Social Science Centre in Lincoln

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= "The Social Science Centre (SSC) organises co-operative higher education in Lincoln and is run by its members".


Contextual Citation

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


Joss Winn:

"It was conceived in response to the Coalition government’s changes to higher education funding in the UK which involved an increase in student fees up to £9,000 and defunding teaching in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. It emerged during a time when students were occupying their universities in protest against these changes and the model of public higher education in the UK was undergoing rapid marketisation and financialisation that was undemocratic (McGettigan, 2013) and imposing a “pedagogy of debt” (Williams, 2009). The SSC was not the only attempt to create a ‘free university’ (Bonnett, 2013), but it is the most sustained and lasting of these efforts. One of the reasons for this is because it was given constitutional form as a democratic member-run organisation that is constitutionally the common property of its members. Recently, the idea of a ‘co-operative university’ has gained traction among educators and scholars in part drawing inspiration from the SSC, the conversion of state schools to co-operatives and long-term efforts to teach co-operativism within higher education. (Winn, 2013)

Current approaches to understanding the changes in UK higher education remain tied to deeply rooted conceptions of public and private (Neary, 2012). Ours is not an argument for or against the privatisation of public higher education but an attempt to go beyond these categories through praxis. This praxis means not only free from financial imperatives but real academic freedom.

The SSC can be understood through a conceptual framework of ‘in, against and beyond’ the institutional forms in which it was constituted (Holloway, 2002). It was conceived by academics who have been developing a progressive pedagogical framework and model of curriculum development called Student as Producer within the constraints of the capitalist university ( Through this work, we seek to question and reconceive the idea of the university as a social form and work against what it has become (Neary and Winn, 2009). We aim to go beyond the conventional paradigms of public and private and constitute in practice a form of higher education grounded in the work of theorists such as Walter Benjamin (1934) and Lev Vygotsky (1997), the social history, values and principles of the international co-operative movement (Yeo, 1988), and emerging practices of reciprocity which are constituting a new form of academic commons (Neary and Winn, 2012).

Our approach assumes that a new social and institutional form of higher education must be based on a pedagogic framework that offers an adequate critique of the capitalist university. Through several years of praxis, we have identified sufficient confluences between our pedagogic approach and the theory and practice of worker and social solidarity co-operatives (Conaty, 2014; Winn, 2015) to believe that a model of co-operative higher education can be developed that is adequate to the current crises. The SSC remains experimental in form and an appropriate laboratory for the creation of a co-operative university model.


(The) ... practical model for a co-operative university is theoretically grounded in the concept of the Student as Producer (Neary and Winn, 2009; Neary, 2010).The theoretical basis for Student as Producer is Marx's labour theory of value (Marx, 1976).

Student as Producer recognises that both academics and students are involved as academic workers in the production of critical-practical knowledge (Moten and Harney, 2004). Student as Producer is based on a radical, negative critique of the capitalist university as constituted on the basis of worker exploitation. It is an attempt to develop a pedagogical framework through which the organising principle for the co-operative university can be reconstituted as collaboration, sharing and commoning, already core academic values, against the exploitative values which characterise the capitalist business. This is achieved not through theoretical novelty, but by connecting theory to an actually existing organisational form: the cooperative university. Student as Producer reconstitutes the ownership of the means of production so that academic workers own the means of production of the enterprises in which they are working.

Through the specific historical innovations of worker co-operatives and ‘common ownership’, a co-operative model of higher education seems most appropriate to align with a pedagogical framework that recognises academic labour and the academic commons as the organising principle for the production of knowledge and is thus central to any consideration of a new social form of higher education, having far-reaching social, political and epistemological implications." (via email)

More Information

(Mike Neary, Joss Winn, 2017)