Invisible Roots of Knowledge Production and their Role in Resistance to the Marketisation of Education


  • Heather McKnight



Recent, highly visible, struggles in Higher Education in the UK, such as the pensions strike, have aimed to recast such protests as part of a bigger struggle to maintain the public university. Viewing the shared pension scheme as one of the last defining features of a public institution. However, Federici in her recent book Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons warns us if we wish to change the university in line with the public construction of a ‘knowledge commons’ that there is a need to question “the material conditions of the production of the university, its history and its relation to the surrounding communities” (Federici, 2019) and not just the academics within it. There is a need to consider how debate on knowledge production is insulated from the invisible work that sustains academic life including cleaners, cafeteria workers and groundkeepers, as well as to consider the potential colonisation of land institutions are built upon (Federici, 2019). Narratives of resistance to marketisation in Higher Education, while well meaning, still create disproportionate invisibility on the grounds of gender, race and socio-economic status, ignoring the material and intellectual value of such contributions. This paper considers how Federici’s approach to the politics of the commons discredit, deconstruct and potentially transform approaches to resistance to marketisation in education. It argues that struggles against marketisation, or for academic freedom, should be seen in the broader scope of access to education for all, and a continuum of co-dependant knowledge production. It will consider how different structures of privilege and oppression structure what is represented, resisted and fought for within and by the institution. Issues that are seen as marginal or controversial can be avoided in increasingly legislated upon, and therefore risk averse, students’ unions and trade unions. Which in turn reproduces a student and staff body that similarly continue to propagate such damaging structures both within and out with the institution. A rethinking around who the knowledge producers are, can help us restructure the university as a commons that resists the violence of capitalist logic, rather than one that upholds it. Thus problematising and reconstructing how we view the idea of a future university commons, in a way that recognises intersectional oppression and a misuse of certain bodies as a commons in and off themselves.