Student as Producer (5)

See an introduction to this series of notes here.

5. Neary, Michael (2012) Student as producer: an institution of the common? [or how to recover communist/revolutionary science]. Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences.

This is a key paper in Neary’s theoretical development of Student as Producer. In it, he again engages with the work of the Edu-Factory collective, or rather a recent book by one of its main spokespersons, Giggi Roggero, called ‘The production of living knowledge: the crisis of the university and the transformation of labour in Europe and North America‘.  Neary also draws on Paul du Gay’s work ‘In praise of bureaucracy‘, which I have found helpful in my exploration of whether the worker co-operative form is suited to higher education. Finally, the paper also explores the history of “revolutionary science”, connecting the 19th c. work of Marx to the work of 13th c. Bishop of Lincoln and first vice-chancellor of Oxford, Robert Grosseteste.

Whereas in an earlier paper, Neary distanced himself from the liberalism of Humboldt, he begins this paper by stating that

“Student as Producer is reclaiming the progressive vision of German Idealists in the 19th century for a liberal humanist university as a site for speculative philosophy, ie a social encyclopaedia of knowledge at the level of society (Lyotard 1984). Student as Producer is grounding this ‘ideal of the university’ in the radicalised student–worker uprisings of 1968 and the ways in which this student protest has re-emerged at the beginning of the 21st century against the privatisation of university life, now packaged as the ‘student experience’ where the most predominant imperative is employability.” (Neary 2012: 2)

He argues that the recent privatisation of higher education in the UK is “nothing less than a reactionary political act of intellectual vandalism and a declaration of war against critique.” (ibid)

“The purpose of Student as Producer is not to maintain higher education as a social science fiction about the struggle over the false dichotomy between its public and private function: after all both are complementary forms of capitalist regulation (Neary 2012a). The aim of Student as Producer is to “dissolve” (Holloway 2010) or better still “detonate” (Lefebvre 1991) the social relation of capital out of which the current version of the university is derived (Neary 2012a), so as to recreate the university as a new form of social institution, what Giggi Roggero calls an “institution of the common” (Roggero 2011).” (Neary 2012: 3)

His engagement with Roggero’s work is very complementary. In particular, he regards Roggero’s chosen method of ‘militant enquiry’ or ‘co-research’ as “fundamentally constitutive, where ‘the production of knowledge is immediately the production of political subjectivity and the construction of organisation.’ (Roggero 2011: 138)”. However, he finds Roggero’s distinction between”‘the commons’ as a resource emerging out of the natural world and the idea of ‘the common’ as something that is socially constructed” problematic in the way that it separates the natural and social world. The issue is grounded in Roggero’s conception of labour as the radical subject in capitalist society.  Conceived as such, labour is reified and its activity constitutes the social process that produces ‘the common’, that is “the organization of something that did not exist beforehand, or the new composition of existing elements in a subversive social relationship” (Roggero 2011: 8).”

Neary takes issue with this conception of labour and Roggero’s separation of the natural world (‘the commons’) from the social world (‘the common’). He argues that revolutionary science is, quoting Marx, “one science”.

“This one science, or communism, does not rely on speculative or philosophical solutions, but is a scientific method of enquiry and reason based on an awareness of the historical development of humanity as the alienation from nature (Foster 2000: 114). This alienation can only be overcome through “the significance of revolutionary practical critical activity” (Marx’s theses on Feuerbach, quoted in Foster 2000: 112).” (Neary 2012: 9)

Neary ends his critique of Roggero by relating the “schism” between the natural and social world to the “schism in bourgeois science”, reflected in the schism of subject disciplines within the modern university. On this, says Neary, the “key issue issue for Student as Producer is how the natural and social sciences might be reconnected as a curriculum for practical revolutionary action.” (ibid)

In contrast, Neary draws inspiration from Paul du Gay’s work on bureaucracy in his attempt to counter the understanding of Student as Producer as a “change management project”, where students are conceived as “change agents”. (Neary 2012: 4)

“change management sets itself firmly against bureaucracy, which is characterised in the change management literature as red tape, procrastination, indecision, big government, the nanny state and a tendency towards indolence (Du Gay 2000).”

The world of change management is epitomised by Drucker’s (1993) new role model of labour as the ‘knowledge worker’ whose necessary but antagonistic form is the ‘service worker’, both educated persons divided into intellectuals and managers, respectively. Neary argues that the underlying ethic of the ‘knowledge economy’ and the university as a “knowledge factory”is that of the market and the idea that organisations have to become increasingly entrepreneurial and innovative in order to survive.

In opposition to the imperatives of “change management”, Neary explores Paul du Gay’s work on bureaucracy as “a set of protocols and processes grounded in a set of morals and ethics that are highly valued in our society” (ibid). Following the work of Max Weber, bureaucracy for du Gay is

“a site of substantive ethical domain” (Du Gay 2000: 2) and “a particular ethos … not only an ensemble of purposes and ideals within a given code of conduct but also ways and means of conducting oneself … the bureau must be assessed in its own right as a particular moral institution and the ethical attributes of the bureaucrat be viewed as the contingent and often fragile achievements of that socially organised sphere of moral existence” (Du Gay 2000: 4). In this way, the bureaucratic environment contains its very own rationality and sense of purpose (Du Gay 2000: 75).” (Neary 2012: 4-5)

With this, Neary argues that the “repurposing” of bureaucracy could lead to

“a rational, moral and ethical principle a clear intent to collectively and democratically deconstruct the role of vice-chancellors as the charismatic leaders on whose vision the future prosperity and reputation of the entrepreneurial university appears to depend (Goodall 2009).”

At Lincoln, Student as Producer,

“creates a radical framework for debates and discussion about policy and strategy for teaching and learning across the university, based on a radicalised political vernacular. Given the extent to which the language of managerialism has overwhelmed the discourse of higher education, this is no mean achievement.” (Neary 2012: 6)

As such, it is a “subversive” project based on values and ethics that “have not had to be reinvented but are conjured out of the activities of academic workers at Lincoln and elsewhere.” It is subversive because it

“starts with a negative critique of higher education based on the dysfunctionality of its core activities, teaching and research, where the priority and status given to research divides institutions, and sets staff and student against each other (Boyer 1990; Brew 2006) This negative critique forms the basis of Student as Producer’s attachment to the notion of research-engaged teaching (Jenkins and Healey 2009): re- engineering the relationship between teaching and research so that undergraduates become part of the academic project of the university. This is how subversion works, by using the language and protocols of the enterprise university against itself…

This subversive ethic and academic-valued approach is written into the bureaucratic framework for teaching and learning at the University of Lincoln, through its teaching and learning strategy, and in the documentation for staff and students that shapes the protocols and procedures for quality validation, monitoring and reporting procedures, including the Student as Producer user guide.

The problem is how to maintain subversion in a context in which student as consumer is the operational imperative among providers of higher education. Part of the answer to that question lies in constantly radicalising the practice and principles of Student as Producer to avoid recuperation” (Neary 2012: 7)

The final section of the paper represents one attempt to radicalise Student as Producer through the idea and practice of “one science”. Neary presents this by connecting the scientific method of Marx and Grosseteste through the work of Aristotle. Neary describes Grosseteste as “a key figure in the development of the method of experimental science through practical applications and as being central to the creation of the modern university (Southern 1992; McEvoy 2000).” (Neary 2012: 11) The point Neary wants to make here is that the origins of the scientific method were disruptive, subversive, and indeed revolutionary and that they were so because figures like Grosseteste and Marx did not distinguish between the natural and liberal social sciences (e.g. economics, philosophy, sociology) and each made connections between the inductive and deductive methods of Aristotle. They were fixed on the idea of “one science” which, through the power of abstract thought grounded in the real world, they aimed to discover the “substantive matter” of their respective social worlds i.e. one governed by the Divine and the other by Capital. For Grossteeste, this substantive matter was God as the “divine light” and for Marx, Neary argues, it was found in the concept of ‘capital’, which he presented as a “unifying logic for the expansion of value”. In place of Grosseteste’s metaphysics, Marx’s historical materialist method discovered capital as “the automatic subject” of human society. Through his exposition of capital, “Marx’s most important discovery is that the crisis of capital is the power of humanity reasserting itself and recovering the natural world.” (Neary 2012: 12) This is an important point that Neary picks up in a later paper where he discusses the work of John Holloway in the context of Student as Producer.

Neary ends the paper with a “research question”:

“A key point for the students and academics to consider is the extent to which revolutionary science is undermined by a scientific enterprise based not on the development of knowledge but rather the development of academic capitalism (non-revolutionary science). In order to recover the substance of communist revolutionary science, it is necessary to reinvent the ideal of the university on the principles of revolutionary science. How can we redesign the idea of the university to enhance and support this vision of revolutionary science? This is the main point and purpose of Student as Producer.” (Neary 2013: 12)

From this paper, we can draw out the following points so as to help determine the institutional form for a university, “reinvented” on the “principles of revolutionary science.”

  • It is fundamentally a political project. Political subjectivity is “the essential objective reality out of which practical, critical knowledge is derived.” The institutional form itself support (i.e. be partisan to) this political project.
  • Bureaucracy is valued as a moral and ethical process which does not exist independently of the political project but guards its constitution.
  • It exists for knowledge and against the “knowledge worker”.
  • It uses the language and protocols of the university subversively (i.e. as a way to ‘interoperate’ with the neoliberal university, the State, markets, etc.) without taking on its form.
  • It recognises that “the production of knowledge is immediately the production of subjectivity and the construction of organisation.” (Roggero 2011: 138) The institutional form is therefore constructed from the subjectivity of its members, which is formed through the co-operative, social production of knowledge.
  • It attempts to overcome labour in its capitalist form, which is a “fabrication” of the social relations of capitalist production. “Labour, as such, does not exist but is constituted only as a real abstraction.” (Neary 2012: 9) The issue for the worker co-operative is to discover a way to practice non-alientated, non-abstract labour. This is at the heart of its research project: the discovery of a new form of social being.


Student as Producer (3)

See an introduction to this series of notes here.

3. Neary, Mike (2010) Student as Producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde; or, how do revolutionary teachers teach? Learning Exchange, Vol. 1, No. 1.

This 2010 article is significant for its focus on the work of the Russian constructivist and “revolutionary scientist”, Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky is introduced as an influence on Walter Benjamin who, although providing the initial inspiration for Student as Producer, Neary states that Benjamin’s “pedagogical theory was not fully schematised. In order to develop his approach further it is necessary to explore more deeply into the work on which his own formulations were derived.” 1

Neary argues that Vygotsky’s science was based on Marx’s historical materialist theory of capitalist society.

“Marx insists that all forms of social existence, e.g., identity, consciousness and class, are grounded in the social context out of which they are derived. For Marx the individual is the ‘social individual’, i.e., the form that individuality takes is not separate from the form of society, so that it makes no sense to talk about ‘individuals’ in abstraction from the social world.” (Neary 2010)

Vygotsky understood labour to be

“the fundamental organisational principle for the social and natural world, and is responsible for the consequences that flow from these arrangements, including the development of intellectual thought (Newman and Holzman, 1993). At the same time, it was seen that the barrier to intellectual development lay in the way in which industrial production was organised within the capitalist factory. Vygotsky was interested in how to restore the connection between intellectual and manual labour through the process of education, in ways that would further the development of human intellectuality.” (Neary 2010).

Neary draws on Vygotsky to further argue for the role of the student to be connected to their social context; their relationship with the teacher to be reconfigured so that “the student educates himself… the real secret of education lies in not teaching” (Vygotsky 1997) Intellectual development should “be associated with practical tasks” (Neary 2010) and the lecture format “mirrors the alienating labour process of the capitalist factory.” (Neary 2010)

For Vygotsky, then Benjamin, and most recently Neary, the social context of learning must be understood as its “own process of production” In the production of knowledge, the student should not simply be consuming someone else’s labour but rather actively “involved with the entire process of production of knowing… Knowing and meaning are created, and the student is remade, by reconnecting intellectual and manual labour.” (Neary 2010)

“For Vygotsky, in the factory of the future the labour process takes on a pedagogic function and the student merges with the worker to become: the student-worker; the pedagogic function does not teach the student-worker various skills, but rather enables the student-worker to understand the overall scheme of the production process, within which they will find their own place and meaning, as a process of learning and development. By situating themselves within a pedagogical process, whose meaning and purpose they understand, the production of knowledge is revealed not as something that is already discovered and static ( i.e., dogmatism), but is uncovered as ‘ the dynamic context of its own appearance’ (Vygotsky, 1997).” (Neary 2010)

Out of the social context, the student is transformed  “into the subject rather than the object of history” and therefore social history is remade, too. Thus, the point of education is not to create an ‘educated’ individual who meets a set of ‘learning outcomes’, but to critically situate the subjectivity of the individual in “the politics and ethics of the social system out of which the education process is derived … ‘education is not about adaptation to an already existing environment, but the creation of an adult who will look beyond his own environment’. (Vygotsky 1997).” (Neary 2010)

“Vygotsky argues that a progressive educational system must be based on a progressive social context, and any attempt to construct educational ideas in a society within which its social contradictions are not resolved is a ‘utopian dream’ (Vygotsky, 1997). The point is that pedagogy can not be ‘politically indifferent’ and that education follows a basic pattern depending on its dominant social class (Vygotsky, 1997).” (Neary 2010)

Such education is practised through teachers and students collaborating in the process of education. The teacher “guides” the student, who acts as an “investigator” in their own educational process, thereby overcoming the alienation of the traditional forms of received learning.

Drawing on later work by Vygotsky, Neary argues that Student as Producer is, by its very nature, a ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development), that is,

“not a place at all; it is an activity, an historical unity, the essential socialness of human beings expressed as revolutionary activity (Newman and Holzman 1993). The point of ZPD is to establish a space where students perform beyond themselves so as to make history, not simply knowledge . It is a vision for a new society and a new human being (Newman and Holzman, 1993). In Vygotsky’s ZPD all science is revolutionary science and all teaching is revolutionary teaching: in other words, a pedagogy for the avant- garde.” (Neary 2010)

Despite Vygotsky’s unrealised optimism, Neary reaffirms the “possibility for human intellectual development if the forces of technology and science can be reprogrammed to construct an alternative and sustainable social world within which humanity is the project rather than the resource.” Similar examples are given to those we provided in the 2009 book chapter. A version of Vygotsky’s work has been accepted in the mainstream of educational theory and practice. “The issue now becomes what is the extent to which Vygotsky’s work can be re-radicalised and turned to the purpose of social revolution for which it was intended.” (Neary 2010)

From this, it is clear that the purpose of Student as Producer is nothing less than “social revolution” The production of knowledge is at the heart of the production of science and technology and therefore the reproduction of human social life. The separation of intellectual and manual labour is found in the separation of the student from the processes of research and the separation of the teacher, confined to their subject disciplines, from “the total institutional process of the production of knowledge and meaning.” (Neary 2010) In contrast to this, Student as Producer, while a critique of the modern university, is also articulated as its re-constitution, a collective effort by “the academic community to design an alternative model for the university, as a rehearsal for an alternative social world in which it might subsist.” (Neary 2010)

“By creating alternative models for higher education Student as Producer is experimenting with the history of the idea of university, drawing on the heritage of higher learning. The purpose is to reinvent the contemporary significance of students and the university so as to provide, as Benjamin (1996) might have it, a real time example of the highest metaphysical state of history.” (Neary 2010)

Compared to the original 2009 book chapter and its focus on Humboldt, the 2010 book chapter above drew inspiration from the more contemporary events of 1968 and recent student protests. By contrast, this latter article goes deeper into the history of revolutionary scientific and educational theory to discover and recover the origins of Benjamin’s argument in his essay ‘Author as Producer’, the foundational text for Neary’s Student as Producer project. So far, he has established a genealogy starting with Marx, then Vgotsky, Benjamin and then later Marxist writers such as Debord, Lefebvre and Badiou. In a related conference paper, Neary critiques the ‘productivism’ of Benjamin and Vygotsky through the work of two other Marxist academics, Moishe Postone and John Holloway. Here, I want to briefly summarise the significance of this article, which given the very short life of the journal it was published in, is in danger of being overlooked. The paper underlines the following, which is of relevance to the development of a ‘co-operative university’:

  • The basis for transforming institutions of higher education is the transformation of the role of the student. For Vygotsky, the student becomes the student-worker.
  • The role of the student is not simply that of becoming a ‘collaborator’, or the learner of skills, but as an active contributor to the labour process of the university (i.e. the production of knowledge), within which they find their own purpose and meaning.
  • The division of intellectual and manual labour is overcome through the recognition of education as a form of productive labour itself.
  • By revealing the organising principle of knowledge production, the university becomes grounded in the productivity of its students.
  • Through the transformation of the student and subsequent transformation of the organising principle of higher education, science and technology can be employed to transform society. The student becomes the subject rather than object of history – they make history – and humanity becomes the project rather than the resource.
  • Teaching begins from the student’s experience in a particular social context “so that the student teaches themselves” and are no longer alienated from the production of knowledge. So that students “recognise themselves in a world of their own design.” (Debord)