Just a final reminder that the Social Science Centre is hosting a free conference on the theme of ‘Co-operation and Higher Education’, April 26th, 10.30-4.30pm, at The Collection, Lincoln’s museum and art gallery.
I would love to see you there!
I have been invited to the Jisc Digital Festival this year as an ‘expert speaker’. Here is the abstract of my talk. It reflects on Jisc-funded projects I have led at Lincoln and introduces a new initiative I am working on to develop a Masters level research degree, codenamed: ‘The university as a hackerspace’.
The University of Lincoln has explored opportunities as diverse as the potential of open data, developed a research data infrastructure, nurtured student developers and developed a research-led approach to teaching known as the student as producer, to name a few. However, these projects and initiatives have not been throw away experiments. Rather, they have helped inform the University’s new Digital Education Strategy aimed at meeting the needs and improving the experience of its students and researchers at a time when the idea and purpose of the university is being challenged. This session will provide an overview of some of the innovative projects and initiatives the University of Lincoln has undertaken in the past few years and how universities can explore approaches to teaching and research support, while helping inform the institutional mission and strategy. It will also provide an opportunity for managers, learning technologists and teachers to discuss the potential for such an approach at their institution and to share relevant experiences and ideas.
In this paper we analyse ‘academic labour’ using categories developed by Marx in his critique of political economy. In doing so, we return to Marx to help understand the work of academics as productive living labour subsumed by the capitalist mode of production. In elaborating our own position, we are critical of two common approaches to the study of academic labour, especially as they emerge from inside analyses of ‘virtual labour’ or ‘digital work’ (Fuchs and Sevignani, 2013; Newfield, 2010; Roggero, 2011).
First, we are critical of efforts to define the nature of our work as ‘immaterial labour’ (Hardt and Negri, 2000; Peters and Bulut, 2011; Scholtz, 2013) and argue that this category is an unhelpful and unnecessary diversion from the analytical power of Marx’s social theory and method. The discourse around ‘immaterial labour’ raised by the Autonomist or Operaismo tradition is thought-provoking, but ultimately adds little to a critical theory of commodity production as the basis of capitalist social relations (Postone, 1993; Sohn-Rethel, 1978). In fact they tend to overstate network-centrism and its concomitant disconnection from the hierarchical, globalised forces of production that shape our objective social reality (Robinson, 2004).
Second, we are cautious of an approach which focuses on the digital content of academic labour (Noble, 2002; Weller, 2012) to the neglect of both its form and the organising principles under which it is subsumed (Camfield, 2007). Understandably, academics have a tendency to reify their own labour such that it becomes something that they struggle for, rather than against. However, repeatedly adopting this approach can only lead to a sense of helplessness (Postone, 2006). If, rather, we focus our critique on the form and organising principles of labour, we find that it shares the same general qualities whether it is academic or not. Thus, it is revealed as commodity-producing, with both concrete and abstract forms. By remaining focused on the form of labour, rather than its content, we can only critique it rather than reify it.
This then has implications for our understanding of the relationships between academics and virtual work, the ways in which technologies are used to organise academic labour digitally, and struggles to overcome such labour. It is our approach to conceive of ‘academic labour’ in both its concrete and abstract forms and in relation to a range of techniques and technologies. The purpose of this is to unite all workers in solidarity against labour (Krisis-Group, 1999), rather than against each other in a competitive labour market.
Camfield, D. (2007) The Multitude and the Kangaroo: A Critique of Hardt and Negri’s Theory of Immaterial Labour. Historical Materialism 15: 21-52.
Fuchs, C. and Sevignani, S. (2013) What Is Digital Labour? What Is Digital Work? What’s their Difference? And Why Do These Questions Matter for Understanding Social Media?, tripleC, 11(2) 237-292.
Hardt, M. and Negri, T. (2000) Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Krisis-Group (1999) Manifesto against labour. Krisis.
Newfield, C. 2010. The structure and silence of Cognitariat. EduFactory webjournal 0: 10-26.
Noble, David F. (2002) Digital Diploma Mills. The Automation of Higher Education. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Peters, Michael A. and Bulut. E. (2011) Cognitive Capitalism, Education and Digital Labor. New York: Peter Lang.
Postone, M. (1993) Time, Labor and Social Domination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Postone, M. (2006) History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism, Public Culture, 18(1).
Robinson, W.I. (2004) A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World. Baltimore, MA: John Hopkins University Press.
Roggero, G. (2011) The Production of Living Knowledge: The Crisis of the University and the Transformation of Labor in Europe and North America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Scholtz, T. (2013) Digital Labour. The Internet as Playground and Factory. New York: Routledge.
Sohn-Rethel, A. (1978) Intellectual and Manual Labour. New Jersey: Humanities Press.
Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. London: Bloomsbury.
Abstract of a paper accepted for the ‘Governing Academic Life‘ conference.
UPDATE 16th June 2014: My paper for this conference is available here.
We are witnessing an “assault” on universities (Bailey and Freedman, 2011) and the future of higher education and its institutions is being “gambled.” (McGettigan, 2013) For many years now, we have been warned that our institutions are in “ruins” (Readings, 1997). We campaign for the “public university” (Holmwood, 2011) but in the knowledge that we work for private corporations, where academic labour is increasingly subject to the regulation of performative technologies (Ball, 2003) and where the means of knowledge production is being consolidated under the control of an executive. We want the cops off our campus but lack a form of institutional governance that gives teachers and students a right to the university. (Bhandar, 2013)
Outside the university, there is an institutional form that attempts to address issues of ownership and control over the means of production and constitute a radical form of democracy among those involved. Worker co-operatives are a form of ‘producer co-operative’ constituted on the values of autonomy, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity (Co-operatives UK, nd). In most cases the assets (the means of production) of the co-operative are held under ‘common ownership’, a social form of property that goes beyond the distinction between private and public (Footprint and Seeds for Change, 2012)
In this talk, I will begin by discussing recent work by academics and activists to identify the advantages and issues relating to co-operative forms of higher education. I will then focus in particular on the ‘worker co-operative’ organisational form and question its applicability and suitability to the governance of and practices within higher educational institutions. Finally, I will align the values and principles of worker co-ops with the critical pedagogic theory of Student as Producer (Neary, 2009, 2010a, 2010b)
Bailey, Michael and Freedman, Des (2011) The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance, Pluto Press.
Ball, Stephen J. (2003) The teacher’s soul and the terror of performativity, Journal of Education Policy, Vol. 18:2, pp.215-228.
Bhandar, Brenna (2013) A Right to the University, London Review of Books blog, Retrieved 17th February 2014. http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2013/12/10/brenna-bhandar/a-right-to-the-university/
Co-operatives UK (nd) The worker co-operative code, Retrieved 17th February 2014. http://www.uk.coop/workercode
Footprint and Seeds of Change (2012) How to set up a Workers’ Co-op, Radical Routes. Retrieved 17th February 2014. http://www.uk.coop/workercode
Holmwood, John (2011) A Manifesto for the Public University, Bloomsbury Academic.
McGettigan, Andrew (2013) The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education, Pluto Press.
Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience . Continuum.
Neary, Mike (2010a) Student as producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde?, Learning Exchange, 1 (1).
Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010b Pedagogy of excess: an alternative political economy of student life. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Routledge, Abingdon.
This discussion takes as its premises the following:
The session will briefly position these headline statements about the idea of the University, and of academic labour, in the UK. The session will then ask participants to uncover stories of how and where pedagogy/educational institutions might be used for co-operation rather than competition. The session will ask participants to discuss what a co-operative University might look like.
A shorter, edited version of the article below has been published on The Conversation.
Last week, I was one of 900 delegates from 55 countries who travelled to Geneva to attend OKCon, the Open Knowledge conference. We convened at Geneva’s International Conference Centre, co-incidentally located next door to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and just ten minutes walk from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The theme of this year’s conference (which have been running since 2005) was ‘Open Data. Broad, Deep, Connected’. Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) co-founder, Dr. Rufus Pollock explained in his opening speech that this is “the century of the open knowledge society” and that the conference aimed to broaden access, deepen commitment to openness and connect people.
If today we are living through the century of the open knowledge society, we might recognise that the roots of the movement – and it really does feel like a movement – are to be found in the development of 20th century Liberalism as it confronted the totalitarianism of Nazi Fascism and Stalinist Communism. The horrors of World War Two and the paranoia of the Cold War led to intense reflection on the nature of freedom and democracy. In 1945, Karl Popper published his two-volume critique of totalitarianism, The Open Society and its Enemies, two-years after Friedrich Hayek published The Road to Serfdom, a foundational text for neo-liberalism. Elsewhere in the wartime academy, Norbert Wiener and others were developing the discipline of Cybernetics, which analysed society as a system of communication and feedback – an information society. In 1948, Wiener published the landmark book, Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and Machine which would influence the emerging disciplines of Cognitive Science, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Computer Science.
A convergence of this history of ideas could be clearly felt at the Open Knowledge Conference in Geneva. The themes of the conference included open government, open development, open culture, open science, open education and open innovation. While increasingly broad in its coverage, there remained a tendency in the workshops and talks to view these avenues of openness through the singular lens of open data and the efficiencies that it promises in all aspects of civic life. In his speech, Pollock was clear that openness in itself doesn’t change the world, but that without open data, “we’re driving blind” and he identified open data with “empowerment” – enabling people to change the world. In his closing speech, Pollock said that the Open Knowledge Foundation is “pragmatic, not fanatic”, recognising that there are degrees of openness, despite having once co-authored the pivotal ‘Open Definition’.
The ‘logic’ of openness
My reason for attending the conference was to participate in a meeting around scholarly infrastructure, but having attended last year’s Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki, I was also curious about how the Open Knowledge movement is progressing, especially in the areas of open education and open science. In the past few years I have been awarded grants by Jisc to undertake research and development projects which produced Open Educational Resources, Open Data and Open Source Software. You see, once you catch the openness bug, it remains infectious. This has been neatly articulated by Christopher Kelty, who wrote about the ‘recursive public’ of the Internet, which turns freedom of information advocates into activists who find themselves necessarily campaigning for open standards, open infrastructure, open source and so on, so as to protect the thing they cherish.
We can see this in the Open Access movement, having its roots in the Free and Open Source Software movement that emerged out of the Artificial Intelligence labs of the 1970s. Now over a decade old, Open Access has initiated a recursive response within the academy whereby the ‘logic’ of Open Access – free, public access to scholarly research papers enabled by the Internet – increasingly demands that the underlying research data is also made openly accessible so that the research can be reproduced and verified. But it does not stop there: The source code for the software employed during the research, as well as the algorithms and lab notes should be made open, too. And while we’re at it, why not open peer-review? During one workshop I attended on tools for open science, we were shown how some researchers are now writing ‘executable papers’, constructed in such a way that open source software can reproduce and verify the results of the paper and embedded data sources.
Open data by default
The acceptance of Open Access is opening up much more than access to scholarly research publications. With Open Access now embedded in the policies of major research funders around the world, open research data is next on the agenda. In June this year, the G8 Science Ministers published four principles for open scientific data, focusing on openness, access, efficiency and supporting policy. This statement was published concurrently with the G8’s Open Data Charter, a set of principles intended to improve the transparency and responsiveness of governments, increase innovation and improve government efficiency.
The politics of openness
This year’s Open Knowledge Conference had much to celebrate in terms of what has been achieved since the Open Knowledge Foundation was established in 2004. This was underlined by the announcement of a $1.2m grant from the World Bank, which will fund the ‘Open Data Partnership for Development’, a joint project between the World Bank, the OKF and the Open Data Institute. The announcement highlights the three objectives of the Partnership: “Supporting developing countries to plan, execute and run open data initiatives; increasing the use of open data in developing countries; and growing the evidence-base on the impact of open data for development.” It is worth remembering that the World Bank is itself the product of and advocate of another form of openness: Open markets. It was established as an outcome of the 1944 Breton Woods Conference and along with the International Monetary Fund, intended to promote international development and trade.
Openness has always been a political project with advocates from across the political spectrum. For some it is about power and accountability, for others it is about innovation and efficiency. Choosing pragmatism over fanaticism has been a sound choice so far. However, if Kelty’s analysis is right – and in my experience it is – the recursive ‘logic’ of openness will continue to extend itself to all aspects of public life while the definition of openness will be contested and stretched to ever greater degrees. Here in the academy, it is re-shaping the nature of scientific practice and discovery and before long will contest the way science has been valorised since it was institutionalised over a century ago.
Situating this year’s Open Knowledge Conference beside the ITU and WIPO buildings was a logistical coincidence. Yet in many ways, delegates at OKCon have a deep interest in the work of both of these agencies of the United Nations and are challenging them to re-think the way in which the ‘information society’ and the ‘knowledge economy’ achieves some of the ideals of openness that were established in the post-war climate and have yet to be fulfilled.