Call for contributions to a book on “Mass Intellectuality: The democratisation of higher education”

This is a final call for contributions to a book on “Mass Intellectuality: The democratisation of higher education” that Joss Winn and I are pulling together. More details are available here.

The book aims to provide international critiques and accounts of the crisis in higher education, with a focus on the creation of alternative forms. Its premise is that globally, higher education is increasingly unaffordable, its historic institutions are becoming untenable, and their purpose is resolutely instrumental. What and who have led us to this crisis? What are the alternatives? To whom do we look for leadership in revealing those alternatives?

The book’s starting point is that mass higher education is at the point where it no longer reflects the needs, capacities and long-term interests of 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.

We welcome anyone who is involved with and/or working on alternative higher education projects such as free universities, transnational collectives, occupied spaces, and co-operatives for higher education to contribute to the book. We also welcome those who are working inside the University to provide critical analyses of recent and existing efforts to develop alternatives to mainstream higher education.

If you would like to contribute to the book, please email Joss Winn as soon as possible. We will then be in-touch about submitting an abstract connected to intellectual leadership in higher education by 10 May.

NOTE: whilst Joss and I both work in UK higher education, we would welcome a range of voices in the development of the book. International, critical engagements with intellectual leadership are central to this project.


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.


On the co-operative university and the general intellect

The question, pace David Bollier, is whether academics and students as scholars can learn to see their labour in common, in order to think and to act co-operatively? From our re-reading of the Grundrisse, we are able to raise our concerns over the production and ownership of academic labour. We are able to explore how the idea of cognitive capital might underpin the concept of living knowledge, or the general intellect. Here Marx (p. 694) argued that the dynamics of capitalism meant

the accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital [machinery].

Through innovation and competition, the technical and skilled work of the socialised worker, operating in factories or corporations or schools, is subsumed inside machinery. Therefore, the ‘general intellect’ of society is absorbed into capitalised technologies and techniques, in order to reduce labour costs and increase productivity. As a result, ‘the human being comes to relate more as a watchman and regulator to the production process itself’ (Marx, p. 705).

Inside the University, how do we come to understand the mechanisms through which the general intellect is co-opted into technical and scientific processes that enable capitalist work and value production? Is it possible, inside the University, to reclaim them? This focus on the liberation of the general intellect provides a possible counterpoint to the fetishised myth of technology as the creator of value in the allegedly ‘immaterial’ production and accumulation of cognitive capital. As the University of Utopia argued:

As intellectual workers we refuse the fetishised concept of the knowledge society and engage in teaching, learning and research only in so far as we can re-appropriate the knowledge that has been stolen from the workers that have produced this way of knowing (i.e. Abundance). In the society of abundance the university as an institutional form is dissolved, and becomes a social form or knowledge at the level of society (i.e. The General Intellect). It is only on this basis that we can knowingly address the global emergencies with which we are all confronted.

What is needed is a focus on the possibilities that emerge from co-operative labour. Elsewhere, in speaking about the University as a worker co-operative, Joss Winn has asserted that

the university is already a means of production which capital employs together with academic labour to re-produce labour in the form of students, and value in the commodity form of knowledge. A worker owned co-operative university would therefore control the means of knowledge production and potentially produce a new form of knowledge.

Control of the means of production as a way to control the means of knowledge production and as a way of liberating the knowledge, skills and practices of the University for its broader, social use value. This means reframing an education that is driven by consumption, indenture and both social and personal alienation, so that it is based less on our outsourcing of services to private providers or the corporate university, and more on the productive relationships between teacher and student. Moreover these relationships might be reframed co-operatively as scholarship. Do we have the courage to work in common and co-operatively to reclaim the usefulness of our work and our time?

From such a reframing emerges a focus on alternative educational practices that develop socialised knowledge, or ‘mass intellectuality’, a direct, social force of production. As the University of Utopia argued

Mass intellectuality is based on our common ability to do, based on our needs and capacities and what needs to be done. What needs to be done raises doing from the level of the individual to the level of society.

This matters, of course, because as Andrew McGettigan notes discussing financialisation and higher education (ht Joss Winn):

unless academics rouse themselves and contest the general democratic deficit from within their own institutions and unless we have more journalists taking up these themes locally and nationally, then very little can be done. We are on the cusp of something more profound than is indicated by debates around the headline fee level; institutions and sector could make moves that will be difficult, if not impossible, to undo, whether it is negotiated independence for the elite or shedding charitable status the better to access private finance.

Joss Winn suggests that academics and students, acting as scholars, have three possible responses.

Conversion: Constitute the university on co-operative values and principles. Read Dan Cook’s report: ‘Realising the co-operative university‘.

Dissolution: Radicalise the university from the inside, starting with the relationship between academics and students. Read about Student as Producer.

Creation: Build experiments in higher education outside the financialised sector. Read about the Social Science Centre.

I questioned a while back ‘whether academics can develop alternative methods of liberating knowing and knowledge and organisation, and which are beyond the space-time of debt and privatisation.’ The three responses noted above are conditioned by the structural domination of wage labour, and the reality that the co-operative space has to exist inside the totalising relations of production of capitalist society. However, they offer alternative possibilities for liberating science and technology across society, and to enable what Arviddson calls the ‘free availability of General Intellect in the social environment [which] means that capital cannot exercise a monopoly over this productive resource. It can be employed for autonomous or even subversive purposes.’ The three responses above might act as critical sites in this struggle to recuperate the general intellect including: reclaiming public, open, virtual and face-to-face environments that enable globalised, socialised dissemination of knowledge, for example through copyfarleft and an education commons rooted in critical pedagogy; and the use of technologies to ground, critique and disseminate the community-building of alternative educational settings like student occupations, co-operative centres or social science centres.

These struggles for mass intellectuality are an attempt to build solidarity and sharing related to the social and co-operative use of the knowledge, skills and practices that we create as labour. This is deliberately opposed to their commodification, exchange and accumulation by a transnational elite. Thus, liberating science and technology from inside-and-against capital’s competitive dynamics is central to moving beyond exploitation. Inside critical and co-operative (rather than co-opted) educational contexts, the processes of learning and teaching offer the chance to critique the purposes for which the general intellect is commodified rather than made public. They offer the opportunity to reclaim and liberate the general intellect for co-operative use. The question, pace David Bollier, is whether academics and students as scholars can learn to see their labour in common, in order to think and to act co-operatively?


on the triple crunch and the secular crisis of the University

I presented yesterday at the Plymouth University Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory annual conference. I spoke about the impact on higher education of climate change and liquid fuel availability, as symptoms of the secular crisis of capitalism. These are the triple crunch, or in sustainability circles the energy trilemma, and I have previously written about them here and here.

My slides are here.

However, these are the things I wish I had said.

ONE. This secular crisis of capitalism is the secular crisis of the University. This is the systemic inability to reassert stable forms of accumulation. This is the catalysis of a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, through: debts and indenture (for instance for students); the destruction of previously socialised and historically-accrued capital (for instance in the commodification and marketisation of public services like free education and healthcare, or access to natural resources); the imposition of precarity as a form of labour arbitrage (for instance, in benefit sanctions, casualised labour and zero-hour contracts); the increase in ‘asset value’ linked to commodities (from mortgages and buy-to-let, to futures in food and natural resources, and staples like gold); and the re-inflation of stock markets to pre-crisis levels.

In this secular crisis, the dislocation of the debt-driven indicators of economic growth from the realities of how value is created in the productive economy infects the University. It drives student debt, and the data-driven consumption of the idea of education. It drives the myth of the student-as-entrepreneur, who is able to recreate and reinvent herself as an autonomous wealth creator. It drives the myth that higher education exists for international competitiveness and employability, in the face of global labour arbitrage, the disciplining of dissent, the 40 year collapse in real wages, and the catastrophic rise in youth unemployment. It drives the financialisation of the student loan book, and the monetisation of the activities of the University through the bond markets.

In this secular crisis we witness academic subsumption under the rule of money. We witness academic inability to refuse the proprietary claims made for the rule of the market. These claims that are made for the market as the principal organising mechanism for our academic lives, and which cannot be refused, are our secular crisis. And do we wonder at our alienation under the re-inflation of a financial bubble that now re-defines academic study and work, and that will make the poor even poorer when it bursts? A market correction; which further corrects the idea of the University; which further disciplines the idea of the academic; because debt and immateriality cannot create value when it is dislocated from a productive life.

TWO. Indenture, precarity and correction: a collective threat to the social cohesion of our communities and our universities, precisely as they are to our cities and our nations. Where is this collective threat in our discussions of what a University is for? How are the relationships between the market and money, labour and production, value and values, connected to the University as engine for entrepreneurship or internationalisation or employment or creativity? Is the University redeemable?

THREE. And this point further coalesces around the University as energy sink; around the University as engine of value creation; around the University and gross domestic product. Because there is a strong correlation between liquid energy use and GDP, and yet as global energy demand is on the rise, our access to liquid fuel is forecast to decline. As the US Joint Forces Command reported in 2010:

A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions

And we have a recent UK Ministry of Defence Strategic Trends Programme report, which argued:

The western ‘way of life’ is often associated with ready access to a wide variety of consumer choice and relatively cheap energy. This is likely to be increasingly challenged as lifestyles follow GDP levels and ‘normalise’ across the globe. This trend will have significant impact within the US and the UK, where the way of life for the bulk of their populations may be challenged by rising energy and resource. prices, and the declining availability of finance to sustain discretionary spending.

There is no precedent for oil discoveries to make up for the shortfall, nor is there a precedent for efficiencies to relieve demand on this scale. And so the IMF have reported that:

our prediction of small further increases in world oil production comes at the expense of a near doubling, permanently, of real oil prices over the coming decade. This is uncharted territory for the world economy, which has never experienced such prices for more than a few months…

we suspect that there must be a pain barrier, a level of oil prices above which the effects on GDP becomes nonlinear, convex. We also suspect that the assumption that technology is independent of the availability of fossil fuels may be inappropriate, so that a lack of availability of oil may have aspects of a negative technology shock.

In that case the macroeconomic effects of binding resource constraints could be much larger, more persistent, and they would extend well beyond the oil sector.

And yet public sector debt, and student debt, and University debt, are burdens that ultimately require economic growth to pay them down. Or they demand the discipline of the State in enforcing the claims of the market to your/my/our labour. As Marx wrote:

the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working-day, no limit to surplus-labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working-day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working-days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working-day to one of definite normal duration. There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides. Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working-class.

Between equal rights force decides. Until our debts are redeemed. And if energy supply looks likely to constrain growth, well what then for the University? What then for our academic labour? What then for our equal rights?

FOUR. Maybe energy is the least of our worries. The Royal Society’s People and Planet report from 2012 argued that there is an urgent need to address issues of climate change and resource availability across the globe. The report argued:

in the most developed and the emerging economies unsustainable consumption must be urgently reduced. This will entail scaling back or radical transformation of damaging material consumption and emissions and the adoption of sustainable technologies. At present, consumption is closely linked to economic models based on growth. Decoupling economic activity from material and environmental throughputs is needed urgently. Changes to the current socio-economic model and institutions are needed to allow both people and the planet to flourish by collaboration as well as competition during this and subsequent centuries. This requires farsighted political leadership concentrating on long term goals.

Is this radical transformation the entrepreneurial, indebted, analytical, international, exchangeable University? And how is this University to make sense of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability? This is a report that indicates with high confidence that we are beyond the IPCC ‘marker’ scenario range, and are now at a fork between a mean global temperature rise of 1-3 degrees Celsius and one of 3.5-5 degrees Celsius. Whatever the opportunities this allegedly allows, what is the role of the University in asking questions about the activities it undertakes in contributing to such a rise? What is the critical role of academics in questioning the purpose and value of those activities, be they productive or unproductive? How on earth do universities, driven by internationalisation strategies, measure and reduce scope 3 emissions? What is the role of academics in asking whether this society regulated for the market is the only solution to the crunch of climate change?

FIVE. There is so much volatility and precarity that we might feel deadened by the question, “what is to be done?” And yet under different, collective and co-operative sets of organising principles, which in turn interconnect the State, the market and civic societies, alternatives have been possible.

  • In Cuba, high levels of educational participation and human welfare have been attained at lower levels of GDP and ecological impact.
  • In Bhutan, the Government attempted to index growth based on gross national happiness.
  • In Allende’s Chile, the CyberSyn project attempted to make “a deliberate effort to hand to the people the power that science commands, in a form in which the people can themselves use”.
  • In Mexico, the Zapatista Little Schools of Below, focused upon collective work as “one of the cements of autonomy, whose fruits usually spill into hospitals, clinics, primary and secondary education, in strengthening the municipalities and the good government juntas.”
  • In Ecuador, the National Plan for Good Living, spoke of five revolutions: democratic; ethical; economic; social; Latin American dignity; designed “to build a fraternal and co-operative coexistence.” This includes “the transformation of higher education and the transfer of knowledge in science, technology and innovation”, with practices focused upon diversity, participation, social and economic equality, and bio-knowledge (or an engagement with/care for the land/climate/environment).
  • Through the FLOK Society Transition Project, Michael Bauwens has spoken of the real possibilities for democratic innovation and civic driven change through: the creation of a participatory commons; the creation of entrepreneurial coalitions; the creation of a socially-nurtured, broad-based open commons that are fed in policy and practice; and nurturing solidarity co-operatives. In this way structure supports individual and co-operative agency that is participative, against the commodification of risk that emerges from the individuated consumption in the global North. As Bauwens argues:

we work in a triarchical way. We have the state. We have the civic society with the commons and we have the market with an ethical economy. We need to change all three at the same time and doing so will create a new democracy so we can no longer just talk about democracy and ignore the fact that our state has been captured by financial interests. We have to do something structurally about that. We cannot have a democracy that is actually isolated from the situation in which democracy operates.

  • The IPCC report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability asks us to focus on diversity and context, in order to think about complementary actions across levels, from individuals to governments, in reducing vulnerability and exposure to present climate variability. It asks us to focus on societal values, objectives, and risk perceptions. It asks us to be sensitive to context and the diversity of decision types, decision processes, and constituencies, although it is unable to escape Jameson’s stricture that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism. It asks us to think about short-termism or failing to anticipate consequences that can result in maladaptation. Whatever its boundaries, it asks us to think.

SIX. In the face of the triple crunch, of the volatility imposed by the interrelationships between peak oil, our climate realities, and the secular crisis of capitalism, is business as usual really possible for those who labour and study in higher education? How do we develop the usefulness of our work and ourselves, rather than their means for alienation and exchange?

What kinds of conversations are we having with society about the reality of our need for more sophisticated financial engineering to underpin increasing student debt and precarious futures? What kinds of conversations are we having with society about the market’s domination over our access to/use of liquid fuel, and the management of climate change?

What kinds of conversations should we be having with young people and their parents about the volatile relationships between debt, real wages, unemployment and precarity, in the face of the added volatility of access to the resources that keep the economy growing?

By refusing our critical, academic role in questioning whether there really is no alternative, what are we modelling for our students and our communities and our society? What alternative scenarios are we remembering and revealing and discussing and realising? How are we being careful in realising who has power-to produce the world? How are we being courageous in modelling questioning and difference and solidarity and association and participation?

Is academic neutrality, inside-and-beyond the University, really an option?


higher education and the triple crunch

I’m presenting at the Plymouth University Pedagogic Research conference on Wednesday, about higher education and the triple crunch.

There are some notes on the University and the secular crisis [crunch 1].

There are some notes on climate change and liquid fuel availability [crunch 2 and 3] here and here.

My slides are here.


on the University as anxiety machine

I would be your king

But you want to be free

Confusion and art

I’m nothing but heart

(as we stumble to the shore… as we walk into the night …. this before can’t say it anymore…)

Low. 2011. Nothing but Heart.

We think we know what the narrative is. But over time it fractures and cracks and dies and is reborn. As we fracture and crack and die and are reborn.

Inside this world, inside our history, inside this capitalism we fracture and crack under the stress of it all. The toxic stress of being for economic growth. Of being for an entrepreneurial life. Of giving away our labour. Of alienating our labour. Of giving away ourselves. Of alienating ourselves. We willingly give it up. This is the new normal. We willingly give up our very selves so that they can accumulate value. We accede to their dominance so that we can survive and breathe and have hope. Hope in the face of the reality that our fracture and our cracking are driven by their hegemony and their economic growth.

The power of their narrative of economic growth, which subsumes our labour, and that is visited upon the University. Their common sense. Their intellectual rigour. The new normal.

As Jehu argues:

The sale of labor power has the effect of scrubbing all the concrete manifestations of labor from our consciousness.

We are scrubbed clean of our humanity, and this is done systemically:

It does this by validating the reduction of our capacities to just another commodity in the market.

This is all we are. A reduction. Scrubbed of the potential of what our lives might be. Marketised. Abstracted from reality. Made contingent on the production of value. And as we have witnessed in countless testimonies the University is increasingly a space inside which this scrubbing, this abstraction, this contingency, plays out psychologically. So that our desire to be something other than an entrepreneur is disciplined. So that we witness:

For many, like myself, like those closest to me, anxiety and depression are not technical terms but personal experiences.

And we witness:

Too many casual academics find themselves barely surviving as they are suspended in a state of near constant poverty.

And we witness:

The evidence of our anxiety is not exactly hidden – it’s scattered across social media and in discussions within session-by-session teacher networks, that universities mostly don’t see. More and more stories are emerging in these networks about the hardships of poverty, and families under immense stress.

And we witness:

Studies have found that graduate school is not a particularly healthy place. At the University of California at Berkeley, 67 percent of graduate students said they had felt hopeless at least once in the last year; 54 percent felt so depressed they had a hard time functioning; and nearly 10 percent said they had considered suicide,

This is insidious. This latter-day higher education. This University as anxiety machine. This University as means for the production of anxiety. This University that forces us to internalise the creation of value and the extraction of value and the accumulation of value. This University that is recalibrated for value as we seek to resist in the name of teaching and learning and becoming and emancipation and us. The anxiety of the future collapsed onto the present; trumping the present; devaluing the present. The University not as a place where students can find themselves, but where they can create themselves. This is the University that demands we overcome our present imperfections; our present lack of impact; our present lack of student satisfaction; our present lack of staffing efficiency.

Future perfect trumps our present tense. Our present made tense.

As Giroux argues in Border Crossings, we might seek redress through the politicisation of our relationships inside the University, and by reflecting on the politics of pedagogic power.

Gramsci points to the complex ways [through hegemonic control] in which consent is organised as part of an active pedagogical process on the terrain of everyday life. In Gramsci’s view such a process must work and rework the cultural an ideological terrain of subordinate groups in order to legitimate the interests an authority of the ruling bloc. (p. 163)

What this maps onto is a project for

the construction of an educational practice that expands human capacities in order to enable people to intervene in the formation of their own subjectivities and to be able to exercise power in the interest of transforming the ideological and material conditions of domination into social practices that promote social empowerment and demonstrate possibilities. (p. 166)

What we might therefore do as educators is rethink how our pedagogic practices reveal and reinforce the hegemonic and objective material conditions of capitalist society. We might rethink how those practices enable teachers and students to define new relations of power that are against privilege. Such rethinking demands new relations of power inside the classroom that are against the taking and accumulation of power. Such rethinking demands democratic and participatory alternatives through which the curriculum and the relationships that shape it and the assessments that validate it are negotiated.

This is the dissolution of the University as a means for the domination/hegemony of a particular world view or a specific class. This is the dissolution of the University as a coercive space that is re-forged inside-and-against student-debt and impact and research excellence and analytics and employability and entrepreneurship. This is the dissolution of the University as the civil society of tenured professors versus casualised precariat. This is the dissolution of the consensus that reshapes the civil society of higher education in the interests of capital through the ideology of student-as-consumer. This is the dissolution of a higher education that is for materialism and value.

This is for the production of a University rooted in solidarity and co-operation. This is for the production of a University that is active and critical and popular.

The purpose of popular education is to enable those who are marginalized to become more fully human.  I see it as essential to facilitate not only action, but also critical refection on the consequences of action as an essential element of educational practice.  It contributes not only to learning, but to what Paulo Freire call the act of knowing. (Carlos Cortez Ruiz, p. 6.)

As Gramsci noted in 1916 this turns into “a problem of rights and of power”. This is the meaning of education as culture, and it is the relationship between political and civil society played out in the curriculum. In the prison notebooks (p. 330) Gramsci goes on to state that in whatever context, the problem of rights and power is a deeply conflicted, political process:

The average worker has a practical activity but has no clear theoretical consciousness of his activity in and understanding of the world; indeed, his theoretical consciousness can be “historically” in conflict with his activity. In other words, he will have two theoretical consciousnesses: one that is implicit in his activity and that really unites him with all his fellow workers in the practical transformation of the world and a superficial, “explicit” one that he has inherited from the past. The practical-theoretical position, in this case, cannot help becoming “political”—that is, a question of “hegemony.”

Inside the University, our confronting this as a political pedagogic process is, as Mike Neary argues, potentially revolutionary. At issue is the possibility that we might frame a curriculum that:

is driven by a lack of faith in the inevitability of progressive transformation, based on a negative rather than a positive critique of the social relations of capitalist society… the future is not the result of naturally upturning economic cycles, nor the structural contradictions of capitalism, but is made by the possibility and necessity of progressive social transformation through practical action, i.e., class struggle… the logic of revolution is not based on the call to some lofty liberal principle, e.g. social justice, or the empowerment of the powerless, but the more practical imperatives driven by the avoidance of disaster beyond human imagination.

Here it is worth highlighting Neary’s focus on Vygotsky’s belief in the revolutionary nature of teaching, where it emerges from inside the student as a social being. As Neary notes, teaching becomes radical where the social context of the curriculum is arranged by the teacher so that the student teaches themselves:

‘Education should be structured so that it is not the student that is educated, but that the student educates himself’ or, in other words, ‘…the real secret of education lies in not teaching’ (Vygotsky, 1926).

This is therefore beyond the impact of the teacher. This is beyond the student’s adaptation to the given teaching environment. This is for the creation of a person able to create and organise her own life as a pedagogic project. As Vygotsky notes in Shorter Logic this depends upon the ability to become concrete; to become for ourselves; to be.

… the man, in himself, is the child. And what the child has to do is to rise out of this abstract and undeveloped ‘in-himself’ and become ‘for himself’ what he is at first only ‘in-himself’ – a free and reasonable being.

And I am left wondering how to reconcile the University as an anxiety machine with the idea that the teacher might be revolutionary where s/he gives herself up to the process of arranging a practical, political pedagogy. This is revolutionary in the sense that bell hooks argued for an education that was more real, rooted in vivid, personal struggle against alienation and estrangement. This is the internalisation of the pedagogic process as a form of emancipation inside the student; and the restructuring of the student’s world based on the radical organisation of the classroom; and the student’s challenging of the prefigured world of the teacher in her everyday life and her every day actions; and the student’s on-going struggle to overcome the prefigured world of our political and civil society. This is the student’s struggle to be heard.

This is the same emancipatory process that Gramsci highlighted through his focus on critical awareness, the role of organic intellectuals who emerged through everyday life, and on the place of ‘common sense’ in maintaining hegemonic positions of power through civil society. However, it is also the same emancipatory process that underscores the therapeutic relationship. In therapy, Martha Crawford reminds us that the client/therapist relationship is potentially revolutionary in its identification and acceptance of limitations and past injuries as they are replicated and represented in present actions and thoughts and hopes, in order that these identifications and fractures might enable the self to be healed. For Crawford the deepest therapies change both client and therapist because they work from inside the client as social being.

We might also argue that the deepest pedagogic encounters change both student and teacher because they work from inside the client as social being. This is a relationship based upon identification and empathy, upon humane values of love, upon what we are willing to share and to bear co-operatively. This is the revolutionary, emancipatory space for teaching that is threatened inside the University as anxiety machine: what are we willing to share and to bear co-operatively? In the face of the iron law of competition and of value; in the face of the projection of the entrepreneurial self onto the curriculum and its relationships; in the face of the hegemony of efficiency and impact and satisfaction and growth; what are we willing to share and to bear co-operatively?

This is revolutionary teaching as a mirror that enables the student/teacher to overcome her being “trapped, lost, hypnotized by images of our own projected soul.” This is teaching as therapy inside the anxiety machine. This is teaching and learning as the ability to reflect; as the act of reflection; as the act of looking into one’s soul; this is our looking in the mirror inside the anxiety machine. The power of this is not to be understated. The threat of this is not to be understated because says Crawford:

Mirrors reveal to us what cannot be shown to anyone else, what we do not know, and perhaps don’t want to know about ourselves at all.

Perhaps the revolutionary teacher always asks what we are willing to share and to bear co-operatively?

Postscript

Henry Giroux writes that:

The transformation of higher education into a an adjunct of corporate control conjures up the image of a sorcerer’s apprentice, of an institution that has become delusional in its infatuation with neoliberal ideology, values and modes of instrumental pedagogy. Universities now claim that they are providing a service and in doing so not only demean any substantive notion of governance, research and teaching, but also abstract education from any sense of civic responsibility. 

And we are caught and made fraught as our labour is stripped bare and alienated from us. As the corporate control of the University restructures our pedagogic agency into student satisfaction and consumption; as the corporate control of the University restructures our public scholarship into impact metrics and knowledge transfer; as the corporate control of the University restructures our solidarity into performance management; as the corporate control of the University attempts to restructure our souls, which have to cope with the dissonance of it all; as the corporate control of the University attempts to restructure our selves as we introject their performance management against our critical identity.

And Josh Freedman writes that this stress, this anxiety, this dissonance, is amplified though excessive University borrowing:

in the long-term, public and private nonprofit schools alike will find it even more difficult to provide a quality education to a wide array of the population. And in a battle between students, faculty, and creditors, the creditors right now have the upper hand – which calls into question the core of the future of American higher education.

And Eric Grollman writes about radical battle fatigue and survival:

Yet another painful reminder of how marginalized scholars are, at best, conditionally accepted in academiaEveryday, I am faced with the decision: group survival vs. individual survival.  Since these are opposing decisions, I rarely, if ever, experience both. Ultimately, I chose silence about the dining hall display; I picked “safely” keeping my job over the safety of Black people on campus.  By creating this blog, I am “taking one for the team,” enduring known and unknown professional risks in order to improve the lives of marginalized scholars.  Everyday that I wear a man’s suit, I am choosing professional safety (as well as safety from violence) over greater visibility of genderqueer people on campus.  Every interaction with a student or colleague — do I choose authenticity and social justice or safety and job security — carries the decision between my survival or my survival.  And, major decisions like making my research more “mainstream” to increase my professional status comes at the expense of my own authenticity and perspective. The very things I should and should not do as a tenure-track professor seem at odds with the very things I should not and should do as a Black queer person.

no chance of escape
now self-employed
concerned (but powerless)
an empowered and informed member of society (pragmatism not idealism)
calm
fitter, healthier and more productive
like a pig
in a cage
on antibiotics.

Radiohead. 1997. Fitter Happier.


on academic labour and performance anxiety

 

ONE. The bleeding of our souls.

There is no escape from the living death of capitalist work (Dinerstein and Neary). This leads Cederström and Fleming to argue that our whole existence bleeds our souls in the name of value. The corporatisation of our lives bleeds our souls because:

The real fault-line today is not between capital and labor. It is between capital and life. Life itself is now something that is plundered by the corporation, rendering our very social being into something that makes money for business. We know them. The computer hackers dreaming code in their sleep. The airline stewards evoking their warm personality to deal with an irate customer…The aspiring NGO intern working for nothing. The university lecturer writing in the weekend. The call center worker improvising on the telephone to enhance the customer experience.

This is the world-for-acccumulation, against which Kate Bowles notes universities and academic labour are being restructured so that shame becomes a central tenet of everyday academic life.

We overwork because the current culture in universities is brutally and deliberately invested in shaming those who don’t compete effectively; as a correlative to this we are starting to value and promote to leadership roles people who really do believe in the dodgeball triumphalism of university rankings as a way of nurturing educational values and critical inquiry.

The cruelty of this shaming is that it passes itself off as supportive collegial celebration of the heroic few; it’s hard to call out precisely because it looks like a good thing.

Yesterday I argued that there is a broader set of questions for academics here, about how they approach organisational governance co-operatively, in order to generate solidarity that militates against the practices that devolve corporate leadership and responsibility for actions, and thereby enable performance management to become an internalised disciplinary activity. For Bowles, this is academic labour as labour that needs to stand against shame and being shamed through performance:

Being shamed isn’t the result of failing or refusing to participate in this system; it’s the result of being willing to supply your labour to enable competitiveness to work at all. Because there have to be losers, for there to be people who win.

TWO. Because there have to be losers, for there to be people who win.

The internalisation of performativity, alongside managerialism and marketization/the commodification of everyday practices, is as present inside the University as they are outside. Thus, academic labour is labour that needs to resist its reification and its alienation from its species. As Petrovic argued, as life, relationships, values, the soul, is recast for value or as value-laden, we witness:

[The] transformation of human beings into thing‑like beings which do not behave in a human way but according to the laws of the thing‑world. Reification is a ‘special’ case of ALIENATION, its most radical and widespread form characteristic of modem capitalist society

For Stephen Ball this is amplified by performativity that in-turn pivots around mechanisms for control and autonomy, and the deterritorialised nature of performance management so that it both appears and reappears inside-and-outside of the workplace. Thus, performativity is our lack of personal control over our labour, so that we seize on the enforcement of:

a technology, a culture and a mode of regulation that employs judgements, comparisons and displays as means of incentive, control, attrition and change – based on rewards and sanctions (both material and symbolic). The performances (of individual subjects or organisations) serve as measures of productivity or output, or displays of ‘quality’, or ‘moments’ of promotion or inspection. As such they stand for, encapsulate or represent the worth, quality or value of an individual or organisation within a field of judgement. The issue of who controls the field of judgement is crucial. (p. 216)

This is the entrepreneurial turn inside the University, as that working space mirrors the need to generate the creative-commodity economy outside. This turn recasts the academic as innovator whose formation inside-and-outside the University can be witnessed and judged as creative and valuable, not because it is useful but because it can be exchanged. This is not about the relationships that the academic has either with her peers, her students, or most importantly with herself. It is about the enclosure and commodification of that life under the organisation of the market.

THREE. Zero autonomy and performance anxiety.

Elsewhere I wrote that the impact of this need to perform and to be seen to perform is a function of a lack of autonomy. However, it is also formed of the systemic myth that is peddled about how if only we were more resilient then the world would be ours.

We are conditioned to rely on the rugged, resilient individual. To develop the rugged, resilient individual. And in the process we are all demeaned. In the process we are all alienated from our humanity.

In this, recognition of our alienation not as academics, but as labour and as labour-power, matters. This is an alienation from our very selves, as more is demanded of us: more extensive lists of projects to manage; the next EU bid to chase; your team’s development reviews to finalise faster; your own research to be done on your own time; your need to bring in external income to justify performing at that conference; more value to create; more capital to set in motion; more surpluses to be generated. This is the restructuring of the University as a business through your work and your alienated self.

This alienation is witnessed in Miya Tokumitsu’s connection of the relationship between academic practices and academic psychology:

Few other professions fuse the personal identity of their workers so intimately with the work output. This intense identification partly explains why so many proudly left-leaning faculty remain oddly silent about the working conditions of their peers. Because academic research should be done out of pure love, the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.

This underpins the increasing exploitation of the academic soul at work. It I why I was awake at 4am yesterday and today, worrying about those essays to be marked, about whether the three journal articles in review and the eight conference presentations accepted and the two book proposals and the proposed new Centre for Pedagogic Research are enough (enough already!) or made me a good enough academic (when I feel like a shameful fraud), and whether I am giving my team enough direction, and whether I need to find more time for trades union activities because solidarity is a weapon. Am I enough? Am I good enough? How am I judged, by you and by me? What is my value? Alienated from my self and my relationships through capitalist work.

And these fears and anxieties remind me that as I internalise a structural and structuring performance management, this is overlain on top of a hackneyed academic psychology that is prone to intense negativity, including: over-analysing my performance and my thinking until my mind bleeds; being convinced that everything has to be perfect for everyone forever, except for me; being unforgiving and overcritical of me; being unable to be in this world; being too deliberate in my use of language/discourse/action and search for hidden meanings where there may be none; making myself too responsible about stuff for which I am not responsible; and lacking faith in myself.

As Tokumitsu argues, this enables those in-power or with power-over the world to entreat educators to “do what you love”, and to give everything. This is hardly harmless. It reifies certain forms of work as loveable because they are intellectual or creative or social, rather than proletarianised, whilst its demands are made competitive and outcomes-focused and routine so that this very work underpins self-hatred. It is the sublimation and the very negation of the self; it is the identification of the ego with the performance; it is the bleeding of the soul. And the governor for this is the interplay between structural, organisational management, and crippling, personal, psychological self-doubt. Just work that bit harder, that bit faster, that bit better and we’ll tell you we are proud of you… And I read this into The Underbelly of Putting Yourself Last: Mental Illness, Stress, and Substance Abuse, and I read this into reports on mental health and Ph.D. study.

All this reminds me that a while back I wrote about courage and a friend’s cancer diagnosis that had been too long in arriving, and the realisation that “and now here we are.”

And now here we are. And for all sorts of reasons I read those five words with an intense scream against the pain that this life has become and the choices we are forced to make, in order to justify our lives as hard-working and worthy of justice. And I scream against the pain of the compromises that are contained in those five words. And I recognise that it is in the moment of a crisis that the things that we do, and the compromises that we make, to be a manager or a co-worker or for the clock or for impact or for efficiency or for whatever, resolve.

My alienated self; my soul at work; my mind bleeds; am I good enough? And I wrote to my friend over the weekend that this lack of autonomy was a form of structural domination, which wears us out socially and collectively, and which doesn’t matter to management because there is such a reserve army of labour to fill-in. The precariously employed, the casualised, the hourly-paid, the hopeful post-graduates, the lower-cost. So you have to perform, and this is their domination over us, reproduced through the logic of competition; competition between universities; competition between individuals; competition inside yourself.

FOUR. And it wears me out. It wears me out.

“You wear out, Ed Tom. All the time you spend trying to get back what’s been took from you, more is going out the door. After a while you just have to try to get a tourniquet on it… Anyway, you never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from…”

“They sat quietly at the table. After a while the old man said: She mentioned there was a lot of old pictures and family stuff. What to do about that. Well. There ain’t nothing to do about it I don’t reckon. Is there?”

“No. I don’t reckon there is.”

Cormac McCarthy. 2005. No Country for Old Men.

The logic of academic competition that owns you as you ask “do I do enough?” “Prove it.” The future owned by fear. The future of “I do enough”, “I am good enough”, owned by the past of “do I do enough?”, “was I good enough?” Never thinking “I am” because the shadow of “am I?” is unforgiving. The logic of academic competition that uses the National Student Survey, Research Excellence, impact metrics, restricted promotions processes, and so on, as forms of academic cognitive behavioural therapy; as forms of restructuring what it means to be an academic; reifying what it means to labour in a University, so that performance is internalised. So that guilt and shame trump solidarity, unity and faith. So that in the battle to survive we forget that capitalist work is ‘a form of living death’ (Dinerstein and Neary (ht @josswinn)).

This means that, in Ball’s terms, we are subsumed under an imperative that makes:

management, ubiquitous, invisible, inescapable – part of and embedded in everything we do. Increasingly, we choose and judge our actions and they are judged by others on the basis of their contribution to organizational performance, rendered in terms of measurable outputs (p. 223).

This is the battle between an academic ego-identity that is increasingly status-driven and reified, a managerial cadre that seeks control through its own autonomy and performance management techniques, and the possibility of a socialised self that might refuse capital as the automatic subject. In this we need to recognise the duality that, first academic labour is labour and is locked in a struggle with capital over the production of value, and second that increasingly this form of labour is revealed as kettled inside a structure that exists for the autonomy of Capital.

This autonomy is a battle over productive and useful time. As Marx notes in Capital Volume 2:

It is plain that the more the production time and labour-time cover each other the greater is the productivity and self-expansion of a given productive capital in a given space of time. Hence the tendency of the capitalist production to reduce the excess of the production time over the labour-time as much as possible. But while the time of production of a certain capital may differ from its labour-time, it always comprises the latter, and this excess is itself a condition of the process of production. The time of production, then, is always that time in which a capital produces use-values and expands, hence functions as productive capital, although it includes time in which it is either latent or produces without expanding its value.

Inside a competitive market, all of life must become productive of value, and idle or working time, has to be annihilated. The self that produces things that cannot be exchanged has limited value and must be annihilated. The life that is consumed by working time rather than productive time is inefficient, and must be recalibrated by speed-up, always-on, the annilhilation of space by time. This is our internalisation of the capital’s necessity for perpetual time-space transformations, in order to generate and accumulate surplus-value and wealth. This is the time-space transformation through student debt, financialisation, the international university, the MOOC, and the University as an association of capitals.

This is the demand that academic labour fights against its fixity inside the walls of the University.

This is the demand that academic labour is always-on, always circulating, always looking for spaces to generate value.

This is the bind that academic labour now finds itself in: based in a belief system based on love or care or the student experience; courted and reified as special and high status and as commodity; kettled by performance anxiety and performance management; disciplined by academic cognitive behavioural therapy; forced to be responsive to the university as competing business in a landscape that is being reterritorialised on a global scale; forced to reinvent itself for expansion and accumulation; never allowed to be.

Never allowed to be.

Never allowed to be.

And it wears you out.


Friction, co-operation and technology in the neoliberal university

I’m presenting at “Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology and resistance in May. My abstract is noted below.
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.

on academic labour and plutonomy

In discussing academic labour, Chomsky made the interesting point that:

The university is probably the social institution in our society that comes closest to democratic worker control. Within a department, for example, it’s pretty normal for at least the tenured faculty to be able to determine a substantial amount of what their work is like: what they’re going to teach, when they’re going to teach, what the curriculum will be. And most of the decisions about the actual work that the faculty is doing are pretty much under tenured faculty control. Now of course there is a higher level of administrators that you can’t overrule or control.

This is a real tension. The perceived academic culture is deliberative yet the rollout of neoliberalism across increasing swathes of public space (utilities, healthcare, schools, universities) is increasingly kettling that academic project. As the Australian Actual Casuals note this disciplinary process emerges as a form of labour arbitrage, a set of organisational innovations designed to attack labour costs and control the capital produced by academics and students. We might view this as organised capital undermining the groundwork of organised labour by attacking the spaces and times, or space-times, available for solidarity and co-operative action.

In this Australian context, this includes the administrative drive for casualization, deprofessionalisation, disincentivising certain collective behaviours, and so on, and it affects not just adjunct academics and postgraduates who teach, but also:

casually hired workers on short contracts in universities contributing to research, administration, project work, IT and maintenance. Unlike salaried staff, casuals are in constant negotiation about their employment, and regularly deal with the insecurity of contract renewal and funding continuation. Casualisation offers flexibility to some, but to others is experienced as underemployment, just-in-time hiring, and a sense of marginalization from the permanent workforce. Casuals typically don’t have access to leave entitlements, often cannot apply for internally advertised positions, and if they can access onsite professional development at all, do so on their own time.

This then mirrors the experience of the 3Cosas movement at the University of London for whom the fight is:

to ensure equality of terms and conditions between the University of London’s direct employees, and its outsourced workers. There are three areas (‘tres cosas’) where the disparity between University and contract workers is greatest – SICK PAY, HOLIDAYS and PENSIONS. The campaign aims to persuade the University to ensure that all workers have the same rights in these three areas. It is eminently affordable, and it is the only right thing to do.

However, the right thing to do runs up against a set of competitive pressures that are defining and redefining (deterritorialising and reterritorialising) the University for the extraction of profit or wealth or value, and which is in the process deliberately dehumanising people. These competitive pressures are in part driven by what, in 2006, Citibank termed Plutonomy. This is the ‘binge on bling’ or the refocusing of growth on the ‘Uber-rich, the plutonomists, [who] are likely to see net worth-income ratios surge, driving luxury consumption.’ This is a socio-cultural war around the mobilisation and maintenance of corporate power: ‘The key challenge for corporates in this space is to maintain the mystique of prestige while trying to grow revenue and hit the mass-affluent market.’ Thus:

Globalization, productivity, a rising profit share and dis-inflation have helped  plutonomy. Beyond war, inflation, the end of the technology/productivity wave and/or financial collapse, which have killed previous plutonomies, we think the most potent and short-term threat would be societies demanding a more ‘equitable’ share of wealth.

The maintenance of economic power then forms a political terrain for the rollout of neoliberalism, which connects to Stephen Ball’s idea of transnational activist networks acting as a cadre to catalyse:

  • The economisation of everyday, social life, in order to realise new opportunities for profit;
  • Reconfiguring governance through an appeal to the entrepreneurial self, with the State as regulator and market-maker;
  • The State acting transnationally in concert with supranational bodies like the IMF, the European Central Bank and the World Bank, in order to impose the control that a free market desires, and removes impediments to the logic of the market;
  • Several active waves of neo-liberalism: proto (the intellectual project of Hayek and Friedman); roll-back (of Keynesianism); and roll-out (of new state forms, modes of governance and regulation);
  • The creation and extraction of value that is predicated upon mobility and connectivity;
  • The (networked) structures that enable neoliberalism are polymorphic and isomorphic.

Thus, life becomes an entrepreneurial activity, effectively a pedagogic project driven by those in the Plutonomy, designed to transfer the risk for the creation of value/management of risk from the public to the individual. This transfer is driven by instruments like student debt and financialisation, which see a transfer back in the opposite direction of wealth and power to those in the elite. Thus, Andrew McGettigan quotes Chris Hearn, head of education at Barclays, in discussing bond markets and HE:

the sector is ‘under-leveraged’ and could nearly double its borrowing. “Universities currently borrow about £5bn, largely through bank finance,” says Hearn. “But they probably have the capacity to generate close to an additional £4bn to £4.5bn.” “Time and time again we hear back from investors that they would desperately love to get their hands on anything to do with the university sector and it is surprising that no one has gone to that market yet.”

As McGettigan notes:

If the current upheaval in higher education does prompt a new wave of borrowing, then the consequences for universities could be equally huge. For borrowing on this scale comes with strings attached. Experience in the US, where bonds are more common, shows that those strings are capable eventually of transforming not only the daily life of a university but its very purpose.

If anything, the secular crisis of capitalism has quickened the pace of accumulation by the rick from the poor, including through the privatisation of previously public or socialised goods like education. In his Theory of Global Capitalism, William Robinson argues that the elite uses technology, entrepreneurialism and innovation both to globalise production and consumption and to catalyse the flows of capital accumulation, and because of the internal dynamics of the system of capitalism. These dynamics include competition, making the organic composition of capital as efficient as possible through squeezing labour, maintaining the increase in the rate of profit, and class struggle. Internalising performativity and entrepreneurial activity inside academics, precariously-employed post-graduates, outsourced IT workers, students and so on, enables the maintenance of power through Plutonomy. This entrepreneurial turn inside the University is used to lower costs, to drive productivity, to discipline labour and to gain competitive advantage over other capitals/businesses/universities. Innovation is the result of social forces in struggle and the need to overcome the temporal and spatial barriers to accumulation.

The secular control by those with power-over is based on the tenets of liberal democracy that are increasingly limited by the power of transnational capitalism over the objective material reality of life, and which is reinforced technologically and pedagogically. To argue for emancipation through technological innovation, least of all inside the University, is to fetishise technology and to misunderstand how technology is shaped by the clash of social forces and the desire of capital to escape the barriers imposed by labour.

Thus, inside the university, technological innovation goes hand-in-hand with strategies for capital accumulation and the explosion in proletarian work, unemployment and underemployment across the globe. Much of this immiseration remains hidden from those in the global North who perceive that capitalism and the market offers the only workable solution. This ignores the fact that, as an article on the Network of Global Corporate Control demonstrates, the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations

[identifies] a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy… a core of 1318 companies [representing] 20 per cent of global operating revenues and… the majority of the world’s large blue chip and manufacturing firms… representing a further 60 per cent of global revenues’… a “super-entity” of 147 even more tightly knit companies … controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth … Most were financial institutions.

This is the world-for-acccumulation, against which Kate Bowles notes universities and academic labour are being restructured.

We overwork because the current culture in universities is brutally and deliberately invested in shaming those who don’t compete effectively; as a correlative to this we are starting to value and promote to leadership roles people who really do believe in the dodgeball triumphalism of university rankings as a way of nurturing educational values and critical inquiry.

The cruelty of this shaming is that it passes itself off as supportive collegial celebration of the heroic few; it’s hard to call out precisely because it looks like a good thing. It’s rampant in internal messaging (newsletters, all staff emails) that continuously reinforce the institution’s strategic mission by high-fiving those who win the prizes. It’s the self-justifying logic of casualisation, creating a vast second-tier of precarious and under supported university work for those who don’t get the real jobs. And it’s the immense project of research quantification, that crowds out practices of thinking, collaborating, listening and sharing in the name of picking winners and hothousing them because ultimately they pay off.

Thus in the UK, in the current round of strikes by academic labour, the potential pressures on national pay bargaining, and hence labour rights, are being talked-up. Inside a competitive environment where the core issue is the health of competing businesses rather than the sustainability of the sector, this is only natural. Moreover, it underpins an increasing corporate focus on outsourcing (or euphemistically-termed partnerships) in terms of: IT; HR functions; student services; and so on. It also drives a need to ensure that staff, as well as students, become increasingly entrepreneurial in taking responsibility/becoming accountable for organisational culture change through: increased flexibility of curriculum development and provision; agility in knowledge transfer; engagement with technological innovation; management of the impact of individual research; and in marketing and communicating about the self-as-commodity with an attached academic value (or profit/loss column). As universities are increasingly commercial entities, engaged with a range of commercial partners, working with students-as-consumers as carriers of debt, performativity and internalising a corporate ethos is central to the formal academic project.

The question now is how to resist such horizontalism and network governance, which itself reflects the needs of the University as corporate entity. In the face of the need to generate surpluses and to enhance market share, the only options appear to be to support the co-option of academic labour for this competitive project, to unionise and organise inside the institution and across the sector (and to join protests against austerity), or to seek exodus. Whichever action is taken, there is a broader set of questions for academics about how they approach organisational governance co-operatively, in order to generate solidarity that militates against the practices that devolve corporate leadership and responsibility for actions, and thereby enable performance management to become an internalised disciplinary activity. As Kate Bowles reminds us, this is academic labour as labour that needs to stand against shame and being shamed:

Being shamed isn’t the result of failing or refusing to participate in this system; it’s the result of being willing to supply your labour to enable competitiveness to work at all. Because there have to be losers, for there to be people who win.

Academic complicity in plutonomy; in the accumulation of wealth; in the mechanics of proletarianisation and dehumanisation. Because there have to be losers, for there to be people who win.


Call for contributions to a book on ‘Mass Intellectuality: The democratisation of higher education’

Through our work on the Social Science Centre, Joss Winn and I have been approached to produce a book which documents and critically analyses ‘alternative higher education’ projects in terms of their being critical responses to ‘intellectual leadership’ in mainstream higher education. The book is intended to be part of a series already agreed with Bloomsbury Academic Publishing that focuses on ‘intellectual leadership’. The series editors have encouraged us to develop a proposal for a book to be included in this new series. A brief statement about the series is:

‘Perspectives on Leadership in Higher Education’ is a research-level series comprising monographs and edited collections with an emphasis on authored books. The prime purpose of the series is to provide a forum for different and sometimes divergent perspectives on what intellectual leadership means within the context of higher education as it develops in the 21st century.

This is an invitation to attend a workshop where we aim to collectively design a book proposal that is submitted to Bloomsbury. As you can see below, we have drafted a proposal, which the series editors and their peer-reviewers have responded very positively to, but it has always been our intention to ultimately produce the book in a collaborative way with all its authors.

We hope that from the workshop, a revised proposal is produced with confirmed authors and chapter summaries, which we will then submit to Bloomsbury for final approval.

We are very optimistic that it will be accepted, but of course we are at liberty to submit the proposal elsewhere if Bloomsbury decide not to go ahead with it. Either way, we are confident of getting the book published.

Hopefully, the draft proposal below is largely self-explanatory. The chapters headings are only indicative in order to get us this far. We expect a fully revised proposal to come out of the workshop with input from all authors.

If you are interested in writing a chapter for the book, you are strongly encouraged to attend the workshop. We will be seeking international contributions to the book, but would like as many authors as possible to help design the book through attendance at this workshop.

We welcome anyone who is involved with and/or working on alternative higher education projects such as free universities, transnational collectives, occupied spaces, and co-operatives for higher education. We hope that this book will provide a lasting critical analysis of recent and existing efforts to develop alternatives to mainstream higher education in the UK and elsewhere. We expect it to encompass chapters which focus on all aspects of these initiatives including, for example, governance, pedagogy, institutional form, theory, disciplinary boundaries, subjectivities: ‘academic’, ‘teacher’, ‘student’, ‘researcher’, and the role and nature of research outside of mainstream universities.

The workshop will be held on Thursday 5th June in Leicester, UK. Exact details of time and place will be sent to participants nearer the date. If you would like to attend, please email Joss Winn prior to 10th May, with a brief abstract of your anticipated contribution. This will help us get a sense of direction prior to the workshop and organise it more effectively. If you are unable to attend the workshop but would like to contribute to the book, please tell us.

1. Book Title and Subtitle.

‘Mass Intellectuality: The democratisation of higher education’

2. Summary

Drawing on the activism of academics and students working in, against and beyond the neo-liberal university, this book brings together for the first time, both an analysis of the crisis of higher education and the alternative forms that are emerging from its ruins.

3. Description (marketing)

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

This book brings together critical analyses of the failures of ‘intellectual leadership’ in the University, and documents on-going efforts from around the world to create alternative models for organising higher education and the production of knowledge. Its authors offer their experience and views from inside and beyond the structures of mainstream higher education, in order to reflect critically on efforts to create really existing alternatives.

The authors argue that mass higher education in the UK is at the point where it no longer reflects the needs, capacities and long-term interests of 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.

4. Key features

1. The book critiques the role of higher education and the University in developing solutions to global crises that are economic and socio-environmental. In this way it grounds an analysis of the idea that there is no alternative for higher education but to contribute to neoliberal agendas for economic growth and the marketisation of everyday life. The restrictions on the socio-cultural leadership inside the University are revealed.

2. The book describes and analyses several real, alternative forms of higher education that have emerged around the world since the ‘Great Recession’ in 2008. These alternatives emerged from worker-student occupations, from engagements in civil society, and from the co-operatives movement. These projects highlight a set of co-operative possibilities for demonstrating and negotiating new forms of political leadership related to higher learning that are against the neo-liberal university.

3. The book argues that the emergence of alternative forms of higher education, based on co-operative organising principles, points both to the failure of intellectual leadership inside the University and to the real possibility of democracy in learning and the production of knowledge. The place of ‘Mass Intellectuality’ as a form of distributed leadership that is beyond the limitations of intellectual leadership in the University will be critiqued, in order to frame social responses to the crisis.

5. Table of Contents

Chapters to be negotiated in a dedicated workshop for the book. However, examples indicative of actual content are as follows.

1. Introduction: Leadership and academic labour: the failure of intellectual leadership in Higher Education [Joss Winn and Richard Hall]

This chapter will introduce the book by offering a perspective on the different types of ‘intellectual leadership’ that exist within higher education i.e. the state, university management, and academic. It will establish a critical framework for understanding the role of each, focused upon their interrelationships, and the tensions and barriers that arise. The chapter aims to introduce and provide a review of the term ‘intellectual leadership’, and then offer a different way of conceiving it as a form of social relationship. In doing so, the authors will briefly question the role, purpose and idea of the university and ask what is it for, or rather, why is it being led? For what purpose? If there has been a failure of leadership, whom has it failed? The authors will then draw on other chapters in the book to offer further responses to these questions, which are themselves developed through the structure of the book: in; against; and beyond the university. We will review the aim of each section, how they are connected and why they point to the need for alternatives. We will address whether it is possible to define alternatives for higher education as a coherent project, and if so how can they be developed and what is the role of leadership in that process?

First section: inside the University

This section sets up the problems of intellectual leadership, historically, philosophically and politically. The co-editors suggest the following indicative areas, which will be defined at the workshop.

  • The failures of intellectual leadership: historical critique (including militarisation and financialisation)

  • The failures of intellectual leadership: philosophical critique

  • Intellectual leadership and limits of institutional structures: managerialism and corporatisation against academic freedom

  • Technology: enabling democracy or cybernetic control?

  • The recursive ‘logic’ of openness in higher education: Levelling the ivory tower?

Second section: against the University

This section documents responses to the first section, in the form of recent critical case studies from those working and studying within and outside the academy. The co-editors suggest the following indicative areas, which will be defined at the workshop.

  • Leaderless networks, education and power

  • Student intellectual leadership: models of student-academic and student-worker collaboration

  • Forms of co-operation: case studies of organisational democracy in education

  • Historical examples of leaderless organisation

  • Historical examples of resistance to intellectual leadership

  • Regional examples of alternatives: Latin America, etc. [unless UK-based]

  • A review of recent initiatives: Student as Producer, SSC, FUN, Free University Brighton, Liverpool, Ragged, P2PU, Brisbane, Edufactory, etc.

Third section: beyond the University

This section provides a critical analysis of the responses described in section two and draws out generalisable themes related to the purpose, organisation and production of higher education, in terms of the idea of Mass Intellectuality, relating it to leadership. The co-editors suggest the following indicative areas, which will be defined at the workshop.

  • Co-operative higher education. Conversion or new institution building?

  • Other models: Open Source ‘benevolent dictator’; heroic leader; radical collegiality, co-operatives

  • Critiques of horizontalism, P2P production, forms of co-operation, radical democracy, etc.

  • Beyond/problems with/critique of ‘Student as Producer’ (Lincoln)

  • General intellect, mass intellectuality: New forms of intellectuality

  • Higher and higher education: Utopian forms of higher education

  • Intellectual leadership and local communities

  • Public intellectuals and public education

Conclusion. The role of free universities: in, against and beyond [Joss Winn and Richard Hall].

The concluding chapter will aim to synthesis key points from the book into an over-arching critical, theoretical argument based upon evidence from the preceding chapters. We will question whether the examples of alternatives to intellectual leadership inside and beyond the university are effective and whether they are prefigurative of a fundamental change in the meaning, purpose and form of higher education. We will reflect on the concept of ‘mass intellectuality’, and attempt to develop this idea in light of our critique and preceding evidence. We will attempt to identify a coherent vision for alternatives to mainstream higher education and assess the role and form of ‘intellectual leadership’.

6. Chapter by chapter synopsis

This needs to be determined at our workshop, but the text below is indicative.

Section one collects chapters which discuss the historical, political-economic and technological trajectory of the modern university, with a particular critical focus on the ‘imaginary futures’ of post-war higher education in the UK and elsewhere. In the context of the current social and economic crises, the chapters lay out the failures of universities and their leaders to provide an on-going and effective challenge to neo-liberalism and question why.

Section two collects chapters which focus on recent and historical attempts by students and academics to resist, reinvent and revolutionise the university from within. Looking at UK and international examples, they examine the characteristics of these efforts and assess the effectiveness of critical forms of praxis aimed against what the university has become.

Section three collects chapters which reflect critically on recent student and academic activism that goes beyond the institutional form of the university to understand higher education as a form of social relations independent of mainstream disciplines and structures. They examine several inter-related and complementary forms of practice as well as reflecting critically on their own practice.

7. Indicative Submission date

  • Workshop to define content and structure in 5th June 2014

  • First draft of all chapters by October/November 2014.

  • Peer-review of chapters completed by February/March 2015.

  • Final draft chapters to co-editors by May/June 2015.

  • Manuscript delivered by September 2015.