Building Sustainable Societies: sustainable education

In June I presented in Leeds at the Building Sustainable Societies, Sustainable Education conference. I spoke about Social sustainability, mass intellectuality and the idea of the University.

My slides and some resources are available on this blog-post.

However, the lovely Jack Palmer at Leeds has published notes from the day’s discussions, which are an interpretation of what I said, alongside the arguments of Adam Elliott-Cooper and Martin McQuillan.

Since then I have written about or contributed to discussions on two other areas that connect with these discussions.

The first are some more notes on the University as an anxiety machine, which connects to Kate Bowles’ writing on academic overwork, and Melonie Fullick’s work on academic productivity. I attempted to begin to theorise this in terms of circuits of productive research and the idea of the circulation of impact. In the face of the concrete anxiety of life, with cognitive dissonance reproduced instantaneously and continuously, does a University life make any sense?

The second area connects with Joss Winn’s writing on open co-operatives and the co-operative university. This led me to write about open co-operativism and mass intellectuality, perhaps as a way of pushing back, or refusing, the university as an anxiety machine.


On the non-sense of an abstracted higher education

There is a chapter in Eugene Lyons’ Assignment in Utopia, in which he argued that the processes of industrialisation that underpinned Stalin’s five-year plans were used to recalibrate the world so that two plus two could be said to equal five. Lyons argues that in the apparent social and economic scarcity, enforced ideologically through production in a (State) capitalist system, a war mentality emerges that forces the pace of life for production. In this space, collectivised efficiency in economic production becomes the compelling motive, and one that was reinforced culturally, every single day and in every single act.

Optimism ran amuck. Every new statistical success gave another justification for the coercive policies by which it was achieved. Every setback was another stimulus to the same policies. The slogan “The Five Year Plan in Four Years” was advanced, and the magic symbols “5-in-4″ and “2 + 2 = 5″ were posted and shouted throughout the land.”

The preliminary triumphs which evoked the slogan 2 + 2 = 5 were in many ways disastrous. They corroborated the taskmasters’ inherited conviction that any miracles could be worked through the sorcery of naked force.

For Lyons this was catastrophic in its implications for everyday life and for everyday sociability. A meaningful life is all but ended, as existence is structured around work to the point where even our very connection to our humanity and those of other human beings is mediated technologically or stripped from us as a commodity. Our very humanity is scrubbed out of our pores through the dehumanisation of labour and ideology, as we are told that there is no alternative.

But under the roar of industrialization life was increasingly muted. The modest indulgences of the year before seemed long, long ago and rather incredible. A full meal became life’s central preoccupation for the mass of the population. Overhead the heavy artillery thundered and spat fire; in the trenches of everyday existence people stepped cautiously, doused their lights and spoke in whispers. The laconic announcements of executions lost their power to interest, let alone move people.

And for Lyons, this was the nature of power viewed through the lens of scarcity rather than of humanity and humane values viewed as abundance. This was the triumph of a social life rooted in the accumulation of value, where the market, planning, efficiency, the collectivised individual and the individual collectivised, were mechanisms for the circulation and expansion of power. In this space, socialisation becomes an abstracted form of psychosis.

The communist millennium seemed to a few faithful just over the horizon—but they were the few who wielded the power of the state and could enforce their distortions upon a sixth part of the globe. It was a mood which stopped at nothing to attain its objectives.

The production of everyday life defined, legislated and regulated, in order to reproduce power for the few. The organising principles for this life, culturally, politically, legally structured and reproduced in every single moment of every single day, in order to make the abstract definition and domination of a particular worldview, our collective, everyday, concrete reality.

And Orwell echoed this dystopian logic; this despairing logic; the logic of anti-hope and anti-humanism; the logic that is their power-to reproduce the world in order to maintain their power-to reproduce the world; the logic of scarcity and not abundance; the logic of the use of technology and information to create a harmonious society.

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable — what then?

And I feel this as cognitive dissonance every single day. When I am told that our work and our everyday needs to focus on finding ways to help staff to monitor and intervene in learning. To monitor and intervene in learning. Like it’s a dispute. Or a technique. Or a piece of fine-tuning. When I read that education might help us in “determining whether technology can be used to engineer a more harmonious society”. The recalibration of labour inside education as an industry, rooted in the production of value, and through corporate paradigms that are defined around scarcity of resources and the reiteration of intervention and monitoring, so that students and academics can bear their individuated roles as entrepreneurs. The self-harming, entrepreneurial behaviour rooted in scarcity and the expansion of value, and the forgetting of values.

And all the while this drip-feeds itself into my social life. What feels like a desperate attempt to cling on to an abstract perception of normal. What we hoped and believed might come to pass. To make #learnervoice, #edtech, #highered, #digitalliteracy, #yourhashtaghere, more than normal. To make #whatever matter. To make #whatever count. For it to be more than #meh, because our educational labour might set us free, if only we worked hard enough and raised enough debt and accepted that their past and their present foreclosed on our future. And never to question what #whatever counts for, when all sociability forces us to conform or be monitored and intervened. And never to question what is the point exactly of a hegemonic view of #highered in the face of #savegaza. Never to push for an alternative, counter-narrative of #highered, which might be made less abstract because of the concrete reality of #savegaza.

So I read of a new Project that “aims to inspire young girls to enter male dominated careers, by featuring women who can act as role models alongside neat news stories and other features”, whilst I recognise that this just leaves us feeling depleted because “True solidarity cannot pay lip service to feminist, de-colonial, anti-racist projects while maintaining individual investments in a system that works for only the most privileged bodies”. And I wonder if this the best that we can do? To prepare our lives for better or more efficient work through #whatever? And here I feel a deep echo of what Josh Ellis describes as being broken-hearted.

Yesterday morning, when I woke up, I clicked on a video in my Twitter feed that showed mutilated children being dragged from the streets of Gaza. And I started sobbing — just sobbing, sitting there in my bed with the covers around my waist, saying “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” over and over to the empty room. Dead children, torn to bits. And then it was time for…what? Get up, eat my cereal, go about my day? Every day?

This feels like the worst kind of dissonance. Two worlds set apart as abstract and concrete, as value and values, revealed as a deeply-held grief that I always knew was in my heart, but that has ruptured so that no amount of papering over can hide the fact. That I get up and do the things that the totalitarian system demands of me, in order to exist, because trying not to is overwhelmingly marginalising. Because I see that 2+2 equals something. But what? And this totalitarianism morphs and flows into every crevice of life, attempting to reassemble not just my labour, but my humanity, and my friendship, courage, fidelity, respect, dignity, solidarity, faith, love, into a structure that accumulates power-over. This is the destruction of how I view my concrete world through its abstraction inside capitalist work; the attempt to hold in place the reality that our hegemonic view of #whatever trumps our actual ability to save Gaza or Aleppo, or to close Gitmo, or to understand the oil and gas implications of the Ukraine, or to address fears about the leaking of methane from under the Arctic. This is the world in which the power of the rule of value can be used to try to intimidate academics to remain silent. Because hegemonic narratives reinforced as power-over, force us to self-harm in our silence. The abstraction of everyday life under the rule of value makes us complicit in the destruction of our collective concrete world.

And we witness and reproduce this everyday in the reality that we cannot save anything really, and anyway there is a cricket Test Match to play, and a Commonwealth to game, and because we must have #lightsout for the war to end all wars. And if only social life could be more efficient because there is not enough to go around, unless we continually expand the abstracted way that we view the world. And dominate others in the process. And deny the concrete reality of our relationships. So that, as Tiqqun wrote in the cybernetic hypothesis, this becomes “the most consequential anti-humanism, which pushes to maintain the general order of things, all the while bragging that it has transcended the human.”

And so all we are left with is the kettle or lamentation or accepting, as Winston Smith must in 1984, that 2+2=5.

Unconsciously, he traces “2+2=5″ in the dust on the table, and thinks of Julia. They saw each other once after being released, purely by chance. He followed her on her walk, always a few feet behind. Eventually she stopped and he put his arm around her waist, but felt revulsion at the thought of making love to her. She did not respond; her body felt rigid and lifeless. They sat down on a bench with some distance between them. After some time, she told him, “I betrayed you.” He told her the same. They agreed, through a distant conversation, that there are some things they can do to you that make you think and care only about yourself. After that, it is impossible to ever feel the same way towards one who you loved.

A scarcity of value, or an abundance of love? Josh Ellis writes that

I don’t believe anymore that the answer lies in more or better tech, or even awareness. I think the only thing that can save us is us. I think we need to find ways to tribe up again, to find each other and put our arms around each other and make that charm against the dark. I don’t mean in any hateful or exclusionary way, of course. But I think like minds need to pull together and pool our resources and rage against the dying of the light. And I do think rage is a component that’s necessary here: a final fundamental fed-up-ness with the bullshit and an unwillingness to give any more ground to the things that are doing us in. To stop being reasonable. To stop being well-behaved. Not to hate those who are hurting us with their greed and psychopathic self-interest, but to simply stop letting them do it. The best way to defeat an enemy is not to destroy them, but to make them irrelevant.

The constancy of the destruction of our concrete world in the face of our enforced and enclosed abstracted lives for work, make those lives “increasingly muted”. How is it possible to become for ourselves, as opposed to being for the abstract destruction of our concrete selves in the countless self-harming activities we witness and reproduce and ignore every single day? How is it possible to end these culturally-acceptable self-harming acts, every, single day? How do we refuse the reduction of our humanity to just another commodity in the market, or to #whatever? How is it possible to make sense of an abstracted #highered in the face of the concrete reality of #savegaza?


Notes on the University as anxiety machine

There is a point that Joss Winn and I make in a critique of academic labour that is against hypostatizing labour as ‘identity’ because this can only lead either to learned helplessness in the face of governmentality or performativity, or to resistance based on recapturing a golden age of labour. The argument here is that inside the University as it is restructured for value, and as it is recalibrated as a means of production, academics and students are separated and exploited through their abstract labour. Even worse, this separation afflicts and undermines the relationships that emerge between those with tenure (who are transformed into the impacted), and the precariously employed graduate student or post-doc, or the undergraduate who is forced into a precarious existence rooted in unpaid academic labour that is disciplined through a financialised existence. This precarious, unpaid academic labour is grounded in the abstract production of first, notes, coursework, exams, projects, groupwork, and second, of entrepreneurial skills and capacities, and digital literacies. This precarious work takes the monitoring that is internalised inside universities through the growth of student satisfaction and future earnings and employability data, and around league tables, and around research impact, and force feeds the same levels of performance anxiety to its students. This is realised in the normalised surveillance of performance in class through attendance monitoring, learning analytics, retention dashboards and text-based reminders about work/labour/doing, and in the entrepreneurial demands of attending careers fairs and employability workshops and cv clinics, and in attempting to find the money to eat and live.

And all the while the labour of the professoriate is unhelpfully reified and acts not as a conduit for hope or courage, but as a container for disappointment and anxiety. This reminds me that Kate Bowles wrote a while back about why academics overwork. She compared the recalibration inside the university as an anxiety machine to that inside the peloton in pro-cycling as it is recalibrated around the leading cyclist, who maybe doping or have a better, quicker machine, or better nutrition, or better whatever. She wrote the following.

This is the story academics tell ourselves as we flip open the laptop on Sunday mornings: we tell ourselves that the boundarylessness of our time and service is a privilege and even a practice of freedom. Over and over I have heard academics say that they couldn’t bear to punch the electronic time clock as our professional colleagues do. But the alternative is the culture of deemed time: by flattering us with what looks like trust in the disposal of our modest obligations, the university displaces all responsibility onto us for the decisions we make about how much to give. There is the problem of imposing limits on ourselves.

This is why I’m finding Daniel Coyle’s book (co-written with pro cyclist whistleblower Tyler Hamilton) about the culture of doping such a thoughtful companion to this difficult time. In the past 24 months, armchair fans like me have asked why so many elite athletes took up performance enhancement, at such personal risk and cost.  The answer’s pretty simple, it turns out. In the Darwinian world of pro-cycling at the end of the 1990s, racing teams learned that the only way to level out competitive opportunity was to meet the standards set by the most committed. To ride within the limits of your own ability became naive, disloyal to the team, and uncompetitive. Young riders waited to be invited to join the inner circle who were doping, and accepted pills handed to them on the basis that it would make them healthier; team management understood and allowed this to happen, because results had become the currency for economic survival, not just for individual riders, but for vast whirling enterprises of sponsorship, employment and profit.

This book has made me think differently about the question of why academics overwork. I now think we don’t yet understand this as behaviour that is harmful to others, not just to ourselves. We overwork like cyclists dope: because everyone does it, because it’s what you do to get by, because in the moment we argue to ourselves that it feels like health and freedom.

This resonates for two reasons. The first is that, just as the high-performing athlete recalibrates the performance of those around her, and creates a productive new-normal, so the workaholic professor does the same. And the irony of my sitting here at 11.22pm writing this is not lost on me. And maybe this is because I am committed. And maybe this is a form of flight or a defence against the abstract pain of the world. Maybe it is a form of self-care, through which I am trying to make concrete how I feel about my past and my present. And maybe as Maggie Turp argues, this form of overwork and performance anxiety is a culturally acceptable self-harming activity. I am performance managed to the point where I willingly internalise the question “am I productive enough?”, which aligns with “am I a good academic?”, which aligns with “am I working hard enough”, which risks becoming a projection onto those around me of “are you working/producing enough?” My example is potentially toxic because being good enough in this productive space is never enough. My culturally acceptable self-harming activities militate against solidarity and co-operation that is beyond value. The defining, status-driven impulse is to increase my value as an entrepreneur, and to demonstrate that through the traces I leave in publications, or managing a team, or in leading research bids, or in blogging and emailing at all hours. And the toxicity reduces my/our immunity and leaves us addicted to our status as all that we have. And all that we have is a reified, anxiety-infused identity.

The second reason is that the high performing athlete is competing. We are locked into a system that leaves us all played out. The logic of competition inside capitalism is rooted in the production of value and the accumulation of surplus value, and this tends towards an ongoing technological arms race designed to give competitive edge. This arms race is rooted in time, and more especially the socially necessary labour time it takes to produce. If my neighbour can turnaround exam papers in four weeks but I can do it in three, or if she has time to produce two peer-reviewed papers but I can squeeze out three, and if I can get my team’s appraisals done in two weeks, and if my performance is based on making my labour time more efficient, then what are the implications for those around me? What are the implications for academic labour more generally, in the drive to reduce the socially necessary labour time it takes to valorise the labour of academics on a global scale?

We might also ask whether this drive both for performance and to make the labour of academics and students productive of value has implications for the work of precariously employed academic staff? Does the valorisation of this work and its co-option inside globalised circuits of capital disconnect those with tenure from those without? Does the valorisation process rooted in impact measures and knowledge exchange/transfer, and commercialisation, and entrepreneurship, mean that the work of the academic peloton is always recalibrated around the highest performing academic athlete? Is this why we do not see the professoriate resisting the financialisation of the university? Because they have a stake in the university as a generator of status and power; a stake in the transnational circuits of power that define their work? The only problem with grounding a concrete existence in the abstract and reified labour of reproducing power is that you fear that power to be transient and scarce and to be hoarded or defended. The defence of the scarcity of power and status amplifies and transmits anxiety; it projects anxiety throughout the academic peloton, reinforced through signalisation and dressage.

Elsewhere I wrote about the University as anxiety machine, where the projection of anxiety emerged through the fabric of relationships.

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.

I wonder if the University’s functions now are being redesigned so that they reproduce a sense of anxiety as a permanent state of exception inside teams and individuals. I wonder whether the focus on productive labour, on the socially necessary labour time of abstract academic work, and the entrepreneurial turn across higher education, each create an atmosphere of anxiety. I wonder whether the reproduction of an ambiance of anxiety is a co-operative endeavour that emerges from inside the University as a means of production that is governed by metrics, data and debt, and out of which value is scraped through the alienation of time. This reminds me of persistent inferiority and internalised responsibility, and of the shock doctrine that recalibrates what is possible.

Are defence or refusal possibilities inside the University as an anxiety machine? What is the psychic impact of: alienated labour; the disciplining of academic labour; the cognitive dissonance inherent in the contradictions of abstract/concrete labour; the rule of money? How do we learn to self-care as opposed to self-harm inside the University? One of the ways in which self-care might emerge is in looking at who is pushing back against financialisation and alienation, be that in casualised labour, or trades union anti-casualisation strategies, or through a precariat charter, or in actions like 3cosas, or in post-graduates for fair pay. These are not organisations of those with tenure, but they force us to consider both the university as anxiety/performativity machine and the idea of making opposition public, as an association of the dispossessed or impacted. They reignite the concrete/abstract relationship between higher education and the public.

This feels more important to me, in questioning the public role of my work, and in making my work feel concrete and about doing/being, rather than feeling abstract and for value. As a result, I begin to think about self-care in terms of my relationships to my public activities, and these are rooted in specific communities that have deliberation, a critique of work (rather than labour), and the idea of “the public” at their heart. The first is the DMU Policy Commission, which developed a charter of 100 ideas to change Britain, and which had a deliberative, co-operative, critical scholarly production process at its heart. The second is the Digilit Leicester Project, which has teacher agency and collegiality, not as a fetishized, aristocracy of labour, but as a means of self-empowerment, at its heart. The third is the Social Science Centre, which has a deeply politicised approach to relationship-building that is against academic dilettantism, and which is rooted in inclusive and co-operative production of the world. The question is whether and how these projects as activities or as doing, enable me to be in the world beyond my reified academic labour. Do they thereby enable me to overcome the concrete/abstract tensions that my labour produces and which are potentially projected as anxiety-inducing on those around me?


governing academic labour: on the circuit of impact

ONE. Coercion through signalisation and dressage

In Discipline and Punish, Foucault writes of emergent military tactics focused upon the co-operation and the accumulation and co-ordination of co-operative, productive forces that Marx sees inside the factory.

Hence, the need to find a whole calculated practice of individual and collective dispositions, movements of groups or isolated elements, changes of position, of movement from one disposition to another; in short, the need to invent a machinery whose principle would no longer be the mobile or immobile mass, but a geometry of divisible segments whose basic unity was the mobile soldier with his rifle. The same problems arose when it was a question of constituting a productive force whose effect had to be superior to the sum of the elementary forces that composed it (p. 163).

Thus, the machinery of capitalism is constructed co-operatively to maximise the articulation or productive capacity and capability of the elementary parts from which it is composed. “Discipline is no longer simply an art of distributing bodies, of extracting time from them and accumulating it, but of composing forces in order to obtain an efficient machine” (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 164). Foucault argues that this is done in three ways (pp. 164-7).

  1. The individual body becomes an element that can be placed, moved or articulated on others, so that its space-time co-ordination, rather than its humanity (courage, faith, hope, whatever), become fundamental.
  2. The chronological series (such as the circulation of production or money) that discipline must combine in order to form a composite time are also part of the machinery. The times of each element must be adjusted so that the maximum quantity of forces can be extracted and combined for an optimum outcome, or impact. “There is not a single moment of life from which cannot extract forces, providing one knows how to differentiate it and combine it with others” (p. 165).
  3. The carefully measured combination of forces requires a precise system of command. The productive activity of the disciplined individual must be punctuated and sustained by the injunctions of those in power, which are internalised and do not need explanation. Here signalisation and dressage are critical, so that obedience is reproduced.

This then leads to four characteristics of individuality: cellular (distribution in space); organic (encoded in activities); genetic (in the accumulation of time); and combinatory (through the composition of forces). The outcomes of this disciplinary process are: drawing up tables; prescribing movements; imposing exercises; arranging tactics. This then enables a qualitative shift in the accumulation of outcomes, whether they are framed as money, value, impact, or more importantly power. This is the tension between the social contract and the desire of social groups for autonomy, and the disciplinary, militarised dream of subordination through coercion and through perpetual forms of training to docility.

TWO. Neoliberalism, pedagogy and power

This focus on power connects to John Holloway’s argument in How to Change the World Without Taking Power that “The hierarchisation of struggle is a hierarchisation of our lives and thus a hierarchisation of ourselves.” What drives an alternative is the negation of hierarchical power within

a society in which power relations are dissolved. You cannot build a society of non-power relations by conquering power. Once the logic of power is adopted, the struggle against power is already lost.

Holloway notes:

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

I remembered this as I read Jehu tweet that:

Neoliberalism is not at all concerned about markets, but about concentration of power.

And that

Imposing a neoliberal regime on Mexico is just actually concentration of Mexico’s resources in Washington’s hands.

And that

This has nothing at all to do with “freeing markets from state control”, but freeing the productive forces from the Mexico state’s control.

And that

Every state tries to control its economy. For Washington, however, the world market is its economy.

This is about the production, circulation and accumulation of power, with the market as a lever to that end. This is less a project about marketisation and financialisation than it is about those tactics of signalisation and dressage that underscore the reproduction of power-over the world. Holloways argues that we cannot live in ignorance of the power relations that discipline our lives through the perpetual forms of activity and training, especially inside and through higher education, which coerce us. He argues for the positive creativity that emerges from the negativity of critique and from our “refusal of capital”, through the direct and active production of an alternative pedagogical terrain focused on doing rather than preparation for capitalist work. The recuperation of doing, as opposed to capitalist labour, and the development of our shared power-to create the world, rather than simply to maximise profit is central to this project. Critical here is a focus on power that is produced from processes which signal and that enforce dressage, by recalibrating the work of individuals co-operatively.

THREE. On the production and circulation of impact

Inside the University, impact signals compulsion that is itself self-harming behaviour, and then enforces dressage in the name of power. This point was made at Governing Academic Life by Michael Power, in his focus on the role of impact in acting as a form of governance over academic labour. He argued that impact was an open and public closure of what can be discussed and produced, in order that a governance/command structure for value production could be imposed. Here metrics and investment interact to forms a circuit of capital rooted in academic production, with that productive power of research being disciplined through signalisation that then imposes a form of dressage.

Power then argued that the really existing practices that emerged from the institutional recalibration around impact catalysed knowledge transfer and exchange, policies around public engagement and the co-option of the public by the private, the impact of impact on future earnings, and the use of data and analytics to drive future investment. Effectively the latter forms a complementary, data-driven disciplinary layer to the proposed credit default swaps and derivatives in student loans that drive the incorporation of higher education inside the circuits of transnational capital. For Power, these innovations then promised to deliver new dimensions of academic performance, which are revealed as: cellular (distribution in academic space, like the classroom and archive); organic (encoded in academic activities like research and scholarship); genetic (in the accumulation of academic time inside-and-beyond the university); and combinatory (through the composition of forces inside and through universities as associations of capitals). The outcomes of this disciplinary process are the production and accumulation of power over academic labour that is realised: through tables of performance that coerce competition; prescribing the movements of academics through data-driven investments and strategies for enterprise, like the Future Earnings and Employment Record; imposing exercises like knowledge transfer and exchange; and arranging tactics like the REF or the NSS. Thus, impact accounting is a new vector of managerial control of academic activity.

One critical point that Power made was about the way in which the terrain of research was shifting, in part driven by processes of financialisation across higher education. He argued that the circuit of research/impact inside the productive forces of the University was shifting from:

Research – Impact – Research

in which a research idea was measured and quantified for impact to underscore further research, to a point where impact was the catalyst for the circulation of research. Thus, systemically the cycle was shifting so that the circuit of research (production) was forced to align with the circuit of impact (money/finance). Critical here is the realisation of the circuit as:

Impact – Research – Impact or even Impact – Research – Impact’

This connects to Marx’s argument about the circulation of commodities in Volume 1 of Capital.

The simplest form of the circulation of commodities is C-M-C, the transformation of commodities into money, and the change of the money back again into commodities; or selling in order to buy. But alongside of this form we find another specifically different form: M-C-M, the transformation of money into commodities, and the change of commodities back again into money; or buying in order to sell. Money that circulates in the latter manner is thereby transformed into, becomes capital, and is already potentially capital.

Now let us examine the circuit M-C-M a little closer. It consists, like the other, of two antithetical phases. In the first phase, M-C, or the purchase, the money is changed into a commodity. In the second phase, C-M, or the sale, the commodity is changed back again into money. The combination of these two phases constitutes the single movement whereby money is exchanged for a commodity, and the same commodity is again exchanged for money; whereby a commodity is bought in order to be sold, or, neglecting the distinction in form between buying and selling, whereby a commodity is bought with money, and then money is bought with a commodity. [2] The result, in which the phases of the process vanish, is the exchange of money for money, M-M. If I purchase 2,000 lbs. of cotton for £100, and resell the 2,000 lbs. of cotton for £110, I have, in fact, exchanged £100 for £110, money for money.

Now it is evident that the circuit M-C-M would be absurd and without meaning if the intention were to exchange by this means two equal sums of money, £100 for £100. The miser’s plan would be far simpler and surer; he sticks to his £100 instead of exposing it to the dangers of circulation. And yet, whether the merchant who has paid £100 for his cotton sells it for £110, or lets it go for £100, or even £50, his money has, at all events, gone through a characteristic and original movement, quite different in kind from that which it goes through in the hands of the peasant who sells corn, and with the money thus set free buys clothes. We have therefore to examine first the distinguishing characteristics of the forms of the circuits M-C-M and C-M-C, and in doing this the real difference that underlies the mere difference of form will reveal itself.

What, however, first and foremost distinguishes the circuit C-M-C from the circuit M-C-M, is the inverted order of succession of the two phases. The simple circulation of commodities begins with a sale and ends with a purchase, while the circulation of money as capital begins with a purchase and ends with a sale. In the one case both the starting-point and the goal are commodities, in the other they are money. In the first form the movement is brought about by the intervention of money, in the second by that of a commodity.

In simple circulation, C-M-C, the value of commodities attained at the most a form independent of their use-values, i.e., the form of money; but that same value now in the circulation M-C-M, or the circulation of capital, suddenly presents itself as an independent substance, endowed with a motion of its own, passing through a life-process of its own, in which money and commodities are mere forms which it assumes and casts off in turn. Nay, more: instead of simply representing the relations of commodities, it enters now, so to say, into private relations with itself. It differentiates itself as original value from itself as surplus-value; as the father differentiates himself from himself qua the son, yet both are one and of one age: for only by the surplus-value of £10 does the £100 originally advanced become capital, and so soon as this takes place, so soon as the son, and by the son, the father, is begotten, so soon does their difference vanish, and they again become one, £110.

Value therefore now becomes value in process, money in process, and, as such, capital. It comes out of circulation, enters into it again, preserves and multiplies itself within its circuit, comes back out of it with expanded bulk, and begins the same round ever afresh. [14] M-M’, money which begets money, such is the description of Capital from the mouths of its first interpreters, the Mercantilists.

This final point is critical in our understanding of how the impact agenda, as a form of universal equivalent in academic practice, might become a form of power over academic labour. Through the attempts to start and end with impact, managerial control signals the forms of practice that are acceptable and also attempt to overcome the barriers to the accumulation of impact as it is realised in money, value and/or power. These barriers are reproduced and presented by academic labour’s intransigence in its cellular, organic, genetic, and combinatory characteristics, rooted in the humanity of co-operation rather than the inhumanity of coercive competition for value. Thus, systemically we see imposed: drawing up tables; prescribing movements; imposing exercises; arranging tactics. In an ideal world, such performance management would underscore the circuit of academic research in the form:

Impact – Impact’

Here, we would witness the constitution of a productive force whose effect would be superior to the sum of the elementary forces that composed it. This would be an overcoming of academic labour. It’s abolition rather than its governance, in the name of power. Yet power-over depends on the subjugation of living labour and the production/accumulation of value. This is a critical, systemic tension: the need for power-over labour, at the same time that its abolition is demanded. As I note elsewhere on the domination of merchants in higher education:

The links between commercial educational providers and universities, educators and students as producers and consumers of educational services, data and products, demonstrate power and dependency. This complex interdependency is not reducible to fetishized ideas of money via cost-savings or emancipation based on learning for a life of capitalist work. It links to ideas of the reproduction of capital within limits or barriers, and the current condition inside-and-against education demonstrates how crises re-establish the limits and conditions existing in the system as a totality and in the circuits of productive, money and commodity capital. Moreover, we are witnessing the attempt by finance and commercial capital to synchronise production with their own circuits. This is an uncomfortable symbiosis, as those of us engaged in a higher education that is being restructured by the dictates of finance capital and a new market can attest.

At issue is whether we can help students [society] to develop the analytical tools that enable them to understand the interdependencies of this world and thereby to critique power [and produce new forms of sociability]. Can we help them to change the world in the face of capital as the automatic subject, and against the dominance of our educational lives by finance and commercial capital?

I am left with some questions.

  • How might we use the circuit of impact, and the productive power of research, especially where it is connected to the pedagogic power of student-as-producer, to reveal the face of power?
  • How do we reveal the humanity of doing as a pedagogical act of resistance?
  • How might we reassert the role of production against the imperative for a circuit of Impact-Impact’ that works to negates research as an autonomous activity?
  • How might we reveal the tendency of finance capital to reduce the impact agenda to power-over living labour through dead labour incorporated in the circuit of impact?
  • How might we overcome the signalisation and dressage that forces academic self-harm?

NOTE: as Michael Power spoke about academic researchers as “impactees”, Andrew Mcgettigan noted that they/we might also be the “impacted.” In the process of trying to find spaces to refuse our objectification and alienation, the latter might offer a more grounded way of overcoming impact. In particular, the notion of being impacted is an act of doing that is against our subjecticity or our being. It reveals their power over our potential subjectivity. This is critically and qualitatively different to the alienating internalisation that emerges from our performativity as impactees. Describing the ways in which we are impacted  might offer a way into a radical subjectivity that is rooted in the production of new forms of critical knowledge in everyday life. Here we might coalesce alternatives to the ideological and material conditions of domination that crystallised from the crisis, in particular where those alternatives emerge around the creation of democratic, open, research co-operatives. Whether this can happen inside the University, public or not, is increasingly problematic.


Social sustainability, mass intellectuality and the idea of the University

On Monday 30 June, I’m presenting in Leeds at the Building Sustainable Societies, Sustainable Education conference. I’m speaking about Social sustainability, mass intellectuality and the idea of the University.

Abstract

This presentation considers the interconnections between critical pedagogy and the idea of mass intellectuality, in order to reflect on the current crisis of higher education. The argument will situate the liberationist perspectives of critical pedagogy inside the idea of mass intellectuality, or the process of democratic knowledge production at the level of society. It will be argued that in the face of the secular crisis of capitalism, which is recalibrating the idea of the University and of higher education through marketization and competition, it is the development of mass intellectuality that offers a mechanism for a different, co-operative form of social sustainability. In confronting enforced, structural changes, this approach offers more than the tropes of individual resilience, or of mitigation or adaptation, which emerge from readings of environmental sustainability. In fact, it enables a critical, alternative reading of the social sustainability of higher education strategies for internationalisation, entrepreneurialism, consumerism, and so on. These alternatives pivot around the re-politicising both the curriculum and the University, and are particularly useful in enabling a critique of the place of higher education inside the circuits and cycles of globalised capitalism. As a result, mass intellectuality potentially offers a richer way in to revealing higher education as a key site of struggle over the production and accumulation of value. More importantly, in forcing educators and students to ask “what is to be done?”, a focus on mass intellectuality suggests possibilities for pushing back against the subsumption of contemporary higher education for capitalist work. As a result we might ask whether alternative forms of social sustainability are desirable and possible.

My slides are available here.

I will make the following argument.

ONE. The idea of the University has to be developed in relation to the production, circulation and accumulation of value. This is a form of sociability and power that recalibrates the world and amplifies suffering. There are some ideas here.

TWO. We are witnessing and through our labour we are party to the restructuring of the University for value. A range of transnational networks and policy advocates, as well as representative academic and managerial groups, amplify this as an entrepreneurial turn inside the University. In particular the University is being culturally redefined through a range of counter-measures that intend to reinstate stable forms of accumulation. Here the daily violence of debt, unemployment and the collapse in real wages make concrete the realities of an abstracted life. There are some ideas here.

THREE. The University is disciplined by transnational activist networks that form associations of capitals, designed to transform governance, regulation and funding for value. This is antagonistic and intergenerational, and it threatens social cohesion. There are some ideas here.

FOUR. Are defence or refusal possibilities? If so, where are they witnessed? In occupations; in the work of precariously employed labour; in flights of fancy; in the social factory? There are some ideas here.

FIVE. Are defence or refusal possibilities inside the University as an anxiety machine? What is the psychic impact of: alienated labour; the disciplining of academic labour; the cognitive dissonance inherent in the contradictions of abstract/concrete labour; the rule of money? How do we learn to self-care as opposed to self-harm? There are some ideas here.

SIX. How do we understand the relationship between mass intellectuality and the idea of the University? How do we build a counter-hegemony rooted in: radical subjectivity through the production of new forms of critical knowledge in everyday life; spaces for the refusal of the violence of abstraction; occupation of the idea of the public; alternatives to the ideological and material conditions of domination; the creation of democratic, open, worker co-operatives; and an abundance of love, rather than a scarcity of value? There are some ideas here.


on Mass Intellectuality

Ahead of our workshop on Mass Intellectuality, Joss Winn has argued the following about the term Mass Intellectuality.

A couple of people have questioned our use of the term ‘mass intellectuality’ for the title of our proposed book: ‘Mass Intellectuality: the democratisation of higher education. It’s a term that comes from Autonomous Marxism, based on Marx’s notion of the ‘general intellect’. Richard and I intend to introduce and discuss the term in our introduction to the book.

Here’s what Paolo Virno had to say about it:

“Mass intellectuality is the composite group of Postfordist living labour, not merely of some particularly qualified third sector: it is the depository of cognitive competences that cannot be objectified in machinery. Mass intellectuality is the prominent form in which the general intellect is manifest today. The scientific erudition of the individual labourer is not under question here. Rather, all the more generic attitudes of the mind gain primary status as productive resources; these are the faculty of language, the disposition to learn, memory, the power of abstraction and relation and the tendency towards self-reflexivity. General intellect needs to be understood literally as intellect in general: the faculty and power to think, rather than the works produced by thought – a book, an algebra formula etc. In order to represent the relationship between general intellect and living labour in Postfordism we need to refer to the act through which every speaker draws on the inexhaustible potential of language to execute contingent and unrepeatable statements. Like the intellect and memory, language is the most common and least ‘specialised’ conceivable given. A good example of mass intellectuality is the speaker, not the scientist. Mass intellectuality has nothing to do with a new ‘labour aristocracy’; it is actually its exact opposite.”

Source: ‘General Intellect by Paolo Virno

Mass intellectuality is against-and-beyond the restructuring of society for capitalist work and for the production, circulation and accumulation of value. As I write elsewhere on the co-operative university:

From such a reframing emerges a focus on alternative educational practices that develop socialised knowledge, or ‘mass intellectuality’, a direct, social force of production [which is socially useful, and based on an alternative value-form that will work in terms of the social reproduction of society in a different image.]. 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.”

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.


three presentations on academic labour

I have three presentations coming-up at really exciting events. The presentations are on academic labour, and I’m pleased that Joss Winn is also involved in two of these.

The first is at the Governing Academic Life conference, which is “oriented by the concern to think critically about the conditions of possibility of the academy today”. There is an amazing list of speakers at this event. I’m speaking about “Academic labour and co-operative struggles for subjectivity’

Abstract 

The academic has no apparent autonomy beyond the temporary amelioration of her labour relations with those who direct the University for the logic of accumulation, commodification, and profit-maximisation. Those who direct the University for the market are not simply Vice-Chancellors, but include policy makers, private equity fundholders, credit rating agencies, technology firms and publishers, and, indirectly, fee-paying students. This transnational activist network forms an association of capitals (Ball, 2011; Marx, 1993) that subsumes and disciplines academic labour.

This subsumption of academic labour emerges under “the social tyranny of exchange-value” and the profit motive (Wendling, p. 52). What is currently being enacted through global labour arbitrage, outsourcing and precarity, is the alienation of academic labour through the enclosure and commodification of its products and relationships. This focus on production for exchange is then furthered through the cultural imperatives of student-as-consumer, league tables, impact-measures, knowledge exchange and so on. Against this tyranny might the value of academic labour, in the costs of its labour-power, the research/teaching products that it creates, and the relationships that it enables and maintains, be re-evaluated for its social use?

Such a re-evaluation demands that academics imagine that their skills, practices and knowledges might be shared and put to another use, in common and in co-operation. We might ask, is it possible to live and tell a different, overtly political story of academic labour? This focus on politics and organisation is a focus on recovering subjectivity as an academic and a labourer. As Cleaver (1993) notes in his final two theses on the Secular Crisis of Capitalism, this idea of recovering subjectivity through radical democracy is critical in liberating humanity from the coercive laws of competition and the market. For Cleaver, the creation of a revolutionary 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. Here the idea of academic as labourer is central, rather than academic as fetishized carrier of specific skills, practices and knowledges.

This paper will make three points. First, it will address the mechanisms through which the academic is increasingly alienated inside-and-against the University as it is recalibrated as an association of capitals. Second, it will ask whether and how academic labour might be renewed as part of a social struggle for subjectivity? The potential for co-operative alternatives based on solidarity, where they connect to a radical, societal, democratic project of refusal, will be highlighted. Third, the paper will ask whether it is possible to liberate academic labour for use-value that can be used inside and across society?

References

Ball, S.J. 2012.Global Education Inc. New Policy Networks and the Neo-Liberal Imaginary.London: Routledge.

Cleaver, H. 1993. Theses on Secular Crisis in Capitalism. Available online: http://libcom.org/library/theses-secular-crisis-capitalism-cleaver

Marx, K. 1993. Capital, Volume 2: A Critique of Political Economy. London: Penguin.

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


 

The second is at the Building Sustainable Societies conference, which aims “to develop collaboratively a definition of social sustainability, we suggest it might include: a society with a more equitable distribution of economic resources; greater equality, rights and social justice; fair and equal access to essential services such as housing, health, transport and education; a renegotiation of the work-life balance; and opportunities for everyone to participate actively in community life and decision-making.” I’m discussing Social sustainability, mass intellectuality and the idea of the University

Abstract 

This presentation considers the interconnections between critical pedagogy and the idea of mass intellectuality, in order to reflect on the current crisis of higher education. The argument will situate the liberationist perspectives of critical pedagogy inside the idea of mass intellectuality, or the process of democratic knowledge production at the level of society. It will be argued that in the face of the secular crisis of capitalism, which is recalibrating the idea of the University and of higher education through marketization and competition, it is the development of mass intellectuality that offers a mechanism for a different, co-operative form of social sustainability. In confronting enforced, structural changes, this approach offers more than the tropes of individual resilience, or of mitigation or adaptation, which emerge from readings of environmental sustainability. In fact, it enables a critical, alternative reading of the social sustainability of higher education strategies for internationalisation, entrepreneurialism, consumerism, and so on. These alternatives pivot around the re-politicising both the curriculum and the University, and are particularly useful in enabling a critique of the place of higher education inside the circuits and cycles of globalised capitalism. As a result, mass intellectuality potentially offers a richer way in to revealing higher education as a key site of struggle over the production and accumulation of value. More importantly, in forcing educators and students to ask “what is to be done?”, a focus on mass intellectuality suggests possibilities for pushing back against the subsumption of contemporary higher education for capitalist work. As a result we might ask whether alternative forms of social sustainability are desirable and possible.


 

The third is at the Academic Identities conference. Joss Winn and I will be discussing academic labour.

Abstract

In this paper we analyse ‘academic labour’ using categories developed by Marx in his critique of political economy. In doing so, we return to Marx to help understand the work of academics as productive living labour subsumed by the capitalist mode of production. In elaborating our own position, we are critical of two common approaches to the study of academic labour, especially as they emerge from inside analyses of ‘virtual labour’ or ‘digital work’ (Fuchs and Sevignani, 2013; Newfield, 2010; Roggero, 2011).

First, we are critical of efforts to define the nature of our work as ‘immaterial labour’ (Hardt and Negri, 2000; Peters and Bulut, 2011; Scholtz, 2013) and argue that this category is an unhelpful and unnecessary diversion from the analytical power of Marx’s social theory and method. The discourse around ‘immaterial labour’ raised by the Autonomist or Operaismo tradition is thought-provoking, but ultimately adds little to a critical theory of commodity production as the basis of capitalist social relations (Postone, 1993; Sohn-Rethel, 1978). In fact they tend to overstate network-centrism and its concomitant disconnection from the hierarchical, globalised forces of production that shape our objective social reality (Robinson, 2004).

Second, we are cautious of an approach which focuses on the digital content of academic labour (Noble, 2002; Weller, 2012) to the neglect of both its form and the organising principles under which it is subsumed (Camfield, 2007). Understandably, academics have a tendency to reify their own labour such that it becomes something that they struggle for, rather than against. However, repeatedly adopting this approach can only lead to a sense of helplessness (Postone, 2006). If, rather, we focus our critique on the form and organising principles of labour, we find that it shares the same general qualities whether it is academic or not. Thus, it is revealed as commodity-producing, with both concrete and abstract forms. By remaining focused on the form of labour, rather than its content, we can only critique it rather than reify it.

This then has implications for our understanding of the relationships between academics and virtual work, the ways in which technologies are used to organise academic labour digitally, and struggles to overcome such labour. It is our approach to conceive of ‘academic labour’ in both its concrete and abstract forms and in relation to a range of techniques and technologies. The purpose of this is to unite all workers in solidarity against labour (Krisis-Group, 1999), rather than against each other in a competitive labour market.

References

Camfield, D. (2007). The Multitude and the Kangaroo: A Critique of Hardt and Negri’s Theory of Immaterial Labour. Historical Materialism 15: 21-52. 

Fuchs, C. and Sevignani, S. (2013). What Is Digital Labour? What Is Digital Work? What’s their Difference? And Why Do These Questions Matter for Understanding Social Media?, tripleC, 11(2) 237-292.

Hardt, M. and Negri, T. (2000). Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Krisis-Group (1999). Manifesto against labour. Krisis.

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

Noble, D.F. (2002). Digital Diploma Mills. The Automation of Higher Education. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Peters, M.A. and Bulut. E. (2011). Cognitive Capitalism, Education and Digital Labor. New York: Peter Lang.

Postone, M. (1993). Time, Labor and Social Domination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Postone, M. (2006). History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism, Public Culture, 18(1).

Robinson, W.I. (2004). A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World. Baltimore, MA: John Hopkins University Press.

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

Scholtz, T. (2013). Digital Labour. The Internet as Playground and Factory. New York: Routledge.

Sohn-Rethel, A. (1978). Intellectual and Manual Labour. New Jersey: Humanities Press.

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. London: Bloomsbury.


Social sustainability, mass intellectuality and the idea of the University

On 30 June I’m presenting at the Sustainable Education strand of the international conference Building Sustainable Societies. I’m planning on speaking about “Social sustainability, mass intellectuality and the idea of the University”. My abstract is appended below.

This presentation considers the interconnections between critical pedagogy and the idea of mass intellectuality, in order to reflect on the current crisis of higher education. The argument will situate the liberationist perspectives of critical pedagogy inside the idea of mass intellectuality, or the process of democratic knowledge production at the level of society. It will be argued that in the face of the secular crisis of capitalism, which is recalibrating the idea of the University and of higher education through marketization and competition, it is the development of mass intellectuality that offers a mechanism for a different, co-operative form of social sustainability. In confronting enforced, structural changes, this approach offers more than the tropes of individual resilience, or of mitigation or adaptation, which emerge from readings of environmental sustainability. In fact, it enables a critical, alternative reading of the social sustainability of higher education strategies for internationalisation, entrepreneurialism, consumerism, and so on. These alternatives pivot around the re-politicising both the curriculum and the University, and are particularly useful in enabling a critique of the place of higher education inside the circuits and cycles of globalised capitalism. As a result, mass intellectuality potentially offers a richer way in to revealing higher education as a key site of struggle over the production and accumulation of value. More importantly, in forcing educators and students to ask “what is to be done?”, a focus on mass intellectuality suggests possibilities for pushing back against the subsumption of contemporary higher education for capitalist work. As a result we might ask whether alternative forms of social sustainability are desirable and possible.


notes on the proto/rollback/rollout phases of the co-operative university

Stephen Ball writes of three stages of neoliberalism. The first is proto, and refers to the intellectual genesis and maturation of the project. This is the cultural attack on the everyday reality of the public and of the State, and lays the groundwork for building a consensus around the value of the market in defining the production of everyday life. It lays the groundwork for the market as the primary social arbiter. It also creates a set of spaces inside and against which the State can be reconfigured to deliver a policy structure that enhances marketization. This is the doctrinaire new normal.

The second stage is rollback, during which social life that was hitherto experienced negotiated as public or social, like the post-war Keynesian consensus, and which included free-at-the-point-of-delivery healthcare or education or social services, is broken-up or refused or denied. As a result, those services are enclosed and marketised. In this stage there is a clear interplay between the doctrinal, intellectual underpinnings of neoliberalism and the undermining of the State or of public services as inefficient. This then connects to the third stage, that of the rollout of the new neoliberal normal, through: public policy that enables the privatisation of public spaces; the insuring or indenture of access to public goods like pensions and healthcare; the individualised nature of social services; the opening-up of access to public data for private gain; the use of public policy to catalyse associations of corporations or capitals that can extract or accumulate value; and so on.

Inside English higher education these three interconnected phases of neoliberalism have played out in an increasingly indistinct manner. There has been a limited intellectual project about what higher education should be, or of the idea of what the University might be. In fact, we are left to seek out Coalition Government proposals from analyses of ministerial pamphlets like David Willetts’ Robbins Revisited, or in analyses of the Higher Education White Paper that never became an Act of Parliament, or in analyses of the relationships between Ministers and finance capital (like Goldman Sachs) in the running of symposia about the future of higher education, or in analyses of the role of private finance and global publishers (like Pearson Education).

Elsewhere we witness a policy space that is driven by secondary legislation focused upon: student debt and university funding; leveraging the role of finance capital and the bond markets in institutional debt/refinancing; using student number controls, funding for core and marginal numbers, and deregulation to catalyse competition; the use of key information sets; the monetisation of the student loan book; and so on. Moreover, the institutional response to this recalibration of a funding space has been that of competing businesses, akin to those of the English Football Pyramid, where the health of the league is secondary to the value of the individual clubs. Thus, in order to compete, individual universities restructure through the bond markets, or rebrand themselves for international markets using engagement in on-line projects like FutureLearn, or assault labour rights through zero-hour contracts and casualization and outsourcing, or drive strategies for entrepreneurialism or social enterprise, or engage explicitly in corporate partnerships with publishers and finance capital that pivot around the production of value. Here the proto phase of the marketization of higher education meets the rollback of State funding and regulation, and the rollout of opportunities for marketization and accumulation, in a messy and contested set of spaces. This mess leaves those employed in the university contested and contesting, and dissonant and dissociated, and frayed.

Thus, we see Ball’s transnational activist networks that form geographies of neoliberalism playing out in the recalibration of individual universities as global associations of capitals. Increasingly it becomes impossible to understand the emerging role of the University without developing a critique of its relationships to a transnational capitalist class that is restructuring the University, and which consists of academics and think-tanks, policy-makers and administrators, finance capital and venture capital and private equity, educational publishers, and philanthropists. The aim is to regulate the State and the institutions that are structured by it, like universities, for the market, for enterprise, and for-profit. Critical here is that the proto, rollback and rollout phases are increasingly playing out together in real-time, so that the room for manoeuvre for individual institutions is restricted and so that they are increasingly kettled through competition for an increasingly scarce resource (student debt, research funding, international markets etc.).

One of the issues for those driving policy and practice from this increasingly kettled perspective is that they are unable to evolve strategies beyond a narrative of economic growth. As Michael Roberts highlights, this is an issue because:

Despite a large devaluation of sterling as a response to the financial crash, exports have not made much progress and the UK’s deficit on trade with the rest of the world remains very high. The UK’s government budget deficit is still the highest among the G7 economies. The real joker in the pack for the message that the UK economy is heading for 3%-plus real growth this year and next is that, just as in the US, the capitalist sector is not investing. In the activity indexes, it was notable that investment goods orders slowed.

Roberts goes to argue that in the face of poor investment, exports and productivity, the UK’s rentier economy is left exposed and increasingly reliant on earnings from rent (property), interest (often from abroad), cheap credit and foreign capital flows. Moreover, it is also increasingly framed by precarity amongst those who have limited access to that rentier economy. Thus, a secondary impact is the growth in self-employment, which universities feed-off through consultancy and outsourcing, and stimulate through pedagogies for entrepreneurship. Roberts continues:

One of the features of the employment market in the UK in this ‘boom’ has been the huge rise in self-employed workers. The number of firms with fewer than ten employees has swelled by 550,000 since 2008. While in mid-2013, there were 5.7m people working in the public sector, only 18.8% of total employment, the lowest since records began in 1999. Indeed, the self-employed will outnumber those working in the public sector in four years, once the government has completed its slashing of public sectors jobs and services.

For some this is a clarion call for entrepreneurship and certainly connects into University agendas for promoting entrepreneurial activity amongst students, or start-ups, or resilience. However, as Roberts argues, this is simply preparing students for a precarious work-bound existence fuelled by insecurity, low real wages and debt.

the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor statistics show that the proportion of new entrepreneurs in the UK driven by valuable opportunities has fallen – from a high of 61 per cent in 2006 to 43 per cent in 2012. And ONS figures show that a falling number of self-employed people employ other workers, suggesting that the rise in self-employment is not translating into new, thriving businesses. Researchers at the University of Warwick found that, in less prosperous areas of the UK, policies to increase firm formation had a negative impact on long-term employment, as those who started new companies had low skills, few other options, and poor market prospects.

What is really behind the increase in self-employed is not ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ but the loss of benefits and the ability of self-employed to claim tax credits under the government ‘welfare reforms’. As Richard Murphy at Tax Research has pointed out, the self-employed now account for 14 percent of the employed workforce but 19 percent of working tax credit claimants. In other words, those working for themselves are more likely to be claiming tax credits than those in employment. Actually the self-employed, like the employed are earning less than they did before the slump. In 2007-08, 4.9 million self-employed earned £88.4bn, but in 2011-12, 5.5 million self-employed earned £80.6bn. Indeed, the Resolution Foundation found that that self-employed weekly earnings are 20% lower than they were in 2006-07, while employee earnings have fallen by just 6%. As a result, the typical self-employed person now earns 40% less than the typical employed person.

This precarious reality is where the fissures between the proto/rollback/rollout phases of neoliberalism meet the University. Moreover, they restructure our everyday educational and pedagogical realities. In the Enigma of Capital, David Harvey has spoken about the ways in which technologies and forms of organisational development reveal these realities through: our forms of production, exchange and consumption; our relations to nature and the environment; the social relations between people; our mental conceptions of the world; our labour processes; our governance structures; and how we reproduce society. If we apply these concepts to the neoliberal University, we are able to ask the following questions.

  1. How do the university’s managers, staff and students produce, exchange and consume, in terms of commodities, knowledge and value? What is the role of financialisation and the market in those processes, and whom do they benefit?
  2. What is the relationship of the University to nature and to the environment? What is the impact of the productive activities of the university on the environment, including its reinforcement of the idea that economic growth is the only option?
  3. What does the production and the reproduction of the university as a marketised and competitive space mean for the social relations between people, including between staff, between academics and students, between managers and unions, and between academic labour and the public?
  4. What does the production and the reproduction of the university mean for our mental conceptions of the world? What does the higher education mean in terms of commodified knowledge or economic growth, or for co-operative, social solutions, or for the development and dissemination of knowledge through society as mass intellectuality?
  5. How does the university as a competing business represent and reproduce casualised and precarious labour processes, amongst staff and students? What does the entrepreneurial turn inside the university mean for the autonomy of academic labour?
  6. How does the marketised university affect our understandings of democratic, social governance? What forms of cognitive dissonance affect the role of the academic in making sense of the recalibration that is enforced through the proto/rollback/rollout phases of the neoliberal university?

In making sense of this process, I am reminded of the need to address Marx’s response to Feuerbach that: “All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.” Comprehension and solution underpins and is informed by a critical pedagogic project. Joss Winn has made this point when connecting Mike Neary’s work on student-as-producer. Winn quotes Neary focusing on productive pedagogic structure and agency related to the work of Vygotsky:

For Vygotsky, in the factory of the future the labour process takes on a pedagogic function and the student merges with the worker to become: the student-worker; the pedagogic function does not teach the student-worker various skills, but rather enables the student-worker to understand the overall scheme of the production process, within which they will find their own place and meaning, as a process of learning and development. By situating themselves within a pedagogical process, whose meaning and purpose they understand, the production of knowledge is revealed not as something that is already discovered and static ( i.e., dogmatism), but is uncovered as ‘ the dynamic context of its own appearance’ (Vygotsky, 1997). (Neary 2010)

This is not the valorisation of specific entrepreneurial practices that make the individual student resilient or employable or a commodity-skilled labourer inside the market. It is situated, democratic productive activity. This also offers a mirror to the co-option of academic labour in the current proto/rollback/rollout phases of the neoliberal university. This co-option is of both academic staff and student labour, in order to discipline those populations for the market. These are potentially value-laden social forces that the processes of indentured study and precarious, competitive labour relations are dominating inside formal higher education. As Harry Cleaver argues, this is the transnational, secular control over the material reality of everyday life, and which is reinforced pedagogically, and which we can interpret as posing questions for the organisation of the university and its curriculum.

In his analyses of Neary’s work on student-as-producer, Winn points to the idea that co-operation might offer an alternative critique that in-turn enables the formation of a lasting alternative.

  • The basis for transforming institutions of higher education is the transformation of the role of the student. For Vygotsky, the student becomes the student-worker.
  • The role of the student is not simply that of becoming a ‘collaborator’, or the learner of skills, but as an active contributor to the labour process of the university (i.e. the production of knowledge), within which they find their own purpose and meaning.
  • The division of intellectual and manual labour is overcome through the recognition of education as a form of productive labour itself.
  • By revealing the organising principle of knowledge production, the university becomes grounded in the productivity of its students.
  • Through the transformation of the student and subsequent transformation of the organising principle of higher education, science and technology can be employed to transform society. The student becomes the subject rather than object of history – they make history – and humanity becomes the project rather than the resource.
  • Teaching begins from the student’s experience in a particular social context “so that the student teaches themselves” and are no longer alienated from the production of knowledge. So that students “recognise themselves in a world of their own design.” (Debord)

This is important because it connects to Marx’s argument in Capital Volumes 2 and 3, that it is in this associational phase of capital, that the opportunities for co-operative labour might emerge. These opportunities are global in scope, and are based on co-operative and democratic engagements in civil and political society that include the market, the State, the Commons, voluntary organisations, and the environment. This reflects the work of Bauwens and Iacomella on creating a co-operative, pedagogical project that might reveal alternatives: to the idea of endless growth and material abundance linked to debt; to the idea of immaterial scarcity framed by, for example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and global intellectual property law; the pseudo-abundance that encloses and destroys the biosphere. They argue for a global alliance, between movements based on open and copyfarleft, ecology and social justice, and global emancipation. Here we might usefully ask, what activities are we collectively willing to bear and how might they be determined, governed and regulated? What is the role of the university and of academic labour in addressing those activities and their governance? How do we use the university as a means for the production and liberation of alternatives? How do we create a liberation pedagogy?

Here I come back to my earlier question based on Harvey’s analysis of Capital:

What does the production and the reproduction of the university mean for our mental conceptions of the world? What does the higher education mean in terms of commodified knowledge or economic growth, or for co-operative, social solutions, or for the development and dissemination of knowledge through society as mass intellectuality?

The work emerging around the new co-operativism, and the intellectual underpinnings of pedagogies like student-as-producer, and of organisations like the social science centre offer us a way of framing and reconceptualising the proto/rollback/rollout phases of a co-operative alternative to neoliberalism. They are a way of challenging the reality of the competitive restructuring of public higher education, and the idea that the university is for-profit and valorisation. Here it is the spread of ideas across transnational activist networks of co-operators that might enable a reconnection of academic labour as labour across society, in a form that enables it to support mass intellectuality rather than private gain.

In part this is a reconnection rather than a disconnection or dissonance, through the recognition that marketization increases our collective alienation and that the desire to be other than alienated is to be cultivated socially. This is then about generating layers of democratic engagement and co-operative property rights held and secured in common, so that the knowledge and skills that make up our reality are less outsourced and more rooted in society. I am reminded that a while ago I wrote about this in terms of co-operative possibility.

Thus, we might analyse the idea of the University, inside-and-against the organisational and technological innovations that drive the speed-up or acceleration of turnover time of educational services and commodities in a global market. These innovations include the subsumption of the University inside associations of public/private capitals, in order to secure their competitive place. These innovations also tend to reduce the friction caused by distance and localised working practices. We might then ask what is the popular response to this process? Does the Social Science Centre offer one such popular response? It states that:

while there are fewer existing networks of solidarity than might exist in larger cities, there is also an intimacy and a proximity that provide possibilities for associational networks that might be diffused in larger cities. Most of us work full-time and cannot give the time to the SSC that we would like to. Without the material basis on which to work and study full-time at the SSC, we have to think creatively about the form and nature of education practised within the SSC.

As a response, educators might question how we work through association or co-operation with the geographical and spatial-temporal implications of a critique of higher education policy and practice. We might highlight the dynamics of accumulation and the need to expand markets in established economies and to create new markets as a new form of imperialism (with privileged rights to sell goods via intellectual property laws). We might ask, how does higher education policy and practice demonstrate the flows of capital between the global North and “emerging markets”, in an attempt to allow production in the former to grow, whilst supporting the creation of competitor-economies? We might ask, where is it possible to find the courage to push-back?


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.