Knowledge Socialism

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= "refers to a new global collectivist society that is coming online based on communal aspects of digital culture including sharing, cooperation, collaboration, peer production and collective intelligence".

The Concept

"In early 2004, Peters defined knowledge socialism as follows:

One form of new expression concerns what I call knowledge socialism to indicate the new struggles surrounding the politics of knowledge that directly involve the academy and I do not mean simply refer to the role of theory. I am referring to what has been called knowledge in the age of ‘knowledge capitalism’, a debate that increasingly turns on the economics of knowledge, the communicative turn, and the emerging international knowledge system where the politics of knowledge and information dominates. One issue concerns intellectual property, not only copyright, patents and trademarks, but also the emergence of international regimes of intellectual property rights, and the accompanying emphasis on human capital and embedded knowledge processes that now drive university management. (Peters 2004: 406)

In 2012, Peters pits the concept of knowledge socialism as an alternative to the currently dominant ‘knowledge capitalism’: Whereas knowledge capitalism focuses on the economics of knowledge, emphasizing human capital development, intellectual property regimes, and efficiency and profit maximization, knowledge socialism shifts emphasis towards recognition that knowledge and its value are ultimately rooted in social relations (Peters and Besley 2006). Knowledge socialism promotes the sociality of knowledge by providing mechanisms for a truly free exchange of ideas. Unlike knowledge capitalism, which relies on exclusivity—and thus scarcity—to drive innovation, the socialist alternative recognizes that exclusivity can also greatly limit innovation possibilities (see ‘Introduction’, Peters et al. 2009). Hence rather than relying on the market to serve as a catalyst for knowledge creation, knowledge socialism marshals public and private financial and administrative resources to advance knowledge for the public good. (Peters et al. 2012: 88)

Finally, in a 2019 editorial, Peters identifies publication paywalls as ‘one of the biggest hurdles to openness’ and writes:

While Plan S and journal Open Access does not exhaust the concept of ‘digital socialism’ or even approximate to a political system, it does provide a massive watershed to academic publishing that threatens to destablize the market and the neoliberal idea of the university insofar as it impinges of the paradigm of intellectual property and checks the dominance of big publishers in the West that props up a hegemonic system of global journal knowledge. As for ‘digital socialism’ or ‘post-capitalism’ more broadly within academia, we might have to wait a while for the main revolution. (Peters 2019) It is within this theoretical framework that this book develops the concept of knowledge socialism in 2020."

See also: Knowledge Cultures

The Book

* Book: Knowledge Socialism. Ed. by Michael A. Peters • Tina Besley • Petar Jandrić • Xudong Zhu. The Rise of Peer Production: Collegiality, Collaboration, and Collective Intelligence. Springer, 2020



From the introduction:

"We now live in the age of global ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘knowledge capitalism.’ According to Peters (2019), these terms ‘have been used with increasing frequency since the 1990s as a way of describing the latest phase of capitalism in the process of global restructuring’. While the mainstream literature usually understands ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘knowledge capitalism’ as inevitable consequences of recent socio-technological developments, Peters explores the term not as a term of approbation but as a disruptor, as a term that first situates knowledge economy as ‘knowledge capitalism’ in an info-tech digital capitalist historical phase that signalled a profound structural transformation and that contained within it also other radical open possibilities that also enhanced free knowledge exchange and approximate conditions of ‘knowledge socialism’ based on collaboration, sharing and the peer economy. (Peters 2019)

In Knowledge Socialism. The Rise of Peer Production: Collegiality, Collaboration, and Collective Intelligence, knowledge socialism is viewed as the next stage in development of knowledge-making and dissemination that disrupts the current stage of development of capitalism. Positioned in, against and beyond (Holloway 2016) ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘knowledge capitalism,’ knowledge socialism refers to a new global collectivist society that is coming online based on communal aspects of digital culture including sharing, cooperation, collaboration, peer production and collective intelligence.


We can notice that knowledge socialism is always somehow related to technology. Here, we understand technology in the widest sense described by Ellul (1964) (we find Ellul’s definition useful although we disagree with many other aspects of his philosophy). Taking the example of this book, technology is the assemblage of Internet infrastructure which enabled reviewers to read draft chapters and submit their comments; technology is the administrative back-end offered by our publishers; technology is writing and formatting standards applied to abstracts, keywords and references; and technology is the way this book looks and feels in readers’ hands and/or on readers’ screens. Looking beyond production, technology is the requirement that all chapters need to undergo a minimum of two anonymous peer reviews; our ethos that editors and authors should work in a collegial spirit of mutual support and help; and that the book publishes a mix of invited authors and authors who responded to our open calls.

Knowledge socialism described in this book is digitally enabled, but paraphrasing Heidegger (1962), the essence of knowledge socialism which produced this book is nothing digital. In the recent literature, this view to relationships between human beings and digital technologies has been described by the notion of the postdigital.

‘The postdigital is hard to define; messy; unpredictable; digital and analog; technological and non-technological; biological and informational. The postdigital is both a rupture in our existing theories and their continuation.’ (Jandri´c et al. 2018) Knowledge socialism is a postdigital rupture and continuation of global ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘knowledge capitalism’, and chapters in this book explore a number of ways our collective digital tools have the power to create the intellectual commons and reshape our minds."


Peer Production and Collective Intelligence

In the first chapter, ‘Toward a Theory of Knowledge Socialism: Cognitive Capitalism and the Fourth Knowledge Revolution’, Michael A. Peters introduces the book by a retrospective view of a body of work under the title ‘knowledge socialism’. Linking timeless philosophical principles with latest 5G technologies, Peters sets the scene for diverse views and approaches presented in the rest of the volume. The second chapter,

‘Toward an epistemological mutation in the humanities and social sciences’ by Pierre Lévy, contributes to the definition of a new ‘digital enlightenment’ and draws an epistemological–political project aimed at making knowledge creation operations transparent for the community of researchers in the social sciences and humanities.

Tim Luke examines ‘Perversity or Problems in The Rise of Peer Production: Collegiality, Collaboration, and Collective Intelligence’, and maps some problems arising from the historical contradictions between ‘knowledge socialism’ and ‘knowledge capitalism’.

In ‘Postdigital Knowledge Socialism’, Petar Jandri´c historicizes Peters’ concept of knowledge socialism, situates it in the wider postdigital context and warns against repeating some well-known errors made by earlier generations of leftist scholars and practitioners. Finally, in ‘General stupidity as a missing component of general intellect’, Derek Ford re-examines the general intellect in order to develop a communist theory of writing which is more interested in the character of the act of rewriting, than in the content of writing.

The Challenge of Political Economy

In ‘Knowledge socialism purged of Marx: the return of organized capitalism’, Steve Fuller argues that contemporary political economy of knowledge socialism needs to bury its Marxist heritage and focus to various ‘utopian socialist’ theories from Saint-Simon to Proudhon underlined by the Popperian tradition in the philosophy of science.

In ‘Knowledge socialism and a post-neoliberal model of development’, David Neilson offers a democratic socialist critique of Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ and links ‘cosmopolitan democracy’ with a ‘world knowledge bank’ as key features of a democratic socialist alternative to the neoliberal model of development.

Mark Olssen and his ‘The Rehabilitation of the Concept of Public Good: reappraising the attacks from liberalism and neoliberalism from a poststructuralist perspective’ consider three twentieth-century attacks of the idea of the public good: from Social Choice Theory, from Public Choice Theory, and from twentieth-century political liberalism.

In ‘Going Public: Higher Education and the Democratization of Knowledge’, Sharon Rider reaches further into the fundamentally public nature of knowledge and discusses the distribution of knowledge through the public exchange of ideas with an eye toward rethinking contemporary higher education as a democratic enterprise.

Education for Knowledge Socialism

Ronald Barnett’s ‘The University and Knowledge Socialism: a strange juxtaposition’ argues that the university and knowledge socialism constitute an odd couple; a couple with various tensions between them.

In ‘The prospects for knowledge socialism in one country?’, John Morgan traces the sources of failure of British ‘educational left’ to convincingly propose alternatives to the conservative educational discourse of the past forty years in his analyses of five distinctive strands of ‘left’ educational thought.

Greg Misiaszek’s ‘Locating and diversifying modernity: Deconstructing knowledges to counter development for a few’ uses the framings of knowledge socialism to problematize the relationships between education and ‘development’.

Dawn Bothwell and Paul Alexander Stewart’s ‘The reality of knowledge through the critique of art: collective digital tools and transgressing capital’ considers knowledge socialism in relation to the production of the self in the digital age and adds a valuable artistic perspective to the volume.


"The concept of knowledge socialism has emerged from the works of Michael Peters and Tina Besley over the past two decades. This is not to say that other people did not write about similar questions—Besley and Peters gladly acknowledge that their work has been influenced by numerous authors and approaches. However, the exact wording—knowledge socialism—has first been used in Peters’ (2004) article ‘Marxist Futures: Knowledge Socialism and the Academy’. Over the years, Peters and Besley have developed a number of related concepts such as knowledge cultures, radical openness and others. They would present these concepts as provocations or McLuhanist ‘thought probes’ (McLuhan 1964), gather authors around journal special issues and edited books and explore theoretical and practical implications of their provocations. These activities have been underlined by academic values such as openness and practically supported by Peters and Besley’s engagement in academic publishing industry.

Alongside their thought probes, Besley and Peters have engaged in various practical projects. They started new publications such as the Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy,

1 which is arguably the first video journal in the humanities and social sciences, and the Open Review of Educational Research,

2 which experiments with novel forms of political economy of academic publishing, and others.

They went even more experimental with projects such as The Editors’ Collective, which is a group of academics working on collective approaches to knowledge-making and dissemination. Recent developments from these groups, such as the ‘Open Access meeting place for those interested the intersections of education, philosophy, technology, indigenous and identity issues, and the environment’ called PESAAgora, explore further practical opportunities for knowledge socialism as we write these words.

These theoretical and practical projects have set a theoretical background and accumulated a wealth of practical experience. Probably most importantly, they have built a large network of scholars who are interested in knowledge-making and dissemination and who are not afraid to experiment, individually and collectively, with novel forms of academic work. In the following sections, we will briefly describe Peters and Besley’s concepts of knowledge cultures, radical openness and knowledge socialism which served as main theoretical influences for development of this book."


More information


Peters, M. A., & Jandri´c, P. (2015). Learning, creative col(labor)ation, and knowledge cultures. Review of Contemporary Philosophy, 14, 182–198.

Peters, M. A., & Jandri´c, P. (2018). The digital university: A dialogue and manifesto. New York: Peter Lang.

Peters, M. A. (2004). Marxist Futures: Knowledge socialism and the academy’. Policy Futures in Education, 2(3–4), 435–438.

Peters, M. A. (2013a). Education, science and knowledge capitalism: Creativity and the promise of openness. New York: Peter Lang.

Peters, M. A. (2014b). Radical openness: Towards a theory of co(labor)ation. In S. Weber, M. Göhlich, A. Schröer, & J. Schwarz (Eds.), Organisation und das Neue. Organisation und Pädagogik, vol 15. Wiesbaden: Springer.

Peters, M. A. (2019). Knowledge socialism: The rise of peer production—Collegiality, collaboration, and collective intelligence. Educational Philosophy and Theory. 00131857.2019.1654375.

Peters, M. A. (2013b). The concept of radical openness and the new logic of the public. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 45(3), 239–242.

Peters, M. A., & Besley, T. (2006). Building knowledge cultures: Education and development in the age of knowledge capitalism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Peters, M. A., & Britez, R. (Eds.). (2008). Open education and education for openness. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Peters, M. A., & Roberts, P. (2011). The virtues of openness: Education, science and scholarship in a digital age. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Peters, M. A., Besley, T., & Jandri´c, P. (2018). Postdigital knowledge cultures and their politics. ECNU Review of Education, 1(2), 23–43.

Peters, M. A. (2010). Three forms of the knowledge economy: Learning, creativity and openness. British Journal of Educational Studies, 58(1), 67–88. 03516452.

Peters, M. A. (2014a). Openness and the intellectual commons. Open Review of Educational Research, 1(1), 1–7. Peters, M. A., Liu, T. C., & Ondercin, D. J. (2012). The pedagogy of the open society: Knowledge and the governance of higher education. Rotterdam: Sense.