27 11 07

Prospectus for Second Round of edu-factory discussion

edu-factory collective

[Second round of discussion: 25 Nov 2007 - 28 Feb 2008]

The first round of discussion on the edu-factory list showed that, despite the many differences between universities and countries, it is possible to identify a global trend and common experiences in the world of the university. These stem from the pervasiveness of the market and the processes of corporatisation that universities in many parts of the world are undergoing. But they also involve the struggles and movements that have contested academic borders as well as wider power structures, claiming the free circulation of knowledge and practicing alternative forms of knowledge production.
The emergence of the university as an important actor in the global economy is thus marked by a constitutive tension. In this conflictual field, it is easy to fall back on a nostalgic attitude that longs for the reconstruction of the ivory towers that were once the privileged seats of national cultures. It is also possible, however, to interrogate the processes of production of subjectivity in the new "knowledge factories" with neither nostalgia nor apologies for the present. Needless to say, edu-factory has taken this second path.
The first round of discussion focused on the processes of corporatisation, the transnational dimension of the contemporary university, and forms of resistance and conflict in the production of knowledge. On this basis, we propose to focus the next three months of discussion on two new axes of discussion.
The first is the question of hierarchy. Today the university is one of many actors ¡V private and public, formal and informal ¡V within a complex and rapidly changing market for knowledge and education. Academic institutions have begun to think of themselves as competitors against others in this market. In many countries, universities are positioned in league tables, constructed through ever more calibrated ways of quantifying performance and the quality of knowledge. Not only this, but individual offices and departments within institutions are also compelled to compete, vying for students or research funds, and, in some cases, contracting services such as teaching space or information technology expertise to each other. Furthermore, academics, students and other university workers come to see themselves as entrepreneurial subjects, engaged in race to excel or just survive and often adopting a corporate attitude that makes them insensitive to how the changes in their workplaces relate to those in the wider economy.

Today the value-form of knowledge is related not so much to its quality but to the ways in which it positions those who produce or acquire it in the labour market. This is why, in the next round of discussion, we propose to focus on the struggles surrounding access to the university. Today, these struggles involve those filters and gate keeping functions that actualise the processes of hierarchisation and control the mobility of students insofar as they are the bearers of labour power. These filters and gate keeping functions range from quasi-feudal systems of patronage (still embodied in conventions such as the letter of recommendation) to standardized tests like the GRE (based on cognitivist assumptions about reasoning and analytical skills that do not apply equally to all social groups). To this we must add the filtering of students by regular systems of grading, streaming and school assignment as well as the control of international student mobility through foreign language tests and complex systems of border policing. These technologies of hierarchisation operate across the global spectrum of education, establishing the line that separates literacy from illiteracy as well as those that divide unskilled from semi-skilled and skilled labour.
Undoubtedly these processes of hierarchisation intersect with lines of race, class and gender. But entry to the university no longer occurs through the classical dialectic of inclusion-exclusion, but rather through devices of differential inclusion. As it transforms itself into a hub for the accumulation of human and social capital, attracting brains within the global competition for talent, the university becomes one of many nodes for the regulation, control and disqualification of labour power. There is also a disciplinary division of labour in the university, which, on the one hand, embodies the classic conflict of the faculties, but, on the other, produces transdisciplinary sites where the hierarchisation of labour takes on new complexities. One of the grounds of this division is language, which, whether enforced as language of instruction or mandated as language of publication, oscillates between serving as the sacred vessel of a unique culture and as a mere tool of communication in a networked economy increasingly driven by linguistic relations. What is exploitation today? What are the new paradigms for the command of labour power? To respond to these questions it is necessary to approach the contemporary division and hierarchisation of labour not as presuppositions, but as results, or effects, of the relations we want to investigate.
The second axis of discussion involves the central question about which the edu-factory project turns: how to construct an autonomous university? In the first cycle of discussion there were productive confrontations between different experiences of auto-education and experimental colleges in Argentina, Italy, India and North America. With their multiple strategies, these experiments converge in the search for lines of flight and immediate practices of resistance and conflict within the university.  We propose to continue this line of investigation in the second round of edu-factory discussion, focussing this time not merely on single experiences of auto-education but on how to link them into a transnational organised network. It is envisioned that many of the contributions in this second axis of discussion will be collectively written, exploring the potentiality for the invention of new institutional forms that trouble divisions of both labour and discipline. We also hope to organise an event in the northern summer of 2008 to allow some of the contributors to this discussion to gather for face-to-face encounters.
Hierarchisation and multiple forms of resistance, the construction of autonomous institutions and the breaking of processes of governance and control: these are the themes, or better the challenges, we would like to confront in the coming round of discussion. We also think it is impossible to discuss the construction of a global autonomous university without considering problems that only seem technical at first sight: from the question of the use of information  technologies and open source software to the access to funds necessary to realise such a project. It is thus necessary that these questions form part of the debate in a way that doesn¡¦t confine them to an unjustifiably separate dimension but which also avoids the drift of the conversation into merely technical matters. This should allow the list to take the form of a cooperative project composed of multiple and heterogeneous subjectivities, just as the conflicts in the production of knowledge on the borders of the global university are themselves multiple and heterogeneous.

Calender of contributions

edu-factory collective