Alternative ways of thinking the university (UNIKE conference)

In February, I presented one of several papers on ‘Alternative ways of thinking the university’ at a conference on Universities in the Knowledge Economy (UNIKE). I was joined by Joss Winn, also from the University of Lincoln School of Education, who spoke on ‘Labour, property and pedagogy: theory and practice for co-operative higher education’, and Catherine Butcher of the University of Roehampton (with ‘Heterodox forms of university governance: placing students at the core’). A college and friend Aniko Horvath, from Kings College, presented ‘Who owns the future of UK higher education?’ in our stream the following day, and Fern Thompsett of the University of Queensland presented on ‘The prefigurative politics of free universities: an “ateleological” approach to contesting capitalism and the knowledge economy’. Invigorated to have been amidst such powerful ideas.

‘Either we do this or we die. There is no alternative.’ Learning from struggles for autonomous higher education


This paper begins with an assertion, made in 1933 by the African-American sociologist and educator W. E. B. Du Bois that it was necessary to construct radically alternative universities that would enable the ‘physical survival…spiritual freedom, and…social growth’ of black people in the face of entrenched racial dictatorship in the United States. I offer some reflections on his militantly optimistic reading of ‘no alternative’ before introducing a number of other historical cases in which hegemonic definitions, forms, hierarchies, and practices of higher education have been challenged as part of wider struggles for human dignity, economic and cognitive justice, and social change – and in which autonomous institutions and ‘infrastructures of resistance and creativity’ have been created. I then consider the extent to which contemporary movements to defend the public university, on the one hand, and to create autonomous or parallel alternatives to it, on the other, may be considered part of this broader tradition. As the structural transformation of the university under regimes of neoliberal capitalism is well documented, I concentrate on the effects of this transformation on conditions of possibility for critiquing, imagining alternatives to, and ultimately building and defending humane and progressive opportunities for democratic higher learning. I concretise this by discussing some areas of work which are being developed in projects for free, co-operative higher education in the United Kingdom, and conclude with a provocation that divesting in the ideological promises of the neoliberal university, while painful and uncertain, can liberate our desire and will to learn and build better spaces for physical survival, spiritual freedom and social justice. My argument is that those working in universities have plenty of alternatives, but need to learn anew how to understand, cultivate and fight for them.

Read the paper

Why schools are not like businesses (and how governors can protect them for learning)

In November 2014, school governors across England received news about a new campaign – ‘Make Schools Your Business’ – to place more people with business skills on governing bodies. It is one of a number of campaigns being run by the government and nongovernmental organisations to promote the idea that people with a variety of knowledge and skills should be helping schools work. Head teachers and governors around the country, under pressure from the government to demonstrate that their schools are successful, are paying attention to campaigns like this.1

On the surface, it looks like a sensible campaign. What teacher, parent or school leader doesn’t want to improve children’s education by ensuring that school life is informed by the very best knowledge and skills, particularly in a complicated economic and political climate? Who can be comfortable making decisions about children’s futures if they feel they lack the understanding or competence to do so? The common-sense appeal of ‘making schools our business’ is almost irresistible: it either seems like an obviously good thing, or – especially in a competitive environment – something that is too necessary to question.

But it is important to discuss it. There is more to this campaign than meets the eye. And the more-than-meets-the-eye things matter because they have big consequences for our children’s education and life chances, for teachers’ work, for what our schools are and become, and for the future of our society. They matter because, as the campaign reminds us, ‘every school in England [should] have a diverse and effective governing body driving school improvement’. Governing bodies need people who understand where different definitions of ‘school improvement’ come from and whose interests they serve, and how to make sure education remains in the interests of children and of a democratic society, just as much as they need people who understand the business of schooling.

It is therefore important to see the ‘Make Schools Your Business’ campaign from perspectives that help us understand how it came about, why it seems attractive, what positive and negative effects it might have on learning, and what it is being presented as an alternative or response to. Fortunately, such perspectives are readily available; social researchers, teachers, parents and students around the world have been developing them for decades. These show us how a new ‘business common sense’ has been created and how it is changing our institutions and communities. They help us see how the campaign fits into a larger project of corporate school reform in England and other countries. They explain how powerful groups make their particular ideas and interests appear to be good for everybody. And some of them point to alternative ways of thinking about what makes schools good. Following are some examples of how governors can use these tools to think critically about the ‘Make Schools Your Business’ campaign, and to build confidence in designing school governance in democratic ways.

Is it a fact that schools are like businesses?

This is a bold statement. Many people think of schools as places where children learn and businesses as organisations which are concerned with making, buying or selling products and services in exchange for profit. So how did it become possible to talk about education in the language of business? How did ideas about educational success become tied to values of ‘strategic management’, sound financial practice and progress monitoring?

The answers to these questions are rooted in debates about what schools are for and who should pay for them. Debates about whether schools should be publicly or privately funded; serve business interests or democratic citizenship; and be controlled by teachers, parents, young people or government – these go back well over a century. The ones directly influencing schools in England today, however, began forming over thirty years ago when the government began introducing new policies that would make public services look, act and be judged more like private businesses. This was part of a larger project (promoted in different ways by Conservative, New Labour and Liberal-Conservative coalition governments alike) to reduce state responsibility for social welfare and services, health care, and education (often called budget-cutting or ‘austerity’), and increase the power of the private sector in these areas. New kinds of management, based on models of industrial and financial management, were introduced into education.

Many of the practices which are taken for granted as part of education today, such as a focus on ‘efficiencies’ and ‘outputs’, decentralised budgets, target-based accountability, performance-related achievement and pay, league tables, market-like competition between individuals and groups of schools, and the use of economic principles and values to determine the worth of non-economic activities (including children’s learning) have been created in recent decades in order to make schools look and act like businesses. These have developed alongside other kinds of corporate education reform, including the privatisation of schooling, the growth of for-profit schooling, the building of close relations between corporations and educational institutions, the increasing role of private educational services and consultancies, and the ‘outsourcing’ of school management, teacher education, curriculum and teaching to private companies.

As more policies ask teachers, head teachers and governors to think and talk about education in this way, and as it becomes financially and politically riskier for them not to, opportunities to talk about whether schools are, or could be or should be like businesses, are closed down. But this in no way means it is a ‘fact’ that they are, nor that everyone agrees they should (or even can) be.

Why are businesses interested in governing schools?

The ‘Make Schools Your Business’ campaign has two explicit aims. One is to encourage people with business skills to ‘do something about education’ by volunteering as school governors. The other is to encourage businesses to contribute to school governance as part of their ‘corporate social responsibility’. But what do these people need to do about education, and in what way is making decisions about children’s education the responsibility of corporations?

One reason is that the schools registered with the charity have requested volunteers with such skills, and that registered volunteers are looking for ways to make use of their own capabilities. A second is that the Department for Education has ‘called for school governors to be “more business-like” in the future’. And a third is that many businesses believe schools should prepare children more directly for work. According to the campaign, therefore, ‘schools need access to skilled volunteers from the world of business’ who can ‘offer their expertise to the operations of a governing body’.

These reasons appeal to certain kinds of common-sense, like the idea that being successful and professional means being ‘business-like’ and that an organisation must be business-like to be considered good. In the current climate, where policies are made as if this was a solid truth, even people who know it isn’t necessarily so often feel that they should think it is, or that they have no choice but to act accordingly. Then there is the widely held belief that the main purpose of school is to make people ‘employable’. It can be hard to question this without sounding unreasonable – who doesn’t want every child to live well in a world that they play a part in making through fulfilling work? Yet at school gates, the adults who look after these children discuss the problems of schools that focus too much on testing, skills, competition, and making ‘employable’ people, and too little on the development of children’s personalities, confidence, creative talents and deep understandings of other people and the world. This is especially true for parents and carers whose children do not fit easily, or at all, into the prevailing norms of ‘sensibility’ or ‘expected levels of progress’. Apart from this, we seem to have trouble talking about the bigger problem that stable and fulfilling employment has become less available rather than more. Today, schools need to draw on a range of specialised capacities not only to survive in a harsh economic and political climate, but also to help children and society create different and better climates in the future – worlds that they can not only survive, but in which they can collectively thrive.

Children learn much more than knowledge and skills in school. They also learn things which are not taught directly – how to think, values, beliefs and norms that come through what researchers call the ‘hidden curriculum’. The teaching of business skills is underpinned not only by a technical need for them in the present economy, but also by an interest in promoting business values. These can have an important place in business and business-like activities, and come in many different forms from profiteering to social enterprise and co-operativism. Yet it is a problem if business values shape aspects of school life which are not business-related, such as caring, learning, teaching, educational planning, community building, political governance or social change. These things rely on other kinds of knowledge, skill and value, and often times these knowledges, skills and values are not regarded as important for business. It is also a problem because, when not approached critically, ‘business skills’ may endorse individualism or economically-motivated partnership over other kinds of relationship, a belief that competition is healthy and necessary, a faith that whatever matters can be measured and given value, an acceptance of educational and social inequality, and a concern for ‘financial independence’ (working with less public funding) and, in some cases, profitability.

The last point gives special pause for thought about the ‘Make Schools Your Business’ campaign. While it is clear why individuals may want to volunteer as school governors, what’s in it for businesses?  While SGOSS is funded by the UK Department for Education, consider its roster of trustees – Lloyds Bank, Allen and Overy (an international law firm ‘providing services for global business and industry’), KPMG (an audit, tax and financial advising service), the City of London, United Biscuits, and WPP marketing and communications, and its partners, which in addition to a number of school governance and educational organisations include BP (the multinational oil and gas corporation): Harlequins Rugby Union, and TKAT (a multi-academy trust). Why are these organisations, most of which are not in the business of educating children and young people, interested in getting more people with business skills and values onto the governing boards of schools?

One argument is that it is easier to change schooling in the model and interests of business if teachers’ and head teachers’ activities are shaped and overseen by people who either assume that schools are like (or should be) businesses, and who expect that the people who work in them should become business-people. This is a method of corporate education reform. One example of its influence is the rise of the for-profit school, a trend which has been ongoing in the United States for some time. It is more of a debate in England, with former Education minister Michael Gove having encouraged the development of for-profit academies (particularly those which were ‘failing’ schools ‘taken over’ from local government by corporate providers) and the current minister Nicky Morgan more recently arguing that there is no ‘place for the profit element in education’. Yet even in the majority of schools which remain not-for-profit, and especially in the growing number of quasi-independent academy schools, many educational activities, labour and services are outsourced to private profit-making companies. In a competitive market and working with often reduced budgets, head teachers and governing bodies may feel forced to make ‘efficiency savings’ with these contracts to meet ‘performance targets’ even in cases where they know that doing so means settling for poorer education or unethical practice. Internationally, there have long been concerns that corporate power in education threatens teachers’ practice and professional autonomy – including with regard to the UK’s largest and only private examination board, Edexcel, as it is owned by the for-profit multinational corporation Pearson which also dominates the multi-billion-dollar market of controversial but mandatory standardised testing in many US states.

Under current regulations, all schools in the UK are required to reconstitute their governing bodies by September 2015. One reason is to ensure these boards work as well as they should for children and schools, and because the government wants to ‘create consistency across the country under a single more flexible regulatory framework’. This process definitely offers schools some excellent opportunities to improve their governing bodies, and time to figure out what this means in practice. Yet there is also a need for caution in how discussions about this process are being shaped. The official guidance, for example, explains that governing bodies should be smaller, more technically skills-based, focused on strategic leadership and financing, and not necessarily – not even desirably – representative of parents, teachers or the wider communities in which a school is located. They say little about education itself. There are of course certain benefits in organising committees that make decisions quickly and skilfully. But this common sense can also be used to justify an even further move away from democratic governance, away from appreciation for the value of public dialogue about education, away from planning that emerges from local knowledge, and away from student, teacher, parent and community participation in the organisation of learning and school life. The point that school governors should serve children’s interests rather than their own is indisputable, but it must also be understood that everyone’s interpretation of what these interests are how they can best be served is shaped by their personal experience and position in society, particularly with regard to education, and by their beliefs about how schooling and learning works. This is why it is important that critical and public debate remains (or, where it is not common, becomes) a core value of school governance – especially when surrounded by arguments that it is an ‘unprofessional’ or ‘inefficient’ use of time and resources.

Are there other ways of thinking about good school governance?

Other models of school governance are worth considering, and other ways of thinking about the business of schooling are possible. These do not deny that schools need inspirational and effective leaders. They do not deny that schools also need to be governed by people who understand the ins-and-outs of finance, organisation, planning and accounting just as much as they need the contributions of those with experience and expertise in children’s special needs, pedagogy, play and curriculum design, and the contributions of those who have even more specialised knowledges of and interests in the children themselves. The alternatives simply do not assume that the ‘business-end’ of school governance is more important than any other part, or that this part should look like corporate business, or that teachers should have to prove that they are succeeding on business-like terms or in the interests of business. The models assume that schools are not like businesses and that children and learning are not products, no matter how much people try to make them so.

For example, the co-operative model of school governance is becoming popular in England. Since 2008, nearly 800 schools have become part of the UK Co-operative Network (it is now the third largest network of schools in the country).3 While co-operative education has a long tradition here, it is attracting new interest as an alternative to academisation (especially in situations where schools risk being forcibly removed from local authority and placed under the control of an academy chain which may be privately owned). While this model does not ensure the defence or overall improvement of the state education system – and this is one of the criticisms of it – it does ensure that schools are not treated like businesses, and helps ‘reconnect educational futures with shared community futures’.5 Co-operative governing bodies adhere to a set of internationally agreed values (self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, and solidarity) and principles (such as voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; a commitment to education, training and information; co-operation amongst co-operatives and concern for community).

There are other examples of good governance for public education in England, as well as in other parts of the world where teachers and those interested in inclusive and democratic schooling have resisted corporate educational reforms or created completely different alternatives.6 In his writing about St. Georges in the East school in London, which was democratically governed from 1945–1955, Michael Fielding draws inspiration from its head teacher, Alex Bloom, who wanted to

‘assure those many hesitant folk working under similar conditions that, within the framework of State education and despite the limitations of space, staff and substance, progressive education is possible. It may well be that, because of these limitations, the need for pioneers is the more intense’.7

 This sentiment is just as relevant today as it was then. It can be helpful to be a bit more sceptical of what seems like common sense and a lot more confident  about what we suspect might be good sense – like that it is not a simple fact that schools are or must be like businesses, no matter how many times powerful people say this is true. We need public debate about school governance that does not just start from making schools our business, but that starts by making it our business to determine what kind of schools we really want and what kinds of values, decision-making principles and skills are most suitable for these ends. Alongside teachers, those involved in school governance can ‘act collectively and organise accordingly’ to ensure that opportunities to prevent the transformation of schools into businesses and business-like places are not lost.8 Discussing the wider context and politics of the ‘Make Schools Your Business Campaign’ in school governors’ meetings, and amongst wider school communities, might be an excellent way to start.


  1. To read about the ‘Make Schools Your Business’ that this pamphlet responds to, see
  1. Tom Woodin, Co-operation, Learning and Co-operative Values: Contemporary Issues in Education (London: Routledge, 2014).
  1. Linda Shaw, ‘A quiet revolution: co-operative schools in the UK’, Co-op Stories, online at
  1. Woodin, Co-operation, Learning and Co-operative Values, 2014.
  1. Keri Facer, ‘Why co-operative schools must work’, presentation given in 2010, online at
  1. Here ‘public’ does not refer to ‘public’ schools which are confusingly actually private ones, but to a system of state-funded education for all children and young people. It can also refer to a system of education which values learning for public participation in democratic social life.
  1. This quotation is from Michael Fielding’s ‘Alex Bloom: Pioneer of radical state education’ in the journal Forum, Volume 74, No. 2/3, pp. 119–134. It can be found on p. 132.
  1. Howard Stevenson and Alison Gilliand, ‘The teachers’ voice: teacher unions at the heart of a new democratic professionalism’, forthcoming.

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On co-operation and radical democracy in/for education

It has been nearly impossible to keep pace with Significant Things Happening in education in recent weeks. This may be due to my inability to filter the floods of information and analysis which are now continuously created in our hyper-reflexive ‘attention economy’ of public writing. Or due to a stuckness in negotiating the dissonance between feeling overwhelmed by critique and simultaneously sensing that the praxis to which it points often just cannot yet exist in embodied resistance within our institutions. Or perhaps it reflects the experience of ‘uninterrupted disturbance’ which characterises the permanent counterrevolution of managerial restructuring and governmental policy making in schools and universities. ‘All new-formed [relations] become antiquated before they can ossify’…but it does not feel that we therefore even have the possibility of ‘facing with sober senses’ the real conditions of our lives and relations with one another. Instead, endless reformation, the pseudo-creative but ultimately adaptive and conformist reinvention of the self and of the horizons of possibility, has become a precondition for the intelligibility of the everyday world itself. The irony is that the more we try to make a sensible world within the parameters of this irrational logic, the more impoverished and impaired our sociological and radical imaginations become. We need new ways of making sense, and doing right.

It is seductive to think that we all just need digests of Andrew McGettigan’s digests on the politics of higher education policy and of new work on the politics of educational debt and indenture. But what we really need is time and space and courage and faith to respond to this analysis, to throw ourselves into the project of democratising education at the highest and most intimate levels, to understand and test the limits and living political contradictions of our own knowledge and actions, to orient ourselves morally and politically away and farther away from discourses and practices and habits and systems and acts of power that depoliticise, dedemocratise, dehumanise, and generally foreclose possibilities for people to make autonomous and alternative futures. In education and everywhere. We have so much knowledge in public, but so little public knowledge. So much knowledge in common, and not yet sufficient common knowledge about how to transgress the limits of tolerance that are now bursting at their seams.

I wonder if it is possible to say that we need a new kind of enlightenment; illuminations of possibilities that we presently cannot see from amidst the debris of this storm. Hannah Arendt once described darkness as a political category; a name for the social formation which not only suppresses particular freedoms but eradicates the possibility of possibility itself by obliterating – sometimes silently – the forces and conditions that make new happenings possible. She measured the darkness of a time not by its levels of observable and felt violence, but by the degree to which injustice, inhumanity, and even barbaric violations of life occur in public view, with public knowledge, without public recourse, and with diminished or eviscerated possibilities for collective dialogue, learning and action. According to Arendt, the strength of totalitarianism lay in its capacity to destroy rather than simply to dominate the horizons of possibility by first closing and then foreclosing all space in which people might think and act and become and transform together. The darkest situations, therefore, are those in which the very desire for such possibilities becomes nonsensical; where, as Arendt described it with the words of the poet Bertolt Brecht, ‘there is only wrong and no outrage’.

The present times and spaces of aggravated neoliberalism have been described as ‘dark’, but they also seem to be cracked by a curiously strong presence of outrage and despair – some virtual, but quite a lot on the street and some in the classroom as well. It would be tempting to thus conclude that the situation is worse than we thought; that in fact there is wrong and outrage, but that the latter is no longer a force for autonomous or revolutionary action. But it more likely seems there is a missing link between the articulation-in-practice of the No and finding voices with which to speak it, and the articulation-in-practice of the many Yeses that so many people are groping and striving towards. There is a not-yet-knowing-how to break cynical and comfortable habits and relations of ‘disaffected content’, and a not-yet consciousness of the extent to which we are neoliberalism. It is therefore in the spaces of prefigurative creation between critique and possibility that I think some of the most important work in education is now being done.

As Arendt also argued in Men in Dark Times (1968), we must keep our minds and hearts and ways of being receptive to the politics of possibility in order to make sense of the new forms we cannot predict it will take. ‘Even in the darkest of times’, she wrote, ‘we have the right to expect some illumination’, and it

‘may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth…’

Just as it is difficult to keep on top of changes in educational policy and politics (unless one does so for a living), it is also difficult to keep a fair perspective on the volume of ‘uncertain, flickering, and weak light’ that is presently illuminating alternatives in education in a multitude of ways today. From the growth of new student, student–worker and student–community movements to the rising levels of academic and popular critique of neoliberal educational policy and practice; from highly organised projects in popular higher education to slow-burning interest in radical and alternative and transformative models for teaching and learning, things are not what they were three years ago, when the languages of crisis and death were much more common. Today, while we still find ourselves speaking through discourses of death and despair, it is increasingly in less wounded and more messianic registers in which references to the loss or abandonment of this cultural and economic and institutional form of the school and the university mark the possibility of new beginnings rather than the end of hope. There are things happening just this side of the future as well.

What does unsettle me about the newest educational movements and politicisations, however, is the lack of attention to questions around the creation of new institutional (or anti-institutional) forms, and to the embodied materiality of prefigurative political activities. Or more so, the lack of attention to creating new forms of educational work, and new ways of organising learning throughout social life, which are radically politically democratic and radically economically democratic. Issue-focused and theoretically articulated struggles against particular violations or against entire organisational logics are absolutely necessary. But these must be part of a broader political and intellectual project (‘project’, from Latin: to ‘throw out/ahead’) – a revolutionary historical project to reclaim education as and for democracy. A project in which we, educators currently occupying the hegemonic institutions, learn to struggle and to resist, and in which all those in resistance make a long-term commitment to building new institutions. Whether these will be ‘in the shell of the old’ or elsewhere remains a question.

But what remains a fact is that at the moment, most people live at least partly within and rely upon these institutions, and are trying to make them work and to keep the vampires out for complex reasons that cannot be reduced to ‘disaffected consent’. And what also remains a fact is that when examined micro-politically, or rather from the vantage of the richness of everyday life, these institutions are simultaneously neoliberalising but creaking and cracking with repressed and disoriented and not-yet possibility. With teachers who despise what the class war is doing to our common children but who do not allow themselves to believe in alternatives because the fear of failure is too immense, and children who have a better-than-you’d-guess understanding of things like justice and courage and how they can enjoy learning. Filled with so many people who are happy to get along so long as they can, but who are also looking just as hard for a different sort of light, listening for a different tone. And it has to be on a wavelength we can actually see and frequencies we can hear if it is to take any breath at all. Lots of people know that the change needed is radical. How to really get from here to there? How do we learn the courage and the hope?

The cultural theorist and critical educator Raymond Williams once said that ‘it is in making hope practical, rather than despair convincing, that we must resume and change and extend our campaigns’. Much as I love the sentiment, I think that it cannot be a guide for action. Hope, in the form of what Ernst Bloch called ‘real possibility’, is rarely practical. It is more likely to be impractical (or regarded as such within an established order of things), unconvincing (within the dominant horizons of intelligibility) and inconvenient (in relation to the priorities that clutter our existing to-do lists) and it requires an awful lot more support and courage than we are used to mustering. Therefore, the task of enabling and facilitating radical democratisation in and beyond our educational institutions, as well as in our everyday relations to thinking and to one another, cannot be to make hope practical. It is to make despair untenable whilst making it possible to engage in practices of hope and transformation which may be impractical, to cultivate ‘negative capabilities’ and to effect an ontological reframing of the value of practicality itself. It is to attend to the difficult questions of self-care and care for others in this way of being, to the care and security of the young and the old, and coming to understand how anyone in particular might experience and contribute to this project, differently, according to their own emotional and material and relational affordances. ‘From each according to her abilities, to each according to her needs.’ What would it be like to organise not just educational work but the labour of a whole social politics and ethics of learning in a way that blurs the boundaries between theoretical and practical activity, re-integrates learning needs with desire, orients energy towards holistic development, and enables ‘all the springs of co-operative wealth [to] flow more abundantly’?

It is this question that motivated me to join the Social Science Centre in Lincoln (UK) in 2011, a small higher education co-operative which was established as an act of resistance to the privatization and corporatization of the university, and as a space for experimentation and creative work in the self-organisation of cultural labour, co-operative and critical pedagogies, curriculum and anti-curriculum design, and new forms of popular higher education. It is also this question that makes me more immediately interested in some energies which have been stirring recently across the UK and in various places around the world about the possibilities of co-operative education, co-operative schools (as an alternative to private academies in situations where actually public education appears to be off the table), the creation of a co-operative university, and the strengths and limits of the radical tendencies within the (now well-neoliberalized) co-operative movement in general.

Co-operativism has long been a powerful and ubiquitous movement. But can the concepts, histories, actually-existing experiences, and languages of co-operative education offer either a guiding light towards a movement for educational democracy proper – particularly where these are understood as forms of material and economic self-governance and democracy as well as political and cultural ones – or a doorway into more coherent conversations about a range of social forms? Does co-operativism as a belief system and social form, with its concern for institution-building and mutual aid alongside its concern with educating democratic process, offer a potential point of articulation? Do the understandings of co-operation now circulating mean similar things to all those affected? We have yet to explore the relationship or dissonance between these (e.g. the labour-oriented concepts) and other discourses of co-operation in education, particularly those inspired by the work of John Dewey and other theorists of co-operative learning and democracy. And what should we be careful not to lose in projects articulated around ‘co-operation’? Co-operation is, after all, just one of many forms that a radically democratic life might take, one kind of activity that might be productive, and it can often appear undemocratic through the lens of dissensus. To what extent can we push back and forward, in any concrete situation, through co-operative practices and forms of organisation within bureaucratic, capital-driven institutions? With whom should we be willing to co-operate? Would embracing co-operativism, let’s say for the university, mean that we would abandon the fight for communal, socialised and public education, or on the contrary radicalise and reimagine it? How do we activate the radical, prefigurative and transformative energies of co-operative experiments, and to make such work possible for people living in the widest range of conditions, when the temptation will be ever to make them ‘practical’ and ‘intelligible’ within our present capitalocentric logics? What is the relationship between co-operation, co-operativism, and radical economic, political, cultural, social and cognitive democracy? Is co-operativism, as a potentially Sisyphean project within our present conditions, the politics we need for liberation and living today?

Fortunately, it seems that there may now be more, and more visible, public spaces forming to cultivate common inquiries into and experimental work around these questions.

Click here to join the ‘Creating Co-operative Universities’ mailing list.

Read reports on recent gatherings:

Co-operative Education against the Crisis

Realising the Co-operative University

And read some good musings by Richard Hall, and here.

And visit Joss Winn and Richard Hall’s workshop on ‘Forming a Co-operative University’ and Mike Neary’s session on ‘The university and the city: the Social Science Centre and forming the urban revolution’ at Discourse, Power, Resistance 14 in April 2014.