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Globalisation, Societies and Education


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Academic capitalism and the


informational fraction of the
transnational capitalist class
Ilkka Kauppinen

Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy , University of


Jyvskyl , Jyvskyl , Finland
Published online: 09 May 2012.

To cite this article: Ilkka Kauppinen (2013) Academic capitalism and the informational fraction
of the transnational capitalist class, Globalisation, Societies and Education, 11:1, 1-22, DOI:
10.1080/14767724.2012.678763
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14767724.2012.678763

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Globalisation, Societies and Education, 2013


Vol. 11, No. 1, 122, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14767724.2012.678763

Academic capitalism and the informational fraction of the


transnational capitalist class
Ilkka Kauppinen*
Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyvaskyla, Jyvaskyla, Finland

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(Received 29 March 2011; final version received 12 March 2012)

This article is based on the idea that if we are witnessing an on-going shift
towards the transnational phase of capitalism, this objective structural
change should also be taken into account in higher education studies. In
this sense, this article reflects the increased scholarly attention into the
relationship between globalisation and higher education since the 1990s.
The main purpose of this article is to contribute to these discussions by
developing dialogue between global capitalism theories and the theory of
academic capitalism. In order to achieve this, William Robinsons concept
of the transnational capitalist class (TCC) will be amended to include also
the informational fraction. Furthermore, the causal history of TRIPS
(Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) will
be used as an illustrative example of how transnational corporations have
stimulated the emergence of academic capitalism at transnational level.
First, I will discuss the theory of academic capitalism. Second, I will
introduce and amend the concept of the TCC. Third, I will present my
conclusions.
Keywords: global capitalism; transnational capitalist class; academic
capitalism

1. Introduction
For the purposes of this article, I have defined globalisation as a complex
mega-process consisting of long- and short-term sub-processes, such as time
and space compression, deregulation, relative convergence of national higher
education systems and the transnationalisation of production. Moreover,
globalisation is multi-centred (it does not originate from any single nation or
region), multi-form (capitalist globalisation is only one possible form of
globalisation), and multi-causal (it is caused by many sub-processes) and as a
thematically broad set of sub-processes it has implications, amongst other subsystems, for economy, politics and education (for a similar and more detailed
definition of globalisation, see Jessop 2007).

*Email: ilkka.j.kauppinen@jyu.fi
# 2013 Taylor & Francis

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I. Kauppinen

The relationship between globalisation and higher education has gained a


lot of scholarly attention since the 1990s because, for instance, the
globalisation of production has increased the demand for techno-science
(e.g., information technology) and other fields closely involved with markets
(e.g., Marginson and van der Wende 2006; Rhoads and Torres 2006; Slaughter
and Leslie 1997; Va limaa and Hoffman 2008).
In certain respects universities are forerunners of globalisation since the two
key functions of universities, namely, the production and diffusion of
knowledge, have for a long time been based on cross-border cooperation
and openness, as well as competition (e.g., Marginson and van der Wende
2006, 4). Contemporary globalisation and the both geographically and
temporally uneven emergence of knowledge capitalism have emphasised the
importance of higher education because universities are identified, for instance,
as crucial parts of national innovation systems, sources of economically
valuable knowledge and, consequently, sources of a key factor of production in
globalising knowledge capitalism. Rhoads (2006) has argued that global
capitalism is in many ways shaping university reforms. This article is based
on a similar presupposition. However, I will not approach this issue from the
point of view of such processes as deregulation or privatisation (Rhoads 2006,
1016), but by focusing on the role of certain key players in global capitalism:
transnational corporations (TNCs) and the emerging transnational capitalist
class (TCC). TNCs, for instance, hope that collaboration with universities will
increase their shares in global markets (e.g., Slaughter and Leslie 1997).
TNCs are the central agents of economic globalisation for many scholars
since these corporations have ability to plan, coordinate and control activities
across countries. However, despite of this, it is difficult to find systematic
studies that would empirically and/or theoretically demonstrate the significance of these organisations with respect to higher education. Much more
attention has been given to international organisations such as the World Bank
(e.g., Rhoades et al. 2004).
The theory of academic capitalism argues that contemporary changes in
higher education are based on the deepening of functional linkages between
higher education and knowledge capitalism. However, academic capitalism 
one of the most prominent theories used to explain the role of higher education
in knowledge capitalism  does not take sufficiently into account how
capitalism has become transnational. In this article, I will argue that in order to
gain a more concrete (i.e., many-sided) understanding of integration between
higher education and knowledge capitalism one should broaden the conceptual
framework of the theory of academic capitalism by paying closer attention to
the key players in global capitalism. This requires engagement with global
capitalism theories (e.g., Robinson 2004; Sklair 2002). This point is related to
a more general argument that higher education studies do not always engage
actively enough with broader social theoretical debates to inform their
research.

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Globalisation, Societies and Education

While the (sometimes provocative) insights, theories and conceptual


frameworks constructed by Robinson and Sklair are valuable for social
sciences dealing with theoretical and methodological implications of globalisation, they tend to neglect certain key dimensions of contemporary political
economy that are of great importance in the framework of academic capitalism.
It is crucial to note that both Robinson and Sklair rarely if ever discuss
intellectual property rights (IPRs), the globalisation of R&D and innovation
processes. Moreover, their concepts of TCC and TNCs lack systematic inquiry
into the emergence and nature of knowledge capitalism and its implications for
higher education, or how university reforms have contributed to the emergence
of knowledge capitalism. Robinson and Sklair are not the first ones who have
studied transnationalisation of social classes. For instance, Cox (e.g., 1987,
271) argued already approximately 15 years ago that the emergent global class
structure had come into existence. Also Hymer (1979), Gill (1990) and van der
Pijl (1998) have formulated similar kinds of ideas. In this article, I will focus
on Robinsons (and to a lesser extent Sklairs) conceptualisations because they
provide the most fruitful access to develop dialogue between the theories of
global capitalism and academic capitalism.

2. Academic capitalism
2.1. Background
One may argue that it is debatable whether it is plausible to speak of academic
capitalism (as an object of study) at all. Does the term imply that universities
have become capitalist organisations, or that knowledge has become a
commodity, or that knowledge production within higher education organisations shares similar characteristics with commodity production in capitalist
organisations? Moreover, if academic capitalism is a plausible term, where and
who are the capitalists and workers in the system to which academic capitalism
refers? Finally, it is also an open question as to what is the theoretical status of
academic capitalism and what kind of theory is it actually (e.g., Va limaa and
Hoffman 2008)? These are, in my opinion, both tricky and fascinating
questions that surround the discussions regarding academic capitalism.
However, in this article it will not be possible to tackle these issues.
The main developers of the theory of academic capitalism at both the
empirical and theoretical level have been Sheila Slaughter, Larry L. Leslie and
Gary Rhoades (Slaughter and Leslie 1997; Slaughter and Rhoades 2004; see
also Cantwell 2009; Metcalfe and Slaughter 2008; Pusser, Slaughter, and
Thomas 2006). Of course, there are also other frameworks that seek to
understand and explain the complex relationship between knowledge capitalism and higher education systems (see Clark 1998; Etzkowitz 1998; Gibbons
et al. 1994; Soley 1995). This article concentrates on the theory of academic
capitalism since it refers to a relatively large-scale phenomenon within broader

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I. Kauppinen

knowledge capitalism in contrast to many other higher education theories that


tend to remain thematically more restricted.
The term academic capitalism is used in this article to refer to the
integration of university systems and knowledge capitalism. The term
knowledge capitalism refers in turn to the historical form of capitalism
which started to emerge during the 1970s (e.g., Drahos and Braithwaite 2002;
Castells 1996; Jessop 2005). The term academic capitalism is, hence, used in
a more restricted sense.
At the abstract level, academic capitalism reflects the intensive enlargement
of capitalism. In contrast to the extensive enlargement of capitalism that refers
to the geographical expansion of capitalism around the world, the intensive
enlargement of capitalism refers to the deepening of capitalism, that is,
commodification and marketisation of those spheres of social life that were
previously outside the logic of profit making (Robinson 2004, 7). Of course,
universities have collaborated with industries and engaged in market-like
behaviours for a long time (e.g., Etzkowitz 1998), but as, for instance,
Slaughter and Rhoades (2004) demonstrate, recent decades have witnessed the
rise of networks and practices that have introduced direct market behaviours,
the profit motive and capitalist ethos more directly into universities, at least
in the United States. However, trends in the transnationalisation of R&D show
that also such countries as China and India, and some other low- and middleincome countries (e.g., United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
2005), are becoming more and more involved at least with some of those
circuits of knowledge (e.g., research collaboration between universities and the
private sector) that characterise academic capitalism.
At a more concrete level, academic capitalism refers to the variety of ways
that markets, states and higher education are interrelated, and the implications
of blurring the boundaries between these spheres (Slaughter and Rhoades
2004, 1015). Hence, the constitutive elements of academic capitalism are that
broad set of new circuits of knowledge, organisations, networks and related
modes of action that link institutions as well as faculty, administrators,
academic professionals and students (Slaughter and Rhoades 2004, 15) to
knowledge capitalism. The theory of academic capitalism takes into consideration different aspects of universities (e.g., instruction and administration)
and changing relations between universities and their external environment.
Thus, academic capitalism is a many-sided conceptual framework for
developing understanding also of such diverse phenomena as the influence
of neoliberalism, new managerialism and calls for accountability, assessment
and rankings. However, this article will focus only on intellectual property
issues.
Academic capitalism is an actual trend within higher education systems in
contrast to a historical tendency1 because academic capitalism is not immanent
to the higher education system, that is, academic capitalism is not generated by
the structural features of the higher education system, even if higher education

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Globalisation, Societies and Education

has always been a business (Weisbrod, Ballou, and Asch 2008, 37) because
the mission of higher education needs to be financed and universities have for
a long time collaborated with industries. More specifically, the academic
capitalist knowledge/learning regime is not immanent to the practice of science
where internal goods (McIntyre 1984, 1901) involve, for instance, open
communication (see ONeill 1998). Academic capitalism tends to transform
the system of information distribution within universities by commodifying
knowledge, which in turn encourages secrecy. Hence, academic capitalism is
not only about generating external revenue for universities, but also reflects a
conflict between the proprietary secrecy of the market and the open
communication of traditional science (ONeill 1998, 144).
In terms of Habermas (1987), temporally and spatially uneven emergence
of academic capitalism would reflect the colonisation of the universities by a
capitalist market system. However, to speak about the current university
reforms in terms of colonisation would be somewhat misleading since the
emergence of academic capitalism has not been solely the product of external
colonising forces. Quite the contrary, universities have also been active
promoters of academic capitalism in various ways (e.g., Slaughter and Rhoades
2004). This is partly because states have reduced their funding for the
universities, and this has created a need to find new sources of revenue. For
instance in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, the shift
towards academic capitalism was triggered by diminishing government
funding for higher education and because: the corporate quest for new
[science-based] products converged with faculty and institutional searches for
increased funding (Slaughter and Leslie 1997, 7).
2.2. Academic capitalism and intellectual property
In this new financial situation, it is contingent how the universities respond,
since they have various ways of securing the external funding required.
Consequently, it is not predetermined whether universities will adopt practices,
such as technology transfer, that are the constitutive elements of academic
capitalism. In any case, the retreat of the state from basic funding triggers new
demands and conditions for the universities, and they have to cover the costs in
some way. Thus, academic capitalism is neither a predetermined nor a
transhistorical feature of the university system, but a contingent phenomenon,
and it is related to the restructuring of capitalism (e.g., the development of new
technologies and organisational innovations) and the rise of neoliberalism (e.g.,
privatisation, deregulation and the abandonment of the normative starting
points of classical liberalism regarding IPRs).
An open-ended shift towards academic capitalism occurred during the same
time as the knowledge-based economy discourse was gaining a more and
more hegemonic status in many countries and social sub-systems (see e.g.,
Jessop 2005). The emergence of a knowledge-based economy meant among

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I. Kauppinen

other issues that especially technologically advanced countries and TNCs have
become increasingly interested in protecting IPRs at the global level.
The current emphasis on innovations and economically valuable knowledge
has elevated the issue of IPRs also to the agenda of university reforms, even
if technology transfer often relates only to certain specific disciplines
(e.g., biotechnology and information technology). This has increased the
opportunities of universities to accumulate intellectual property. On the one
hand, IPRs provide temporarily restricted monopolies (implying monopoly
profits) and on the other hand, faculty work is increasingly seen as a costeffective way to accumulate intellectual property (see Slaughter and Leslie
1997, 369; also Kauppinen 2008). Thus, it is not a surprise that TNCs are
eager to collaborate with universities, which in turn have their own reasons for
developing collaborative relationships with TNCs.
For the purposes of this article, I will argue that the first key function of
academic capitalism is the transformation of knowledge, understood here as a
fictitious commodity (Polanyi 1944, 725), into a commodity that can be
sold in markets. This is supposed to be achieved through IPRs (including, in
particular, patents and copyrights). Even though it is questionable (see e.g.,
Weisbrod, Ballou, and Asch 2008) whether universities are successful in
transferring technology for corporations, the idea of the accumulation of
intellectual property resonates with the knowledge-based economy discourse.
This resonance is one reason why resources are allocated to technology
transfer. The second key function is the production of skilful knowledge
workers for labour markets. The presumption is that, while corporations gain
from academic capitalism in the form of knowledge-intensive commodities and
immaterial labour, this will strengthen national competitiveness in the global
economy. Thus, from this point of view it is not an accident that many
governments have been active promoters of academic capitalism and, more
generally, the accumulation of intellectual property within and outside higher
education (Jessop 2005; Kauppinen 2008).

3. Transnational capitalist class


3.1. The concept of class and the problem of methodological nationalism
Around 15 years ago, Pakulski and Waters (1996, 152) wrote: Most
sociologists will accept that structures are historical, that they are formed
and that they inevitably expire. Let class also rest in peace, respected and
honoured, but mainly relevant to history. Since then, both internal
(e.g., critique of the cultural turn in social sciences) and external (e.g., the
persistence of economic inequality) factors in social sciences have shown that
the announcement of the death of class was premature.
Of course, the class structure of contemporary societies is highly complex.
Class, as a social and cultural formation, cannot be described in isolation,

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Globalisation, Societies and Education

but only in relation to other classes. Classes consist of more or less coherent
fractions whose members tend to share similar kinds of interests, experiences,
traditions and values, and who identify themselves in relation to other classes
and class fractions. Class is a fundamentally relational concept. In this
basically Thompsonian (see Thompson 1978) sense, classes are not eternal,
museum-like entities, but rather on-going processes  subject to change and
redefinition in response to the changing social conditions. However, in this
article I will only focus on TCC, because it seems to me that paying attention
to the implications of globalisation for the concept of class, how this relates to
higher education, and what kinds of powerful transnational economic networks
are involved directly or indirectly in higher education reforms, is of great
(theoretical and empirical) importance in the current situation.2
In social sciences, class is traditionally conceptualised within the framework of methodological nationalism. Strong methodological nationalism is
based on the taken-for-granted assumption that the nation-state is the natural
and necessary form of society and the container of social processes and
practices (see e.g., Beck 2005; Sassen 2007). While it is debatable whether
there is, or has ever been, any social scientific tradition that would identify
with this kind of methodological fundamentalism, it provides, nevertheless, a
useful starting point for articulating certain presuppositions in this article.
It is a common feature of globalisation studies to criticise methodological
nationalism, and global capitalism theories are no exception in this respect.
The criticism is based, for instance, on the following argument: nation-states
are not the self-evident organising principle of capitalism or containers of
social processes because of the transnationalisation of production and
(increasingly also) R&D, trans-border communities, transnational migration
or transnational activism (e.g., Robinson 2004; Sassen 2007; Sklair 2002;
Kauppinen 2012). Methodological transnationalism, which is implicitly
present also in this article, does not necessarily imply a fundamentalist stance
according to which nation-states have lost their importance and relevance.
For instance, while it is important to analyse contemporary national
university reforms in relation to international politics and cross-border
influences, it is still plausible to speak of national university systems (and
their components, structure and environments) and argue that nation-states are
still important resource providers and that they also legitimise these reforms. In
the sphere of economy, it is no longer as relevant to speak about national
economies, but nation-states still have important functions with respect to
economy (e.g., guaranteeing property rights). Hence, the globalisation does not
imply the separation between state and capital. In this article, nation-states are
rather seen as sites of struggle between transnationally and nationally oriented
capitalist classes that try to influence states in order to advance their respective
interests (see e.g., Sklair 2002).
At this point, I want to briefly return to the issue of academic capitalism
because it has also been mainly studied in the framework of methodological

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I. Kauppinen

nationalism (also when there have been cross-national comparisons). However,


I doubt whether methodological nationalism is the most adequate framework
when one is trying to determine those economic networks and agents that are
stimulating, and benefiting from, the integration between higher education and
knowledge capitalism in the era of globalisation. Indeed, nation-states are not
natural containers of those circuits of knowledge (e.g., research collaboration
between universities and corporations) that characterise academic capitalism.
The problem of methodological nationalism characterises higher education
studies also more generally. Of course, there are also attempts to go beyond
methodological nationalism (e.g., Marginson and Rhoades 2002). Deem
(2001) has, in turn, pointed out that in studying contemporary changes in
higher education more emphasis should be put on local factors affecting these
changes instead of relying on more abstract theoretical models such as
academic capitalism or the entrepreneurial university. In this respect, this
article is based on the idea that both localised knowledge and abstract theories
are needed. Academic capitalism is characterised by transnational diffusion
and adaptation processes and by local and national factors. Therefore, it is
plausible to use the concept of academic capitalism in the same sense as the
concept of capitalism in the varieties of capitalism (see e.g., Hall and Soskice
2005, 144) research tradition.
Finally, this article is not interested as much in the static structures in
themselves, but rather in movement in structure (Robinson 2004, 144). The
main point here is that by emphasising the study of movement in structure, it
is possible to redefine, for instance, the nation-state and the interstate system as
a (the) historical form in which capitalism came into being (Robinson 2004,
144) instead of seeing it as a constitutive component of world capitalism
(144). Thus, the state should be seen as a structure in motion whose form is
changing under globalisation (144). The same applies to the concept of class.
Classes are in motion under globalisation because of the changes, for instance,
in the realm of production and R&D. In order to capture the conceptual
implications of this material change, Robinson and Sklair have constructed the
concept of TCC.
3.2. Some critical issues regarding TCC and TNCs
According to Sklair (2008, also 2001, 2002), TCC is transnational in at least
the following senses. First, the economic interests of its members are globally
linked. Second, its members tend to hold outward-oriented global perspectives
on different kinds of issues (e.g., they support free trade and neo-liberal
economic and social policies). Third, they tend to be people from many
countries including Third World countries and many of them think of
themselves as world citizens who have local roots. Fourth, they tend to share
similar lifestyles, particularly patterns of higher education (especially international business schools) and consumption habits.

Globalisation, Societies and Education

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Sklairs fourth point would imply that higher education has a role in
socialising persons to the values and discourses of TCC and binding its
members together. Hence, it can be claimed that higher education organisations
have taken and take part (even if unintentionally) in the formation of TCC by
creating a common culture, common habits and shared cognitive structures.
Moreover, Seners (2008) article Turkish managers as part of the transnational
capitalist class provides support for Sklairs claims. The article reveals that
most of the Turkish managers:
think that they have similar lifestyles with foreign people from the same class
with them and they have more commonalities with these people compared to
Turks from different social classes. They also believe that they have common
interests with the people from other countries that have the same positions with
them. This demonstrates the weakening of bonds that rest on being the citizens
of a particular nation state, while the bonds resting on being the members of a
transnational class strengthen. (Sener 2008, 138)

Previous insights do not, however, tell us much about what has made
possible the open-ended formation of TCC. In developing their parallel
theories of global capitalism, both Robinson (2004) and Sklair (2002) argue
that the contemporary epoch of capitalism involves a qualitative change in
respect to previous epochs because of the transnationalisation of national and
regional productive apparatus. In contrast to quantitative changes within
exchange, this qualitative change in the realm of production (and finance)
forms, together with the extensive and intensive enlargement of capitalism, a
material basis for the formation of a transnational capitalist class (Robinson
2004).
There are different ways in which we can misrecognise TCC. For instance,
it can be supposed that TCC is a kind of super class that consists of national
capitalist classes that form international coalitions with each other (Robinson
and Harris 2000). This kind of process can be defined as the internationalisation of national classes. The formation of TCC is, nevertheless, a different
matter since it is supposed that the coordinates of this class do not remain
national. In the case of TCC, the locus of class formation is situated in the
emerging transnational space (Robinson 2004, 423, 54). Despite this, there
are still multiple competing forms of capital and it is also possible to identify
local, national and regional forms of capital (Robinson 2004, 47). However,
Robinson (2005, 5) claims that TCC, as a group increasingly detached from
specific nation-states, is becoming the new ruling class.
In a more moderate way, Sassen (2007, 164) has argued that emerging
global classes, that are beginning to cohere into recognizable global social
forms, should be conceptualised as only partially denationalised. Hence, in
contrast to Robinson and Sklair, Sassen (2007, 164) emphasises global classes
ongoing, even if partial, embeddedness in national domains. Indeed, even if
we accept that it would be plausible to speak about the transnational interests

10

I. Kauppinen

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of certain capitalist groups it does not necessarily imply that these groups
would have become disembedded from their national domains.
Discussions regarding the transnationalisation of classes have provoked also
other kinds of criticism. For instance, some globalisation theorists, while
accepting the idea that the current economic system operates as a whole, think
that the concept of a transnational or global capitalist class does not have any
sociological or economical relevance. Castells (1996, 474) is a well-known
example of this:
But a capitalist class? There is not, sociologically and economically, such a thing
as a global capitalist class. But there is an integrated, global capital network,
whose movements and variable logic ultimately determine economies and
influence societies. Thus, above a diversity of human-flesh capitalists and
capitalist groups there is a faceless collective capitalist, made up of financial
flows operated by electronic networks. . .

However, electronic networks do not produce material goods, knowledge or


innovations, but actors within these networks do. While it is quite unproblematic to criticise Castells for a misplaced attribution of agency to entities (e.g.,
financial flows) that are not agents, there have been some other more serious
criticisms directed towards the concept of TCC.
For instance Science & Society (2001) and Theory and Society (2001)
involve many-sided debate regarding Robinsons theories. To take an example,
Mann (2001, 466) argues that Robinson and Harris (2000) fail to recognise the
multiple identity of state representatives in such bodies as the World Trade
Organization (WTO) and International Monetary Fund (IMF). According to
Mann, it would be over-simplistic to argue that these representatives serve only
the interests of TCC because they represent also national governments and the
latters agendas are not reducible to TCC. This implies that Mann does not
accept Robinsons and Harris (2000, see also Robinson 2004) argument that
TCC is becoming a ruling capitalist class that leads the global ruling bloc
(involving politicians and various professions). Manns criticism seems to be
supported, for instance, by the decision to invade Iraq. The invasion of Iraq was
not in the interests of TCC and it is also an open question whether it was in the
interests of the US government either (see also Sprague 2009, 502).
My main criticism regarding Robinsons and Sklairs theories is that they
involve certain reductionist assumptions. For instance: As the entire circuit [of
capital] becomes transnationalised, so too do classes, political processes, states,
and culturalideological processes (Robinson 2004, 39). However, this kind
of reductionism does not imply that the concept of TCC should be rejected in a
similar vein as Castells has done. It rather means that we should be more
cautious in making any strong a priori assumptions regarding the status of
TCC (whether it is a ruling class or not) and what are the causal consequences
of its emergence.

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Globalisation, Societies and Education

11

Sklairs and Robinsons theories are also based on a distinction between


transnationally and nationally oriented capitalists. Of course, this distinction is
not simple since local or national production networks may be linked into
transnational networks in various ways (Robinson 2004, 67). For instance,
local and small firms may have direct links to the latter because they are
subcontractors to some TNCs that may, in turn, collaborate with a local
university. This kind of inter-organisational collaboration makes it increasingly difficult to separate local circuits of production and distribution from the
global circuits. . . (Robinson 2004, 68). Thus, when universities collaborate
with the local economy, it does not exclude the possibility that they are
simultaneously linked into transnational production networks, and vice versa.
In this way, for instance, the transnationalisation of R&D may enforce
fuzziness between local, national and transnational scales. This kind of
collaboration makes it also problematic to claim that the interests of nationally
and globally oriented capitalists would always be opposed to each other.
Even though Robinsons (2004) contribution to globalisation studies is
based especially on theory construction, he has also presented some empirical
evidence regarding, for instance, the formation of TCC. A brief look at this
issue will lead us towards topics that will open up the possibility to modify the
concept of TCC in such a way that would make it more relevant in the context
of academic capitalism.
3.3. The formation and structure of the TCC
The economic crisis of the 1970s and the related restructuring of capitalism,
together with technological and organisational innovations, facilitated the
formation of TCC. Various transnational integrative mechanisms and practices
had a key role in this process. These included the rapid rise of TNCs since the
1970s, foreign direct investments, fusions and mergers, strategic alliances
between corporations, interlocked transnational corporate directorates, subcontracting and outsourcing (Robinson 2004, 5467; regarding mergers in the
information technology sector, see also Harris 2001, 415).
An unintended consequence of these mechanisms and practices was the
uneven transnationalisation of production networks and, consequently,
the emergence of transnational social networks between economic actors.
While transnational production networks provided the material basis for the
development of TCC, transnational social networks provided the social spaces
in which it became possible for the members of TCC to interact, learn from
each other and develop common strategies and a class consciousness. Thus, the
emergence of transnational production networks supports the argument that it
is plausible to speak of TCC as a class-in-itself (objective level) while
transnational social networks, in terms of, for instance, board interlocks and
the transnationalisation of corporate boards (e.g., Staples 2006), support the
argument that, even if it is premature to speak of TCC as a class-for-itself

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I. Kauppinen

(subjective level), these social spaces are, at least in principle, the breeding
ground for class consciousness within TCC. However, it should be remembered that TCC is also an internally competing class and that different
fractions of TCC may have conflicting (short-term) interests and strategies.
Consequently, it is an empirically open question whether, when and under
which conditions it makes sense to define TCC as a coherent political actor
(e.g., Robinson 2004; Sklair 2002).
For Sklair (2002, 9), the TCC consists of those persons, who see their own
interests. . .as best served by an identification with the interests of the capitalist
global system. At a more concrete level, this means that their common (longterm) interests are: the protection of private property and the rights of private
individuals to accumulate it with as little interference as possible (Sklair 2001,
12). At face-value, Robinson has a fairly similar understanding of the members
of TCC. For instance, TNCs are for both Robinson and Sklair organisations in
which the individual members of the TCC tend to operate as corporate
executives and members of corporate boards (e.g., Robinson 2004, 55; Sklair
2001, 34, 2002, 2005, 59) Furthermore, both share the idea that the members
of TCC share globalising perspectives and that they originate (unevenly) in
various countries (including middle- and low-income countries). However,
they have marked differences in how they draw boundaries around the TCC
and differentiate it from other elites.
Sklairs (2002, 99) hierarchical model consists of the following fractions of
TCC: corporate fraction, state fraction, technical fraction and consumerist
fraction (Table 1).
Thus, Sklair counts the members of state agencies and various professions
(e.g., intellectuals) as members of TCC in so far as they are promoting the
global capitalist system and contribute to the transnational socialisation of
TCC. The corporate fraction (e.g., executives of TNCs) is the most important
fraction while other fractions support and provide legitimacy for it. In this
sense, Sklair emphasises the importance of economic capital over other forms
of capital without restricting the membership criteria to economic capital in
drawing the boundaries of and positing the internal hierarchy of TCC.
Also, Robinson identifies different fractions within the TCC, but in a
different sense and, in contrast to Sklair, he uses more traditional and stricter
Table 1. The structure of TCC according to Sklair.
Corporate fraction
TNC executives and their local affiliates
State fraction

Technical fraction
Globalising
Globalising state and
professionals
inter-state bureaucrats
and politicians

Consumerist fraction
Globalising
merchants and
media

Globalisation, Societies and Education

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criteria in defining the boundaries of TCC. For Robinson (see 2004, 36,
Footnote 1), TCC consists quite strictly of those who own or control
transnational economic capital: TCC is the propertied class. As we can see,
Robinsons concept of TCC comes close to Sklairs corporate fraction.
Furthermore, Robinson divides TCC analytically into three fractions on the
basis of their position in the economic field. These fractions are: industrial,
commercial and financial.
3.4. Modification of the concept of TCC
I prefer Robinsons narrower model, because Sklairs model stretches the
boundaries of the capitalist class too far to include, for example, political and
cultural elites. However, I also think that for analytical purposes it is important
to add a fourth fraction to Robinsons model (see Table 2). I propose that this
fourth fraction should be labelled the informational fraction. Robinson (2004,
37) seems to hint at a similar possibility, but does not elaborate his position. He
merely refers to the Internet and dot-com companies, but this would be a
prohibitively restricted way to locate the informational fraction within global
capitalism (particularly in the context of this article).
Many TNCs are also key players in knowledge capitalism since they hold,
for instance, large patent portfolios and, consequently, are able to control the
use of knowledge and can reach into the material world and control vital
resources (Braithwaite and Drahos 2000, 57). Furthermore, they are
forerunners in the transnationalisation of R&D and advocates of the global
regulation of IPRs. Thus, they have a key role in establishing transnational
social structures and networks within knowledge capitalism. Thus, if we
identify TCC only with three fractions (industrial, commercial and financial)
as proposed by Robinson, we will easily miss the linkages between TCC and
globalising knowledge capitalism. Indeed, this has been one of the main
problems within global capitalism literature.
Table 2. The structure of the TCC including the informational fraction.
Industrial fraction Informational fraction
Key organisations: Key organisations:
TNCs
TNCs
Key sectors:
information
technology,
biotechnology,
pharmaceuticals, . . .
Key discourse:
knowledge-based
economy

Financial fraction

Commercial
fraction

Key organisations:
TNCs

Key organisations:
TNCs

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14

I. Kauppinen

The definition of the informational fraction of TCC involves many


conceptual problems. Initially, I would suggest that this concept should be
used to refer to those economic actors for whom the production and selling of
knowledge-intensive products and/or intellectual property and/or transnationalisation of R&D activities represent the key areas of their business. For these
actors, knowledge is not merely a tool for improving manufacturing processes,
but also, or foremost, more or less the key commodity that is used for
accumulating capital. Indeed, the transnational protection of IPRs and the
enhancement of transnationalisation of R&D have been important objectives
for the informational fraction of TCC (Kauppinen 2012). Moreover, it is (also)
in the interests of this fraction that higher education be deregulated, privatised
and standardised, since these processes stimulate the role of entrepreneurialism, affect research agendas by advancing private interests and enhance global
trade in higher education (see Rhoads 2006).
The industrial fraction of TCC refers in turn to manufacturing industries
that are sometimes characterised as medium-technology and/or lowtechnology sectors (see Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 1996, 37) in contrast to high-technology sectors in which R&D
intensity is relatively high (ratio of R&D expenditures to gross output). Sectors
of the latter include, for instance, computers, communications, semiconductors, pharmaceuticals and aerospace (OECD 1996, 37). Thus, from this point
of view the informational fraction of TCC is not limited to the Internet and
dot-com companies or even to information technology companies (e.g.,
hardware, software, telecommunications and electronics), which have facilitated the global control of manufacturing, built global structures of information
processing and facilitated the establishment of financial markets that function
in real time (see Harris 2001, 356). The informational fraction also involves
other high-tech sectors, for instance, biotechnology, which is dependent on
advanced information processing, and in which patents are an important
institutional tool in competing with other corporations. Thus, the informational
fraction of the TCC corresponds roughly to the key sectors of the new
economy, and the way that these sectors are integrating with the universities,
is the focus of the theory of academic capitalism (e.g., Pusser, Slaughter, and
Thomas 2006; Slaughter and Leslie 1997; Slaughter and Rhoades 2004).
One might want to add that while knowledge necessarily circulates in all
economic practices, some of these practices are more knowledge-intensive than
others. For instance, the transnational production of technological innovations
is a more knowledge-intensive practice than the transnational distribution of
motorcycles. This kind of formulation is based on Mark Porats distinction
between the primary (manipulation and production of knowledge and
information) and secondary (utilisation of knowledge and information)
information sectors (see May 2002, 6). The primary information sector is
the key to the informational fraction of TCC.

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Globalisation, Societies and Education

15

Of course, it is quite self-evident that in some cases the informational


fraction will overlap with the industrial fraction (see Harris 2001, 40, 4851).
The same applies to the division between the financial fraction and the
informational fraction. If this is the case, why is the category of informational
fraction needed at all? I would like to suggest that there are at least two
general reasons and one more specific reason to have this category.
First, the emergence of knowledge capitalism has been taken insufficiently
into account in global capitalism literature. The category of informational
fraction helps us to integrate discussions about knowledge capitalism into
global capitalism theories. Second, in global capitalism literature the category
of industrial fraction is used too broadly, that is, it does not take into account
the rise of new technologies and how it is related to the emergence of
knowledge capitalism since the 1970s. Third, the category of informational
fraction will help to develop dialogue between global capitalism theories and
higher education studies. This would also contribute to study of the role of
higher education in the global economy. Furthermore, the addition of the
informational fraction makes it possible to reveal more systematically the
dynamics within TCC (e.g., how the informational fraction has gained power
in respect to the industrial fraction and how old technology is linked to, and
transformed by, information revolution) and between TCC and globalisation
(e.g., how the emerging TCC, and especially certain sectors within the
informational fraction, have affected the rise of a global assembly line for
manufacturing [Harris 2001, 35] and twenty-four hour global financial
markets [35]).
As Jessop (2005) has argued, knowledge-based economy has become the
hegemonic discourse and it has been translated into many different visions and
strategies on different scales, fields and functional systems including education
(e.g., lifelong learning, knowledge factories and advanced educational
technologies) and science (e.g., innovations and life sciences). Seen
especially from the point of view of the informational fraction, TCC has
adopted knowledge-based economy as their hegemonic discourse in order to
advance their interests and projects, strategies and visions at the local, national
and transnational levels.3 It is through this discourse that TCC and other global
elites have identified universities as key organisational components of their
strategies and visions.
This poses certain challenging questions for universities since previous
research has demonstrated that for instance transnationalisation of R&D, and
hence collaboration with foreign-based TNCs, may lead to: unfair sharing of
intellectual property resulting from local R&D, crowding out of local firms
from the market for researchers, possible negative impacts of R&D
fragmentation, a race to the bottom in attracting R&D-related FDI and
unethical behaviour by TNCs (UNCTAD 2005, 190). For instance, what kind
of responsibilities do universities have, especially in low- and middle-income
countries when they are collaborating with foreign-based TNCs? Or, if it could

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be demonstrated that members of the TCC are integrating with universities via
board interlocks, would it imply that the role of universities as promoters of
national economic interests would be diminishing? Hence, while this article
is focused on demonstrating that the concept of TCC has analytical value for
higher education studies, it might well be the case that the emergence of TCC
also triggers some normative debates regarding the role and functions of higher
education in the contemporary world.
3.5. TNCs and the stimulation of academic capitalism
In demonstrating the relevance of the concept of TCC for higher education
studies, I will concentrate on how their key organisations, that is, TNCs, have
indirectly stimulated academic capitalism at transnational level. Some of the
interests of the informational fraction of the TCC (such as the global
accumulation of intellectual property and, relatedly, establishing favourable
conditions for the transnationalisation of R&D) were, among other interests, in
play behind the establishment of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual
Property Rights (TRIPS)-agreement.4 The TRIPS was an indirectly significant
institutional facilitator of academic capitalism, as it strengthened and
broadened the global protection of intellectual property. The accumulation of
intellectual property is, in turn, one of the key practices when universities try to
generate external revenue within academic capitalism, even though the
institutional expectations with respect to the financial rewards of this
accumulation have been far more ambitious than the actual results
(e.g., Slaughter and Rhoades 2004; Weisbrod, Ballou, and Asch 2008).
It has been argued that the WTO is the most important international
organisation (Braithwaite and Drahos 2000, 67) with respect to the regulation
of intellectual property, and TRIPS, in turn, marked the beginning of the
global [intellectual] property epoch (Braithwaite and Drahos 2000, 63).
The paradox of TRIPS is that around 100 years ago (and before that) it would
have been rejected as a global charter for monopolists (Drahos and
Braithwaite 2002, 38), but in the era of neoliberalism and a changed political
and economic context, it was argued to be consistent with free trade and
competition (Drahos and Braithwaite 2002). Indeed, it is quite clear that
classical liberalists, such as Adam Smith (and probably also, although for
different reasons, forerunners of neoliberalism, such as F.A. Hayek), would
have resisted TRIPS as antithetical to free market economy and the wealth of
the nations (see Smith 1982 [1762], 1113)
Changes and developments that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s in the
fields of technology (e.g., the development of information technology and
biotechnology in the EU and USA) and economy (e.g., development of
manufacturing capacity in various Asian countries) provided incentives for
certain interest groups to plan TRIPS in order to secure their comparative
advantage in the emerging global capitalism. During the same time and for

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Globalisation, Societies and Education

17

similar reasons, the emerging TNCs turned increasingly, for instance in the
USA, to research universities for science-based products and processes to
market [them] in a global economy (Slaughter and Leslie 1997, 6).
Of course, the causal history of TRIPS cannot be explained comprehensively by focusing only on economic actors. Hence, in providing comprehensive explanation one should also pay attention, for instance, to nation-state
representatives and how they recognised TRIPS simultaneously as both an
opportunity and a threat for their national interests depending on the industry
sector (e.g., Braithwaite and Drahos 2000). Especially Sell (2003) provides an
excellent and many-sided causal explanation (informed by critical realism) on
how and under what kind of macro-structural conditions TRIPS was
established. However, since the focus of this article has not been the causal
history of TRIPS it is sufficient to focus on the role of the TNCs.
Various lobbying networks (organised by globally oriented business
entities) particularly in the field of US film, music, software, agricultural
and pharmaceutical industries began to link intellectual property to trade issues
during the 1980s in order to transnationally protect their intellectual property
(Braithwaite and Drahos 2000, 61; May and Snell 2006, 141). It has been
argued that the representatives of these industries formulated a concrete
proposal and managed to get the support of the US Government (see
Braithwaite and Drahos 2000).
Both Braithwaite and Drahos (2000, 71) and Sell (2003) have pointed out
that the Intellectual Property Committee (IPC) had a crucial role regarding
TRIPS. It is noteworthy that such corporations as General Motors, General
Electric, Bristol-Myers, CBS, DuPont, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Johnson &
Johnson, Merck, Monsanto, Pfizer, Rockwell International and Warner
Communications were members of the IPC already in the 1980s (Braithwaite
and Drahos 2000, 71; Sell 2003, 2). For instance, General Motors, General
Electric, Pfizer, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers
were amongst the worlds top 100 non-financial TNCs ranked by foreign assets
in 2004 (UNCTAD 2006, 2802). This finding supports the argument that the
emerging TCC had an active role in the causal history of TRIPS. Moreover,
one important task of the IPC was to build consensus among the transnational
business community and particularly among those economic actors that
originated from Japan, Canada and Europe (see Braithwaite and Drahos
2000, 71). This transnational consensus between TNCs and the support they
get from their country of origin governments was the key factor (at the level
of agency) in the successful establishment of TRIPS.
TRIPS is neither a sufficient nor necessary precondition for academic
capitalism, but by broadening the category of intellectual property and
strengthening the protection of intellectual property, it created incentives and
opportunity structures also for universities in line with the theory of academic
capitalism. In this sense, TRIPS has indirectly stimulated academic capitalism,

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and within it particularly the accumulation of intellectual property through


technology transfer5.

4. Conclusion
The main motivation behind this article has been the recognition that if we are
witnessing an on-going shift towards the transnational phase of capitalism, this
objective structural change should also be taken into account in higher
education studies. This is the case especially with the theories (e.g., academic
capitalism) attempting to understand and explain the integration of globalising
knowledge capitalism and higher education systems. In studying this
integration, it is not sufficient to explore only the role of nationally oriented
groups. One has to pay attention also to transnationally oriented groups such as
the emerging TCC whether it is defined as a ruling class or not, and regardless
of how embedded, or rooted, its members are in national domains. These issues
are also highly important, but they can be properly discussed only in another
article.
In this article, it has been suggested that the concept of the TCC is able to
enrich the conceptual basis of the theory of academic capitalism, when this
concept is amended to include (in an analytical sense) also an informational
fraction. The theoretical and conceptual insights provided in this article should
be subjected to more empirically oriented analysis that would be able to
provide evidence of the role of the TCC, not just in stimulating academic
capitalism, but also in those networks, circuits of knowledge and practices that
are constitutive parts of academic capitalism.
For instance, the transnationalisation of R&D (see, e.g., Kauppinen 2012),
board interlocks among universities and TNCs, and TCCs presence in various
intermediating organisations need to be examined to provide a background
against which further theoretical and empirical studies of the relationship
between globalisation, the TCC and academic capitalism may be carried out.
By investigating the linkages between higher education organisations and the
TCC, higher education studies would contribute to global capitalism literature.
This would be of great importance since, for instance, Sklair and Robinson
have paid insufficient attention to knowledge-intensive industry sectors, the
importance of higher education in economic strategies, and the visions of
various countries, in developing their theory of global capitalism.
Finally, it should be kept in mind that while previous academic capitalism
literature (e.g., Slaughter and Leslie 1997) suggests that TNCs are eager to
collaborate with universities, the integration between universities and TNCs,
and consequently TCC, is (just like the formation of TCC [Robinson 2004])
not a predetermined but an open-ended process and it may be pushed in
unexpected directions because of contingent conditions.

Globalisation, Societies and Education

19

Acknowledgements
This research article was largely written at the Institute of Higher Education (University of
Georgia, USA), during my visiting period as a Fulbright post-doctoral researcher. I want to
thank, with the usual disclaimer, Brendan Cantwell, and Sheila Slaughter, as well as anonymous
referees, for their comments on an earlier version of this article.

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Notes
1. On the distinction between trend and tendency, see Robinson (2004, 133, n5).
2. I will also set aside any questions on how we should conceptualise faculty in terms
of class (see Harvie 2000; Slaughter and Leslie 1997, 9), how students class
position effects their participation in higher education, and how higher education
contributes to the reproduction of the class structure.
3. At the same time, knowledge-based economy provides the discursive framework
within which the TCC is trying to solve the crisis of global capitalism as partly
caused by, the selfish and destabilizing actions of those [capitalists] who cannot
resist system-threatening opportunities to get rich quick. . . (Sklair 2002, 85).
4. It would be also relevant to study TCCs role in the causal history of WTOs
General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). GATS has stimulated for
instance transnational student markets in many countries and, consequently,
commodification of educational services.
5. The limitation of this article is that it illustrates the relationship between TCC/
TNCs and academic capitalism only in respect to intellectual property issues.
However, more comprehensive evidence regarding the role of TCC/TNCs (as
conceptualised by Robinson or Sklair) in driving academic capitalism would
require empirical studies that are not currently available (as far as the author
knows).

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