Book of the Day: Factories of Knowledge

Avoiding the use of the factory as metaphor, Raunig nevertheless argues that the university retains three crucial qualities that also made the factory a key site of social struggle in previous generations. He argues that the qualities of condensation, assembly and re-territorialisation make the university a ‘becoming factory’ of new economic and social assemblages today. He argues for the specific resonance and possibilities embedded in these qualities in the context of our increasingly precarious and dispersed social life. The university as factory offers, in his view, a concentration and assembly of bodies and knowledge that have the potential to re-territorialise and valorise other forms of labour, life and resistance.*

* Book: Gerald Raunig. Factories of Knowledge – Industries of Creativity.

For a review, see here.

From the Introduction of the special issue of a magazine which is at the basis of the book version:

“The old institutions are crumbling–from central banks to political parties, from museums to newspapers, from broadcast television to schools. Caught between the continual rollout of crises and the encroachment of networks on their borders, they struggle to cope. Most are trying to brand their way out of their dead ends. Some will doubtless survive, but the majority will become unrecognisable in the process. In any case, radical politics can no longer be committed to the long march through these institutions.

Needless to say, universities are undergoing a period of turbulence, too. ‘As once was the factory, so now is the university’–the edufactory project began with this plain and apparently unproblematic statement–not to affirm, but to interrogate it. The university does not at all function like a factory. While we are proud of the factory and university struggles of the past we cannot afford to be content with simply being nostalgic for them. ‘As once was the factory, so now is the university’–this statement is therefore an indication of a political problem. If we begin with the incommensurable differences between the actual functions of the university and those of the factory, what are the political stakes of putting them into relation? If the factory was once the locus of struggle under Fordist capitalism, what is the site of political contestation under present conditions? How can the problem of organisation be rethought in the aftermath of the decline of its traditional forms, such as the union and the political party?

The edu-factory web-journal extends the previous efforts of the edufactory network to find answers to these questions. We know that this problem concerns prognosis more than diagnosis, and its urgency is only deepened by the current global economic crisis. Within edufactory, we refer to this state of affairs as the double crisis. On the one hand, this involves an acceleration of the crisis specific to the university, the inevitable result of its outdated disciplinary divisions and eroded epistemological status. On the other hand, it is the crisis of postfordist conditions of labor and value, many of which are circuited through the university.

Situated on the borders of this double crisis, the edu-factory web-journal will be devoted to analysing how the university works–the ‘occupations’ that it enforces and those that it incites as well as the ‘anomalies’ that take exception to its homogenising translations. In this way, the journal seeks to derive ideas and practices for a new organisation of knowledge production, one that is entirely within the purview of social cooperation and its collective control. This is what we call the construction of an autonomous institution, which is possible through the invention of the university of the common, in other words university of the common can become so only by becoming autonomous.”

The following excerpt by the Edu-factory collective analyses “The Nature of the Double Crisis”:

“Four central points inform the zero issue.

First, the double crisis is global. To say this is not to imply the existence of a homogenous global space, or the construction of a flat world. Rather, it signals a global scenario of change, characterised by different forms of declination and/or translation into particular regional contexts. In fact, there is a great deal of differentiation within the heterogeneous space-time of the double crisis. This differentiation reveals the process of hierarchisation operating within the planetary education market. Old coordinates no longer suffice in its analysis, however, as this process of hierarchisation no longer follows the classical lines of division between centre and periphery. Consider the emergent roles taken on by China or India, and their higher education systems.

The changing geopolitics of higher education is tightly linked to the disequilibrium between the debt deficit of the Western countries and the saving surplus of the so-called ‘emergent countries’. The U.S. has had to come to terms with its Asian creditors. In order to trace the genealogy of the contemporary crisis, it is necessary to move outside the ‘West’. As Miguel Carmona and Nicolàs Slachevsky rightly remind us, Chile was one of the first laboratories for the Chicago Boys. And as George Caffentizs points out, Africa’s double crisis began in the 1980s. That decade saw the World Bank become a kind of ‘Knowledge Bank’, making loans to African universities in the hope of priming a knowledge economy that was out of step with the continent’s position in the international division of labour. While universities across the world now face varying degrees of economic instability, debt, in its many forms, has been the central source of the contemporary crisis.

Secondly, we define the current crisis as an economic crisis, not only a financial one. Far from making the old distinction between the real and the financial economy, following the collective theses developed by Uninomade, we can say that finance is precisely the real form of the economy, when knowledge becomes both the central source and means of production. There is no outside to financialisation, because it represents the perverse form and the capture of what it is produced in common. Rating agencies such as Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s are evermore important actors in the formation of the hierarchy of the global education market.

In this context, and this is the third point, management strategy spans and in a certain way dissolves the dialectic between public and private. As Marc Bousquet’s article emphasises, education leaders don’t demand a ‘bailout’ or a ‘New Deal’ for universities. On the contrary, they impose austerity and control on the academic workforce–that is, students, faculty and precarious employees. These leaders seek to maintain and reproduce their positions based on the rent and ‘capture’ of living knowledge. The university is not only a part of, but also a paradigmatic site for the double crisis. More precisely, as Bousquet also observes, it is a leading ‘innovator’ in the production and engineering of the lousy forms of employment that have gutted the global economy. It is a laboratory for the ‘capture’ of value, or what it refers to as ‘human, social and cultural capital’.

Therefore, its current situation provides a good standpoint from which to analyse the contemporary global crisis and the new conflicts and struggles that have emerged with its unfolding. Chris Newfield analyses the ‘logic of cuts that contradicts the knowledge economy’s apparent requirement of a mass middle-class, a society that has a majority of college graduates and of knowledge workers’, highlighting the changing terms of the contradiction between productive forces and relations of production. In other words, Newfield examines the processes of hierarchisation in the labour market and of differential inclusion in the education market. Extrapolating from his analysis, we can venture to suggest that today the labour market is immediately an education market, and vice versa.

Finally, the double crisis is not a stage or phase of the capitalist cycle: it has become permanent. Contrary to the proclamations of governments, global elites, and think tanks, the crisis isn’t over. The growth of precarisation, unemployment and poverty, the decrease of salaries, the funding cuts to university departments all demonstrate that the crisis is ongoing. When the bubble becomes the contemporary form of economy, crisis becomes a new form and technique of governance. In other words, the problem for rulers, from those operating in the university to those active in the broader society beyond it, is that of continuous adaptation to a permanent crisis.

This double crisis is also manifest through the insurgent knowledges that still are produced or find place in the existing university set up, yet which the university as an institution finds extremely difficult to identify with, use, or contain. This is fundamentally a post-colonial scenario, where the past and the present of the university are caught up in an impossible paradox. In this post-colonial set up the managers of capital may like to do away with mass education, but popular democratic politics simply do not allow the gate crashers to the university to melt away. This makes the double crisis even more acute.

To the double crisis there also corresponds a double fantasy of exit. On the one hand, there is a reactionary idea: that is, to rebuild the ivory tower, with its separation between production on the one hand and the ‘fortress of knowledge’ on the other. Not only is this separation impossible, but more importantly it works against the reality of contemporary cooperation and the subjective desires of living labour. It is the dystopia of academic elites, which seek to reproduce their rentier position. On the other hand, there is a liberal fantasy: to make the university–or ‘metroversity’, to use the category proposed by Stefano Harney–the engine of a new economic cycle.

Knowledge, in this fantasy, is understood not only as the basis of the contemporary economy, but also as a positive and ‘neutral’ aspect of cognitive capital. Yet the university remains the most anomalous institution. Neither can capital eat it up, nor can it vomit it away.

All of the articles in this zero issue illustrate a double opposition. They reject nostalgia for the university before it ended up ‘in ruins’. And they oppose the vision of the university as a cognitive factory of accumulation and exploitation. Edu-factory is not interested in rescuing the corporate university. As Jon Solomon points out, innovation is not a form of value-added, but the expression of the common. In this decisive transition, a new role for the university is only possible through social cooperation and conflicts. This means turning the university from a place occupied by capital to one occupied by the bodies of living labour.”