The familiar, yet strange, topological inversions and reversions of the flyped university

“Karl [Miller] turned his need for affection somehow inside out: to use a rather Midlothian word, he flyped it.” (Ascherson, 2014: 9)

“… [traditional realism’s] model of reality [is that it is] a dull independent state of affairs that the mind is forced to copy like a harassed student at some dreary provincial art school” (Harman, 2009: 112)

“There are clear and obvious connexions between the quality of a culture and the quality of its system of education.” (Williams, 1961: 145)

Allan Parsons: The Writing on the Milanese Wall (Redacted)


This will be difficult, slow, gradual, fragmented, tortuous and possibly torturous; and in need of revision and supplementation to overcome its limitations and confusions.

Is it simply to engage in a kind of defeatism, often confused with pragmatism, to believe that,

“Whatever you think about the changes to higher education that have been made in recent years, in particular the decision in the autumn of 2010 largely to replace public funding of teaching with student fees, this is now the system we’ve got.” (Collini, 2013: 3)

Do we, in fact, have a system? Rather, do we not have a proliferation of systems or a series of systems, arising from the break-up of a prior system, again one whose coherence should not be overstated and one that certainly should not be viewed through rose-tinted spectacles, or indeed specularised at all.

At a Symposium organised by Matt Charles held on 7 November 2014, under the joint aegis of the Institute for Modern & Contemporary Culture (IMCC) and the Higher Education Research Centre (HERC) at the University of Westminster, a number of pressing issues pertaining to those questions were raised for those partaking in higher education, whether as givers or receivers, in the UK, and elsewhere. Continue reading The familiar, yet strange, topological inversions and reversions of the flyped university

Inaugural Research Lab


noun, often attributive \ˈla-b(ə-)rə-ˌtȯr-ē sometimes ˈla-bə(r)-ˌ or lə-ˈbȯr-ə-ˌ, British usually lə-ˈbär-ə-t(ə-)rē\

1a :  broadly :  a place providing opportunity for experimentation, observation, or practice in a field of study

1b :  a place like a laboratory for testing, experimentation, or practice

Origin: Medieval Latin laboratorium, from Latin laborare to labor, from labor.

005.Lab Equipment
This year the Higher Education and Theory (HEAT) network will be experimenting with a new Research Lab ​afternoon event, intended as a space to test, share, observe and discuss your own ideas on HE and pedagogy in an informal, collaborative and supportive setting. Participants will be invited to give a very short presentation outlining an aspect of the own thoughts, practices or projects connected to teaching and learning in the broader context of Higher Education and Theory.
These are not required to be fully articulated projects but “tasters” or “testers” of ideas you would like to discuss and pursue. They may be connected to ideas you have developed and reflected on in your own practice or arisen from conversations connected to the texts read and discussed in the Reading Group (or elsewhere). The intention is to encourage participants to reflect on and develop their research but also give an opportunity to discover shared and common themes or topics that have emerged from our various interests.

Everyone welcome (whether you attend the Reading Group or not) and all are warmly encouraged to take part.

The first Research Lab will take place on Wednesday 3rd December (Week 11) in Room M215 on our Marylebone campus from 1pm to 4pm.
For more information or to express your interest in the Research Lab, please email Matthew Charles or Steven Cranfield.
Please email Matthew or Steven by Monday 1st December to reserve a place.

Democratic politics and the dynamics of passions (post-Blacker)

Post the symposium and the reading group discussing David Blacker’s text I came across this article, via Allan Parson’s blog Prolepsis and Poesis. It’s taken from a presentation by Chantal Mouffe at the Second Moscow Biennial of Contemporary Art (2007):

But nihilist wisdom does not only give a phantasmagorical view of our world, featuring the entire mankind as a population of merry consumers overfilling all bins with the refuse of their frantic consumption. It also pictures the law of domination as a force that permeates any will to do anything against it. Any protest is a performance, any performance is a spectacle, any spectacle is a commodity, such is the ground thesis of this post-Marxist and post-Situationist wisdom.
Chantal Mouffe
Agonistic public spaces: Democratic politics and the Dynamics of Passions

A further perspective on the ‘apocalytic’ scenarios which we were discussing, and the possibilities of resistance and change?

Steven Cranfield

‘The (newly) imaginable disaster’: precursors of David Blacker’s thesis

In its sudden loss of confidence, its glimpse of the newly imaginable disaster, it [our civilisation] – in politicians of all parties, … the voices of the eminent wise … – talks merely of how to restore a steady rate of economic growth and a constantly rising standard of living (a matter of money to buy things with and a sure and growing supply of things to buy). It can’t really believe in the menace hanging over it; it is incapable of grasping the patent diagnostic truth, so rapid has progress been, so stupefying the effect on human life of the continuing industrial revolution, which is constantly accelerating …

No, not Susan Sontag in her 1965 essay ‘The Imagination of Disaster’ but F. R. Leavis, writing in 1975 in Thought, Words and Creativity, page 18. The above text has been rumbling through my mind as I make notes on David Blacker’s book which presents us with another take on the wholly imaginable disaster. One challenge for higher education – what role do we have in enabling the ‘eminent wise’ and others to grasp the patent diagnostic truth(s), to transcend what Leavis calls ‘the neo-Benthamite world’s spiritual philistinism’ (page 18)? Harsh and persistent ridicule? Pre-emptive ‘resilience’? Creative metaphorisation, of which Sontag’s science fiction apocalyptic tropes or more recent analogies of zombie culture are two examples?

Leavis interestingly at this period also called attention to the ominous appearance of the word ‘joblessness’ and ‘the threat of joblessness’ in public discourse at around this time, signifying an existential state in which dehumanised labour was robbed not merely of the prospect of paid employment but of its very meaning. A precursor of Blacker’s eliminationist thesis?

Steven Cranfield


Many thanks to all the participants in our symposium on Friday, both the speakers – John Beck, David Blacker, Matthew Cornford and Nina Power – and the audience. David first spoke on ‘the education horror show’, arguing how a coming shift from ‘exploitation’ to ‘elimination’ will come to impact upon the population, work and the needs of and for education. John Beck and Matthew Cornford offered a compelling and affecting slideshow of the ruined or abandoned spaces of old local art schools, which charted not only a narrative of decline and elimination but, often in close proximity, massive (and sometimes massively wasteful) investment in contemporary public galleries, in which the public is invited no longer to practice but consume. Nina concluded with a reconstruction of the figure of the student, calling into question assumptions not only about increasingly passivity but also the inevitability and even possibility of eliminationism in its educational and vocational contexts. Questions from the audience, a large number of whom had attended the art schools pictured and been involved in the protests described, encouraged a broad-ranging discussion of the changing nature of art education, the fate of art educators, and the subjectivity of the art student, as well as debate and disagreement about the character of the shifts in contemporary capitalism (post-exploitation? post-industrial? immaterial, creative and cultural?) and their implications for the future of art schools and universities in and outside of London.

There is a chance to question David further about The Falling Rate of Learning at our next HEAT reading group on Tuesday 11th November (details here). Those who would like to continue the theoretical discussion about higher education are encouraged to join or collaborate the HEAT network at the University of Westminster: all ideas and suggestions for future events welcome.

Call for contributions: Power, Acceleration and Metrics in Academic Life

There is little doubt that science and knowledge production are presently undergoing dramatic and multi-layered transformations accompanied by new imperatives reflecting broader socio-economic and technological developments. The unprecedented proliferation of audit cultures preoccupied with digitally mediated measurement and quantification of scholarship and the consolidation of business-driven managerialism and governance modes are commonplace in the contemporary academy. Concurrently, the ever-increasing rate of institutional change, (the need for) intensification of scientific and scholarly production/communication and diverse academic processes seem to characterize the overall acceleration of academic life (i.e., in many disciplines the new maxim ‘patent and prosper’ (Schachman) supplements the traditional ‘publish or perish’). Quantification and metrics have emerged not only as navigating instruments paradoxically exacerbating the general dynamization of academic life but also as barely questioned proxies for scientific quality, career progression and job prospects, and as parameters redrawing what it means to be/work as a scholar nowadays (i.e., the shifting parameters and patterns of academic subjectivity). Metrification now seems to be an important interface between labour and surveillance within academic life, with manifold affective implications.

This workshop will inquire into the techniques of auditing and their attendant practices and effects and will also probe into scholars’ complicity in reproduction of such practices. It will consider processes of social acceleration within the academy and their implications for the management of everyday activity by those working within it. This will include:

• empirical and theoretical engagements with the acceleration of higher education
• the origins of metrification of higher education
• metrification as a form of social control
• the challenges of self-management posed by metrification and/or acceleration
• common strategic responses to these challenges
• the relationship between metrification and acceleration
• how metrification and acceleration relate to a broader social crisis

The workshop will take place in December 2015 in Prague. At present, we’re seeking to clarify the level of interest before determining the length of the event, fixing a date and inviting keynote speakers. Please send expressions of interest – a biographical note and brief description of interest in the topic – to and – deadline January 31st 2015.


Hosted by Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic the event will take place in Vila Lanna, V Sadech 1, 160 00, Prague 6, Czech Republic (


Air: From Vaclav Havel Airport Prague take the bus no 119 to Dejvicka (which is the terminal stop). Vila Lanna is 5-6min walk from there.

Train: From Main Railway Station (Praha hlavni nadrazi, often abbreviated Praha hl. n), take metro line C (red), change at Muzeum for line A (green) and get off at the terminal stop Dejvicka. Vila Lanna is 5-6min walk from there.


Possible questions for David Blacker HEAT group

First to say I am enjoying the book so far, although needing to take it in measured doses, partly because I am reading it on a phone, and should have worked to the end shortly.

First, a broader question about the wider intellectual critique of which David’s book might be seen to situate itself. From at least the 1960s on, if not before, there has been a strong element of the critique of higher education conceived as being linked solely to economic prosperity as the summum bonum. This critique has been shared here by both the Left as well as the Right or Right-leaning, e.g. in the anxious conservatism of educationalists and cultural critics such as F. R. Leavis. By and large this critique from either perspective has had limited impact in altering the course of higher education in the UK. Where does he locate hope, if any, for the future beyond stoicism or even measured pessimism? This question may be addressed at the end of the book, but my sense from the tenor of the book so far is that hope is in short supply.

Secondly about trends. A publication is out today (November 6) in the British Journal of Sociology which looks at data on social mobility and questions the ways in which broad brush statements are made here about social mobility:

Social mobility is now a matter of greater political concern in Britain than at any time previously. However, the data available for the determination of mobility trends are less adequate today than two or three decades ago. It is widely believed in political and in media circles that social mobility is in decline. But the evidence so far available from sociological research, focused on intergenerational class mobility, is not supportive of this view. We present results based on a newly-constructed dataset covering four birth cohorts that provides improved data for the study of trends in class mobility and that also allows analyses to move from the twentieth into the twenty-first century. These results confirm that there has been no decline in mobility, whether considered in absolute or relative terms. In the case of women, there is in fact evidence of mobility increasing. However, the better quality and extended range of our data enable us to identify other ‘mobility problems’ than the supposed decline. Among the members of successive cohorts, the experience of absolute upward mobility is becoming less common and that of absolute downward mobility more common; and class-linked inequalities in relative chances of mobility and immobility appear wider than previously thought.

Bukodi E, Goldthorpe JH, Waller L, Kuha J
Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Nuffield College, Oxford. The British Journal of Sociology

David’s argument clearly touches on social mobility and its connection with life/employment chances. I wonder if as someone looking at our system here from an outsider’s perspective he has any thoughts about how to understand the kind of complex picture that seems to be emerging in this study, and its implications for higher education, at least in the UK?

Steven Cranfield