Really Open University - Leeds

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Andre Pusey and Paul Chatterton on the new political imaginaries of the commons:

"The Really Open University (ROU) was a radical education project based in Leeds. The ROU were engaged in an experiment in academic commoning and in this section we examine three examples of commons based activity the ROU were involved with. The ROU was formed in January 2010 as a means to both protest against university budget cuts and the increase in tuition fees, but also against the further instrumentalisation andneoliberalisation of Higher Education more broadly. However, the ROU was not interestedin romanticising a golden era of the public university, or in simply defending the existing system, as clearly articulated in an early proclamation of the group that simply stated: ‘we don’t want to defend the university, we want to transform it!’ The ROU’s byline 'strike, occupy, transform!' embodied the groups desire to merge a praxis based on politicalantagonism and resistance with a transformative and affirmative politics of the common.The ROU was a forerunner to the UK student protests that erupted in the autumn/winter of 2010 and the group participated in this emergent movement. An incomplete list of the group’s activities range from constructing a papier mache costume depicting Marx’sconcept of the ‘general intellect’ and storming a live television debate about the tripling of student fees. The production of an irregular free newsletter called the Sausage Factory, taking its name from Marx’s Capital. A three day conference of varied talks, workshops and other activities, around the theme of ‘reimagining the university’, was timed to coincide with a large demonstration against the Browne Review which saw the occupationof a lecture theatre on the University of Leeds campus. Lastly, the establishment of a six month initiative called the ‘Space Project’, which was a city-centre based autonomous education space.The ROU had an ongoing self-consciousness about producing commons – for example one idea explored at length in meetings but which never materialized was a plan for a ‘Knowledge Commons’ website, whereby the commonwealth of academic kn owledgecould be freely shared instead of trapped behind prohibitively expensive paywalls. Part of the intention of this was to expose the tensions and contradictions around academic labour,the production of the academic commons and their capture/enclosure by capital.

The ROU was also engaged in the production of commons in the form of spaces that werecollectively managed, where it fostered a horizontal and collaborative environment. Thesespaces were non-profit and free to participate in. But the ROU was also about more than creating physical spaces and self-run courses; the process of creating these spaces alsoformed a community of commoners. Here the classroom (or department) is refashioned as the spaces of pedagogy created by the ROU, for example through its discursive ‘concept meetings’ or the six month autonomous space the Space Project. In operating within, against and on the edge of the university (Noterman & Pusey, 2012), the ROU acted as a form of ‘undercommons’ (Harney & Moten, 2013). This undercommons is populated by what have been termed ‘para-academics’ who mimic academic practices but refuse the instrumentalisation of the academy (Wardrop & Withers,2014). This is a form of intellectual production that refuses measure and aspires to be ‘doing’ rather than abstract labour (Holloway, 2010). The majority of the ROU were situated within the university, and operated at a subterranean level – not entirely off theradar, but not entirely on it. There was an imperceptibility. What, or who were the ROU? What was it about? Was it a protest or a seminar? There was a misfitting. This was anattempt to be in-but-not-of the university, of ‘hacking the university’ (Winn, 2014). Over the two years that the ROU existed it contributed much-needed debate within the broader struggles around Higher Education, and began to ask important questions about the relationship between capitalism, universities and the common(s). Importantly these questions arose through prefigurative experiments in producing new forms of edu-commons, inside, outside and on the edge of the institution." (