Friday, 18 January 2008

Education, where knowledge is capital

This post continues from the previous, which Iwill not sum up because I just wrote it.

Because of the widespread availability and value of data, there is decreasing value in keeping it in one's head - which ecological psychology also describes. So education must become about something more than “just” transmission of knowledge – or facts, really:

"didactics does not simply consist in the transmission of information; and competence, even when defined as a performance skill, does not simply reduce to having a good memory for data or having easy access to a computer...what is of utmost importance is the capacity to actualise the relevant data for solving a problem...and to organise that data into an efficient strategy" (p51).

An earlier post showed that talked about the need for legitimate knowledge and the system of legitimacy established results in a flat network of inquiry, an increasing interdisciplinarity which functions to delegitimise the old system (which is not a huge loss) because the metanarration project is a paradoxical one, which undermines itself.  This impacts education as well:

"The idea of an interdisciplinary approach is specific to the age of delegitimation and its hurried empiricism" (p.52) and education becomes "training in one's ability to connect the fields" - one giant Glass Bead Game

I think "hurried empiricism" is one of the loveliest descriptions.

The loss of boundaries and the need to be able to cross them in lots of sensible ways is probably the cause of a lot of academic anxiety and angst, as well as creativity...and is probably now a life skill that may well find its way into graduate attributes one day:

"This capacity to articulate what used to be separate can be called imagination..."

And finally, the postmodern characteristic that stole modernity's obsession with speed and growth and translated it into the circulation of knowledge as capital:

"Speed is one of its properties." (p.52)

And of all the things that has changed the nature of knowledge - and with which university-based knowledge can not compete in the knowledge economy, speed may well be it. But that is idle speculation on my day I'll write about that. Sticking to Lyotard for now...the last 2 bits of paper can fit here, as we consider changes to the approach to education, including our increasing tendency to collaborative approaches:

"The emphasis placed on teamwork is related to the predominance of the performativity criterion in knowledge [where] justice and truth are thought of in terms of the probability of success (p.52).

In general, teamwork does in fact improve performance...[and is] especially successful in improving performativity within the framework of a given model, that is for the implementation of a task. [It is] ... less certain when the need is to 'imagine' new models."

Gives us a new angle on the apparent need for both acquisitive and co-constructive approaches, described by Sfard Lyotard suggests education will be divides into 2 purposes:

"...either for the selection and reproduction of professional skills, or for the promotion and 'stimulation' of 'imaginative' minds ...  on a mass scale ... [or] on a smaller scale in conditions of aristocratic egalitarianism" (p. 53)

Getting a little speculative himself here really. Nearly there...last quote. What happens to the university as knowledge changes in this way? It may well be on the way out, not least because of the loss of any need or desire for an expert:

"one thing that seems certain is ... [it is] sounding the knell of the age of the Professor: a professor is no more competent than memory bank networks in transmitting established knowledge, no more competent than interdisciplinary teams in imagining new moves or new games. (p53)"

Exaggerated this may be, but we can see what Lyotard means. Very much like Benjamin's work of art, the digital reproduction of knowledge reduces the value - and indeed the need - for the "original". As I've said several times, this is not a big loss. However, for universities it might feel like a big loss. Despite the optimism we might feel about the reduction in knowledge's elitism, still following Benjamin's consistent point, the aristocratic system has been replaced by a commodified one - one which masquerades as egalitarian. 

Egalitarian qualities, in education (including collaborative metaphors) though, might not be egalitarian at all, but, by increasing efficiency, egalitarianism serves the system of knowledge-as-capital.


The last post described Lyotard on knowledge and money, demonstrating that, since the start of the idea of science, money has increased the probability of being right, by enabling technologies that enhance the capacity of the human body. Once the equation between money and knowledge is established, research funding can become an investment. Like any investment, the result of it - in this case knowledge - produces (hopefully) surplus value, which can then be sold and reinvestment in the production of knowledge... turning it into a system characterised by the circulation of capital.

The result, Lyotard suggests, is a shift in the nature of legitimation, as we shall see in this posting.

"The relationship between science and technology is reversed"

says Lyotard on p47,

"...the goal is no longer truth, but performativity - that is, the best possible input/output equation" (p.46)

This statement suggests that, in order to ensure it continues, those who purport to act in the interests of an institution will protect that institution by the production of the most valuable knowledge according to an economic-type formula. This is because the relationship between knowledge and money led to a capitalist system:

"Research sectors that are unable to argue that they contribute even indirectly to the optimization of the system's performance are abandoned by the flow of capital" (p.47)

Performativity is a kind of efficiency, in which the return on investment is key to survival in the capitalist/university system.

But the influence of performativity as the new form of legitimation does not stop at the development of a capitalist system. Now that knowledge is in itself capital, the character of knowledge and its importance in the world also changes. (If Joseph Knecht had thought of this in the glass bead game he could have saved Castalia from its irrelevance to the world...or maybe not, as we'll see).

First, performativity changes the focus and value of education: 

"The question ... is no longer 'is it true?' but 'what use is it?' "

though this particular debate plagues education forever, it has a particularly chilling nuance in the context described Lyotard:

"In the context of the mercantilisation of knowledge, more often than not this question is equivalent to: 'is it saleable?' And in the context of power-growth: 'is it efficient?'"

Power-growth is like economic growth, only it relates to the accumulation of power/knowledge (and maybe money as well, sometimes). Knowledge, like Bourdieu's cultural capital, can circulate and function as a type of capital on its own. Though, it could be argued that it is more likely to circulate with money, given the relationship between money and the probability of being right. And thus the commodification, not just the capitalisation (is that even a word?) of knowledge and education:

"... vast market for competence in operational skills". (p.51)

And a world in which knowledge becomes incredibly valuable to the world (thus may have been able to solve Joseph Knecht's problem):

"Seen in this light, what we are approaching is not the end of knowledge - quite the contrary. Data banks are the Encyclopedia of tomorrow. They transcend the capacity of each of their users. They are 'nature' for postmodern man." (p51)

And women, as Lina's blog shows.

I thought I'd finish it all in this post, but need just one more.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Lyotard on knowledge and money

This was the passage in which Lyotard's logic regarding knowledge and money became clear to me:

"By the end of the Discourse on method, Descartes is already asking for laboratory funds. A new problem appears: devices that optimize the performance of the human body for the purpose of producing proof require additional expenditures. No money, no verification and no truth"

So the relationship between knowledge and money is not necessarily - or did not start as - insidious, it is simply needed to be able to conduct research and produce knowledge. If knowledge is important, money is also important:

"...whoever is wealthiest has the best chance of being right. An equation between wealth, efficiency and truth is thus established."

Where there is an equation between wealth and truth and knowledge is important - whether altruistically, for society as a machine, for power or self-preservation on the part of organisations that produce it, what happens as a result of this logic is predictable:

"A technical apparatus required an [the same apparatus, purchased to enhance the probability of being right] also optimizes the surplus value..."


"All that is needed is for the surplus-value to be realised ... for the product of the task performed to be sold ... [and the] system can be sealed ... a portion of the sale is recycled into a research fund... [and] science becomes a force of production ... a moment in the circulation of capital."

Here is the source of our problem and the consequences are the topic of the next - and hopefully final - posting from this book (performativity, of course).

Quotes on this page are from pp 46-47.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

The nature of the social bond

Lyotard's report on knowledge has two chapters on the nature of the social bond, describing the differences in the role that knowledge has in relation to society from two different perspectives.

He says:

One can decide that the principal role of knowledge is as an indispensable element in the functioning of society, and act in accordance with that decision, only if one has already decided that society is a giant machine.

Lyotard, Postmod Condition, a report on knowledge, p.13

We can see by the fact that decision is mentioned 3 times in this passage that this is an important assumption on Lyotard's part. Some may contest this, but I don't personally and see it as a little peripheral, so will move on.

This was the passage I decided was representative of Lyotard's desciption of the modern perspective on the social bond. The idea that knowledge is indispensable to society has been central to lots of arguments for the significance of higher education - this person (Lachlan Brown) has said it was the view of Menzies, as well, which is probably true.

But key to this I think is the image (an image we can decide to adopt) of society as a machine. A machine has indispensable elements - cogs, often. This vision of society legitimises the university in itself, by positioning knowledge as an essential cog in its machinery. This is going to be important to be in the near future, as I look at the development of universities as research (rather than teaching) institutions in the Menzies period.

But the social bond is not always imagined as a societal machine - and there are plenty of bad things about doing so, so we should not mourn its loss too much. The emergence of postmodernity from the condition of modernity loosens the self-serving disciplinary legitimacy that universities and faculties had been exercising for a while. The postmodern perspective shows that there are no certainties in either knowledge or power. This then changes the entire academic project:

We know today that the limits the institution imposes on potential language "moves" are never established once and for all (even if they have been formally defined).

Rather, the limits are themselves the stakes and provisional results of language strategies, with, within the institution and without. Examples: Does the university have a place for language experiments...Can you tell stories in a cabinet meeting? ...The answers are clear: yes, if...

Reciprocally it can be said that the boundaries only stabilise when they cease to be stakes in the game.

So, the academic project shifts from one (in a period we can characterise as modernity) that functioned to continually legitimise itself to one (in a period we can characterise as postmodernity) that is all about continually delegitimising itself. This is important, and what (I assume will be) the next post is about. [Only 6 more bits of paper on the wall now, yay!]

Legitimising games

I still have 11 pieces of paper with Lyotard quotes cluttering the living room wall, so I'll move on to the next one. I am simply trying to store them somewhere safe, by doing this, so it really should be quicker than it currently is.

In my last Lyotard post I posted quotes describing universities' function in legitimising knowledge, deciding what is knowledge, beautifully described in Hesse's Glass Bead Game as: 

"we are the bureau of standards for cultural weights and measures".

In Chapter 3 of a Report on Knowledge, Lyotard describes the method of legitimation as language games.

"...three observations about language games ... (1) their rules do not carry within themselves their own legitimation, but are the object of a contract...between players (which is not to say that the players invent the rules. (2) ...if there are no rules there is no game (3) ... every utterance should be thought of as a move in a game." P.10

Some of my thinking in reading this book has been around explaining why Higher Education seems to be losing its value significance in society, particularly in a 'knowledge economy' when everything suggests that it 'should' be HE's moment of glory. I have wondered if perhaps the character of knowledge in society has changed and that Higher Education's knowledge - for better and worse - has not. End digression.

This legitimising game, performed by academics, in Lyotard's sense, might correspond (perhaps a little clumsily) with the metanarrative of Hesse's Glass Bead Game. This game conceives of knowledge as one large body that can be linked - the game (not fully described) seems to use the game's rules to draw links between knowledge of different types, so they become a part of one body.

When main character Joseph Knecht writes his letter to the Board of Castalia and as he rejects Castalian life for life 'in the world', his concern seems largely to be about a distinction between 'pure' academia and instrumental knowledge. This division, and the monastic cloister of academia is described as a result of academic independence. Independence = academic freedom from political interference - in the novel independence contrasts to an earlier period called the 'Age of Feuilleton' in which there was "truly no pleasure and no honour in being a scholar or a writer", since academics were politicians' puppets, or they starved (p. 334). While academic freedom was valuable in contrast to this, Knecht's argument is that academic independence has led to academic irrelevance.

These are familiar arguments, I think, in this period of educational instrumentalism and industry-funded research. Knecht says that Castalia is therefore a luxury for society and, when under pressure, society will stop funding it (also sounds familiar). 

What has this to do with the legitimation of knowledge? Returning to Lyotard, this time Ch 8:

"It is recognised that the conditions of truth are immanent in that game...there is no other proof that the rules are good than the consensus extended to them by the experts" pp.28-29

Knowledge and power, of course, in what is not much more than a game. Meaning society hands this power to academics who are independent of the system and who are a luxury.

In chapter 9 we find that the character of the University itself is remarkably similar to the character of the Glass Bead Game:

"Schools are functional; the University is speculative... must restore unity to learning... in a language game that links the sciences together as moments in the becoming of spirit, in...metanarration" (Lyotard p.33)

"In this perspective, knowledge first finds legitimacy within itself, and it is knowledge that is entitled to say what the State and what Society is. But it can only play this role by ... becoming ... the knowledge of the knowledge of the referent - that is, by becoming speculative."

Higher education is standing on shakier and shakier ground here, but we also see many of the qualities of academic knowledge that we hold to be precious: independent and speculative are probably two key things that we would say make university-based knowledge what it is.

Lyotard described the way all this is changing.... but that is for the next post. (Down to 8 pieces of paper now...)