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#14: Self-Education

Marion von Osten /// Reformpause

In the face of neo-liberal educational policies and the debate on intellectual property, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain that knowledge is a common property and that its production and distribution may not be possessed by a certain group or individual and their or his/her interests. Attempts to democratize the access to knowledge appear to have become historical exceptions in times when knowledge is being economized and patented and education is being privatized and standardized, when discussions on elite universities are on the agenda and copying is made a crime. Today, knowledge based on ownership rights is treated both nationally and internationally as a promising commodity. According to Yann Moulier Boutang, knowledge, as an economic good, must possess two features to establish itself as a commodity: the principle of exclusivity and of rivalry in use: «Exclusivity means that by belonging to one owner everyone else is prevented from utilizing the rights on this economic good. Rivalry in use means that it is not compatible with another use.» (Moulier Boutang, 2003, p. 275)

In the face of neo-liberal educational policies and the debate on intellectual property, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain that knowledge is a common property and that its production and distribution may not be possessed by a certain group or individual and their or his/her interests. Attempts to democratize the access to knowledge appear to have become historical exceptions in times when knowledge is being economized and patented and education is being privatized and standardized, when discussions on elite universities are on the agenda and copying is made a crime. Today, knowledge based on ownership rights is treated both nationally and internationally as a promising commodity. According to Yann Moulier Boutang, knowledge, as an economic good, must possess two features to establish itself as a commodity: the principle of exclusivity and of rivalry in use: «Exclusivity means that by belonging to one owner everyone else is prevented from utilizing the rights on this economic good. Rivalry in use means that it is not compatible with another use.» (Moulier Boutang, 2003, p. 275)

However, for the reason that knowledge as a commodity is also based on cooperation and communication – value in the actual sense is attached to it only when used – the neo-liberal paradigm gets stuck in a dilemma. On the one hand, knowledge is intended for unrestricted use, while on the other, it has to be consumed as a commodity to generate value. The utility value of knowledge, though, as a commodity as well, can never be completely controlled or measured due to its immaterial form. This is proven by the innumerable examples of «illegal» software and data use, alternative information channels, anti-globalisation newsgroups, and MPG downloads. The neo-liberal paradigm gets into trouble, because controlled access to knowledge goods and information not only creates new global differences in power, new forms of resistance and subversive practices, but also entails that it becomes dependent on knowledge practices and forms of acquisition that cannot be generated and administered institutionally only and that are not promoted or funded, but are instead distinguished by the fact that they organize themselves. The much-hyped market of neo-classical theory thus proves to be precarious in terms of providing the necessary resources for producing knowledge, which it in turn needs for its competitiveness. The fact that the existing, aforementioned logic of ownership, which turns knowledge into a commodity, simultaneously hinders ‹innovation›, constitutes a fundamental contradiction in the current debate on intellectual property. While it was always a problem for capitalistic societies to protect private property, protection of ownership with regard to knowledge as a commodity now becomes an irresolvable and above all contestable paradox.

Parallel to the world-wide resistance against the economisation of knowledge, the most radical educational reform since the introduction of compulsory school attendance is being carried out in Europe. Knowledge production and distribution at educational institutions is reorganized by the Bologna Declaration; the bureaucratic apparatus and new structures of control (quality management, etc.) are being expanded. As a result, the situation of knowledge workers is becoming increasingly precarious, and pressure is put on students to adhere to new logics of time and efficiency. This means that institutes at public universities must themselves organize and finance their work entirely through third-party funding, while at the same time statements of achievement are published in glossy brochures, elite study programs are established, and new staff is employed to enforce the policy of reform which is aimed at standardizing the ways in which knowledge is imparted. It also means that lecturers are fired and the duration of study is reduced. All this abolishes studies in the literal sense of the word, while certain fields of learning and knowledge production are outsourced. [1] In adition private marketers have established themselves on the education market today. They sell learning andtraining units for all age-groups and all situations in life, ranging from computer-science courses and language travels, to esoteric seminars and creativity training. The demand for equal opportunities for all, as well as efforts – stemming from the reform movement – ‹to develop› the entire personality is replaced by an educational package that is customised to fit one’s personal needs and can be completed in a short period of time, albeit only by those who can afford it.

So the field of tension between ownership rights and common property is a conflictual one, not only for neo-liberal argumentation or our ways of working and living, but also for knowledge production in traditional educational institutions. This conflict is becoming increasingly intense under the conditions of a knowledge-based economy, because what the neo-liberal knowledge managers and education bureaucrats are trying to enforce against the resistance of students and the teaching staff is based on the assumption that knowledge can be produced like in a factory and can therefore be accelerated and optimized, and that access to knowledge can be controlled in a capitalistic sense by means of issuing patents and monetization and by exclusively being linked to a specific use.

Against the background of the current university reform and the populist debate on the so-called state of emergency in education, I tried to use the class room of the University of Lüneburg, to which I was invited by it’s Kunstraum, to create a critical space to negotiate this developments. Along with lecturers and students of art sociology and visual studies of the University of Lueneburg we conducted research on the history of educational reforms from the 1960s until today, as well as on the tradition of critique of university knowledge spaces and analysed them with regard to their possible adaptation in present debates. With the analysis of the papers of the Bologna Conference and the European reform process associated with it, as well as the theses of <The New Spirit of Capitalism> by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, a multi-stage seminar began in the winter of 2005/2006. It aimed at examining whether the reform models of the 1960s and 70s could serve as a model (in particular, according to the inspirational Cite and the projects-oriented Cite in the sense of Boltanski / Chiapello) to legitimate the current restructuring of educational institutions. Further the question was raised, whether the changes are primarily based on economical considerations related to principles of the market and of efficiency (according to the industrial and market Cites) resulting in a re-disciplining of students and lecturers and a further bureaucratisation of structures? Also the hypothesis was pursued, that interprets the recent changes as a partial return to the hierarchical university of the 1960s, heavily dominated by professors and grounded in a neo-conservative world-view.

Due to the topicality of the debate, <reformpause> intervened in the campus with a poster and wall newspaper action. The wall newspaper, which takes up the format of the <plakat> newspaper of the student movement in the 1970s, has a screen print poster on the front and four newspaper editions at the back. In this  <plakat> editions, students present their research work and texts focusing on equal opportunity / state of emergency in education, human capital / the subject of the educational reform, new requirement profiles / the imperative of mobility, student protests 1968 ff / The European dimension: the Bologna process and its instrumental political use. Additionally at lecture halls and seminar rooms a „pausenkino” was be programmed between courses in which the discussion on and the critique of educational institutions and concepts were brought back to the campus by means of historical and present-day films and video works. The titel and the programming of „pausenkino” related to the time of breaks meanwhile studying on the campus. [2] In May 2006 a workshop  refered to historical and current struggles for an alternative production of knowledge as well, because the question accompanying the ongoing reform process and the standardisation of studies is: Which practices of „other spaces of knowledge” are productive today for new subjectivities, alliances and political coalitions, and how, from this point of view of informal knowledge production and self-learining, could an adequate contemporary critique of educational concepts and reforms be established? [3]

The alternative utilization of canonized spaces for debates, meetings, workshops, film programs, and community projects by groups of artists, leftist, anti-racist and feminist collectives, and consumers has commenced and can be regarded, in the sense of Michel de Certeau, as the attempt to appropriate and redefine hegemonic structures – knowing very well that they will not just «disappear». A corresponding transgressive and hybrid theory-practice in the academic field, provided with the appropriate resources, still remains an exception. In contrast to the debates in the cultural and activist field, the restructuring and privatization of the educational system, as well as the notion of knowledge as an economic good of a so-called (knowledge-based economy) fail to recognize the transgressive dynamics inherent to all knowledge, be it elitist, indigenous or popular: It changes and spreads through everyday readings, orally, through popular appropriation, and medial reinterpretation. It is altered through misuse and new interpretations, becoming a rumour or a lie; its meaning is increasingly shifted through contextualization or indigenization. Knowledge practices, then, that belong to the readers and not to the authors and the managers of the rights of exploitation produce new knowledge on a daily basis, knowledge that is linked to social relations and engenders new socialities. These forms of world-wide and often local knowledge practices were perhaps the most innovative long-distance runners in the history of knowledge production. In contrast, the fixation on authorship, notation, administration, and the monetary profitability of knowledge, which stands in a specific relation to precisely these forms of knowledge, harbours huge drawbacks that the current neoliberal regime is by no means willing to resolve. The current European educational policies promote the opposite, because they neither guarantee the knowledge required on the new flexible labour markets – it is instead privatized in often dubious advanced training offers – nor do they provide the time and resources needed to develop social and communicative abilities that today count as qualification. Which means that the knowledge-based economy ‹corrupts› life and social interaction in a parasitic way.

The project <reformpause> was generated by Marion von Osten in collaboration with Christiane Autsch, Kristina Geertz, Ludmila Gerasimov, Julia Hammer, Rahel-Katharina Hermann, Katharina Looks, Jenny Nachtigall, Maria Petersen, Kathrin Roes, Stephanie Schneider, Frauke Schnoor, Stephanie Seidel, Valentina Seidel, Nike Thurn, Anna Till and the Kunstraum of the University of Lüneburg.

Marion von Osten (1963), an artist, author and curator, lives in Berlin.

Footnotes:
1. The aim of the Bologna-Declaration from 1999 is to introduce an european reform process of higher education to create one standarized european research and education space that is based on the anglo-saxon and/or u.s. american model. The Bologna process create a new competetive relation between european universities and colleges, as well as for the subjects of learning and teaching, as they are requested to be mobile and flexible and to invest in their education and „human capital“. Aditionally. the Bachelor and Master degrees generate new hierachies in the european labor market, as they only garantuee the smaller group of master students a scientific research career.
2. The film selection was compiled in collaboration with Madeleine Bernstorff. Films in the <pausenkino> were shown by: Claudia Alemann, Lindsay Anderson, Danielle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, MeineAkademie, Daniel Schmid, Gus van Sant, Cecilia Wendt und Frederick Wiseman.
3. From May 19 – 20, 2006  the „Making Worlds” workshop took place with the project group <reformpause>, the Kunstraum of the University of Lueneburg and members of the Institute of Cultural Theory and the guests Madeleine Bernstorff, Julia Franz, MeineAkademie Berlin, Preclab Forschungsgruppe Hamburg, Katja Reichard and Axel John Wieder.

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