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The Co-operative University: Labour, Property and Pedagogy


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We are witnessing an “assault” on universities (Bailey and Freedman, 2011) and the future of higher education and its institutions is being “gambled.” (McGettigan, 2013) For many years now, we have been warned that our institutions are in “ruins” (Readings, 1997). We campaign for the “public university” (Holmwood, 2011) but in the knowledge that we work for private corporations, where academic labour is increasingly subject to the regulation of performative technologies (Ball, 2003) and where the means of knowledge production is being consolidated under the control of an executive. We want the cops off our campus but lack a form of institutional governance that gives teachers and students a right to the university. (Bhandar, 2013)

Outside the university, there is an institutional form that attempts to address issues of ownership and control over the means of production and constitute a radical form of democracy among those involved. Worker co-operatives are a form of ‘producer co- operative’ constituted on the values of autonomy, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In most cases the assets (the ‘means of production’) of the co-operative are held under ‘common ownership’, a social form of property that goes beyond the distinction between private and public.

I begin this paper by discussing the recent work of academics and activists to identify the advantages and issues relating to co-operative forms of higher education. I then focus in particular on the ‘worker co-operative’ organisational form and discuss its applicability and suitability to the governance of and practices within higher educational institutions. Finally, I align the values and principles of worker co-ops with the critical pedagogic theory of ‘Student as Producer’.

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The Co-operative University: Labour, Property and Pedagogy

  1. 1. The Co-operative University: Labour, Property and Pedagogy Joss Winn School of Education, University of Lincoln @josswinn Governing Academic Life conference, London School of Economics, 25-26th June 2014 Download the paper:
  2. 2. Ownership and governance of HE “It is in all our interests to support students, academic and support staff, outsourced cleaners and others in their struggles to reconfigure the ownership of the university, and seize democratic forms of governance the better to create and distribute the social goods that we produce collectively, in spite of current government policies and management strategies.” (Bhandar, 2013)
  3. 3. Why the Co-operative movement? • Co-operative principles of democracy, autonomy, education, etc. • Co-operative schools (Woodin, 2012; Facer et al, 2012) • ‘Realising the co-operative university’ (Cook, 2013) • John Lewis / Trust University / Mondragon (Boden et al, 2012; Wright et al, 2011)
  4. 4. Literature is sparse but roughly divided into… • Conversion: Constitute universities on co- operative values and principles • Dissolution: Radicalise the university from the inside, starting with the relationship between academics and students • Creation: Build experiments in higher education outside the financialised sector
  5. 5. Conversion • The main issue with conversion is a criticism of co- operatives in general: they ‘degenerate’ into capitalist forms of enterprise. It could end up being a weak type of reform. • Mondragon University (Wright et al, 2011) was created, but offers an interesting case study for institutions thinking of converting, given its scale and structure. Though very specific to Basque region. • Kasmir’s (1996) critique of ‘Myth’ of Mondragon worth noting. Co-operatives and their workers need to have and retain a sense of politics and activism.
  6. 6. Dissolution • Turn the institution into a ‘co-operative’ from the inside-out. E.g. – Teaching and learning strategy – Co-operatively constituted Centres, Institutes and Research Groups – Co-operatively run modules, programmes • Could be undertaken formally or subversively.
  7. 7. Creation: Worker co-operatives • My paper focuses on the creation route and considers worker co-operatives as an institutional form for higher education. • Why worker co-operatives? – Arguably, the most radical form of co-operative – Directly tackle issues of ownership and democratic control – Drawing on ‘Student as Producer’ project at Lincoln. Need to rethink the role of academics and students. – History of worker co-operatives is closely linked to history of labour movement and socialism in the UK. Lots to draw from and lessons learned. – Immanent critique of capital; pre-figurative of post-capital
  8. 8. Co-operative identity “A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), Statement on the Cooperative Identity, 1995
  9. 9. Co-operative values and principles The six co-operative values are: Self-help, Self- responsibility, Democracy, Equality, Equity and Solidarity. The principles are: Voluntary and Open Membership; Democratic Member Control; Member; Economic Participation; Autonomy and Independence; Education, Training and Information; Co-operation among Co-operatives; and Concern for Community.
  10. 10. ‘Basic character’ of worker co-operatives World Declaration on Worker Co-operatives, 2005 1. The dignity of work and the importance of democratic self- management; 2. the free association of workers; 3. that members of the co-operative collectively employ themselves to undertake the work; 4. the distinction of worker co-operatives from wage-labour and individual self-employment; 5. democratic decision-making; and 6. autonomy from the State and other third-parties with respect to management of the co-operative and control over the means of production.
  11. 11. Labour: Against work in the worker co-operative university • Marx: Division of labour = private property • ‘Indirect labour’ = labour mediated by exchange relation of reciprocal equivalence (‘value-form’) • ‘Direct labour’ = Non-reciprocal, not governed by imposed social custom of equivalence enforced by the State. • Division of labour in co-operative university needs to address this through experimentation. Grounded in pedagogical relationship between teacher and student.
  12. 12. Property: An academic commons • ‘Common ownership’: Not public, not private but social property (Industrial Common Ownership Act, 1976) • “The Co-operative is a common ownership enterprise. If on the winding up or dissolution of the Co-operative any of its assets remain to be disposed of after its liabilities are satisfied, these assets shall not be distributed among the Members, but shall be transferred to some other common ownership co-operative(s), or to Co-operatives UK (or any body that succeeds to its function). If such residual assets cannot be distributed in this manner they shall be transferred to some other organisation(s) whose purpose is to promote and support the co-operative movement and common ownership enterprises. This rule may only be amended by Extraordinary Resolution.”
  13. 13. • Workers are not individual owners with equity stake but stewards of a commons • “Members cannot freely alienate their shares in the co-operative… [has] many of the characteristics of public property, rather than simply private property held as an aggregate of individualities.” (Axworthy and Perry, 1989) • Mondragon is not an example of this. • Against alienation of labour but does not fully overcome it (Egan, 1990; Jossa, 2014)
  14. 14. Pedagogy: Student as Producer “The idea of student as producer encourages the development of collaborative relations between student and academic for the production of knowledge. However, if this idea is to connect to the project of refashioning in fundamental ways the nature of the university, then further attention needs to be paid to the framework by which the student as producer contributes towards mass intellectuality. This requires academics and students to do more than simply redesign their curricula, but go further and redesign the organizing principle, (i.e. private property and wage labour), through which academic knowledge is currently being produced.” (Neary & Winn, 2009: 137)
  15. 15. A political, pedagogical project • Kasmir (1996): We should “be sceptical of models that make business forms rather than people the agents of change.” • “If workplace democracy is to be genuine, it seems it must be premised on activism.” • Student as Producer inspired by Benjamin’s ‘Author as Producer’: Emphasis not only on the qualitiative nature of the product but on the process and means of knowledge production in the creation of social relations that are antithetical to capital (wage labour and private property).
  16. 16. • Research-based teaching and learning among academics and students (‘scholars’) • Scholars recognised for their respective contribution to the labour process of the university • The university is currently a means of production. Unproductive academic labour is being transformed into productive labour. Student as Producer is against the productivist paradigm of the ‘knowledge worker’. • Not a critique from the standpoint (reification) of labour but of capitalist labour itself (Postone 1993) • How can we become the university rather than go to university? cf. Marx’s ‘general intellect’, ‘mass intellectuality’ (Neary and Winn, 2009; Virno, 2001)
  17. 17. Elements of co-operative curricula 1. Teaching about co-operation – making visible the alternatives and challenging the social and economic status quo. 2. Training for co-operation – improving co- operative institutions and skills as economic and social resources. 3. Learning through co-operation – developing co- operative identities, dispositions and habits 4. Co-operation for education – establishing Co- operative schools, colleges and universities. (Facer et al, 2012)
  18. 18. Postscript: A laboratory for the production of social knowledge The Social Science Centre, Lincoln Constituted as a co-operative for free, public higher education in 2011. SSC course (Jan-May 2014) on ‘Co-operation and Education + conference.