Re: [mlg-ics] Edu-Factory Project and Website

From "Matthew Hale" <>
Date Thu, 24 May 2007 03:50:30 +0000
In-reply-to <>


Thanks for your comment, and I agree that many academics overestimate the importance of their research and writing, which usually gets read by only a small handful of other academics. But I disagree that universities are unimportant in the class struggle. This is not at all because universities are "great repositories of truth, social justice, and higher knowledge," but precisely because of "the historical and present connectedness of academia to the corporate and political bodies that really run the show," as you mention. And this is part of the point that I think Wang Hui is missing in his interview - he talks about "Chinese universities" as if they consisted only of humanities professors and grad students at Qinghua, Beida, and Fudan, many of whom really do consider their work to be about creating and propagating truth, social justice, and higher knowledge, but in reality, most universities and colleges in China (including these three two some extent, outside of these narrow circles) are primarily means for training future workers, just like most colleges and universities all over the world. The university is becoming more important in capitalist reproduction, and therefore in the class struggle, because jobs require more and more training, and it is increasingly difficult to find many jobs, even relatively low-income and high-stress jobs, without some kind of college degree. In China, for instance, only a few years ago the government assigned many medical jobs to all graduates of vocational high schools, but now such jobs generally require at least a college degree, so it is much more difficult and expensive to get jobs in the medical profession, even while many poor people would be grateful to have even the basic-level health care they had in the past.

All this is to say that universities and colleges in China, and most other places in the world that I know of, seem to be becoming an increasingly central site in the reproduction of labor-power and capitalist relations. The fact that most people cannot access this education does not mean that they live in the real world and that universities are cut off from reality; because it is increasingly difficult to find a formal job without a college degree, this may in fact mean that more and more people are becoming excluded from formal capitalist relations and falling into something like a sub-proletarian state on the fringes of capitalism. If so, then their struggle for access to education becomes a struggle to be included within formal capitalist relations, and students' struggles in the university, such as struggles against overwork, discipline, etc., become a struggle against job-training, and so part of the proletarian struggle against capital.

This are just my immature reflections inspired by your comments and recent experiences among college students in China, so I'm sure there are a lot of theoretical problems with them. I look forward to people's responses (qingjiao, qingjiao).

Matthew Hale
University of Washington
currently in Chengdu

From: Andrew Field <>
To: Matthew Hale <>
Subject: Re: [mlg-ics] Edu-Factory Project and Website
Date: Thu, 24 May 2007 10:10:24 +1000

"As was the factory, so now is the university. Where once the factory was a paradigmatic site of struggle between workers and capitalists, so now the university is a key space of conflict, where the ownership of knowledge, the reproduction of the labour force, and the creation of social and cultural stratifications are all at stake."

This strikes me as the sort of bombastic rhetoric that we are used to hearing about the role of universities in the world. Are universities really that important? Or is our understanding of universities simply the product of our own exaggerated sense of self- importance as academics, as well as the narrow-mindedness of our own world view? In the English-speaking world we use the term "ivory tower" to suggest this narrowness. I prefer Zhuangzi's metaphor of the "frog in the well."

We operate under the flawed assumption that universities are the great repositories of truth, social justice, and higher knowledge. Was it ever so? Over the years I have come to increasingly doubt this assumption. To suggest that the university is a "key space of conflict" in the world today is to both over- and under- estimate the historical and present connectedness of academia to the corporate and political bodies that really run the show.

Andrew Field
Lecturer, School of History
363 Morven Brown Building
University of New South Wales
Kensington, NSW 2052
phone:  +61-2-9385-2287
fax:  +61-2-9385-1251

On 23/05/2007, at 11:49 AM, Matthew Hale wrote:

Thanks for forwarding this, Dan. I've been following the Edu-factory project on an and off, and I'm interested in how changes in the education system in China, student activism, etc., relate to situations in other countries and in capitalism as a whole. Please let me know if you run across any other material on these topics. I wrote some comments on Wang Hui's interview on the CSG blog here:


The new Edu-factory website has posted a video (MP4) of an interview with Wang Hui about the marketist restructuring of China's university system. Glad to know someone from China is taking part in these discussions, although I'm not sure what I think about their general direction (theories of "cognitive capitalism" etc.), on the one hand, and it seems that China's experience could be related to global trends in more helpful ways, on the other. But this is a valiant first effort.

WH says that the percentage of college entrants from rural families has dropped dramatically in recent years, both because it’s more difficult for rural students to prepare for the college entrance exams, and because rural parents increasingly regard education as a waste of time since degrees are worth less on the labor market. Has anyone seen any statistics to support this? He mentions the media stir last year about college graduates’ difficulty in finding jobs – I had seen the figure “3 out of 5” college graduates failed to find jobs in the fields they trained for, but when I’ve mentioned this to faculty at the school where I work, they say that’s impossible – almost all graduates can find jobs, it’s just that they’re unwilling to take them in remote locations. I’d be interested to see any other statistics people know of about this.

I was surprised that when the interviewer asked about student responses to this situation, WH only said that “everyone’s talking about it, but there’s no easy solution” – what about all the student riots last year about the value of degrees on the labor market? (See, for example, this, this, and this.) This would be a great topic to research in more depth, and to relate to the general Edu-factory discussions.

His account seems to describe the situation of grad students at some of the top few universities, but not most universities and colleges. For instance, he talks about how open and connected universities are to global events and knowledge via the internet, but in fact most students, including grad students, at Sichuan University, ranked the tenth best school in China, cannot access many off-campus and most overseas-based websites (the school provides access to its own campus network, and very few students splurge for installing their own connections), only Ph.D. students have access to more than a few domestic periodicals, and the libraries are so difficult to use and understocked that many students don’t even bother, preferring to squat on the floors of bookstores and skim books, or, more often, just to skip reading altogether and cheat on their papers and tests. Several of my master's-level students last semester didn’t have email addresses, since they used the internet only to chat with people on QQ and read entertainment news, and students often have trouble accessing even domestic email accounts from the campus network. Most of the students at the small, private college (affiliated as a “branch” of another major university) where I teach now, on the other hand, use the internet only at off-campus netbars on the weekends (the school doesn’t have computer lab, and most students don’t own computers), and some have never even used a computer.

Glad he mentioned students’ growing involvement in rural activism, but here I think he’s also neglecting the majority of students. His point in mentioning this activism is to indicate a recent trend toward overcoming the gap between students and the laboring masses, but actually many students still come from peasant and working-class families, and, as he himself indicates, most see themselves as training for white-collar jobs they may not even get, not as elite academics in some kind of ivory tower. In fact, most student volunteers I’ve met (“activists” doesn’t seem appropriate in most cases) see their volunteering as a way to help them get some kind of government job in the future, not as a way to ally themselves as organic intellectuals with subaltern struggles. So, on the one hand, it seems to me that most students are not so cut off from the masses in the first place, and on the other, the recent rise of student volunteering is not necessarily a move toward overcoming whatever gap may exist.

Please let us know if you run across any other publications, in English or Chinese, dealing critically with China's "industrialization of education" in relation to situations in other countries and any possible changes in capitalism and the class struggle.

By the way: the English translation of the report on the Yangzhou workers' struggle by WH and Cui Zhiyuan has not yet been finished after many months - please help out with that if you have a few minutes.


From: "Daniel F. Vukovich" <>
To: <>
Subject: FW: [mlg-ics] Edu-Factory Project and Website
Date: Mon, 21 May 2007 11:17:18 +0800

 Link below contains an interview with Wang Hui, fyi...


-----Original Message-----
[] On Behalf Of Imre Szeman
Sent: May 21, 2007 1:16 AM
Subject: [mlg-ics] Edu-Factory Project and Website

fyi, i

Dear friends,

We are very happy to announce that the edu-factory website is up and

On the site there are three video interviews on conflicts in knowledge
production and transformations of the university available for download. The
interviews, which were recorded at the Global Meeting in Venice, Italy in
late March 2007 are with:

Ranabir Samaddar, Calcutta Research Group Stanley Aronowitz, City University
of New York Wang Hui, Tsinghua University, Beijing

We are very happy to be able to present these interviews about  changes to
the university in three key sites: India, the USA and China.

As we hope to build the edu-factory website into a resource for edu- factory
and other linked projects we would be very happy if list members could send
suggestions for links, bibliography, multimedia materials etc. Please send
all suggestions to this address.

Also we ask you to spread news of the site through your networks.

edu-factory collective
MLG-ICS mailing list

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