Communes, commonism and co-ops: rethinking the university as a hackerspace

My abstract for the British HCI conference 2015 at the University of Lincoln. I’m on the ‘HCI, politics and activism‘ panel.

In this talk I reflect on the history of hacking and its origins in the ‘commune’ of the academy (Winn, 2013). I then discuss the role of Copyleft licenses (Stallman, 2010) as “the practical manifestation of a social structure” (Weber, 2004, 85; Winn, 2015); a form of administration for the production of ‘commonism’ (Dyer-Witheford, 2007; Neary and Winn, 2012). Finally, I argue that the emerging form of ‘open co-operative’ can be understood as a latent material response to Stallman’s original predicament when Venture Capitalism took over his ‘Garden of Eden’: mutual ownership and control of knowledge production. Significantly, the “crucial innovation” for an emerging form of ‘open co-operative’ (Bauwens, 2014) is a further adaptation of Copyleft called Commons-Based Reciprocity Licenses, or ‘Copyfarleft’ (Kleiner, 2007), thereby uniting co-operative legal structures with subversive licensing contracts. To what extent can we reconstitute higher education and the idea of the university along the lines of an open co-operative, so that academic science can continue to contribute to the common good? (Winn, 2015) All Power to the Communes!

A Short History of Hacking: Values and principles for co-operative higher education

My keynote talk for Newcastle College’s Student as Producer conference, March 27th 2015. 

Thank you for inviting me here today to contribute to your student conference. It’s a real privilege and luxury to be able to spend the day with you and to learn about all the great work you’re doing. Last year, my friend Prof. Mike Neary spoke at your ‘Student as Producer’ conference. Mike and I have worked together and with many other colleagues on Student as Producer for a number of years now and within our own institution and elsewhere, such as Newcastle College, the core ideas of Student as Producer are interpreted in new ways and take on new forms.

Student-as-Producer

At Lincoln, since our original HEA-funded project ended, Student as Producer has developed into a substantial programme of ‘student engagement‘ led by Dan Derricott, an ex-Vice President of our Student Union. At the University of Warwick, the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning funds Student as Producer projects relating to research, collaboration or performance. At Vanderbilt University in the USA, 2014 was themed the year of Student as Producer. At the University of British Columbia in Canada, funding has been made available for the redesign of 100 courses, affecting around 34,000 student enrolments.  These are just some of the examples of Student as Producer being put into practice, expressed in words like ‘engagement’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘partnership’. I know that Newcastle College has a new ‘HE Partnership Strategy’ based on the ideas of Student as Producer. I want to introduce, or rather recover, another word that is essential to my own understanding of Student as Producer and that is: ‘co-operation’. I’ll explain what I specifically mean by this in a minute.

First though, the title of my talk today probably requires some explanation: ‘A short history of hacking: Values and principles for co-operative higher education.’ The first part of the title refers to work I did on Student as Producer during 2009-2014. The second part refers to my current work, which I see as a development of Student as Producer, while remaining true to its original principles.

What has ‘hacking’ got to do with Student as Producer? When you hear the word ‘hacking’ or ‘hack’, many of you may think of something malicious and illegal, such as ‘someone’s hacked into my Facebook account’, or ‘the News of the World has been accused of phone-hacking’.

The Tech Model Railroad Club

However, an earlier meaning of ‘hacking’ was first used in the late 1950s by teachers and students belonging to the Tech Model Railroad Club at the world renown Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Even today MIT maintains a ‘Hack Gallery‘ which records various audacious and creative pranks undertaken around campus over the decades. In 1959, ‘hack’ at MIT referred to “something done without constructive end” and, according to records kept at that time, a year later a ‘hack’ specifically referred to “an article or project without constructive end.” It was, “a term for an unconventional or unorthodox application of technology, typically deprecated for engineering reasons.” A ‘hacker’ of course, is someone who hacks, but more specifically, “a hacker avoids the standard solution.” Since the early 1960s, the terms hack, hacker and hacking have taken on a variety of related and nuanced meanings and among computer scientists, electronics enthusiasts and software developers it’s still regarded as an honorary term for someone who is clever, creative, has unusual expertise and enthusiasm for their work and are defacto members of a global community of hackers who collaborate through the Internet.

In my own work on Student as Producer at Lincoln, I originally focused on the research and development of institutional  technology with students and our recent graduates. We mainly worked on projects relating to the infrastructure of the university: things like a research data management system, web publishing systems, identification and authentication protocols and curriculum data anlaysis. Throughout these projects, I referred to our work as ‘hacking the university‘ (actually, I was never creative nor clever enough to be a hacker, but some of the students I worked with truly were). During this time, we were trying to re-think and ultimately re-engineer the fabric of the university around the idea of ‘openness’: Open technologies, open data, open ways of doing research and teaching and learning.

DevXS

In 2011, we held a national student ‘hackathon‘ where nearly 200 students worked around the clock on developing prototypes for new university services. Student as Producer formed the basis and justification for all this work and in particular, a quote from the writer Walter Benjamin, who inspired Mike Neary’s early formulation of Student as Producer:

“[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)

Our work on the technological infrastructure of the university was an attempt to “reflect deeply on the conditions of present day production” in higher education, and “at the same time, work on the means of [knowledge] production.”

The point being, that Student as Producer is not simply about partnership, engagement, and collaboration – although it is all those things. It’s about confronting the idea of higher education and the institutional form that it takes so that as we produce new knowledge, which is what distinguishes a higher education, we reflect deeply on the means of knowledge production itself.

What I’m leading to is that, as you know, Student as Producer is much more than research-engaged teaching and learning. It is a pedagogical framework but one that is intended for rebuilding or re-engineering knowledge production itself. It’s anticipated that the institutional form reflects the pedagogic principles rather than the other way around. At Lincoln, it’s “the central pedagogical principle that informs other aspects of the University’s strategic planning” articulated currently in a major initiative to involve students in the running of the university.

This brings me to the second half of my talk where I want to look forward rather than backwards and think about how Student as Producer can be developed further.

Tools

One of the exciting and sometimes frustrating things about working with hackers is that they are always retooling. By this, I mean that they are always looking for ways to improve the tools they are working with and in doing so, the process of production itself. It reflects the fact that software developers often have the ability to author or improve the software tools that will help them develop new software products, a bit like a carpenter who can fashion a better carpentry tool so as to improve their cabinetmaking. This reflects the deep level of knowledge about the process of software production that hackers have. When they run into problems in the development process, hackers often have the knowledge required to address the problem, whether it’s an irritating bug or an inefficiency in the system. Furthermore, they often have the autonomy to make that intervention, because the tools they use are open source and can be freely modified. And because they’re open source there is a community of other hackers they can co-operate with on the problem at hand, if they themselves aren’t quite sure how to fix it.

Code Swarm
A VISUALISATION OF OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT

Knowledge, autonomy, openness, community, co-operation are all required if we are to “work on the means of [knowledge] production”.  And when we are able to genuinely work on the means of knowledge production, through the principles of openness, autonomy and co-operation, it can have a ‘recursive‘ effect on our understanding of the world around us and embolden us to desire and demand these principles in other aspects of our social lives.

The point I want to underline here is not the simple assertion that students should be recognised and included as part of the research activities of higher education – of course they should – but that if we remain true to that objective, the fabric of the institution, or the ‘means of production’, has to change too, including the way the institution is governed. Which is where I come back to the idea and practice of ‘co-operation’.

Student as Producer has always had a radically democratic agenda, valuing critique, speculative thinking, openness and a form of learning that aims to transform the social context so that students become the subjects rather than objects of history – individuals who make history and personify knowledge. Student as Producer is not simply a project to transform and improve the ‘student experience’ but aspires to a paradigm shift in how knowledge is produced.

Co-ops Work

For me, Student as Producer has always been more about how students, academics,  professional staff, cleaners, caterers – the whole college community –  can democratically and co-operatively govern their institutions. At first, I approached this through the idea and practice of ‘openness’, enabled by research and development into new institutional technologies, but at the heart of this was an attempt to intervene in the way we worked with each other. I draw inspiration for this not only from Student as Producer, which from its original articulation referred to ‘co-operation’, but also from the international co-operative movement which has its own set of values and principles. The values are those of

“self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.”

The co-operative principles are: Voluntary and Open Membership; Democratic Member Control; Member Economic Participation; Autonomy and Independence; Education, Training and Information; Co-operation among Co-operatives; and Concern for Community.

As you can see, education is one of the key principles for the international co-operative movement, but I want to draw your attention to the other principles of open membership, democratic control, autonomy, co-operation among co-operatives, and concern for community.

Co-operation or Barbarism

The choice of these values and principles has been discussed, debated and refined over the 170 year history of the international co-operative movement and last agreed in 1995. This combination of values and principles does not take a single institutional form (as you know, co-ops are multivarious in the forms they take) but like Student as Producer, I think they offer a framework for re-engineering the governance of higher education and the production of knowledge in our so-called ‘knowledge economy’, enabling teachers, students, administrators, cleaners, caterers… to democratically control our institutions.

Newcastle College should be commended for recognising the need to involve students in the governance of your institution. In your own HE Partnership Strategy you state that “meaningful partnership working is reliant upon the equal distribution of democratic power.” You argue rightly that this isn’t just achieved by listening to the so-called ‘student voice’ but by “empowering students to drive and implement change.” And “this will involve redistributing power across our HE communities up to and including HE Academic Board through engaging students in all stages of the decision making process.” My question to you is how do you intend to constitute this form of democracy. You say that you will embed it “throughout all aspects of the HE learning experience” but what constitutional form will that take and how will you hold each other to account? These are not questions unique to your own stated objectives, but are being asked all the time by people who desire democracy in their work as they do in their politics.

The question I am interested in then, is what steps might we take to reconstitute and transform our institutions into member-run, democratically controlled co-operatives? Institutions that enable us to reflect deeply on the conditions of present day knowledge production and truly put Student as Producer into practice?

Co-operation, Learning and Co-operative Values

Since 2011, academics and individuals within the co-operative movement have been discussing this question, partly inspired by the way 800 schools in the UK have recently become co-operatives. We are writing about co-operative higher education for journals and books, talking about it at conferences like this one, and thinking of ways that colleges and universities can become actual co-operatives or at least more like co-operatives. The suggestions range from converting the whole institution into a co-operative, constitutionally and legally, to running parts of the institution co-operatively, such as courses, research groups, committees and the various services that operate with and within colleges and universities. Staff and students could also be encouraged and supported to create their own co-operatives both inside and outside the university, setting up housing co-ops, food co-ops, technology co-ops, and even community-run education co-ops, joining a growing federation of student co-ops in the UK.

students coop

In the course of this process of transformation, as we learn how to practice democracy, autonomy, openness and solidarity, I expect that the ‘recursive’ effect will begin to take effect and we’ll want to assert these principles in other areas of our lives, too, demanding a similar transformation in the social world we are part of. That’s what Student as Producer is all about.

Angelus Novus
THIS STORM IS WHAT WE CALL PROGRESS

The university as a hackerspace (‘Friction’ conference)

A paper for Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistance‘, University of Nottingham, Thursday 8th May & Friday 9th May.

In a paper published last year, I argued for a different way of understanding the emergence of hacker culture. (Winn 2013) In doing so, I outlined an account of ‘the university’ as an institution that provided the material and subsequent intellectual conditions that early hackers were drawn to and in which they worked.

The key point I tried to make was that hacking was originally a form of academic labour that emerged out of the intensification and valorisation of scientific research within the institutional context of the university. The reproduction of hacking as a form of academic labour took place over many decades as academics and their institutions shifted from an ideal of unproductive, communal science to a more productive, entrepreneurial approach to the production of knowledge.

As such, I view hacking as a peculiar, historically situated form of labour that arose out of friction in the academy: vocation vs. profession; teaching vs. research; basic vs. applied research; research vs. development; private vs. public; war vs. peace; institutional autonomy vs. state dependence; scientific communalism vs. intellectual property; individualism vs. co-operation.

A question I have for you today is whether hacking in the university is still a possibility? Can a university contain (i.e. intellectually, politically, practically) a hackerspace? Can a university be a hackerspace? If so, what does it look like? How would it work? I am trying to work through these questions at the moment with colleagues at the University of Lincoln. The name I have given to this emerging project is ‘The university as a hackerspace’ and it has grown out of an existing pedagogical and political project called ‘Student as Producer.’1 It is also one of four agreed areas of work in a new ‘digital education’ strategy at Lincoln.2

More broadly, our project asks “how do we reproduce the university as a critical, social project?”

STUDENT AS PRODUCER

Student as Producer is the University of Lincoln’s teaching and learning strategy and is in part derived from the work of avant-garde Marxists like Lev Vygotsky, and Walter Benjamin, who gave a lecture in 1934 known as ‘The Author as Producer’. Benjamin was concerned with the relationship between authors 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 2005: 777)

Student as Producer was also an HEA-funded project that we completed recently, led by my colleague Prof. Mike Neary, who was the Dean of Teaching and Learning from 2007-14. Last year, the QAA commended the university for Student as Producer. Mike Neary and another colleague, Sam Williams, came to talk about Student as Producer here at the University of Nottingham just a couple of weeks ago and I’m told it was very well received.

Student as Producer at Lincoln is a university-wide initiative, which aims to construct a productive and progressive pedagogical framework through a re-engineering of the relationship between research and teaching and a reappraisal of the relationship between academics and students. Research-engaged teaching and learning is now “an institutional priority at the University of Lincoln, making it the dominant paradigm for all aspects of curriculum design and delivery, and the central pedagogical principle that informs other aspects of the University’s strategic planning.” (HEA 2010)

In an early book chapter setting out the rationale for Student as Producer, Mike and I argued that:

“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)

Central to Student as Producer is an attempt to reconfigure the dysfunctional relationship between teaching and research in higher education and a conviction that this can be best achieved by rethinking the relationship between student and academic.

The argument for Student as Producer has been developed through a number of publications3 which assert that students can and should be producers of their social world by being collaborators in the processes of research, teaching and learning. Student as Producer has a radically democratic agenda, valuing critique, speculative thinking, openness and a form of learning that aims to transform the social context so that students become the subjects rather than objects of history – individuals who make history and personify knowledge. Student as Producer is not simply a project to transform and improve the ‘student experience’ but aspires to a paradigm shift in how knowledge is produced, where the traditional student and teacher roles are ‘interrupted’ through close collaboration, recognizing that both teachers and students have much to learn from each other. Student as Producer aims to ensure that theory and practice are understood as praxis, what Paulo Freire referred to as a process of “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” (Freire 2000, 51).

A critical, social and historical understanding of the university and the roles of researcher, teacher and student inform these aspirations and objectives. They draw on radical moments in the history of the university as well as looking forward to possibilities of what the university can become. I think that one such radical moment could be the “software wars” that Richard Stallman has described when he tried desperately to hold together his “commune” in the “Garden of Eden” that was the AI Lab in MIT during the late 1970s. That moment was the genesis of the Free Software movement and the creation of the GPL license, and a time when hacking formally ‘escaped’ the confines of the university.4

Student as Producer recognizes that the higher education sector is in a state of crisis, which is reflective of a more general social crisis. At a time when the higher education sector is being privatized and students are expected to assume the role of consumer, Student as Producer aims to provide students with a more critical, more historically and socially informed, experience of university life which extends beyond their formal studies to engage with the role of the university, and therefore their own role, in society. Pedagogically, this is through the idea of ‘excess’ where students are anticipated to become more than just student-consumers during their course of research and study (Neary & Hagyard, 2010). The idea of ‘excess’ is suggestive of a state of abundance (Kay and Mott, 1982), of conditions of non-reciprocity: “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.” You will have experienced moments of such abundance and non-reciprocity in your own lives: with your lovers, your children, and in the culture of sharing on the web.

Our aim is that through this ‘pedagogy of excess’, the organising principle of university life is redressed, creating a teaching, learning and research environment which promotes the values of experimentation, openness and creativity, engenders equity at the level of academic and student labour and thereby offers an opportunity to reconstruct the student as producer and academic as collaborator. In an anticipated environment where knowledge is free (as in ‘freedom’, if not as in ‘beer’), 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, a porous, networked space of abundance, offering an experience that is in excess of what students might find elsewhere.

In our 2009 book chapter, we specifically drew on the activities of the Free Culture movement as an exemplary model for how the disconnect between research and teaching and the work of academics and students, might be overcome and reorganized around a different conception of work and property, ideas central to the meaning of ‘openness’ or, rather, an ‘academic commons’.

LNCD IS NOT A CENTRAL DEVELOPMENT GROUP

One of the reasons I have come to think about ‘the university as a hackerspace’ is due to what I regard as a failure of my earlier work. It depends on how you regard ‘failure’ – we learned a lot, attracted lots of research funding, and the work was interesting and seemed to interest other people – but it didn’t fully have the effect on the institution that I was hoping for. Between 2009 and 2013, I ran ten grant-funded projects, each of which focused on the theme of ‘openness’ or as I prefer, the ‘academic commons’. This work was consolidated under a group that we called LNCD. LNCD is a recursive acronym and stands for ‘LNCD is Not a Central Development Group’.5 It was intended to be an open, inclusive group run according to the principles of Student as Producer and open to students and staff from across the university.

With the LNCD group, I acknowledged that the origins of much of our work was in the hacker culture that grew out of MIT, Carnegie Mellon University and University of California, Berkeley in the 1970 and 1980s; the academic culture that developed much of the key technology of today’s Internet.” (Winn and Lockwood 2013) I think that the Free Culture movement in general owes much to its academic origins and can be understood as an exemplar alternative organizing principle that is proliferating in universities in the form of open, networked collaborative initiatives such as Open Access and Open Educational Resources. (Neary and Winn 2009)

“When understood from this point of view, LNCD, as a Student as Producer initiative, is attempting to develop a culture for staff and students based on the key academic values that motivated the early academic hacker culture: autonomy, the sharing of knowledge and creative output, transparency through peer-review, and peer-recognition based on merit.” (Winn and Lockwood 2013)

During this period, we also ran a national student hackathon called DevXS when 180 students from around the country came to Lincoln for two days to “challenge and positively disrupt the research, teaching and learning landscapes of further and higher education.”6 I’ve written about some of the projects and the hackathon elsewhere (Winn 2012; Winn and Lockwood 2013).

I was always mindful that LNCD should contribute towards the greater strategic priority of Student as Producer. It would do this by helping re-configure the nature of teaching and learning in higher education by encouraging students to become part of the academic project of the University and collaborators with academics in the production of knowledge and meaning. To recall Benjamin’s lecture: for me, LNCD was an attempt to “reflect deeply on the conditions of present day production” in higher education, and “at the same time, work on the means of [knowledge] production” with students and other members of staff.

AN ANTI-DISCIPLINARY RESEARCH DEGREE

The problem with LNCD is that we became regarded as just another research group and did not become the ‘skunkworks’ group for the institution that I hope we would. When JISC, the funder of our projects, ceased to advertise funding calls, there was nothing to fall back on. I was pretty burnt out by that point, too.

As an alternative to what I tried to do through LNCD, we are now working towards the validation in 2015 of a new post-graduate research degree, provisionally titled ‘The university as a hackerspace’. My hope is that as an academic programme with students, it will be more reflective of, and tightly integrated into, the core function and purpose of the university: research-based teaching and learning. I hope this will make it more sustainable and that staff will understand its objectives better than they did LNCD.

It is intended to be Lincoln’s first cross-university, ‘anti-disciplinary’ academic programme. It is intended to act as a focal point for teaching, learning, research and development of new technologies and technology culture. It is not intended to be a degree about ‘educational technology’, but rather a creative, critical research programme that seeks to understand and contribute to the role of technology in education through its wider role in society and culture.

The idea for this Master’s level research programme, is influenced by the rapidly emerging ‘makerspaces’7 and ‘hackerspaces’.8 The programme will seek to learn from, emulate and contribute to what we see happening in hacker/maker/DIY culture: e.g. ‘fablabs’,9 ‘hacklabs’,10 and ‘open science’.11 Research and development outputs from the programme are expected to formally feed back and inform the way that the university invests in, supports and promotes the use of technology for education and research. In this way, the research programme is intended to act, in part, as a ‘skunkworks’12 group for the whole institution.

The programme will combine inter-disciplinary research and development, teaching, learning and enterprise, but recognises that those activities are evolving and that hackers, makers and entrepreneurs are developing an alternative educational model that is replacing these functions of the university: the opportunities for learning, collaboration, reputation building/accreditation and access to cheap hardware and software for prototyping ideas, can and are taking place outside universities. However, university culture remains a place where the ‘hacker ethic’ (i.e. collaboration, sharing, respect for good ideas, meritocracy, autonomy, curiosity, fixing things, anti-technological determinism, peer review, perpetual learning, etc.) remains relevant and respected and resources are widespread. (Levy 1984; Himanen 2001)

The degree will be a flexible, research-based, postgraduate programme that is truly interdisciplinary and always experimental in its form and content: A space for learning, critique and innovation, engaging academics and students in the sciences, arts, media and humanities to think deeply about the way technology is used for research, teaching, learning and the wider social good. The programme will create a supportive space for students with different disciplinary backgrounds and interests to work together under the mentorship of university staff. The programme will recognise that both staff and students have much to learn from each other.

QUESTIONS NEEDING ANSWERS

We’re still in the early stages of thinking this through and as you can imagine, it’s throwing up a number of questions.

  • Can a university contain (intellectually, politically, practically) a hackerspace?
  • Are the two organisational and educational forms compatible?
  • Who owns an ‘antidisciplinary’ programme?
  • Who benefits from it? How?
  • Why would a student enrol?
  • How can we involve the local community?
  • What is the final award?
  • How are contributions (staff time, Schools’ facilities) acknowledged?
  • How is the degree structured?
  • How many students are required to make this work (i.e. what is the critical size of the ‘collective’)
  • What are the administrative constraints and regulatory obligations?

I welcome comments on what we are trying to do and whether you think it is feasible or even desirable. If you know of similar efforts elsewhere, please share them. Thank you.

FURTHER READING

Special Issue of Journal of Peer Production

http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-2/peer-reviewed-papers/

Hackerspaces: The Beginning (book)

http://blog.hackerspaces.org/2011/08/31/hackerspaces-the-beginning-the-book/

Benjamin, Walter (2005) Walter Benjamin: 1931-1934 v. 2, Pt. 2: Selected Writings, Harvard University Press.

Friere, Paulo (2000) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London: Continuum.

HEA (2010) Student as Producer: Research Engaged Teaching and Learning-An Institutional Strategy http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/projects/detail/ntfs/ntfsprojects_Lincoln10

Himanen, Pekka. 2001. The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age. Vintage.

Kay, Geoffrey and Mott, James (1982) Political Order and the Law of Labour. The MacMillan Press, London.

Levy, Steven.1984. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Penguin Books.

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, pp. 192-210.

Neary, M. and Hagyard, A. (2010) ‘PedagogyofExcess: AnAlternativePoliticalEconomyofStudentLife’. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer, Routledge, Abingdon, 209-224.

Schrock, Andrew Richard (2014) “Education in Disguise”: Culture of a Hacker and Maker Space http://escholarship.org/uc/item/0js1n1qg

Winn, Joss (2012) Hacking the university. Lincoln’s approach to openness. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/topics/opentechnologies/openeducation/lincoln-university-summary.aspx

Winn, Joss and Lockwood, Dean (2013) Student as Producer is hacking the university. In: Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age . Routledge.

Winn, Joss (2013) Hacking in the university: contesting the valorisation of academic labour. Triple C : Communication, Capitalism and Critique, 11 (2). pp. 486-503.

  1. http://studentasproducer.lincoln.ac.uk []
  2. http://joss.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/03/03/digital-education/ []
  3. I have written extensive notes on seven publications elsewhere: http://josswinn.org/2014/04/is-the-worker-co-operative-form-suitable-for-a-university-part-3/ []
  4. I discuss this in Winn 2013. []
  5. http://lncd.lincoln.ac.uk []
  6. http://devxs.org.uk []
  7. http://makerspace.com/ []
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hackerspace []
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fab_lab []
  10. http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-2/peer-reviewed-papers/hacklabs-and-hackerspaces/ []
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_science []
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunkworks_project []

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 (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)

  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. []

The university as a hackerspace

Abstract accepted for ‘Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistance‘, University of Nottingham, Thursday 8th May & Friday 9th May.

In this paper I will argue for a different way of understanding the emergence of hacker culture. In doing so, I will outline an account of ‘the university’ as an institution that provided the material and subsequent intellectual conditions that early hackers were drawn to and in which they worked.

I will argue that hacking was originally a form of academic labour that emerged out of the intensification and valorisation of scientific research within the institutional context of the university. The reproduction of hacking as a form of academic labour took place over many decades as academics and their institutions shifted from an ideal of unproductive, communal science to a more productive, entrepreneurial approach to the production of knowledge.

As such, I view hacking as a peculiar, historically situated form of labour that arose out of friction in the academy: vocation vs. profession; teaching vs. research; basic vs. applied research; research vs. development; private vs. public; war vs. peace; institutional autonomy vs. state dependence; scientific communalism vs. intellectual property.

Finally, and most importantly, I will ask conference delegates the questions: Is hacking in the university still a possibility? Can a university contain (intellectually, politically, practically) a hackerspace? If so, what does it look like? How would it work? I will attempt to answer some of these questions based on recent efforts at the University of Lincoln to reproduce the ‘university as a hackerspace’, building on the pedagogical and political project, Student as Producer.

Below are some slides from a recent presentation I gave to colleagues at Lincoln.

‘The university as a hackerspace’: Can interventions in teaching and learning drive university strategy?

I have been invited to the Jisc Digital Festival this year as an ‘expert speaker’. Here is the abstract of my talk. It reflects on Jisc-funded projects I have led at Lincoln and introduces a new initiative I am working on to develop a Masters level research degree, codenamed: ‘The university as a hackerspace’.

The University of Lincoln has explored opportunities as diverse as the potential of open data, developed a research data infrastructure, nurtured student developers and developed a research-led approach to teaching known as the student as producer, to name a few. However, these projects and initiatives have not been throw away experiments. Rather, they have helped inform the University’s new Digital Education Strategy aimed at meeting the needs and improving the experience of its students and researchers at a time when the idea and purpose of the university is being challenged. This session will provide an overview of some of the innovative projects and initiatives the University of Lincoln has undertaken in the past few years and how universities can explore approaches to teaching and research support, while helping inform the institutional mission and strategy. It will also provide an opportunity for managers, learning technologists and teachers to discuss the potential for such an approach at their institution and to share relevant experiences and ideas.

Hacking in the University: Contesting the Valorisation of Academic Labour

In this article I argue for a different way of understanding the emergence of hacker culture. In doing so, I outline an account of ‘the university’ as an institution that provided the material and subsequent intellectual conditions that early hackers were drawn to and in which they worked. I argue that hacking was originally a form of academic labour that emerged out of the intensification and valorisation of scientific research within the institutional context of the university. The reproduction of hacking as a form of academic labour took place over many decades as academics and their institutions shifted from an ideal of unproductive, communal science to a more productive, entrepreneurial approach to the production of knowledge.  As such, I view hacking as a peculiar, historically situated form of labour that arose out of the contradictions of the academy: vocation vs. profession; teaching vs. research; basic vs. applied research; research vs. development; private vs. public; war vs. peace; institutional autonomy vs. state dependence; scientific communalism vs. intellectual property.

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