on the crisis of value, alienation and pedagogical moments

Our concrete/abstract alienation

In his Education After Auschwitz, Adorno wrote (p. 6) that

People who blindly slot themselves into the collective already make themselves into something like inert material, extinguish themselves as self-determined beings. With this comes the willingness to treat others as an amorphous mass. I called those who behave in this way “the manipulative character” in the Authoritarian Personality… He does not for one second think or wish that the world were any different than it is, he is obsessed by the desire of doing things, indifferent to the content of such action. He makes a cult of action, activity, of so-called efficiency as such which reappears in the advertising image of the active person… I would call it the type of reified consciousness. People of such a nature have, as it were, assimilated themselves to things. And then, when possible, they assimilate others to things.

Adorno goes on to state that in this process of reification, our humanity and our search for a dignified life are lost. This is made worse because we are unable to discuss the analytical characteristics of that life, and instead we leave ourselves with descriptions of how we might exist. So, for example, rather than discussing how we produce our society in the face of economic or environmental crises, we fetishise technology as a means of recuperating value production and overcoming the realities of climate change. Here the veil of technology determines the limits of our engagement with social reproduction as the use and exchange of immateriality, without our analysis of the ways in which that immateriality is founded inside the living death of capitalist work. For Adorno (p. 8) this means that we are unable to see:

where the threshold lies between a rational relationship to technology and the over-valuation that finally leads to the point where one who cleverly devises a train system that brings the victims to Auschwitz as quickly and smoothly as possible forgets about what happens to them there.

We are pedagogically and technologically unable to critique the societal order that produces and reproduces what Adorno calls (p. 9) “the condition for disaster”, because our roles inside capitalism are formed of mediated relationships, like teacher and student that appear to be our really existing lifeworld. The only way around this is for education to transform itself openly into sociology. “[I]t must teach about the societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms.” (Adorno, p. 10)

Postone, in his Anti-Semitism and National Socialism: Notes on the German Reaction to “Holocaust”, pushes this argument about reification by way of demonstrating the interrelationships and interplay between the concrete and the abstract, as they are formed of and reproduce capitalist society. He argues that crises or catastrophes or atrocities are internalised and normalised (p. 100):

The goal was “normalcy” at all costs – one to be achieved without dealing with the past. The strong identification with that past was not overcome, but simply buried beneath a surfeit of Volkswagens… A kind of collective somnabulism resulted, with the majority of the population sleep-walking its way through the Cold War, the “economic miracle,” the reemergence of politics with the student revolt, repressing the past.

For Postone, it is critical that in dealing with and making sense of the collapse of the past into the present the future is not foreclosed. In making sense, the qualitative specificity of the particular crisis “requires a much more concretized mediation in order to even approach its understanding.” (p. 106)

Thus, Postone argues that in understanding the Holocaust and in refusing its reproduction, the interplay between the abstract world and its concrete realisation is fundamental. Here there is a flow between the concrete and the abstract so that each emerges from the other, and the intellectual problem is to reveal this emergence because “the abstract domination of capital… caught people up in a web of dynamic forces they could not understand” (p. 106). Thus:

What is required, then, is an approach which allows for a distinction between what modern capitalism is and the way it appears, between its essence and appearance. The concept “modern” does not allow for such a distinction. These considerations lead us to Marx’s concept of the fetish, the strategic intent of which was to provide a social and historical theory of knowledge grounded in the difference between the essence of capitalist social relations and their manifest form. (p. 108)

Critical here is finding a means of decoding how relations of production and the commodities that are produced socially, are externalised and take the form of fetishes. Moreover, they are at once both abstract and concrete, with each informing the production and reproduction of the other. In Postone’s argument this appears on the surface of society to be a set of relationships that are mediated and abstracted by money (as a representation of value) and by the law. For many, this then feels less meaningful or truthful than the concrete form of labour or even of work. It thus becomes difficult to move beyond the alienation of both concrete and abstract labour because neither can be decoded, and the result is that our reality is subsumed.

One aspect of the fetish, then, is that capitalist social relations do not appear as such and, moreover, present themselves antinomically, as the opposition of the abstract and concrete. Because, additionally, both sides of the antinomy are objectified, each appears to be quasi-natural: the abstract dimension appears in the form of “objective,”” natural” laws; the concrete dimension appears as pure “thingly” nature. The structure of alienated social relations which characterize capitalism has the form of a quasi-natural antinomy in which the social and historical do not appear. (p. 109)

This is the dialectical relation between the abstract and the concrete, which is both historical and material. Without an analysis of the ways that both concrete and abstract labour are manifest in capitalist social relations and generative of value, there is no way that crises can be overcome. Thus, in the Grundrisse, Marx argues:

The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore, as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point of departure, even though it is the point of departure in reality and hence also the point of departure for observation [Anschauung] and conception. … the abstract determinations lead towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of thought… even the most abstract categories, despite their validity – precisely because of their abstractness – for all epochs, are nevertheless, in the specific character of this abstraction, themselves likewise a product of historic relations, and possess their full validity only for and within these relations.

As Marx notes in Capital Volume 1 “concrete labour becomes, therefore, the medium for expressing abstract human labour.” This is critical for Postone in understanding how the production of relative surplus value, and the relationships between concrete and abstract in that capitalist production process, make environmental degradation inevitable.

Leaving aside considerations of possible limits or barriers to capital accumulation, one consequence implied by this particular dynamic — which yields increases in material wealth far greater than those in surplus value — is the accelerating destruction of the natural environment. According to Marx, as a result of the relationship among productivity, material wealth, and surplus value, the ongoing expansion of the latter increasingly has deleterious consequences for nature as well as for humans. (Postone, Time, Labour and Social Domination, p. 311)

 

The pattern I have outlined suggests that, in the society in which the commodity is totalized, there is an underlying tension between ecological considerations and the imperatives of value as the form of wealth and social mediation. It implies further that any attempt to respond fundamentally, within the framework of capitalist society, to growing environmental destruction by restraining this society’s mode of expansion would probably be ineffective on a long-term basis — not only because of the interests of the capitalists or state managers, but because failure to expand surplus value would indeed result in severe economic difficulties with great social costs. In Marx’s analysis, the necessary accumulation of capital and the creation of capitalist society’s wealth are intrinsically related. Moreover [...] because labor is determined as a necessary means of individual reproduction in capitalist society, wage laborers remain dependent on capital’s “growth,” even when the consequences of their labor, ecological and otherwise, are detrimental to themselves and to others. The tension between the exigencies of the commodity form and ecological requirements becomes more severe as productivity increases and, particularly during economic crises and periods of high unemployment, poses a severe dilemma. This dilemma and the tension in which it is rooted are immanent to capitalism: their ultimate resolution will be hindered so long as value remains the determining form of social wealth. (Postone, Time, Labour and Social Domination, p. 313)

However, the festishisation of the concrete, or of the use-value of commodities and the production process does not enable us to manage crises, either of barriers to capitalist accumulation or environmental degradation or societal/political atrocities. For Postone, “concrete labor itself incorporates and is materially formed by capitalist social relations” (p. 110, Anti-Semitism). In fact, in discussing the degradation of the natural world, the naturalisation of concrete labour underscores a kind of “biologized” fetishisation, based on the idea of artisanal or organic production that stands against “the manifest form of its abstract dimension: finance and interest capital” (p. 110, Anti-Semitism). This is in opposition to the deep interrelationships between the concrete and abstract dimensions, which are quickened though technology.

Interestingly, Postone makes a critical point about the relationship between the concrete, productive manifestation of capital, through its relationships to industry and technology, as a form of natural work or labour, and crisis. Thus, the idea

that the concrete is “natural,” and which increasingly presents the socially “natural” in such a way that it is perceived in biological terms. It is precisely the hypostatization of the concrete and the identification of capital with the manifest abstract which renders this ideology so functional for the development of industrial capitalism in crisis. National Socialist ideology was in the interests of capital not only for the very obvious reason that it was virulently anti-Marxist and that the Nazis destroyed the organizations of the German working class. It was also in the interests of capital in the transition from liberal to quasi-state capitalism. The identification of capital with the manifest abstract overlaps, in part, with its identification with the market. The attack on the liberal state, as abstract, can further the development of the interventionist state, as concrete. This form of “anti-capitalism,” then, only appears to be looking backwards with yearning. As an expression of the capital fetish its real thrust is forwards. It is an aid to capitalism in the transition to quasi-state capitalism in a situation of structural crisis (p. 111, Anti-Semitism).

This form of “anti-capitalism,” then, is based on a one-sided attack on the abstract. The abstract and concrete are not seen as constituting an antinomy where the real overcoming of the abstract – of the value dimension – involves the historical overcoming of the antinomy itself as well as each of its terms. Instead there is the one-sided attack on abstract Reason, abstract law or, on another level, money and finance capital. In this sense it is antionomically complementary to liberal thought, where the domination of the abstract remains unquestioned and the distinction between positive and critical reason is not made. The “anti-capitalist” attack, however, does not remain limited to the attack against abstraction. Even the abstract dimension also appears materially. On the level of the capital fetish, it is not only the concrete side of the antimony which is naturalized and biologized. (p. 112, Anti-Semitism)

In moments of crisis, Postone argues that not only is it a mistake to seek redress in technocratic domination or in terms of abstract reason, but it is also alienating to look for biologistic understandings of the social problem of ecology.

Any “anti-capitalism” which seeks the immediate negation of the abstract and glorifies the concrete – instead of practically and theoretically considering what the historical overcoming of both could mean – can, at best, be socially and politically impotent in the face of capital. At worst it can be dangerous, even if the needs it expresses could be interpreted as emancipatory. (p. 115, Anti-Semitism)

What might be required then is an overcoming of the alienation imposed by and emerging from capitalist work in its abstract and concrete forms, and through its fetishisation of technological solutions to crises, be they political, financial, societal or environmental in appearance. The attempt to overcome crises borne of competition by renewing personal or social or transnational values that are themselves fashioned inside that competitive dynamic is impossible. A social revolution of life cannot be delivered through a revolution of social (re-)production that is rooted in value production and labour, or through the recuperation of concrete labour or use-value as an alleged antidote to the abstract capitalist world. As the natural world is subsumed and reproduced inside it, the ecology of capitalism reveals both the concrete and the abstract as alienating.

On value: the noose tightens

The UK’s University and College Union has warned that The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership “poses a profound threat to public services in general, including education, leaving them wide open not only to greater privatisation but making it harder for any future government to regulate foreign private sector companies operating in our public services.” (p. 1) In part this is because it enables the regulation of the idea of the public and the functions of the State, like education and healthcare, through Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanisms. This is especially the case where actions that are for the public, like nationalisation, are perceived as threatening or affecting private profits.

From a reading of Jappe’s recent History of the Critique of Value, the TTIP and the Trans-Pacific Trade Treaty are symptomatic of the material (structural and systemic), historical inability of capital to overcome the limitations on stable, global forms of accumulation. He argues (p. 1):

After two centuries, the capitalist mode of production had reached its historical limits: the rationalisation of production, which involves the replacement of human labour by technology, undermines the basis of the production of value, and therefore of surplus-value, which is the sole objective of producing commodities. However, nothing but living labour, the labour required in the act of its execution, creates value and surplus-value.

In this view:

Capital is not the opposite of labour but its accumulated form. Living labour and dead labour are not two antagonistic entities but rather two different “states of aggregation” of the same substance of labour. The labourer as such is not at all outside of capitalist society but embodies one of its two poles. It is therefore possible to conclude from Marx’s analyses that a “workers’ revolution against capitalism” is a logical impossibility. There can only be a revolution against the subjection of society and individuals to the logic of valorisation and abstract labour. (p. 5)

It is not possible to abolish value without abolishing the labour that created it. This is why contesting capitalism in the name of labour makes no sense. It would make just as little sense to set good concrete labour against bad abstract labour. When all forms of labour cease to be reduced to what they have in common —the expenditure of energy—there will no longer be “concrete” labour (such a category is itself an abstraction). There will instead be a multiplicity of activities with specific goals in mind. (p. 6)

One of the critical issues is that globally “the absolute amount of value, and therefore of surplus-value, is declining precipitously” (p. 7), which places a society based on the production and accumulation of value in crisis, not least because it leads to labour-related counter-measures linked to unemployment, precarity, organisational restructuring, outsourcing and so on, alongside a series of financialised counter-measures, like quantitative easing, bank bailouts and wealth transfers from young people via debt to pay for an expected future standard of living. This decline in value is also witnessed in the growing amount of externalised national debt, which is based to a large extent on unrealisable assets like toxic mortgages and sub-prime educational loans. This also mediates the relationship between national debt and geopolitical manoeuvring, like the recent questions over whether Russia is Dumping U.S. Government Bonds, or the relationship between fossil fuel energy, geopolitics and the future of the petrodollar.

In this interplay between finance capital that is both abstracted from the circuit of production (in bond markets) and made concrete in the realities of everyday life (in student labour or fossil fuel use), and the reproduction of a society based on value production and accumulation:

A growing disparity arises between developments in the productive powers of labor (which are not necessarily bound to the direct labor of the workers), on the one hand, and the value frame within which such developments are expressed (which is bound to such labor), on the other. The disparity between the accumulation of historical time and the objectification of immediate labor time becomes more pronounced as scientific knowledge is increasingly materialized in production… a growing disparity separates the conditions for the production of material wealth from those for the generation of value. (Postone, Time, Labour and Social Domination, p. 297)

For Jappe, what this crisis of value formation means is not to reify labour in its concrete form, but to recognise that:

It is therefore not a matter of predicting some future collapse of capitalism, but to recognise that the crisis is already taking place and getting worse despite brief short-term recoveries. It is a crisis that is far from just economic. (p. 8)

On value and climate

In his Energy Speech in Cushing, Oklahoma, on March 22, 2012, President Obama argued that:

Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quad­rupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth, and then some. . . . In fact, the problem . . . is that we’re actually producing so much oil and gas . . . that we don’t have enough pipeline capacity to transport all of it where it needs to go… as long as I’m President, we’re going to keep on encouraging oil development and infrastructure and we’re going to do it in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people. We don’t have to choose between one or the other, we can do both.

Thus, in spite of the activist, academic position that states that in order to limit climate change to below two degrees we can produce and use no more than 565 Gigatonnes of fossil fuels from the 2,795 Gigatonnes that are available, the global economy’s production of value is underwritten by carbon. Quoted in the Guardian

John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.

And this highlights the inter-relationships between value, energy, (unrealisable) assets, and our climate crisis, brought vividly into relief by Carbon Tracker and Grantham Research Institute, and Kalkuhl and Edenhofer work on stocks of carbon in the ground and in the atmosphere.

So we have the US Chamber of Commerce arguing for the role of US technology in alleviating energy poverty through access to energy, and the Center for Global Development pointing out that the World Bank is arguing for coal in order to support development agendas with the implication that:

While it can be politically attractive to argue that both energy access and climate goals can be met without any trade-offs, tensions between the two goals are becoming increasingly apparent and future disputes seem likely to emerge. (p. 3)

These disputes are then made visible in the US Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review 2014, which states:

Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing, more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence. (p. 8)

Furthermore, as President Obama noted at the recent United States Military Academy Commencement Ceremony:

That spirit of cooperation needs to energize the global effort to combat climate change — a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters and conflicts over water and food, which is why next year I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet… America’s support for democracy and human rights goes beyond idealism — it is a matter of national security. Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war. Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods.

This is the law of value, reinforced democratically and militarily as a disciplinary force, which is both concrete and abstract, and leads us towards the surface acceptance that our adaptive abilities will enable us to continue to grow everything and everywhere, except in our output of carbon. Yet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s summary for policymakers on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability demonstrates that we are in the midst of a global pedagogical moment that furthers the crisis of accumulation.

Uncertainties about future vulnerability, exposure, and responses of interlinked human and natural systems are large (high confidence). This motivates exploration of a wide range of socioeconomic futures in assessments of risks. Understanding future vulnerability, exposure, and response capacity of interlinked human and natural systems is challenging due to the number of interacting social, economic, and cultural factors, which have been incompletely considered to date. These factors include wealth and its distribution across society, demographics, migration, access to technology and information, employment patterns, the quality of adaptive responses, societal values, governance structures, and institutions to resolve conflicts. International dimensions such as trade and relations among states are also important for understanding the risks of climate change at regional scales. (p. 10)

However, the IPCC is unable to imagine adaptation beyond capitalist counter-measures. It is unable to move beyond the abstraction of the law of value as it mediates our everyday reality, in order to describe or call for a different way of doing things.

Existing and emerging economic instruments can foster adaptation by providing incentives for anticipating and reducing impacts (medium confidence). Instruments include public-private finance partnerships, loans, payments for environmental services, improved resource pricing, charges and subsidies, norms and regulations, and risk sharing and transfer mechanisms. Risk financing mechanisms in the public and private sector, such as insurance and risk pools, can contribute to increasing resilience, but without attention to major design challenges, they can also provide disincentives, cause market failure, and decrease equity. Governments often play key roles as regulators, providers, or insurers of last resort. (p. 26)

On pedagogic moments

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels argue that the need to create and enable capital flows, accumulation and spaces for further valorisation, results in “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products [which in turn] chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.” One result is that bourgeois, transnational and cosmopolitan consumption triumphs over local, national cultures, and industries that are defined by productivity and intensity dislodge indigenous cultures.

Thus, it is argued that the Bourgeoisie, though its new powers of production and its commodities and its restructuring of laws, inscribes new, global markets into the circuits of production, and creates a world in its own image. This echoes Marx’s argument in the Grundrisse that the hegemony of the bourgeois mode of production rests on the expansion of a global system of valorisation, which in turn demands that commodities are not simply used but exchanged. This process of exchange demands the spatial transformation of productive forces, including transport and modes of communication. Thus, Capital drives beyond its spatial barriers and we see the “annihilation of space by time”, as circulation time and labour time are revolutionised to give quicker access to new markets.

How do we transform our thinking around a society based on value, in the face of climate change and potentially unrealisable carbon-based assets? How do we mediate and understand the concrete/abstract realities of climate change as they affect everyday life, in order to reimagine that everyday life? For Jappe this is centred in the reality of everyday life, and in reclaiming critique of the very abstract and concrete categories that produce and reproduce it.

In general, all recourse to “politics” (especially the state) is impossible because the end of accumulation and therefore of “real” money deprives public authorities of any means of intervention. In order to find an alternative to capitalism, it is first necessary to question the nature of the commodity and money, of labour and value, categories that seem “theoretical” but whose consequences ultimately determine what we do everyday. (p. 13)

This has echoes of Marx’s idea of communism in The German Ideology, not as “a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself [but] the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.” Moreover, it also refocuses us on an idea of the public, in line with Cumbers’ focus on

those attempts, both outside and through the state, to create forms of collective ownership in opposition to, or perhaps more accurately to reclaim economic space from, capitalist social relations. If we understand capitalism as built upon the three pillars of the wage relationship, private property relations and the market, all forms of collective ownership that seek to disturb and intervene in these spheres should come into our analysis. (p. 7)

This is not simply a call to secure and re-form the Commons, which for Cumbers is

frequently evoked as a more democratic, participatory and horizontal model of ownership…which at the same time respects local difference and diversity of ownership forms against the prescriptive one-size-fits-all models of market-driven capitalism or statist socialism/social democracy. Following on from this, a further critical aspect of the contemporary commons literature is the rejection of the classical Marxist revolutionary call for a vanguard to smash capitalism. Instead the radical project today is to construct autonomous spaces outside capitalism in the here and now – i.e. prefigurative – rather than a once-and-for-all future revolutionary uprising to overthrow capitalism through an assault on the state (p.128).

Here the interrelationship between the Commons, the State and its institutions, and civil society is critical in trying to define a post-capitalism as a pedagogical, societal moment that is historically-rooted and material in nature. Here Cumbers’ argument that “there needs to be a more nuanced appreciation of the dynamic nature of spatial organization and governance under advanced capitalism…” (p. 156), aligns with the work of the FLOK Society in its Open Letter to the Commoners:

Imagine a society that is connected to open knowledge commons in every domain of human activity, based on free and open knowledge, code, and design that can be used by all citizens along with government and market players without the discrimination and disempowerment that follows from privatized knowledge.

It also aligns with the FLOK Society’s General Framework Document, which aims

to trigger and coordinate a global participatory process and immediate national application for the change of productive matrix towards a society of open and common knowledge in Ecuador, resulting in 10 base documents for legislation and state policies (synchronized with the organic social code for the knowledge economy) as well as useful for the production networks of knowledge that already exist in Ecuador. The conceptual, philosophical and economic process and the historical and socio-cognitive context framework, the organizational principles governing the process, collaborative and communicative digital tools and advance planning of the whole process.

The issue is whether it is possible to reclaim the public space, in the face of the crisis of value and the concomitant crisis of the climate. Is it possible to reconsider pedagogically the relation between the concrete and the abstract as they are reproduced inside capitalism? Is it possible to liberate democratic capability and to reorient social production away from value and towards the very possibility of governing and managing the production of everyday life in a participatory manner?

For the FLOK Society in researching the Ecuadorian National Plan for Good Living, this entails:

a new convergence or synthesis, a ‘open cooperativism’, that combines both commons-oriented open peer production models, with common ownership and governance models such as those of the cooperatives and the solidarity economic models.

It means a re-envisioning of Near Future Education and of Education as a Commons. It also means the negation of the reified nature of academic labour. So that values rather than value are at the core of how society is reproduced. So that the abstracted and festishised nature of academic practice and knowledge might be overcome. A pedagogical moment that enables the characteristics that flow into and out of academic labour, in terms of value, money and the commodity, to be defined in another image of society and social production. This is a pedagogical moment that recovers the ideas of open, participatory publics, from the ravages of private value accumulation. This is a pedagogical moment that forms part of the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.


Friction! co-operation and technology in the neoliberal university

On Thursday I’m presenting at Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistance at the University of Nottingham. I’ll be speaking about co-operation and technology in the neoliberal university. The abstract is appended below and the slides are here.

Abstract

In the Grundrisse, Marx argued that the circulation of productive capital was “a process of transformation, a qualitative process of value”. As capitalists sought to overcome the barriers to this transformatory process, they worked to revolutionise both the means of production via organisational and technological change, and circulation time via transportation and communication changes. Reducing friction in the production and circulation of capital is critical to the extraction of surplus value, and Marx argued that in this transformation “Capital by its nature drives beyond every spatial barrier [and]… the annihilation of space by time – becomes an extraordinary necessity for it.”

Higher education is increasingly a space which is being recalibrated so as to reduce friction and thereby to increase the mobility or fluidity of intellectual production and circulation. Thus, technology, technical services and techniques are deployed to collapse the interfaces between geography, space and time. However, this collapse also reveals the stresses and strains of antagonisms, as the friction of neoliberal higher education reform deforms existing cultures and histories. It also points to alternatives like those emerging from analyses of the Chilean CyberSyn project or the Ecuadorian National Plan for Good Living.

This paper argues that inside the University, the deployment of technologies, technical services and techniques enables education to be co-opted as an institutional means for production and control. As a result, academics and students are defined as entrepreneurial subjects. A question is the extent to which the friction that emerges from this neoliberal pedagogic project can be used to describe alternatives, and whether in the process it is possible to uncover ways in which education might be used for co-operation rather than competition, as a form of resistance.


The implications of Autonomist Marxism for research and practice in education and technology

I have a new article out in Learning, Media and Technology, with the fun title of “The implications of Autonomist Marxism for research and practice in education and technology”. The article is available (if you subscribe) here. Sadly, the article is only available behind a paywall, although there are 50 free copies here. I was approached by the editor to write a theoretical piece for Learning, Media and Technology. I accepted because that is the kind of thing that academics do. Martin Weller writes critically about open access and open scholarship. Wherever possible I will try to find ways to publish openly, as I did with this article on digital literacy.

The abstract is appended below.

Abstract

This article considers the relevance of Autonomist Marxism for both research and practice in education and technology. The article situates the Autonomist perspective against that of traditional Marxist thought – illustrating how certain core Autonomist concepts enable a critical reading of developments in information and communication technology. These include notions of the ‘social factory’, ‘immaterial labour’ and ‘cognitive capital’, the ‘general intellect’ and ‘mass intellectuality’, and the ‘cybernetic hypothesis’. It is argued that these perspectives are particularly useful in enabling a critique of the place of education and technology inside the circuits and cycles of globalised capitalism. The Autonomist approach can be criticised – not least for its apparent network-centrism and its disconnection from the hierarchical, globalised forces of production. Nevertheless, this position offers a powerful ‘way in’ to understanding education and technology as key sites of struggle. It lays bare the mechanisms through which technology-rich educational settings are co-opted for work, while also suggesting possibilities for pushing back against the subsumption of contemporary education for capitalist work.


Professorial Inaugural: 2+2=5: The university and the secular crisis

My inaugural professorial lecture is scheduled for Wednesday 8 October 2014, at 6pm at DMU. I will try to stream it. I will post details of how to book to attend closer to the time.

A working abstract is given below.

However, I thought that we needed a double feature, with a short film that precedes the second feature. The short is currently in slide form and has been uploaded on my slideshare —> here.

NOTE ONE: this short needs to be consumed with Radiohead’s 2+2=5. You might be able to source that here, or here.

NOTE TWO: this short needs a digestif. Try this.

NOTE THREE: a playlist will follow.

Working abstract

What does it mean to teach and to study in the Twenty-First Century University? Is it possible to critique our academic labour as teachers and students, in order to overcome the alienation of our Twenty-First Century lives? 

In Volume 1 of Capital, Marx (p. 617) wrote that:

Modern industry never treats views or treats the existing form of a production process as the definitive one. Its technical basis is therefore revolutionary, whereas all earlier modes of production were essentially conservative… it is continually transforming not only the technical basis of production but also the functions of the worker and the social combinations of the labour process. At the same time, it thereby also revolutionizes the division of labour within society, and incessantly throws masses of capital and of workers from one branch of production to another. Thus large-scale industry, by its very nature, necessitates variation of labour, fluidity of functions, and mobility of the worker in all directions.

In the global North, the material consequences of this secular crisis of capitalism affect the University and higher education as one branch of production. As productivity across the economy stagnates and investment collapses, capital is being accumulated as money or as securitised assets, including student debts and institutional bond issues. Moreover, Capital, operating through transnational activist networks, is looking for ways to crack open and extracting the historic, socialised value contained in public education through labour arbitrage, outsourcing, philanthrocapitalism and privatisation.

This lecture will argue that the neoliberal assault on the idea of public higher education in the United Kingdom can only be understood against the idea of the secular crisis. It argues that the University is being redefined inside the systemic realities of capitalism’s drive to re-establish profitability and accumulation, which restructures universities as associations of competing capitals. A critical strand of this argument is the role of technology, in driving discourses of efficiency, marketization and entrepreneurial activity. Technology ties the University to the realities of capitalist work and reinscribes the capital-labour relationship immaterially. The illusion of technological innovation disables us from solving issues of social production, environmental degradation or global leadership.

In describing and analyzing this restructuring of the University, the lecture will engage with the idea of systemic domination in the name of value, and the activist focus on engaging with power constructed qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Thus, the lecture considers how a critique of the University inside-and-against the secular crisis might enable academics and students to develop educational spaces where knowing and subjectivity might be developed, based in-part on co-operative knowledge that is liberated from formal educational spaces. As Cleaver notes in his final two theses on the Secular Crisis, ‘the liberation of alternative, self-determined social “logics” outside and beyond that of capital’ is central to the development of a revolutionary subjectivity. Moreover, this subjectivity is entwined with the need to develop

[a] politics of alliance against capital… not only to accelerate the circulation of struggle from sector to sector of the class, but to do so in such a manner as to build a post-capitalist politics of difference without antagonism.

At issue is how educational narratives that emerge inside-and-against the market and the State, and which are social and co-operative, might be described and nurtured. One outcome might be the ability of academics and students to produce an alternative, qualitatively different idea of the University that is against-and-beyond the secular crisis.


Technology and co-operative practice against the neoliberal university

I’m presenting at the the CAPPE Neoliberalism and Everyday Life conference next September, at the University of Brighton. My abstract is below.

Abstract: Neoliberalism is a global pedagogical project aimed at the dispossession of free time so that all of life becomes productive, and education is a central institutional means for its realisation. This project aims at marketising all of social life, so that life becomes predicated upon the extraction of value. In part the deployment of technologies, technical services and techniques enables education to be co-opted as an institutional means for production and control. This occurs inside both formal and informal educational institutions and spaces, like universities and MOOCs, as one mechanism to offset the tendency for the rate of profit to fall and to re-establish accumulation. This pedagogic project also tends to recalibrate and enclose the roles of staff and students as entrepreneurial subjects, whose labour is enabled through technology. This is achieved through learning analytics, big data, mobility and flexibility of provision, and so on. This paper will analyse the relationships between technology, pedagogy and the critical subject in the neoliberal University, in order to argue for the use of technology inside a co-operative pedagogy of struggle. This demands that we ask what education is, before we ask what it is for, or the place of technology-enhanced learning in the university. The article considers whether it is possible to uncover stories of how and where education might be used for co-operation rather than competition, and what technology-enhanced co-operative education might look like?


On Autonomist Marxism and the affective economy

I’m speaking on 29th November at an ESRC seminar series on Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights. The seminar is on Affective Digital Economy: Intimacy, Identity and Networked Realities.

Whilst Josie Fraser will be speaking about our Digital Literacy Leicester Framework Project, I will briefly develop a critique rooted in political economy. My own thinking in this area is derived from a reflection on the autonomist Marxist position that relates the affective domain and network governance to core concepts of the social factory, immaterial labour and cognitive capital, the general intellect and mass intellectuality, and the cybernetic hypothesis. I am interested in how these concepts enable a critical reading of socio-economic developments in information and communication technology. This is particularly important in enabling a critique of the place of education and technology inside the circuits and cycles of globalised capitalism, which is too easily defined as frictionless and networked in the face of the hegemonic realities of hierarchical, transnational forces of production. So my take is that we might use these categories of affective labour etc. to critique how technology-rich educational settings are co-opted for work, in order that possibilities for pushing back against the subsumption of life for capitalist work might be developed.

The seminar offers a space to discuss this theoretical framework/the development of alternatives in the context of the following two questions:

*  Who are the major actors currently shaping this economy and how?
*  What are the major dangers and risks in affective digital economy?

This is especially so in the context of the intention of the ESRC seminar series that: “At this moment of potentially profound changes in policy and practice, it is crucial to bring together actors with contrasting interests and perspectives to help inform and stimulate further debate and research.”

NOTE: the Occupied Times provides quite a nice description of how our consumption of technologies, and our disengagement or anaesthetised view of them as empowering, is totally disconnected from the material realities of their production. So our circuit in space-time of the consumption of technologies and the affective production of digital artefacts, fails to connect or recognise the everyday realities of the appropriation of lives and livelihoods that exists either in the mines that produce the raw materials (Tin, Coltan etc.) that go into our consumer technologies or the factories that build them. The clean outer shells of our hardware and software tools distance us from the immiseration of other human beings and forms a layer of false consciousness. Beneath the cloud and inside the tablet lies a proletarianised hell, reinforced with every click.

For the citizen and end-user, the experience of technology throughout post-WWII decades has been one of increasing degrees of separation between the internal blood and guts of the machine – from hardware to code – and the soft, alluring outer shell of the commodity form. All the traces of isolation and alienation that stem from this formula place an increasing number of steps between the immediate sensory encounter and the reality of the machine.

To catch a glimpse of the world removed at the heart of this machine, consider this century’s resources warfare in Congo. With the tech sector operating on the back of corporate appetite, the pressure to produce is carried from the drawing boards of Silicon valleys to the point of production’s material origin. In Congo, where demand for hi-tech device resources such as Tantalum has escalated in recent years beyond the capacity to supply, this pressure has only served to fuel the wider conflict over the control and appropriation of these resources. This situation is estimated to have claimed the lives of more than 5 million people, making it the world’s deadliest conflict since the second world war.

Here we can trace commodified communications technology born from the arse-end of violence to the mouth of your receiver. From ass to mouth – the food chain of 21st century technology production crosses gulfs, from violence to exploitation, until reaching civility; a history revealed only through the will to examine the world beneath the shimmering electronic propaganda of the new Samsung or Apple device.

We find ourselves removed from the very tools we use, encountering an unarticulated domain between production and use. The space-time contours of everyday social life are dramatically revised. This is especially true in our use of technology and how we mediate our relationships with the ‘real world’, as it becomes harder and harder to define and separate our technological identities from the idea that we also exist ‘in real life’. Our agency, as political beings, flows in between these spaces; interacting and composing itself from the vast caches of information that circulate on the network while at the same time being coerced by the near-universal grammar of our state of technology.


Critical perspectives on educational technology: some notes

Yesterday’s symposium on critical perspectives on educational technology made me think about the following issues.

FIRST. How do we understand the structuring effects of the educational and pedagogic structures in which we work? How do we understand the ways in which those structures prefigure the impact or effects of any intervention? How do we understand how the very structures in which we are hoping to promote or provoke transformation, in themselves work to restrict, discipline or kettle transformation. How do we move beyond the problem-solving perspective of educational innovation, in order to situate the use of educational technology inside transnational systems of domination?

SECOND. How do we understand how such transformation is itself kettled by the circuits of capital? In particular how do we understand the mechanisms through which our lived educational work falls under the treadmill logic of accumulation and the rate of profit? How do we work to understand how Capital as the automatic subject structures our struggle for emancipation or transformation? How do we work to describe and then to critique that struggle?

THIRD. If we are defining something, some intervention, or some innovation as valuable, then we need to describe and discuss what valuable/value means. Inside capitalism value has a specific description and sets of precepts that flow from it. Moreover it is dynamic and fluid. Capital is value in motion. So can we describe something else that is a different type of value? Can we do this based on co-operation or co-operative or social practice(s)?

FOURTH. Keith Turvey made me think about the ways in which commodities like a book of logarithm tables might be inscribed with historical meaning and social value, and how those shared commodities might be used as points of solidarity in describing the world. Through a process of participatory narrative design (of practices, knowledges and skills) we might define something that is spatially or socially or historically different. More importantly we might use specific commodities to explode the relationships and conceptions and organising principles that are congealed in them. So how might we disassemble a tablet or piece of software or network, to look at the labour and human rights revealed inside it/them? How might we look at how their production and consumption processes place us in-and-against nature? We need to analyse specific technologies in light of David Harvey’s re-reading of footnote 4 of Chapter 15 of Volume 1 of Capital. He argues that they reveal the following.

  1. Technological and organisational forms of production, exchange and consumption.
  2. Relations to nature and the environment.
  3. Social relations between people.
  4. Mental conceptions of the world, embracing knowledges and cultural understandings and beliefs.
  5. Labour processes and production of specific goods, geographies, services or affects.
  6. Institutional, legal and governmental arrangements.
  7. The conduct of daily life that underpins social reproduction.

FIFTH. I needed to be clearer in my argument. It was this: it is impossible to critique educational technology without addressing its place inside a global system of capitalism; this system is struggling to re-establish stable forms of accumulation and rates of profit, and this struggle is usefully analysed as a secular crisis; one systemic response to this crisis, catalysed by a transnational activist network that includes academics, has been to use technologies and techniques to open-up public education for the market because there is no alternative; detailing the use of specific technologies like Blackboard as a LMS, or Pearson as a publisher, or the use of tablet technologies, enables critical questions to be asked about the relationships between education, technology and the market in the reproduction of Capital as a social relationship;  asking these questions also enables us to ask whether there are alternative organising principles beyond the market, namely through co-operation, that might enable us to describe alternative forms of value and alternative societies; there are stories from South America and Latin America that are not to be fetishized, but which offer an alternative perspective; in light of the dehumanising effects of neoliberalism, the recent IPCC report on climate change, and the Royal Society’s People and Planet report, we need to ask whether there is another way.

SIXTH. I needed to make it clear that this is not just abstract, and that I try to enact critique in my work at the Social Science Centre or in alternative projects, and in my work on the Digilit Leicester Project, and in catalysing the DMU Academic Commons. These are political, they are about reflexivity and self-awareness,  and they are about the struggle/courage for different organising principles.

SEVENTH. These resources are useful ways forward.

Affinities on The New Cooperativism: http://bit.ly/187iT8R

De Peuter and Dyer Witheford on Commoning: http://bit.ly/Ve2cE9

Draft report on the contribution of cooperatives to overcoming the crisis: http://bit.ly/1gyzDtk

Lambie on Cuba: http://bit.ly/mIdVzV

Lebowitz on Co-Management in Venezuela: http://bit.ly/1awBnOF

Office Central de la Coopération à l’Ecole: http://www.occe.coop

The Schools Co-operative Society: http://bit.ly/z1YmCA

Joss Winn on Helplessness: http://josswinn.org/2013/07/helplessness/

The Republic of Ecuador. National Development Plan: National Plan for Good Living 2009-2013: Building a Plurinational and Intercultural State. http://bit.ly/GQJi0M

Student as producer: http://studentasproducer.lincoln.ac.uk/

Ds106: http://ds106.us/

Zibechi, R. 2013. Autonomous Zapatista Education: The Little Schools of Below. http://bit.ly/19XfrAF

Miller Medina, J.E. (2005), The State Machine : politics, ideology, and computation in Chile, 1964-1973. MIT Ph.D. Thesis. http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/39176

Cleaver, H. 1979. Reading Capital Politically, University of Texas Press: Austin, TX, p. 161. http://libcom.org/files/cleaver-reading_capital_politically.pdf


The University, technology and co-operation

On Tuesday 15 October I’m presenting something on “The University, technology and co-operation”, at the Critical Perspectives on Educational Technology symposium at the University of Brighton, UK.

There are some notes on a co-operative pedagogy of struggle here.

My slides are here.

The Spotify playlist that accompanies the talk is here.


The Digilit Leicester Project

The Leicester Digital Literacies Framework (Digilit Leicester) Project is a two-year, whole-city, educational intervention that pivots around a knowledge exchange partnership between Leicester City Council and De Montfort University. It is led by me and Josie Fraser, with Lucy Atkins as the Research Associate. The project’s website is at: http://www.digilitleic.com/

The project runs from 2012-14 and is in-part funded through the Higher Education Innovation Fund. It aims to support staff development in the area of digital literacy, through the development and implementation of a self-evaluation framework for secondary school teachers and teaching support staff. The concept of digital literacy is increasingly recognised as a critical terrain for 21st Century life, with digital competence identified by The Council of the EU and the Department for Education, as well as agencies like NAACE and JISC.

The DigiLit Leicester Project is the first of its kind in Europe. No other research project has attempted to collect information about staff skills and confidence in digital literacy on this scale, and thereby attempted to connect teacher-agency, school development and City-wide transformation. One of the critical points about the project is its grounded nature: using a process of pedagogic self-evaluation to scale school and City-wide innovation and change.

The project is designed to ensure school staff and learners are getting the most from the significant investment in technology being made across the City as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme, and that the 23 BSF schools are able to make best use of technology to meet their aspirations for transforming educational provision. The Council’s Youth Engagement Project in 2010/11, and the recent Leicester Child Poverty Commission report also catalysed Digilit Leicester. At issue is what digital literacy means in practice for secondary schools, in terms of staff skills, practices, knowledge and confidence, and how that supports young people.

The project does not intend to provide a prescriptive list of skills, which all staff must master, or to reduce digital literacy to a discussion of tools. Instead, Digilit Leicester’s work pivots around a process of pedagogic self-evaluation through a toolkit. The framework is based on six themes: Finding, Evaluating and Organising; Creating and Sharing; Communication, Collaboration and Participation; e-Assessment and Feedback; E-Safety and Online Identity; CPD. However, in order to support teaching staff in making sense of their skills, practices and knowledge, the Framework incorporates four, differentiated levels: Entry; Core; Developer; Pioneer.

Digilit Leicester has achieved the following.

  1. A definition of digital literacy with staff in Leicester: “Digital Literacy refers to the skills, attitudes and knowledge required by educators to support learning in a digitally-rich world. To be digitally literate, educators must be able to utilise technology to enhance and transform classroom practices, and to enrich their own professional development and identity. The digitally literate educator will be able to think critically about why, how and when technology supplements learning and teaching.”
  2. The creation of a self-evaluation framework for educators. This aids staff in reflecting on their use of technologies to support teaching and learning. It has been worked on by 450 secondary school staff who have received individual feedback.
  3. The creation of a set-of targeted digital literacy resources.
  4. The production of an initial report, which includes information about the digital literacy framework and survey.
  5. A set of school reports for each BSF school with aggregated data that enable negotiated action plans. A City-wide report will follow in September 2013, which will highlight those pockets of excellence which exist across the City, in order both to share best practice and to identify where gaps exist.

This work has enabled a baseline for digital literacy to be drawn-up across the City. The next stage is to support innovation through targeted projects aimed at teachers, schools and the City working with DMU staff (e.g. in the Square Mile). This will then lead to a second iteration of the Framework survey, in order to see if the baseline has shifted. The Centre for Enhancing Learning through Technology team at DMU will be working to transfer the Framework into the University, to support innovation in professional development as part of the new DMU ELT programme-of-work.

The DigiLit Leicester project has received international acclaim, as one of five winners of the Reclaim Open Learning Innovation Challenge, an international contest sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Media and Learning Hub, and MIT Media Lab. Josie has written about our award and what the project means.


On co-operation, accumulation and the University

On Tuesday I heard a series of speakers, including Rachel Wenstone from the NUS, Malcolm Ryan as the ALT Conference co-chair, and Alan Ford from the University of Nottingham, speak about educational institutions as spaces for partnership-working between staff and students. This was, in Wenstone’s argument, to be enacted in-part through staff “training”, in Ryan’s through encouraging the student to become a change-agent (although student’s have a rich-history of leading change, witness the current Chilean experience, student activism in Kenya and the almost mythical 1968), and in Ford’s through internationalisation agendas. What emerged might be categorised as forms of entrepreneurial educational activity designed to reassert the hegemony of stories of growth and work, which are in-turn linked to a belief that there is no alternative: to internationalisation agendas that simply act as spaces for commodity-dumping or demand-management, or labour arbitrage; to re-training academics so that they become more productive; to the fetishised student voice. 

This narrative is predicated on the idea that business-as-usual, in the form of economic growth, demands that we submit our lives to the reassertion of stable forms of capital accumulation, and that we submit our views of partnership, or the student voice, or cultural sensitivity, to the dictates of expanding markets. Moreover, this narrative, amplified by the Guardian Higher Education Network’s discussion on HE and economic growth, ignores the political and economic realities of the crisis tendency of the capitalist mode of production. It also ignores global responses from the labour movement to that crisis, in the form of the lessons that are emerging from the current Mexican educational protests, or the waves of education strikes that are planned in the UK, or the precepts based on content, form and structure of education that emerged from the International Student Movement’s Joint Statement. Critically, the latter argued that: “all educational entities/institutions should be democratically structured, meaning direct participation from below as a basis for decision making processes.” This is not the change-agency, or partnership-working that infects most educational discourse in the UK. 

It is, therefore, increasingly difficult to understand the idea of education or the University without an engagement with the immanence of crises in capitalist modes of production, and more especially the systemic inability of Capital to overcome the limits to growth and reproduce itself. Thus, as is argued in a piece on debt and misery in Endnotes:

The differentia specifica of capitalist “economic” crises — that people starve in spite of good harvests, and means of production lie idle in spite of a need for their products — is merely one moment of this larger crisis — the constant reproduction of a scarcity of jobs in the midst of an abundance of goods.

Thus, the dynamic of this crisis is played out through student debt as a gateway to future employability, through the entrepreneurial turn inside universities as wealth generators, through the commodification of research, through the subsumption of student and staff academic labour in the name of the reproduction of the capital-labour relation, and the increasing workload pressures and threat of precarious employment across universities. Yet we witness the ongoing inability of the system to reproduce the capital-labour relation, even in the face of the abolition of non-marketised spaces (free education, free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare and so on), in order to find new demand for commodities and the circuit of capital. These spaces open-up a terrain for accumulation that is based upon the enclosure of place and the separation of people from the land. But as Endnotes states, this separation

has to be perpetually repeated in order for capital and “free” labour to meet in the market time after time. On the one hand, capital requires, already present in the labour market, a mass of people lacking direct access to means of production, looking to exchange work for wages. On the other hand, it requires, already present in the commodity market, a mass of people who have already acquired wages, looking to exchange their money for goods.

This perpetual separation spreads to the virtual space, and enables universities, through MOOCs or distance learning, to open-up new markets, Moreover, through the commodification of digital infrastructures, it enables new services to be turned into products and sold or to be rented out. In this way, although movements claim to be for “open” or “free” on the web, without a democratic control of that infrastructure, and without a social or communal definition of its value, it simply becomes a new set of spaces to be enclosed for the creation of value, or the dictates of competition, or the extraction of rent.

This is witnessed in the drive for technological or technique-driven innovations that can maximise profitability, through an increase in relative surplus value. This, in itself, drives the co-option of universities as competing capitals, as businesses that have been reconfigured financially and technologically for valorisation and productive labour. The need to re-establish profitability and stable forms of accumulation across a global system means that labour needs to be disciplined, for instance through training or entrepreneurial productivity or the threat of precarious employment or a renegotiation of contracts and labour rights. This is part of the cycle of capital that subsumes productive power, in order to enable accumulation and the production of relative surplus value. The latter depends upon increases in productivity that are technologically-driven, through mechanisation, automation, the conversion of services into products, or the forced co-operation of labourers in any production process. However, technological innovation drives unemployment or an attrition on wages, as the labourer’s skills are instantiated inside the machine. As Marx noted in Volume 1 of Capital (p. 627) the expansion of the system beyond its limits is driven

by methods which lessen the number of workers employed in proportion to the increase in production. Modern industry’s whole form of motion therefore depends on the constant transformation of a part of the working population into unemployed or semi-employed hands.

As Endnotes argue:

For Marx it is in and through this process of expanded reproduction that the dynamic of capital manifests itself as its own limit, not through cycles of boom and bust but in a secular deterioration of its own conditions of accumulation.

Thus, the mechanics of accumulation, demand for and types of employment, technologically-mediated changes in production that drive efficiencies, are all interconected. As new sectors, like education, are subsumed inside the logic of capital accumulation and valorisation, and as universities are restructured as competing capitals, the focus becomes ways of maintaining the rate of profit. Thus, it becomes natural that universities, like any other capital, would wish to “economise on labour”, through productivity gains and technical changes.

One might see the rise in internationalisation, including the MOOC agenda, as part of this shift from labour-intensive to capital-intensive production. As Marx noted (Capital, vol. 1, pp. 622-3)

On the one hand… the additional capital formed in the course of further accumulation attracts fewer and fewer workers in proportion to its magnitude. On the other hand, old capital periodically reproduced with a new composition repels more and more of the workers formerly employed by it.

Not only do labour-saving technologies spread across the system, leading to a relative decline in the demand for labour, but they are irreversible, making the drive for constant, entrepreneurial reskilling critical for anyone who wishes to survive in the system. However, more generally the technological determinism that drives the general, relative decline in labour demand also threatens to outstrip capital accumulation. In Capital, Volume 3, Marx argues that over time “moral depreciation” affects the gains made by technological innovation where the new machine:

loses exchange-value, either by machines of the same sort being produced cheaper than it, or by better machines entering into competition with it. In both cases, be the machine ever so young and full of life, its value is no longer determined by the labour actually materialised in it, but by the labour-time requisite to reproduce either it or the better machine. It has, therefore, lost value more or less. The shorter the period taken to reproduce its total value, the less is the danger of moral depreciation; and the longer the working-day, the shorter is that period. When machinery is first introduced into an industry, new methods of reproducing it more cheaply follow blow upon blow, and so do improvements, that not only affect individual parts and details of the machine, but its entire build. It is, therefore, in the early days of the life of machinery that this special incentive to the prolongation of the working-day makes itself felt most acutely.

One outcome of this process as it is generalised is de-accumulation and a secular crisis, whereby both workers and capital fall out of contracting sectors or industries and are unable to find new sectors in which to insert themselves. The drive for reskilling and empoyability in education sits inside this critique, but is also indicative of the inability of more and more workers to reproduce themselves by selling their labour-power. The vast numbers of Ph.D.s without work, the move towards on-line learning, the increasing rates of youth unemployment across the globe, are all indicators of this secular crisis. We increasingly see an educated class of workers who are unable sell their labour-power at the rate they need to pay down their debts, to act as consumers, and to eat/clothe/shelter themselves (i.e. reproduce themselves), that is assuming they can actually find work at all. In Marx’s terms (see Chapter 25 of Volume 1 of Capital) we are seeing the proletarianisation of ever-increasing numbers of educated young people:

who produce[] and valorise[] “capital”, and [are] thrown onto the street as soon as [they] become [] superfluous to the need for valorisation.

One caveat to that is that it is through the policy activity of the State, in converting the process of education into a service for Capital (through training in basic commodity or leveraged skills, or in creating spaces for skills that can be commodified), and then into a commodity for valorisation (like the creation of courses that must be purchased by students using a debt-driven fee, or the commodification of research as knowledge transfer or incubation, or the sale of student data to publishers), that education is transformed. Critical in this transformation is the subsumption of the circuits of educational practices and knowledges inside the circuits of capital. Education (c.f. low-cost degrees, student-as-consumer or entrepreneur, or MOOCs) becomes a series of individually-purchasable commodities, which open-up new markets and mass markets, as costs fall and production increases [pace Endnotes].

The process of academic proletarianisation, in the reduction of academic labour to low-cost production and consumption of courses or educational commodities, or precarious employment, or debt-driven partnership between staff and students, is that there are few escape routes outside of the system. This is more than the politics of having to sell ones labour-power in a market, in order to reproduce oneself. It is governed by the fact that specific process innovations inside education as a business-sector, driven by technological innovation, tends to lead to unemployment as labour is automated. The promise, witnessed in the UK Government’s new obsession with the digital as the backbone of new jobs and employability, runs up against the historical reality that innovation drives an attack on labour costs including rising unemployment, and that setting surplus labour or capital “free” forces them to look to sectors with decreasing labour requirements themselves (e.g. nanotechnology, cloud technology, biotechnology are each incredibly mechanised).

In part these decreased labour requirements are forced by the generalisation of productivity gains and technological innovation globally across the system. As the system has automated manufacture, and global demand for manufacturing labour falls, there is less need for co-operation between labourers to be enforced. Thus, valorisation is based not upon co-operation, as Marx argued in Capital Volume 1, but upon collaboration between individuals acting as entrepreneurs in a global economy. However, automation leads to a diminished scale of accumulation, and inevitably to crisis. As Marx noted in Chapter 16, central to an understanding of crisis was the relationship between stable forms of accumulation, technological innovation and labour-efficiencies, and the production of relative surplus value:

The production of absolute surplus-value turns exclusively upon the length of the working-day; the production of relative surplus-value, revolutionises out and out the technical processes of labour, and the composition of society. It therefore presupposes a specific mode, the capitalist mode of production, a mode which, along with its methods, means, and conditions, arises and develops itself spontaneously on the foundation afforded by the formal subjection of labour to capital. In the course of this development, the formal subjection is replaced by the real subjection of labour to capital.

However, for Endnotes, in the current secular crisis of capitalism, even the real subsumption of sectors that were previously unproductive and not directly part of the valorisation process cannot halt the:

Unprecedented weakness of growth in the high-GDP countries over the 1997-2009 period, zero-growth in household income and employment over the whole cycle, the almost complete reliance on construction and household debt to maintain GDP — all are testament to the inability of surplus capital in its financial form to recombine with surplus labour and give rise to dynamic patterns of expanded reproduction.

One outcome is generalised proletarianisation. As they go on:

the trajectory of surplus capital distorts the trajectory of surplus labour described by Marx, and not only in the ways that we have already described. Most importantly, surplus capital built up in international money markets over the last 30 years has masked some of the tendencies to absolute immiseration, through the growing debt of working class households. This tendency, which has kept the bottom from falling out of global aggregate demand, has equally prevented any possibility of recovery, which would be achieved only through the “slaughtering of capital values” and “setting free of labour”. For while asset-price deflation may raise the possibility of a new investment boom, the devalorisation of labour-power will, in this context, only lead to increasing levels of consumer default and further financial breakdowns. Thus it is not only its capacity to generate employment, but the sustainability of the recovery itself which remains in question today… Any question of the absorption of this surplus humanity has been put to rest. It exists now only to be managed: segregated into prisons, marginalised in ghettos and camps, disciplined by the police, and annihilated by war.

In understanding the changes that are impacting the higher education sector, developing a critique of the relationships between technology and technological innovation, new managerialsm and financialisation, and the impact of structural weaknesses in 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. Educational innovations like staff-student partnerships, students-as-change-agents, open educational resources, MOOCs, bring your own device, personal learning networks etc. have to be seen in light of the relationships between: technological innovation; the competitive demand to overcome the historical tendency of the rate of profit to fall; the disciplinary role of the integral State in shaping a space for further capital accumulation, against labour; the relationship between labour- and capital-intensity; and the subsumption of networks and network theory to the neoliberal project of accumulation and profitability.

Inside the University a critical question becomes what is academic labour for? Can it be reinscribed for co-operative practice, as against its subsumption inside mechanics for collaboration as neoliberal practices of enforced connection and coercian inside the market for valorisation. This is important where, as global student communiques remind us, co-operation is underpinned by a constant and immanent democratising of the organising principles and organisation of our society and our work. Collaboration inside the market can only offer a politics of subsumption in the search for outlets for profitable investment for supluses and new sources of demand.

At issue for academics and student is recovering the mechanisms through which their labour is made collaborative, as opposed to co-operative, and through which it is co-opted or coerced for valorisation. As Jonathan Davies reminds us capitalist modernity, and the reproduction of the capital-labour relation, is predicated upon control:

coercion is the immanent condition of consent inherent in capitalist modernity. As long as hegemony is partial and precarious, hierarchy can never retreat to the shadows. This dialectic plays out in the day-to-day politics of governance networks through the clash between connectionist ideology and roll-forward hierarchy or ‘governmentalisation’.

Moreover, Friedman reminds us that it is control that centres our (academic) labour in the process of valorisation, and in the subsumption of the processes and practices of education to services and commodities:

The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. Markets function and flourish only when property rights are secured and can be enforced, which, in turn, requires a political framework protected and backed by military power… the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

How and where might we contest the idea that education, and that the University, must reproduce forms of entrepreneurial activity that reassert the hegemony of stories of growth and work? Can this contestation be done inside the University? Or is the game up? Is the only possibility to fight for alternatives beyond formal institutions as we liberate knowledges, skills, technologies and practices from inside? Is it possible to do anything other than “re-appropriate (‘detonate’), ‘occupy’, these moments of space-time through ‘a new pedagogy of space and time’, which can be characterised as the production of critical knowledge in everyday life” (Neary and Amsler, p. 108)?