Welcome to Autonomous University


How odd, you just landed here.

But maybe you came to the right place?

This site is hoping to grow into a framework for collaborations and co-creations.

The idea goes like this:

In the 1990s we were promised a knowledge society. Both the sciences and the humanities would undergo tremendous expansion, becoming the principal activities of a majority of citizens. Computers and networked communications would allow us to share the multiple fruits of unlimited exploration and experimentation. Bureaucracy would be eliminated, multiplicity would triumph over standardization, human potentials would be fulfilled and the most fundamental problems -- poverty, racism, war, ecological imbalances -- would be resolved through international cooperation in the realm of ideas. The preeminence of money would finally fade away. At long last, the dreams of enlightenment would be realized.

"Gold and dollar are passé. Right here, feel the birth of the future: the knowledge standard!"

We all know it didn't happen. Instead we got the knowledge economy. Financial speculation. Predatory lending. Targeted advertising. Pervasive surveillance. Neoliberal ideology. War as usual. All perfected and legitimated by careerist and complicit intellectuals at a university near you.

In the 2010s it's high time to explore the roles of the really existing university in the foundation, maintenance and growth of a cognitive economy that seems intent, not on fulfilling humanity's potentials, but on achieving our destruction. Only an effective and transformative critique of the knowledge factories offers any chance of reversing the necropolitical trend that has laid its grip on global civilization. But where could such a critique come from?

A purely internal transformation is not in the cards. Across the world, universities are being restructured by an administrative caste whose interests lie precisely in the furtherance of the knowledge economy and its privileges. Yet a purely external critique, a simple exodus from the technocratic towers, is equally unlikely to produce significant results. Far too much power is generated by far too many people inside the walls.

The proposal here is one that can be tried out in all cultural and scientific fields. It suggests that autonomy is relative, aspirational and constitutively incomplete, developing only in tension with existing social forms. Autonomy is the intentional struggle of a collective self (autos) to elaborate and fulfill its own regulative principles (nomos).  Such a struggle requires an outside, a gathering point, a space of deliberation but also of insurgency and free expression, where intentional groupings can mount their critiques and alternatives. But the same struggle also requires direct contact with the core cultural and scientific institutions in which we participate as workers and as citizens. The relation between outside and inside is crucial. Only by developing radical proposals and placing them to the test of really existing social functions can one hope to reveal, disrupt and transform the operations of a failed paradigm.

Rising tuition costs, draconian budget cuts, student strikes, the precarization of academic labor and the proliferation of freelance artists and intellectuals all open up fertile ground for such experiments. Turning the diploma mill is definitely not a requirement for taking part. While those tied to the academy seek new forms of expression and contestation, those outside it seek collaborative spaces for the acquisition of understanding, skills and a chance at self-cultivation. Independent projects, self-organized seminars and alternative schools feed more or less directly into the teach-ins, counter-summits and social forums of contemporary political movements. All this activity, which has been developing in its current forms for a decade and more, came to a fever pitch with Occupy and the global Movement of the Squares in 2011. Now it's time to bring these inspirations into a dialectically transformative confrontation with the key institution of neoliberal society: the really existing university. What is knowledge actually good for? That's the question.

This website is clearly just a piece in a mosaic that far exceeds it. Here you will find entire courses, elaborated either within the university or in self-organized seminars. You will also find research topics, integrating formalized essays, reference materials and raw data. Forums associated with each course or research topic will allow input and debate on the subjects covered. Blogs will allow the principal researchers to deliver more spontaneous reflections. Stated like that, it all might sound very orderly -- but in fact a lot of this research involves utopian concepts and wild critiques, often expressed through experimental art and connected to radical political movements on the ground. If it looks like your thing, contact us through the comments fields that are found throughout the site.

Everything real starts out small and grows at its own pace. Not all the features are yet enabled, and many already programmed research topics have yet to be opened and established. The site will continually morph over the upcoming years. Appropriately enough, the first course under elaboration in Fall 2012 is called Tactical Media Generation. Check it out. Subvert and enjoy.


posted by Brian Holmes