critical pedagogy in Constant 2016
t/merci: the contributors/de auteurs/les contributeurs, Yves Bernard,
Michel Cleempoel, Raphaèle Cornille, Jan Gerber, Marc d'Hoore, Églantine Lebacq,
Nicolas Malevé, Stéphanie Manfroid, Robert M. Ochshorn, An Mertens, Dries Moreels,
Sylvia Van Peteghem, Jara Rocha, Roel Roscam Abbing.
Mondotheque is supported by/wordt ondersteund door/est soutenu par: De Vlaamse
GemeenschapsCommissie, Akademie Schloss Solitude.
orners of the Earth we hail from.
Amateur Librarian played an important role in the narrative of Public Library. And it seems
it was successful. People easily join the project by 'becoming' a librarian using Calibre and
[let’s share books]. Other aspects of the Public Library narrative add a political articulation
to that simple yet disobedient act. Public Library detects an institutional crisis in education,
an economic deadlock of austerity and a domination of commodity logic in the form of
copyright. It conjures up the amateur librarians’ practice of sharing books/catalogues as a
relevant challenge against the convergence of that crisis, deadlock and copyright regime.
To understand the political and technological assumptions and further develop the strategies
that lie behind the counteractions of amateur librarians, we propose a curriculum that is
indebted to a tradition of critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy is a productive and theoretical
practice rejecting an understanding of educational process that reduces it to a technique of
imparting knowledge and a neutral mode of knowledge acquisition. Rather, it sees the
pedagogy as a broader “struggle over knowledge, desire, values, social relations, and, most
important, modes of political agency”, “drawing attention to questions regarding who has
control over the conditions for the production of knowledge.”
No industry in the present demonstrates more the
asymmetries of control over the conditions of production
of knowledge than the academic publishing. The denial
of access to outrageously expensive academic
publications for many universities, particularly in the
Global South, stands in stark contrast to the super-profits
that a small number of commercial publishers draws from
the free labour of scientists who write, review and edit
ce to bibliography
◦ annotating in an ebook reader device or
◦ creating a scholarly
bibliography in Zotero
• from block device to network device
◦ sharing your e-book
library on a local
network to a reading
◦ sharing your e-book
library on the
internet with [let’s
• from private to public IP space
◦ using [let’s share
◦ using logan & jessica
◦ using Science Hub
◦ using Tor
MODULE 2: POLITICS/TACTICS
• from developmental subordination to subaltern disobedience
◦ uneven development &
◦ strategies of the
developed v strategies
underdeveloped : open
access v piracy
• from property to commons
◦ from property to
◦ copyright, scientiﬁc
◦ shadow libraries,
• from collection to collective action
◦ critical pedagogy &
◦ archive, activation &
MODULE 3: ABSTRACTIONS IN ACTION
• from linear to computational
◦ library &
◦ print book v e-book:
page, margin, spine
• from central to distributed
◦ deep librarianship &
◦ network infrastructure
• from factual to fantastic
◦ universe as library as
• Mars, Marcell; Vladimir, Klemo. Download & How to:
Calibre & [let’s share books]. Memory of the World (2014)
• Buringh, Eltjo; Van Zanden, Jan Luiten. Charting the “Rise of
the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A
Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth
Centuries. The Journal of Economic History (2009) http://
ublic library see Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (Random House, 2014) chapter 5:
“Books for all”.
3. For this concept we remain indebted to the curatorial collective What, How and for Whom/WHW, who have presented the
work of Public Library within the exhibition Really Useful Knowledge they organized at Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid,
October 29, 2014 – February 9, 2015.
4. “Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, June 25, 2015, https://
5. Richard Johnson, “Really Useful Knowledge,” in CCCS Selected Working Papers: Volume 1, 1 edition, vol. 1 (London u.a.:
Routledge, 2014), 755.
6. Ibid., 752.
9. Henry A. Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011), 5.
Tomislav Medak & Marcell Mars (Public Library project)
Proposition de programme d'études de bibliothécaire amateur développé à
travers les activités et les exigences du projet Public Library. Prenant pour
base la généalogie historique de la bibliothèque publique en tant qu'institution
permettant l'accès à la connaissance, la tradition prolétaire de la connaissance
réellement utile et la puissance de l'amateur motivée par le développement
technologique, le programme couvre différents secteurs : depuis les flux de
travail directement applicables comme la numérisation, le partage et l'utilisation
de livres électroniques, à la politique et la tactique de conservation des
bibliothèques en ligne, en passant par la théorie médiatique appliquée qui est
implicite dans le
e. Refuser l'accès à des publications
académiques excessivement chères pour beaucoup
d'universités, en particulier dans l'hémisphère sud,
contraste ostensiblement avec les profits énormes qu'un
petit nombre d'éditeurs commerciaux tirent du travail
bénévole de scientifiques qui écrivent, révisent et éditent
des contributions et avec les prix exorbitants des
souscriptions que les bibliothèques institutionnelles
doivent payer. C'est donc ici que la bibliothèque amateur
atteint le sommet de son intensité en matière de
pédagogie critique : elle nous invite à formuler et à narrer
plus précisément sa pratique à travers un processus
partagé de découverte.
Une bibliothèque publique, c'est :
• un libre accès aux livres pour tous les membres de la
• un catalogue de bibliothèque,
• un bibliothécaire.
Librarian - A
Course in Critical Pedagogy:
No industry in the present
demonstrates more the asymmetries of
control over the conditions of
production of knowledge than the
academic publishing. The denial of
access to outrageously expensive
academic publications for many
universities, particularly in the Global
South, stands in stark contrast to the
super-profits that a small number of
commercial publishers draws from the
free labour of scientists who write,
review and edit contributions and the
extortive prices their institutional
libraries have to pay for subscriptions.
From Voor elk boek is een
FS: Hoe gaan jullie om met boeken
en publicaties die al vanaf het begin
digitaal zijn? DM: We kopen e-books
en e-tijdschriften en maken die
beschikbaar voor onderzoekers. Maar
dat zijn hele andere omgevingen,
omdat die content niet fysiek binnen
onze muren komt. We kopen toegang
tot servers van uitgevers of de
rary: An Unquiet History (Random House,
2014) chapitre 5 : “Books for all”.
3. 3. Pour ce concept, nous sommes redevables au collectif de curateurs What, How and for Whom/WHW, qui a présenté le
travail de Public Library dans le cadre de l'exposition Really Useful Knowledge qu'ils ont organisée au Museo Reina Sofía à
Madrid, entre 29 octobre 2014 et le 9 février 2015.
4. 4. « Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, » Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Juin 25, 2015, https://
5. 5. Richard Johnson, « Really Useful Knowledge, » dans CCCS Selected Working Papers: Volume 1, 1 édition, vol. 1
(Londres u.a. : Routledge, 2014), 755.
6. Ibid., 752.
9. Henry A. Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011), 5.
(language is nothing but a bag of words)
In text indexing and other machine reading applications the term "bag of
words" is frequently used to underscore how processing algorithms often
represent text using a data structure (word histograms or weighted vectors)
where the original order of the words in sentence form is stripped away. While
"bag of words" might well serve as a cautionary reminder to programmers of
the essential violence perpetrated to a text and a call to critically question the
efficacy of methods based on subsequent transformations, the expression's use
seems in practice more like a badge of pride or a schoolyard taunt that would
go: Hey language: you're nothin' but a big BAG-OF-WORDS.
BAG OF WORDS
In information retrieval and other so-called machine-reading applications (such as
embedding of texts into structures that regulate their retrievability and through access control
produce certain kinds of communities or groups of readers. The author's intentions of
partaking in this or that discourse are confronted by discourse-conditioning operations of
retrieval algorithms. Hence, Google structures discourse through its Google Search
differently from how the Internet Archive does with its Wayback Machine, and from how the
GCHQ does it with its dragnet programme.
They are all libraries, each containing a single 'book' whose pages are URLs with
timestamps and geostamps in the form of IP address. Google, GCHQ, JStor, Elsevier –
each maintains its own searchable corpus of texts. The decisions about who, to which
sections and under which conditions is to be admitted are
From Amateur Librarian - A Course
informed by a mix of copyright laws, corporate agendas,
in Critical Pedagogy:
management hierarchies, and national security issues.
As books became more easily massVarious sets of these conditions that are at work in a
produced, the commercial
subscription libraries catering to the
particular library, also redefine the notion of publishing
better-off parts of society blossomed.
and of the publication, and in turn the notion of public.
This brought the class aspect of the
Corporate journal repositories exploit publicly funded
research by renting it only to libraries which can afford it;
intelligence agencies are set to extract texts from any
moving target, basically any networked device, apparently
in public interest and away from the public eye; publiclyfunded libraries are being prevented by outdated
copyright laws and bureaucracy from providing digitised
content online; search engines create a sense of giving
access to all public record online while only a few
critical pedagogy in Graziano, Mars & Medak 2019
years that saw the spread of the #Syllabus phenomenon, university
course syllabi have also been transitioning online, often in a top-down process initiated
by academic institutions, which has seen the syllabus become a contested document
in the midst of increasing casualization of teaching labor, expansion of copyright protections, and technology-driven marketization of education.
In what follows, we retrace the development of the online syllabus in both of these
contexts, to investigate the politics enmeshed in this new media object. Our argument
‘#StandingRockSyllabus’, NYC Stands with Standing Rock, 11 October 2016, https://
is that, on the one hand, #Syllabus names the problem of contemporary political culture as pedagogical in nature, while, on the other hand, it also exposes academicized
critical pedagogy and intellectuality as insufficiently political in their relation to lived
social reality. Situating our own stakes as both activists and academics in the present
debate, we explore some ways in which the radical politics of #Syllabus could be supported to grow and develop as an articulation of solidarity between amateur librarians
and radical educators.
#Syllabus in Historical Context: Social Movements and Self-Education
When Professor Chatelain launched her call for #FergusonSyllabus, she was mainly
addressing a community of fellow educators:
I knew Ferguson would be a challenge for teachers: When schools opened across
the country, how were they going to talk about what happened? My idea was simple, but has resonated across the country: Reach out to the educators who use
Twitter. Ask them to commit to talking about Ferguson on the first day of classes.
Suggest a book, an article, a fil
‘#StandingRockSyllabus’, NYC Stands with Standing Rock, 11 October 2016, https://
a useful, fresh format precisely for the characteristics that foreground its connections to older pedagogical traditions and techniques, predating digital cultures?
#Syllabus can indeed be analyzed as falling within a long lineage of pedagogical tools
created by social movements to support processes of political subjectivation and the
building of collective consciousness. Activists and militant organizers have time and
again created and used various textual media objects—such as handouts, pamphlets,
cookbooks, readers, or manifestos—to facilitate a shared political analysis and foment
mass political mobilization.
In the context of the US, anti-racist movements have historically placed great emphasis on critical pedagogy and self-education. In 1964, the Council of Federated Organizations (an alliance of civil rights initiatives) and the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC), created a network of 41 temporary alternative
schools in Mississippi. Recently, the Freedom Library Project, a campaign born out
of #FergusonSyllabus to finance under-resourced pedagogical initiatives, openly
referenced this as a source of inspiration. The Freedom Summer Project of 1964
brought hundreds of activists, students, and scholars (many of whom were white)
from the north of the country to teach topics and issues that the discriminatory
state schools would not offer to black students. In the words of an SNCC report,
Freedom Schools were established following the belief that ‘education—facts to
use and freedom to use them—is the basis of democracy’,11 a conviction echoed
by the ethos of contemporary #Syllabu
munication tactics and pedagogical tools, including
strategies to gain mainstream media coverage, pamphlets and leaflets translated
into different languages,14 a storefront shop in Brooklyn, and promotional tables at
Freedom Schools and the Wages for Housework campaign are only two amongst
the many examples of the critical pedagogies developed within social movements.
The #Syllabus phenomenon clearly stands in the lineage of this history, yet we should
also highlight its specificity in relation to the contemporary political context in which it
emerged. The #Syllabus acknowledges that since the 70s—and also due to students’
participation in protests and their display of solidarity with other political movements—
subjects such as Marxist critical theory, women studies, gender studies, and African
American studies, together with some of the principles first developed in critical pedagogy, have become integrated into the educational system. The fact that many initiators of #Syllabus initiatives are women and Black academics speaks to this historical
shift as an achievement of that period of struggles. However, the very necessity felt by
these educators to kick-start their #Syllabus campaigns outside the confines of academia simultaneously reveals the difficulties they encounter within the current privatized and exclusionary educational complex.
Silvia Federici and Arlen Austin (eds) The New York Wages for Housework Committee 1972-1977:
History, Theory and Documents. New York: Autonomedia, 2017: 37.
Some of the flyers and pamphlets were digitized by MayDay Rooms, ‘a safe haven for historical
material linked to social movements, experimental culture and the radical expression of
marginalised figures and groups’ in London, and can be found in their online archive
The syllabus is the manifesto of 21st century.
Political struggles against structural discrimination, oppression, and violence in the
present are continuing the legacy of critical pedagogies of earlier social movements
that coupled the process of political subjectivation with that of collective education.
By creating effective pedagogical tools, movements have brought educators and students into the fold of their struggles. In the context of our new network environment,
political struggles have produced a new media object: #Syllabus, a crowdsourced list
of resources—historic and present—relevant to a cause. By doing so, these struggles
adapt, resist, and live in and against the networks dominated by techno-capital, with
all of the difficulties and contradictions that entails.
What have we learned from the academic syllabus migrating online?
In the contemporary university, critical pedagogy is clashing head-on with the digitization of higher education. Education that should empower and research that should
emancipate are increasingly left out in the cold due to the data-driven marketization
of academia, short-cutting the goals of teaching and research to satisfy the fluctuating demands of labor market and financial speculation. Resistance against the capture of data, research workflows, and scholarship by means of digitization is a key
struggle for the future of mass intellectuality beyond exclusions of class, disability,
gender, and race.
What have we learned from #Syllabus as a media object?
As old formats transform into new media objects, the digital network environment defines the conditions in which these new media objects try to adjust, resist, and live. A
right intuition can intervene and change the landscape—not necessarily for the good,
particularly if the impera
critical pedagogy in Mars & Medak 2019
permit, speaking with Lauren Berlant, the ‘loose convergence’ of social
heterogeneity needed to construct ‘transitional form[s]’ (2016: 394). Unlike the
solutionism of techno-communities (Morozov, 2013) that tend to reduce
uncertainty of situations and conflict of values, social institutions permit
negotiating conflict and complexity in the situations of crisis that Gary Ravetz
calls postnormal – situations ‘where facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes
high and decisions urgent’ (Ravetz, 2003: 75). On that view, libraries and
universities as social infrastructures, provide a chance for retardation and
slowdown, and a capacity for collective disobedience. Against the radicalizing
exclusions of property and labor market, they can lower insecurities and
disobediently demand universal access to knowledge and education, a mass
intellectuality and autonomous critical pedagogy that increasingly seems a thing
of the past. Against the imposition to translate quality into metrics and capture
short-term values through assessment, they can resist the game of simulation.
While the playful simulation of reality was a thing in 1967, in 2017 it is no
longer. Libraries and universities can stop faking ‘innovativity’, ‘efficiency’ and
article | 361
Custodians.online, the second letter
On 30 November, 2016 a second missive was published by Custodians.online
(2016). On the twentieth anniversary of UbuWeb, ‘the single-most important
archive of avant-garde and outsider art’ on the Internet, the drafters of the letter
followed up on their initial call to acts of care for the infrastructure of our shared
knowledge commons that the first letter ended with. The second letter was a gift
card to Ubu, announcing that it had received two mirrors, i.e.
respond to the current institutional, technical
and political-economic constraints of all three. As it says in the Communist
Manifesto, the forces for social change are those that ask the property question.
While détournement was a sufficient answer to that question in the era of the
culture industries, they try to formulate, in their modest way, a suitable tactic for
answering the property question in the era of the vulture industries. (Wark, 2015:
As we claimed, the avant-garde radicalism can be recuperated for the present
through the gestures of disobedience, deceleration and demands for
inclusiveness. Ubu already hints toward such recuperation on three coordinates:
1) practiced opposition to the regime of intellectual property, 2) transformative
use of old technologies, and 3) a promise of universal access to knowledge and
education, helping to foster mass intellectuality and critical pedagogy.
The first Custodians.online letter was drafted to voice the need for a collective
disobedience. Standing up openly in public for the illegal acts of piracy, which
are, however, made legitimate by the fact that students, academics and
researchers across the world massively contribute and resort to pirate repositories
of scholarly texts, holds the potential to overturn the noxious pattern of court
cases that have consistently lead to such resources being shut down.
However, the acts of disobedience need not be made explicit in the language of
radicalism. For a public institution, disobedience can also be doing what should
not be done: long-term commitment to maintenance – for instance, of a mirror –
while dealing institutionally with all the conflicts and challenges that doing this
362 | article
Marcell Mars and Tomislav Medak
The second Custod
critical pedagogy in Mars & Medak 2017
Frequently it is the art that seeks political forms of engagement rather than vice
versa. A lot of headspace for developing a different social imaginary can be gained
from that venturing aspect of contemporary art. Having said that, art does not need
to be political in order to be relevant and strong.
THE DOUBLE LIFE OF HACKER CULTURE
PJ & AK: The Public Library project (Memory of the World, 2016a) is essentially
pedagogical. When everyone is a librarian, and all books are free, living in the
world transforms into living with the world – so The Public Library project is also
essentially anti-capitalist. This brings us to the intersections between critical
pedagogy of Paulo Freire, Peter McLaren, Henry Giroux, and others – and the
hacker culture of Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, Steven Lévy, and others. In
spite of various similarities, however, critical pedagogy and hacker culture disagree
on some important points.
With its deep roots in Marxism, critical theory always insists on class analysis.
Yet, imbued in the Californian ideology (Barbrook and Cameron, 1996), the hacker
culture is predominantly individualist. How do you go about the tension between
individualism and collectivism in The Public Library project? How do you balance
these forces in your overall work?
MM & TM: Hacker culture has always lived a double life. Personal computers
and the Internet have set up a perfect projection screen for a mind-set which
understands autonomy as a pursuit for personal self-realisation. Such mind-set sees
technology as a frontier of limitless and unconditional freedom, and easily melds
with entrepreneurial culture of the Silicon Valley. Therefore, it is hardly a surprise
that individualism has become the hegemonic narrative of hacker culture.
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