Search results for: "intellectual commons"
Slavonic Reading Room, New York Public LIbrary, 1919

This weekend we read in the Guardian of the confidential report prepared by Rothschild investment bank that indicates proposals to sell off the student loan book.

Its financial value lies mainly in the student loans issued after the introduction of tuition fees in 1998. Initiated by the Blair government, these fees were initially set at £1,000 per year. But in 2004 the rate was lifted to £3,000 and by 2010 the maximum fee was as much as £3,290. Together the value of this 1998-2012 student debt is reputed to be worth as much as £45 billion.

At the moment the interest on all pre-2012 student loans is capped either at the rate of inflation or the bank’s base rate plus 1% – whichever is lower. This rate-cap has until now acted as a deterrent to private entities, who are worried about the security of their investment given the risk of rising inflation.

To make the loans more attractive for sale, the Rothschild report recommends either that the risks be underwritten by government, or that the rates of interest be fully liberalised.

But both these proposals have serious negative implications. (more…)


The old politics is broken, the new politics has yet to emerge, but here we find ourselves living in the between times. How do we make sense of where we are? How are we to act? This is the predicament we all share, Senators Pauline Hanson and Larissa Waters alike. And it is a predicament that in many ways is frightening.

But precisely because the lines are not drawn and the sides are not clear, this is also a moment in which we might rethink the society we want; in which we might make values-based arguments about what matters, about how we want to live and what it might take to get there.

Which is just to say, there’s a certain theme running through this third Green Chair dispatch:

  • Interview with Michael Ignatieff, ‘A Central Conflict of 21st Century Politics: Who Belongs?’ New York Times, 8 July, 2016.  This piece stands in for the millions of things on the internet I have been reading somewhat obsessively about Brexit <insert cry of anguish and heartbreak>. I highlight it for two reasons:
    • (1) It’s a clear articulation of the BigThing now being widely noted: a great cavern has emerged between those who see themselves as cosmopolitans (and who have “benefitted” from globalisation, and speak the language of expertise and evidence and facts), and those who see themselves in local terms (and have not benefited, and speak the language of affect and feeling). That this divide also has a geography is worth remembering. Finding a way to reach across it is possibly the most urgent political task of our moment;
    • (2) Ignatieff’s conception of this split as one between “cosmopolitan elites who see immigration as a common good based in universal rights, and voters who see it as a gift conferred on certain outsiders deemed worthy of joining the community” seems extremely useful, and not widely articulated.
    • Read also:
  • Guy Rundle, ‘Brexit, in context: an essay on reversed polarities’, Crikey, 15 July 2016 [$]. So I think there are some problems with this schema laid out by Guy Rundle (and depicted by me in the BONUS “infographic” at the end of this post), but it does get at some of what’s going on. As Rundle sees it, we are witnessing a shift from the old politics of socialist vs capitalist (which both had internationalist and localist elements), to a new politics of internationalist/globalist vs nationalist/localist (which both have left and right elements). His conclusion, in particular, is worth lingering on: “Many people are going to have decide which side they’re on, of a changed political order, and find a way of dealing with people they hitherto saw as enemies, or even odious.”
  • Julianne Schultz, Cultural Institutions and Ideas of Australia, The 2016 Brian Johns Lecture, republished in The Conversation, 2 May 2016. There are so many wonderful passages in this piece I don’t know where to start. I just want everyone to read it. In summary Shultz argues that as a community of cultural producers we in Australia are increasingly invisible to ourselves, and there are lots of reasons that this is really really not good. However, there are actual structural reasons for this shift that we can and should do something about. Also, the notion of the “Age of Fang” is an amazing  addition to my conceptual vocabulary (see, now you have to read it!)
  • Marta Figlerowicz, The Gatekeepers Aren’t Gone, Jacobin, 8 July 2016. In the same vein, this piece shows clearly why we need to think about the digital economy as an extractive one, in which we are all already labouring for free. I’ve written before about how we might see recent higher education policy in terms of the privatisation of the intellectual commons. If my work has been about anything, it has been about the way that ideas and culture and content appear free floating but really aren’t. Instead, they are produced by structures and platforms that are bounded and specific and owned. A good rule of thumb is to think about the online world like we think about land and to ask: where are the fences? where are the gates? who is let in? who does the work? who reaps the profits? who pays the rent?

And in case you thought I had stopped reading history:

  • William C Lubenow. ‘Only Connect’: Learned Societies in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2015. Woah, reading this book is like taking a trip back several decades, to what I imagine scholarship might have been like before the post-modern fall. To take just one example: when did you last encounter prose in which the author was dedicated to the use of the third person singular pronoun (‘One might well wonder …’) and happy to make asides that dismiss entire decades of scholarship? (eg. p 206. ‘sneers [about class]… common in the writings of a particular generation … may be effective social criticism, [but] … are bad history’). Although it contains a wealth of detail that highlights the diverse array of institutions in which knowledge was made in the nineteenth century before the university approached its near monopolistic status, this big picture is lost on the author. I wanted more wood, less trees – but then, as a lumper I would say that.

BONUS: My nerd-tastic “infographic” (!) of Guy Rundle’s argument about the reversed polarities of the new politics.

Guy Rundle on the new politics


I was recently at the University of Manchester for the 2011 Social History Society conference. Looking for the venue I couldn’t help but notice the progress of the ‘Alan Gilbert Information Commons’, under construction on Lime Grove near the old Owens College. Named for the University’s former Vice-Chancellor who died shortly after leaving office in 2010, the building commemorates the man who oversaw the merger of UMIST with the old University of Manchester and who is credited with the institution’s meteoric rise up the league tables. Judging by the pictures surrounding the works it promises to be as sleek as the building that bears Gilbert’s name at the University of Melbourne, where he served as Vice-Chancellor before his tenure at Manchester.

The conference itself was held in the old Arts building, located directly opposite the construction site, and renamed in 2007 after the University’s renowned early Professor of Philosophy, Samuel Alexander. Dominating the foyer stands his bronze bust, commissioned by the University from Jacob Epstein in 1924.  Over the course of the conference it became a backdrop for book launches, a prop for publications, and a resting place for coffee mugs. But its quotidian presence did not quite explain the strange sense of familiarity I had every time I passed it.

I remained vaguely perplexed by this feeling until halfway through a session on the second day when suddenly it twigged: Samuel Alexander was also Australian. A quick, surreptitious search on my mobile phone confirmed it. Born in Sydney to Jewish parents, Alexander had studied at the University of Melbourne before leaving in 1877 for Oxford. There he took a first class degree and became a Fellow of Lincoln College, moving to Manchester in 1893. I had seen a cast of the same Epstein statue at Monash University in Melbourne.

It seems that in neighbouring buildings of stone and glass, two of Melbourne’s academic sons will be remembered at Manchester.

I don’t know if the University’s planners intended this symmetry or if anyone else has noted it, but in an age when the UK government is doing all it can to restrict academic mobility, the University of Manchester is creating an avenue that bears testimony to the intellectual ties that have long bound British universities with those abroad. David Willitts should pay a visit.

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