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 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.

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. 2

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)

“In every factory, every street, every village, every school”

“Communes come into being when people find each other, get on with each other, and decide on a common path. The commune is perhaps what gets decided at the very moment when we would normally part ways. It’s the joy of an encounter that survives its expected end. It’s what makes us say “we,” and makes that an event. What’s strange isn’t that people who are attuned to each other form communes, but that they remain separated. Why shouldn’t communes proliferate everywhere? In every factory, every street, every village, every school. At long last, the reign of the base committees! Communes that accept being what they are, where they are. And if possible, a multiplicity of communes that will displace the institutions of society: family, school, union, sports club, etc. Communes that aren’t afraid, beyond their specifically political activities, to organize themselves for the material and moral survival of each of their members and of all those around them who remain adrift. Communes that would not define themselves – as collectives tend to do – by what’s inside and what’s outside them, but by the density of the ties at their core. Not by their membership, but by the spirit that animates them.

A commune forms every time a few people, freed of their individual straitjackets, decide to rely only on themselves and measure their strength against reality. Every wildcat strike is a commune; every building occupied collectively and on a clear basis is a commune, the action committees of 1968 were communes, as were the slave maroons in the United States, or Radio Alice in Bologna in 1977. Every commune seeks to be its own base. It seeks to dissolve the question of needs. It seeks to break all economic dependency and all political subjugation; it degenerates into a milieu the moment it loses contact with the truths on which it is founded. There are all kinds of communes that wait neither for the numbers nor the means to get organized, and even less for the “right moment” – which never arrives.”

~ The Invisible Committee

What can be learned from ‘liberal arts colleges’?

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

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



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

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

In my earlier notes, I listed six basic characteristics of worker co-operatives, as approved by the ICA in 2005. I then began to discuss them in terms of a ‘co-operative university’. The basis for these six characteristics are the co-operative movement’s 1995 statement of its identity, values and principles. 3

In summary, the values and principles are as follows: 4


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


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

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

An academic commons

Co-operatives UK’s model constitution for worker co-operatives, includes the following option on ‘common ownership’. It’s also worth noting that common ownership is compulsory for co-operatives who wish to be funded by Radical Routes. 5

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

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

In Capital Vol.3, Marx argues:

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

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

“the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour.” (Marx, Capital Vol. 3 Ch. 27) 6

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Three routes to co-operation

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

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

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

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

From each according to their capacity…

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

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

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

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

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

Related reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Hudis – Alternatives to Capitalism

I have recently finished Peter Hudis’ book, ‘Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism‘. It is one of the most interesting and useful books that I’ve read in some time. Below, he discusses the topic of the book with reference to Occupy, worker co-ops and other contemporary responses to capital.

The audio significantly improves from one minute into the talk and his talk ends at 55 minutes when he takes questions.

Of particular interest to me is the outline his gives (around 36 mins in) of  what Marx deemed necessary to eliminate the conditions of alienating value production i.e. freely associated, non-alienated labour.

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

Update 29th April 2014: Here’s another talk by Hudis:

Update 16th June 2014: Another good talk to the Workers and Punks University (discusses coops and councils from around 40min onwards)


The realm of freedom

“…the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production. Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilised man, and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which satisfy these wants also increase. Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working-day is its basic prerequisite.” (Marx, Capital Vol.3)