Toward a Global Autonomous University

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Book: The Edu-factory Collective (eds) (2009) Toward a Global Autonomous University. Cognitive Labor, The Production of Knowledge, and Exodus from the Education Factory. New York: Autonomedia, 2009


Elizabeth Johnson and Eli Meyerhoff:

"The Edu-Factory’s project began on the basis of a simple tenet: “What was once the factory, is now the university”. Starting with analysis and critique of the rise of “cognitive capitalism” and the commodification of education, the Edu-Factory Collective took shape around the need for action against these trends. It emerged as an organization seeking to create a community of "struggle and exodus, for the political composition of differences in a space-time of class, just as the factory was for the working class” (8).

This project – and, subsequently, their recent collection – is fraught with tensions. And these tensions may constitute the volume’s greatest assets. The clear focus in this volume is on generating analysis of the contemporary conditions of higher education; connecting struggles on the ground; and creating a language with which to find commonalities and articulate important differences. This was the goal when the Edu- Factory opened up a series of online discussions around several themes: conflicts over knowledge production in the global university, processes of hierarchization in the educational marketplace, cognitive capitalism and labour, and the constitution of autonomous education projects. These discussions gave birth to many of the essays in Toward a Global Autonomous University.

One of the benefits of such a forum is that it provides space for creating common languages. Much to their credit, the Edu-Factory approach to organizing forums for communication did not presuppose the terms and conditions of the critique they offer. Instead of policing language, the Edu-factory has created a "space where struggles connect, a space of resistance and organizational experiments" (3). To describe and affirm this benefit, the Edu-factory collective has used the concept of “heterolingual translation”, which they define as “the construction of the common starting from the multiplicity of forms of resistance and from movements of living knowledge” (6), which Sakai and Solomon see “as a social movement of ‘permanent translation’… devoted to producing the multitude of foreigners we can become” (137-8).

The result is a series of essays that are often disjointed and at times at odds with one another; the arguments and perspectives expressed in the book’s 24 chapters reveal tensions inherent to such a project. But contrary to expectations, such tensions serve to constitute the volume’s coherence: each of these chapters appears as a piece of a wellinformed and passionate conversation.

The essays that comprise this volume – and the tensions that characterize the spaces between them – speak toward the socio-political commitments of the Edu-Factory more broadly. By beginning with the incommensurable forms of resistance and living knowledge, many of these essays invert the dominant, capitalist narratives of higher education that portray progress as driven by bureaucratic or capitalist decision-makers and the market. This inversion is evident not only in the authors’ analyses but also in the Edu-factory’s selection of essays: much of the book is devoted to narratives of the productivity of struggles around the university. These include: resistance to neoliberal retrenchment in South Africa by unions of university staff, Greek students occupying hundreds of universities to protest marketizing reforms, student resistance in France against the precarization of the labour force, “open source unionism” in the US among contingent faculty, the Counter-Cartography Collective’s mapping the terrain of precarious university labour and life, and autonomous education experiments in India, the US, and Argentina.

These narratives of struggles, as well as the volume’s more theoretical pieces, are interlaced with tensions between some of their key concepts. Some conflicts emerge over the question of the most effective language for describing the antagonisms in these struggles. Here we focus our review around just a set of these tensions: the relative efficacy of the concepts of cognitive capitalism, the common(s), and the public vs. private dichotomy. We conclude by highlighting the essays’ contributions that move beyond critique and toward reimagining higher education in the form of a “global autonomous university” or otherwise." (

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