Via Angela, I found edu-factory.org, which contains the following statement:

As was the factory, so now is the university. Where once the factory was a paradigmatic site of struggle between workers and capitalists, so now the university is a key space of conflict, where the ownership of knowledge, the reproduction of the labour force, and the creation of social and cultural stratifications are all at stake. This is to say the university is not just another institution subject to sovereign and governmental controls, but a crucial site in which wider social struggles are won and lost.

To be sure, these changes occur as capitalism gives new importance to the production of knowledge, and in the advanced capitalist world, moves such production of knowledge to the centre of the economy. With this movement, the university also loses its monopoly in this same sphere of knowledge production. Perhaps it once made sense to speak of town and gown. But now the borders between the university and society blur.

This merging of university and society takes diverse forms. It can be shaped by the pressure to market degrees. Or it can be forced by measures that link the provision of funding to ‘technological transfer’ or collaboration with ‘partners’ from government and/or commercial enterprises. Similarly, the growing precariousness of academic work means that many labour both in and out of the university, not to mention the labour conditions for non-academic workers. And the opening of many universities to previously excluded cohorts of students, whether on the basis of social class or national jurisdiction, means that their internal composition has also changed.

These transformations both shift the possibilities for political expression in the university and initiate new kinds of struggle. In some instances, a politicised student movement has disappeared. In others has begun to grow. The transnationalisation of many university operations, including the internationalisation and diversification of the student body, introduces new kinds of cultural conflicts and tensions. At the same time, the university is derailed from its traditional mission of safeguarding the national and official culture. How are we to make sense of these changes, and, above all, how should they inform radical political investigation and action?

The university is a key site for intervention because it is now a global site. Indeed, there is no such thing as ‘the university’ but only universities, in their specific geographical, economic, and cultural locations. Even within universities there exists a range of labour practices and conditions as well as different cultures of organisation. If, in analogy to the factory of yesteryear, we are to understand the university as a paradigmatic site of struggle, we must first map and understand these differences (even as they are taking shape), not as an end in itself but as means of generating shared resources to meet the conflicts at hand.

We propose a series of transnational web-based discussions on the condition of the university today. These will lead up to a series of moving web-archived seminars (in cities to be decided) on a number of different topics, beginning with ‘conflicts in the production of knowledge’. It is important that contributions come from all continents, from different types of universities, from people with different relations to the university, and from those involved in ‘free’ or autonomous university initiatives. The aim is to use the discussions to sound out the geographically disjunctive relations between the participants, creating a collective knowledge of globalising society that in turn contributes directly to thematic discussions and the development of new forms of relation and resistance.

Conflicts in the Production of Knowledge – First round of discussion (February-April 2006)

Knowledge is a common good not because it exists in nature but because it is produced and reproduced by living labour and social cooperation. The centrality of knowledge to the contemporary system of production applies not simply to those sectors that rest upon innovation but to the entire spectrum of labour composition. With this in mind, we propose to investigate the conflicts of knowledge produced on the (always more porous) boundary between the university and society. In the academic context, we would like to analyse—always taking concrete circumstances into account—the ambivalence of oppositional knowledges as challenges to the institution and processes of domestication.

I’ve signed up for the email list and I look forward to the discussion. I hope to use this as a vehicle (or at least a way to motivate myself) to get clear on some things I’ve been wanting to address for a while. Thus far I’ve received two pieces, which I haven’t had a chance to read closely yet. I’m currently unclear if the email list is to be a discussion list or a one-way conduit.

Just now, I want to quibble a bit with the manifesto. These quibbles are not disses – I like the project from what I can tell it is, I like and trust the people I know and know of who are part of it, and I’m glad it’s happening. I also like a lot of what’s in the manifesto – pretty much everything I don’t quibble with – and find it to be the case in my experience in a university. Even should some of my initial reservations prove well founded the project will still I am sure be worth a great deal.

The first line could be a supercession narrative: no longer the factory, but rather, now the university. If so, I’m not convinced. Or it could be a developments-within-the-university narrative, the factory-ing of the university, rather than supercession and replacement. If so, I’m more amenable.

“Where once the factory was a paradigmatic site of struggle between workers and capitalists, so now the university is a key space of conflict”

The “where once” sounds like supercession, as does the “yesteryear” later on in the document. Is the factory no longer a key site (and what is the difference between “key” and “paradigmatic”)? For whom? And for whom was it once key, where does this transition occur? For at least some of those who were outside the factory it wasn’t so paradigmatic as all that. For at least some of those who are (still) inside it, it still is. The indefinite article “a” is ambiguous, though, cuts against the supercession direction – “the” key or paradigmatic position is much less shareable than “a” site. I like that. Let 100 flowers bloom and 100 schools contend, after all.

While I like the relativization implied in the indefinite article, I don’t know how to pair that with the assertion that the “university is not just another institution subject to sovereign and governmental controls, but a crucial site in which wider social struggles are won and lost.” The university is without a doubt important to those of us who work in it. Even if it proves absolutely unimportant for anyone else that doesn’t lessen it’s importance by one iota for we the universitariat. In one sense, all sites are a crucial site for their occupants (just as every generation has a weak messianic power and every moment a gate through which the messiah might pass). But beyond that is it really crucial? For whom? Which struggles, when, where? And how crucial? This is a second sense of crucial in which there are more and less crucial sites (as in looking for weak links in imperialism as special points of attack) and actors at and against these sites should articulate themselves accordingly. I’m not clear which of these (or both, or neither) is being asserted here, particularly in regard to the relationship between the factory and the university being posed.

And, if the university “loses its monopoly in this same sphere of knowledge production” such that the town/gown distinction breaks down and “the borders between the university and society blur” then how is the university still a crucial site and identifiable as one? And, while I do agree that “the ownership of knowledge, the reproduction of the labour force, and the creation of social and cultural stratifications are all at stake” in university struggles, the border blurring mentioned means that these are also at stake (and have been prior to this blurring, since borders do not so much prevent movement as manage it, analogous with Foucault’s comment re: policing/prisons and crime) elsewhere. One question is whether the the issue at stake for edu-factory is the site or these stakes. I’m concerned with the former, as someone who works in a university, as well as being concerned with the latter. The lines aren’t easily delineable, but there are tensions here – my interests are contradictory and ambivalent, just as is the relationship of job to rest of life for me and for pretty much everyone.

I’m not sure that this is happening in the US: “the opening of many universities to previously excluded cohorts of students, whether on the basis of social class or national jurisdiction”, if anything I think the opposite may be occurring, with rising tuition rates (and accompanying student loan burdens, which are not evenly distributed).

I’m not clear on this: “the growing precariousness of academic work means that many labour both in and out of the university” – that seems right to me – “not to mention the labour conditions for non-academic workers” but the latter I’m not clear on. Is this non-academic workers in the university, or is this extra-university workers? I think there’s a lot of important stuff in the precarity conversations and mobilizations, but I also have some doubts about some of that. (I think the Precarias a la Deriva’s question “what is your precarity?” with it’s thorough-going first person perspective is really excellent, but I get more nervous the further the discussion gets from a first person perspective, or rather, from a multiplicity of such perspectives in encounter.)

I like the emphasis that “within universities there exists a range of labour practices and conditions as well as different cultures of organisation,” but I am nervous that the emphasis on knowledge and the make up of the discussants will be weighted toward one sector of workers in the university, with a lower balance of the many other types of workers in the university and in the circuits which the university is part of. That is to say, I’m not sure about exactly how non-particular the general intellect expressed here will be. That’s not at all a problem, I like particularity, except when it’s generalized in a way which isn’t recognized. That can lead to a sort of hegemonic or would-be hegemonic relation of one sector or some sectors over others.

There’s an ambiguity here as well, in the reference to “the ambivalence of oppositional knowledges as challenges to the institution and processes of domestication.” This could be read as “these knowledges challenge both the institution and the processes of domestication.” Or it can be read as “these knowledges both sometimes challenge the institution and are sometimes processes of domestication.” I rather like the latter, but that may be because I have an ultraleftist streak on occasion.

(Note to self, found a list of some trade journals which includes some for the education industry, here. Keep looking for more of these.)

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