Open education and the emancipation of academic labour

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, Joss. 2012. “Open Education: From the Freedom of Things to the Freedom of People.” In Towards Teaching in Public: Reshaping the Modern University, edited by Michael Neary, Howard Stevenson, and Les Bell, 133– 147. London: Continuum). Furthermore, I have argued that despite an implicit critique of private property with its emphasis on ‘the commons’, the literature on open education offers no corresponding critique of academic labour (Neary, Mike, and Joss Winn. 2012. “Open Education: Common(s), Commonism and the New Common Wealth.” Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization 12 (4): 406–422). In this paper, I develop my critical position that an emancipatory form of education must work towards the emancipation of teachers and students from labour, the dynamic, social, creative source of value in capitalism. In making this argument, I first establish the fundamental characteristics of academic labour. I then offer a ‘form-analytic’ critique of open access, followed by a corresponding critique of its legal form. Finally, I critically discuss the potential of ‘open cooperatives’ as a transitional organisational form for the production of knowledge through which social relations become ‘transparent in their simplicity’ (Marx, Karl. 1976. Capital, Vol. 1. London: Penguin Classics, 172).

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Illustrating the value-form of the commodity i.e ‘the economic cell-form’

As I noted recently, Marx explicated the ‘value-form’ in four published texts. Although the texts can be demanding of the reader at times, the resulting theory is relatively straightforward. When discussing Marx’s work, some writers try to illustrate the progression of his argument, which I think is a good idea. Here are three illustrations I’ve come across. Let me know of any more.

This illustration of the ‘simple value-form’ is from Milios et al (2002: 25). I really like it.

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This next illustration is quite different because it’s trying to show the unfolding of Marx’s argument (which includes the above ‘simple value-form’) in the first chapter of Capital. It’s from Harvey (2010: 26).

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Harvey’s illustration is very high-level. My preference is for that of Cleaver (2000: 93). Again, it’s an illustration of the unfolding of chapter one of Capital, but provides just the right balance of abstract overview and essential detail so as to remain useful. It offers both the detail of Milios and the overview of Harvey.

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Four versions of the value-form of the commodity i.e ‘the economic cell-form’

Marx’s theory of the “value-form of the commodity” was developed over four different published texts. I have linked to them below in chronological order. It’s very interesting to read them in succession in terms of how Marx tried to make it easier for the reader. There’s something to be gained from using each text and as such a later version does not necessarily supersede the former. My preference is to usually use the third version (the appendix to the first German edition of Capital) because it is structured in a very pedagogical manner, unlike the first version which is especially dense reading.

Always keep in mind Marx’s own reflections on this body of work, too:

“Every beginning is difficult, holds in all sciences. To understand the first chapter, especially the section that contains the analysis of commodities, will, therefore, present the greatest difficulty. That which concerns more especially the analysis of the substance of value and the magnitude of value, I have, as much as it was possible, popularised. The value-form, whose fully developed shape is the money-form, is very elementary and simple. Nevertheless, the human mind has for more than 2,000 years sought in vain to get to the bottom of it all, whilst on the other hand, to the successful analysis of much more composite and complex forms, there has been at least an approximation. Why? Because the body, as an organic whole, is more easy of study than are the cells of that body. In the analysis of economic forms, moreover, neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of use. The force of abstraction must replace both. But in bourgeois society, the commodity-form of the product of labour — or value-form of the commodity — is the economic cell-form. To the superficial observer, the analysis of these forms seems to turn upon minutiae. It does in fact deal with minutiae, but they are of the same order as those dealt with in microscopic anatomy.”

It would seem that the anatomy of capitalism is laid out in these four texts…

  1. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) (Chapter 1)
  2. Capital (1867) 1st German edition (Chapter 1) See Preface, paragraph 3 & 4.
  3. Capital (1867) 1st German edition (Appendix)
  4. Capital (1873) 2nd German edition (Chapter 1) See Afterword, paragraph 2.