With Mike Neary. Part of a special issue on the future of the university.
The framework for a co-operative model of higher education proposed here offers a challenging perspective to the wide-ranging debates about the future of democratic public higher education that ‘kicked off’ in England in 2010 and around the world (Mason 2011). These debates have re-emerged with renewed intensity during the recent spate of University occupations in the Netherlands and at a number of London University Colleges. We recognise the importance of fighting to maintain free public higher education as well as defending democratic academic values within the current university system, and we want to celebrate the achievements of Rethink UoA and the ‘New University Movement’ as well as the Free Education campaign in England. At the same time we are aware of the continuing dangers of co-option, recuperation and exhaustion as negotiations for institutional reform progress through the complex labyrinth of university committee structures; as well as the ever-present threat of police violence that hangs over any academic and student protest. In this context it is important to continue with experiments in democratic decision-making in ways that constitute a genuine transfer of power from the current university leadership and management to students, academics and other forms of university labour, including cleaners, porters and catering staff.
“Imagine a minimalist ‘university’, on a regional or even national scale, to which autonomous units prepare and present candidates. Why go it alone rather than help to form an open, cooperative university network designed for learners and learning in our times? There is potential for students, teachers, managers and support staff to socialize massive, open online courses (Moocs), to prevent autonomy at single institutional level working for a co-operative difference rather than a competitive sameness. Imagine a university -‘universal’ was a favourite Owenite word – as a complex local and global cluster of federally-linked mutual societies of diverse sizes fit for their purpose and for meeting members’ needs. Some might be as small as seminar rooms; others as large as science parks and with no social or technical obstacles to communication between them or, for that matter, with anyone else who wishes to learn to follow the argument wherever it leads.”
And see work on ‘open co-operatives‘, which is an attempt at theorising such a network of locally autonomous yet globally associated worker co-operatives, based around a hybrid model of reciprocity that accounts for immaterial and material goods and services.
A solidarity network of autonomous yet associated, mutually constituted co-operatives for higher education seems appropriate to me, for all the reasons that Yeo and Cook outline. It could also take advantage of the existing global solidarity structure of the international co-operative movement, which works at both the local and global level, respecting the autonomy of each co-operative but with an emphasis on the core value of ‘co-operation among co-operatives‘.
It reminds me of my former work at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, which acted on behalf of local ‘sections’ or branches of Amnesty across the world, was accountable to them and governed by a global meeting of 500 representatives every two years. The Secretariat has no individual subscribing members (this is the role of the local section e.g. AI UK, AI USA), but it co-ordinates and supports the work of all Amnesty sections across the world, which in turn fund the Secretariat once they reach a certain level of local income. This transnational approach to governance could be applied to education, too.
Clearly one piece of work is to study the models of local/global organisational solidarity both within and external to the co-operative movement. e.g. trade unions, NGOs, special interest groups such as W3C, etc. and how knowledge is produced and shared within those existing networks. Surely this has been studied extensively already…
Our new ‘course’ at the Social Science Centre is a change in direction from previous courses in that it’s a research project through which participants learn how to do research. So, through an agreed research focus, we teach and learn from each other about the value of research, how to do research, and the effect it might have. It’s ‘research-engaged teaching and learning’ in the purest sense that I can imagine it.
Designed as a process of enquiry, discovery and research, rather than a taught programme, based on a well organised structure, arranged in advance, but full of emergent possibility
Grounded in the programmes we ran last year, with a focus on the historical development of the radical co-operative movement and its relationship to education. A specific theme of common concern on which to base this approach is yet to be agreed.
There will be sessions on research methodology and methods associated with this form of research that aims to be transformatory and participative
All of this will include an aspect of critical self-consciousness about what is the SSC and what are we trying to achieve.
You can read the notes from each meeting on the SSC website. Unlike a seminar-style course, where there is set reading and a facilitator each week, this ‘course’ feels different because we’re slowly negotiating the shape of the research project and its specific focus, as well as having to make new connections in the local area and map out the terrain in various ways, physically, socially, intellectually, etc.
Last week, Andrew brought a number of publications from ‘Community Development Projects‘ that were funded by the UK government in the 1970s (influenced by the War on Poverty initiative in the US). I am only just beginning to find my way around the publications and wanted to give you an impression of these ‘action research’ projects from that time. The value of them for our own Know-how course is that they offer an important historic example of radical community-focused research (just look at the covers of the publications below to see graphic examples of what the projects produced). As I look through the publications, I ask myself questions such as, why were they funded, who were the people involved, what was the understanding at that time of ‘community’ and its relationship to global events, what did the projects achieve, how and why did they fail, did they fail? I also want to know to what extent they were conceived as educational projects?
“As Loney (1983: 23) comments, the community workers who entered the field in the late 1960s and early 1970s frequently rejected the traditional (educational) models of community work. They replaced the process-orientated ‘non-directiveness of Batten and Batten (1967) with a commitment to organizing and a readiness to take up oppositional positions (Baldock 1977).” (M. K. Smith, 2006)
The Community Development Projects were being undertaken around the time I was born, which was also a time of global crises reflected in energy supply, monetary reform, inflation, massive trade union action, and so on. In one sense the militancy of such projects seems a world apart, yet the issues of poverty, unemployment, housing, etc. are still very much with us. They offer a concrete image of locally focused research, which is the approach we’re taking at the SSC, but I wonder whether seemingly abstract events overtook them on a national and global scale.
Anyway, I’ve only just touched the surface of these documents, but wanted to present a visual overview of what was produced at that time and also recommend the digital archive of the CDP, where PDFs of 44 of the documents, as well as a bibliography and lots of images can be downloaded. There’s also a video of a recent talk about research that’s being done into the CDP. Click on the first image to browse through a carousel of covers from CDP publications. Aren’t they fantastic?!
Thank you for inviting me here today to contribute to what is clearly a growing desire to fundamentally rethink the idea, social purpose and institutional form of the university. This is not the first, nor will it be the last time when academics and students have come together to ‘reimagine the university’. Only two weeks ago, the Scottish unions also held a ‘Reimagining the University‘ [pdf] conference where my colleague from Lincoln, Prof. Mike Neary, was speaking.
I was told that there is a much stronger sense of resistance in Scotland to the changes they see being undemocratically imposed in England and more opportunity for dialogue between the unions, academics, students and policy-makers. We only have to look to Scotland to see that the conditions we face in England are not inevitable. That there is some kind of alternative. More so, if we look to continental Europe where recently all German universities removed their tuitions fees. Denmark, Sweden and Finland do not charge fees either. However, my talk today is not about fees, but about something that I think is more fundamental than how money circulates in our sector.
I want to begin by looking back to an earlier conference to ‘Reimagine the University‘, organised this time by students at the University of Leeds in November 2010, shortly after the first of the recent student protests.
I was there on the third day, scheduled to talk about a new model of free, co-operative higher education called the Social Science Centre.
“It is clear that the university system is bankrupt and in need of profound change, but no-one can see an alternative, a solution, a way out. We need to resist the threatened cuts and the ongoing onslaught on education – but we also need a transformation.”
The conference was both an act of resistance to the recent Browne report that indicated the rise in tuition fees, and also an act of solidary, as students and their teachers walked out of their classes and occupied a central lecture theatre. You’ll understand that the atmosphere at that time was both intense and joyful. Perhaps some of you were there. Across the country, students were occupying their universities, and by doing so were making a direct claim on the property of the institution, rather than walking away from it. They stated:
“We don’t want to defend the university, we want to transform it!”
This is something we need to consider today. What is the relationship between resistance and reimagining? What are we resisting exactly? How can we transform the university through its re-imagination?
Again, my colleague Mike Neary, who always seems to have the foresight to arrive at the scene before I do, had spoken on the previous day of the Leeds occupation about Student as Producer, a project that ran at Lincoln from 2010-2013.
I’d like to use the remainder of my time in front of you to talk about the relationship between Student as Producer, the Social Science Centre, and most recently, the idea of a co-operative university, and in doing so, to offer some ideas about different routes of resistance and transformation.
And to frame these related projects, I’d like you to think about our collective work as being ‘in, against and beyond’ the university.
Or, if you prefer, work that has as its objective, ‘conversion, dissolution and creation’.
Student as Producer is the teaching and learning strategy for the University of Lincoln. It is a model for teaching and learning based in part on the arguments made by Walter Benjamin in his essays, ‘The Life of Students’ (1915) and ‘Author as Producer’ (1934). In The Life of Students, he writes that
“The organisation of the university has ceased to be grounded in the productivity of its students, as its founders envisaged. They thought of students as teachers and learners at the same time; as teachers because productivity implies complete autonomy, with their minds fixed on science instead of the instructors’ personality.” (Benjamin 1915: 42)
Later, in Author as Producer, he writes,
“[For]… the author who has reflected deeply on the conditions of present day production … His work will never be merely work on products but always, at the same time, work on the means of production. In other words his products must have, over and above their character as works, an organising function.” (Benjamin 1934: 777)
Student as Producer has closed the 19 year gap between these two essays, and argues that
“it is possible to apply Benjamin’s thinking to the contemporary university by applying it to the dichotomous relationship between teaching and research, as embodied in the student and the teacher… to reinvent the relationship between teacher and student, so that the student is not simply consuming knowledge that is transmitted to them but becomes actively engaged in the production of knowledge with academic content and value.” (Neary 2008: 8)
And this is what Student as Producer has aimed to do, inside the University of Lincoln, across the whole institution. Crucially, we have gone to the bureaucratic centre of the university. In every programme and module validation, academics and students are asked to consider how their work could incorporate greater collaboration between students and teachers through the principle of research-engaged teaching and learning. Furthermore, numerous grants are provided to students and staff to support real collaborative research projects outside of the classroom. Out of this climate there is now a Student Engagement team, led by Dan Derricott, a recent graduate and ex-Vice President of the Student Union. Earlier this year, the Lincoln Student Union presented Mike Neary with a lifetime membership in recognition of the work he has lead on Student as Producer.
To what extent we’ve achieved Benjamin’s, and frankly our own, revolutionary ambitions is of course questionable but its impact both inside and outside the institution is undeniable. Yet we must recognise that over time, the subversive, radical language of avant-garde Marxists such as Benjamin has itself been subverted and expressed in the more familiar language of consumption and marketisation, such that it is now common to hear across the sector of ‘Students as Partners‘ and ‘Student as Change Agents‘.
Like all other institutions in the UK that are permitted to hold the title of ‘university’, Lincoln operates within an environment regulated by the State, which increasingly aims to financialise our institutions through coerced competition. It is no longer sufficient to conceive of our universities simply as sites of knowledge production as Benjamin might have. They are now, as Andrew McGettigan’s excellent work informs us, sites of financial speculation. When Benjamin demands that we reflect deeply on the conditions of present day production and its organising function, we must acknowledge that these conditions are fabricated out of fictitious capital, fiat money, and absurd sounding financial instruments such as the “synthetic hedge“, which refers to the use of public funding to guarantee returns to private investment.
So, I put to you that Student as Producer can be seen in terms of a large scale institutional project that has operated inside the university, grounded in social theory that is against what the university has become. It has offered a framework to students and academics for the conversion of the university into an institution grounded in a theory of co-operative knowledge production which recognises that the organising principle of wage work and private property still exists at the heart of the capitalist university, despite the instruments of fictitious finance being constantly employed to conceal the crisis that is capitalism.
More than this, in its most subversive moments, Student as Producer has been an attempt by some of us to dissolve the university into a different institutional form based on a social, co-operative endeavour between academics and students. An endeavour which, as Vygotsky recognised, is not aimed at teaching students skills for the factory, but rather aimed at them discovering for themselves the processes of knowledge production, within which they will find their own place and meaning.
As I mentioned earlier, I was at the Leeds Reimagine the University conference to talk about the Social Science Centre, an initiative which has developed alongside Student as Producer, but outside the university.
In November 2010, the Social Science Centre was little more than an idea that we had written up and were beginning to share with friends and colleagues. It was appropriate that the SSC had its first public outing at the Leeds conference because of the work that Paul Chatterton and Stuart Hodkinson at Leeds had done on autonomous social centres.
Their ESRC-funded research project had revealed to us a network of inspiring autonomous social centres across the UK and Europe, which acted as hubs of resistance to the privatisation of public spaces, such as universities. We saw how these co-operatively run Centres collectively broaden and strengthen the efforts of existing social movements by providing space and resource for the practice of different forms of social relations, not based on wage work and private property but instead on mutual aid and the construction of a social commons. Modelled on the social centres, we wanted the Social Science Centre to provide a space for higher education and for developing our work on Student as Producer in ways that were impossible within a mainstream university.
With the constitution of the Social Science Centre as an autonomous co-operative in May 2011, and having no formal relationship to any university, we were able to take Student as Producer outside the walls of the university and with it reconceive higher education itself.
And this is a distinction I want to underline, one that I think we sometimes forget:
Higher education and universities are not synonymous. Universities represent the existing, historical institutional form of higher education, but in our efforts to reimagine the university, we need to extend our work to reimagining the social form of higher education.
That is what the Social Science Centre is for. It is a laboratory for experiments in higher education. It is a model that we think could be replicated by other people. It is not and never has been an alternative to everything that the modern entrepreneurial university seems compelled to do. How could it possibly be compared to the University of Gloucester, Leeds, Lincoln, Oxford? Yet what we can say is that it does provide an alternative to individuals who desire a higher education at the equivalent level to that found inside a university if they wish, with a progressive model of teaching and learning which is reflected in our constitution that insists all members, or ‘scholars’ as we call ourselves, have an equal say in the running of the co-operative. Rather than make the distinction between academics and students, we recognise that we all have much to learn from each other.
And what exactly, I am often asked, is the Social Science Centre?
“The Social Science Centre (SSC) organises free higher education in Lincoln and is run by its members. The SSC is a co-operative and was formally constituted in May 2011 with help from the local Co-operative Development Agency. There is no fee for learning or teaching, but most members voluntarily contribute to the Centre either financially or with their time. No one at the Centre receives a salary and all contributions are used to run the SSC. When students leave the SSC they will receive an award at higher education level. This award will be recognized and validated by the scholars who make up the SSC, as well as by our associate external members – academics around the world who act as our expert reviewers. The SSC has no formal connection with any higher education institution, but attempts to work closely with like-minded organizations in the city. We currently have twenty-five members and are actively recruiting for this year’s programmes.”
With this in mind, I want to move to the final part of my talk about co-operative higher education and, in fact, about the idea of a ‘co-operative university’. It might help to recall an article on financialisation and higher education written by Andrew McGettigan in which he concludes:
“I am frequently asked, ‘what then should be done?’ My answer is that unless academics rouse themselves and contest the general democratic deficit from within their own institutions and unless we have more journalists taking up these themes locally and nationally, then very little can be done. We are on the cusp of something more profound than is indicated by debates around the headline fee level; institutions and the sector could make moves that will be difficult, if not impossible, to undo, whether it is negotiated independence for the elite or shedding charitable status the better to access private finance.”
The democratic deficit that McGettigan highlights is undoubtedly a key issue that any reimagining of the university must address. However, democracy itself is malleable both as a concept and in practice. What does it even mean to practice democracy here in Cheltenham or in the UK, when supranational networks of capital are being formed to effectively control national and international economic processes?
Resistance to the apparent hegemony of neo-liberalisation and the resulting financialisation of the university is not simply a matter of arousing the public through the media and pushing for changes to institutional governance structures, although both of these are necessary.
Resistance so far has largely been left to students to get on with. What seems clear from this is that the wage we receive as academics is a greater form of discipline than the debt held by students.
I have attended a number of conferences in the last four years which in one way or another sought to answer the question: ‘what then should be done?’ and at each one of them I have been left with a sense of helplessness which I know others share, too.
I think that is because to resist the ‘synthetic hedge’ for example, is not a matter of putting it to the vote, for it is an expression of what the Historian Moishe Postone refers to as “abstract historical processes [that] can appear mysterious ‘on the ground’, beyond the ability of local actors to influence, and can generate feelings of powerlessness.” This ‘mystery’, not to be confused with the complexity of some of the financial instruments, is, Postone argues, a form of “misrecognition” related to the tendency to grasp the abstract domination of capital as something concrete, such as ‘neoliberalism’. He argues, and I am inclined to agree, that this tendency “is an expression of a deep and fundamental helplessness, conceptually as well as politically.”
I am not suggesting that resistance is futile – it can be both satisfying and in the short term, effective – but it no longer seems adequate as a conceptual or political approach to making local changes in the face of global capital.
In reimagining the university, I’d like to suggest that we think of ways, not of resisting but rather of overcoming our current historical context and in doing so I want to propose that in addition to democracy, a number of other values can be combined to create a sustained alternative to how we think about the organising principle of wage work and private property in higher education.
“Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.”
Co-operatives are based on the seven principles of:
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
2. Democratic Member Control
3. Member Economic Participation
4. Autonomy and Independence
5. Education, Training and Information
6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
7. Concern for Community
As with the Social Science Centre,
“a co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”
This combination of values and principles does not take a single institutional form but like Student as Producer, offers a framework for reconceiving, or reimagining, our social relations, the meaning of work and the purpose of teaching and learning. It does take real effort though, and none of this will be easy to construct unless is it formed out of a conscious act of solidarity not just among a few individuals, but within the national and international co-operative movement as a whole.
Whether there is the appetite for it, is not yet clear, although something is stirring. 1 In the last three years, there have been meetings and conferences where the idea of co-operative higher education has been discussed; and a recent report by Dan Cook and sponsored by the Co-operative College, was pivotal in framing both the interest from the College and the initial questions one might ask. These questions will no doubt be discussed again at a forthcoming conference on co-operative education, hosted by the Co-operative College.
In a recent paper, I have argued that taken as a whole, efforts around co-operative higher education over the last three years can be understood in terms of the three routes I mentioned at the beginning of this talk: Conversion, dissolution, and creation.
By this I mean the wholesale conversion of existing universities to co-operatives; or the gradual and possibly subversive dissolution of university processes into co-operatively governed equivalents; or the creation of new institutional forms of co-operative higher education. The success of each should not be measured against the apparent success of existing mainstream universities, but rather on the participants’ own terms and the type of higher education they need and desire.
At this stage, we should not privilege one route over another nor any single institutional form over another. It is too early to draw lines and there is a need for much more experimentation before the dust settles on what specific social form co-operative higher education might take. For my part, I am interested in drawing from the theory and practice of worker co-operatives, which Marx recognised as ‘attacking the groundwork’ of capitalism due to its unique configuration of worker democracy, social property and the absence of wage labour.
Co-operativism is no panacea to the abstract domination of global capital and certainly not our end goal, but rather a historically and politically constituted framework that places an emphasis on values and principles that cross the divisions of public and private, wage work and unemployment, teacher and student, teaching and learning. Whatever forms it takes, one thing is for sure: we must not end up with more of the same.
Andrew McGettigan concludes his article on financialisation and higher education with:
“I am frequently asked, ‘what then should be done?’ My answer is that unless academics rouse themselves and contest the general democratic deficit from within their own institutions and unless we have more journalists taking up these themes locally and nationally, then very little can be done. We are on the cusp of something more profound than is indicated by debates around the headline fee level; institutions and sector could make moves that will be difficult, if not impossible, to undo, whether it is negotiated independence for the elite or shedding charitable status the better to access private finance.”
This is a similar conclusion to that of Brenna Bhandar writing on the LRB blog:
“If there is anything alluring about property as a form, it lies in its mutability, its capacity to be something other than private and exclusive. It is in all our interests to support students, academic and support staff, outsourced cleaners and others in their struggles to reconfigure the ownership of the university, and seize democratic forms of governance the better to create and distribute the social goods that we produce collectively, in spite of current government policies and management strategies.”
There are three responses to this that I can suggest:
In this paper, Neary and Amsler present the ideas and practices of the Occupy movement in terms of its “explicit” pedagogical purpose and intent. In doing so, they formulate Occupy as a prefigurative curricula for the production of a new politics of space and time. They offer Student as Producer and the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, as existing forms of this critical curricula; projects which by altering “the relationships of the production of educational space and time by producing them otherwise… constitute a direct threat to the logics of capital”.
Student as Producer is introduced as a project which is not so much concerned with ‘student engagement’ and ‘student satisfaction’ but rather “the meaning and purpose of higher eduction, or ‘the idea of the university’, as a ‘collective intellectual’ project (Waquant 2007: 57).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 108)
In the context of Neary’s writing about Student as Producer, the article is important for its critique and development of Lefebvre’s argument that the social relations of capitalist production result in the “violence of abstraction”, and the source of this violence lies in the production of value experienced in the real abstraction of exchange value as revealed by Marx.
“For Lefebvre, the substance of time-space is Marx’s labour theory of value, by which use value is converted into exchange value in a process dominated by both the violence of abstraction and resistance to abstraction, which Lefebvre describes as ‘counter-projects’.” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 118)
The authors are not satisfied with Lefebvre’s argument that the site of resistance to the abstraction of exchange value is in its counterpart: use-value, nor that in contrast to this abstraction, “use value constitutes the only real wealth” (Lefebvre 2008: 341). In essence, the problem for Neary and Amsler is that radical subjectivity is aligned with the production of use-value; that is, ‘concrete’, ‘natural’, ‘material’ wealth. Ultimately, they argue, this is to fetishise the concrete (i.e. use-value) as a form of anti-capitalist resistance. Although widespread, it is a limited theoretical position which in practice
“perpetuates the approach it is attempting to critique … replicating and repeating struggles in more fragmented forms without posing a fundamental challenge.” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 119)
Their argument draws on the work of Moishe Postone, who has argued that this “hypostatisation of the concrete” leads to a sense of helplessness:
“The hypostatisation of the concrete and the identification of capital with the manifest abstract underlie a form of “anti-capitalism” that seek to overcome the existing social order from the standpoint which actually remains immanent to that order’ (Postone 2000: 18).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 120)
The source of this helplessness can be found in Lefebvre’s privileging of use-value over exchange-value, whereas for Marx, Postone, Neary and Amsler, value should be understood as “value in motion”: “the explosive contradiction between use-value and exchange/abstract value, in a process of commodification dominated by the violence of abstraction.” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 120). Whereas for Lefebvre and other ‘anti-capitalists’ who hypostatise and fetishise one side of the value-form, here the authors argue that surplus-value, “the substance through which the social universe expands” (ibid) can only be “detonated” by over-coming the abstract violence of value through struggle in time and space i.e. “anti-value in motion”.
“And so it becomes possible to conceive of radical subjectivity as being located not in use value, but in the production of new forms of critical knowledge in everyday life, or practical reflexivity. Critical practical knowledge is formed from the same social substance as ‘anti-value in motion’: just as time inheres in space, use value inheres in exchange value, so to does theory inhere in practice as critical reflexivity or living knowledge, including life itself.” (ibid)
What sets apart ‘critical practical knowledge’ from the category of use-value is not entirely clear. Earlier in the paper, they say that
“Our purpose is to re-appropriate (‘detonate’), ‘occupy’, these moments of space-time through ‘a new pedagogy of space and time’, which can be characterised as the production of critical knowledge in everyday life. The basis of this critical knowledge is critical practical reflexivity. Critical practical reflexivity adheres to our space-time formulation in that theory and practice are considered as immanent to each other (Gunn 1989). The essential aspect of critical practical reflexivity is that it questions the validity of its own concepts, which it does by recognising itself as inhering in the practical social world emerging out of, and inseparable from, the society it is attempting to understand. This process is expansive, creating new knowledge and meaning, avoiding circularity and infinite regress: ‘good conversations’ (Gunn 1989).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 108)
I take it to mean that the power of “critical practical reflexivity” (i.e. negativity) conceived as political struggle, is that which Marx referred to as ‘communism’: “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” (Marx, 1845) Just as our fetishisation of exchange-value (i.e. money and other ‘rights’ of equivalence) has led to the social and ecological emergencies of the 21st century, so the fetishisation of its dialectical counterpart, use-value, will lead us to similar horrors. The related production of both must be abolished through the conception of a new form of social being – a new “social universe” – based upon the application of social knowledge produced through a new curriculum, which acts “as a pedagogy of space and time”. (Neary & Amsler 2012: 116)
Indeed, following Marx, the authors assert the meaning and purpose of education as the “ruthless critique of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be” (Marx 1843). This fundamental approach to the production of knowledge, does not allow for the fetishisation of any social form. It is dynamic, reflexive, “anti-value in motion”. (Neary & Amsler 2012: 120)
How can education be constituted in this form? The authors provide the two examples of Student as Producer and, in some ways its development, the Social Science Centre, Lincoln.
Student as Producer is described in terms of its practical implementation at Lincoln and, as is the case of all of Neary’s writing on the subject, it is discussed more broadly and deeply in terms of a political project within the “wider social-political crisis defined by the politics of austerity and precarity”. It is likened to Occupy in a number of ways (Neary & Amsler 2012: 121), for example: it is “a political, progressive project”; it is inspired by the history of radical politics; it “has links with revolutionary educational projects”; it “is framed within a broad idealistic framework”; it is “grounded within an explicit critical pedagogy”; it “is an anti-curriculum…
“whose substance is not simply teaching and learning but the production of knowledge as a revolutionary political project: ‘the theoretical and practical knowledge of social life in the community’ (Lefebvre 1969: 155), or ‘living knowledge’ (Roggoro 2011).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 121)
Student as Producer is “for the production of new knowledge and not simply as a pedagogical device.” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 122) It is a “framework” in which the curriculum is contextualised; “spatial learning landscapes within which teaching is set” and where “students are made aware of the politics of machinic production”; a “horizontal space within which collaborations can multiply.” (ibid)
In what, I think, is a key passage with which we can contextualise Student as Producer, the authors refer to Merrifield’s work on Lefebvre describing the crisis the university is undergoing:
“Abstract space started to paper over the whole world, turning scholars and intellectuals into abstract labour and turning university work into another abstract space. Suddenly free expression and concrete mental labour – the creation and dissemination of critical ideas – increasingly came under the assault from the same commodification Lefebvre was trying to demystify. Suddenly and somehow, intellectual space – academic and ideational space in universities and on the page – had become another neocolony of capitalism, and scholars at once the perpetrators and victims, colonizers and colonized, warders and inmates” (Merrifield 2011: 119). (Neary & Amsler 2012: 123)
It is against this “turning scholars and intellectuals into abstract labour and turning university work into another abstract space” that is at the core of Neary’s critical project. As the institutional form of the highest achievements of human knowledge, the university is now occupied by capital, subsumed to the logic of value production, a means of production through which labour ‘performs‘ against labour, increasingly alienated from its own product: social knowledge, the general intellect, mass intellectuality.
Neary and Amsler want to take the “territorial” project of occupying space and time with critical reflexive knowledge and turn it into an existential project such that we understand ourselves as the university; we become the resistance to abstract labour and its abstract spaces; we become “collective individuals” that exceed the institutional and idealised form of the university:
“The limit of Student as Producer is that the student does not exceed its own institutional and idealised form: ‘the idea of the student’ (Neary 2010). In order for the student to become more than themselves, the neoliberal university must be dissolved, and reconstituted as another form of ‘social knowing’ (Neary 2011).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 124)
The last section of the article discusses the Social Science Centre, Lincoln (SSC), as an attempt “to create a new form of social knowing.” (ibid) The SSC is “an emerging educational cooperative that aspires to create opportunities for advanced study and research in the social sciences which are both free of charge, and intellectually and politically democratic.” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 125) It is a formally constituted co-operative, based on non-hierarchical, democratic principles. It is a “protest” an “experiment” in “dissolving higher education into a form of mass intellectuality” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 126, quoting Hall 2011). It has “radical political aspirations”, hoping that “students as scholars become revolutionary social beings within open, socially-driven spaces, rather than becoming institutional agents.” (ibid) For the authors, the SSC as a nomadic co-operative is not simply an attempt to re-order space and time, but
“to create a radical form of space-time by unleashing the social power of humanity locked up in the commodity- form as a way of appropriating the future as something other than crisis and catastrophe (Neary 2004).” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 127)
Whereas Student as Producer “remains committed to working within and against the existing university system in order to transform it”, the SSC,
“although in no way escaping from the institution entirely, seeks to construct spaces, times and relations of learning which are autonomous from the neoliberal university, in opposition to the abstraction of social relations through monetary exchange, and embedded in the everyday life of local communities. Both are ongoing experiments. What resonates between them is an understanding that desires to reinvent the contemporary university for human purposes ‘mean nothing without the production of an appropriate space’ (Lefebvre 2008: 59), and that the production of such spaces – and times, and relationships, and ways of knowing – is ultimately a political project.” (ibid)
This article, more than any other by Neary, develops the political, pedagogical project of Student as Producer as a critique not only of “what the university has become”, but of how our capacity as social individuals has been occupied by the logic of capital and turned into an alien, anti-social power against humanity. On such terms, what possible institutional form could it take? What does it means to be non-alientated labour, to dissolve the dialectic of both use-value and exchange value, to “create a radical form of space-time by unleashing the social power of humanity locked up in the commodity-form”? (ibid) Is the worker co-operative form anywhere near adequate for such a project?
What this article, more than another other by Neary has emphasised, is the need to conceive the neoliberal university as a peculiar expression of commodified space-time. It is an “abstract space” ruled by the logic of abstract labour, whereby the pedagogical relationship between teacher and student is configured for the production of value. An opposing organisational form would seek to overcome the power of these abstractions by, first of all, re-configuring the pedagogical relationship so as to abolish knowledge in its commodity-form (use-value and exchange value).
Education “cannot be separated from ‘life’ in institutions.” I take this to mean that all aspects of the institution must be understood to be educational or pedagogical. Cleaning the floors, teaching, installing IT, etc. The division of this labour in time and space is conceived holistically and materially as having a pedagogical purpose for society, for humanity, as a whole. All aspects of this co-operative production of knowledge are understood as appropriations of space-time thereby gradually overcoming the logic capital.
If we “have rather lost control over the form, structure and function of academic knowledge” (Neary & Amsler 2012: 116), worker co-operatives might be a conscious attempt to assert control, constitute an organisational form, and define a different (i.e. democratic, horizontal, consensus-based) social structure for the production of academic knowledge. The SSC is one such experiment.
If “the space of the university is mobilised for the purposes of production through its commodification, abstracting, converting into exchange value, fetishizing and modularising” (Lefebvre 2008: 338), how can the worker co-operative form resist these imperatives? Is it simply a “diversion” rather than an “appropriation” of a different space and time? (Egan and Jossa provide a preliminary, though not entirely satisfying, indication).
Must a worker co-operative for higher education possess a physical space in time, or can a new space-time be constituted through its legal form and extend to the whole of the “social universe”? If “it’s not about possessing territory. Rather it’s a matter of increasing the density of communes, of circulation, and of solidarities to the point that territory becomes unreadable, opaque to all authority” (The Invisible Committee, quoted in Neary & Amsler 2012: 123-4), can the worker co-operative form be conceived and constituted existentially and ontologically? That is, how can we become the university rather than ‘go to university’?
Student as Producer and the SSC are presented as examples of producing an “appropriate space” for their political objectives. Can the worker co-operative form be employed as an expedient means for the “production of such spaces – and times, and relationships, and ways of knowing”? (Neary & Amsler 2012: 127)
“A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” (ICA identity statement)
In my earlier notes, I listed six basic characteristics of worker co-operatives, as approved by the ICA in 2005. I then began to discuss them in terms of a ‘co-operative university’. The basis for these six characteristics are the co-operative movement’s 1995 statement of its identity, values and principles. 1
In summary, the values and principles are as follows: 2
Voluntary and Open Membership
Democratic Member Control
Member Economic Participation
Autonomy and Independence
Education, Training and Information
Co-operation among Co-operatives
Concern for Community
The ‘World Declaration on Worker Co-operatives‘ (2005) states that “Worker cooperatives are committed to being governed by the above mentioned Statement on the Cooperative Identity.” The values are the basis for the principles; the principles are the basis for action. I encourage you to read the identity statement in full. It is the result of international effort over 150 years to collectively identify the co-operative movement and provide a set of guidelines for its members to aspire to. In his report for the Co-operative College, ‘Realising the Co-operative University‘, Dan Cook states that “Co-operative principles are academic principles. There is arguably a close alignment between co-operative principles and mainstream academic values.” (paragraphs 3.2 – 3.11)
An academic commons
Co-operatives UK’s model constitution for worker co-operatives, includes the following option on ‘common ownership’. It’s also worth noting that common ownership is compulsory for co-operatives who wish to be funded by Radical Routes. 3
“The Co-operative is a common ownership enterprise. If on the winding up or dissolution of the Co-operative any of its assets remain to be disposed of after its liabilities are satisfied, these assets shall not be distributed among the Members, but shall be transferred to some other common ownership co-operative(s), or to Co-operatives UK (or any body that succeeds to its function). If such residual assets cannot be distributed in this manner they shall be transferred to some other organisation(s) whose purpose is to promote and support the co-operative movement and common ownership enterprises. This rule may only be amended by Extraordinary Resolution.”
This is a significant point of constitutional clarification. If a university were constituted on this basis, its scholar-members would collectively ‘own’ the means of knowledge production. However, such co-operatives are not private nor are they public in the way a joint stock company is, despite joint-stock companies representing “the abolition of capital as private property within the confines of the capitalist mode of production itself.”
In Capital Vol.3, Marx argues:
‘”In stock companies the function is divorced from capital ownership, hence also labour is entirely divorced from ownership of means of production and surplus-labour. This result of the ultimate development of capitalist production is a necessary transitional phase towards the reconversion of capital into the property of producers, although no longer as the private property of the individual producers, but rather as the property of associated producers, as outright social property. On the other hand, the stock company is a transition toward the conversion of all functions in the reproduction process which still remain linked with capitalist property, into mere functions of associated producers, into social functions.” (Capital, Vol.3 Ch. 27)
What is different about common ownership to joint stock ownership (neither of which are private forms of ownership) is that common ownership socialises ownership of the means of production among its workers. It is held in trust for future generations of co-operatives. Whereas the joint stock company is “private production unchecked by private ownership”, a workers’ co-operative is social or collective production governed by social or common ownership. Common ownership of the means of knowledge production among scholar-members is also therefore a significant step towards a form of academic labour that is not alienated from its product.
“the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour.” (Marx, Capital Vol. 3 Ch. 27) 4
In his talk on Marx’s alternative to capitalism, Peter Hudis (around 37 mins in) summarises what Marx deems necessary to eliminate the conditions of alienating value production i.e. freely associated, non-alienated labour.
Extend democracy into the economic sphere, into the workplace.
Workers’ co-operatives. Direct ownership stake and control of the workplace.
Eliminate the social division of labour between ownership and non-ownership. Workers have a direct stake in the outcome of labour.
In control of the workplace, workers would make work less alienating, less harmful.
Co-ordination between co-operatives is needed, nationally and internationally. Democratically elected planning authority, subject to recall.
Depending on the size of the co-operative, governance might be structured in different ways. The Social Science Centre is intentionally small, an experiment that is intended to be replicated rather than scaled up. Mondragon limits the size of its worker co-operatives to 500 members. If the ‘co-operative university’ is to be constituted and governed as a worker co-op, it is likely to be smaller than existing universities. A variation on ‘self-managing work teams’ (see illustration) seems appropriate to a university and reflective of the semi-autonomous quasi-firm characteristics of many research groups that already exist. Committee structures could reflect this form of governance, too, rather than a hierarchy of committees as is currently the case.
The educational mission of the co-operative university is to be determined by its scholar-members. However, based on the history of education in the co-operative movement, we can identify certain themes and practices in the overall curriculum that would effect all its members.
Facer et al (2011) propose three “broad and interwoven currents of aspiration and activity which characterise the emergence of co-operative education from its roots in the 19th century”:
Teaching about co-operation – making visible the alternatives and challenging the social and economic status quo.
Training for co-operation – building co-operative institutions and skills as economic and social resources.
Learning through co-operation – developing co-operative identities, dispositions and habits
Undertaking these activities would, in effect, act as a means of counteracting the uses of higher education for capitalist valorisation, potentially forming a rigorous basis for resistance to capital. It could also act as a way of embedding historical and political subjectivity within the curriculum which would help ensure that the co-operative remains critically self-reflexive. Ironically, one of the criticisms of Mondragon is that workers “do not consider the firms theirs in any meaningful way.” Kasmir (1996) argues that one of the lessons we can learn from Mondragon is that of the “importance of politics, the necessary role of organization, and the continuing value of syndicates and unions for transforming the workplace.” (p.199-200) Scholar-members of a worker co-operative university must regularly question how their mutual work can be reproduced as a critical, social project. “If workplace democracy is to be genuine, it seems that it must be premised on activism.” (Kasmir, 1996, 199)
Three routes to co-operation
I propose three routes to developing a ‘co-operative university’ (or more accurately, an organisational form for ‘co-operative higher education’):
Conversion – systematically convert the values, principles and legal form of an existing university to that of a formally constituted co-operative.
Dissolution – dissolve the ‘neoliberal university’ into a co-operative university by creating co-operatives inside the existing university form. e.g. constitute research groups on co-operative values and principles; design, specify and validate modules and degree programmes so that they embed co-operative values and principles; if necessary, outsource services to an increasing number of co-operative providers; establish the terms of reference for new committees on co-operative values and principles. Continue until the university is effectively transformed into a co-operative organisation from the inside out.
Creation – build a co-operative university from scratch in the same way that a new co-operative enterprise might be established.
Dan Cook has done important preliminary work with his report for the Co-operative College. It begins to address a number of issues relevant to each of these three approaches but with a greater emphasis on conversion of existing institutions. His report is based on the assumption that a “Co-operative University would necessarily meet the legal definitions of a co-operative and a university, simultaneously.” Route three above does not assume this. It recognises that a ‘university’ in the UK is a legal title, but one which has meaning apart from legislation. Historically, a ‘university’ has simply been a body of scholars who convene to undertake research-based teaching and learning i.e. ‘higher education’. The creation route therefore might entail the creation of a co-operative for higher education which does not carry the legal title of ‘university’ in the UK. A legislated university requires a community of scholars. A community of scholars does not require a legislated university. In that case, our question becomes, ‘Is the worker co-operative form suitable for higher education?’
If Co-operatives UK, or the International Co-operative Alliance agreed to support the creation of such co-operatives for higher education, it could do so based on the principles of ‘democratic member control’ and the ‘autonomy and independence’ of a community of worker-scholars. It would not award government recognised degrees, but it could provide an education at the same level and confer awards that carry meaning, currency and weight beyond the institution.
From each according to their capacity…
In a worker co-operative for higher education (i.e. a ‘university’), we might call workers, ‘scholars’. This does not mean that they are not workers, that they do not work, but is meant to signify (and dignify) the kind of work undertaken by the members of the co-operative. It is also intended to be general enough so as to be inclusive of all types of necessary contribution to the co-operative: teachers are scholars; students are scholars; administrators are scholars; cleaners are scholars; technicians are scholars; caterers are scholars. However, whether these distinct and divided responsibilities remain in a worker co-operative university is to presume the content of the organisation before agreeing its form. To refer to all members as scholars and all scholars as members is one way in which equity among members is constituted.
Whereas in a capitalist university, there is a great diversity of roles and their respective contractual responsibilities (e.g. Senior Lecturer, Professor, Administrator, Undergraduate Student, IT Officer, Finance Officer, etc.), such a division of labour in the institution ensures that the diversity of work within any given role is limited. In a worker co-operative university, as I am conceiving it, there is a singular role of ‘scholar’ but a greater diversity of work and significantly less division of labour. Labour is not divided but is instead communal and direct. According to the individual’s capacity, the teacher is also a student, an administrator, a cleaner, and so on. The most capable members will make the most diverse and therefore enriching contribution to the university. This is not to suggest that the most capable scholars should be ‘over-worked’, burdened with menial work, or that everyone does everything. With a greater number of members partaking in undesirable but necessary work than is ordinarily the case, ‘light work’ would be made of such tasks and it is expected that more time would be available for enjoyable, satisfying and less alienating work. Also, a co-operative university need not do everything that a modern university aims to do.
This brings me to a point which I will elaborate on at a later date: the organisational form should be an expression of the pedagogical relationship between teacher-student-scholar-members i.e. ‘scholars’. The pedagogical relationship is a social relationship which, if appropriate, is given expression through a co-operative constitution. Kasmir (1996) makes this point in her reflections on the ‘myth of Mondragon’, arguing that we must “be skeptical of models that make business forms rather than people the agents of social change.” (p. 196).
The relationship between teacher and student (i.e. scholars) is one of the core principles of Student as Producer, which I will return to soon.
“The idea of student as producer encourages the development of collaborative relations between student and academic for the production of knowledge. However, if this idea is to connect to the project of refashioning in fundamental ways the nature of the university, then further attention needs to be paid to the framework by which the student as producer contributes towards mass intellectuality. This requires academics and students to do more than simply redesign their curricula, but go further and redesign the organizing principle, (i.e. private property and wage labour), through which academic knowledge is currently being produced.” (Neary & Winn, 2009, 137)
On co-operative values and principles, I can recommend two chapters by the principle author of the ICA Statement, Ian MacPherson:
“Speech Introducing the Co-operative Identity Statement to the 1995 Manchester Conference of the ICA”. This is published in MacPherson’s One Path to Co-operative Studies, on pp. 201-17.
“The International Co-operative Movement Today: the Impact of the 1995 Co-operative Identity Statement of the ICA”, which can be found on pages 255-273 of the same book.
On the history of co-operative education in general, I found the following interesting and useful:
Through our work on the Social Science Centre, Richard Hall and I have been approached to produce a book which documents and critically analyses ‘alternative higher education’ projects in terms of their being critical responses to ‘intellectual leadership’ in mainstream higher education. The book is intended to be part of a series already agreed with Bloomsbury Academic Publishing that focuses on ‘intellectual leadership’. The series editors have encouraged us to develop a proposal for an edited volume. A brief statement about the series is:
‘Perspectives on Leadership in Higher Education’ is a research-level series comprising monographs and edited collections with an emphasis on authored books. The prime purpose of the series is to provide a forum for different and sometimes divergent perspectives on what intellectual leadership means within the context of higher education as it develops in the 21st century.
This is an invitation to attend a workshop where we aim to collectively design a book proposal that is submitted to Bloomsbury. As you can see below, we have drafted a proposal, which the series editors and their peer-reviewers have responded very positively to, but it has always been our intention to ultimately produce the book in a collaborative way with all its authors.
[UPDATE: Just to be clear: we welcome contributions from authors who are not based in the UK and can offer a perspective from outside the UK. It is our intention that the book have an international focus. Attendance at the workshop is preferred but not obligatory.]
We hope that from the workshop, a revised proposal is produced with confirmed authors and chapter summaries, which we will then submit to Bloomsbury for final approval.
We are very optimistic that it will be accepted, but of course we are at liberty to submit the proposal elsewhere if Bloomsbury decide not to go ahead with it. Either way, we are confident of getting the book published.
Hopefully, the draft proposal below is largely self-explanatory. The chapters headings are only indicative in order to get us this far. We expect a fully revised proposal to come out of the workshop with input from all authors.
If you are interested in writing a chapter for the book, you are strongly encouraged to attend the workshop. We will be seeking international contributions to the book, but would like as many authors as possible to help design the book through attendance at this workshop.
We welcome anyone who is involved with and/or working on alternative higher education projects such as free universities, transnational collectives, occupied spaces, and co-operatives for higher education. We hope that this book will provide a lasting critical analysis of recent and existing efforts to develop alternatives to mainstream higher education in the UK and elsewhere. We expect it to encompass chapters which focus on all aspects of these initiatives including, for example, governance, pedagogy, institutional form, theory, disciplinary boundaries, subjectivities: ‘academic’, ‘teacher’, ‘student’, ‘researcher’, and the role and nature of research outside of mainstream universities.
The workshop will be held on Thursday 5th June in Leicester, UK. Exact details of time and place will be sent to participants nearer the date. If you would like to attend, please email Joss Winn prior to 10th May, with a brief abstract of your anticipated contribution. This will help us get a sense of direction prior to the workshop and organise it more effectively. If you are unable to attend the workshop but would like to contribute to the book, please tell us.
1. Book Title and Subtitle.
‘Mass Intellectuality: The democratisation of higher education’
Drawing on the activism of academics and students working in, against and beyond the neo-liberal university, this book brings together for the first time, both an analysis of the crisis of higher education and the alternative forms that are emerging from its ruins.
3. Description (marketing)
Higher education in the UK and elsewhere is in crisis. The idea of the public university is under assault, and both the future of the sector and its relationship to society are being gambled. Higher education is increasingly unaffordable, its historic institutions are becoming untenable, and their purpose is resolutely instrumental. What and who have led us to this crisis? What are the alternatives? To whom do we look for leadership in revealing those alternatives?
This book brings together critical analyses of the failures of ‘intellectual leadership’ in the University, and documents on-going efforts from around the world to create alternative models for organising higher education and the production of knowledge. Its authors offer their experience and views from inside and beyond the structures of mainstream higher education, in order to reflect critically on efforts to create really existing alternatives.
The authors argue that mass higher education is at the point where it no longer reflects the needs, capacities and long-term interests of society. An alternative role and purpose is required, based upon ‘mass intellectuality’ or the real possibility of democracy in learning and the production of knowledge.
4. Key features
1. The book critiques the role of higher education and the University in developing solutions to global crises that are economic and socio-environmental. In this way it grounds an analysis of the idea that there is no alternative for higher education but to contribute to neoliberal agendas for economic growth and the marketisation of everyday life. The restrictions on the socio-cultural leadership inside the University are revealed.
2. The book describes and analyses several real, alternative forms of higher education that have emerged around the world since the ‘Great Recession’ in 2008. These alternatives emerged from worker-student occupations, from engagements in civil society, and from the co-operatives movement. These projects highlight a set of co-operative possibilities for demonstrating and negotiating new forms of political leadership related to higher learning that are against the neo-liberal university.
3. The book argues that the emergence of alternative forms of higher education, based on co-operative organising principles, points both to the failure of intellectual leadership inside the University and to the real possibility of democracy in learning and the production of knowledge. The place of ‘Mass Intellectuality’ as a form of distributed leadership that is beyond the limitations of intellectual leadership in the University will be critiqued, in order to frame social responses to the crisis.
5. Table of Contents
Chapters to be negotiated in a dedicated workshop for the book. However, examples indicative of actual content are as follows.
1. Introduction: Leadership and academic labour: the failure of intellectual leadership in Higher Education [Joss Winn and Richard Hall]
This chapter will introduce the book by offering a perspective on the different types of ‘intellectual leadership’ that exist within higher education i.e. the state, university management, and academic. It will establish a critical framework for understanding the role of each, focused upon their interrelationships, and the tensions and barriers that arise. The chapter aims to introduce and provide a review of the term ‘intellectual leadership’, and then offer a different way of conceiving it as a form of social relationship. In doing so, the authors will briefly question the role, purpose and idea of the university and ask what is it for, or rather, why is it being led? For what purpose? If there has been a failure of leadership, whom has it failed? The authors will then draw on other chapters in the book to offer further responses to these questions, which are themselves developed through the structure of the book: in; against; and beyond the university. We will review the aim of each section, how they are connected and why they point to the need for alternatives. We will address whether it is possible to define alternatives for higher education as a coherent project, and if so how can they be developed and what is the role of leadership in that process?
First section: inside the University
This section sets up the problems of intellectual leadership, historically, philosophically and politically. The co-editors suggest the following indicative areas, which will be defined at the workshop.
The failures of intellectual leadership: historical critique (including militarisation and financialisation)
The failures of intellectual leadership: philosophical critique
Intellectual leadership and limits of institutional structures: managerialism and corporatisation against academic freedom
Technology: enabling democracy or cybernetic control?
The recursive ‘logic’ of openness in higher education: Levelling the ivory tower?
Second section: against the University
This section documents responses to the first section, in the form of recent critical case studies from those working and studying within and outside the academy. The co-editors suggest the following indicative areas, which will be defined at the workshop.
Leaderless networks, education and power
Student intellectual leadership: models of student-academic and student-worker collaboration
Forms of co-operation: case studies of organisational democracy in education
Historical examples of leaderless organisation
Historical examples of resistance to intellectual leadership
Regional examples of alternatives: Latin America, etc.
A review of recent initiatives: Student as Producer, SSC, FUN, Free University Brighton, Liverpool, Ragged, P2PU, Brisbane, Edufactory, etc.
Third section: beyond the University
This section provides a critical analysis of the responses described in section two and draws out generalisable themes related to the purpose, organisation and production of higher education, in terms of the idea of Mass Intellectuality, relating it to leadership. The co-editors suggest the following indicative areas, which will be defined at the workshop.
Co-operative higher education. Conversion or new institution building?
Other models: Open Source ‘benevolent dictator’; heroic leader; radical collegiality, co-operatives
Critiques of horizontalism, P2P production, forms of co-operation, radical democracy, etc.
Beyond/problems with/critique of ‘Student as Producer’ (Lincoln)
General intellect, mass intellectuality: New forms of intellectuality
Higher and higher education: Utopian forms of higher education
Intellectual leadership and local communities
Public intellectuals and public education
Conclusion. The role of free universities: in, against and beyond [Joss Winn and Richard Hall].
The concluding chapter will aim to synthesis key points from the book into an over-arching critical, theoretical argument based upon evidence from the preceding chapters. We will question whether the examples of alternatives to intellectual leadership inside and beyond the university are effective and whether they are prefigurative of a fundamental change in the meaning, purpose and form of higher education. We will reflect on the concept of ‘mass intellectuality’, and attempt to develop this idea in light of our critique and preceding evidence. We will attempt to identify a coherent vision for alternatives to mainstream higher education and assess the role and form of ‘intellectual leadership’.
6. Chapter by chapter synopsis
This needs to be determined at our workshop, but the text below is indicative.
Section one collects chapters which discuss the historical, political-economic and technological trajectory of the modern university, with a particular critical focus on the ‘imaginary futures’ of post-war higher education in the UK and elsewhere. In the context of the current social and economic crises, the chapters lay out the failures of universities and their leaders to provide an on-going and effective challenge to neo-liberalism and question why.
Section two collects chapters which focus on recent and historical attempts by students and academics to resist, reinvent and revolutionise the university from within. Looking at UK and international examples, they examine the characteristics of these efforts and assess the effectiveness of critical forms of praxis aimed against what the university has become.
Section three collects chapters which reflect critically on recent student and academic activism that goes beyond the institutional form of the university to understand higher education as a form of social relations independent of mainstream disciplines and structures. They examine several inter-related and complementary forms of practice as well as reflecting critically on their own practice.
7. Indicative Submission date
Workshop to define content and structure in 5th June 2014
First draft of all chapters by October/November 2014.
Peer-review of chapters completed by February/March 2015.
Final draft chapters to co-editors by May/June 2015.
I have previously argued that open education is a liberal project with a focus on the freedom of things rather than the freedom of people. (Winn, 2012) Furthermore, I have argued that despite an implicit critique of private property with its emphasis on ‘the commons’, there is no corresponding critique of academic labour (Neary, Winn, 2012).
The imposition of private property and wage-labour is the organising principle of the capitalist mode of production (Neary, Winn, 2009), a “determinate logic” (Postone, 1993) which continually seeks to alienate labour from its full creative capacity (Wendling, 2011) and reduce the necessity of labour-time in the production of value. For capital, the crucial role of all forms of education is to ensure the reproduction and improvement of labour in a historical form that is conducive to the production of value. For the student, education becomes necessary in order to improve the value of the labour power commodity upon which their subsistence depends.
This paper will take up the conclusions of my earlier work where I argued that the critical power and potential of open education “is in its yet under-acknowledged re-conceptualisation of what it means to work as a researcher, teacher and student.” (Winn, 2012) In the work cited, I have argued that an emancipatory form of education cannot be created by the production of educational resources as ‘a commons’ and the socialisation of academic (i.e. teacher-student) labour through networked technologies.
In this paper, I will develop my critical position that an emancipatory form of education must work towards the emancipation of teachers and students from labour, the dynamic source of value in capitalism, and that this might be achieved through a co-operative pedagogical relationship between individuals out of which alternative organisational and institutional forms are developed that undermine the organising principle of capitalism. In making this argument, I will draw upon my involvement with the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, as well as my work with colleagues at the University of Lincoln (e.g. Neary, 2010; Neary and Hagyard, 2010; Neary and Amsler, 2010).
Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2012) Open education: common(s), commonism and the new common wealth. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, 12 (4). pp. 406-422.
Neary, Mike and Amsler, Sarah (2012) Occupy: a new pedagogy of space and time?. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 10 (2).
Neary, Mike (2010) Student as producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde?, Learning Exchange, 1 (1).
Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010) Pedagogy of excess: an alternative political economy of student life. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Routledge, Abingdon.
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, London.
Postone, Moishe (1993) Time, Labour and Social Domination. Cambridge University Press.
It’s been a while since I have read through the general statement about the SSC (FAQ), a document I helped author over three years ago. It was written both as a response to changes in HE at the time (and that continue), as well as setting out in an aspirational way, something we wanted to create. We wrote it in a style that suggested it was already happening, that it was real, when it was in fact only real in our imaginations. In that sense, it was utopian and from the responses we’ve had from people over the years, I think it helped them imagine something different, too. With that in mind, I was pleased to read the current version of the statement 1 and to see how close we have come to realising that utopia. We are not entirely there yet, and over the years, through praxis, we have redefined our objectives, or rather, the emphasis of those objectives has shifted at times, while remaining clear about our motivation and purpose. I still aspire to what we set out in that statement and may always be striving to realise it fully, but the process is as important as the goal and I realise now, after three years, that the SSC is part of me. I cannot imagine not working towards this utopia.
Last week’s class and in fact the whole SSI course this term is intended to regenerate and revitalise this critical, utopian process and project, creating critical space to reflect on, discuss and question our utopian, revolutionary idea of what higher education might be. Could be.
The ICA statement was chosen to help initiate this critical, dialogical process. It is a carefully worded statement that unites millions of people around the world in the co-operative movement. We have to read it as such and draw out the key terms and ideas that are embedded in this historical text. It is a set of guidelines, rather than a legal definition. It is a compass, rather than a prison we are bound to. What can we learn from it? How can the themes of autonomy, democracy, solidarity, equality, common ownership, and sustainability, etc. become critical tools that help us reflect on ourselves and our own utopian ideas for co-operative higher education?