The opinions expressed within this blog post are my own, and not those of my employer, or of projects or programmes I am responsible for. This post is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. For the purposes of future re-enactments of this post, I would like to confirm that all of the bloggers mentioned here were at all times dressed in the traditional blogger attire of red cape and goggles (especially Richard Hall) and that all posts linked to were (to the best of my knowledge) made from high-altitude hot air balloons. This series is rapidly turning in to David Wiley (@opencontent) digest, but – fair play to him – he repeatedly delivers the goods as regards considered and provocative blog posts on “iterating towards openness”. This set of drama centres around his post on “Openness, Socialism and Capitalism“, where he suggested that a lot of the appeal of openness was the idea of “buy one, get one” – the end user (runs the argument) has paid for university resources via taxes or fees, so they should be able to use them as they see fit. He sees, through this lens, openness (and by extension OER) as a “the only way to fix a fundamental dysfunction in the market”.
Now if you’ve been hanging around the more politicised end of the sprawling #ukoer twitter tag, you’ll be aware that this is quite a provocative statement to make, in this context.
Other thinkers – most notably Stephen Downes, but in the UK Joss Winn and Richard Hall – have been arguing for OER and openness not as a fix for the market but as an alternate structure of value as applied to intellectual work. Joss Winn responded immediately with a post entitled “Misunderstanding capitalism and OER“. This is a superbly argued defence of what is (by most mainstream standards) a very radical position. He suggests that the fundamental dysfunction in the market is – in the argot of the times – a feature, not a bug.
“The ‘social contract’ refers to our shared understanding of the role of private property in society and an acknowledgement of the laws in place which protect private property. When the enforcement of social order breaks down in society or when someone exists in absolute poverty, this ‘social contract’ is often ignored and we call it looting or theft. In short, the ‘social contract’, although not an explicit written contract at the time of transaction, is underwritten in law and enforced through the role of the police and to a lesser extent other social institutions, such as education.”
So rather than David Wiley’s “common sense” viewpoint being a shared understanding based on informed consent it is (argued here) an entirely artificial construct. Joss also suggests that:
“One of the defining features of capitalism is the extraction of ‘surplus value‘ from the work or labour that we are forced to undertake. The basic idea is that I work 8hrs/day but the value of the output of that work is worth more to my employer than the wage I am paid for 8hrs work. This is the basis for exploitation in capitalist society, which most of us participate in.”
This appeal to Marx’ theories of surplus value is used to emphasise the place of profit even within such “not-for-profit” enterprises as public education… merely by accepting a wage that is less than the value of the work we perform on behalf of those paying that wage we are participating in a system of value that is actually designed not to benefit most people.
as he concludes:
“So, if David and I think it’s unfair that we don’t get a fair return on our taxes, it is no surprise really. It’s just a continuation of the exploitation that most of us are forced into under capitalism, where private property and waged labour are the organising principles of subsistence. In my view, a fair return on our taxes (or BOGO, as David calls it) through openness doesn’t ‘fix a disfunction in the market’; it is completely incompatible with a society where there is an imperative (partly through competition in the markets) to accumulate capital undertaken through the exploitation of working people, be they academics, housewives, students or car mechanics”
Enter Richard Hall (@hallymk1), with his post, “OERs, capitalism and social totality“. He’s extending on Joss’ argument in two ways: firstly suggesting that OERs and OER practices need to be seen within wider debates about the nature and place of education, secondly pointing to the “cultural export” failings in OER reuse models previously highlighted by Patrick McAndrew (@openpad). The whole post is a great read, but for the purposes of this I want to focus on his first point.
Increasingly, we are seeing a huge number of organised critiques of Higher Education as it currently exts (I’ve mentioned a few interesting examples at the top of my last post, “Roll Your Own University“). These are linked to, but not a direct part of, the wider movement against HE cuts, as seen in frequent formation dancing police exercises in London and elsewhere. But where these other movements are going further is that they are defending the “idea” of Higher Education, not the system of state-funded quasi-autonomous institutions we currently have. The “idea” of Higher Education is a notoriously slippy one – I’m a huge fan of a lot of Newman‘s ideas on this, but there are many other patterns of thinking current in these circles. Another key text in this debate is Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society“.
“The more radical view is that, in deconstructing one element of education, like the OER, we require a critique of its place in the whole edifice of capitalist education as a functionary of the system of capitalist work. From there we can position the development of radical alternatives, like who owns the value of the outputs of our labour-power.”
In his conclusion he suggests that OER is one of the tools we can use to reassess the place of education beyond market-based ideas of “value”
This is the true nature of the struggle for the University and the place of our productive capability in that struggle. It is not the struggle to receive what we think we deserve in a market that alienates and impoverishes and immiserates on a global scale. It is not the struggle to assess how as consumers we recover the value we think we deserve from a commodity. It is the struggle to recover our power-to create our world that is at issue. In this we need to recognise how we critique what is done to us, and the totality of the spaces in which we produce and consume.
SO: what does all this mean for us, getting on with helping people produce OER. On one level, nothing. On another, everything – concerning why we are doing what we are doing. Think on.