Digital Tools as Critical Theory: Edu-Factory to Digital Humanities
“What once was the factory, is now the university.” This, among other hypotheses, served as a rallying cry and point of departure for the now defunct international Edu-factory Collective. Born online, networked in its organization, and relentless in its criticism of the university’s thorough neoliberalization, the collective’s work is now but a memory, archived on abandoned blogs and in a single edited volume, published in 2009, taken from the collective’s listserv. Featuring writing from major figures in critical university studies, the collective’s hypothesis was equally reliant upon critical theory as it was digital technologies.
I recall the collective’s work in this proposal for two reasons. First, to liken the university to the factory is to better define the prospective character of neoliberalism’s relationship to knowledge production. The claim is not that the university functions exactly as the factory did. It is rather a rhetorical maneuver meant to make exploitation manifest where knowledge is produced. Further, it is to argue that knowledge production, its commodification, and its technologies of dissemination play a specific role in conceptualizing resistance to neoliberal imperatives for education, namely: “to transform the field of tension” comprising our contemporary institutional state “into specific forms of resistance and the organization of escape routes” (1). Digital technologies were the substrate for more complex modes of relation for the collective, including, but not limited to, open-source unionism, the undercommons, and a concept of the global autonomous university.
The second reason I want to reanimate components of the collective’s central hypothesis is to place it in a new context: the rise and continued prominence of digital humanities. Digital Humanities’ rise and the Edu-factory’s fall are coeval. By 2013, the Edu-factory had all but disbanded; coincidently, DH was expanding and hotly debated. The political ideologies guiding both movements do not often overlap. Yet both movements see productive potential in the use and development of digital tools. Where the Edu-factory combined explicitly Marxist and anti-colonial ideologies in its fusion of digital tools and critical theory, DH’s political contours often favor intersectional approaches to computational methods. How the two interface, and further, why DH approaches are favored contemporarily, are questions that may lead to yet unseen prospects for reclaiming knowledge production writ large.