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.


Open education and the emancipation of labour from teaching and learning

Abstract submitted to the CfP on ‘Critical Approaches to Open Education‘, Learning, Media and Technology journal.

I have previously argued that open education is a liberal project with a focus on the freedom of things rather than the freedom of people. (Winn, 2012) Furthermore, I have argued that despite an implicit critique of private property with its emphasis on ‘the commons’, there is no corresponding critique of academic labour (Neary, Winn, 2012).

The imposition of private property and wage-labour is the organising principle of the capitalist mode of production (Neary, Winn, 2009), a “determinate logic” (Postone, 1993) which continually seeks to alienate labour from its full creative capacity (Wendling, 2011) and reduce the necessity of labour-time in the production of value. For capital, the crucial role of all forms of education is to ensure the reproduction and improvement of labour in a historical form that is conducive to the production of value. For the student, education becomes necessary in order to improve the value of the labour power commodity upon which their subsistence depends.

This paper will take up the conclusions of my earlier work where I argued that the critical power and potential of open education “is in its yet under-acknowledged re-conceptualisation of what it means to work as a researcher, teacher and student.” (Winn, 2012) In the work cited, I have argued that an emancipatory form of education cannot be created by the production of educational resources as ‘a commons’ and the socialisation of academic (i.e. teacher-student) labour through networked technologies.

In this paper, I will develop my critical position that an emancipatory form of education must work towards the emancipation of teachers and students from labour, the dynamic source of value in capitalism, and that this might be achieved through a co-operative pedagogical relationship between individuals out of which alternative organisational and institutional forms are developed that undermine the organising principle of capitalism. In making this argument, I will draw upon my involvement with the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, as well as my work with colleagues at the University of Lincoln (e.g. Neary, 2010; Neary and Hagyard, 2010; Neary and Amsler, 2010).


Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2012) Open education: common(s), commonism and the new common wealth. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, 12 (4). pp. 406-422.

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

Neary, Mike (2010) Student as producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde?,  Learning Exchange, 1 (1).

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. Routledge, Abingdon.

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 . Continuum, London.

Postone, Moishe (1993) Time, Labour and Social Domination. Cambridge University Press.

Social Science Centre, Lincoln

Wendling (2011) Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation. Palgrave Macmillan

Winn, Joss (2012) Open education: from the freedom of things to the freedom of people. In: Towards teaching in public: reshaping the modern university. Continuum, London.

Marx on co-operation

When numerous labourers work together side by side, whether in one and the same process, or in different but connected processes, they are said to co-operate, or to work in co-operation… Co-operation ever constitutes the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production. (Marx, Capital Vol.1, Ch. 13)

I think that what is key to any advocacy of co-operatives as anti- or post-capitalist organisations, is not co-operation in terms of the division and participation of labour, but rather co-ops as a response to capital’s antagonistic relationship between labour and property: democratic control of capital by workers i.e. a ‘commons’.

I have no interest in advocating co-operatives that do not pursue ‘common ownership‘. 1

Notes on the university and the means of production

1. Consumption and production: The dominant discourse around higher education in the UK is its marketisation, i.e. knowledge as a commodity and universities as competing capitals.  Students are increasingly indentured consumers. Lectures are reduced to ‘content’ and academics are the original knowledge workers. At Lincoln, we have a strategy to resist this: Student as Producer. It is an intervention led by my colleague Mike Neary, based on a number of intellectual projects, including the critical social theory of Walter Benjamin [PDF].  Student as Producer has become the organising principle for teaching and learning across the entire institution. Student as Producer is against the marketisation of higher education. It is an attempt to shift the discourse away from the exchange of knowledge towards the production of knowledge. In essence, we ask what is higher education for? It is for the production of knowledge.

2. Technology for the production of knowledge: My work in the Centre for Educational Research and Development focuses on the role of technology in higher education. The role of technology in higher education is the same as the role of technology in other industries, which I do not need to elaborate here. The use of technology in higher education is not static nor linear. Scientific research undertaken in universities leads to the development of new technologies (e.g. computers) which confront students and academics when commodified. My particular interest in the role of technology in higher education is not, as is often the case, the pedagogical use of technology (e.g. the use of computers to support teaching and learning), but rather the institutional, infrastructural use of technology (e.g. the use of computers for scholarly communication). If we view ‘the university’ as an institution that exists for the production of knowledge, then we arrive at the question: what are the means of production in higher education? They are the same as any other industry: labour, science and technology, and capital. Each of these words have common meanings that we use in every day speech, but those ‘common sense’ and naturalised uses derive from historical, social and epistemological developments over hundreds of years.

3. Science as the instrument of capital accumulation: I had hoped, before now, to have written up my notes on Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s magnificent and out-of-print book, Intellectual and Manual Labour. A Critique of Epistemology [PDF]. What is significant here about Sohn-Rethel’s critique is his focus on the history, purpose and use of science. He boldly demonstrates that the history of science (i.e. since Galileo’s law of inertial motion), is pre-dated by and derived from the ‘real abstraction’ of the exchange of commodities. By ‘real abstraction’, he refers to abstract concepts having real, concrete effects. Often, we may not even be aware of or understand the abstraction (e.g. ‘value’), only its material outcome. Put another way, our lived historical experience is dominated (i.e. controlled) by abstraction, which is rooted in the history of commodity exchange. Sohn-Rethel attempts a remarkable study of the development of abstract thought, which I cannot do justice to here,  but to put it crudely, he argues that the origins of abstract thought are to be found in the invention of money as a ‘universal equivalent’ for the exchange of commodities, and that modern scientific theory is “knowledge of nature in commodity form” (132). This has deep and wide-ranging implications, not least in a higher education institution which produces scientific knowledge. If, as Sohn-Rethel argues, all science today is bourgeois science geared towards the purpose of capital accumulation,  higher education is at the heart of this configuration. We are reminded of this when we are told that higher education is an important engine for economic growth. In that claim, higher education is defined as a means of commodity production: it is the producer of scientific knowledge and all its labour power and infrastructure must in some way contribute to this production. But it doesn’t, yet, and there lies the struggle. Not in the circulation of knowledge, but in the production of knowledge.

4. The death of the guilds: In his study of the Death of the Guilds, Krause identifies the relatively recent re-configuration of academia by the capitalist mode of production. His work can be related to Sohn-Rethel, in that they both discuss the transition from artisanal to scientific modes of production; from a mode of production where the intellectual and manual labour were united, to a mode of production where the head (abstract thought) and the hand (craft) are separated. Artisans “owned the means of production” (S-R, 117) and guilds are groups of workers that exercise political power “primarily for their own ends.” (Krause, x). Guilds own the means of production. Both Krause and Sohn-Rethel recognise that the death of the guilds and the artisan mode of production that they were formed to protect, began to crumble with the early growth of capitalism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. For Sohn-Rethel, the writing was on the wall with the development of mathematics. “It is no exaggeration to say that one can measure the extent of division of head and hand by the inroad of mathematics in any particular task.” (113). For Krause, writing in 1996, the guild model of political power in academia only remained to some extent in the Oxbridge colleges. Krause and Sohn-Rethel are both useful for understanding the transformation of scientific research and teaching towards the capitalist mode of production (i.e. economic growth), which in recent years is put forward by the higher education sector as a justification of its continued public funding.

5. The birth of the commons: We can be certain that today, ‘the university’ is an institution organised bureaucratically, technologically, and epistemologically for the production of knowledge which is exchanged as a commodity. No institution can exist at such scale and compete nationally and globally in any other configuration. However, in the last decade or so, the Open Access (OA) movement has developed from within academia in a way that resembles the power of the guilds. The objective of Open Access is to provide scholarly literature online to the public, free of cost and most copyright restrictions. Open Access is a scholarly movement that is wielding political power and has deep implications for the mode and means of the production of knowledge in higher education. If openness within higher education is understood as a ‘recursive public’ (Kelty, 2008), we can observe and predict that further recursions will be deemed necessary to support the logic of Open Access: Open Data, so that research can be verified and built upon; Open Science, where the research process is conducted publicly; Open Source, where the research tools and software algorithms are transparent and accessible; and Open Peer Review, where the verification of research findings are themselves open to scrutiny for bias and inconsistency. Each of these recursions requires changes to the technological, social and bureaucratic configuration of universities (this gradual reconfiguration occupies much of my day-to-day work). Although the concept of recursion suggests a series of steps or iterations, each recursive element can occur concurrently, deferring its limits to the next process while continuing to unfold. As Kelty has noted, “the ‘depth’ of the recursion is determined by the openness necessary for the project itself.” (2008:30). The depth of recursion required by the logic of OA is still being worked out and remains a contested public through which the nature and purpose of science is being questioned. Kelty’s ‘recursive public’ is nothing more than a generalisation of political struggle expressed in terms immanent to its subject. Open Access has recursive implications that amount to the socialisation of the means of production of science. The production of a scientific commons. Communism.

I am grateful to Richard Hall for making clear to me something I had not fully grasped until now. The university itself is a means of production.

The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education

With Mike Neary

In this chapter, we set out to provide an overview of recent critical responses to the corporatisation of higher education and the configuration of the student as consumer. We also discuss the relationship between the core activities of teaching and research and reflect on both nineteenth century discourse and more recent efforts to re-establish the university as a liberal humanist institution, where teaching and research are equal and fundamental aspects of academic life. While recognizing recent efforts which acknowledge and go some way to addressing the need for enquiry-based learning and constructivist models of student participation, we argue that a more critical approach is necessary to promote change at an institutional level. This critical approach looks at the wider social, political and economic context beyond the institution and introduces the work of Benjamin and other Marxist writers who have argued that a critique of the social relations of capitalist production is central to understanding and remodelling the role of the university and the relationship between academic and student. 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. An exemplar alternative organizing principle is already proliferating in universities in the form of open, networked collaborative initiatives which are not intrinsically anti-capital but, fundamentally, ensure the free and creative use of research materials. Initiatives such as Science Commons, Open Knowledge and Open Access, are attempts by academics and others to lever the Internet to ensure that research output is free to use, re-use and distribute without legal, social or technological restriction ( 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.

Published in The Future of Higher Education: Policy, Pedagogy and the Student Experience

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