The Social Science Centre, Lincoln (SSC), is a co-operative organising free higher education in the city of Lincoln, England. It was formed in 2011 by a group of academics and students in response to the massive rise in student fees, from £3000 to £9000, along with other government policies that saw the increasing neo-liberalisation of English universities. In this essay we chart the history of the SSC and what it has been like to be a member of this co-operative; but we also want to express another aspect of the centre which we have not written about: the existence of the SSC as an intellectual idea and how the idea has spread and been developed through written publications by members of the centre and by research on the centre by other non-members: students, academics and journalists. At the end of the essay we will show the most up to date manifestation of the idea, the plans to create a co-operative university with degree awarding powers where those involved, students and academics, can make a living as part of an independent enterprise ran and owned by its members for their benefit and the benefit of their community and society.
I passed my PhD viva yesterday. Below, is the Introduction to the Commentary, which I was required to defend along with the publications. The entire ‘thesis’ is available to download from the University of Lincoln’s institutional repository.
I’ll write more soon about doing a ‘PhD by Published Work’.
This commentary provides an overview of a body of work that was published between 2009 and 2015. It summarises the significance of the contribution of that work and establishes its coherence both chronologically and thematically.
The work submitted for examination consists of ten items, with the key sole-authored components comprising a book chapter (Winn, 2012) and four peer-reviewed journal articles (Winn, 2013; 2014; 2015a; 2015b). Other, joint-authored work is intended to be supplementary and to provide further evidence of the two persistent themes of inquiry which my work has been concerned with over the last six years: the role and character of labour and property in higher education, or rather, ‘academic labour’ and the ‘academic commons’. Six of the ten publications discuss these themes through a critique of the role of technology in higher education, in particular the way networked technology forms the practical, ideological and legal premise for the idea and forms of ‘openness’ in higher education. Throughout my work, I treat ‘technology’ as a reified and fetishized concept which masks the more fundamental categories of labour, value and the commodity-form that are concealed in the idea and form of the ‘public university’. I start from the observation that advocates of ‘open education’ tend to envision an alternative form of higher education that is based on a novel form of academic commons but neglect to go further and critically consider the underlying form of academic labour. As such, the product is set free but not the producer. In response, through my publications I develop the theoretical basis for an alternative social and institutional form of co-operative higher education; one in which openness is constituted through a categorial critique aimed at the existing commodity-form of knowledge production.
The wider context to which my work responds is the marketization of UK higher education since the early 1990s and the concurrent conceptualisation in the UK of students as consumers (Naidoo et al, 2011). For those of us who are critical of this shift in higher education, which follows a broader destruction of the welfare state in the UK (Huber and Stephens, 2010), one response is to re-engineer the organising principle of higher education so that students are understood as ‘producers’ of knowledge and academic collaborators. In doing so, my co-authors and I have aimed to reinvigorate the processes by which universities are seen as sites that openly contribute to the general intellectual well-being of society (Neary and Winn, 2009). In the absence of such a response, a combination of market competition among universities (Palfreyman and Tapper, 2014), and students coerced by a ‘pedagogy of debt’ (Williams, 2006) defines the social purpose of the university as instrumental to the needs of capital and an individual rather than social good. In effect, this shift can be understood in terms of the welfare and intellectual life of students being increasingly subsumed by the imperatives of capital (Wood, 2002) and subordinated to the reproductive requirements of labour under capital (Rikowski, 2002). Within the confines of working within higher education, the political project of my research has always been against such imperatives and subordination.
The body of work discussed here provides a substantial and original contribution to knowledge in the following ways: By subjecting ‘open education’ to a negative critique based on Marx’s categories of the commodity, value and labour, I reveal fundamental features of the ‘academic commons’ that have not been identified through critiques that neglect the materiality of openness and technology. In order to illustrate this, I examine how ‘hacking’ (out of which the Open Education movement developed) was not only a cultural phenomenon but a form of academic labour that emerged out of the intensification and valorisation of scientific research. I develop this by exploring how ‘value’ is an underlying and mediating imperative in higher education, and illustrate how using a ‘form-analytic’ approach helps us reconceive the social form of knowledge and the roles of teacher and student in a way that most treatments of academic labour fail to do. I also demonstrate how it is possible to go beyond this critique by adopting a position of methodological negativity, against labour rather than from the standpoint of labour, to construct a theory for an alternative to the capitalist university: co-operative higher education. By combining this theoretical and practical work with emerging ideas on ‘open co-operatives’ in other areas, I show how new forms of higher education cannot be based on existing practices of reciprocity based on the production of value, as is often assumed, but rather on a new and directly social form of knowledge production that emerges out of the free association between individuals who recognise that we have much to learn from each other.
Publications submitted for examination
Neary, M. and Winn, J. (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: Bell, L., Neary, M. and Stephenson, H. (eds.) The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. London: Continuum, 126-138.
Hall, R. and Winn, J. (2011) Questioning technology in the development of a resilient higher education. E-Learning and Digital Media, 8 (4) 343-356.
* Winn, J. (2012) Open education: from the freedom of things to the freedom of people. In: Neary, M., Bell, L. and Stephenson, H. (eds.) Towards teaching in public: reshaping the modern university. London: Continuum, 133-147.
Neary, M. and Winn, J. (2012) Open education: common(s), commonism and the new common wealth. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, 12 (4) 406-422.
Social Science Centre, Lincoln (2013) An experiment in free, co-operative higher education. Radical Philosophy, 182, 66-67.
Winn, J. and Lockwood, D. (2013) Student as Producer is hacking the university. In: Beetham, H. and Sharpe, R. (eds.) Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age. London: Routledge, 218-229.
* Winn, J. (2013) Hacking in the university: contesting the valorisation of academic labour. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism and Critique, 11 (2) 486-503.
* Winn, J. (2014) Writing about academic labour. Workplace: A journal for academic labour, 25, 1-15.
* Winn, J. (2015a) Open Education and the emancipation of academic labour. Learning, Media and Technology, 40 (3).
* Winn, J. (2015b) The co-operative university: Labour, property and pedagogy. Power and Education, 7 (1) 39-55.
In this dissertation I discuss a small amount of the work of Margaret Tait. The Introduction offers a personal discussion on the profession of Archiving which I revisit in my conclusion. Section One provides a general overview of Margaret Tait’s life and influences. This brief biographical information serves as a background for the more substantial technical discussion in Section Two. Though I do enjoy Tait’s films and find her work compelling, I should emphasise that I am not concerned with providing a critique of Margaret Tait’s films nor a complete overview of her life and work. I deem that to be a quite different paper and one I am not interested in writing. My main purpose here is to trace the technical developments Tait made in her filmmaking and show how an understanding of her practices can help in the restoration and preservation of her films. I hope this paper also demonstrates that the biographical is inseparable from the technical and for the Archivist, these two approaches to Tait’s work are again inseparable from the ethical and philosophical dimensions of the idea of permanence.
A short film about memory, history and the role of archives. I made this for my MA in Film Archiving at the University of East Anglia (UK) using 16mm and 8mm footage I shot during a trip across the USA (2000) and living in Japan (1998-2001). I was heavily influenced by the narrative style of Chris Marker’s film, ‘Sans Soleil’. More recently, I prefer the film silent, with the script read as a separate essay before or after viewing.
An Ecology of Images (script for a film)
He wrote that he had spent years travelling so that he might forget.
In America, he told me he had shot over 4000 images across 5000 miles of the United States. He joked that everything there existed in order to end up in a photograph. He said he felt like the world was more available to him than it really was and he wanted to blame someone for such deceit.
Once, when I asked him why he made movies, he said that it was to show that this world is not the best of all possible worlds. But in America, he felt like a tourist in other people’s reality and then eventually in his own.
He was now in Asia where he was writing from within a world of appearances: fragile, fleeting, revocable. He said he was recording the present and therefore inventing the past.
He wrote me that he was capturing images with his camera knowing he would never project them. After all, his entire world had become a projection of images.
He said that his photographs were not a record of the world but an evaluation of it.
He sent me images of landscapes, cities and a festival, asking what I understood from his experience.
He wrote that he had looked at the sea, and then, when walking away, he saw the memory of the sea. Later, he wrote how he wanted to distinguish between the memories he had taken from images and those memories whose only functions was to leave behind memories. He said that images of events years ago now seemed important only because they existed as images. Experience had been transformed into nostalgia, all of history was being leveled.
He wrote that he was becoming anesthetized by images. Moments he had never experienced seemed real after knowing them through photographs. But after repeated exposure to these images, experience became less real.
He thought the world had ceased to remember what reality once was. As our representations became increasingly banal, history was being re-written. Now, all that concerned him was to save certain images from their endless consumption.
He wrote that for him, forgetting was nothing more than a consumption of images. The new had replaced what was once unique, and memories were to him as history had become for others: an impossibility. In this world of appearances, he was certain that we do not remember, but rather we rewrite our memory much as we do history.
He had travelled there in order to lose remembering, but instead had lost forgetting. Left with an uncatalogued archive of images he called memories. Or were they memories he called images?
Walking the streets, he would note down the things he knew from direct experience and that which was independent of experience.
In New York, two planes had flown into the World Trade Centre and the television news announcer described the atrocity as seeming just like a movie. Rather than suggest that images possess qualities of reality, reality was now being attributed the qualities of images.
He knew that his images were pieces of evidence in an ongoing biography or history and each image implied that there would be others. Being in that world of appearances was never boring because photographing each event gave it importance.
In his last letter he argued that capitalism could only thrive on an irreverence of the present and a forgetting of the past. A proliferation of images served this task perfectly. The production and consumption of images was nothing less than a purchase of the world.
Now he realised he was living in a world where history was not the unfolding of events but rather the dumping of occurrences. History was nothing more than the past consumed; the present was nothing more than a banal representation. History was being turned into a tautology by images that acknowledge rather than explain. His only distinction between the real world and the world of appearances was that in the real world something is always happening and he did not know what was going to happen. On the other hand, the world of appearances had always happened and it will forever happen in that way.
Images were his only environment and he knew that a renewed history in which we are free to act is only possible if those images were conserved. This would mean an ecology, where images were recycled and put to new uses and new meanings found. With this new ecology the injuries of class, race and sex would be condemned. Social change would soon mean more than merely a change in images. Freedom would no longer be equated with the freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods. The reality of discrimination, violence, exploitation and ignorance would itself be consumed by rediscovered images and from them, new meanings found, a history rewritten, and each and every individual would understand for themselves.
“A people which is cut off from its past is far less free to choose and to act as a people or class than one that has been able to situate itself in history. This is why – and this is the only reason why – the entire art of the past has now become a political issue. [John Berger]”
Narrated by Jennifer Romero
Images by Joss Winn and Joanna Chung
Written by Joss Winn
Music by John Cage
The script for Ecology of Images contains quotations from the following sources:
Sans Soleil, Chris Marker, 1982
Ways of Seeing, John Berger, 1972
On Photography, Susan Sontag, 1977
Copyleft Joss Winn 2002.
It occurred to me that the work I did during my MA in Film Studies and Archiving (University of East Anglia 2001-2) might be of interest to someone.
My reason for undertaking the MA derived from my interest in amateur and avant-garde filmmaking. During 1998-2001, I lived in Japan and spent much of my spare time (and money), shooting Super 8mm and 16mm film (mainly landscapes and abstractions) and exhibiting international exchanges of European, North American and Japanese experimental film and video. I’ve never been interested in filmmaking as a career, but thought that working in film preservation and archiving would allow me to make a living out of a love for non-commercial filmmaking. With that in mind, here are the outputs of my MA.
Amateur Filmmaking During World War II
In my first paper for the MA, I discuss the dilemma of amateur filmmaking during war time, based on a study of original books and magazines from the 1930s and 1940s. In the second part of the paper, I draw heavily on my extended interviews with Dick Brandon, a soldier and amateur filmmaker during WWII. The paper lacks any critical theoretical method but offers a useful study of primary sources.
In my second paper for the MA, I discuss the development of amateur films within the context of early tourism. Specifically, I examine the broader development of commercial image making since the 18th c. and show how amateur travel films were simultaneously influenced by commercial, popular tourism and and its relationship with landscape painting and photography. I argue that “representationally, they add little to a notion of Englishness rooted in the landscape that wasn’t already well established and I am much more inclined to see them as commercial products which benefited from and contributed towards forms of economic and cultural consumerism.” I try to show how the production of amateur travel films was tied to the production of mass tourism, both of which are based on consumerism and the consumption of the immaterial. The paper draws on critical theory, secondary historical sources and my primary analysis of films held by the East Anglia Film Archive. Looking back at this paper now, I think that with the benefit of peer-review, this paper could be turned into a published journal article.
An Ecology of Images
Our end of year project was to make a short documentary which related in some way to the themes of archiving, preservation, conservation, etc. Some people made nice, straightforward documentaries about a given subject. I had a bunch of 16mm and 8mm footage that I shot during a trip across the USA (2000) and living in Japan (1998-2001) and used that to make a short film about history and memory.
I was heavily influenced by the narrative style of Chris Marker’s film, ‘Sans Soleil’ (my favourite film). The title is from Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’. I was reading John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ at the time, too…
The script is a blend of my own thinking at the time but also paraphrases Marker, Berger and Sontag considerably. The music uses bits and pieces by John Cage.
I was very proud of this when I finished it. Eight years on, I still quite like it.
Preserving the Hand Painted Films of Margaret Tait
In my dissertation, I discuss a small amount of the work of Margaret Tait. The Introduction offers a personal discussion on the profession of Archiving which I revisit in my conclusion. Section One provides a general overview of Margaret Tait’s life and influences. This brief biographical information serves as a background for the more substantial technical discussion in Section Two.
Though I do enjoy Tait’s films and find her work compelling, I should emphasise that I am not concerned with providing a critique of Margaret Tait’s films nor a complete overview of her life and work. I deem that to be a quite different paper and one I am not interested in writing. My main purpose here is to trace the technical developments Tait made in her filmmaking and show how an understanding of her practices can help in the restoration and preservation of her films. I hope this paper also demonstrates that the biographical is inseparable from the technical and for the Archivist, these two approaches to Tait’s work are again inseparable from the ethical and philosophical dimensions of the idea of permanence.