A special issue on Neoliberalism, Technocracy and Higher Education is being published in Social Epistemology vol. 33 issue 4 this autumn. This special issue had its origins in two symposia organised by the CPT, which were: ‘The Digital University in a Neoliberal Age’ in November 2017 and ‘The Neoliberal Imagination’ in February 2018. The first symposium had talks by Jana Bacevic, Mark Carrigan, Gary Hall and Liz Morrish, and the second had talks by Ross Abbinnett, John Narayan, Paula Schwevers and Myka Tucker-Abramson.
The interest in organising these symposia stemmed from a concern with the way neoliberal political economy is a political project not only engaged with constructing markets to meet the needs of corporate capital, but also with the reconstruction of subjecthood and the way the social and democratic subject is being nudged into becoming a subject defined by an increasingly ubiquitous market rationality. Neoliberals seek to present corporate capitalism as a form of post-expert technocracy whereby contrary to the rhetoric of markets serving individuals, once state bureaucracy is ‘rolled back’, individuals have to adapt to serve ‘objective’ market forces, with the price signal providing individuals with the epistemic basis for such adaptation. Experts may seek to model market scenarios but experts ought not to interfere with markets because no-one can gain sufficient information to regulate let alone reform market forces. Technology comes to play a key role here because it is used increasingly to render ‘transparent’ the working practices of individuals and to subject them to intensified audit regulation. Audit data is used to rank departments within public and private organisations, with such data on public organisations being used create a market based environment which is transparent to the public now defined in terms of self-interested market consumers. Universities play a central role here not only because they are increasingly subject to such processes which in turn shapes the knowledge produced but also because they are coming to present education itself as a process of human capital investment.
It was decided to broaden the debate out following the success of the two symposia by organising a special issue in the journal Social Epistemology which is concerned with the social, institutional and technological mediation of knowledge production and the political ramifications of these.
This special issue has articles by:
Bob Antonio on the contested nature of the public sphere and the rise of authoritarian populism under neoliberalism
Richard Hall on the way to challenge the marketized and authoritarian practices within universities by turning to decolonise epistemologies
John Holmwood and Chaime Marcuello-Servós on the way digital technology is creating a more marketized and thus more oppressive and precarious working environment in universities
Elio di Muccio on the way core HR technologies are used to render work relations transparent to allow managers to capture and control workers’ knowledge
Justin Cruickshank on the way the recent changes to English higher education exemplify the use of audits to construct markets and harm individuals by forcing them to become adaptive functionaries serving corporate capital
Liz Morrish on the way the Teaching Excellent Framework and its justification are based on the state’s attempt to construct students as neoliberal market actors reducing knowledge to human capital consumption
Ross Abbinnett on the way technology is presented by neoliberals as being a means to pursue unlimited demands for ever increasing performance
Jana Bacevic on the role of academic critique in the neoliberal university where all knowledge production is being instrumentalised and commodified.
The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy
Speaker: Paolo Gerbaudo
12th June, 4-6pm, G33 Education Building, University of Birmingham
From the Pirate Parties in Northern Europe to Podemos in Spain and the 5-Star Movement in Italy, from the movements behind Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in UK, to Jean-Luc Melenchon’s presidential bid in France, the last decade has witnessed the rise of a new blueprint for political organisation: the ‘digital party’.
These new political formations tap into the potential of social media, and use online participatory platforms to include the rank-and-file. Paolo Gerbaudo looks at the restructuring of political parties in the time of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and campaigning based on Big Data. Drawing on interviews with key political leaders and digital organisers, he argues that the digital party is very different from the class-based ‘mass party’ of the industrial era.
With new structures come worrying changes in political forms, such as the growth of power cliques and the need for centralised, charismatic leaders, the erosion of intermediary party layers and the loss of accountability. However, there is also a growth of strong unity at the centre and extreme flexibility at the margins, creating a promising template which could counter the social polarisation created by the Great Recession and the failures of liberal democracy.
Event co-hosted by CSE/Capital and Class Midlands and the Contemporary Philosophy of Technology Research Group
Automation, Changing Work, and New Ways of Struggle
Saturday 9 March, 3-5pm
Phoebe Moore (University of Leicester),
Saori Shibata (Leiden University)
The world of work is changing. We see rapid moves towards automation, quantified work, precarity, and zero-hour contracts. But at the same time we see new and different ways in which workplace struggle is conducted. This event provides an opportunity for those interested in these different changes – to the workplace and to resistance in the workplace – to come together and discuss recent research and to reflect on ongoing campaigns. The session will focus on:
- research into the changing nature of the (digital) workplace by Phoebe Moore, leading international scholar of the political economy of technology and work;
- a discussion from two of the leading trade union activists from the United Voices of the World, Petros Elia and Susana Benavides, who recently won a major victory following dismissal for organising for a living wage campaign at Top Shop;
- a discussion by Saori Shibata, lecturer in the political economy of Japan, of how the creation of precarious workers is being contested in the changing capitalist context of Japan.
There will plenty of opportunity for discussion, debate, and plotting the next moves in the struggle against capitalism.
Phoebe Moore is Associate Professor of Political Economy and Technology at the University of Leicester. Her research looks at the impact of technology on work from a critical perspective, looking at quantification through wearable tracking and algorithmic decision-making as a set of management techniques, and she recently carried out a prestigious Research Fellowship at the Weizenbaum Institute in Berlin where she focused on the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) within the workplace.
Petros Elia is originally from the UK, and lived in Caracas, Venezuela for 3 years. Upon his return to London, he met with Latin American communities, and saw institutional workplace abuse of migrants. In January 2014 he was a founder member of the United Voices of the World, which has quickly gained an international reputation as one of the most vibrant and militant campainging unions organising mainly migrant workers in London. Recent high profile campaigns have focused on Harrods, LSE and the Ministry of Justice.
Susana Benavides is originally from Ecuador, and moved to Spain after the 1998 banking crisis. When the 2008 crash unfolded, she moved again, this time to London, working as a Topshop cleaner until her unlawful dismissal for demanding a living wage with the support of her union, UVW. The case went to a tribunal in 2018, seeing the employer, Britannia, admit that they had unfairly dismissed her co-claimant (Carolina), whilst stubbornly not conceding the same in Susana’s case. Susana is a member of the UVW’s non-hierarchal Executive Committee and a key organiser in UVW’s ongoing campaigns.
Saori Shibata is lecturer in the political economy of Japan (Leiden University). Her resesarch focuses on the changing nature of capitalism within Japan, especially the different ways in which the move towards non-regular working patterns is being contested and challenged through new forms of workers’ resistance.
Robots on the frontline! In search of the authentic virtual public servant
Speaker: Dr Stephen Jeffares
Wednesday 20th March 2019, 4.00pm – 5.30pm
LR7 Arts Building, University of Birmingham
Register for free here.
Abstract: For over two decades policy makers have sought to dismantle the infrastructure for face-to-face encounters, driven by pressures to reduce costs, offer convenience and attempts to maintain control. Amid the largescale introduction of contact centres and self-service websites the contribution of authentic human interaction has become devalued. At a time when relations between citizens and public servants are under strain, this talk argues the sustained efforts to design out possibilities of face to face public encounters serve only to further to distance citizen and state. Through a series of case examples the talk seeks to consider the possibility that the current and growing interest in Artificial Intelligence may well be reinstating long neglected discourses of human authenticity.
Bio: Stephen Jeffares is Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Birmingham. His research documents how public servants experience and contribute to discourses of public service reform.
The Ambience Factory
Location: 1000 Trades, 16 Frederick St, Birmingham, B1 3HE – View Map
Mon, November 19, 2018, 5:30 PM – 8:00 PM GMT
Sophie Bullock and Sophie Huckfield are ‘The Ambience Factory’, a faux corporate mindfulness business, whose remit is to ease its clients’ work anxiety through satirising the techniques of the ‘McMindfulness’ movement and developing “stress relieving” products and digital technologies.
For Maker Monday, Ambience Factory will be performing an ironic PowerPoint presentation, which will not only present their corporate strategy but also invite the audience to take part in their unique and uplifting Mindfulness exercises proven to increase productivity, resilience and focus. Following this life-changing presentation, they will be joined by leading experts in the realms of sociology, philosophy and activism from The Contemporary Philosophy of Technology Research Group (CPTRG), to discuss the adoption of workplace well-being programmes under neoliberalism, and the benefits of cross-disciplinary practices between the arts, academia and technology.
This promises to be a fun evening, with artists Sophie Bullock and Sophie Huckfield using comedy as a tool to dissect neoliberalism and playfully respond to academic research, often inaccessible to non-academic audiences.
Follow Ambience Factory on Instagram – @ambiencefactory.
Be prepared to be provoked and entertained in equal measure.
As always, we will keep the inspiration flowing (the first drink is on us) and food.
Places are limited and will go fast and booking is essential.