No, You Cannot: The Commonwealth at the Time of the Global Crisis

In this blog entry, Gigi Roggero, author of The Production of Living Knowledge  addresses the economic crisis and how it goes hand in hand with the crisis of the university.

The overlapping images during our hot August, of the crash of the financial markets and the riots in UK, are exemplary: the old world is crumbling. To say this nowadays seems obvious: you only need to read the newspapers, or to watch tv, to hear the frightened voices of politicians, bankers, and opinion makers. And the university is crumbling with that old world. We could state that we are living in a revolutionary situation, if we rethink its classic definition: global capital’s ruling elites cannot live as they have in the past—workers, the precarious, students, the poor, the productive multitude don’t want to live as they have in the past.

Nevertheless, this was not so obvious some years ago, certainly when I embarked upon the research that would lead to The Production of Living Knowledge—or co-research, as we call it, i.e. the cooperative production of knowledge and subjectivity. Remember how the dominant post-1989 rhetoric was that of “the end of the history”? And then there was the supposed “golden age” of the New Economy, with wealth for all, and the ideological proclamation of the end of the ideologies, which from their point of view meant the end of struggles and possibilities for social transformation.

But as luck would have it, that (never-sealed) history was forcefully “re-opened” in Seattle at the end of the 1990s: Microsoft’s city became the city of the world’s new specter. In the meantime, bubble after bubble, crisis became no longer a stage of development, but a permanent condition of global capital. Today the bubble, and no longer the cycle, is the insuperable form of the economy. And the hope for Obama, which has become hopelessness, makes one truth evident: the Bush nightmare was a continuation of the Clintonian dream by other means.

But what are these bubbles? Let’s consider how they have occurred one after another in the last ten years, with wild rapidity: from the ‘net economy to the subprime crash, the explosion of public debt, and maybe an ecological, or social network bust next. The question is: what is inside the bubble? There is the Internet and networks, i.e. social cooperation; there is debt, i.e. welfare and the social needs—education, communication, housing, healthcare, mobility; there is life, i.e. the production of human by human. The flesh and body of the bubble-financial economy is, in other words, the common.

The crisis of the university is also permanent and insuperable. The growing importance of budget administrators, managers and rating agencies to academic organization and ranking demonstrate the meaning of the financialization of knowledge, the corporatization of the university, and the creation of an education market. And it highlights the intimate connection between the economic crisis on the one hand and the crisis of the global university on the other. But in the book all these topics— the double crisis—are tackled from the perspective of precarious workers, the unemployed, the working poor, the debt generation: that is to say, from the perspective of living knowledge.

And more precisely, from that of common struggles against exploitation, for the self-organization of knowledge production, for the claiming of our right to bankruptcy and to not pay for their crisis. We have had a succession of experiences in recent years: from Italy to California, from Greece to the insurrections in North Africa, and in the last two months in Spain or in Chile. Leading these struggles, a common composition is emerging: young people, highly educated, producers of knowledge, and precarious cognitive workers or the unemployed. Every day they experience the end of school and of the university as elevators of social mobility. Different movements of living knowledge with a common desire: the re-appropriation of the richness produced in common.

Since there is no longer anything to defend, these struggles show us that the double crisis should become a great opportunity. In this way, The Production of Living Knowledge—and I hope it is a dangerous book!—must be a tool to understand, think and act to build up a new university, and a new world. That is to say, a common world.

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