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