The university as a hackerspace

Abstract accepted for ‘Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistance‘, University of Nottingham, Thursday 8th May & Friday 9th May.

In this paper I will argue for a different way of understanding the emergence of hacker culture. In doing so, I will 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 will 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 friction in 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.

Finally, and most importantly, I will ask conference delegates the questions: Is hacking in the university still a possibility? Can a university contain (intellectually, politically, practically) a hackerspace? If so, what does it look like? How would it work? I will attempt to answer some of these questions based on recent efforts at the University of Lincoln to reproduce the ‘university as a hackerspace’, building on the pedagogical and political project, Student as Producer.

Below are some slides from a recent presentation I gave to colleagues at Lincoln.

‘The university as a hackerspace’: Can interventions in teaching and learning drive university strategy?

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.