The University as Site of Struggle

The title of this post (echoing an early post) connects directly with our readings from Virno, it seems to me.  When labor-power appeared to be the main source of surplus-value, factories were the logical place to strike.  If Virno is right (and I think he is) that knowledge is a/the major/main source of surplus-value, then the university would be the logical place to strike or struggle – to prevent the privatization of knowledge and keep it part of the commons.

In this light, one might imagine trying to open the books on how a university licenses the patents its faculty produce, in order to examine the distribution of profits between the state/institution that owns the patents and the private firms that operationalize the knowledge and market the results.  But a more important next question would be how to make such public knowledge – owned by state institutions yet licensed to private enterprise – into truly common knowledge instead…

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4 thoughts on “The University as Site of Struggle

  1. This is a particularly compelling observation for me, because of how UW interfaces with the neighborhood I’m studying (they now occupy three new research buildings off our main campus, and in the this growing mixed use neighborhood; there is a fourth building on the drawing board). Moreover — and this is probably the case with most research institutions — we have a special arm of the university devoted to helping spin research off into commercial endeavors: the Center for Commercialization (C4C). On top of that, our newly appointed president also has a track record of helping startups; the local paper writes:

    “The UW is right to roll out the welcome mat. And the man who propelled Utah to lead the nation in incubating new businesses is invited to start immediately ginning up new startups here.”

    This has been a sort of tangential interest of mine for a while, but I’m going to look into it more closely now…

  2. Since this post dovetails with your response to mine, I’ll follow up here.  I like your idea of thinking of (academic) publishing as creating the exchange value of our work, with blogging and other pursuits as creating the use value which contributes to the commons. It would follow, then, that a good plan of action would be to increase the importance of the use-value-generating work *and* to wrest some use value from the exchange side. I’ll mention a few examples as possible paths for this double-pronged attack.

    In my related professional life cavorting with academic librarians, the “digital humanities” is an idea that’s tossed around. Librarians are frequently looking to work with faculty on meaningful projects that will have use both within the classroom but also, through digital access and display, have an appeal and use for a wider audience. For example, I can think of UW Prof. James Gregory’s Segregated Seattle project. Things like this may or may not be related, work and effort wise, to traditional tenure-track pursuits. And academic librarians oft lament that faculty are too busy (pressured) to engage in the monetizable, exchange-value creating pursuits to engage in projects of public value. Yet it seems there are opportunities (after the scribble) to squeeze out some use value from our projects.

    Secondly, there is the creation of use value in creating public knowledge in the common. I’m thinking of the UW Polish Studies Endowment Committee, which is a group consisting of university faculty/staff and community members, occupying the in-between and the both/neither space between so-called town and gown. The group raises money locally to endow visiting professors to the university and schedule programming such as a public lecture series. So it gives to the university. At the same time, it uses the stature of the university connection to promote its programs to the outside Polish community and beyond. The visiting scholars understand that they will give public lectures. So, the university is made to give to the public. In the end, both the university and the community are strengthened; additionally, in contrast to sequestering knowledge inside pay-for-access journals, knowledge is given out to the public.

  3. Pingback: Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity | Nomad Scholarship

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