Earlier today I visited the Stafford Beer archive at Liverpool John Moores University. I had been curious about it for some time after talking to Mark Johnson who has been exploring the archive for a number of years. For those unfamiliar with him, I should start by pointing out how Beer was a fascinating and contradictory figure. He was a management guru before gurus. A consultant and a scholar. A scientist and an artist. A man who lived in abstractions yet was immensely practical. A cybernetician and a yoga teacher. He was polymathic in a way which is hard to imagine from our contemporary vantage point, traversing an immense range of fields in which he made significant intellectual and practical contributions. Therefore the range of the materials contained in the archive wasn’t a surprise.

What did shock me was the variety of his outputs. He wrote books, papers, essays, reports and letters. He produced endless diagrams which have been as much a source of inspiration for artists as they have for systems analysts. He produced artefacts to convey his ideas and to serve practical purposes in his consultancy. He painted and his work was exhibited in a ground breaking exhibition at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. He published two books of poetry. He wrote a number of children’s books which he tried to publish. He produced a book of aphorisms which I suspect could have been published if he had tried. His astonishing repertoire of  communication blew me away. Can we point to any contemporary figure with the same range? He wasn’t just prolific, he was prolific in so many ways it is hard to conceive of how he structured his time to facilitate this outpouring of work. Furthermore, he did so while deeply engaged in the world, travelling regularly and tied up with all manner of diverse commitments. His scholarship didn’t involve a withdrawal from the world but rather an energetic embrace of it and the creative possibilities it opened up. His was a profoundly worldly intellectualism and I find it enormously inspiring.

This theme of the worldliness or otherwise of intellectuals keeps coming to mind recently and I’m hoping to explore it further in relation to the long term implications of social media for the university. 

December 13th-14th, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

In recent discussions of capitalism, the notion of the ‘platform’ has come to play a prominent role in conceptualising our present circumstances and imagining our potential futures. There are criticisms which can be raised of the platform-as-metaphor, however we believe it provides a useful hook through which to make sense of how socio-technical innovations may be leading to a new phase of capitalist accumulation. To talk of ‘platform capitalism’ in this sense does not exclude consideration of parallel notions such as digital capitalism, data capitalism and surveillance capitalism but rather seeks to frame these considerations through a focus upon the platform as a novel assemblage.

While research into social media and the sharing economy is relatively advanced, the increasing centrality of platforms to the operation of the university remains understudied and undertheorised. Our conference seeks to rectify this, raising the possibility of the ‘platform university’ as a provocation to stimulate discussion concerning platforms, the commercial and academic science they depend upon and contribute to reshaping, as well as their implications for the future of the university. We see the university as a case study for inquiry into platforms, but also as a horizon of change within which the social sciences seek to address these processes.

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/capitalism-social-science-and-the-platform-university-tickets-51955542426

There will be a keynote by Ben Williamson on The expanding data infrastructure of higher education: public-private policy networks and platform plug-ins.

Full schedule of speakers and talks:

  • Aliandra Lazzari Barlete and Mário de Azevedo – Higher education, platforms and the academic profession in Latin America: a case for platform academic capitalism
  • Abdullah Ciftci – What is the role of YouTube for teaching profession?
  • Armen Aramyan – Datafication as a Synonym for Efficiency: Neoliberal Policymaking in Russian Academia
  • Eleanor Dare – Ontological platforms: deconstructing Moodle and the ideology of personalised learning
  • Carly Foster and Peter Francis – Critical Reflections on Educational Analytics and the Platform Universit
  • Morten Hansen – Black boxing the university
  • Eva Hartmann – Degrees of deceptions: Faking of and in the credential society
  • Martin Henry and Alba Henry – Quality teacher and digital student in the age of platform capitalism
  • Marc Jacquinet – What we can learn about platform capitalism from past speculative bubbles
  • Janja Komljenovic – Varieties of European universities’ engagement with social media  platforms
  • Anna Kosmützky – “There will be only 10 Universities left in the world in 50 years” – Market Dynamics of Massive Open Online Course Providers
  • Chris Muellerleile – Wasting the University:  The Costs of Competition
  • Seppo Poutanen & Anne Kovalainen – Gig Science and the Platform University – the Future of Knowledge 2.0
  • Annika Bergviken Rensfeldt – More than a blank Canvas – Platformization of Nordic universities
  • Susan Robertson – The Production of Scientific Knowledge and Value in an Era of Platform Capitalism
  • Richard Terry – ‘MOOCs are really a platform.’  Prefiguring platform capitalism in the case of online learning platforms
  • Nikola Wachter – Platform capitalism and open educational resources
  • Steve Watson – What we can learn about platform capitalism from past speculative bubbles