Student as Producer (2)

See an introduction to this series of notes here.

2. Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010) Pedagogy of Excess: An Alternative Political Economy of Student Life. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Eds. Molesworth, Scullion and Nixon. Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 209-224.

In this book chapter, Neary argues for “an alternative political economy of student life” and extends the concept of Student as Producer to that of the ‘Pedagogy of Excess’. Much of this chapter can be read as both a critique of the earlier chapter and its direct development.

He begins with the premise that “re-engineering the forms in which teaching and research are configured in universities has the potential to transform the nature of higher education in ways that undermine the current consumerist and marketised model.” 1)Note that I currently do not have access to the original page numbers for this book chapter In contrast and in opposition to Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835), who was the historical source of inspiration for the earlier book chapter, here Neary focuses on the more recent radical history of higher education and the 1968 student protests. Now, Neary intentionally distances himself from the “laissez-faire liberalism that underpinned Humboldt’s political project to create the University of Berlin in 1810”, stating that “if carried through by contemporary universities, [it] will make the appearance of the student as consumer more rather than less likely.”

This chapter begins by asking:

“Is it possible to create a radical pedagogy based on the links between teaching and research to counteract the identity of the student as consumer? A radical pedagogy can be designed around another version of the student life, based on events in Paris, France in 1968. By making connections between the university and its own political history, and by developing a pedagogy that connects teaching and research at the undergraduate level, it is possible that a radical new pedagogy might emerge. It is the possibility of this new radical pedagogy that is described as a pedagogy of excess.”

The significance of this chapter to my question about the suitability of the worker co-operative form is the importance it places on recovering the radical political history of higher education and the importance of students’ looking “beyond their own self-interest and identity as students.”  For Neary, “this academic activity can include exploring the origins of – as well as progressive responses to – the general social crisis out of which the attempt to reduce students to the identity of consumer is derived.” It can be aligned with at least one of the activities of the co-operative movement identified by Facer (2011), that is “Teaching about co-operation – making visible the alternatives and challenging the social and economic status quo.” It also aligns with Kasmir’s emphasis placed on recovering the importance of politics in worker co-operatives and arguing that “if workplace democracy is to be genuine, it seems that it must be premised on activism.” In this book chapter, Neary is appealing to teachers and students to become activists and connect their current work with “their own radical political history.”

“The pedagogy of excess emerges in a period that has seen strikes by academics and students around the world against the proposed marketisation of their higher education system (Klimke and Scharloth 2008). The pedagogy of excess does not look for a repeat of 1968, but seeks to develop a critical academic project that builds on the radical political history of the university, inside and outside of the curriculum – in and against the current version of higher education.”

Notably here, the work of academics and students (i.e. ‘scholars’) is extended beyond the curriculum and beyond simply the involvement of students in the research culture of university departments. Neary argues that it is necessary for radical scholars to work “in and against the current version of higher education.” As this chapter was being written, students and academics were responding to the austerity measures imposed following the Great Recession and in advance of the rise in tuition fees and further marketisation of higher education in the UK. Events were running ahead attempts to theorise what was happening.

The book chapter covers some of the same ground as the 2009 chapter. Neary makes clear that Humboldt’s “impeccable liberal credentials make him no figure on which to base a critique of the concept of student as consumer.”

“At the core of liberal theory lies the fundamental principles of consumerism: the concept of the individual freedom and pursuit of self interest in a context which promotes the self organizing nature of markets and denigrates state intervention. Schemes based on liberal social theory are, therefore more likely to move higher education further in the direction of marketisation (Zizek 2009).”

Having abandoned Humboldt’s liberalism, the chapter draws on the protests of 1968 and the subsequent work of scholars to identify the significance of the events. Neary refers to issues such as

“the relationships between the student and the teacher, the relationship between intellectual and manual labour, the relationship between the student movement and other social movements and the relationship between the university and its external environment. At the centre of these issues lies the question about the representation and production of knowledge, raising the question about the nature and role of the university, suggesting that a new form of university is possible based on democracy, self-management and social justice.”

In addition to the earlier influence of Walter Benjamin, Neary draws on other Marxist writers: Jean-Paul Satre, Henri Lefebvre, Guy Debord and in particular, Badiou’s description of the events of 1968 as:

“something that arrives in excess, beyond all calculation… that proposes an entirely new system of thought” and which “led infinitely farther than their education… would have allowed them to foresee; an event in the sense of real participation… altering the course of their lives.”

Later in the chapter, Neary argues that a “fully developed pedagogy of excess would look beyond student issues, to matters of more general social concern, ‘common affairs’, in which the interests of students are not the main issue.” The events of 1968 provided the context for a new subjectivity of students to emerge, one which is still active today as seen by the student protests and occupations over the last few years. The events of 1968 gave rise to

“the emergence of a new form of university: democratic (Scott 1995), postmodern (Lyotard 1999 ) and multiverse (Kerr 1963). The key feature of this new type of university was that universities had now become sites of contested space, not only for the control and management of the higher education, but in relation to the meaning and purpose of knowledge itself (Delanty 2001).”

During this time, students were engaged in the design of curricula and forms of assessment and “through the proliferation of independent study programmes, a recognition that undergraduate students were capable of creating knowledge of real academic content and value (Pratt 1997).”

By now, ‘Student as Producer’ has been extended to a ‘Pedagogy of Excess’, both synonymous with a radical, negative critique of the modern university which is grounded in the historical struggle of students and academics, and always suggestive of a “framework” through which “the organising principle for institutions of higher education as a whole” can be re-engineered. The theoretical basis for that framework began with Walter Benjamin and is further developed through Marx’s labour theory of value, with “the category of excess… offered ‘as an alternative to the rationalist calculation of capitalist exchange’ (Kosalka 1999).”

Excess is identified as ‘surplus’ and the way by which a society handles its surplus product. Neary argues that the acts of giving, sharing, gifting, and generosity are forms of distributing surplus that are “instantly recognisable as being at the core of the academic enterprise (Fuller 2002).” Yet, following Marx, Benjamin and Debord, “the key to the transformation of capitalist social relations lies not in the politics of consumption, but the politics of production”. An identification of ‘excess’ with the process of production allows Neary to argue that ‘excess’ can be theorised most adequately through Marx’s theory of surplus value, grounded in the process of capitalist production, where surplus value (profit) is created by the exploitation of waged labour. “In the world of capitalist work excess equals exploitation.”

In the face of Fascism and Bolshevism, Benjamin saw the urgent need to turn the consumer into producer. In the face of ecological crisis and global recession, Neary argues that higher education’s direct role in “the development of technology, science and the production of knowledge” (i.e. the production of surplus value) requires the student-academic to reassert herself as “both the producer and personification of this form of knowledge”. The academic labour of both teachers and students is the

“foundation for a pedagogy of excess, whose main learning point is that the production of surplus value through the politics of oppression, scarcity, poverty and violence, is to adequate to the sustainability of human life. The pedagogy of excess is a learning process which promotes the creative capacity of people in accordance with their needs as social individuals (Kay and Mott 1982).”

In the final section of the book chapter, Neary argues that a pedagogy of excess would attempt to overcome the “fragmented agendas” of existing curricula and be re-framed as “a course of action” which grounds the concept of excess in “an alternative political economy, involving a critique not simply of the politics of consumption but the politics of production.” That is, the organising principle for the entire institution of higher education would be negotiated through the political struggle of academic labour, which finds its creative expression through new research projects of social value, rather than surplus value.

In this book chapter, Neary clearly distances Student as Producer from any liberal historical precedent and instead traces its practical expression back to the 1968 student protests and its theoretical basis in Marx’s labour theory of value. There are a number of points that are worth drawing out from this as we consider the suitability of the worker co-operative form for a university:

  • A radical pedagogy that is adequate to the challenges facing humanity must be grounded in the politics of production rather than distribution/consumption. It requires the reorganisation of intellectual and manual labour, rather than its continued division.
  • The modern university is fragmented, through its division of labour (hierarchies of management; management vs. academics), division of disciplines, division between teachers and students, and in its current form, cannot produce the knowledge required for the sustainability of human life.
  • The production of new forms of knowledge requires a ‘framework’ (not a blueprint) that is negotiated through the political struggle of student-teacher-academics (i.e. ‘scholars’).
  • Higher education must be politicised, or rather, the politics of higher education must be made apparent.
  • The purpose of higher education is not the production of students for waged labour (i.e. employment), but rather the production of knowledge appropriate to the needs of humanity (in the face of emergency).
  • Research is demystified as “work anyone can do”. Higher education is therefore open, inclusive and accessible.
  • All research should be informed by its own radical history. This does not simply apply to the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, but also the theoretical and applied Sciences which have their own radical history e.g. Engineers for Change and Science for the People. One way to connect (or dissolve) traditional disciplines is through their shared radical histories.

References   [ + ]

1. Note that I currently do not have access to the original page numbers for this book chapter