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Preface Part II: 'We're All Game Changers Now'

Page history last edited by Gary Hall 7 years, 6 months ago

Given our shared interest in the ability of new forms of networked technologies, open access digital publishing, collaborative web tools and sociable spaces to enhance educational activity, the ‘free’, horizontal, self-organised learning communities, or ‘universities’, that emerged in recent years with the student and anti-austerity protests and global Occupy movement have undoubtedly been one of the motivating impulses behind the writing of this 'book'. Despite this, we have taken the decision not to write about these events themselves here. Not because we consider them uninteresting or unimportant with regard to thinking about how we might experiment with the institution of the university. Far from it. It is more that:

1)  If it is an articulation of these events that is required, then a lot of interesting and important work is already available – including contributions from Alain Badiou, Manuel Castells, Noam Chomsky, and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.

2) We are wary of using these events as intellectual capital: as an opportunity to reinforce our own position and credentials as a politically engaged group of collaborators. Is there not a danger of attempts by those of us who work ‘in’ the university to represent, or speak to, these protests and movements (even when we do so in an approving fashion that is critical of other intellectual, societal and governmental responses) flying in the face of a lot of what they are about?



Do slogans such as ‘They don’t represent us’, not point toward a non-representational political practice, one that goes beyond the idea that the politicians of representative democracy support the interests of the 1% rather than those of the people?

3) We are also wary of being complacent about immediate political needs and what it is most urgent and important to write about. This is not an easy point to make at a time when the pendulum of intellectual fashion in the west has swung back to such a degree that the radical theory that is most acceptable and feted today - from Barad and de Landa to Žižek and Hardt and Negri - is almost invariably materialist and/or Marxist in tenor. Nevertheless, it seems to us that the political discourses of urgency and crisis around the student and anti-austerity protests, global Occupy movement, Arab spring and so on often risk closing off access to the ‘political’, and the decision as to what it is most necessary and urgent to write about and take a position on, as much as it opens it up.  

Indeed, while supporting many of the ideas and values behind the creation – ‘outside’ of the established institutions - of free, autonomous, self-organised universities that anyone can be part of and which refuse to demand anything of mainstream politics and society, we would nonetheless maintain that:

a) there is no outside to the university in any simple sense, this idea being itself a university idea;

b) efforts to occupy a place or space that is autonomous from the traditional university too often end up being unwittingly trapped inside it, in the sense of unconsciously repeating many of its structures and problems. In particular, such efforts tend to take insufficient account of the way many of those involved in establishing such supposedly autonomous institutions are themselves the products of, and maintain a relationship with, the traditional university. After all, if what was reported is true, and some of those who took part in the 2011 student actions in London were familiar with the writings of Guy Debord and the Situationists, this is because these texts are taught on many university courses in the Arts and Humanities. The university is also one of the places where some of those involved in the creation of such autonomous institutions find employment from time to time;  


c) there is therefore a case to be made for supporting and defending the university as one of the few remaining ‘public’ spaces where difficult, challenging, and avowedly non-commercial ideas can still be developed, explored and disseminated (to a certain extent at least);

d) attempts at creating autonomous universities ‘outside’ of the established institutions risks leaving the traditional university itself, along with its current role in the global knowledge economy as ‘edu factory’, in place and unchallenged.


Yet while appreciating any attempt to move beyond the institution is already an institutional move, is it possible to take impetus and inspiration from the emergence of autonomous, self-organised learning communities such as  Occupy University nonetheless? What if we, too, in our capacity as academics, authors, writers, publishers, critics, thinkers, researchers and scholars wish to counter the continued imposition of a neoliberal political rationality that may appear dead on its feet but, zombie-like, is still managing to stumble on?



Are there ways we can refuse to simply submit critical thought to ‘existing political discourses and the formulation of political needs those discourses articulate’ - so ‘defusing’ what Merleau-Ponty called ‘the trap of the event’  - and act, not so much for or with the ‘remainder of capital’, anti-austerity protesters and ‘graduates without a future’, but in terms of them?   Does the struggle against the ‘becoming business’ of the university not require us, too, to have the courage to experiment with new systems and models for the production, publication, sharing and discussion of teaching, learning and research; and thus to open ourselves to transforming radically the material practices and social relations of our institutional labour?

One opportunity for doing so, it seems to us – if only it can be taken – is provided by the way the higher educational landscape is currently  undergoing what some regard as a revolution, and others a disruption. In this case, the challenge is coming not so much from the free, autonomous universities of the anti-austerity protests and ‘graduates without a future’, but from a somewhat different albeit at times related direction: that of Open Education.

(Forward to the Introduction.

Back to Preface Part I.

Back to Contents page).

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