Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Turning Contradictions into Subjects: The Cultural Logic of University Assessment

Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Turning Contradictions into Subjects: The Cultural Logic of University Assessment

Article excerpt

Economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself.

K. Marx

1. Introduction

This paper discusses the neoliberal reform of higher education within the theoretical framework of Marx's Grundrisse. The reason for such a theoretical framework lies in the necessity to re-think the neoliberal reform of education within the context of the economic crisis. The Grundrisse is the book of the crisis. Marx wrote feverishly for whole nights like "a condemned man" (Marx, 1857) in order to enable the tremendous foresight of theory to anticipate the catastrophe, as he calls it, in an organized insurrection. Marx describes the crisis as an eruption. It is the irreconcilable antagonism synthesized by the law of value which erupts during the crisis. The goal of this paper is to highlight the relationship between the economic crisis and the neoliberal reform in education by considering assessment as its distinctive feature and its root to be the law of value itself.

Generally speaking, the neoliberal reform of higher education has been widely analyzed in recent years. Most critics have exposed issues related to the enclosure of knowledge, the higher tuition costs and the private governance of public universities. However correct, such interpretations posit a conceptual discontinuity between the function of education as a public service and the role of knowledge in a knowledge-based economy, thus failing to account for its actual subsumption to the process of capitalist reproduction and often resolving into a moral account of whether or not the privatization of knowledge is efficient or inefficient, right or wrong. Interpreted within the theoretical context of the Grundrisse, my thesis is that universities represent the new frontier of accumulation, the feeding ground meant to perpetuate and conceal the transition between industrial and cognitive capitalism. Following the theoretical hypothesis of cognitive capitalism, I locate the suspension of capital at the end of the Fordist era, a transition that we could visualize like a "double spiral or a double windmill of parallel convergences" (Negri, 1991: 137) where the positive-sum-game of the Fordist era becomes a negative-sum-game. Here, universities become the contended womb that produces individuals, value and truth. Hence, when the crisis of the law of value manifests itself in:

1. the displacement of capital on the outside of the production process in the naked form of command;

2. growing rates of unemployment and precarity;

3. a diffuse intellectuality; assessment is the modulating principle that capital uses to move beyond its limits, thus concealing the growing divorce between the logic of wealth and the logic of value, and making up for the crisis of measurability of control (Vercellone, 2012). More specifically, it:

4. provides credit according to merit, where merit is the incarnation of the law of value and credit is a function of competition;

5. it acts as a filter of individuals and knowledge, or rather, as Arrow argued, as "a screening device, in that it sorts out individuals of differing abilities, thereby conveying information to the purchasers of labor" (Arrow, 1973: 194);

6. it transforms necessary labor into a function of superfluous labor thus pushing the limits of capital onto the body and transforming the incarnation of the law of value into the only condition for reproduction.

The impact of assessment on labor brings us right in the middle of the Fragment on the Machines. Here, the law of value is posited as a seductive ontology that promises merit as a reward for self exploitation, hence giving capital the ultimate command over what knowledge is produced and for what purpose.

Yet, in intellectual production the law of value:

7. normalizes abstraction as the constitutive quality of knowledge, as its very quality will be its quantity and its use value will be its exchange-value

8. …

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