Student as Producer (7)

See an introduction to this series of notes here.

7. Neary, Mike (2013) Student as Producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde; or, how to revolutionary teachers teach? [v2] Paper presented at Walter Benjamin, Pedagogy and the Politics of Youth conference, London. [unpublished]

In the 2010 article of the same title, the avant-garde Marxism of Benjamin and Vgotsky is referred to as an “antidote to the dogmatic assumptions of traditional Marxism, as well as the psychologism and the positivism of empirical social science, both of which dominate current research into higher education.” (Neary 2010) This later 2013 ‘v2’ conference paper is an attempt to critique the ‘productivism’ which characterises traditional Marxism and from which even Benjamin and Vygotsky did not escape. Yet key to the work of Benjamin and Vygotsky and subsequently Neary is the transformation of the student into a radical subject, one who understands their central place and purpose in the process of knowledge production. In undertaking this, Neary concludes that

“an important aspect of the fabrication/construction of the radical subject lies in the reappropriation of ‘general social knowledge’: or, the recovery of ‘the idea of the University’, as a radically new form of social institution grounded in an historical and materialist pedagogy which can provide the basis for a revolutionary form of teaching.” (Neary 2013: 2)

He introduces Student as Producer as a project that works on a number of different levels:

  1. A model for curriculum development
  2. A framework for while institutional change
  3. The reinvention of the ‘idea of the university’ as a radical political project.

Outwardly, the project “appears quite mundane”, as “it involves embedding research and research-like teaching across all aspects of the undergraduate curriculum, so that students become part of the academic culture and practice of the institution.” (Neary 2013: 3)

As we have seen from earlier papers, the purpose of Student as Producer extends beyond the routine processes of university life. It is not confrontational but rather, a subversive project, a “negative critique” of higher education that exists within the context of a number of constraints:

  1. The labour contract
  2. Management structures
  3. Government regulation (QAA protocols) around student engagement
  4. External social, political and economic crises

Neary draws attention to the work of Benjamin, providing much more insight into the formulation of the original ideas behind Student as Producer. I will not reproduce the passages here, but needless to say, The Life of Students and Author as Producer remain key texts for a deep appreciation of Student as Producer, and although it would be going over old ground here, this 2013 conference paper is the clearest expression yet of the relevance of Benjamin to our current moment.

What is new to this paper is Neary’s critique of Benjamin and Vygotsky’s ‘productivism’. Writing the paper for a Benjamin conference, Neary reviews the work of other Benjamin scholars and concludes that while it can be

“rich and revealing… it tends to lack the avant-garde Marxist spirit that informs this crucial period of Benjamin’s work: with a tendency for taking on the melancholy and pessimistic characteristics for which Benjamin is renowned.” (Neary 2013: 14)

The latter half of the paper is devoted to an engagement with ‘avant-garde Marxists’ (“by which I mean Marxist scholarship that seeks to get beyond Marx through Marx”).

The work of Moishe Postone is introduced and highlighted for the way in which the concept of abstraction (i.e. non-empirical reality), rather than alienation, lies at the centre of his interpretation of Marx:

“This focus on the non-empirical aspect of Marx’s theory demonstrates the the violence of abstraction, as a real (im)material process of social mediation out of which emerge the repressive structures and institutions of capitalist modernity.” (Neary 2013: 16)

Postone undertakes a sustained critique of what he calls the “productivist paradigm” of “traditional Marxism”. By this he means the dominant version of Marxism that has affirmed labour (i.e the proletariat/working class) as the revolutionary subject. Postone’s critique is against this paradigm, arguing for a critique of labour in capitalism. Neary states that,

“he does this by a reconstruction of capitalist forms, including value, abstract labour and capital itself, to reveal them as the outcome of a very determinate set of social relations, grounded in the commodity form. These capitalist forms include the apparently independent structures through which capitalist modernity is regulated: money and the state. His conclusion is that post- capitalist communist society is not the realisation of labour, but its historical abolition/negation.” (Neary 2013: 16)

Postone does not have much to say about Benjamin, but Neary connects the work of both writers through Benjamin’s friend, Georg Lukacs, who Postone engages with at length in much of his work. The critical point that Neary draws out is that through Lukacs’ influence, Benjamin succumbs to the tendency of traditional Marxism to reify and fetishise the proletariat. Despite their advances on orthodox Marxism, even avant-garde Marxists of the early 20th century like Benjamin and Lukacs, saw revolution “in terms of class relations structured by market economy and private ownership of the means of production.” (Postone 2003: 82)

“Relations of domination are understood primarily in terms of class domination and exploitation. Within this general framework, capitalism is characterized by a growing structural contradiction between that society’s basic social relations (interpreted as private property and the market) and the forces of production (interpreted as the industrial mode of producing).

The unfolding of this contradiction gives rise to the possibility of a new form of society, understood in terms of collective ownership of the means of production and economic planning in an industrialized context – that is, in terms of a just and consciously regulated mode of distribution adequate to industrial production. The latter is understood as a technical process that, while used by capitalists for their particularistic ends, is intrinsically independent of capitalism; it could be used for the benefit of all members of society.” (Postone 2003: 82)

The error of this, argues Postone, is that it offers no explanation for the problems faced by Socialist planners of the 20th century and is forever “in danger of reinventing another form of labour-producing society in less mediated forms: more immediate, violent and terrorist.” (Neary 2013: 18)

Benjamin’s work in The Life of Students and Author as Producer is concerned with the process of production and the realisation of historical subjectivity through the consumer assuming the creative role of producer. Drawing his Marxism largely from his friend Lukacs, Benjamin, too, remains stuck in the productivist paradigm.

Postone argues that the subject of the capitalist mode of production is capital itself, the self-valorisation of value; leading to a series of “quasi-independent” processes which subsume all of social life. “Therefore, it is not that the proletariat must be realised; but, rather, that the capital relation in total must be abolished.” (Neary 2013: 19) Neary examines what was at the centre of Marx’s work and subsequently developed by Lukacs and Postone: the commodity-form. Despite the commodity-form usually being characterised as use-value and exchange-value (i.e. value), Neary states that for Postone, what is key to understanding and overcoming the commodity-form is “the immanent nature of the value relation within which use value and exchange value are integrated. Or, to put it another way: abstract labour is the substance of value which must exist in a concrete form as a use value.” (Neary 2013: 19)

Abstract labour exists as a “real abstraction”; that is, a “quasi-independent” abstract determinate force which has real, historical and material outcomes. The ‘logic’ of capital is a totalising logic whereby labour as the substance of value, takes on abstract forms that reduce humanity to a resource for capital, rather than the project itself.  Neary argues that,

“In capitalism human labour is essential for the valorisation process; however, in the process to increase productivity and avoid labour conflict, workers are expelled from work with their knowledge and capacity increasingly automated; this gives rise to intensification of work, unemployment, poverty and technological development; and forms of resistance, including the real possibility of a society of abundance rather than the logic of scarcity on which capitalism is based. Postone argues that the way in which work is organised is the logic of other quasi-independent structures that dominate and oppress workers, e.g., the Capitalist State.” (Neary 2013: 19)

The recurrent (i.e. permanent) contradiction and crisis of capitalism generates the possibility for the radical subject to emerge, “not as some intrinsic capacity that is inherent within the proletariat, but as a dynamic negative aspect of the capital relation.” (Neary 2013: 19)

“In a society where people have been controlled by the logic of production (Postone 1993: 284), it is likely that a new human emancipation will be a world that is not dominated by production, but a new form of human sociability with a new logic of social wealth. This will be political but the organisational/institutional forms have yet to be decided. Humanity can recover itself through different form of social wealth based on a different concept of usefulness/[uselessness] not defined within the capital relation (362).” (Neary 2013: 19)

The exact nature of  this “different form of social wealth” is unknown but likely to be discovered in the “‘latent potential’ (364) of the use value dimension, no longer constrained and shaped by the value dimension…’ not in a utopia of labour, but ‘disposable time’: non-working time not dominated by the logic of work (leisure) but through a communist concept of wealth and sociability (the social individual).” (Neary 2013: 20)

In light of this, Neary argues that the university can be reconsidered

“not as an autonomous reified institution, but as form of the social relations of capitalist production, whose real nature has emerged out of the crisis ridden and contradictory organisational principle on which it is based: the commodity-form. Using Postone, the University can be seen as a quasi-independent structure that dominates academic labour and students through the way in which it exists as a factory for the commodification of knowledge. The domination of this quasi-independent structure endures only to the extent that ‘the latent potential’ of the use value relation can be contained, to prevent commodified knowledge being re- functioned as accumulated general social knowledge appropriated by the academic labour and students who have produced it.” (Neary 2013: 25)

Neary points to an article I have written which attempts to show how the university has indeed become a quasi-independent structure gradually subsumed during the 19th and 20th centuries under the logic of capitalist valorisation; a complex expression of the capital relation in the form of the ‘industrial-military-academic complex’. Yet within and out of this context, the contradictions of the academy produce the opportunity for the production of knowledge in a non-alienated form; knowledge which ‘escapes’ the valorisation process of the academy and carries with it intrinsic use-value for the production of a commons.

Following his discussion of Postone, Neary focuses on the work of John Holloway who, like Postone, attempts to “undermine the productivist reading of Marx, while maintaining the centrality of labour as the organising principle of capitalist society. This is done by taking the value/capital relation rather than the relationship between classes as the starting point.” (Neary 2013: 20-21)

Whereas Neary draws on Postone to understand capital as an ‘abstract determinate logic’, he draws on Holloway’s “critical reinterpretation of the law of value… as a social theory of everything”. (Neary 2013: 21) Both writers, argues Neary, are similar in their negative conception of the commodity-form as expressing the “intrinsic, immanent, contradictory and antagonistic relation between use and exchange value” (ibid) With this understanding of the commodity-form, which Marx referred to as the basic ‘cell-form’ of capitalist society, Neary points to Holloway’s focus on the necessity and potential for struggle amidst the contradictions and antagonisms of social life. Whereas Postone identifies the problem through theory alone, Holloway provides a practical way forward, or as Neary states:

“In order to find an attempt to connect revolutionary theory with revolutionary practice through a reading of avant-garde Marxism we need to look elsewhere. [i.e. Holloway]” (Neary 2013: 20)

For Holloway, the working-class (i.e. the creative capacity of human labour to produce use-values) “exists as negation of capital… in the form of being denied” (i.e. as abstract labour quantified as exchange value) (ibid 21-22). While he shares much of Postone’s emphasis on the real presence and force of abstraction in capitalist society as well as his anti-productivist/anti-labour critical standpoint, Holloway asserts the negative (i.e. positive), destructive (i.e. creative) ‘logic’ that is also intrinsic in the “uncontrollable and uncontainable alien force that extends beyond the act of economic exchange to all aspects of social life”. (Neary 2013: 23)

In conclusion, Neary argues that

“Holloway and Postone offer powerful accounts of Marx’s revolutionary theory against the productivist paradigm. Writing on the edge of the dialectic, each has a tendency to privilege one side or the other: with Holloway focussing on the concrete aspect of ‘doing’ and Postone on the power and violence of abstraction. What neither of them can do, is resolve or overcome the contradiction in their writing, because this is not only a theoretical problem, it is always and everywhere intensely practical.” (Neary 2013: 24)

The final section of this conference paper reflects on this “intensely practical” problem.

“Student as Producer feels like an impossible project. Almost everything about the current situation makes it impossible, but it is that very impossibility that makes it so necessary. And even in the face of impossibility it feels like much has been achieved. More than could have been imagined. Notably, the fact that the title for an English University’s teaching and learning strategy is a ripped off slogan from a 20th century Marxist feels like something of a triumph.” (Neary 2013: 25)

Neary goes on to discuss Student as Producer in terms of a “series of techniques”: “Re-engineering the process of production”; the creation of “real networks and forms of association”; the “recovery of a moral and ethical principles as academic principles, and linking them to the bureaucratic processes”; and attempting to “astonish academics, students and administrators through a revelation of the radical history of the university.” He argues that we must “recognise, with a teacherly attitude, that all of these devices are not merely technical instruments but are derived out of a peculiar social, material and historical process which must be theorised.” (Neary 2013: 25) Out of this peculiar, contradictory, antagonistic context, Neary argues that other institutional forms will emerge as a result of struggle that are themselves likely to express the negation of the commodity-form.  Just as for Marx, capital contains the seed of its overcoming, so the institutional form of the modern university as an expression of capital also contains the revolutionary potential  of accumulated knowledge which resists and exceeds the current institutional form of higher education.

“The substance which deconstructs or melts this institutional form is the creative doing of academic labour, a form of production based on the rage of academics and students against the capitalist machine; or as Holloway might put it the moment of life against the living death of capitalist production.

In these ways the university is a form of the crisis, which is part of a much wider social political and economic crisis, the outcome of which is far from certain. What happens inside of the University, including Student as Producer, depends on the outcome of this crisis. We should be in no doubt about the increasing economic and political violence that will be inflicted, is already being inflicted, as the crisis intensifies. During this time academics are being/will be forced to assess their own position and to make a choice…

This is a condition in which nothing is fixed: new revolutionary forms are already being cast, even if they might not appear revolutionary at the time.” (Neary 2013: 26-7)

The latter 2013 conference paper represents the most developed theoretical statement about Student as Producer and also reflects on the way Student as Producer has been practised both inside formal higher education and outside. since 2007. Starting out from the work of Benjamin, Neary has now found a way to go beyond the productivism implicit in ‘Student as Producer’ and the helplessness and potential dangers of hypostatising the ‘real’, the concrete, without a full, critical understanding of the “violence of abstraction”. There are a number of points that we can distil from this paper with regards to the suitability of the worker co-operative as an organisation form for a pedagogy based on Student as Producer.

  • Early avant-garde Marxists, Vygotsky and Benjamin, provide the pedagogical foundations for Student as Producer, which Neary has developed. With this paper, he argues with reference to Postone and Holloway’s work, that the ‘productivism’ of their Marxist theory should be the subject of critique in developing Student as Producer. This implies that the organisational form for Student as Producer should itself be anti-productivist or post-productivist. A worker co-operative would have to reflect on how this redefines ‘work’ and how the organisation can be constituted in a way that works towards abolishing exchange-value while asserting use-value as the form of social wealth derived from the concrete labour of its members.  It would be a worker co-operative that sought to abolish capitalist work. Jossa and Egan’s writing on Labour Managed Firms are worth returning to.
  • The organisational form need to support ways to reconnect intellectual and manual labour and theory and praxis. Learning should take place through ‘practical tasks’, i.e. research-based learning that is grounded in historical and material conditions.
  • The distinction and divide between teachers and students should be addressed through a reconfiguration of the division of labour so as to ensure that both roles contribute according to individual capacity and need in the process of knowledge production. This does not deny that there are people who can teach and people who can learn from others, but the organisational form can constitute each as ‘scholars’ (i.e. members) whose needs and capacities are each recognised as part of the knowledge production process.
  • Student as Producer is a ZPD and the organisational form should be constituted so as to protect the ZPD and create a ‘safe’ space for members to contribute creatively.
  • The organisational form should support and express a number of reflexive techniques: “Re-engineering the process of production”; the creation of “real networks and forms of association”; the “recovery of a moral and ethical principles as academic principles, and linking them to the bureaucratic processes”; and attempting to “astonish academics, students and administrators through a revelation of the radical history of the university.”
  • In his notebooks, Marx wrote that “Production, then, is also immediately consumption, consumption is also immediately production. Each is immediately its opposite.” How can we understand the relationship between production and consumption?
  • Are production and labour synonymous? We need to be clear about the nature of labour and therefore the specific nature of production. As Hudis has shown, Marx said that ‘labour’ and its products would still exists post-capitalism, but they are non-alienated, not mediated by the abstractions of labour and value. How can an understanding of ‘indirect’ vs ‘direct labour’ help us re-conceive post-capitalist labour i.e. its “latent potential”?

Student as Producer (1)

See an introduction to this series of notes here.

1a. Neary, Mike (2008) Student as producer – risk, responsibility and rich learning environments in higher education. Articles from the Learning and Teaching Conference 2008. Eds: Joyce Barlow, Gail Louw, Mark Price. University of Brighton Press. Centre for Learning and Teaching

1b. 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. Eds. Bell, Neary, Stevenson. Continuum, London, pp. 192-210. 1

This book chapter (and keynote from the same period) lays out the rationale for Student as Producer. It draws on the work of a number of other scholars of higher education who, despite the apparent success of modern universities, have identified an ‘apartheid’ between student and teacher (Brew); the intensification and regularisation of academic labour (De Angelis and Harvie; Nelson and Watt); and the reconfiguration of the student as a consumer (Boden and Epstein), who is increasingly under-employed, unemployed and indebted (Bonefeld; Warmington). The chapter reviews the changing ‘nature and purpose’ of the modern university and draws parallels with the ideas of Wilhelm Humbolt in the early 19th century and more recent work by Robbins in the 1960s, and Boyer in the 1990s, who to different degrees argued for the reconfiguration of teaching and research and in doing so, a reconfiguration in the relationship between teacher and student. In particular, Humbolt argued that lectures should be dropped in favour of seminars, that students should be encouraged to think speculatively in close contact with their tutors with an emphasis on Socratic dialogue, flexible curricula and the inclusion of students in research groups.

Similarly, in a keynote talk from 2008, Neary refers to a formative Student as Producer project called the Reinvention Centre. He describes this as an attempt “to re-create the notion of an inclusive academic community where learners, teachers and reserchers are all seen as scholars in common pursuit of knowledge.” (Neary 2008: 8) For Humbolt, this was a political project intended to guarantee academic freedom and the separation of the university from the regulation of the state. In doing so, a ‘Culture State’ would be established by a cultured population able to think and act as autonomous citizens.

The middle section of the chapter discusses the work of Walter Benjamin, who wrote an essay titled ‘Author as Producer’, from which ‘Student as Producer’ was conceived. Neary discusses this essay and an earlier work titled ‘Life of Students’ and from these develops the main theoretical argument for his own project. Like Humbolt, Benjamin argued against the lecture format and to a large extent seminars, too, arguing that “it makes little difference whether the speakers are teachers or students.” (Benjamin 1915: 42) In a key passage for Neary, Benjamin states that:

“The organisation of the university has ceased to be grounded in the productivity of its students, as its founders envisaged. They thought of student 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)

In his later essay, ‘Author as Producer’, Benjamin was concerned with the relationship between author and their readers and how to actively intervene in “the living context of social relations” so as to create progressive social transformation:

“[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)

For both Benjamin and Neary, that ‘organising function’ is the

“social relation of capitalist production, defined through the logic of waged labour and private property. For Benjamin, the imperatives of capitalist production had led to the horrors of Bolshevism and Fascism. Therefore, any alternative form of the organising principle must be antithetical to these extreme types of political systems and be set up on the basis of democracy, collectivism, respective for legitimate authority, mutuality and social justice.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 133)

Neary highlights how for Benjamin, this organising principle would involve the reader (i.e. the ‘consumer’) in the process of production so that they are not only “the producers of artistic content, but collaborators of their own social world; the subjects rather than the objects of history.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 133-4) Benjamin argued that

“What matters is the exemplary character of production, which is able, first, to induce other producers to produce, and, second, to put an improved apparatus at their disposal. And this apparatus is better, the more consumers it is able to turn into producers – that is, readers or spectators, into collaborators.” (Benjamin 1934: 777)

In his keynote written around the same time as the book chapter, Neary argues that

“it is possible to apply Benjamin’s thinking to the context of the contemporary university by applying it to the dichotomous relationship between teaching and research, as embodied in the student and the teacher; and, using Benjamin’s formulation, 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.” (2008: 8)

How is this achieved in the context of a modern university?

“By providing more research and research-like experiences as an integral part of the undergraduate experience. In doing this students can become productive collaborators in the research culture of the departments of their universities. This is particularly important in a context within which students have been forced into the position of consumers in a service culture that many academics regard as antithetical to the academic project of the university.” (Neary 2008: 9)

This was said in the context of a keynote speech at a learning and teaching conference. In its postscript, Neary refers to the wider context in which Student as Producer is being developed as a response to i.e. the global ecological crisis and the related worldwide financial crisis. He refers to the work of David Orr to appeal for a more holistic, anti-disciplinary experience of the academic project; one which encourages students and teachers to see things in their entirety.

“My point, like David Orr, is that we need to fundamentally rethink the nature of academic enquiry. As academics working in universities, we can start by looking at ways in which we engage with the world, and, in particular, how we engage with our students. By taking more progressive risks with our teaching and learning, and by treating students as responsible members of our academic community we might be able to create not just richer learning environments, but also to invent new approaches to some of the very real emergencies that are confronting both the university and society as a whole.” (Neary 2008: 12)

In the book chapter, Neary argues that the ‘organising function’ of the modern university is “the law of market economics, redefined in the contemporary period as the neo-liberal university.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 134) He then asks, “what kind of alternative organising principles might be invented as progressive alternatives.” (ibid)

The last section of the chapter points towards such alternatives, drawing on Marx’s idea of the ‘general intellect’ and its reformulation by later Marxist writers as ‘mass intellectuality’. The point in this section is to identify in his notebooks, how Marx saw the development of knowledge become objectified as fixed capital (i.e. automated machinery, transportation, communication networks) such that “general social knowledge becomes a direct form of production.” (Marx 1993: 706) The form of labour (i.e. ‘general intellect’) that produces such knowledge

“is increasingly a social, co-operative endeavour. As we come to realise this, the organising principles on which capitalist production is based, wage labour and private ownership, become increasingly irrelevant.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 135)

Drawing on the work of Dyer-Witheford (1999), we argue that in fact, the ‘general intellect’ has not become ‘general’ at all but, rather, “structured and hierarchical. Knowledge remains contained, under control and restricted to the privileged under the logic of the information society and the knowledge economy.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 135) In the university, as Noble has argued, attempts are continuously made to attempt a “systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital, and, hence, intellectual property.” (Noble 1998)

The notion of ‘mass intellectuality’ is proposed as a more current reformulation of Marx’s ‘general intellect’.

“This is the social body of knowledge, modes of communication and co-operation and even ethical preoccupations which both supports and transgresses the operation of a high-tech economy. It is knowledge created by and contained within the university, but is the ‘general social knowledge’ embodied by and increasingly available to all of us. The quintessential expression of this general social knowledge or ‘mass intellect’ is, Dyer-Witheford argues, the Internet.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 135-6)

Dyer-Witheford points to ‘hacking’ as the original creative source of the Internet and

“despite all the admitted banalities and exclusivities of Internet practice, one at moments glimpses in its global exchanges what seems like the formation of a polycentric, communicatively-connected, collective intelligence.” (Dyer-Witheford 1999: 498)

We then argue that the most recent expression of ‘mass intellectuality’ is the emergence of the Free Culture movement which has grown out of hacker culture within the university context (cf. Winn 2013) and used traditional property law (e.g. copyright) in a subversive way so as to guarantee a type of ‘common ownership’ of  knowledge and its derivative products. We argue that

“the Free Culture movement, based upon collaboratively producing intellectual and creative works under Creative Commons style licenses, therefore resits the restrictive control of traditional forms of legal protection designed to support the notion of ‘intellectual property’ and the ‘permissive’ economic model by which capital trades in such questionable assets. (Lessig 2004) This enables both students and academics to do more than restructure curricula and pedagogy, but to challenge the very organising principles upon which academic knowledge is currently being transmitted and produced. In this way, the student can truly be seen as a producer of knowledge.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 136-7)

We conclude:

“Through these efforts, the organizing principle is being redressed creating a teaching, learning and research environment which promotes the values of openness and creativity, engenders equity among academics and students and thereby offers an opportunity to reconstruct the student as producer and academic as collaborator. In an environment where knowledge is free, the roles of the educator and the institution necessarily change. The educator is no longer a delivery vehicle and the institution becomes a landscape for the production and construction of a mass intellect in commons.” (Neary and Winn 2009: 138)

This book chapter was the foundational (and most highly cited) rationale and theorisation of Student as Producer. It points towards a number of key themes that Neary goes on to critique and develop in later articles and which I want to draw out in my consideration of the ‘co-operative university’:

  • The political origins and formulation of Student as Producer as a negative critique of capitalist social relations
  • The collaborative relationship between teacher and student, which leads to the conversion of consumers/students into producers/teachers
  • The emphasis, not only on the qualitative nature of the product, but also the process and means of production as the ‘organising function’ of social relations that are antithetical to the organising principles of capitalist social relations (i.e. private property and waged labour)
  • The evidence, as seen in the development and uses of the Internet (i.e. hacking and the Free Culture movement), of the productive capacity of social, co-operative labour to directly challenge waged labour and private property
  • The potential for a new form of social knowledge (i.e. mass intellectuality) to produce new organisational forms

In the conclusion of this book chapter, we said that

“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 organising principle (i.e. private property and waged labour), through which academic knowledge is currently produced.”

In my consideration of the worker co-operative as a suitable organisational form for a university, I am attempting to elaborate such a ‘framework’. A problem with this early book chapter, which Neary addressed more recently, is that we were too optimistic in pointing to the Internet as an expression of an emancipatory form of ‘mass intellectuality’ and we neglected to apply a negative critique to the seductiveness of Dyer-Witheford’s identification of the “formation of a polycentric, communicatively-connected, collective intelligence.” Neither mass intellectuality nor the Internet, as “its quintessential expression” provides the political basis for an organisational form for the social production of knowledge which challenges capital. It can, of course, inspire and enable new institutional forms, but it is not itself such a form. As I have noted before, “the logic of the Internet is administration by protocol.” Galloway was correct to argue that “Protocol is a type of controlling logic that operates outside institutional, governmental, and corporate power; although it has important ties to all three.” (Galloway, 2004: 122)

Along similar lines, Neary later develops his work on Student as Producer in favour of bureaucracy over the participatory culture of social networks, influenced in part by Kreiss, Finn and Turner’s paper on The Limits of Peer Production. In that article, drawing on Max Weber and Paul du Gay, they “challenge the consensus around peer production and argue that the form is not bringing about the idealized society many consensus scholars suggest.” (244) I will return to this later when discussing Neary’s more recent work. The point here is that Marx’s ‘general intellect’ and later Marxist’s ‘mass intellectuality’ are not amoral nor post-political categories but rather they depend on the development of an ‘organising function’ and a ‘framework’ through which they can be expressed and protected. For Neary, one such framework is Student as Producer and in our more recent work through the Social Science Centre, its complementary institutional expression points towards the worker co-operative. It is necessarily a transitional organisational form, but still one in which the concept and theory of Student as Producer can be more fully realised as an experiment in human emancipation and the discovery of a new form of social wealth.

In future notes, I will continue to look at Neary’s more recent work in light of how it might help us think about the relevance and usefulness (or not) of the worker co-operative form for higher education, a form which might help constitute a framework where the student becomes ‘the subject of history rather than the object’ and through which ‘humanity becomes the project rather than the resource’.

“We acknowledge the cooperative movement as one of the transforming forces of the present society based upon class antagonism. Its great merit is to practically show that the present pauperising, and despotic system of the subordination of labour to capital can be superseded by the republican and beneficent system of the association of free and equal producers… We recommend to the working men to embark in co-operative production rather than in co-operative stores. The latter touch but the surface of the present economical system, the former attacks its groundwork.” (Marx, 1866)

This storm is what we call progress

Angelus Novus

Angelus Novus is a copper etching plate, Intaglio printing with acidic watercolor on drypoint by Paul Klee, painted in 1920, and now in the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

In his ninth thesis in the essay “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Walter Benjamin, who owned the print for many years, describes:

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.[1]

Otto Karl Werckmeister has commented that Benjamin’s interpretation of the angel has led to it becoming “an icon of the left“.[2]

The name and concept of the angel has inspired works by other artists and musicians.[3][4]

From Wikipedia