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Critical Perspectives on Educational Technology

Provocation Paper The University, technology and co-operation Richard Hall


A statement of intent. Technologies enable the idea of the academic and of academic labour to be kettled inside the University for accumulation. A critique of academic-labour-as-labour inside the secular crisis might enable a liberation of co-operative practice that is against what the University has become. Technology is central to this critique and to this liberation. ON . There is no alternative. !usiness-as-usual" in the form of economic growth" demands that we submit our lives to the reassertion of stable forms of capital accumulation" and that we submit our views of partnership" or the student voice" or cultural sensitivity" to the dictates of e#panding markets. $oreover" this narrative" amplified by the %uardian &igher ducation Network's discussion on & and economic growth" ignores the political and economic realities of the crisis tendency of the capitalist mode of production. (t also ignores global responses from the labour movement to that crisis" in the form of the lessons that are emerging from the current $e#ican educational protests" or the waves of education strikes that are planned in the U)" or the precepts based on content" form and structure of education that emerged from the (nternational *tudent $ovement's +oint *tatement. ,ritically" the latter argued that- .all educational entities/institutions should be democratically structured" meaning direct participation from below as a basis for decision making processes.0 This is not the change-agency" or partnershipworking that infects most educational discourse in the U). (t is" therefore" increasingly difficult to understand the idea of education or the University without an engagement with the immanence of crises in capitalist modes of production" and more especially the systemic inability of ,apital to overcome the limits to growth and reproduce itself. Thus" as is argued in a piece on debt and misery in ndnotesThe differentia specifica of capitalist .economic0 crises 1 that people starve in

spite of good harvests" and means of production lie idle in spite of a need for their products 1 is merely one moment of this larger crisis 1 the constant reproduction of a scarcity of 2obs in the midst of an abundance of goods. Thus" the dynamic of this crisis is played out through student debt as a gateway to future employability" through the entrepreneurial turn inside universities as wealth generators" through the commodification of research" through the subsumption of student and staff academic labour in the name of the reproduction of the capitallabour relation" and the increasing workload pressures and threat of precarious employment across universities. 3et we witness the ongoing inability of the system to reproduce the capital-labour relation" even in the face of the abolition of nonmarketised spaces 4free education" free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare and so on5" in order to find new demand for commodities and the circuit of capital. These spaces open-up a terrain for accumulation that is based upon the enclosure of place and the separation of people from the land. !ut as ndnotes states" this separationhas to be perpetually repeated in order for capital and .free0 labour to meet in the market time after time. On the one hand" capital requires" already present in the labour market" a mass of people lacking direct access to means of production" looking to e#change work for wages. On the other hand" it requires" already present in the commodity market" a mass of people who have already acquired wages" looking to e#change their money for goods. This perpetual separation spreads to the virtual space" and enables universities" through $OO,s or distance learning" to open-up new markets. $oreover" through the commodification of digital infrastructures" it enables new services to be turned into products and sold or to be rented out. (n this way" although movements claim to be for .open0 or .free0 on the web" without a democratic control of that infrastructure" and without a social or communal definition of its value" it simply becomes a new set of spaces to be enclosed for the creation of value" or the dictates of competition" or the e#traction of rent. T6O. Technologies for profit. The drive for technological or technique-driven innovations that can ma#imise profitability" through an increase in relative surplus value" drives the co-option of universities as competing capitals" as businesses that have been reconfigured financially and technologically for valorisation and productive labour. The need to reestablish profitability and stable forms of accumulation across a global system means that labour needs to be disciplined" for instance through training or entrepreneurial productivity or the threat of precarious employment or a renegotiation of contracts and labour rights. This is part of the cycle of capital that subsumes productive power" in order to enable accumulation and the production of relative surplus value. The latter depends upon increases in productivity that are technologically-driven" through mechanisation" automation" the conversion of services into products" or the forced cooperation of labourers in any production process. &owever" technological innovation drives unemployment or an attrition on wages" as the labourer's skills are instantiated inside the machine. As $ar# noted in 7olume 8 of ,apital 4p. 9:;5 the e#pansion of the system beyond its limits is drivenby methods which lessen the number of workers employed in proportion to the increase in production. $odern industry<s whole form of motion therefore depends on the constant transformation of a part of the working population into unemployed or semi-employed hands. As ndnotes argue-

=or $ar# it is in and through this process of e#panded reproduction that the dynamic of capital manifests itself as its own limit" not through cycles of boom and bust but in a secular deterioration of its own conditions of accumulation. Thus" the mechanics of accumulation" demand for and types of employment" technologically-mediated changes in production that drive efficiencies" are all interconnected. As new sectors" like education" are subsumed inside the logic of capital accumulation and valorisation" and as universities are restructured as competing capitals" the focus becomes ways of maintaining the rate of profit. Thus" it becomes natural that universities" like any other capital" would wish to .economise on labour0" through productivity gains and technical changes. One might see the rise in internationalisation" including the $OO, agenda" as part of this shift from labour-intensive to capital-intensive production. As $ar# noted 4,apital" vol. 8" pp. 9::->5On the one hand... the additional capital formed in the course of further accumulation attracts fewer and fewer workers in proportion to its magnitude. On the other hand" old capital periodically reproduced with a new composition repels more and more of the workers formerly employed by it. Not only do labour-saving technologies spread across the system" leading to a relative decline in the demand for labour" but they are irreversible" making the drive for constant" entrepreneurial reskilling critical for anyone who wishes to survive in the system. &owever" more generally the technological determinism that drives the general" relative decline in labour demand also threatens to outstrip capital accumulation. T&? . %lobal 4academic5 labour arbitrage

One outcome of this process as it is generalised is de-accumulation and a secular crisis" whereby both workers and capital fall out of contracting sectors or industries and are unable to find new sectors in which to insert themselves. The drive for reskilling and employability in education sits inside this critique" but is also indicative of the inability of more and more workers to reproduce themselves by selling their labour-power. The vast numbers of @h.A.s without work" the move towards on-line learning" the increasing rates of youth unemployment across the globe" are all indicators of this secular crisis. 6e increasingly see an educated class of workers who are unable sell their labour-power at the rate they need to pay down their debts" to act as consumers" and to eat/clothe/shelter themselves 4i.e. reproduce themselves5" that is assuming they can actually find work at all . (n $ar#'s terms 4see ,hapter :B of 7olume 8 of ,apital5 we are seeing the proletarianisation of ever-increasing numbers of educated young peoplewho produceCD and valoriseCD .capital0" and CareD thrown onto the street as soon as CtheyD become CD superfluous to the need for valorisation. One caveat to that is that it is through the policy activity of the *tate" in converting the process of education into a service for ,apital 4through training in basic commodity or leveraged skills" or in creating spaces for skills that can be commodified5" and then into a commodity for valorisation 4like the creation of courses that must be purchased by students using a debt-driven fee" or the commodification of research as knowledge transfer or incubation" or the sale of student data to publishers5" that education is transformed. ,ritical in this transformation is the subsumption of the circuits of educational practices and knowledges inside the circuits

of capital. ducation 4c.f. low-cost degrees" student-as-consumer or entrepreneur" or $OO,s5 becomes a series of individually-purchasable commodities" which open-up new markets and mass markets" as costs fall and production increases C pace ndnotesD. The process of academic proletarianisation" in the reduction of academic labour to lowcost production and consumption of courses or educational commodities" or precarious employment" or debt-driven partnership between staff and students" is that there are few escape routes outside of the system. This is more than the politics of having to sell ones labour-power in a market" in order to reproduce oneself. (t is governed by the fact that specific process innovations inside education as a business-sector" driven by technological innovation" tends to lead to unemployment as labour is automated. The promise" witnessed in the U) %overnment's new obsession with the digital as the backbone of new 2obs and employability" runs up against the historical reality that innovation drives an attack on labour costs including rising unemployment" and that setting surplus labour or capital .free0 forces them to look to sectors with decreasing labour requirements themselves 4e.g. nanotechnology" cloud technology" biotechnology are each incredibly mechanised5. (n part these decreased labour requirements are forced by the generalisation of productivity gains and technological innovation globally across the system. As the system has automated manufacture" and global demand for manufacturing labour falls" there is less need for co-operation between labourers to be enforced. Thus" valorisation is based not upon co-operation" as $ar# argued in ,apital 7olume 8" but upon collaboration between individuals acting as entrepreneurs in a global economy. &owever" automation leads to a diminished scale of accumulation" and inevitably to crisis. &owever" for ndnotes" in the current secular crisis of capitalism" even the real subsumption of sectors that were previously unproductive and not directly part of the valorisation process cannot halt theUnprecedented weakness of growth in the high-%A@ countries over the 8EE;:FFE period" Gero-growth in household income and employment over the whole cycle" the almost complete reliance on construction and household debt to maintain %A@ 1 all are testament to the inability of surplus capital in its financial form to recombine with surplus labour and give rise to dynamic patterns of e#panded reproduction. One outcome is generalised proletarianisation. As they go onthe tra2ectory of surplus capital distorts the tra2ectory of surplus labour described by $ar#" and not only in the ways that we have already described. $ost importantly" surplus capital built up in international money markets over the last >F years has masked some of the tendencies to absolute immiseration" through the growing debt of working class households. This tendency" which has kept the bottom from falling out of global aggregate demand" has equally prevented any possibility of recovery" which would be achieved only through the .slaughtering of capital values0 and .setting free of labour0. =or while assetprice deflation may raise the possibility of a new investment boom" the devalorisation of labour-power will" in this conte#t" only lead to increasing levels of consumer default and further financial breakdowns. Thus it is not only its capacity to generate employment" but the sustainability of the recovery itself which remains in question today... Any question of the absorption of this surplus humanity has been put to rest. (t e#ists now only to be managed- segregated into prisons" marginalised in ghettos and camps" disciplined by the police" and

annihilated by war. (n the face of the global devalorisation of labour" what is the point of a debt-driven" technologically-mediated" higher educationH =OU?. 6hat is to be doneH (n understanding the changes that are impacting the higher education sector" developing a critique of the relationships between technology and technological innovation" new managerialism and financialisation" and the impact of structural weaknesses in global capitalism" is critical. $oreover" it is important to critique these changes historically and geographically" in order to understand how transnational political economics shape the space in which higher education policy and practice is recalibrated for capital accumulation and profitability. ducational innovations like staff-student partnerships" students-as-change-agents" open educational resources" $OO,s" the internet of things" learning analytics" personal learning networks" affective learning etc. have to be seen in light of the relationships between- technological innovationI the competitive demand to overcome the historical tendency of the rate of profit to fallI the disciplinary role of the integral *tate in shaping a space for further capital accumulation" against labourI the relationship between labour- and capitalintensityI and the subsumption of networks and network theory to the neoliberal pro2ect of accumulation and profitability. (nside the University a critical question becomes what is academic labour forH ,an it be reinscribed for co-operative practice" as against its subsumption inside mechanics for collaboration as neoliberal practices of enforced connection and coercion inside the market for valorisation. This is important where" as global student communiques remind us" co-operation is underpinned by a constant and immanent democratising of the organising principles and organisation of our society and our work. ,ollaboration inside the market can only offer a politics of subsumption in the search for outlets for profitable investment for surpluses and new sources of demand. At issue for academics and student is recovering the mechanisms through which their labour is made collaborative" as opposed to co-operative" and through which it is coopted or coerced for valorisation. As +onathan Aavies notes" capitalist modernity" and the reproduction of the capital-labour relation" is predicated upon controlcoercion is the immanent condition of consent inherent in capitalist modernity. As long as hegemony is partial and precarious" hierarchy can never retreat to the shadows. This dialectic plays out in the day-to-day politics of governance networks through the clash between connectionist ideology and roll-forward hierarchy or Jgovernmentalisation<. $oreover" =riedman highlights that it is control that centres our 4academic5 labour in the process of valorisation" and in the subsumption of the processes and practices of education to services and commoditiesThe hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. $arkets function and flourish only when property rights are secured and can be enforced" which" in turn" requires a political framework protected and backed by military powerK the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for *ilicon 7alley<s technologies to flourish is called the U* Army" Air =orce" Navy and $arine ,orps. ?esistance and pushing-back are tied to the negation of the marketiGation of our lives and the negation of technological determinism. This is tied to our ability to fight for a rekindled sub2ectivity. 6e need to discover and strengthen how technology might be

used to liberate sub2ectivity 4knowledges" practices" organising principles" ways of knowing the world5" and" in the words of ,leaver<s fifteenth thesis on the secular crisis" to create spaces and places and alliances and allegiances forthe fabrication and utiliGation of material connections and communications that destroy isolation and permit people to struggle in complementary ways. *truggle is everything" and the struggle has to be collective. As Libechi notes of the Lapatista Mittle *chools,ollective work is one of the cements of autonomy" whose fruits usually spill into hospitals" clinics" primary and secondary education" in strengthening the municipalities and the good government 2untas. Not much that has been constructed would be possible without the collective work" of men" women" boys" girls and the elderly. =or the point of education" in the face of this secular crisis" and of socio-political crisis" and of socio-environmental crisis" has to be the organising principles for collective work. (t has to be for social solutions rather than for coercion and competition. (t has to be for new forms of communal wealth rather than for enclosure and private profit. Thus" in the face of these dualities the relationships between educational technology" the University and academic labour have to be re-cast in terms of critiques of liberation. ,an we use technologies and techniques to .re-appropriate 4Jdetonate<5" Joccupy<" global moments of space-time through Ja new pedagogy of space and time<" which can be characterised as the production of critical knowledge in everyday life0 4Neary and Amsler" p. 8FN5H

Disclaimer: This provocation paper was written to stimulate debate at the critical perspectives on educational technology event at the University of Brighton on October 15th 2 1!" #t is clearly neither comprehensive$ nor does it necessarily reflect the views of the author$ rather it is written solely as a stimulus document to support and set a broader conte%t for discussions"