, I will give a fuller write-up of this event, with my takeaways in terms of academic identity and the abolition of academic labour.

Episode 7: in which I blather on about coffee, documentary media and the boundaries between us

*Parental Advisory* between 17 and 18 minutes there is some swearing, as we discuss interactions following an English Defence League demonstration in Leicester in 2010.

It’s been a while, and I have been spending so much time marking essays that I felt the need to do something different. So, the two things I’m doing are: first, walking the streets of Leicester as part of Beat the Streets; and second, talking with John Coster about documentary media, storytelling, and the role of the academic. I’ve known John for a decade, and seen him develop expertise around citizen journalism, social media and documentary practice.

So in this episode, we discuss the relationship between citizen journalism/media and both local communities and national media outlets. In particular, we discuss how this gets affected or changed in moments of extreme stress, in this case the EDL demonstration in Leicester in October 2010. We go on to discuss the purpose of John’s documentary media centre, and how it engages with issues that cross apparently binary divides, or at least divides that appear to be becoming more polarised.

Throughout the episode I was trying understand the relationship between processes of community or documentary media and academic practice, and also to the relationship between those processes and the idea of the University. In particular, I’m interested in the role of the University at moments of stress, and also the boundaries between the University and specific events and the places in which those events take place.

Presentation on the Co-operative University and anti-technocracy

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

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

The slides for this are available on my SlideShare.

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

Published… the alienated academic: the struggle for autonomy inside the University

I have a new monograph out with Palgrave Macmillan, entitled The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University

The book’s abstract is as follows: Higher education is increasingly unable to engage usefully with global emergencies, as its functions are repurposed for value. Discourses of entrepreneurship, impact and excellence, realised through competition and the market, mean that academics and students are increasingly alienated from themselves and their work. This book applies Marx’s concept of alienation to the realities of academic life in the Global North, in order to explore how the idea of public education is subsumed under the law of value. In a landscape of increased commodification of higher education, the book explores the relationship between alienation and crisis, before analysing how academic knowledge, work, identity and life are themselves alienated. Finally, it argues that through indignant struggle, another world is possible, grounded in alternative forms of organising life and producing socially-useful knowledge, ultimately requiring the abolition of academic labour. This pioneering work will be of interest and value to all those working in the higher education sector, as well as those concerned with the rise of neoliberalism and marketization within universities.

I have written about this project, including the abstracts for each of the nine chapters here.

If you would like a copy for review, please contact Palgrave Reviews and/or drop me a line. Equally, if you would like me to come and discuss the book at seminars/workshops, students or staff, or with union representatives/members, please let me know. There will be a book launch here at DMU in the autumn.


The practicalities and pedagogies of adult learning co-operatives: the case of Leicester Vaughan College

I’m presenting tomorrow at the SCUTREA 2018 conference on Lifelong Learning and the Pedagogy of Hope at the University of Sheffield.

I am presenting on the development of governance and pedagogic practices of Leicester Vaughan College, which is a Community Benefit Society.

The conference paper, co-written with Malcolm Noble who is also a director of the College, is here.

The slides for my talk are here.

On Platforms for Co-operative Knowledge Production

Over at the Institute of Education, Tom Woodin is editing a collection to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Co-operative College. The collection is titled: Learning for a Co-operative World – Education, Social Change and the Co-operative College, and I have morphed my chapter away from higher education, to focus upon the relationship between platforms, cooperation and knowledge production.

Below I give an overview of what I have been focusing upon, with my reference list.

A kind of abstract or structure.

The struggle for knowledge

This struggle over knowledge production, and its commodification both of knowledge and the labour-power that produces that knowledge, is a crucial moment of re-imagination in the face of crisis. I question how this struggle enables individuals and communities to challenge the hegemonic idea of transhistorical, educational institutions, through their claims over knowledge, its production and governance, and the data that flow from it.

The value of co-operative knowledge

Value is fundamental in understanding the production, circulation and consumption of knowledge. Through the capital-relation, the production of knowledge is rooted in oppressive social relations, governed by the need to extract surplus-value in the production process, through an attrition on labour rights or the proletarianisation of that labour. Against the second-order mediation of our engagement with knowledge, enacted through private property, the division of labour and separation of disciplines, and commodity exchange, is it possible to liberate socially-useful knowledge?

The platform against knowledge production

However, this liberation (or the potential for reimagining) situates knowledge against ideas of communal production and solidarity on the global Commons, and forces us into a critique of the relationship between communities and technology, in part mediated through the idea of platforms. This critiques ideas and practices of technology-rich, co-operative knowledge production, in order to discuss whether they enable (only certain?) communities to reconstitute their own lived experiences, or whether Capital’s cybernetic control mechanisms simply reterritorialise these experiences for value, whilst marginalising or making invisible other lived experiences.

The knowledge potential of platform co-operativism

The political economy of the platform is a governance risk for societies where those platforms dominate the economic mediation of society by monopolising its hardware and software. One response to this points towards platform co-operativism, with co-operative principles and values shaping the governance, regulation and funding of the platform, such that knowledge infrastructures are shaped as collective rather than private goods. However, such open practices are often rooted in radical disintermediation of access to the Commons, and this risks ignoring the implications of structural forms of privilege and power, alongside differential knowledge and literacy amongst certain groups. It also risks ignoring how the structure of the Commons might act as a barrier to certain groups, in terms of governing principles, the lived experience of co-operation, sharing access to data, and the open sharing of the full range of knowledge, skills and capabilities.

Another world is possible

At issue is how we find co-operative mechanisms for dissolving knowledge production that has been enclosed inside institutions into the fabric of society, in order to enable communities to widen their own spheres of autonomy. This is important if the co-operative and open development of knowledge through platforms is to challenge intersectional injustice, rather than simply to replicate it. In this way, the development of the realm of autonomy requires that open and platform co-operatives prefigure the world they wish to see.


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