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)http://studentasproducer.lincoln.ac.uk It is also one of four agreed areas of work in a new ‘digital education’ strategy at Lincoln. 2)http://joss.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/03/03/digital-education/

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 publications 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/ 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)I discuss this in Winn 2013.

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)http://lncd.lincoln.ac.uk 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)http://devxs.org.uk 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)http://makerspace.com/ and ‘hackerspaces’. 8)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hackerspace The programme will seek to learn from, emulate and contribute to what we see happening in hacker/maker/DIY culture: e.g. ‘fablabs’, 9)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fab_lab ‘hacklabs’, 10)http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-2/peer-reviewed-papers/hacklabs-and-hackerspaces/ and ‘open science’. 11)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_science 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)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunkworks_project 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.

References   [ + ]

Is the worker co-operative form suitable for a university? (Part 3)

In some earlier notes, I asked whether the worker co-operative form is suitable for a university in light of how the international co-operative movement defines the ‘character’ of worker co-operatives and the re-conceptualisation of academic labour that this organisational form would imply. I asserted that the university is already a means of production which capital employs together with academic labour to re-produce labour in the form of students, and value in the commodity form of knowledge. A worker owned co-operative university would therefore control the means of knowledge production and potentially produce a new form of knowledge.

I also summarised the values and principles of the co-operative movement as a whole, noting that they are (for most individuals) aligned with academic values and principles. I highlighted the emphasis among worker co-operatives on ‘common ownership’ as a form of property relations which overcomes the distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ to produce an ‘academic commons’. I pointed to the ways in which such a worker co-operative university might be governed, the integration of co-operative values and principles into the curriculum and other organisational practices (cf. Facer (2011)) and outlined three ‘routes to co-operation’: conversion, dissolution, creation. Finally, I suggested that the distinction between teacher and student would necessarily be dissolved and with it the division of labour, too. Assuming this was the case, a radically different method of curriculum development and pedagogy would be required. Drawing on Kasmir’s reflections on Mondragon, the Spanish worker co-op, that we should “be skeptical of models that make business forms rather than people the agents of social change”, it follows that the organisational form of a ‘co-operative university’ should itself be derived from the pedagogical relationship between teacher-student-scholar-members i.e. ‘scholars’. I suggested that the basis of this pedagogical relationship might be work I have been involved in referred to as ‘Student as Producer’.

 Student as Producer

“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)

In these notes I want to review the work of my colleague, Mike Neary, who conceived and developed ‘Student as Producer’ and has subsequently led a project to implement research-based teaching and learning across our entire institution. Here, I want to focus on the theoretical development of Student as Producer and consider its suitability and utility as the pedagogical basis on which a worker co-operative for higher education might be developed. In order to do this, I work my way chronologically through several substantive pieces of writing about Student as Producer.

In each reading, I try to glean specific features of Student as Producer as it has developed, which seem relevant to my overarching question: ‘Is the worker co-operative form suitable for a university?’ I do not attempt to fully answer the question in this series of posts, but rather identify points, issues, questions and considerations for further exploration.

Linked to this blog post are seven subsequent sets of notes, covering seven of Neary’s articles and one keynote transcript. Click on the article title to go to each set of notes. It amounts to around 15,000 words and so it may be preferable to read it in PDF format. If you wish to cite them, please treat them as “preliminary notes”. Thank you.

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.

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.

3. Neary, Mike (2010) Student as Producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde; or, how do revolutionary teachers teach? Learning Exchange, Vol. 1, No. 1. 

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

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.

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

7. Neary, Mike (2013) Student as Producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde; or, how to revolutionary teachers teach? [v2] Paper presented at Walter Benjamin, Pedagogy and the Politics of Youth conference, London. [unpublished]

 

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