Open education and the emancipation of academic labour

I have previously argued that open education is a liberal project with a focus on the freedom of things rather than the freedom of people (Winn, Joss. 2012. “Open Education: From the Freedom of Things to the Freedom of People.” In Towards Teaching in Public: Reshaping the Modern University, edited by Michael Neary, Howard Stevenson, and Les Bell, 133– 147. London: Continuum). Furthermore, I have argued that despite an implicit critique of private property with its emphasis on ‘the commons’, the literature on open education offers no corresponding critique of academic labour (Neary, Mike, and Joss Winn. 2012. “Open Education: Common(s), Commonism and the New Common Wealth.” Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization 12 (4): 406–422). In this paper, I develop my critical position that an emancipatory form of education must work towards the emancipation of teachers and students from labour, the dynamic, social, creative source of value in capitalism. In making this argument, I first establish the fundamental characteristics of academic labour. I then offer a ‘form-analytic’ critique of open access, followed by a corresponding critique of its legal form. Finally, I critically discuss the potential of ‘open cooperatives’ as a transitional organisational form for the production of knowledge through which social relations become ‘transparent in their simplicity’ (Marx, Karl. 1976. Capital, Vol. 1. London: Penguin Classics, 172).

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Writing About Academic Labour

This essay calls for a return to the labour theory of Marx, or rather to Marx’s negative critique of labour and its “pivotal” role in comprehending the political economy of higher education. It argues that a critique of capitalism and its apparent complexity must be undertaken through an immanent critique of labour, rather than from the standpoint of labour as has been the case in both Marxist and non-Marxist traditions of labour studies. Through a review of exemplar articles on ‘academic labour’, the essay draws attention to the fundamental importance of employing Marx’s method of abstraction so as to understand the concrete social world of capital. Finally, it proposes that the future of academic labour is to be found in its negation and overcoming rather than in efforts to resist the ‘logic’ of valorisation.

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This article has been translated into Polish and published in a special edition of PRAKTYKA TEORETYCZNA 4(18)/2015. This special issue focuses on ‘Labour and Production in Higher Education’ with special attention given to Student as Producer. It includes work by Sarah Amsler, Richard Hall, Krystian Szadkowski and Mike Neary.

Hacking in the University: Contesting the Valorisation of Academic Labour

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

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Open education. Common(s), commonism and the new common wealth

With Mike Neary

Open Education, and specifically the Open Education Resources movement, seeks to provide universal access to knowledge, undermining the historical enclosure and increasing privatisation of the public education system. An important aspect of this movement is a reinvigoration of the concept of ‘the commons’. The paper examines this aspiration by submitting the implicit theoretical assumptions of Open Education and the underlying notion of ‘the commons’ to the test of critical political economy. The paper acknowledges the radical possibility of the idea of ‘the commons’, but argues that its radical potentiality can be undermined by a preoccupation with ‘the freedom of things rather than with the freedom of labour’. The paper presents an interpretation of ‘the commons’ based on the concept of ‘living knowledge’ and ‘autonomous institutionality’ (Roggero, 2011), and offers the Social Science Centre in the UK, as an example of an ‘institution of the common’. The paper concludes by arguing the most radical revision of the concept of ‘the common’ involves a fundamental reappraisal of what constitutes social or common wealth.

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Questioning Technology in the Development of a Resilient Higher Education

With Richard Hall

This article considers the impact that peak oil and climate change may have on the future of higher education. In particular, it questions the role of technology in supporting the provision of a higher education which is resilient to a scenario both of energy depletion and the need to adapt to the effects of global warming. One emerging area of interest from this future scenario might be the role of technology in addressing more complex learning futures, and more especially in facilitating individual and social resilience, or the ability to manage and overcome disruption. However, the extent to which higher education practitioners can utilise technology to this end is framed by their approaches to the curriculum, and the sociocultural practices within which they are located. The authors discuss how open education might enable learners to engage with uncertainty through social action within a form of higher education that is more resilient to economic, environmental and energy-related disruptions. It asks whether more open higher education can be (re)claimed by users and communities within specific contexts and curricula, in order to engage with an increasingly uncertain world.

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