Mike Neary (1956-2023)

Photo by Alice Neary

Mike’s published work can be found via the University of Lincoln research repository. Work published prior to his time at Lincoln (pre-2007) is not complete on that list. More can be found on Google Scholar, but the list includes the work of other people by the same name. Mike also wrote on his blog between 2014 and 2017. If you have trouble locating an article or chapter, please contact me. I may have it.

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Eulogy for Mike, 14th February 2023 – Joss Winn

Mike was my friend, colleague, PhD supervisor, and co-author of ten articles and book chapters. Because we worked closely together for over a decade, I thought I would say something about Mike’s creativity; about Mike as an artist and how the influence of other artists can be found in his writing. Mike’s understanding of humanity was that we all have a natural capacity for creativity which has been suppressed. I believe that learning from and teaching Mike’s work can help us recover that creativity.

Many of you know Mike as a social theorist. Working with Mike, it became clear to me that creating theory is a type of artistic practice: exploratory, expressive, speculative, risky, and challenging, but ultimately productive because creating social theory changes the way we see the world, just like other forms of art, such as painting, theatre, sculpture or architecture. 

Throughout the time I’ve known Mike, he would draw on the work of other artists to help develop what he was trying to say: for example, the writing of Bertolt Brecht and Anthony Burgess; Jacob Epstein’s sculpture, Rock Drill; Paul Klee’s painting, Angelus Novus, and the avant-garde art movements of Dada and Vorticism. You will find in Mike’s writing, a highly original attempt to bring together the work of Karl Marx and the Medieval Bishop of Lincoln Cathedral, Robert Grossteste. There is also a wonderful piece of writing called ‘Pedagogy in Paradise’, where he experiments with rythmnanalysis and photography during his time in Chile. A favourite example of Mike the artist is the writing he produced with Glenn Rikowski, that unites Marx’s theory of value with Einstein’s special theory of relativity. When I first read that article, it overwhelmed me, like great art does. I was in awe of what they had set out to do.

I don’t know if Glenn’s experience of writing with Mike was similar to mine, but I will finish by telling you about how Mike and I would write together. At regular intervals in the writing process, it would involve us sitting together and reading our work out loud to one another, a bit like actors reading a script around a table before they rehearse on stage. By taking it in turns to read something out loud we’d have to speak slowly for the other to take it in, knowing the tone and texture of our respective contributions had to work together, to become a unified whole – one voice, not two. 

I miss those meetings but thankfully, I still hear his voice when I read the words.

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We Stammer

Spoken by Mike Neary. Recorded by Nik Farrell Fox, January 2017.

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A Personal Paean to Mike Neary – Nik Farrell Fox, 29th March 2023

Mike and I were thrust together by happenstance in a dialectical dance of necessity, fortune and chance. My new next-door neighbour would soon become the best friend I’ve ever had and the finest, most exemplary man I’ve ever known. Tall, handsome and graceful, his eccentricity was magnetic, his intellect was profound and his face exuded the gentleness and warmth that endeared him to so many. His lilting voice was soft and welcoming but not without authority and some piquancy when irked or when expressing outrage at the world’s immorality and grotesque injustices. The ‘pedagogy of hate’ that he espoused as a theoretical tool for destroying capitalism on the surface sat contradictorily within a man so gentle and kind. But, as with many kissed by the revolutionary spirit of freedom, Mike’s ‘hatred’ was of a pure, redemptive nature fuelled by a deep love for his fellow human beings and a great distress at their enslavement and enforced predicaments.

Although we did many things together, the details of which I’ll remember with ultimate fondness, it was our revelatory and blissful walks around the West Common that I miss most of all. We would walk around the perimeter, with each stage host to a different topic. From the gate to the northerly tip we discussed football – results, managers, players, favourite and least favourite pundits, past exploits on the pitch when we were youngsters captaining our respective school teams, funny anecdotes and leftfield observations pertaining to the most tenuous of connections. I always found Mike very humorous, interesting and playful in his observations. From here we would then traverse the next section with academia taking over, discussing where we were at with our research. Mike listened to my protracted ramblings with an encouraging, comradely ear while showing the greatest modesty in relation to his own, far more portentous deeds, which impressed me nonetheless. For the next mile or two we assailed each other with the jargon of philosophical discourse – I hit him in the jowls with Sartre, Foucault and Nietzsche while he floored me with Marx, Negri and Ranciere. Despite the intensity of our reasonings, protestations and proclamations, never for a single second did our words ever become barbed or our moods hostile. I loved arguing and finding agreement with Mike for he was an intellectual giant and a very sporting gladiator. After all, our disagreements were slight, for our minds thought similar things and our revolutionary hearts beat in tempo. For the final part of the walk, once our academic muscles had been sufficiently exercised, family became our topic of conversation in which Mike would always take a genuine interest in the minutiae of what I told him about my Loved Ones before he told me with great affection about his. Back at the Common gate, we would on occasion just want to keep talking and would repeat the circuit, trampling over the same topics and clods of earth. Otherwise, we just shuffled back together like two contented creatures along West Parade before disappearing back into adjacent houses until the delight of doing it all again in a week’s time.

Nietzsche (not him again, Mike groans), saw friendship as life’s most precious gift and as a bona fide recipe for a healthy society. There were, he said, three essential components to any great friendship – agonism (where, through sublimated competition, we each grow and develop), the sharing of joyful experiences (in which we partake of common perceptions and actions), and the virtue of bestowing (in which we pass on our knowledge and attributes as ‘gifts’ to the other). All three were ever-present in my unwavering and unbesmirched friendship with Mike, but as, Nietzsche stated, it is the bestowing virtue of friendship that carries the greatest weight. Mike’s life was a gift to us all who knew and loved him, and the knowledge, kindness and good vibrations that he bestowed will live on as vibrant memories in the hearts of many others like my own. To echo the final words of his final book, he taught us (in a soft Geordie accent) how to learn from each other and flourish together as ‘a pedagogy of excess in a world of abundance’

Adieux, my precious friend, a human being, as Nietzsche spoke prophetically of the Übermensch, ‘with Caesar’s strength and Christ’s soul’

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Remembering Mike Neary: ‘Teaching as a Collaborative, Political Activity’ – Richard Lance Keeble, Professor of Journalism

Mike Neary had an enormous impact on the University of Lincoln. For Mike (inspired as he was by Marx), pedagogy was always political – and he was not afraid to put his ideas into practice. In the end, his ideas about the Student as a Producer and Learning Landscapes transformed teaching practices across the institution. But for Mike the political was also the personal and so he devoted a lot of his energy to supporting colleagues and students at an individual level.

I personally benefited from this support in many ways. One of his ambitions was to inject the research-led post-graduate culture wherever possible into the undergraduate culture. Responding to that initiative, my late friend and colleague John Tulloch, Head of Journalism, and I launched the country’s first BA in Investigative Journalism (with a prize of £200 for the best student of the year – donated by the celebrated reporter John Pilger). For this degree, the students had no formal class teaching in their final semester: instead, they were able to dedicate the whole of their time to researching and writing their individual investigative projects. They would meet as a group from time to time to discuss progress – and any particular practical or ethical issues. But essentially I met them on a personal basis as if they were post-graduate research students. I had been teaching journalism since 1984 – but the work produced by the students on this programme was amongst the best I had ever supervised. And Mike was thrilled to hear about the success of the degree.

Mike arrived from Warwick University as a recipient of a National Teaching Fellowship. When I applied in 2011, he was thus able to give me crucial advice on how to present the 5,000-word submission document. When he saw my original draft he said simply: ‘Fine – but just add a bit of theory.’ Which I did – and when I won the fellowship Mike accompanied me to London for the award ceremony.

For a few years I joined Mike, Joss Winn and others in setting up the Social Science Centre in Lincoln. Mike was clearly angry at the commercialisation of higher education and the immoral, excessive fees charged students. The creation of the Social Science Centre was one of his responses. And its aims sum up Mike’s principles perfectly: ‘SSC believes that higher learning oriented towards intellectual values of critical thinking, experimentation, sharing, peer review, co-operation, collaboration, openness, debate and constructive disagreement point towards a better future for us all. The centre works to create alternative spaces of higher education whose purpose, societal value and existence do not depend on the decisions of the powerful.’

A number of speakers at the moving ‘Stammering as Dada’ commemorative event mentioned Mike’s passion for football. I (a Notts and Forest supporter being a Nottingham lad) also liked to indulge in footie gossip with him (and after I retired in 2013 we would meet up from time to time). One thing I particularly remember him saying was: ‘Actually when I go to a game I’m more interested in watching the ways in which the managers react than the actual football.’

Mike, always acutely aware that teaching is at its core (its heart) a collaborative, highly political activity, was an inspiration for me – and for countless others.

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Tribute to Mike – Alan Gurbutt

Life feels short now that Mike has gone. He was a gentle person and kind. He showed me kindness, despite my awkwardness towards inequalities in state education. That was my problem and he couldn’t fix it. Mike probably didn’t realise that his teachings evoked answers within me on how Capitalism impacted my family life growing up in a council house in the 1970s, a rare privilege today, and the issues we faced not having enough money. I learnt about socioeconomic trauma through his teachings and this gave me some closure. I remember Mike being at meetings of the Social Science Centre. He was always welcoming with a smile. The last time I spoke with Mike was at the University of Lincoln. He wished me well with my nurse training and expressed how pleased he was that I was reading mental health. Mike also encouraged my daughter’s passion for learning. I wish he could have been here longer. I loved and admired him. 

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Plenary of the British Conference of Undergraduate Research and World Congress of Undergraduate Research at Warwick – Written by colleagues from the international Undergraduate Research community.

Our story of Mike Neary starts somewhere back in the early years of this Millennium when Mike was a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Warwick. Mike brought together a team of colleagues from many disciplines and many places to create the Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research, one of around 80 centres of excellence in teaching and learning funded at that time. Parts of the story that unfolds here are recorded more formally in the University of Warwick’s recent submission to the Teaching Excellence Framework.

Like many of us, Mike was sold on the benefits to our students’ education of undergraduate research and he was always enthusiastic about it. But Mike had the vision to see that promoting undergraduate research could have, and indeed has had, a transformative effect on universities and on us. Mike could always think beyond. He instilled his passion for Undergraduate Research in all of us and that’s embodied in everything we do. He always asked what students might have to offer and what their role might be.

In 2007 the Reinvention Centre hosted a conference called ‘The Student as Producer’, one of the first times this concept was presented in public. As well as the extensive academic debate, we discussed how to actually get on and change things in our universities. Mike had some spare funding and needed to spend it quickly. He bought a minibus! This was a typically surprising but brilliant move. The minibus had Reinvention blazoned down its sides and was a symbol of how we could connect our students to the worlds beyond the university campus.

The minibus took conference delegates to the innovative Reinvention Centre at Westwood, the first time most of us had seen beanbags in a university classroom! Mike understood the need to reinvent the spaces we study in to literally transform the landscape of higher education. The Oculus here at Warwick is a physical embodiment of Mike’s legacy, with many design features from the experimental classroom, which has now sadly gone. Around the country we see new university buildings that are directly inspired by Mike’s ideas – typically having lots of amazing classrooms for students  and a few rather miserable offices for academics!

Also in 2007, Mike moved from Warwick to the University of Lincoln where he took up a senior leadership role. One of his major achievements was to persuade the University of Lincoln to make ‘Student as Producer’ its signature pedagogy, and it featured in its strategies, website, and student prospectuses. Getting buy-in from the Vice-Chancellor and the senior management team to a concept that Mike openly said had its roots in Marxist philosophy, is nothing short of amazing.

At Lincoln Mike engaged with colleagues and of course with students in his characteristic way. Mike brought people on and he helped them learn the craft of navigating higher education. Despite being a senior leader, or he would have said because he was a senior leader, Mike often immersed himself in student life, being seen quietly sitting in the corner at a student Marxist society event or on the back seat of a minibus heading to London with students protesting tuition fee increases. Mike was the ultimate critic of university bureaucracy but could use it well to achieve his goals. Always principled,  Mike never lost sight of what he was trying to achieve. In retirement, Mike planned to develop his ideas around cooperative universities, work that others will now have to finish.

Mike was an insider outsider. He had what Jonathan Rée calls the courage of his anachronisms. He railed against the technocratic university and invited us to continually challenge the dominant discourse. He encouraged students to move beyond capitalist realism and to understand that they can change things. We really need Mike’s voices to continue being heard. Mike was not ideological. He saw universities as part of the destructive neoliberal project and drew on Paolo Freire’s  call to constantly seek change and to reinvent. Mike embodied critical hope. He could see darkness in the world and that, while there is not necessarily light at the end of the tunnel, if we restlessly reinvent we can dare to hope.

Mike was very political and knew that education is a deeply political project building us as individuals and collectives to make the world a better place – he had democratising zeal. He saw possibilities even in elite institutions for education and research to mutually reinforce each other in transformative ways. He was brave and urged us not to be scared to talk about values in designing our universities. He never shied away from awkward situations yet despite the challenges he saw, he was never combative. Instead he was thoughtful and kind, though always with an edge.

Beyond the UK, Mike’s ideas and scholarly writing were seminal in establishing the underlying framework and ethos of the Australasian Council for Undergraduate Research, which is, to this day, a vibrant community of academics and students working together to promote and advance undergraduate research in Australasia. Mike remained a member of the ACUR Steering Committee until his untimely death.

Mike believed in the potential of others and provided them with opportunities and encouragement. He was generous, humane, principled, restlessly creative and fearless in pushing against the boundaries in education. He gave so many of us fantastic starts or changes of direction in our careers at Lincoln and at Warwick. Mike would do anything for you and he changed our lives. His impact is immeasurable. He truly was an inspirational figure and the kindest of friends.

Mike loved the British Conference of Undergraduate Research. He would have been so proud to see the hundreds of students from around the world presenting their work here at Warwick. Mike Neary should be here today.

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Tributes by Richard Hall and Ana Dinerstein in Network, the magazine of the British Sociological Association.

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Review of Richard Hall (2018). The Alienated Academic. The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University.

Originally published in Postdigital Science and Education.

~ As he writes, the fourth wall is crumbling. He is sitting in his office towards the end of a winter’s day. Outside the window he hears people making promises on the pavement, cars passing like waves breaking in the distance. He sees his bookshelves reflected in the darkness of the glass. He has more books than he has years left to read.

Recent literature on English higher education has documented a number of incremental policy changes over the last four decades that have led towards the marketisation of the sector. The Browne Review (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 2010), HE White Paper (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 2016) and Higher Education and Research Act (Higher Education and Research Act 2017 have explicitly worked towards creating a system of higher education that has all the key features of marketisation.

The effects of marketisation in English higher education and elsewhere have prompted researchers to examine the changing nature of the profession, critically reflecting on the impact of metrics, performativity, debt and bureaucracy on academic work. Recently, the emphasis has been on ‘academic identity’, responding to a decline in the conditions of academic labour across the world and the instrumentalised role of universities in national economies. Despite a recent increase in union membership and an emphasis on ‘wellbeing’, contractual conditions in HE are worsening, pensions are being undermined and more academics and students are becoming sick and tired. In The Alienated Academic, Richard Hall surveys much of this literature and the general sense of estrangement and hopelessness within the higher education sector.Where Hall’s book differs from much of the literature on the marketisation of higher education and threats to professional identity, is his thoroughgoing, relentless attempt to explain what is happening at a categorical level that cuts through (i.e. intersects) the differences in professional experience in order to find what is common among us.

~ He is an academic. He sits, he reads, he experiments, he designs, he builds, he thinks, he writes, he stands, he teaches, he listens. He is an academic. He creates teaching resources, he runs projects, he writes grant applications, he attends conferences, he publishes articles and books. He attend meetings, he creates modules. He is an academic. He tutors, he mentors, he supports, he liaises, he networks, he leads, he contributes, he develops, he consults, he plans, he organises, he strategises, he collaborates, he co-ordinates, he supervises, he manages, he negotiates, he champions, he influences, he evaluates, he appraises, he examines, he marks, he accredits. He is a teacher, a researcher, a scholar, an entrepreneur. He is an academic. This is his work.

The alienation that Hall identifies at work goes beyond estrangement and hopelessness and is rooted, he argues, in the critical category of labour. In fact, to see the problem as marketisation, metrics or managerialism is to mistake the manifestation for the cause of our problems. Such an approach tends towards an unreflexive resistance to our own objective conditions and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. That helplessness breeds hopelessness, a recurring theme throughout Hall’s book. What is required (and this is key to the whole book) is a categorical critique of academic labour; one which perceives labour in the university through the basic critical categories of wage labour.As Hall shows, the basis for a categorical critique of labour was established by Marx in his exposition of the commodity-form. Marx regarded the historically specific relationship between the form of labour and the form of commodities as his key intellectual contribution and ‘the pivot on which a clear comprehension of political economy turns’ (Marx 1867/1996: 51). It is this pivotal theoretical insight that underpins the basis of Hall’s understanding of ‘labour’ and distinguishes his approach from a traditionally naturalised view of ‘labour’ that understands labour as the basis for an emancipatory critique of capitalism, rather than the historically specific object of critique. The specificity of capitalist labour is the form it takes as wage labour, a historically unique organisation of human activity mediated by value. Its emancipated opposite is, according to Marx and others since, a form of productive activity that is ‘directly social’.

~ From each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs.

The Alienated Academic is structured in three parts over nine densely written and heavily referenced chapters. It covers a lot of ground in 270 pages, drawing widely from contemporary Marxist theory as well as an extensive engagement with Marx’s original work. It provides a useful survey of the concept of alienation and argues for the continuing and contemporary relevance of Marxist theory and its basic categories of labour, value, the commodity, subsumption and so on. What is likely to make this sometimes difficult book both intriguing and more broadly appealing is that Hall extends his contemporary Marxism with the literature of feminism, (de)colonialism, identity politics and intersectionality. It is a productive synthesis that is set in the context of contemporary changes in English higher education, while recognising that the alienating features of English university life can be found across the world.For these reasons, this is a unique and ground-breaking monograph in the field of critical university studies.

~ When he writes, he forgets to stand. He forgets to drink. At night, his body aches.

Special Issue of Workplace Journal on ‘Marx, Engels and the Critique of Academic Labor’

Karen Gregory and I have edited a special issue of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, which focuses on the contribution that Marx and Engels’ work can make to the critical study of academic labour. This is also something I explored in my earlier article for Workplace, ‘Writing about academic labor‘. In addition to editing the issue, Karen and I contributed an extended, introductory article and Karen took the opportunity to interview Stanley Aronowitz, who was also interviewed in 1998 for the first issue of Workplace.

The Call for Papers was first announced here in December 2014 and I’d like to thank the authors for their contributions (and patience), as well as Karen, who has been a pleasure to work with, and Stephen Petrina, the general editor of Workplace, for his encouragement and support. Here’s the Table of Contents:

Articles

Marx, Engels and the Critique of Academic Labor PDF
Karen Lynn Gregory, Joss Winn
Towards an Orthodox Marxian Reading of Subsumption(s) of Academic Labour under Capital PDF
Krystian Szadkowski
Re-engineering Higher Education: The Subsumption of Academic Labour and the Exploitation of Anxiety PDF
Richard Hall, Kate Bowles
Taxi Professors: Academic Labour in Chile, a Critical-Practical Response to the Politics of Worker Identity PDF
Elisabeth Simbürger, Mike Neary
Marxism and Open Access in the Humanities: Turning Academic Labor against Itself PDF
David Golumbia
Labour in the Academic Borderlands: Unveiling the Tyranny of Neoliberal Policies PDF
Antonia Darder, Tom G. Griffiths

Interviews

Jobless Higher Ed: Revisited, An Interview with Stanley Aronowitz PDF
Stanley Aronowitz, Karen Lynn Gregory

Against Academic Identity

Mike Neary and I have a short article published in the ‘Points for Debate’ section of the Higher Education Research and Development journal. We were invited to write it following our contributions at the Academic Identities conference in Durham, 2014. It looks like the article is Open Access, but if that changes, 50 copies are available for download from the publisher’s website and here’s the pre-print.

POINTS FOR DEBATE
Against academic identity

‘Academic identity’ is a key issue for debates about the professionalisation of university teaching and research, as well as the meaning and purpose of higher education. However, the concept of ‘academic identity’ is not adequate to the critical task for which it is utilised as it fails to deal with the real nature of work in capitalist society. It is important to move on from the mystifying and reified politics of identity and seek to understand academic life so that its alienated forms can be transformed. This can be done by grasping the essential aspects of capitalist work in both its abstract and concrete forms, as well as the historical and social processes out of which academic labour has emerged.

The interest among the academic community in academic identity reflects a broader concern with the nature of academic work. This has been a preoccupation of researchers of higher education who have examined the changing nature of the profession (Tight 2000; Fitzgerald, White & Gunter, 2012), the impact of policy and bureaucracy on academic work (Slaughter & Leslie, 1999), and the politics of the workplace (Martin, 1998). Recently, the emphasis has been on identity and what it subjectively means to be an academic (Barcan, 2013) responding to a decline in the conditions of academic labour across the world and the increasingly instrumentalised role of higher education in national economies (Brown & Carasso, 2013). Yet, despite repeated calls for increased unionisation (Krause et. al., 2008), individual autonomy is decreasing (Hall, 2013), contractual conditions are worsening (UCU, 2013), individual mental health issues are rising (Kinman & Wray, 2013) and academic work is being intensified (Gill, 2009).

This research into academic work and identity has helped illuminate the crisis at the heart of academic life, yet it does not get beyond a sense of powerlessness and anxiety. For example, Ball (2003) offers a perceptive and emotive account of life in the neoliberal university yet stops short at offering an adequate theory of academic work and identity. Ultimately, Ball’s account lacks explanatory and emancipatory power while the forces that shape academic life remain a mystery (Winn, 2014). This limitation is not unique to sociologists of education. In general, the last few decades of critical thinking in the social sciences have privileged questions of identity (race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender) to the neglect of what we regard as more fundamental categories of critique, including that of labour and, as such, represent “an expression of a deep and fundamental helplessness, conceptually as well as politically” (Postone, 2006, p. 102).

An adequate, explanatory theory of academic life in the neoliberal university must begin from Marx’s negative critique of labour in capitalist societies. The focus on the principle of negativity is key to this analysis (Noys, 2010), operating against the notion of difference and the affirmation of a multiplicity of identities. The positive attitude towards the concept of the Other which emerges from the celebration of difference is a hallmark of contemporary critical social theory, e.g., feminism, black studies, ethnicity, Queer and various other types of post-structural subjectivities. The key issue should be not a celebration of how different we are but, rather, what forces us to be different: classified within a pre-determined paradigm of capitalist domination. Holloway, Matamoros & Tischler (2009) argue that identity thinking leads to the politics of reconciliation and adaptation (which falls to escape its liberal formulations), while negativity leads to the politics of refusal to be dominated, or “the movement of endless revolt” (2009, p. 7) or class struggle. Not identity, but non-identity.

The basis for a negative critique of identity was established by Marx in his exposition of the commodity-form. Labour in capitalism is defined by having a simultaneously concrete and homogenous, abstract social form, which is expressed as its product, the commodity, which has a corresponding concrete use-value and abstract exchange-value. Marx regarded this historically specific relationship between the form of labour and the form of commodities as “the pivot on which a clear comprehension of political economy turns.” (Marx, 1996, p. 51). Starting from this discovery, which is fundamental to an understanding of capitalism in general, academic labour has both a concrete and abstract character reflected in the concept of ‘value’ that mediates the exchange of commodities and the social division of capitalist work.

This theoretical approach does not seek to provide a critique of academic life from the standpoint of labour but, rather, through a negative critique of labour (Postone, 1993). Taking this approach, both academic identity and academic labour are treated as reified concepts, or “real abstractions” (Sohn-Rethel, 1978, p. 20) to be overcome, transcended and indeed ‘abolished’ (aufhebung), theoretically and practically.

There is a need to theorise, imagine and develop new forms of social institutions for higher education based not on the production and mediation of value (the substance of which is homogenous, abstract labour) but on a new form of social wealth defined by an abundance or excess of knowledge, rather than its imposed scarcity in the form of value (Neary & Hagyard, 2010).

To assist this practical, transitional work, inspiration can be drawn from the worldwide tradition of worker co-operatives – an historic organisational form that has always sought to overcome the imposition of wage labour and establish a form of social property or a ‘commons’ that is democratically governed. We have been working with other academics, students, and members of our local community on such a project for co-operative higher education since 2010 (http://socialsciencecentre.org.uk). We are continually encouraged by the responses we receive from colleagues who are struggling to perceive academic life beyond the neoliberal university. As we conceive it, a ‘co-operative university’ is not simply a form of resistance against what the university has become but, rather, it is a dialectical response which recognises that the conditions for a new social form of higher education are already being produced both inside and outside the university by the only productive and creative intellectual force that exists in society, described by Marx as the “general intellect” or the “social brain” (Marx, 1993, p. 694). In capitalist society, the power of this social intellect is captured as science and technology and turned against its immediate producers (Winn, 2013); in communist society, this process would be re-constituted as a form of “mass intellectuality” and be appropriated for the benefit of the social and the natural world.

References

Ball, S. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215–228.

Barcan, R (2013). Academic life and labour in the new university: Hope and other choices. England & USA: Ashgate Publishing.

Brown, R. & Carasso, H. (2013). Everything for sale? The marketisation of UK higher education. London: Routledge.

Fitzgerald, T., White, J. & Gunter, H. (2012). Hard labour? Academic work and the changing landscape of higher education. Bingley: Emerald Books.

Gill, R. (2009). Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia. In R. Flood & R. Gill, R. (Eds.), Secrecy and silence in the research process: Feminist reflections (pp. 228-244), London: Routledge.

Hall, R. (2013). Educational technology and the enclosure of academic labour inside public higher education. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 11(3), 52–82.

Holloway, J., Matamoros, F. & Tischler, S. (Eds.) (2009). Negativity and revolution: Adorno and political activism. London: Pluto Press.

Kinman, G. & Wray, S. (2013). Higher stress: A survey of stress and well-being among staff in higher education. University and College Union (UCU). Retrieved 1st December 2014 from http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/4/5/HE_stress_report_July_2013.pdf

Krause, M., Nolan, M., Palm, M. & Ross, A. (2008). The university against itself: The NYU strike and the future of the academic workplace. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Martin, R. (1998). Chalk lines: The politics of work in the managed university. Durham: Duke University Press.

Marx, K. (1996). Capital, Volume 1, Marx and Engels’ collected works, Vol. 35. London: Lawrence and Wishart Ltd.

Neary, M. & Hagyard, A. (2010). Pedagogy of excess: An alternative political economy of student life. In M. Molesworth, R. Scullion & and E. Nixon (Eds.), The marketisation of higher education and the student as consumer. London: Routledge.

Noys, B. (2010). The persistence of the negative: A critique of contemporary continental theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Postone, M. (1993). Time, labour and social domination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Postone, M. (2006). History and helplessness: Mass mobilization and contemporary forms of anticapitalism. Public Culture, 18(1), 93–110.

Slaughter, S. & Leslie, L. (1999). Academic capitalism: Politics, policies and the entrepreneurial university. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Sohn-Rethel, A. (1978). Intellectual and manual labour. New Jersey: Humanities Press.

Tight, M. (2000). Academic work and life: What it is to be an academic, and how this is changing. London: Elsevier.

University and College Union (UCU) (2013). Over half of universities and colleges use lecturers on zero hours contracts. News 5th September. Retrieved on 1st December 2014 from http://www.ucu.org.uk/6749

Winn, J. (2013). Hacking in the university: Contesting the valorisation of academic labour. Triple C: Communication, capitalism and critique, 11(2), 486–503.

Winn, J. (2014). Writing about academic labor. Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, 25, 1–15.

From research student to academic: thinking about and preparing for academic work

At the request of students, I’m running a session at our doctoral study school next week on the ‘transition’ (that makes it sound smoother than it actually is) from doctoral student to an academic career. It’s allowed me to read a number of articles, reports and guides that are essentially talking about academic labour.

Below is some reading I’ve suggested to students and would recommend to anyone thinking about an academic career or giving advice to those thinking about such a career. In addition to discussing the readings, we will of course be talking about writing CVs, completing job applications, how to read a job description and preparing for interviews. In my session, I wanted to go beyond the standard ‘careers advice’ and ‘surgery’, and use research and the writings of academics to inform our understanding of academic life.

Personally, I find there’s a lot to like about the job, but the research and individual accounts show that increasingly it’s an intensive, extensive, and sometimes harmful career to pursue. I see and have felt that, too. Structurally, the trajectory of academic work and life will be very difficult to change, (although I’m working on it), but as the Hortensii group make clear, there are ways that we can be more generous and kind to doctoral students and to colleagues; especially to the many individuals already living insecure and highly mobile lives.

I have collected a lot more than this, so if you’re also faced with having to discuss or research this, get in touch and I’ll send you what I have.

The co-operative university: Labour, property and pedagogy

I begin this article by discussing the recent work of academics and activists to identify the advan- tages and issues relating to co-operative forms of higher education, and then focus on the ‘worker co-operative’ organisational form and its applicability and suitability to the governance of and practices within higher educational institutions. Finally, I align the values and principles of worker co-ops with the critical pedagogic framework of ‘Student as Producer’. Throughout I employ the work of Karl Marx to theorise the role of labour and property in a ‘co-operative university’, drawing particularly on later Marxist writers who argue that Marx’s labour theory of value should be understood as a critique of labour under capitalism, rather than one developed from the standpoint of labour.

You can download this article from the journal, Power and Education.

A pre-print version of this article is available from the University of Lincoln research repository.

An earlier and expanded version of this paper given at the ‘Governing Academic Life’ conference is also available from the University of Lincoln research repository.

Call for Papers: Marx, Engels and the Critique of Academic Labor

UPDATE 02/02/15

We’ve received and accepted some excellent responses to this CfP but we’re hoping for more. Consequently, the deadline for abstracts has been extended until the 1st March. All other dates remain the same.

If you’re thinking of submitting an abstract please note that we’re specifically looking for “…papers that acknowledge the foundational work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels for labor theory and engage closely and critically with the critique of political economy.”

Where we’ve had to decline a submission it’s because the author has not made clear how they intend to engage with Marx and Engels’ work at the level that we’re seeking for this special issue. If in doubt, feel free to get in touch. Thank you.

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Karen Gregory and I will be guest editors for a special issue of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor. Here’s the Call for Papers [download for printing]:

Marx, Engels and the Critique of Academic Labor

Special Issue of Workplace
Guest Editors: Karen Gregory & Joss Winn

Articles in Workplace have repeatedly called for increased collective organisation in opposition to a disturbing trajectory: individual autonomy is decreasing, contractual conditions are worsening, individual mental health issues are rising, and academic work is being intensified. Despite our theoretical advances and concerted practical efforts to resist these conditions, the gains of the 20th century labor movement are diminishing and the history of the university appears to be on a determinate course. To date, this course is often spoken of in the language of “crisis.”

While crisis may indeed point us toward the contemporary social experience of work and study within the university, we suggest that there is one response to the transformation of the university that has yet to be adequately explored: A thoroughgoing and reflexive critique of academic labor and its ensuing forms of value. By this, we mean a negative critique of academic labor and its role in the political economy of capitalism; one which focuses on understanding the basic character of ‘labor’ in capitalism as a historically specific social form. Beyond the framework of crisis, what productive, definite social relations are actively resituating the university and its labor within the demands, proliferations, and contradictions of capital?

We aim to produce a negative critique of academic labor that not only makes transparent these social relations, but repositions academic labor within a new conversation of possibility.

We are calling for papers that acknowledge the foundational work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels for labor theory and engage closely and critically with the critique of political economy. Marx regarded his discovery of the dual character of labor in capitalism (i.e. concrete and abstract) as one of his most important achievements and “the pivot on which a clear comprehension of political economy turns.” With this in mind, we seek contributions that employ Marx’s and Engels’ critical categories of labor, value, the commodity, capital, etc. in reflexive ways which illuminate the role and character of academic labor today and how its existing form might be, according to Marx, abolished, transcended and overcome (aufheben).

Contributions:

  1. A variety of forms and approaches, demonstrating a close engagement with Marx’s theory and method: Theoretical critiques, case studies, historical analyses, (auto-)ethnographies, essays, and narratives are all welcome. Contributors from all academic disciplines are encouraged.
  2. Any reasonable length will be considered. Where appropriate they should adopt a consistent style (e.g. Chicago, Harvard, MLA, APA).
  3. Will be Refereed.
  4. Contributions and questions should be sent to:

Joss Winn (jwinn@lincoln.ac.uk) and Karen Gregory (kgregory@ccny.cuny.edu)

Publication timetable

  • Fully referenced ABSTRACTS by 1st February 2015
  • Authors notified by 1st March 2015
  • Deadline for full contributions: 1st September 2015
  • Authors notified of initial reviews by 1st November 2015
  • Revised papers due: 10th January 2016
  • Publication date: March 2016.

Possible themes that contributions may address include, but are not limited to:

The Promise of Autonomy and The Nature of Academic “Time”The Laboring “Academic” Body

Technology and Circuits of Value Production

Managerial Labor and Productions of Surplus

Markets of Value: Debt, Data, and Student Production

The Emotional Labor of Restructuring: Alt-Ac Careers and Contingent Labor

The Labor of Solidarity and the Future of Organization

Learning to Labor: Structures of Academic Authority and Reproduction

Teaching, Learning, and the Commodity-Form

The Business of Higher Education and Fictitious Capital

The Pedagogical Labor of Anti-RacismProduction and Consumption: The Academic Labor of Students

The Division of Labor In Higher Education

Hidden Abodes of Academic Production

The Formal and Real Subsumption of the University

Alienation, Abstraction and Labor Inside the University

Gender, Race, and Academic Wages

New Geographies of Academic Labor and Academic Markets

The University, the State and Money: Forms of the Capital Relation

New Critical Historical Approaches to the Study of Academic Labor

About the Editors:

Karen Gregory

kgregory@ccny.cuny.edu         @claudikincaid

Karen Gregory is lecturer in Sociology at the Center for Worker Education/Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the City College of New York, where she heads the CCNY City Lab. She is an ethnographer and theory-building scholar whose research focuses on the entanglement of contemporary spirituality, labor precarity, and entrepreneurialism, with an emphasis on the role of the laboring body. Karen co-founded the CUNY Digital Labor Working Group and her work has been published in Women’s Studies Quarterly, Women and Performance, The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, and Contexts.

Joss Winn

jwinn@lincoln.ac.uk                 @josswinn

Joss Winn is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Lincoln, UK. His research extends broadly to a critique of the political economy of higher education. Currently, his writing and teaching is focused on the history and political economy of science and technology in higher education, its affordances for and impact on academic labor, and the way by which academics can control the means of knowledge production through co-operative and ultimately post-capitalist forms of work and democracy. His article, Writing About Academic Labor, is published in Workplace 25, 1-15.

 

“Labour is not a commodity”. Mapping out assumptions on ‘labour’ in the co-operative movement

I’m approaching co-operative higher education in terms of ‘labour, property, and pedagogy‘ (a revised, refereed journal paper should be published early next year). With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about a recent Call for Papers for a conference on ‘Co-operatives and the world of work‘ (2015) and recalled the World Declaration on Worker Co-operatives (2005), which references the International Co-operative Alliance’s (ICA) Statement on the Co-operative Identity (1995) and the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) 2002 recommendation on the Promotion of Co-operatives (see also the ILO’s recently published guide).

The ILO recommendation begins by recalling one of its basic principles: “Labour is not a commodity”.

This is an interesting statement, completely contrary to Marx’s theory of labour power (the capacity or potential to labour) being the essential, value-creating commodity in capitalist society. So where does the statement come from? Is it theoretically grounded or an aspiration?

The ILO recommendation on the Promotion of Co-operatives refers to the Declaration of Philadelphia (1944), which reveals that “Labour is not a commodity” is not just any old principle, but the first principle of the ILO. Wikipedia tells us that the 1944 Declaration reconstituted the ILO to become the first specialised agency of the UN, so the first agency of the UN was founded on the first principle that “labour is not a commodity”. The history of the ILO and the background to the demands of the 1944 Declaration lie, unsurprisingly, in the growth of the international labour movement itself, starting with the International Working Men’s Association in 1864.

The specific origins of the phrase “labour is not a commodity” has been explored by Paul O’Higgins (1997). He traces the phrase back to the political economist, John Kells Ingram, who gave a speech at the TUC Congress in Dublin (1880). Here’s the relevant section:

“Our views of the office of the workman must also be transformed and elevated. The way in which his position is habitually contemplated by the economists, and indeed by the public, is a very narrow, and therefore a false, one. Labour is spoken of as if it were an independent entity, separable from the personality of a workman. It is treated as a commodity, like corn or cotton-the human agent, his human needs, human nature, and human feelings, being kept almost completely out of view. Now there are, no doubt, if we carry our abstractions far enough certain resemblances between the contract of employer and employed and the sale of a commodity. But by fixing exclusive, or even predominant, attention on these, we miss the deepest and truly characteristic features of the relation of master and workman-a relation with which moral conditions are inseparably associated… By viewing labour as a commodity, we at once get rid of the moral basis on which the relation of employer and employed should stand, and make the so-called law of the market the sole regulator of that relation.”

Influenced by Ingram’s address in 1880, the American Trade Union leader, Samuel Gompers, later included the assertion in the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 (‘The labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce.’) and again when Gompers worked on the drafting of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles (article 427, ‘labour should not be regarded merely as a commodity or article of commerce.’), which first established the ILO. O’Higgins documents (see pp. 229-230) how Gompers worked with Edward J. Phelan on the Treaty of Versailles. Phelan worked at the newly formed ILO from 1919 and between 1941-48 was its Director General, during which time he helped draft the Declaration of Philadelphia in 1944, ensuring that the first principle of the ILO’s new foundational document was that “labour is not a commodity”.

O’Higgins concludes his article with a neat summary which indicates the continuing power and purpose of the statement:

“I think it must be recognised that the principle that ‘Labour is not a Commodity’ represents one of the most fundamental principles of international labour law. It was first formulated by the Irishman, John Kells Ingram; first given judicial content by another Irishman, Henry Bournes Higgins, and it was preserved as part of the Constitution of the reconstituted International Labour Organisation as the result of the efforts of another Irishman, Edward J. Phelan, at Philadelphia in 1944. It can, therefore, be claimed with some justification as a major Irish contribution to international labour law. Its significance is not merely historical but remains today of vital importance. Today, the International Labour Organisation is under considerable pressure to accept the doctrine that market forces are the prime means of improving the economic lot of working people, despite all the historical evidence to the contrary. As long as the ILO does not amend the Declaration of Philadelphia, it is constitutionally committed to an opposite and contradictory doctrine. The principle that ‘Labour is not a Commodity’ is readily available for progressive use by both English courts and by the European Court of Justice.”

So, it seems clear that the principle of “labour is not a commodity” is based on Ingram’s moral assertion which was itself a reaction to the prevailing theories of political economy that placed an emphasis on the role of the market in determining the value of labour.  This was during a period of increasing growth and influence of the international labour movement and the formal recognition of trade unions as labour’s legal representation and counterpart to the incorporation of capital.  It was an attempt to humanise an understanding of labour which had been abstracted in theory and in law. It seems that Ingram wasn’t offering an alternative theory of labour, but appealing to a moral vision of the capital-relation that was not solely regulated by the ‘market’ (i.e. the production of value).

It is, as Postone would say, an assertion from the standpoint of labour, rather than a critical theory of labour.

What I find interesting though, is that despite these origins which focus on the conditions of labour rather than fundamentally question the form labour takes in capitalism, worker co-operatives do offer a self-conscious form of association that tackles both wage work and private property head on. Worker co-ops (this is not an argument for consumer co-operatives) in the UK can do this through the creation of a social or collective form of property that is neither public nor privately owned, and by drawing from the (variable) surplus they make rather than being paid a fixed wage. Although similar to wage labour or collective self-employment, worker co-ops are progressive in that their constitution attempts to dissolve the capital-labour relation within the confines of the collectively owned and democratically managed firm itself, while remaining subject to the capital-labour relation in the market.

From a Marxist perspective, worker co-ops do not overcome the dual form that capitalist labour takes (concrete and abstract labour), because they operate within the social world of capital in which individual, divided labour is reduced to a qualitatively homogenous social form. But in dialectical terms, they do represent a form and means of association between people (i.e. the working class) that is against the capital-labour relation. Not surprisingly, worker co-ops struggle to sustain themselves as safe spaces from the subsumption of capital, the wage-relation and private property, but as Egan has argued, “The potential for degeneration [of worker co-ops into capitalist firms] must be seen to lie not within the cooperative form of organisation itself, but in the contradiction between it and its capitalist environment. Degeneration is not, however, determined by this contradiction.” (82) That is, the historical specificity of capitalism might constrain worker co-ops but does not determine them. (75) The dialectic is not simply a methodological position but the movement of history itself, “being in a fluid state, in motion”. (Capital, Vol. 1, 103) Worker co-ops are a form of the negation of capital and “its inevitable destruction”. (ibid)

Worker co-operatives that operate without wage labour and private property offer an organisational form which establishes in practice that “labour is not a commodity” in a way that is more grounded than the moral basis of Ingram’s views. Of course, they do not entirely transcend capitalism but, as Marx recognised, have arisen dialectically out of the contradictions of capitalism, demonstrating that “hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form”. (Marx, 1864)

Although the World Declaration on Worker Co-operatives refers to the ILO’s recommendation which has as its first principle that “labour is not a commodity”, the Declaration asserts something much more radical: a statement on a form of labour that seeks to undermine the capital-labour relation rather than establish an improved moral understanding between capitalist and worker.

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.

Download the full article from Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labour.

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.