Student as Producer (6)

See an introduction to this series of notes here.

6. Neary, Mike and Amsler, Sarah (2012) Occupy: a new pedagogy of space and time?. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 10 (2)

In this paper, Neary and Amsler present the ideas and practices of the Occupy movement in terms of its “explicit” pedagogical purpose and intent. In doing so, they formulate Occupy as a prefigurative curricula for the production of a new politics of space and time. They offer Student as Producer and the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, as existing forms of this critical curricula; projects which by altering “the relationships of the production of educational space and time by producing them otherwise… constitute a direct threat to the logics of capital”.

Student as Producer is introduced as a project which is not so much concerned with ‘student engagement’ and ‘student satisfaction’ but rather “the meaning and purpose of higher eduction, or ‘the idea of the university’, as a ‘collective intellectual’ project (Waquant 2007: 57).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 108)

In the context of Neary’s writing about Student as Producer, the article is important for its critique and development of Lefebvre’s argument that the social relations of capitalist production result in the “violence of abstraction”, and the source of this violence lies in the production of value experienced in the real abstraction of exchange value as revealed by Marx.

“For Lefebvre, the substance of time-space is Marx’s labour theory of value, by which use value is converted into exchange value in a process dominated by both the violence of abstraction and resistance to abstraction, which Lefebvre describes as ‘counter-projects’.” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 118)

The authors are not satisfied with Lefebvre’s argument that the site of resistance to the abstraction of exchange value is in its counterpart: use-value, nor that in contrast to this abstraction, “use value constitutes the only real wealth” (Lefebvre 2008: 341). In essence, the problem for Neary and Amsler is that radical subjectivity is aligned with the production of use-value; that is, ‘concrete’, ‘natural’, ‘material’ wealth. Ultimately, they argue, this is to fetishise the concrete (i.e. use-value) as a form of anti-capitalist resistance. Although widespread, it is a limited theoretical position which in practice

“perpetuates the approach it is attempting to critique … replicating and repeating struggles in more fragmented forms without posing a fundamental challenge.” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 119)

Their argument draws on the work of Moishe Postone, who has argued that this “hypostatisation of the concrete” leads to a sense of helplessness:

“The hypostatisation of the concrete and the identification of capital with the manifest abstract underlie a form of “anti-capitalism” that seek to overcome the existing social order from the standpoint which actually remains immanent to that order’ (Postone 2000: 18).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 120)

The source of this helplessness can be found in Lefebvre’s privileging of use-value over exchange-value, whereas for Marx, Postone, Neary and Amsler, value should be understood as “value in motion”: “the explosive contradiction between use-value and exchange/abstract value, in a process of commodification dominated by the violence of abstraction.” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 120). Whereas for Lefebvre and other ‘anti-capitalists’ who hypostatise and fetishise one side of the value-form, here the authors argue that surplus-value, “the substance through which the social universe expands” (ibid) can only be “detonated” by over-coming the abstract violence of value through struggle in time and space i.e. “anti-value in motion”.

“And so it becomes possible to conceive of radical subjectivity as being located not in use value, but in the production of new forms of critical knowledge in everyday life, or practical reflexivity. Critical practical knowledge is formed from the same social substance as ‘anti-value in motion’: just as time inheres in space, use value inheres in exchange value, so to does theory inhere in practice as critical reflexivity or living knowledge, including life itself.” (ibid)

What sets apart ‘critical practical knowledge’ from the category of use-value is not entirely clear. Earlier in the paper, they say that

“Our purpose is to re-appropriate (‘detonate’), ‘occupy’, these moments of space-time through ‘a new pedagogy of space and time’, which can be characterised as the production of critical knowledge in everyday life. The basis of this critical knowledge is critical practical reflexivity. Critical practical reflexivity adheres to our space-time formulation in that theory and practice are considered as immanent to each other (Gunn 1989). The essential aspect of critical practical reflexivity is that it questions the validity of its own concepts, which it does by recognising itself as inhering in the practical social world emerging out of, and inseparable from, the society it is attempting to understand. This process is expansive, creating new knowledge and meaning, avoiding circularity and infinite regress: ‘good conversations’ (Gunn 1989).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 108)

I take it to mean that the power of “critical practical reflexivity” (i.e. negativity) conceived as political struggle, is that which Marx referred to as ‘communism’: “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” (Marx, 1845) Just as our fetishisation of exchange-value (i.e. money and other ‘rights’ of equivalence) has led to the social and ecological emergencies of the 21st century, so the fetishisation of its dialectical counterpart, use-value, will lead us to similar horrors. The related production of both must be abolished through the conception of a new form of social being – a new “social universe” – based upon the application of social knowledge produced through a new curriculum, which acts “as a pedagogy of space and time”. (Neary & Amsler 2012: 116)

Indeed, following Marx, the authors assert the meaning and purpose of education as the “ruthless critique of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be” (Marx 1843).  This fundamental approach to the production of knowledge, does not allow for the fetishisation of any social form. It is dynamic, reflexive, “anti-value in motion”. (Neary & Amsler 2012: 120)

How can education be constituted in this form? The authors provide the two examples of Student as Producer and, in some ways its development, the Social Science Centre, Lincoln.

Student as Producer is described in terms of its practical implementation at Lincoln and, as is the case of all of Neary’s writing on the subject, it is discussed more broadly and deeply in terms of a political project within the “wider social-political crisis defined by the politics of austerity and precarity”. It is likened to Occupy in a number of ways (Neary & Amsler 2012: 121), for example: it is “a political, progressive project”; it is inspired by the history of radical politics; it “has links with revolutionary educational projects”; it “is framed within a broad idealistic framework”; it is “grounded within an explicit critical pedagogy”; it “is an anti-curriculum…

“whose substance is not simply teaching and learning but the production of knowledge as a revolutionary political project: ‘the theoretical and practical knowledge of social life in the community’ (Lefebvre 1969: 155), or ‘living knowledge’ (Roggoro 2011).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 121)

Student as Producer is “for the production of new knowledge and not simply as a pedagogical device.” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 122) It is a “framework” in which the curriculum is contextualised; “spatial learning landscapes within which teaching is set” and where “students are made aware of the politics of machinic production”; a “horizontal space within which collaborations can multiply.” (ibid)

In what, I think, is a key passage with which we can contextualise Student as Producer, the authors refer to Merrifield’s work on Lefebvre describing the crisis the university is undergoing:

“Abstract space started to paper over the whole world, turning scholars and intellectuals into abstract labour and turning university work into another abstract space. Suddenly free expression and concrete mental labour – the creation and dissemination of critical ideas – increasingly came under the assault from the same commodification Lefebvre was trying to demystify. Suddenly and somehow, intellectual space – academic and ideational space in universities and on the page – had become another neocolony of capitalism, and scholars at once the perpetrators and victims, colonizers and colonized, warders and inmates” (Merrifield 2011: 119). (Neary & Amsler 2012: 123)

It is against this “turning scholars and intellectuals into abstract labour and turning university work into another abstract space” that is at the core of Neary’s critical project. As the institutional form of the highest achievements of human knowledge, the university is now occupied by capital, subsumed to the logic of value production, a means of production through which labour ‘performs‘ against labour, increasingly alienated from its own product: social knowledge, the general intellect, mass intellectuality.

Neary and Amsler want to take the “territorial” project of occupying space and time with critical reflexive knowledge and turn it into an existential project such that we understand ourselves as the university; we become the resistance to abstract labour and its abstract spaces; we become “collective individuals” that exceed the institutional and idealised form of the university:

“The limit of Student as Producer is that the student does not exceed its own institutional and idealised form: ‘the idea of the student’ (Neary 2010). In order for the student to become more than themselves, the neoliberal university must be dissolved, and reconstituted as another form of ‘social knowing’ (Neary 2011).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 124)

The last section of the article discusses the Social Science Centre, Lincoln (SSC), as an attempt “to create a new form of social knowing.” (ibid) The SSC is “an emerging educational cooperative that aspires to create opportunities for advanced study and research in the social sciences which are both free of charge, and intellectually and politically democratic.” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 125) It is a formally constituted co-operative, based on non-hierarchical, democratic principles. It is a “protest” an “experiment” in “dissolving higher education into a form of mass intellectuality” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 126, quoting Hall 2011). It has “radical political aspirations”, hoping that “students as scholars become revolutionary social beings within open, socially-driven spaces, rather than becoming institutional agents.” (ibid) For the authors, the SSC as a nomadic co-operative is not simply an attempt to re-order space and time, but

“to create a radical form of space-time by unleashing the social power of humanity locked up in the commodity- form as a way of appropriating the future as something other than crisis and catastrophe (Neary 2004).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 127)

Whereas Student as Producer “remains committed to working within and against the existing university system in order to transform it”, the SSC,

“although in no way escaping from the institution entirely, seeks to construct spaces, times and relations of learning which are autonomous from the neoliberal university, in opposition to the abstraction of social relations through monetary exchange, and embedded in the everyday life of local communities. Both are ongoing experiments. What resonates between them is an understanding that desires to reinvent the contemporary university for human purposes ‘mean nothing without the production of an appropriate space’ (Lefebvre 2008: 59), and that the production of such spaces – and times, and relationships, and ways of knowing – is ultimately a political project.” (ibid)

This article, more than any other by Neary, develops the political, pedagogical project of Student as Producer as a critique not only of “what the university has become”, but of how our capacity as social individuals has been occupied by the logic of capital and turned into an alien, anti-social power against humanity. On such terms, what possible institutional form could it take? What does it means to be non-alientated labour, to dissolve the dialectic of both use-value and exchange value, to “create a radical form of space-time by unleashing the social power of humanity locked up in the commodity-form”? (ibid) Is the worker co-operative form anywhere near adequate for such a project?

  • What this article, more than another other by Neary has emphasised, is the need to conceive the neoliberal university as a peculiar expression of commodified space-time. It is an “abstract space” ruled by the logic of abstract labour, whereby the pedagogical relationship between teacher and student is configured for the production of value. An opposing organisational form would seek to overcome the power of these abstractions by, first of all, re-configuring the pedagogical relationship so as to abolish knowledge in its commodity-form (use-value and exchange value).
  • Education “cannot be separated from ‘life’ in institutions.” I take this to mean that all aspects of the institution must be understood to be educational or pedagogical. Cleaning the floors, teaching, installing IT, etc. The division of this labour in time and space is conceived holistically and materially as having a pedagogical purpose for society, for humanity, as a whole. All aspects of this co-operative production of knowledge are understood as appropriations of space-time thereby gradually overcoming the logic capital.
  • If we “have rather lost control over the form, structure and function of academic knowledge” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 116), worker co-operatives might be a conscious attempt to assert control, constitute an organisational form, and define a different (i.e. democratic, horizontal, consensus-based) social structure for the production of academic knowledge. The SSC is one such experiment.
  • If “the space of the university is mobilised for the purposes of production through its commodification, abstracting, converting into exchange value, fetishizing and modularising” (Lefebvre 2008: 338), how can the worker co-operative form resist these imperatives? Is it simply a “diversion” rather than an “appropriation” of a different space and time? (Egan and Jossa provide a preliminary, though not entirely satisfying, indication).
  • Must a worker co-operative for higher education possess a physical space in time, or can a new space-time be constituted through its legal form and extend to the whole of the “social universe”? If “it’s not about possessing territory. Rather it’s a matter of increasing the density of communes, of circulation, and of solidarities to the point that territory becomes unreadable, opaque to all authority” (The Invisible Committee, quoted in Neary & Amsler 2012: 123-4), can the worker co-operative form be conceived and constituted existentially and ontologically? That is, how can we become the university rather than ‘go to university’?
  • Student as Producer and the SSC are presented as examples of producing an “appropriate space” for their political objectives. Can the worker co-operative form be employed as an expedient means for the “production of such spaces – and times, and relationships, and ways of knowing”? (Neary & Amsler 2012: 127)

Student as Producer (5)

See an introduction to this series of notes here.

5. Neary, Michael (2012) Student as producer: an institution of the common? [or how to recover communist/revolutionary science]. Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences.

This is a key paper in Neary’s theoretical development of Student as Producer. In it, he again engages with the work of the Edu-Factory collective, or rather a recent book by one of its main spokespersons, Giggi Roggero, called ‘The production of living knowledge: the crisis of the university and the transformation of labour in Europe and North America‘.  Neary also draws on Paul du Gay’s work ‘In praise of bureaucracy‘, which I have found helpful in my exploration of whether the worker co-operative form is suited to higher education. Finally, the paper also explores the history of “revolutionary science”, connecting the 19th c. work of Marx to the work of 13th c. Bishop of Lincoln and first vice-chancellor of Oxford, Robert Grosseteste.

Whereas in an earlier paper, Neary distanced himself from the liberalism of Humboldt, he begins this paper by stating that

“Student as Producer is reclaiming the progressive vision of German Idealists in the 19th century for a liberal humanist university as a site for speculative philosophy, ie a social encyclopaedia of knowledge at the level of society (Lyotard 1984). Student as Producer is grounding this ‘ideal of the university’ in the radicalised student–worker uprisings of 1968 and the ways in which this student protest has re-emerged at the beginning of the 21st century against the privatisation of university life, now packaged as the ‘student experience’ where the most predominant imperative is employability.” (Neary 2012: 2)

He argues that the recent privatisation of higher education in the UK is “nothing less than a reactionary political act of intellectual vandalism and a declaration of war against critique.” (ibid)

“The purpose of Student as Producer is not to maintain higher education as a social science fiction about the struggle over the false dichotomy between its public and private function: after all both are complementary forms of capitalist regulation (Neary 2012a). The aim of Student as Producer is to “dissolve” (Holloway 2010) or better still “detonate” (Lefebvre 1991) the social relation of capital out of which the current version of the university is derived (Neary 2012a), so as to recreate the university as a new form of social institution, what Giggi Roggero calls an “institution of the common” (Roggero 2011).” (Neary 2012: 3)

His engagement with Roggero’s work is very complementary. In particular, he regards Roggero’s chosen method of ‘militant enquiry’ or ‘co-research’ as “fundamentally constitutive, where ‘the production of knowledge is immediately the production of political subjectivity and the construction of organisation.’ (Roggero 2011: 138)”. However, he finds Roggero’s distinction between”‘the commons’ as a resource emerging out of the natural world and the idea of ‘the common’ as something that is socially constructed” problematic in the way that it separates the natural and social world. The issue is grounded in Roggero’s conception of labour as the radical subject in capitalist society.  Conceived as such, labour is reified and its activity constitutes the social process that produces ‘the common’, that is “the organization of something that did not exist beforehand, or the new composition of existing elements in a subversive social relationship” (Roggero 2011: 8).”

Neary takes issue with this conception of labour and Roggero’s separation of the natural world (‘the commons’) from the social world (‘the common’). He argues that revolutionary science is, quoting Marx, “one science”.

“This one science, or communism, does not rely on speculative or philosophical solutions, but is a scientific method of enquiry and reason based on an awareness of the historical development of humanity as the alienation from nature (Foster 2000: 114). This alienation can only be overcome through “the significance of revolutionary practical critical activity” (Marx’s theses on Feuerbach, quoted in Foster 2000: 112).” (Neary 2012: 9)

Neary ends his critique of Roggero by relating the “schism” between the natural and social world to the “schism in bourgeois science”, reflected in the schism of subject disciplines within the modern university. On this, says Neary, the “key issue issue for Student as Producer is how the natural and social sciences might be reconnected as a curriculum for practical revolutionary action.” (ibid)

In contrast, Neary draws inspiration from Paul du Gay’s work on bureaucracy in his attempt to counter the understanding of Student as Producer as a “change management project”, where students are conceived as “change agents”. (Neary 2012: 4)

“change management sets itself firmly against bureaucracy, which is characterised in the change management literature as red tape, procrastination, indecision, big government, the nanny state and a tendency towards indolence (Du Gay 2000).”

The world of change management is epitomised by Drucker’s (1993) new role model of labour as the ‘knowledge worker’ whose necessary but antagonistic form is the ‘service worker’, both educated persons divided into intellectuals and managers, respectively. Neary argues that the underlying ethic of the ‘knowledge economy’ and the university as a “knowledge factory”is that of the market and the idea that organisations have to become increasingly entrepreneurial and innovative in order to survive.

In opposition to the imperatives of “change management”, Neary explores Paul du Gay’s work on bureaucracy as “a set of protocols and processes grounded in a set of morals and ethics that are highly valued in our society” (ibid). Following the work of Max Weber, bureaucracy for du Gay is

“a site of substantive ethical domain” (Du Gay 2000: 2) and “a particular ethos … not only an ensemble of purposes and ideals within a given code of conduct but also ways and means of conducting oneself … the bureau must be assessed in its own right as a particular moral institution and the ethical attributes of the bureaucrat be viewed as the contingent and often fragile achievements of that socially organised sphere of moral existence” (Du Gay 2000: 4). In this way, the bureaucratic environment contains its very own rationality and sense of purpose (Du Gay 2000: 75).” (Neary 2012: 4-5)

With this, Neary argues that the “repurposing” of bureaucracy could lead to

“a rational, moral and ethical principle a clear intent to collectively and democratically deconstruct the role of vice-chancellors as the charismatic leaders on whose vision the future prosperity and reputation of the entrepreneurial university appears to depend (Goodall 2009).”

At Lincoln, Student as Producer,

“creates a radical framework for debates and discussion about policy and strategy for teaching and learning across the university, based on a radicalised political vernacular. Given the extent to which the language of managerialism has overwhelmed the discourse of higher education, this is no mean achievement.” (Neary 2012: 6)

As such, it is a “subversive” project based on values and ethics that “have not had to be reinvented but are conjured out of the activities of academic workers at Lincoln and elsewhere.” It is subversive because it

“starts with a negative critique of higher education based on the dysfunctionality of its core activities, teaching and research, where the priority and status given to research divides institutions, and sets staff and student against each other (Boyer 1990; Brew 2006) This negative critique forms the basis of Student as Producer’s attachment to the notion of research-engaged teaching (Jenkins and Healey 2009): re- engineering the relationship between teaching and research so that undergraduates become part of the academic project of the university. This is how subversion works, by using the language and protocols of the enterprise university against itself…

This subversive ethic and academic-valued approach is written into the bureaucratic framework for teaching and learning at the University of Lincoln, through its teaching and learning strategy, and in the documentation for staff and students that shapes the protocols and procedures for quality validation, monitoring and reporting procedures, including the Student as Producer user guide.

The problem is how to maintain subversion in a context in which student as consumer is the operational imperative among providers of higher education. Part of the answer to that question lies in constantly radicalising the practice and principles of Student as Producer to avoid recuperation” (Neary 2012: 7)

The final section of the paper represents one attempt to radicalise Student as Producer through the idea and practice of “one science”. Neary presents this by connecting the scientific method of Marx and Grosseteste through the work of Aristotle. Neary describes Grosseteste as “a key figure in the development of the method of experimental science through practical applications and as being central to the creation of the modern university (Southern 1992; McEvoy 2000).” (Neary 2012: 11) The point Neary wants to make here is that the origins of the scientific method were disruptive, subversive, and indeed revolutionary and that they were so because figures like Grosseteste and Marx did not distinguish between the natural and liberal social sciences (e.g. economics, philosophy, sociology) and each made connections between the inductive and deductive methods of Aristotle. They were fixed on the idea of “one science” which, through the power of abstract thought grounded in the real world, they aimed to discover the “substantive matter” of their respective social worlds i.e. one governed by the Divine and the other by Capital. For Grossteeste, this substantive matter was God as the “divine light” and for Marx, Neary argues, it was found in the concept of ‘capital’, which he presented as a “unifying logic for the expansion of value”. In place of Grosseteste’s metaphysics, Marx’s historical materialist method discovered capital as “the automatic subject” of human society. Through his exposition of capital, “Marx’s most important discovery is that the crisis of capital is the power of humanity reasserting itself and recovering the natural world.” (Neary 2012: 12) This is an important point that Neary picks up in a later paper where he discusses the work of John Holloway in the context of Student as Producer.

Neary ends the paper with a “research question”:

“A key point for the students and academics to consider is the extent to which revolutionary science is undermined by a scientific enterprise based not on the development of knowledge but rather the development of academic capitalism (non-revolutionary science). In order to recover the substance of communist revolutionary science, it is necessary to reinvent the ideal of the university on the principles of revolutionary science. How can we redesign the idea of the university to enhance and support this vision of revolutionary science? This is the main point and purpose of Student as Producer.” (Neary 2013: 12)

From this paper, we can draw out the following points so as to help determine the institutional form for a university, “reinvented” on the “principles of revolutionary science.”

  • It is fundamentally a political project. Political subjectivity is “the essential objective reality out of which practical, critical knowledge is derived.” The institutional form itself support (i.e. be partisan to) this political project.
  • Bureaucracy is valued as a moral and ethical process which does not exist independently of the political project but guards its constitution.
  • It exists for knowledge and against the “knowledge worker”.
  • It uses the language and protocols of the university subversively (i.e. as a way to ‘interoperate’ with the neoliberal university, the State, markets, etc.) without taking on its form.
  • It recognises that “the production of knowledge is immediately the production of subjectivity and the construction of organisation.” (Roggero 2011: 138) The institutional form is therefore constructed from the subjectivity of its members, which is formed through the co-operative, social production of knowledge.
  • It attempts to overcome labour in its capitalist form, which is a “fabrication” of the social relations of capitalist production. “Labour, as such, does not exist but is constituted only as a real abstraction.” (Neary 2012: 9) The issue for the worker co-operative is to discover a way to practice non-alientated, non-abstract labour. This is at the heart of its research project: the discovery of a new form of social being.


Student as Producer (4)

See an introduction to this series of notes here.

4. Neary, Michael (2012) Teaching politically: policy, pedagogy and the new European university. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 10 (2). pp. 233-257.

In ‘Teaching Politically’, Neary is largely concerned with discussing the work of the Edu-Factory collective. Student as Producer is aligned with the work of Edu-Factory and discussed briefly as one of two “radical pedagogic projects” illustrative of “a movement to create a radical new model of higher education in Europe and beyond”. Here, I will focus only on what is written about Student as Producer.

Student as Producer is aligned with the work of the movement through “the way in which it seeks to ground its theoretical concepts with real practical action” and because it “demonstrates aspects of militant/co-research and self-education as a form of praxis.” (Neary 2012: 245)

Student as Producer is described as working on two levels:

  1. At one level it is a curriculum development model across all subjects areas at the University of Lincoln

  2. At another more foundational level it has the ambition of reinventing the European University as a radical political project

Neary summarises how Student as Producer was conceived and developed and describes it as a “programme” that

“has been developed with full consultation between academics and student groups. This programme is being embedded within the university’s infrastructure, including bureaucratic processes and procedures, strategies for educational technologies, the design of teaching and learning spaces as well as by intensifying levels of student engagement ( The programme is under a constant critical review to prevent it becoming another managerialist imperative and to avoid recuperation (Neary and Hagyard 2010)… The success of Student as Producer will be the extent to which it manages to transform the concept and practice of higher education.” (Neary 2012: 247)

Neary makes the claim that “the institutional form of the University of Lincoln is being transformed by re-engineering the relationship between teaching and research.” (ibid) To what extent this transformation is actually happening is of lesser interest to me than the underlying point in this paper, that the “institutional form” for “a radical new model of higher education in Europe and beyond” should be derived, first of all, from a political, pedagogical project that aims

“to enable students to see themselves as subjects rather than objects of history, as teachers, writers and performers, rather than recipients of knowledge, and be able to recognise themselves in a social world of their own design.” (ibid)

That is, the institutional form should not determine the design of curricula or the pedagogic relationship between teacher and student, but rather it should be an expression of it. This again reminds me of one of the concluding points made by Kasmir in her book about the “myth” of the Mondragon worker co-operative in Spain, that we should “be skeptical of models that make business forms rather than people the agents of social change.” (p.196) By contrast, I would argue that the neoliberal form of mainstream universities is being imposed on the design of curricula and choice of pedagogical methods as can be seen in the course design and validation processes, the procurement of technologies and use of data, the imposition of an ’employability’ agenda, and so on. Student as Producer is an attempt to counter this (in a later paper, Neary refers to it as “an impossible project”) and at the same time suggests that simply redesigning curricula and having students working alongside academics on research projects is insufficient to effect radical change. What is required is the emergence of an institutional form which adequately expresses the radical aspirations of academics and students who see themselves as subjects rather than objects of history: the worker co-operative, perhaps?


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

Student as Producer (1)

See an introduction to this series of notes here.

1a. Neary, Mike (2008) Student as producer – risk, responsibility and rich learning environments in higher education. Articles from the Learning and Teaching Conference 2008. Eds: Joyce Barlow, Gail Louw, Mark Price. University of Brighton Press. Centre for Learning and Teaching

1b. Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. Eds. Bell, Neary, Stevenson. Continuum, London, pp. 192-210. 1)This book chapter generously names me as co-author. My actual input was confined to the last section on the ‘General Intellect’ and the Conclusion, both of which we worked on together.

This book chapter (and keynote from the same period) lays out the rationale for Student as Producer. It draws on the work of a number of other scholars of higher education who, despite the apparent success of modern universities, have identified an ‘apartheid’ between student and teacher (Brew); the intensification and regularisation of academic labour (De Angelis and Harvie; Nelson and Watt); and the reconfiguration of the student as a consumer (Boden and Epstein), who is increasingly under-employed, unemployed and indebted (Bonefeld; Warmington). The chapter reviews the changing ‘nature and purpose’ of the modern university and draws parallels with the ideas of Wilhelm Humbolt in the early 19th century and more recent work by Robbins in the 1960s, and Boyer in the 1990s, who to different degrees argued for the reconfiguration of teaching and research and in doing so, a reconfiguration in the relationship between teacher and student. In particular, Humbolt argued that lectures should be dropped in favour of seminars, that students should be encouraged to think speculatively in close contact with their tutors with an emphasis on Socratic dialogue, flexible curricula and the inclusion of students in research groups.

Similarly, in a keynote talk from 2008, Neary refers to a formative Student as Producer project called the Reinvention Centre. He describes this as an attempt “to re-create the notion of an inclusive academic community where learners, teachers and reserchers are all seen as scholars in common pursuit of knowledge.” (Neary 2008: 8) For Humbolt, this was a political project intended to guarantee academic freedom and the separation of the university from the regulation of the state. In doing so, a ‘Culture State’ would be established by a cultured population able to think and act as autonomous citizens.

The middle section of the chapter discusses the work of Walter Benjamin, who wrote an essay titled ‘Author as Producer’, from which ‘Student as Producer’ was conceived. Neary discusses this essay and an earlier work titled ‘Life of Students’ and from these develops the main theoretical argument for his own project. Like Humbolt, Benjamin argued against the lecture format and to a large extent seminars, too, arguing that “it makes little difference whether the speakers are teachers or students.” (Benjamin 1915: 42) In a key passage for Neary, Benjamin states that:

“The organisation of the university has ceased to be grounded in the productivity of its students, as its founders envisaged. They thought of student as teachers and learners at the same time; as teachers because productivity implies complete autonomy, with their minds fixed on science instead of the instructors’ personality.” (Benjamin 1915: 42)

In his later essay, ‘Author as Producer’, Benjamin was concerned with the relationship between author and their readers and how to actively intervene in “the living context of social relations” so as to create progressive social transformation:

“[For]… the author who has reflected deeply on the conditions of present day production … His work will never be merely work on products but always, at the same time, work on the means of production. In other words his products must have, over and above their character as works, an organising function.” (Benjamin 1934: 777)

For both Benjamin and Neary, that ‘organising function’ is the

“social relation of capitalist production, defined through the logic of waged labour and private property. For Benjamin, the imperatives of capitalist production had led to the horrors of Bolshevism and Fascism. Therefore, any alternative form of the organising principle must be antithetical to these extreme types of political systems and be set up on the basis of democracy, collectivism, respective for legitimate authority, mutuality and social justice.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 133)

Neary highlights how for Benjamin, this organising principle would involve the reader (i.e. the ‘consumer’) in the process of production so that they are not only “the producers of artistic content, but collaborators of their own social world; the subjects rather than the objects of history.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 133-4) Benjamin argued that

“What matters is the exemplary character of production, which is able, first, to induce other producers to produce, and, second, to put an improved apparatus at their disposal. And this apparatus is better, the more consumers it is able to turn into producers – that is, readers or spectators, into collaborators.” (Benjamin 1934: 777)

In his keynote written around the same time as the book chapter, Neary argues that

“it is possible to apply Benjamin’s thinking to the context of the contemporary university by applying it to the dichotomous relationship between teaching and research, as embodied in the student and the teacher; and, using Benjamin’s formulation, to reinvent the relationship between teacher and student, so that the student is not simply consuming knowledge that is transmitted to them but becomes actively engaged in the production of knowledge with academic content and value.” (2008: 8)

How is this achieved in the context of a modern university?

“By providing more research and research-like experiences as an integral part of the undergraduate experience. In doing this students can become productive collaborators in the research culture of the departments of their universities. This is particularly important in a context within which students have been forced into the position of consumers in a service culture that many academics regard as antithetical to the academic project of the university.” (Neary 2008: 9)

This was said in the context of a keynote speech at a learning and teaching conference. In its postscript, Neary refers to the wider context in which Student as Producer is being developed as a response to i.e. the global ecological crisis and the related worldwide financial crisis. He refers to the work of David Orr to appeal for a more holistic, anti-disciplinary experience of the academic project; one which encourages students and teachers to see things in their entirety.

“My point, like David Orr, is that we need to fundamentally rethink the nature of academic enquiry. As academics working in universities, we can start by looking at ways in which we engage with the world, and, in particular, how we engage with our students. By taking more progressive risks with our teaching and learning, and by treating students as responsible members of our academic community we might be able to create not just richer learning environments, but also to invent new approaches to some of the very real emergencies that are confronting both the university and society as a whole.” (Neary 2008: 12)

In the book chapter, Neary argues that the ‘organising function’ of the modern university is “the law of market economics, redefined in the contemporary period as the neo-liberal university.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 134) He then asks, “what kind of alternative organising principles might be invented as progressive alternatives.” (ibid)

The last section of the chapter points towards such alternatives, drawing on Marx’s idea of the ‘general intellect’ and its reformulation by later Marxist writers as ‘mass intellectuality’. The point in this section is to identify in his notebooks, how Marx saw the development of knowledge become objectified as fixed capital (i.e. automated machinery, transportation, communication networks) such that “general social knowledge becomes a direct form of production.” (Marx 1993: 706) The form of labour (i.e. ‘general intellect’) that produces such knowledge

“is increasingly a social, co-operative endeavour. As we come to realise this, the organising principles on which capitalist production is based, wage labour and private ownership, become increasingly irrelevant.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 135)

Drawing on the work of Dyer-Witheford (1999), we argue that in fact, the ‘general intellect’ has not become ‘general’ at all but, rather, “structured and hierarchical. Knowledge remains contained, under control and restricted to the privileged under the logic of the information society and the knowledge economy.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 135) In the university, as Noble has argued, attempts are continuously made to attempt a “systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital, and, hence, intellectual property.” (Noble 1998)

The notion of ‘mass intellectuality’ is proposed as a more current reformulation of Marx’s ‘general intellect’.

“This is the social body of knowledge, modes of communication and co-operation and even ethical preoccupations which both supports and transgresses the operation of a high-tech economy. It is knowledge created by and contained within the university, but is the ‘general social knowledge’ embodied by and increasingly available to all of us. The quintessential expression of this general social knowledge or ‘mass intellect’ is, Dyer-Witheford argues, the Internet.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 135-6)

Dyer-Witheford points to ‘hacking’ as the original creative source of the Internet and

“despite all the admitted banalities and exclusivities of Internet practice, one at moments glimpses in its global exchanges what seems like the formation of a polycentric, communicatively-connected, collective intelligence.” (Dyer-Witheford 1999: 498)

We then argue that the most recent expression of ‘mass intellectuality’ is the emergence of the Free Culture movement which has grown out of hacker culture within the university context (cf. Winn 2013) and used traditional property law (e.g. copyright) in a subversive way so as to guarantee a type of ‘common ownership’ of  knowledge and its derivative products. We argue that

“the Free Culture movement, based upon collaboratively producing intellectual and creative works under Creative Commons style licenses, therefore resits the restrictive control of traditional forms of legal protection designed to support the notion of ‘intellectual property’ and the ‘permissive’ economic model by which capital trades in such questionable assets. (Lessig 2004) This enables both students and academics to do more than restructure curricula and pedagogy, but to challenge the very organising principles upon which academic knowledge is currently being transmitted and produced. In this way, the student can truly be seen as a producer of knowledge.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 136-7)

We conclude:

“Through these efforts, the organizing principle is being redressed creating a teaching, learning and research environment which promotes the values of openness and creativity, engenders equity among academics and students and thereby offers an opportunity to reconstruct the student as producer and academic as collaborator. In an environment where knowledge is free, the roles of the educator and the institution necessarily change. The educator is no longer a delivery vehicle and the institution becomes a landscape for the production and construction of a mass intellect in commons.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 138)

This book chapter was the foundational (and most highly cited) rationale and theorisation of Student as Producer. It points towards a number of key themes that Neary goes on to critique and develop in later articles and which I want to draw out in my consideration of the ‘co-operative university’:

  • The political origins and formulation of Student as Producer as a negative critique of capitalist social relations
  • The collaborative relationship between teacher and student, which leads to the conversion of consumers/students into producers/teachers
  • The emphasis, not only on the qualitative nature of the product, but also the process and means of production as the ‘organising function’ of social relations that are antithetical to the organising principles of capitalist social relations (i.e. private property and waged labour)
  • The evidence, as seen in the development and uses of the Internet (i.e. hacking and the Free Culture movement), of the productive capacity of social, co-operative labour to directly challenge waged labour and private property
  • The potential for a new form of social knowledge (i.e. mass intellectuality) to produce new organisational forms

In the conclusion of this book chapter, we said that

“further attention needs to be paid to the framework by which the student as producer contributes towards mass intellectuality. This requires academics and students to do more than simply redesign their curricula, but go further and redesign the organising principle (i.e. private property and waged labour), through which academic knowledge is currently produced.”

In my consideration of the worker co-operative as a suitable organisational form for a university, I am attempting to elaborate such a ‘framework’. A problem with this early book chapter, which Neary addressed more recently, is that we were too optimistic in pointing to the Internet as an expression of an emancipatory form of ‘mass intellectuality’ and we neglected to apply a negative critique to the seductiveness of Dyer-Witheford’s identification of the “formation of a polycentric, communicatively-connected, collective intelligence.” Neither mass intellectuality nor the Internet, as “its quintessential expression” provides the political basis for an organisational form for the social production of knowledge which challenges capital. It can, of course, inspire and enable new institutional forms, but it is not itself such a form. As I have noted before, “the logic of the Internet is administration by protocol.” Galloway was correct to argue that “Protocol is a type of controlling logic that operates outside institutional, governmental, and corporate power; although it has important ties to all three.” (Galloway, 2004: 122)

Along similar lines, Neary later develops his work on Student as Producer in favour of bureaucracy over the participatory culture of social networks, influenced in part by Kreiss, Finn and Turner’s paper on The Limits of Peer Production. In that article, drawing on Max Weber and Paul du Gay, they “challenge the consensus around peer production and argue that the form is not bringing about the idealized society many consensus scholars suggest.” (244) I will return to this later when discussing Neary’s more recent work. The point here is that Marx’s ‘general intellect’ and later Marxist’s ‘mass intellectuality’ are not amoral nor post-political categories but rather they depend on the development of an ‘organising function’ and a ‘framework’ through which they can be expressed and protected. For Neary, one such framework is Student as Producer and in our more recent work through the Social Science Centre, its complementary institutional expression points towards the worker co-operative. It is necessarily a transitional organisational form, but still one in which the concept and theory of Student as Producer can be more fully realised as an experiment in human emancipation and the discovery of a new form of social wealth.

In future notes, I will continue to look at Neary’s more recent work in light of how it might help us think about the relevance and usefulness (or not) of the worker co-operative form for higher education, a form which might help constitute a framework where the student becomes ‘the subject of history rather than the object’ and through which ‘humanity becomes the project rather than the resource’.

“We acknowledge the cooperative movement as one of the transforming forces of the present society based upon class antagonism. Its great merit is to practically show that the present pauperising, and despotic system of the subordination of labour to capital can be superseded by the republican and beneficent system of the association of free and equal producers… We recommend to the working men to embark in co-operative production rather than in co-operative stores. The latter touch but the surface of the present economical system, the former attacks its groundwork.” (Marx, 1866)

References   [ + ]

1. This book chapter generously names me as co-author. My actual input was confined to the last section on the ‘General Intellect’ and the Conclusion, both of which we worked on together.

What can be learned from ‘liberal arts colleges’?

Just a note for future research. What can we learn from liberal arts colleges, in terms of:

  • their founding, original mission and early history
  • their creation of intentional, residential communities for education
  • their emphasis on the pastoral and pedagogical relationship between teacher and student
  • their decline or gradual conversion to offer ‘professional’ degrees
  • their variety and emphasis on locale and community
  • their institutional form (i.e. size, governance, mission, financing)
  • their deliberate emphasis on an anti-disciplinary education that combines the arts, natural and physical sciences.



Is the worker co-operative form suitable for a university? (Part 2)

“A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” (ICA identity statement)

In my earlier notes, I listed six basic characteristics of worker co-operatives, as approved by the ICA in 2005. I then began to discuss them in terms of a ‘co-operative university’. The basis for these six characteristics are the co-operative movement’s 1995 statement of its identity, values and principles. 1)The 2005 Declaration is intended to “define at world level some basic characters and internal operational rules that are exclusive to this type of cooperatives, which have specific goals and purposes that differ from cooperatives belonging to other categories.”

In summary, the values and principles are as follows: 2)We discussed the ICA ‘Statement of Identity, Values and Principles’ at the Social Science Centre. Notes from the classes are here and here.


  1. Self-help
  2. Self-responsibility
  3. Democracy
  4. Equality
  5. Equity
  6. Solidarity


  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training and Information
  6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
  7. Concern for Community

The ‘World Declaration on Worker Co-operatives‘ (2005) states that “Worker cooperatives are committed to being governed by the above mentioned Statement on the Cooperative Identity.” The values are the basis for the principles; the principles are the basis for action. I encourage you to read the identity statement in full. It is the result of international effort over 150 years to collectively identify the co-operative movement and provide a set of guidelines for its members to aspire to. In his report for the Co-operative College, ‘Realising the Co-operative University‘, Dan Cook states that “Co-operative principles are academic principles. There is arguably a close alignment between co-operative principles and mainstream academic values.” (paragraphs 3.2 – 3.11)

An academic commons

Co-operatives UK’s model constitution for worker co-operatives, includes the following option on ‘common ownership’. It’s also worth noting that common ownership is compulsory for co-operatives who wish to be funded by Radical Routes. 3)see page 57-58 of ‘How to set up a Workers’ Coop‘.

“The Co-operative is a common ownership enterprise. If on the winding up or dissolution of the Co-operative any of its assets remain to be disposed of after its liabilities are satisfied, these assets shall not be distributed among the Members, but shall be transferred to some other common ownership co-operative(s), or to Co-operatives UK (or any body that succeeds to its function). If such residual assets cannot be distributed in this manner they shall be transferred to some other organisation(s) whose purpose is to promote and support the co-operative movement and common ownership enterprises. This rule may only be amended by Extraordinary Resolution.”

This is a significant point of constitutional clarification. If a university were constituted on this basis, its scholar-members would collectively ‘own’ the means of knowledge production. However, such co-operatives are not private nor are they public in the way a joint stock company is, despite joint-stock companies representing “the abolition of capital as private property within the confines of the capitalist mode of production itself.”

In Capital Vol.3, Marx argues:

‘”In stock companies the function is divorced from capital ownership, hence also labour is entirely divorced from ownership of means of production and surplus-labour. This result of the ultimate development of capitalist production is a necessary transitional phase towards the reconversion of capital into the property of producers, although no longer as the private property of the individual producers, but rather as the property of associated producers, as outright social property. On the other hand, the stock company is a transition toward the conversion of all functions in the reproduction process which still remain linked with capitalist property, into mere functions of associated producers, into social functions.” (Capital, Vol.3 Ch. 27)

What is different about common ownership to joint stock ownership (neither of which are private forms of ownership) is that common ownership socialises ownership of the means of production among its workers. It is held in trust for future generations of co-operatives. Whereas the joint stock company is “private production unchecked by private ownership”, a workers’ co-operative is social or collective production governed by social or common ownership. Common ownership of the means of knowledge production among scholar-members is also therefore a significant step towards a form of academic labour that is not alienated from its product.

“the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour.” (Marx, Capital Vol. 3 Ch. 27) 4)I have discussed this idea elsewhere.

In his talk on Marx’s alternative to capitalism, Peter Hudis (around 37 mins in) summarises what Marx deems necessary to eliminate the conditions of alienating value production i.e. freely associated, non-alienated labour.

  1. Extend democracy into the economic sphere, into the workplace.
  2. Workers’ co-operatives. Direct ownership stake and control of the workplace.
  3. Eliminate the social division of labour between ownership and non-ownership. Workers have a direct stake in the outcome of labour.
  4. In control of the workplace, workers would make work less alienating, less harmful.
  5. Co-ordination between co-operatives is needed, nationally and internationally. Democratically elected planning authority, subject to recall.


Depending on the size of the co-operative, governance might be structured in different ways.  The Social Science Centre is intentionally small, an experiment that is intended to be replicated rather than scaled up. Mondragon limits the size of its worker co-operatives to 500 members. If the ‘co-operative university’ is to be constituted and governed as a worker co-op, it is likely to be smaller than existing universities. A variation on ‘self-managing work teams’ (see illustration) seems appropriate to a university and reflective of the semi-autonomous quasi-firm characteristics of many research groups that already exist. Committee structures could reflect this form of governance, too, rather than a hierarchy of committees as is currently the case.

Governance and management structures
Click to enlarge. Image taken from ‘The worker co-operative code’.


The educational mission of the co-operative university is to be determined by its scholar-members. However, based on the history of education in the co-operative movement, we can identify certain themes and practices in the overall curriculum that would effect all its members.

Facer et al (2011) propose three “broad and interwoven currents of aspiration and activity which characterise the emergence of co-operative education from its roots in the 19th century”:

  1. Teaching about co-operation – making visible the alternatives and challenging the social and economic status quo.
  2. Training for co-operation – building co-operative institutions and skills as economic and social resources.
  3. Learning through co-operation – developing co-operative identities, dispositions and habits

Undertaking these activities would, in effect, act as a means of counteracting the uses of higher education for capitalist valorisation, potentially forming a rigorous basis for resistance to capital. It could also act as a way of embedding historical and political subjectivity within the curriculum which would help ensure that the co-operative remains critically self-reflexive. Ironically, one of the criticisms of Mondragon is that workers “do not consider the firms theirs in any meaningful way.” Kasmir (1996) argues that one of the lessons we can learn from Mondragon is that of the “importance of politics, the necessary role of organization, and the continuing value of syndicates and unions for transforming the workplace.” (p.199-200) Scholar-members of a worker co-operative university must regularly question how their mutual work can be reproduced as a critical, social project. “If workplace democracy is to be genuine, it seems that it must be premised on activism.” (Kasmir, 1996, 199)

Three routes to co-operation

I propose three routes to developing a ‘co-operative university’ (or more accurately, an organisational form for ‘co-operative higher education’):

  1. Conversion – systematically convert the values, principles and legal form of an existing university to that of a formally constituted co-operative.
  2. Dissolution – dissolve the ‘neoliberal university’ into a co-operative university by creating co-operatives inside the existing university form. e.g. constitute research groups on co-operative values and principles; design, specify and validate modules and degree programmes so that they embed co-operative values and principles; if necessary, outsource services to an increasing number of co-operative providers; establish the terms of reference for new committees on co-operative values and principles. Continue until the university is effectively transformed into a co-operative organisation from the inside out.
  3. Creation – build a co-operative university from scratch in the  same way that a new co-operative enterprise might be established.

Dan Cook has done important preliminary work with his report for the Co-operative College. It begins to address a number of issues relevant to each of these three approaches but with a greater emphasis on conversion of existing institutions. His report is based on the assumption that a “Co-operative University would necessarily meet the legal definitions of a co-operative and a university, simultaneously.” Route three above does not assume this. It recognises that a ‘university’ in the UK is a legal title, but one which has meaning apart from legislation. Historically, a ‘university’ has simply been a body of scholars who convene to undertake research-based teaching and learning i.e. ‘higher education’. The creation route therefore might entail the creation of a co-operative for higher education which does not carry the legal title of ‘university’ in the UK. A legislated university requires a community of scholars. A community of scholars does not require a legislated university. In that case, our question becomes, ‘Is the worker co-operative form suitable for higher education?’

If Co-operatives UK, or the International Co-operative Alliance agreed to support the creation of such co-operatives for higher education, it could do so based on the principles of ‘democratic member control’ and the ‘autonomy and independence’ of a community of worker-scholars. It would not award government recognised degrees, but it could provide an education at the same level and confer awards that carry meaning, currency and weight beyond the institution.

From each according to their capacity…

In a worker co-operative for higher education (i.e. a ‘university’), we might call workers, ‘scholars’. This does not mean that they are not workers, that they do not work, but is meant to signify (and dignify) the kind of work undertaken by the members of the co-operative. It is also intended to be general enough so as to be inclusive of all types of necessary contribution to the co-operative: teachers are scholars; students are scholars; administrators are scholars; cleaners are scholars; technicians are scholars; caterers are scholars. However, whether these distinct and divided responsibilities remain in a worker co-operative university is to presume the content of the organisation before agreeing its form. To refer to all members as scholars and all scholars as members is one way in which equity among members is constituted.

Whereas in a capitalist university, there is a great diversity of roles and their respective contractual responsibilities (e.g. Senior Lecturer, Professor, Administrator, Undergraduate Student, IT Officer, Finance Officer, etc.), such a division of labour in the institution ensures that the diversity of work within any given role is limited. In a worker co-operative university, as I am conceiving it, there is a singular role of ‘scholar’ but a greater diversity of work and significantly less division of labour. Labour is not divided but is instead communal and direct. According to the individual’s capacity, the teacher is also a student, an administrator, a cleaner, and so on. The most capable members will make the most diverse and therefore enriching contribution to the university. This is not to suggest that the most capable scholars should be ‘over-worked’, burdened with menial work, or that everyone does everything. With a greater number of members partaking in  undesirable but necessary work than is ordinarily the case, ‘light work’ would be made of such tasks and it is expected that more time would be available for enjoyable, satisfying and less alienating work. Also, a co-operative university need not do everything that a modern university aims to do.

This brings me to a point which I will elaborate on at a later date: the organisational form should be an expression of the pedagogical relationship between teacher-student-scholar-members i.e. ‘scholars’. The pedagogical relationship is a social relationship which, if appropriate, is given expression through a co-operative constitution. Kasmir (1996) makes this point in her reflections on the ‘myth of Mondragon’, arguing that we must “be skeptical of models that make business forms rather than people the agents of social change.” (p. 196).

The relationship between teacher and student (i.e. scholars) is one of the core principles of Student as Producer, which I will return to soon.

“The idea of student as producer encourages the development of collaborative relations between student and academic for the production of knowledge. However, if this idea is to connect to the project of refashioning in fundamental ways the nature of the university, then further attention needs to be paid to the framework by which the student as producer contributes towards mass intellectuality. This requires academics and students to do more than simply redesign their curricula, but go further and redesign the organizing principle, (i.e. private property and wage labour), through which academic knowledge is currently being produced.” (Neary & Winn, 2009, 137)

Related reading

On co-operative values and principles, I can recommend two chapters by the principle author of the ICA Statement, Ian MacPherson:

“Speech Introducing the Co-operative Identity Statement to the 1995 Manchester Conference of the ICA”. This is published in MacPherson’s One Path to Co-operative Studies, on pp. 201-17.

“The International Co-operative Movement Today: the Impact of the 1995 Co-operative Identity Statement of the ICA”, which can be found on pages 255-273 of the same book.

On the history of co-operative education in general, I found the following interesting and useful:

Tom Woodin (2011) “Cooperative education in the nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries: context, identity and learning

Facer, K. Thorpe, J and Shaw, L (2011) Co-operative Education and Schools: An old idea for new times? The BERA Conference, September 6th 2011, London, UK

All of the above texts have formed part of this term’s Social Science Centre course, ‘Co-operation and Education’.

Peter Hudis’ PhD thesis (in particular pp.256-264) provides a good discussion on joint stock vs. common ownership in the context of Marx’s writing on worker co-operatives.

Articles relating to Student as Producer can be found here, under ‘articles’.

I am also maintaining a bibliography specifically about co-operative higher education.

References   [ + ]

1. The 2005 Declaration is intended to “define at world level some basic characters and internal operational rules that are exclusive to this type of cooperatives, which have specific goals and purposes that differ from cooperatives belonging to other categories.”
2. We discussed the ICA ‘Statement of Identity, Values and Principles’ at the Social Science Centre. Notes from the classes are here and here.
3. see page 57-58 of ‘How to set up a Workers’ Coop‘.
4. I have discussed this idea elsewhere.