Stammering is Dada

I was asked to contribute to a forthcoming publication called ‘Dangerous Words’. The purpose of the book is to uncover the ways in which language works as a form of repression but retains the capacity for critical liberation. I chose to write about the word ‘stammer’. Below is a first draft of my contribution.


‘Words are torture in my mouth. Words are weapons when we shout ‘Ya basta!’ (Ecoversity un-conference, August 2016)[1]

What words will make revolution speak? How can we articulate the poetry of the future? (Marx 2016). Not by over-elaboration where ‘the phrase surpasses the substance’, but speaking so ‘the substance surpasses the phrase’ (Marx, 2016 4).  In other words, ‘Language has nothing to say about the future. The future cannot be said…. Its content is exorbitant to its phrasing’ (Taylor 2012). This is saying more than actions speak louder than words, or that meaning is lost in translation; rather, there is a disarticulation between the revolutionary world we are creating and how that world is spoken, as language and lyrics and poetry and prose. We can describe this disarticulation as social stammering.

Social stammering is enraptured by the word ‘Dada’: a staccato speech sound on the verge of exploding into a meaningful gush of rounded breath. Dada struggles to free itself from the language of anti-art and the slang of kitsch metropolitanism. Dada was made to disarm the rat-tat-rattle of the automatic weapons of the First Machine War (1914-1918) and the killing capitalist labour process out of which they were produced. Dada remade readymade art, against patented forms of capitalist death, as montage and performance, including sound poems made up of verses without words.

Adorno picked up on the relationship between Dada and stammering’s revolutionary vibe, sounding it out it as the basis for substantive thought:  ‘the whole of philosophy is actually nothing else than an infinitely extended and elevated stammer [Stammeln]; it is actually always, just like stammering, Dada, the attempt to say what one actually cannot say’ (Adorno quoted in Foster 2008 55).  Not as an exemplary method of speech therapy but as the phrasing for a negative dialectics.

Holloway knows what we are talking about. He reports that revolution starts with a howl of protest: ‘In the beginning is the scream. We Scream’ (2005 1), but understands the need for learning ‘a new language for a new struggle’ (2010 10). This new way of speaking is formed when we ‘stutter and mumble incoherently’ as a way of participating in the abolition of a cracked capitalism (2010 12).

We might think of capitalist language as ‘order-words’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1996), where ‘Language is not made to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience’(75). This order of order-words can be challenged by ‘creative stammering’ (Deleuze and Guattari (98), a writerly technique where authors carve out ‘a non-preexistent foreign language within…[their] own language …[making]…the language itself scream, stutter, stammer or murmur’ (Deleuze 1997 109-110). And so, in this way, ‘makes stuttering the poetic or linguistic power par excellence’ (111). Writing becomes something ‘that explodes like a scream’ (112); what might be taken as ‘inarticulate words, blocks of a single breath’ (112), is actually where a ‘deviant syntax…reaches the destination of its own tensions in these breaths or pure intensities that mark a limit of language’ (112).  So writing is poised ‘at the very edge of the seeable and the sayable, situated between sense and non-sense‘ (O’Sullivan and Zepke 2008 9), as a new common-sense.

Ranciere speaks of ‘the speaking being who is without qualification and political capacity’ (22) and, therefore, without a voice ‘doomed to ‘the night of silence or the animal noise of voices expressing pleasure or pain’ (22). This is not a demand to be heard, but what comes before recognition as ‘speaking beings’. Ranciere has many words to define this condition: ‘subjectification’: ‘a series of actions of a body and capacity for enunciation not previously identifiable within a given field of experience, whose identification is thus part of the reconfiguration of the field of experience’ (35); ‘disidentification’ (36): ‘ a multiplicity of fractured speech events’ from people without a voice (37), and the ‘part of the no-part (Ranciere 2001) a surplus population that goes unaccounted for and is unrecognised. Ranciere says it is in this space of not-speaking that politics occurs (26); or, speaking in my tongue, this is the site of social stammering.

Marx wants to bring us down to earth. He asks the question: how would it be if inanimate objects could speak in a world dominated by capitalist commodity production? He does not let his commodities speak but, like a ventriloquist, speaks for them, as if they are responding to his prompt:

Could commodities themselves speak, they would say: Our use value may be a thing that interests men. It is no part of us as objects. What, however, does belong to us as objects, is our value. Our natural intercourse as commodities proves it. In the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange values’ (Marx 1990 176-177).

Marx is trying to articulate the way in which the intrinsic nature of things is overwhelmed by the domineering logic of capitalist exchange value, so much so that exchange value itself appears to be part of our ‘natural intercourse’. There is nothing natural about the social world; rather, the social world is abstracted from the process of capitalist production to appear in the form of real abstractions, which, in the world of capitalist intercourse, are dominated by money and language. Capitalist language is recognised only to the extent that it validates a society based on the logic of exchange. In capitalist civilisation money really does talk; it is the only language that everybody is forced to understand.

But we may be guilty of over-elaboration. How can we express this condition in a more visceral, animalist voice, as a precondition of our speaking being? Hugo Ball (1997), author of the Dada Manifesto, put it like this, as a sound poem intoned at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916:


jolifanto bambla o falli bambla

großiga m’pfa habla horem
egiga goramen
higo bloiko russula huju
hollaka hollala
anlogo bung
blago bung blago bung
bosso fataka
ü üü ü
schampa wulla wussa olobo
hej tatta gorem
eschige zunbada
wulubu ssubudu uluwu ssubudu
kusa gauma

Stammering is Dada.

Antonin Artaud, dramatist, poet and actor, looks for a response beyond ‘mere stammerings’ (Artaud 1992 218), in The Theatre and Its Double (1931 – 1936) to include not only human voices but the whole mise en scene: ‘everything that occupies the stage’ (231). As Pantomime (233) and Pandemonium. The affect is to overcome the ‘impotences of Speech’ (230), by including ‘everything that defies expression in speech’ 231 and ‘everything that is not contained in dialogue’ (231)   in the form of ‘a new physical language based on signs rather than words’ (215). Artaud’s theatre of sound must have ‘the evocative power of a rhythm… [and]… the musical quality of physical movement’ (216) as ‘a poetry of the senses’ (231) as much as ‘a poetry of language’ (231). For Artaud, there is no poetry of the future, only ‘a revolt against poetry’ (Artaud 1944).  The performance must recover the sense of danger that comes with the idea that ‘the present state of society is unjust and should be destroyed’ (235).

Stripped bare the starting point is not speaking or even screaming, but breathing. Artaud says ‘for every feeling, every movement of the mind, every leap of emotion, there is a breath that is attached to it’ (260). These ‘rhythms of breath’ (260) merge with the plastic and physical theatrical event to create a ‘fluid materiality’ (261). This concept of fluid materiality is a double for Marx’s real abstractions, which Artaud calls ‘metaphysics in action’ (237) or the ‘real metaphysical’ (243).  If the substance of Marx’s real abstraction is capitalist value: as the supreme form of social power, Artaud’s abstractions are filled up by a ‘universal magnetism’ (271) which he calls the soul (261): ‘unleashing an unpredictable flow of searing energy’ (Sontag xxiv 1988). Artaud’s abstractions are  something that must be confronted in order ‘to transgress the ordinary limits of art and speech, in order to realize actively…, in real terms, a total creation in which man[sic] can only resume his place between dream and events’ (245).

That is enough. For now.  We are almost out of breath, struggling for ecstatic transcendence (Holloway 2010 99). The moment of danger, recovered, beyond the danger of words.

Let us take a deep breath. Breathing. Slowly. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.


Artaud, Antonin (1992) ‘The Theatre and Its Double’. Susan Sontag (ed) (1992) Antonin Artaud; Selected Writings. Introduction. University of California Press. Pp..

Ball, Hugo (1997) Blago Bung Blago Bung Bosso Fataka – First Texts of German Dada, Atlas Press.

Deleuze, Giles and Guattari, Felix (1996) One Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Athlone Press.

Deleuze, Gilles (1997) ‘He Stuttered’. Giles Deleuze: Essays Critical and Clinical. London and New York. Verso. Pp 107-114

Foster, Roger (2008) Adorno – The Recovery of Experience. SUNY

Holloway, John (2005) Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today. London and New York:Pluto Press

Holloway, John (2010) Crack Capitalism. London and New York: Verso.

Marx, Karl (2016) The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform.

Marx, Karl. (1990) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1. London and New York: Penguin Classics.

O’Sullivan, Simon and Zepke, Stephen (2008) Deleuze and Guattari and the Production of the New. London and New York: Continuum.

Ranciere, Jacques (2004) Disagreements: Politics and Philosophy. University of Minnesota Press.

Ranciere, Jacques (2001) Ten Theses on Politics.

Sontag, Susan (ed.) (1992) Antonin Artaud; Selected Writings. Introduction. University of California Press. Pp xvii- lviii.

Taylor, Chris (2012) Stuttering Towards the Future: words


Political Violence: Capitalist Value, British Values and Academic Freedom

I was recently invited to give a keynote presentation about Student as Producer to a conference at a college in England. A condition of the invitation was that I sign a document agreeing with the proposition that the principles of democracy, liberty and religious tolerance are based on fundamental British values. The document forms part of the British government’s Prevent policy, which seeks to prevent people carrying out acts of terrorism. It is a  requirement of public institutions that they follow a set of protocols to deny the promotion of ‘extremist’ ideas on which terrorist activity might be based. I did not sign the document but set out my views about the relationship between British values and the principles of liberal democracy in an email that I sent to the organisers of the conference.  The organisers accepted my views on the matter so that I was cleared to accept the invitation and present my keynote. It is part of the Prevent protocols that colleges balance their legal duty to ensure freedom of speech and academic freedom with the requirement to challenge what the Prevent policy defines as  extremist views and ideologies. I have set out below an extended account of what I consider to be some of the main areas of contention with the Prevent policy.


The British Government’s policy to prevent people being ‘drawn into terrorism’ (Prevent Policy 2015) is deeply flawed, not least because of its claim to equate the principles of liberal political society with British values, but also for its refusal to acknowledge that political violence is an organising principle for all nation-states, including the British state, as well as the global system of international relations.

As a Professor of Sociology, who teaches and writes about political theory in an English University, I do not accept that the ideals set out on the document to be signed by visiting speakers: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and respect and tolerance of religious faiths, are based on British values. The values are, in fact, the key characteristics of a particular political ideology known as liberal democracy or liberalism. This refusal to accept the provenance of these ideals as British values is not based on my personal opinion but is a reasoned and informed position grounded in understanding and insights gained from my study of social science, critical political economy and international history. The core aspects of liberal democracy: a free market and free labour regulated by a strong state are the essential aspects of capitalist society in general.

Capitalism did first appear in Britain in the 15th century but was not the result of  British values, rather it emerged out of the discovery of the way in which surplus value could be produced through the exploitation of labour rather than the exploitation of land (feudalism), and later how machines and technology could be used to intensify the exploitation of labour. The emergence of capitalism in Britain led to the development of a political and economic system along with associated cultures and behaviours that we now understand to be the basis of modern British society. The current legal system of order is based on the maintenance of capitalist freedoms of the market: the capacity to buy and sell commodities, and the freedom of labour as the basis of individual liberty, both of which are imposed by the state and enforced by the police.

This form of society was replicated elsewhere as other countries adopted these capitalist methods so that a liberal democratic political system is now the basis of many developed capitalist countries. As we now know capitalism has positive aspects along with some very negative consequences, including unemployment, poverty, environmental destruction and global warming. These negative consequences lead to popular forms of resistance which have been contained by extending the franchise through parliamentary democracy, legalising trade unions, along with other employment and human rights, as well as the provision of welfare and charity. A key feature of  liberal democracy is that any alternative form of political system that seeks to ameliorate the negative consequences of capitalism, e.g, through the redistribution of resources, promoting a less hierarchical society or the support for  internationalism: not the nationalism explicit in the concept of British values, is presented as chaos and confusion. Resistance to capitalism can be criminalised if it is counter to the rule of law and order on which capitalism is based.

It is important to be able to vote and to protest and to strike so that the politicians can be held to account, the system as a whole reviewed, with the possibility always open for reform as well as transformation.

A central aspect of capitalism and what distinguishes it from the pre-capitalist feudal period is that the religious principle of the divine right of kings was replaced by the rule of money and private property. As religion is no longer predominant it is possible to be indifferent to and tolerate religions as religion has ceased to become the dominant form of social authority. Discrimination is prevalent in British society, often based on behaviours carried over from pre-capitalist societies based on patriarchy, slavery, colonialism and hierarchical customs as well as other oppressive traditions. These practices are not central to the functioning of the rule of money and private property and so can be contained and eradicated through policy and political administration.

Liberal democracy can be contrasted to social democracy, which places more emphasis on collective organisation rather than individual liberty. Social democracy is also imposed by a strong centralised state as a way of ameliorating class based politics, for example, through comprehensive education and collective bargaining over employment rights and wages. Under our current parliamentary political system liberal democracy is the basis of right wing politics and social democracy is the basis of left wing politics.

The Prevent strategy to stop people engaging in terrorist activities is based on a refusal to acknowledge that political violence is an organising principle for all nation-states, including the British state, and the global system of competition among nation-states and their regional alliances. The imposition of international law is based on the condition that when national wills collide force decides. This global system of international political violence is evidenced by the history of imperialism and on-going regional and global wars as nation-states seek access to resources to continue the production of surplus value and maintain a competitive advantage. The epitome of this globalised system of mortal violence is the atomic nuclear bomb with the power to destroy all planetary life. This endemic nature of political violence is not only between nation-states but within nation-states. All nation-states and their political systems were formed through acts of mortal violence, a killing mentality denied to other groups that wish to challenge the authority of the nation-state system. This liberal framework of political violence is used extensively to justify acts of murder, sometimes under the guise of humanitarianism. To regard terrorist attacks as a form of political violence does in no way condone these atrocious acts.

In higher education it is very important that there is no dogmatic assertion of any political ideology, and that students are taught to understand how ideologies are constructed so as to be able to make their own decisions about their own place in the world. Student as Producer, which I was invited to speak about, is based a critical view of capitalist education derived from understanding and insights gained from the social sciences, critical political economy and international history.

To be asked to sign a document affirming the status of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and respect and tolerance of religious faiths as British values, while, at the same time, avoiding the violent nature of liberal political society, is not only against what I understand to be the basis of these ideals and the history of violent nationalisms, but  is contrary to the principle of academic freedom on which my professional integrity is based.

I have suggested some readings below that further elaborate on the points that I have made.

Benjamin, Walter (1921) Critique of Violence. Reflections. Shocken Books: New York, pp. 277 – 300.

Freedman, Des ( 2017) The Terror News Cycle. LRB Blogs. 24th May:

Kay, Geoff and Mott, James (1982) Political Order and the Law of Labour. Macmillan: London.

Meiksins-Wood, Ellen (2017) The Origins of Capitalism. Verso: London.

Mieville, China (2006) Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law. London and New York; Verso.

Nabulsi, Karma ( 2017) Don’t go to the Doctors. London Review of Books.  18th May. Volume 39 no.10, pp. 27-28.

Neary, Mike (2016) Educative Power: the Myth of Dronic Violence in a Period of Civil War. Culture Machine, 16. pp. 1-28.

Perelman, Michael (2000) The Invention of Capitalism. Duke University Press: North Carolina.

Seymour, Richard (2008) The Liberal Defence of Murder. London: Verso.

Thompson, Edward (2013) The Making of the English Working Class. Penguin Modern Classics: London and New York.

John Holloway: Reading Capital

John Holloway will be  presenting his latest work ‘Reading Capital: wealth in-against-and-beyond value’ at the University of Lincoln, England, on 16th of June, 1 – 4pm in Room MB1012.

John’s reading and writings on Marxist social theory are highly influential as a way of rethinking Marx in terms of ‘Change the World without Taking Power’ (2005)  and abolishing the social relations of capitalist production through acts of resistance, as ways to ‘Crack Capitalism’ (2010).

In this new work, ‘Reading Capital’, John points out that Capital does not start with the commodity, as Marx and probably all commentators since Marx have claimed. It actually starts with wealth: “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’ …” Seeing wealth and not the commodity as the starting point has enormous consequences, both theoretically and politically.

To start with the commodity leads into the analysis of capitalism as a system of domination, into an attempt to understand how capitalism works, its laws of motion. Class struggle remains external to this analysis. Capital is understood as explaining the structural framework within which struggle takes place. The analysis, in this view, shows the necessity for revolution, but does not indicate how it might take place. Essentially capitalism is understood as a closed system that can be broken only by an external force (the Party, what Party?) in the future.

To start with wealth takes us in a very different direction. The relation between wealth and commodity is not one of identity. Wealth “appears as” commodities, but, in order for us to say that, there must be a remainder: it must also be true that wealth does not appear as commodities. In other words, wealth exists in-against-and-beyond the commodity form. The starting point, the relation between wealth and the commodity, is an antagonism, a non-containment, and overflowing. Class struggle, far from being external to Capital, is posed in the opening words of the book. What follows is not the analysis of a closed system but the development of an antagonism between wealth and commodity, use value and value and, crucially, concrete and abstract labour.

To say that Capital starts not with the commodity but with wealth is both revolutionary and self-evident. The challenge is to trace this antagonism through the three volumes of Capital. This is the theme of the talk.

Pedagogy of Hate

Please see abstract below for a paper, Pedagogy of Hate, to be published in a forthcoming edition of Policy Futures in Education, and this link to a pre-print version of the paper.



Written as  an extended review of Peter McLaren’s ‘Pedagogy of Insurrection: from Resurrection to Revolution’ published in 2015, this paper contradicts McLaren’s affirmation of political religion and the version of critical pedagogy on which it is based, claiming hate rather than Christian love as a core concept of Critical Theory. Not a personal, psychological or pathological hate, but a radical hate for what the world has become, or absolute negativity. Hate must be invoked as love-hate for the magic of dialectics to work against the holy love of McLaren’s Christian socialism. Radical hate reveals the main transcendental tenets of capitalist civilisation: God and Money, as impersonal forms of social domination that must be brought down to earth so real existence can learn, learn, learn itself. That is the educative power of the Pedagogy of Hate. Now and forever.


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Teaching Marx in Anglophone Universities: interdisciplinary enquiry or unity of the sciences?

The purpose of this research is to reveal the ways in which the social theory of Karl Marx has been and is being taught in Anglophone Universities. The research will explore this issue starting from the emergence of Marx’s social theory as an academic subject in the twentieth century to the present day. This is not research into Marx’s teachings but the way in which Marx’s  teachings have been taught.

A distinctive feature of the research will be the way in which it draws out how Marx has been taught across academic disciplines: social science, arts and humanities, business and law and the natural sciences, through the work, for example, of Albert Einstein, John Haldane and Stephen Jay Gould. At the heart of this research lies the fundamental question, set out by Marx in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1992/1844), of the possibility for creating a unified science between the social and the natural sciences as ‘One Science’ (p. 355). While the research carried out on this project will be interdisciplinary it will challenge the concept of interdisciplinarity itself, arguing that discrete subject disciplines, no matter how well connected, are not amenable to the holistic responses  required to deal with the many global emergencies facing humanity and the natural world. The research will be based on the hypothesis that the wide ranging application of Marxist science across academic subjects has the potential to provide a unifying principle through which to reappraise the fundamental nature of teaching and learning in higher education as well as the production of critical practical knowledge.

The ambitious scope of this project is emboldened by the research project:  Ordered Universe: interdisciplinary readings of Medieval Science, based at the University of Durham and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which seeks to support fresh and original readings of medieval science. The Ordered Universe research project has a particular focus  on the work of Robert Grosseteste, 1170 – 1253, who sought to provide a cosmological theory for the medieval world based on empirical research methodologies, establishing a foundation for experimental science (Neary 2012).  Robert Grosseteste was a Bishop of Lincoln as well as being the first Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. It is entirely appropriate that a research project which is, in part, inspired by his approach to experimental science should be established at the University of Lincoln where I teach.

The theoretical and conceptual framework for Teaching Marx is grounded in a version of critical theory that sought to connect the social and the natural sciences as a radical understanding of the world, a school of thought that has become known as ‘The Frankfurt School’, exemplified by the writings of Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Alfred Schmidt (Neary, Critical Theory and the Critique of Labour 2017); as well as more recent scholarship that seeks to recover the unity of Marx’s social theory and its relationship to nature as a ‘world ecology Marxism’ (Moore 2015). While the teaching of Marx and Marxism has been in decline due to the dominance of neoliberal orthodoxy, there has been a resurgence of interest in Marx’s work following the Great Recession of 2008. For example, students at the University of Manchester have developed their own approach to this issue, known as Post-Crash economics, arguing that the economic syllabus and teaching methods needs to be rethought from a more critical perspective. Teaching Marx is drawing on the ongoing reappraisal of Marx’s social theory which is producing fresh and original insights into Marx’s theory, based on the work of  Diane Elson, Simon Clarke,  Ellen Meiksins Wood, John Holloway, Werner Bonefeld Robert Kurz, Moishe Postone and Ana Dinerstein. This research will trace the way in which this reappraisal of Marx’s work is being taught in English speaking universities. The research methods will include archival research into how curricula for teaching Marx have been developed, as well as interviews with leading teachers of Marx during the twentieth century  who have now retired, those who have been  teaching Marx over a sustained period  and academics and postgraduates who are new to teaching Marx.

Outputs will include reports of regular seminars, a conference at the end of the project along with an edited book. Teaching Marx will have an online presence that will include resources for teachers teaching Marx in higher education.

This research brings together the main strands of my work: research into Marxist social theory and teaching and learning in higher education. During the period I was Dean of Teaching and Learning at Lincoln, 2007 – 2014,  I developed, in collaboration with other staff and students, a model of teaching in higher education based on the support for undergraduate research as a fundamental part of the teaching and learning programme. This approach, with the title Student as Producer, became in 2010 the basis for the University’s teaching and learning strategy across all subject areas at Lincoln. Student as Producer is based on the work of Marxist intellectuals, including Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord and Lev Vygotsky. This work has been developed in other HE institutions in the English speaking world in their own particular ways, in the US, UK, Australia and Canada, and has been identified as a major trend for the future of teaching and learning in higher education (NMC Report 2014 p. 15). The University of Lincoln is recognised by academics as well as external review agencies for its support for student learning through research-engaged teaching and so is an entirely appropriate site to base this research (Quality Assurance Agency 2011, Higher Education Academy 2015).

Teaching Marx is an ambitious project in scope and scale with deep theoretical and conceptual roots; not least in the way in sets out to challenge traditional disciplinary boundaries, through an appeal, following Karl Marx and Robert Grosseteste, for the unity of the sciences.

I am just beginning this work so would welcome any suggestions you might have as to how the research could be developed.

Making moves: the educative power of transnational co-operatives for higher education in an era of global civil war

This is the abstract for a paper I am giving at Crossing Borders conference at the University of the Aegean,  Lesbos, Greece, 7-10th, July


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UK Border Force vessel, Mytilini, Lesbos, Greece

The mass movement of dispossessed people towards the European continent is not just a desperate reaction to the brutal realism  and realpolitik of neocolonial and authoritarian governments, but is a crisis of the nation-state itself as the conflictual site(s) of the global capital-labour relation (Holloway and Picciotto 1979). An outcome of this conflictual relation is that nation states have declared war on their own civilian populations (Kurz 2014). This act of violence takes many forms: total and  low intensity warfare,  war against drugs and war on  terror as well as an economic assault through the imposition of poverty and hunger, leading to the migration of populations  to avoid these killing regimes. It is important to do everything to save the lives of those drowning in the seas around Europe, while recognising the nature of this global civil war requires  more than defensive humanitarian responses. This paper acknowledges the way in which Higher Education is responding to ‘the refugee crisis’. Universities are opening their doors to migrant students, e.g. in Germany with (DAAD, and through the EU MADAD fund, as well as the establishment of  new universities for refugees, e.g., Kiron University (Berlin) and the Silent University (England); and there are programmes to support displaced academics  at risk from oppression (CARA) as well as examples of student activism.This paper sets out an emerging resistance to global civil war in the form of transnational moves towards co-operative higher education, conceptualised here as ‘educative power’, which Walter Benjamin described  as a form of radical doubt (Critique of Violence, 1921).  The emergence of transnational co-operative universities offer the possibility to construct new forms of human sociability when connected to other working class struggles (Egan 1990). The University of Mondragon  is the most established co-operative university situated in the Basque region of Spain and a source of inspiration. These  new co-operatives include UnivSSE: the People’s University for a Social  Solidarity Economy  and the Co-operative Institute for Transnational Studies (Greece), Unicoop (Mexico), and the Social Science Centre, Lincoln and Manchester (England). They are  connected with other networks of resistance to capitalist higher education, e.g., Undercommoning (USA) and the Ecoversity. This is a fragile set of moves but contains within it the possibility of undermining  the capital-labour relation and the violence of the capitalist state.

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This work is ongoing and is being developed by further research: Beyond Private and Public: a framework for co-operative higher education (Neary and Winn, 2016)  and Co-operative leadership for higher education (Neary and Winn 2016)



Co-operative Leadership for Higher Education




The aim of this research is to explore the possibility of establishing co-operative leadership as a viable organisational form of governance and management for Higher Education. Co-operative leadership is already well established in business enterprises in the UK and around the world (Ridley-Duff and Bull 2016), and has recently been adopted as the organising principle by over 800 schools in the United Kingdom (Wilson 2014). The co-operative movement is a global phenomenon with one billion members, supported by national and international organisations working to establish co-operative enterprises and the promotion of cooperative education. The research is financed by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education’s small development projects fund.

Higher education in the UK is characterised by a mode of governance based on Vice-Chancellors operating as Chief Executives supported by Senior Management teams.  Recent research from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education on Neo-collegiality in the managerial university (Bacon 2014) shows that hierarchical models of governance alienate and de-motivate staff, failing to take advantage of research-based problem solving skills of staff operating at all levels,  not accounting for the advantages to organisations when self-managed professionals interact with peers on matters of common purpose, particularly in knowledge-based industries.

The co-operative leadership model for higher education supports the ambition for more active engagement in decision-making to facilitate the best use of academics’ professional capacities, but framed around a more radical model for leadership, governance and management. Members of the co-operative university would not only be involved directly in decision-making and peer-based processes that make best use of their collective skills, but have equal voting rights as well as collective ownership of the assets and liabilities of the co-operative (Cook 2013). This more radical model builds on work done recently as part of a project funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation to establish some general parameters around which a framework for co-operative higher education could be established (Neary and Winn 2015). One of the key issues emerging from this research is the significance of co-operative leadership – the focus of this research project.


 The research will done by Mike Neary and  Joss Winn  both of whom have experience of running research projects funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, the Higher Education Academy and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). Mike Neary was the Dean of Teaching and Learning at the University of Lincoln, 2007-2014, giving him relevant experience of senior leadership in the sector. Mike and Joss are founder members of the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, a co-operative for higher education.

The research will be carried out using a case study method.

The case-study sites proposed are: a co-operative school in England; a large co-operative commercial enterprise in the UK; a retail partnership trust and a co-operative university in Spain. The researcher(s) will spend one week on site doing participant observation, semi-structured interviews and group conversations, taking field notes and photographs, recording interviews, as well as documentary analysis.

A significant outcome of the research will be to develop a co-operative leadership tool (CLT) for  Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to audit the extent of co-operative provision in HEIs and to assess if a co-operative leadership model is viable within an institution. The tool will be based on a set of catalytic principles that distinguish co-operative enterprises: ownership, democracy, autonomy, independence and social value, in the context of practical, pragmatic and political possibilities.


Online – establish a strong online presence across a range of different platforms, including website, Twitter and Facebook.

Speaking – disseminate findings as speakers at national and international events on co-operative higher education.

Print media – write journalistic articles in national and higher education press.

Labour Movement – further develop links between the University and College Union, the  Trade Union movement and the Co-operative College to explore the possibility of setting up a worker-cooperative for further and higher education.


Contribute published material to an under-researched area of leadership in HE  to inform policy and strategy to develop co-operative forms of higher education.

Create a Co-operative Leadership Tool (CLT) to classify the organisational form of HEIs in terms of their co-operative values and politics, based on catalytic principles that distinguish co-operative enterprises.

Establish a new area for consultancy and capacity building through leadership development programmes supported by the CLT with practical guides and other materials. Given the global nature of the co-operative movement these areas for development work have strong international potential.

TIME FRAME  March 2016 –  February 2017

March – April

Milestones – Establish a steering group with individuals from case-study sites, the Co-operative College, academics who work on co-operative provision, a member of a student co-operative and a senior leader at Lincoln. Employ a research assistant, arrange access to case study institutions, gain ethics approval.

April – July

Milestones – Carry out case study visits. Develop prototype of Co-operative Leadership Tool (CLT)

August – December

 Milestones- Pilot-test CLT in three HEIs, as well as focus groups x 2 and interviews x 3 with key individuals in pilot institutions at the end of the test period.

January – February

Write up report and academic publication. Consolidate CLT as usable developmental device.



Bacon, E. (2014) Neo-Collegiality: restoring academic engagement in the managerial university. London, Leadership Foundation.

Neary, M. and Winn, J. (2015) ‘Beyond private and public: a model for co-operative higher education’. Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy.  Perspectives for the new university. Volume 2: 114 – 119.

Wilson, M. (2014) ‘Learning Together: perspectives in cooperative higher education’ (keynote address), Co-operative College, Manchester.

Ridley-Duff R. and Bull, M. (2016) Understanding Social Enterprise, London: Sage.

Cook, D. (2013) ‘Realising the Cooperative University’,   A consultancy report for the Co-operative College.

Yeo.S. (ed) New Views of Co-operation. London: Routledge.