Beneath the University, the Commons

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Beneath the University, the Commons


A conference at the University of Minnesota, April 8-11, 2010


"Seemingly discrete struggles over the conditions of university life have erupted around the world within the past year. These struggles share certain commonalities: outrage over precarious and exploitative conditions, the occupation of university spaces, and goals of reclaiming education from state and corporate interests. It is becoming increasingly apparent that recent struggles over the university are not merely discrete events. They express a wider collective desire for direct control over the means of production and forms of life; a desire to create relationships of learning, collaboration, and innovation beyond the university’s attempts to quantify and discipline them.

Although the modern university has served the interests of the state and capital since its inception, the past thirty years have witnessed tightened ties with corporate, financial, and geopolitical interests. The subsumption of higher education under capital-driven business models has intensified the expropriation of the products of cooperative labor. With the proliferation of student-consumer and scholar-manager subjectivities, we increasingly find ourselves uncomfortably and often unwittingly occupying the role of active participants in these trends. As the global struggles over the past year have illustrated, however, opposition to these mechanisms of capture is mounting, as are creative strategies for alternatives and exodus. Struggles against the corporate university are linking up across borders; the slogan of the International Student Movement, “One World – One Struggle : Education is Not for Sale,” and the slogan of the Anomalous Wave, “We Won’t Pay for Your Crisis,” appear in actions across Europe, the Americas, and South Asia.

“Beneath the University, the Commons” builds on the work accomplished by activists, organizers, artists, and academics at the “Re-thinking” and “Re-working” the University Conferences of 2008 and 2009 ([1]), while expanding the scope of our discussions and bringing together more international scholars in order to address an increasingly volatile global situation. Our goal is to aggregate and accelerate our knowledge of university conditions and our collective acts of resistance to them, including alternative forms of engaging with each other and with the world. To this end, the 2010 conference will draw together a diverse set of people committed to exploring how we can understand, create, and experiment with the commons beneath the university.

Our questions include but are not limited to:

  • How do we enact and sustain occupations of the university in the

exceptional times and spaces of the everyday?

  • How do we generate an international “undercommons,” maintaining – as

Stefano Harney and Stevphen Shukaitis have suggested – subversive positions as actors within, rather than of, the spaces of the university?

  • How can unionization projects and occupation struggles learn from

and collaborate with one another?

  • How do we negotiate the line between stability and revolutionary


  • How do we open up sustainable and livable spaces for radical

research, education, and scholarship without being subsumed by the publish-or-perish disciplinary apparatus?

  • How can we collaboratively map and share research, information,

tactics, and cultures?

  • In recognition that our conditions are a part of a larger set of

global occupations and injustices, how do we link with social movements outside of and across the university?

This four-day event will consist of two days of conference sessions bracketed by two days of workshops, writing collaborations, skill shares, and plenty of time for sustained conversations among participants. We are accepting proposals both for formal papers and for non-conventional forms of participation.

– If you would like to present a paper, please submit an abstract and a CV or brief biographical statement.

– If you would like to participate in another way (by leading a workshop, facilitating a roundtable, presenting media, etc), please submit a brief (1-2 pages) description of the proposed activity and include what kind of resources we would need to provide, along with a CV or brief biographical statement.

All proposals should be addressed to [email protected], and must be received by January 1, 2010.