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.


Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a Feminist Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Amsler, S. (2015). The Education of Radical Democracy. London: Routledge.

Bauwens, M. (2014). Open Cooperativism for the P2P Age. Available at:

Berardi, F. (2009). The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy. Translated by F. Cadel and G. Mecchia, with preface by J. Smith. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

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Breidlid, A. (2013). Education, Indigenous Knowledges, and Development in the Global South. London: Routledge.

Canaan, J. (2017). The (Im)possibility of Mass Intellectuality: Viewing Mass Intellectuality Through the Lens of the Brazilian Landless Movement. In Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education, edited by R. Hall and J. Winn, 69-80. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Ciccariello-Maher, G. (2017). Decolonizing Dialectics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Clarke, S. (1991). Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology: From Adam Smith to Max Weber. London: Palgrave.FH

Cleaver, H. (2017). Rupturing the Dialectic: The Struggle against Work, Money, and Financialization. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

de Peuter G., and Dyer-Witheford N. (2010). ‘Commons and Cooperatives’, Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action, 4(1), pp. 30-56.

de Sousa Santos, B. (ed. 2007). Cognitive Justice in a Global World: Prudent Knowledges for a Decent Life. New York, NY: Lexington Books.

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Deleuze, G., and Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press..

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Dyer-Witheford, N. (2004). ‘1844/2004/2044: The return of species-being’, Historical Materialism, 12(4), pp. 3-25.

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Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin.

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Haiven, M. (2014). Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power: Capitalism, Creativity and the Commons. London: Zed Books.

Hall, G. (2016). The Uberfication of the University. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press.

Hall, R., (2015a). ‘The University and the Secular Crisis’, Open Library of Humanities, 1(1), p.e6. DOI:

Hall, R. (2015b). ‘For a Political Economy of Massive Open Online Courses’, Learning, Media and Technology, 40(3), pp. 265-86.

Hall, R. (forthcoming). The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hall, R., and Winn, J. (eds 2017). Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury Academic

hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. London: Routledge.

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Kornberger, M., Pflueger, D., and Mouritsen, J. (2017). ‘Evaluative infrastructures: Accounting for platform organization’, Accounting, Organizations and Society, 60, pp. 79-95. Available at:, 1-17.

Lazzarato, M. (2014). Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity. Cambridge, MA: Semiotext(e)/MIT Press.

Lorey, I. (2017). Labour, (in-)dependence, care: Conceptualizing the precarious. In E. Armano, A. Bove and A. Murgia, Mapping Precariousness, Labour Insecurity and Uncertain Livelihoods: Subjectivities and Resistance. London: Routledge, translated by A. Derieg, 199-209.

Marcuse, H. (1998). Technology, War, and Fascism, Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Vol. 1. Ed. D. Kellner. New York: Routledge.

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Marx, K. (1970). Critique of the Gotha Programme. In Marx and Engels Selected Works, Volume Three, 13-30. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Marx, K. (1974). Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Marx, K. (1991). Capital, Volume 3: A Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin.

Marx, K. (2004). Capital, Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin.

Marx, K. (2008). Wage-Labour and Capital. Cabin John, MD: Wildside Press.

Marx, K., and Engels, F. (1998). The German Ideology: including Theses on Feuerbach and Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. New York: Prometheus.

McGettigan, A. (2015). The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment. Political Economy Research Centre Papers Series 6. Available at:

McMillam Cottom, T. (2016). Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy. New York: The New Press.

Mészáros, I. (2005). Marx’s Theory of Alienation. London: Merlin Press.

The Midnight Collective. (2008). ‘The New Enclosures’. In Subverting the Present Imagining the Future: Insurrection, Movement, Commons, ed. Bonefeld, W. New York, NY: Autonomedia, pp. 13-26.

Miller Medina, J. E. (2005). The State Machine: politics, ideology, and computation in Chile, 1964-1973. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, MIT.

Neary, M. (2011). ‘Student as Producer: A Pedagogy for the Avant-Garde; Or, How Do Revolutionary Teachers Teach?’ Learning Exchange, 1(1). Available at:

Neary, M., and Winn, J. (2017). ‘There is an alternative: a report on an action research project to develop a framework for co-operative higher education’, Learning and Teaching: The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences 10 (1). Available at:

Newfield, C. (2010). ‘The structure and silence of Cognitariat’, EduFactory webjournal, 0, pp. 10-26. Available at:

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Pasquale, F. (2016). ‘Two Narratives of Platform Capitalism’, Yale Law and Policy Review, 309. Available at:

Pasquale, F. (2018). Tech Platforms and the Knowledge Problem. American Affairs, II(2). Available at:

Procomuns. 2016. Summary: procomuns statement and policies for Commons Collaborative Economies at European level. Available at:

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Roggero, G. (2011). The Production of Living Knowledge: The Crisis of the University and the Transformation of Labor in Europe and North America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Scholz, T. (2016). Platform Cooperativism. Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy. New York: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

Srnicek, N. (2017). Platform Capitalism. Bristol: Polity Press.

Southwood, I. (2017). Against currency, against employability. In E. Armano, A. Bove and A. Murgia, Mapping Precariousness, Labour Insecurity and Uncertain Livelihoods: Subjectivities and Resistance. London: Routledge, 70 – 81.

Tronti, Mario. 2012. Our Operaismo, New Left Review, 73, pp. 119–39.

van Dijck, J., & Poell, T. (2018). Social media platforms and education. In The SAGE Handbook of Social Media, eds J. Burgess, A. Marwick, & T. Poell. London: SAGE, pp. 579-591.

Vercellone, C. (2007). ‘From Formal Subsumption to General Intellect: Elements for a Marxist Reading of the Thesis of Cognitive Capitalism’, Historical Materialism, 15(1), pp. 13-36.

Wendling, A. (2009). Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

slides: partnership, co-operation and dismantling the curriculum in HE

I’m keynoting the Newcastle College HE staff CPD event today. My slides are appended below.

I have amended my keynote at Radical Pedagogies for this talk. However, the notes from that talk are still relevant.

Participants at the talk collated six questions. My responses are posted herewith.

ONE. How do we balance the fact that students spend significant amounts of money on their studies, but at the same time we want them to work for and with us in developing a curriculum and being active participants in the design and implementation of HE?

Money tends to mediate our relationships for us, so our work with our students risks forcing us to view them in terms of value-for-money. Where we exist inside institutions that have to maximise their income from fees, our classroom choices get squeezed because being taught or teaching intensity are perceived as enabling us to manage the risks around student progression. In part, this is defined through policies that situate students and their families as purchasers or consumers, and in part through fear or anxiety-based institutional cultures that situate views of students-as-partners, in terms of their access to curriculum content or specific services. One problem is where this becomes mutually reinforcing to the point where academics and teachers feel that they cannot innovate.

Having worked in several institutions, I have never seen a quality assurance department (or any department responsible for course/programme validation or periodic review) that has stymied curriculum innovation. However, trying to do this in isolation is problematic. Where you are the only teacher or teaching team that is focusing upon student-as-producer, or on co-creation, this can be isolating and high-risk. In part, this is because in that moment, co-creation appears abnormal. That said, I think we are all trying to get our students to co-create or to produce with us and for themselves, through project work, personalised assessments and so on, even where there are regulatory bodies involved.

So, I guess I would see the balance emerging from faith in your own practice, and your ability, in your teams, to discuss the value of student-as-producer or co-creation with the students. This means an open discussion with those students about: first, the explicit value that will be generated for them, in terms of employability and their ability to pay down their debts (NB there is another question here about whether you believe that is possible) – whether the focus is upon community work, employability, whatever; second, the importance of being able to self-manage rather than having to rely explicitly on others (such as a teacher) as a fundamental step towards self-actualisation; third, what this means for staff-student relations and what it means for students to teach themselves rather than being taught – where the role of the teacher changes but remains active; and fourth, the values that underpin this, in terms of mutuality (and mutual support), co-operation, authenticity and so on. There is something important here about the classroom experience moving towards independent learning (there can still be some teacher-focused/teacher-led work), including access to engagements with other communities (of students, in libraries and so on).

TWO. How can the ‘whiteness’ of curriculums be addressed given the lack of diversity in many HEIs?

This is really difficult. It is an ingrained cultural problem, which operates structurally and also subconsciously. As an entitled white, male professor my focus is on constantly questioning my privilege, and determining to enable a plurality of voices across the contexts in which I work. This is intensely problematic because individuals are coming from different spaces and places, with different preconceptions and amounts of intellectual/social capital. The spaces in which I work are also filled with power.

One of the problems of a lack of diversity in many institutions is that those individuals classed as representatives of minoritised groups can end-up picking up more emotional labour, in-part because BAME students see themselves reflected more appropriately in those members of staff and gravitate towards them. Also, those staff may be seen as exceptional cases, or they may have to develop a double or false consciousness, in order to survive and pass through the walls that Ahmed describes. The diversity agenda can also be a threat to some white staff and white students, who need to check their own privilege both inside and outside the institution.

There are a range of innovation projects, such as those on the attainment gap, which are attempting to address the curricula impacts of this, some with a focus on critical race theory. In other spaces there are direct challenges to dominant curriculum narratives, such as in the Black Studies undergraduate degree at Birmingham City University. There is also radical, student-led work, such as Rhodes Must Fall and the Why Is My Curriculum White? Collective. One key issue at the level of the sector is how to develop these initiatives into a movement that questions hierarchy and power.

At the level of the curriculum, I think this works through questions about the way in which the established curriculum and its content, delivery methods, voices and assessments, enable us to meet crises and to support the creation of another world. This means opening up with students about those voices inside the curriculum that are currently heard/silenced and what might be done differently – it is part of a democratic engagement with students about the of governance, structure, content and assessment of the curriculum. What narratives can we engage with in our teaching and how can we critique those in terms of perspectives?

If decolonising the curriculum is important to us then it is important to listen to activists like Angela Davies, Sara Ahmed, Lola Olufemi. The latter’s open letter to the Cambridge English department is particularly useful in decoding the curriculum from a perspective that has been marginalised. She talks about curriculum content, but also operational stuff like the location of books in Library stacks and whether the voices of the colonised are easy to locate. She also talks about who has a voice or is silenced in conversations, and who feels able to have a voice given the attitudes of some staff. She talks about everyday micro-aggressions in conversations, emails, feedback and so on. This connects to Ahmed’s work on working with students to question norms of conduct, and working with them to ask ethical questions about living better in an unequal world as a precursor to creating more equal relationships. This is why she is focused upon being courageous in supporting those who are made marginal or whose engagement with the institution is difficult because of specific barriers.

THREE. What examples are there of a curriculum being successfully ‘reimagined’ for a different or specific social purpose?

See the curriculum work of:

The Social Science Centre

Black Studies at BCU

Work by the Cambridge English Department on decolonisation

Student-as-producer case studies at Lincoln

Papers by: Goodson and Deakin Crick; Phillips et al.

It would also be worthwhile searching for “critical pedagogy in the classroom”.

See also the resources from the recent radical pedagogies symposium at Kent.

On research-engaged teaching, as a precursor to reimagining the curriculum:

Burgum, S., and Stoakes, G. (2016). What does research informed teaching look like? The Higher Education Academy/University alliance. Available at:

Healey, M., Flint, A., and Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. The Higher Education Academy. Available at:

Healey, M., Jordan, F., Pell, B. and Short, C. (2010) The research-teaching nexus: A case study of students’ awareness, experiences and perceptions of research. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 47 (2). pp. 235-246. DOI:

McLinden, M. et al. (2015). Strengthening the Links Between Research and Teaching. Education in Practice, 2(1), pp. 24-29.

Neary, M., & Winn, J. (2009). The student as producer: Reinventing the student experience in higher education. In L. Bell, H. Stevenson & M. Neary (Eds.), The future of higher education: Policy, pedagogy and the student experience. London: Continuum.

Lincoln University (2013). Student as Producer. Available at:

Neary, M. (2010). Student as producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde? Learning Exchange, 1 (1), p. 2.

Neary, M. (2016). Student as Producer: The Struggle for the Idea of the University. Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives, 5 (1), p. 90.

FOUR. How can the challenges of the ‘traditional classroom’ be overcome when students have such traditional and conservative perspectives of what education is and how it should be delivered?

I understand concerns around students being conservative and potentially wishing only to consume the curriculum for their learning/employability/positional gain, and that this emerges from a highly-assessed and relatively rigid school-based curriculum. However, preparing students for uncertainty requires an ongoing conversation with them about the value of the co-creation or co-production of the world. It would be awful if we used perceptions of students being conservative as a reason for doing nothing. Moreover, sometimes I think we reinforce that perception as a reality because we make assumptions about students not wishing to be more engaged and so we create our classroom environments in that image.

I think we just have to keep on attempting to question preconceptions (and we all have preconceptions that feel safe or enable us to feel safe in the world), and this needs to be done on a departmental or institutional scale. So the bottom line for me is that we need to be courageous in the conversations that we have and to base those on mutuality and solidarity. This is about attempting to enable students to own their own lives and we need to be clear with them about that from our opening conversations with them, before they arrive on campus.

FIVE. In what ways can student input inform and influence the construction of a curriculum?

SIX. Who is qualified to determine what social agenda should be at the heart of a curriculum? Should this be student-led, teacher-led, administrator-led?

We lead it as a community. It is part of an ongoing negotiation. However, the minute it is imposed it loses its veracity. The idea of co-creation or student-as-producer can be situated at the level of the organisation, but what happens inside the classroom has to be negotiated inside that classroom and be based upon agreed, humane values. It may be that the teacher takes more of a role in facilitating that conversation because she is more qualified to facilitate. I wonder whether anyone is qualified to determine specific social agendas at the heart of the curriculum, and therefore my focus would always be upon democratic co-creation, as much as that is possible. I recognise that there are problems with this, in terms of power, student voice, cultures, student experience/expertise, and staff ability to facilitate the curriculum in this way. I think we define our qualification to do this collectively.

So, student input can inform and influence the construction of a curriculum however you and they want it to, from the definition of activities, to the production of content, from peer-review and collaborative project work, to peer-assessment. Ideally this work emerges at the level of individual and social transformation, because we wish to reproduce a less-alienating world. To do so we need to out privilege and power. Here the practices of critical pedagogy offer hope. This may look different for different cohorts, or for students at different levels of study, but the starting point is in negotiation with them about the value of what it is you are trying to do, and what this entails for both your and their responsibilities in the curriculum. Clearly, this may be different for different students and that then becomes a problem, but focus upon a more authentic experience starts from the students.

book launches: Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education

Over the next month or so we have three events to discuss and celebrate the publication of Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education as part of Bloomsbury Academic’s series on perspectives on leadership in higher education. These events are taking place at Bristol, Birmingham and then at De Montfort. There is a fourth planned for Cardiff around Easter. Details of these events are given below.

  1. Bristol Conversations in Education – Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education (Tuesday 30 January 2018, with Joss Winn and Joel Lazarus).
  2. Birmingham Autonomous University Collective (supported by MGS, ISRF, Westmere UGS and CPT): Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education (Friday 2 February 2018, with Joyce Canaan, Tom Henfrey, and Jenny Pearce). Register here or by emailing
  3. De Montfort University, Institute for Education Futures: Richard Hall, Joss Winn (University of Lincoln) and Sarah Amsler (University of Nottingham) will discuss the recently-published, edited collection, Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. Email me if you wish to attend – it’s invite only.

Blurb from the DMU event…

The context for the book is that higher education across the globe 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 form does intellectual leadership take in addressing these issues and in revealing possible alternatives? The contributors 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.

As editors, Richard and Joss will provide an overview of the context and key themes from the book. Sarah will act as a respondent, analysing the application of these themes to life inside the University, and for educational projects outside. The session will critique intellectual leadership in the university, exploring ongoing efforts from around the world to create alternative models for organizing higher education and the production of knowledge. We will ask: is it possible to re­imagine the university democratically and co­operatively? 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 collection features case studies from academics and students working inside and outside the University. The key features and chapters are detailed at:


Hall, R., and Winn, J. (eds). (2017). Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Against boundaries: Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education

On Thursday I’m speaking at the University of Worcester Teaching and Learning and Student Experience Conference . The title of my talk is Against boundaries: Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education, and will be based on this Open Library of the Humanities paper. The abstract is appended below, and the slides are posted below that.

The higher education curriculum in the global North is increasingly co-opted for the production of measurable outcomes, framed by determinist narratives of employability and enterprise. Such co-option is immanent to processes of financialisation and marketisation, which encourage the production of quantifiable curriculum activities and tradable academic services. Yet the university is also affected by global socio-economic and socio-environmental crises, which can be expressed as a function of a broader crisis of social reproduction or sociability. As the labour of academics and students is increasingly driven by a commodity-valuation rooted in the measurement of performance, the ability for academics and students to respond to crises from inside the university is constrained by the market. This keynote argues that in understanding the relationship between the university and society, and in responding to a crisis of sociability, revealing the bounded nature of the curriculum is central. One possible way to address this crisis is by re-imagining the university through the co-operative practices of groups like the Dismantling the Masters House community and the Social Science Centre. Such an exploration, rooted in the organising principles of the curriculum, asks educators to consider how their curriculum reproduces forms of colonisation. It is argued that such work enables a re-imagination of higher education that is rooted in an engaged and co-operative curriculum, with a focus on praxis.

BLTC17, The really open university: working together as open academic commons

On Wednesday I’m speaking at the Brookes Learning Teaching Conference 2017. I love this kind of invite, which enables a testing of ideas and a lot of listening to the practices, activities and hopes of others. My abstract is detailed below, with the slides posted after that. The talk enables me to return to that practical work I was engaged with in 2010-12, around the idea of/re-imagining the university. It also enables me to reflect on my recent work inside the University, on commons and co-operative practices.

This talk questions the role of pedagogic scholarship and innovation in addressing global crises of social reproduction. It argues that working together has both possibilities and impossibilities, which need a richer discussion inside the University.

In the past decade, fall-out from the Browne Review has given birth to a number of alternative education projects. These alternatives focused on creating spaces and curricula that prefigure more democratic ways of doing higher education, in which the boundaries between student and teacher are dissolved and where co-operation and peer-projects between scholars become fundamental. Examples include the Social Science Centre in Lincoln and the Really Open University in Leeds. These projects developed grounded, co-participatory scholarly communities, which acted as incubators for pedagogies like Student-as-Producer (Neary and Winn 2011; Pusey 2016).

However, they also share characteristics with transnational platforms like #RhodesMustFall and#Whyismycurriculumwhite, in attempting to push back against the structuring logics represented by the curriculum (Hall and Smyth 2016). These platforms also connect to co-operative forms of higher education like Mondragon University in the Basque country, the Little Schools of the Zapatista Movement, and the education sector of the Brazilian Landless Movement.

Reflecting on these alternative forms is helpful in analysing our responses to the crisis of higher education, in order to locate spaces for truly progressive pedagogies inside the university. If such spaces do exist, on what are they based and what is their relationship to the curriculum? How do they enable academics and students to respond to issues of inclusivity and diversity, collaboration and peer production? Three responses may be considered:

  • open, academic commons supporting a sharing economy inside and across a porous interdisciplinary curriculum;
  • safe, scholarly communities of practice, perhaps forming solidarity economies that refuse enclosure; and
  • positioning the university and curriculum within (and against?) the development of ‘mass intellectuality’, or socially-useful knowledge produced outside the university.


Hall, R., & Smyth, K. (2016). Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education. Open Library of Humanities, 2(1), p.e11. DOI:

Neary, M., & Winn, J. (2011). The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In M. Neary & J. Winn (Eds.), The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience (pp. 192–210). Continuum. Retrieved from

Pusey, A. (2016). Pusey, A. (2016). Strike, occupy, transform! Students, subjectivity and struggle. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 26(2), 214-32. Retrieved from:

notes for ‘alternative education’

On Wednesday I wrote that a while back I’d been asked to contribute to some work-in-progress on the idea of dangerous words. The three terms I selected were ‘immiseration’, ‘managerialism’, and ‘alternative education’. The work-in-progress hasn’t progressed so I’ve decided to publish what I wrote a year ago, starting with ‘immiseration’ and ‘managerialism’, and finally with ‘alternative education’ today.

The brief given was to:

  • explore the connections between a particular set of selected terms and their role in contemporary social relations, where these words function as one aspect of social relations and not as ‘empty signifiers’;
  • question the increasing use of some words in the public and private domains and to explore the effects of these words and the logic that underpins them, on meaning-making and on creating possibilities for improving life;
  • critique these terms as one aspect of social relations in education;
  • discuss acts of separation that are made possible through simultaneous processes of distinction, differentiation and stratification, whilst bearing the possibility for their representation.

The idea is to uncover tools to refuse the neoliberal/capitalist idea of education as a neutral and technical process, which in-turn imposes its ideology on us. This ideology uses a language that teachers, educators, researchers, students and parents are encouraged to co-opt. Occupying and refusing certain words, and finding alternative ways of doing, making, creating, sharing, pooling, gifting (against producing, services, productivity, entrepreneurialism and so on), are critical moments in resistance and refusal. Ultimately they are critical moments in a process of liberation.

Alternative Education

Alternative education raises questions about whether another world is possible. Alternatives ask educators and students to question the governance, regulation and resourcing of hegemonic, institutionalised forms of education, alongside their curricula, through both negative critique and prefigurative practices. The idea of an alternative questions the legitimacy of formalised spaces, often standing against both their forms and content, and as a result defining an educational undercommons (Harney and Moten 2013). Such an undercommons is a space for solidarity and resistance, from where resources and relations can be drawn. It might exist inside formal education, as a sector of the economy or in its institutional forms. An undercommons forms an underground that enables subversion and new forms of organisation, and which problematises dominant narratives about education (for entrepreneurship, growth, sustainable development and so on).

In this being inside-and-against the school or the university, alternative education takes the perspective of voices that are marginalised because they are racialised, gendered or rendered economically-valueless or indebted, in order to re-imagine and re-produce new forms of educational life or sociability. The idea of an alternative also emerges beyond formalised spaces, in autonomous communities that exist beyond the school or university as it is re-purposed as a factory (Cleaver 2002; The University of Utopia n.d.).

This idea of alternatives being in, against and beyond recognises that hegemonic educational institutions have been subsumed within the circuits of capital. This means that the governance and forms of such institutions, and the work of academics, professional service staff and students, have been re-engineered by capital on a global terrain. Moreover, the labour that takes place inside these institutions is repurposed and re-produced in its relation to money capital, productive capital and commodity capital, in order to generate surplus value, surpluses, profits and so on. The domination of capitalist social relations over academic labour is driven by the abstracted power of money and the generation of surplus value. This opens up the possibility for alternative forms of education, both inside formal spaces and beyond the boundary of the formal, to become new sites of struggle in response to the on-going crisis of sociability. This crisis is signalled by the co-option of socially-useful knowledge, or the general intellect, so that it can be valorised (Hall 2014; Virno 2004). Educational relationships have been productively intensified in order to facilitate the expansion of capital, rather than for the solution of global, socio-economic and socio-environmental crises. Inside the school or the university, educational innovations are fetishised as emancipatory, whereas in working against and beyond these spaces, scholars in alternative educational spaces are working to abolish the relations of production that drive societies to ignore concrete emergencies (Hall and Smyth 2016).

From inside-and-against the hegemonic institution, alternatives articulate the limits of formal education, including its problematic nature as a public or private good (Marginson 2012). Here, the idea of the school or university as a form of enclosure of knowledge and practice is refused through public intellectualism or educational activity that is conducted in public. Such activities widen debates over ideas and fields of study beyond the academy to the public, in that they refuse both the colonisation of disciplinary spaces by academics and the delegitimation of certain voices. This public activity contains the germ of militancy (Neary 2012; Thorburn 2011) because it aims to do and then to be counter-hegemomic. As a form of workers’ enquiry, militancy in research or pedagogic practice points towards projects that produce knowledge useful for activist ends. This may take the form of open education or scholarship that refuses neoliberal recuperation (Eve 2015) for the production of marketised outcomes like performance data, or new spaces for the generation of surpluses or profits. Such refusals question the societal value of business-as-usual models for public, higher education (Open Library of Humanities 2016).

However, experiments that are against hegemonic practices also offer the potential for radical experiment, alongside the re-imagining of education as a distributed, co-operative, democratic activity. Such experiments question education’s relationship to society. Prefigurative responses then emerge in the pedagogic practices of social movements rooted in pedagogy (Caldart and the Movement of Landless Workers 2011), and through forms of resistance inside the university grounded in community and environmental justice (Pearce 2013), resistance to gender-based violence, and trades union educational activity (Scandrett 2014). This work situates the experience of the educator and student against that which emerges from within social movements, in order to address the possibilities for alternative forms of knowing and being. Here traditions of critical pedagogy are central to the ways in which critical knowing and being emerge to challenge the dominant framing of learning, teaching and scholarship as separate from society and everyday life (Amsler 2015; Motta 2016).

Work that emerges beyond formal educational contexts is situated in practical, alternative initiatives that point towards alternative, societal re-imaginings of education. Such re-imaginings are forms of autoethnogaphy, framed by the idea of the student or educator as co-operative activist, and as such operating collectively through organic intellectualism (the Social Science Centre 2016; People’s Political Economy 2013). Such alternatives offer a means of using critical sociology and critical pedagogy to analyse concrete moments of crisis of specific communities, such as the politics of austerity and climate justice (Buxton and Hayes 2015; Lockyer and Veteto 2013).

In particular, these alternatives are infused by comparative analyses with the pedagogic practices of indigenous communities and people of colour (Motta 2016; Zibechi 2012), for whom the crisis of sociability imposed by capitalism is on-going, historical and material. These analyses specifically relate co-operative, inclusive educational practices of creating and legitimising communities, and challenge the on-going colonisation of knowing and being. They offer ways to refuse the dominant power relations of knowledge production inside contemporary capitalism, and instead speak of decolonisation by feminised and racialised subjects on the margins. This enables those projects to establish unique analyses of educational possibility from within new, emancipatory horizons. These analyses recognise the desire for progressive and democratic forms of education: first, in terms of its governance and politics, and the social relations that circulate inside educational spaces; and second, in terms of enacting radical pedagogies grounded in the abolition of power relations in the classroom.

From this complex educational ecosystem, alternatives sit against the neoliberal enclosure of existing structures and forms, like the school and university. They stress: first, democratic activity, based upon a radical politics; second, militant research strategies, which see research as a tool for political action and for widening the field of struggle against the re-production of alienating forms of education; third, the re-definition of scholarship undertaken in public, as a revolutionary activity. In a politics of community engagement and cross-disciplinary activity, and in radical education collectives, these strategies form cycles of struggle that point towards possibilities for: detonating the school or university (Amsler and Neary 2012); using prefigurative pedagogical practices that enable labour to become the crisis of capital, so that it might become for itself rather than being for capitalisation or valorisation (Occupied California 2010; Holloway 2002); and describing what society might become (The School or Designing a Society 2016).

Alternative education is a reminder of how the sociability that was once understood as emerging from the fluidity of the classroom is increasingly lost to educators and students, as value (the determining purpose) now drives sociability. This is the world of financialisation and marketisation, which strip academics, professional services staff and students of their autonomy. Thus, educational lives are restructured as accumulated value, impact, excellence, student satisfaction and employability. It is here that alternative education offers a way of disengaging from these normalised behaviours, in order to re-engage with problems of the global commons. The alternative is a form of collective, educational repair, rather than our response to crisis focusing upon becoming more efficiently unsustainable.

By engaging with marginalised voices inside, against and beyond educational contexts, alternatives attempt to define safe spaces through 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, because they 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, but it also operates at the level of society (Hall and Smyth 2016; Motta 2016; Rhodes Must Fall 2016). Thus alternative education establishes sociability as the critical, pedagogical project, grounded in actually-existing examples of academics, activists and communities engaging with the work of dismantling our abstract experiences, and addressing their concrete impacts. As a result, it is possible to associate educational repair with wider societal repair, where it is framed by a re-focusing of life upon self-actualisation as dynamic and fluid, and rooted in a different conception of what is to be done (bell hooks 1994).


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Against the fetishisation of the porous university


I’m speaking on Monday and Tuesday next week at a Porous University event in Inverness. My provocation is below.

In addressing the question of the role of open academics in dealing with problems ‘in the world’, this provocation takes as its starting-point the proletarianisation of higher education. Its academics and students, encumbered by precarious employment, overwhelming debt, and new levels of performance management, are shorn of any autonomy. Increasingly the labour of those academics and students is subsumed and re-engineered for value production, and is prey to the vicissitudes of the twin processes of financialisation and marketization. At the core of understanding the impact of these processes and their relationships to higher education is the alienated labour of the academic, as it defines the sociability of the University. This provocation examines the role of alienated labour in academic work, and relates this to the idea that the University is or may become porous, in order to ask what might be done differently. The argument centres on the role of mass intellectuality, or socially-useful knowledge and knowing, as a potential moment for overcoming alienated labour. The idea of mass intellectuality cracks the University from the inside so that its porosity increases, in order to abolish the very idea of the University.

Performance information and data-driven academic anxiety

I have a chapter in a new open access e-book. The book is entitled: Education and Technology: Critical Approaches. The book is in Portuguese and English, and can be accessed here.

My chapter is: Hall, R. (2017). Performance information and data-driven academic anxiety. In eds L.A da Silva Rosado and G.M. dos Santos Ferreira, Education and Technology: critical approaches. Rio de Janeiro: University Estácio de Sá Press, pp. 185-205.

The abstract for my contribution is as follows.

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?

Keywords: Big Data; Commodification of Education; Academic Labour; Academic Anxiety.

social co-operatives and the democratisation of higher education

Yesterday, Joss Winn and I presented the following paper at The Co-operative Education and Research Conference, 5-6 April 2017, Manchester. A link to download the paper is below the abstract. It is a version of our Introduction to the forthcoming book, Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. The slides are also available below the abstract.

This paper develops a critical analysis of ‘intellectual leadership’ in the University, and identifies on-going efforts from around the world to create alternative models for organising HE and the production of knowledge. It offers the potential for developing an alternative conception of the role and purpose of HE that is rooted in the idea of ‘mass intellectuality’. This takes experiences and views from inside and beyond the structures of mainstream HE, in order to reflect critically on efforts to create really existing alternatives.

In the process the authors ask if it is 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 an alternative role and purpose is required, based upon the real possibility of democracy in learning and the production of knowledge. Thus, the paper concludes with a critical-practical response grounded in the form of ‘co-operative higher education’. This rests on the assertion that ‘social co-operatives’ offer an organizational form that values democratic participation and decision-making and would constitute the university as a social form of mass intellectuality re-appropriated by the producers of knowledge.

Download the paper.