syllabus in Dockray, Forster & Public Office 2018

Dockray, Forster & Public Office

## Introduction

How might we ensure the survival and availability of community libraries,
individual collections and other precarious archives? If these libraries,
archives and collections are unwanted by official institutions or, worse,
buried beneath good intentions and bureaucracy, then what tools and platforms
and institutions might we develop instead?

While trying to both formulate and respond to these questions, we began making
Dat Library and HyperReadings:

**Dat Library** distributes libraries across many computers so that many
people can provide disk space and bandwidth, sharing in the labour and
responsibility of the archival infrastructure.

**HyperReadings** implements ‘reading lists’ or a structured set of pointers
(a list, a syllabus, a bibliography, etc.) into one or more libraries,
_activating_ the archives.

## Installation

The easiest way to get started is to install [Dat Library as a desktop
app](, but there is also a programme
called ‘[datcat](’, which can be run on
the command line or included in other NodeJS projects.

## Accidents of the Archive

The 1996 UNESCO publication [Lost Memory: Libraries and Archives Destroyed in
the Twentieth Century](
makes the fragility of historical repositories startlingly clear. “[A]cidified
paper that crumbles to dust, leather, parchment, film and magnetic light
attacked by light, heat humidity or dust” all assault archives. “Floods,
fires, hurricanes, storms, earthquakes” and, of course, “acts of war,
bombardment and fire, whether deliberate or accidental” wiped out significant
portions of many hundreds of major research libraries worldwide. When
expanding the scope to consider public, private, and community libraries, that
number becomes uncountable.

Published during the early days of the World Wide Web, the report acknowledges
the emerging role of digitization (“online databases, CD-ROM etc.”), but today
we might reflect on the last twenty years, which has also introduced new forms
of loss.

Digital archives and libraries are subject to a number of potential hazards:
technical accidents like disk failures, accidental deletions, misplaced data
and imperfect data migrations, as well as political-economic accidents like
defunding of the hosting institution, deaccessioning parts of the collection
and sudden restrictions of access rights. Immediately after was
shut down on the grounds of copyright infringement in 2012, [Lawrence Liang
wrote]( of feeling “first
and foremost a visceral experience of loss.”

Whatever its legal status, the abrupt absence of a collection of 400,000 books
appears to follow a particularly contemporary pattern. In 2008, Aaron Swartz
moved millions of US federal court documents out from behind a paywall,
resulting in a trial and an FBI investigation. Three years later he was
arrested and indicted for a similar gesture, systematically downloading
academic journal articles from JSTOR. That year, Kazakhstani scientist
Alexandra Elbakyan began [Sci-Hub]( in
response to scientific journal articles that were prohibitively expensive for
scholars based outside of Western academic institutions. (See
for further analysis and an alternative
approach to the same issues: “When everyone is librarian, library is
everywhere.”) The repository, growing to more than 60 millions papers, was
sued in 2015 by Elsevier for $15 million, resulting in a permanent injunction.
Library Genesis, another library of comparable scale, finds itself in a
similar legal predicament.

Arguably one of the largest digital archives of the “avant-garde” (loosely
defined), UbuWeb is transparent about this fragility. In 2011, its founder
[Kenneth Goldsmith wrote]( “by the time you
read this, UbuWeb may be gone. […] Never meant to be a permanent archive, Ubu
could vanish for any number of reasons: our ISP pulls the plug, our university
support dries up, or we simply grow tired of it.” Even the banality of
exhaustion is a real risk to these libraries.

The simple fact is that some of these libraries are among the largest in the
world yet are subject to sudden disappearance. We can only begin to guess at
what the contours of “Lost Memory: Libraries and Archives Destroyed in the
Twenty-First Century” will be when it is written ninety years from now.

## Non-profit, non-state archives

Cultural and social movements have produced histories which are only partly
represented in state libraries and archives. Often they are deemed too small
or insignificant or, in some cases, dangerous. Most frequently, they are not
deemed to be anything at all — they are simply neglected. While the market,
eager for new resources to exploit, might occasionally fill in the gaps, it is
ultimately motivated by profit and not by responsibility to communities or
archives. (We should not forget the moment [Amazon silently erased legally
purchased copies of George Orwell’s
from readers’ Kindle devices because of a change in the commercial agreement
with the publisher.)

So, what happens to these minor libraries? They are innumerable, but for the
sake of illustration let’s say that each could be represented by a single
book. Gathered together, these books would form a great library (in terms of
both importance and scale). But to extend the metaphor, the current reality
could be pictured as these books flying off their shelves to the furthest
reaches of the world, their covers flinging open and the pages themselves
scattering into bookshelves and basements, into the caring hands of relatives
or small institutions devoted to passing these words on to future generations.

While the massive digital archives listed above (, Library Genesis,
Sci-Hub, etc.) could play the role of the library of libraries, they tend to
be defined more as sites for [biblioleaks](
Furthermore, given the vulnerability of these archives, we ought to look for
alternative approaches that do not rule out using their resources, but which
also do not _depend_ on them.

Dat Library takes the concept of “a library of libraries” not to manifest it
in a single, universal library, but to realise it progressively and partially
with different individuals, groups and institutions.

## Archival properties

So far, the emphasis of this README has been on _durability_ , and the
“accidents of the archive” have been instances of destruction and loss. The
persistence of an archive is, however, no guarantee of its _accessibility_ , a
common reality in digital libraries where access management is ubiquitous.
Official institutions police access to their archives vigilantly for the
ostensible purpose of preservation, but ultimately create a rarefied
relationship between the archives and their publics. Disregarding this
precious tendency toward preciousness, we also introduce _adaptability_ as a
fundamental consideration in the making of the projects Dat Library and

To adapt is to fit something for a new purpose. It emphasises that the archive
is not a dead object of research but a set of possible tools waiting to be
activated in new circumstances. This is always a possibility of an archive,
but we want to treat this possibility as desirable, as the horizon towards
which these projects move. We know how infrastructures can attenuate desire
and simply make things difficult. We want to actively encourage radical reuse.

In the following section, we don’t define these properties but rather discuss
how we implement (or fail to implement) them in software, while highlighting
some of the potential difficulties introduced.

### Durability

In 1964, in the midst of the “loss” of the twentieth-century, Paul Baran’s
RAND Corporation publication [On Distributed
examined “redundancy as one means of building … highly survivable and reliable
communications systems”, thus midwifing the military foundations of the
digital networks that we operate within today. While the underlying framework
of the Internet generally follows distributed principles, the client–server/
request–response model of the HTTP protocol is highly centralised in practice
and is only as durable as the server.

Capitalism places a high value on originality and novelty, as exemplified in
art where the ultimate insult would to be the label “redundant”. Worse than
being derivative or merely unoriginal, being redundant means having no reason
to exist — a uselessness that art can’t tolerate. It means wasting a perfectly
good opportunity to be creative or innovative. In a relational network, on the
other hand, redundancy is a mode of support. It doesn’t stimulate competition
to capture its effects, but rather it is a product of cooperation. While this
attitude of redundancy arose within a Western military context, one can’t help
but notice that the shared resources, mutual support, and common
infrastructure seem fundamentally communist in nature. Computer networks are
not fundamentally exploitative or equitable, but they are used in specific
ways and they operate within particular economies. A redundant network of
interrelated, mutually supporting computers running mostly open-source
software can be the guts of an advanced capitalist engine, like Facebook. So,
could it be possible to organise our networked devices, embedded as they are
in a capitalist economy, in an anti-capitalist way?

Dat Library is built on the [Dat
a peer-to-peer protocol for syncing folders of data. It is not the first
distributed protocol ([BitTorrent](
is the best known and is noted as an inspiration for Dat), nor is it the only
new one being developed today ([IPFS]( or the Inter-Planetary
File System is often referenced in comparison), but it is unique in its
foundational goals of preserving scientific knowledge as a public good. Dat’s
provocation is that by creating custom infrastructure it will be possible to
overcome the accidents that restrict access to scientific knowledge. We would
specifically acknowledge here the role that the Dat community — or any
community around a protocol, for that matter — has in the formation of the
world that is built on top of that protocol. (For a sense of the Dat
community’s values — see its [code of conduct](

When running Dat Library, a person sees their list of libraries. These can be
thought of as similar to a
[torrent](, where items are stored
across many computers. This means that many people will share in the provision
of disk space and bandwidth for a particular library, so that when someone
loses electricity or drops their computer, the library will not also break.
Although this is a technical claim — one that has been made in relation to
many projects, from Baran to BitTorrent — it is more importantly a social
claim: the users and lovers of a library will share the library. More than
that, they will share in the work of ensuring that it will continue to be

This is not dissimilar to the process of reading generally, where knowledge is
distributed and maintained through readers sharing and referencing the books
important to them. As [Peter Sloterdijk
written philosophy is “reinscribed like a chain letter through the
generations, and despite all the errors of reproduction — indeed, perhaps
because of such errors — it has recruited its copyists and interpreters into
the ranks of brotherhood (sic)”. Or its sisterhood — but, the point remains
clear that the reading / writing / sharing of texts binds us together, even in

### Accessibility

In the world of the web, durability is synonymous with accessibility — if
something can’t be accessed, it doesn’t exist. Here, we disentangle the two in
order to consider _access_ independent from questions of resilience.

##### Technically Accessible

When you create a new library in Dat, a unique 64-digit “key” will
automatically be generated for it. An example key is
`6f963e59e9948d14f5d2eccd5b5ac8e157ca34d70d724b41cb0f565bc01162bf`, which
points to a library of texts. In order for someone else to see the library you
have created, you must provide to them your library’s unique key (by email,
chat, on paper or you could publish it on your website). In short, _you_
manage access to the library by copying that key, and then every key holder
also manages access _ad infinitum_.

At the moment this has its limitations. A Dat is only writable by a single
creator. If you want to collaboratively develop a library or reading list, you
need to have a single administrator managing its contents. This will change in
the near future with the integration of
[hyperdb]( into Dat’s core. At that
point, the platform will enable multiple contributors and the management of
permissions, and our single key will become a key chain.

How is this key any different from knowing the domain name of a website? If a
site isn’t indexed by Google and has a suitably unguessable domain name, then
isn’t that effectively the same degree of privacy? Yes, and this is precisely
why the metaphor of the key is so apt (with whom do you share the key to your
apartment?) but also why it is limited. With the key, one not only has the
ability to _enter_ the library, but also to completely _reproduce_ the

##### Consenting Accessibility

When we say “accessibility”, some hear “information wants to be free” — but
our idea of accessibility is not about indiscriminate open access to
everything. While we do support, in many instances, the desire to increase
access to knowledge where it has been restricted by monopoly property
ownership, or the urge to increase transparency in delegated decision-making
and representative government, we also recognise that Indigenous knowledge
traditions often depend on ownership, control, consent, and secrecy in the
hands of the traditions’ people. [see [“Managing Indigenous Knowledge and
Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual
pg 83] Accessibility understood in merely quantitative terms isn’t able to
reconcile these positions, which this is why we refuse to limit “access” to a
question of technology.

While “digital rights management” technologies have been developed almost
exclusively for protecting the commercial interests of capitalist property
owners within Western intellectual property regimes, many of the assumptions
and technological implementations are inadequate for the protection of
Indigenous knowledge. Rather than describing access in terms of commodities
and ownership of copyright, it might be defined by membership, status or role
within a community, and the rules of access would not be managed by a
generalised legal system but by the rules and traditions of the people and
their knowledge. [[“The Role of Information Technologies in Indigenous
101-102] These rights would not expire, nor would they be bought and sold,
because they are shared, i.e., held in common.

It is important, while imagining the possibilities of a technological
protocol, to also consider how different _cultural protocols_ might be
implemented and protected through the life of a project like Dat Library.
Certain aspects of this might be accomplished through library metadata, but
ultimately it is through people hosting their own archives and libraries
(rather than, for example, having them hosted by a state institution) that
cultural protocols can be translated and reproduced. Perhaps we should flip
the typical question of how might a culture exist within digital networks to
instead ask how should digital networks operate within cultural protocols?

### Adaptability (ability to use/modify as one’s own)

Durability and accessibility are the foundations of adoptability. Many would
say that this is a contradiction, that adoption is about use and
transformation and those qualities operate against the preservationist grain
of durability, that one must always be at the expense of the other. We say:
perhaps that is true, but it is a risk we’re willing to take because we don’t
want to be making monuments and cemeteries that people approach with reverence
or fear. We want tools and stories that we use and adapt and are always making
new again. But we also say: it is through use that something becomes
invaluable, which may change or distort but will not destroy — this is the
practical definition of durability. S.R. Ranganathan’s very first Law of
Library Science was [“BOOKS ARE FOR
which we would extend to the library itself, such that when he arrives at his
we note that to live means not only to change, but also to live _in the

To borrow and gently distort another concept of Raganathan’s concepts, namely
that of ‘[Infinite
it could be said that we are interested in ways to construct a form of
infrastructure that is infinitely hospitable. By this we mean, infrastructure
that accommodates the needs and desires of new users/audiences/communities and
allows them to enter and contort the technology to their own uses. We really
don’t see infrastructure as aimed at a single specific group, but rather that
it should generate spaces that people can inhabit as they wish. The poet Jean
Paul once wrote that books are thick letters to friends. Books as
infrastructure enable authors to find their friends. This is how we ideally
see Dat Library and HyperReadings working.

## Use cases

We began work on Dat Library and HyperReadings with a range of exemplary use
cases, real-world circumstances in which these projects might intervene. Not
only would the use cases make demands on the software we were and still are
beginning to write, but they would also give us demands to make on the Dat
protocol, which is itself still in the formative stages of development. And,
crucially, in an iterative feedback loop, this process of design produces
transformative effects on those situations described in the use cases
themselves, resulting in further new circumstances and new demands.

### Thorunka

Wendy Bacon and Chris Nash made us aware of Thorunka and Thor.

_Thorunka_ and _Thor_ were two underground papers in the early 1970’s that
spewed out from a censorship controversy surrounding the University of New
South Wales student newspaper _Tharunka_. Between 1971 and 1973, the student
magazine was under focused attack from the NSW state police, with several
arrests made on charges of obscenity and indecency. Rather than ceding to the
charges, this prompted a large and sustained political protest from Sydney
activists, writers, lawyers, students and others, to which _Thorunka_ and
_Thor_ were central.

> “The campaign contested the idea of obscenity and the legitimacy of the
legal system itself. The newspapers campaigned on the war in Vietnam,
Aboriginal land rights, women’s and gay liberation, and the violence of the
criminal justice system. By 1973 the censorship regime in Australia was
broken. Nearly all the charges were dropped.” – [Quotation from the 107
Projects Event](

Although the collection of issues of _Tharunka_ is largely accessible [via
Trove](, the subsequent issues
of _Thorunka_ , and later _Thor_ , are not. For us, this demonstrates clearly
how collections themselves can encourage modes of reading. If you focus on
_Tharunka_ as a singular and long-standing periodical, this significant
political moment is rendered almost invisible. On the other hand, if the
issues are presented together, with commentary and surrounding publications,
the political environment becomes palpable. Wendy and Chris have kindly
allowed us to make their personal collection available via Dat Library (the
key is: 73fd26846e009e1f7b7c5b580e15eb0b2423f9bea33fe2a5f41fac0ddb22cbdc), so
you can discover this for yourself.

### alternative, started in 2008, has raised tens of millions of dollars as a
social network for academics to share their publications. As a for-profit
venture, it is rife with metrics and it attempts to capitalise on the innate
competition and self-promotion of precarious knowledge workers in the academy.
It is simultaneously popular and despised: popular because it fills an obvious
desire to share the fruits of ones intellectual work, but despised for the
neoliberal atmosphere that pervades every design decision and automated
correspondence. It is, however, just trying to provide a return on investment.

[Gary Hall has written](
academiaedu-mean-open-access-is-becoming-irrelevant.html) that “its financial
rationale rests … on the ability of the angel-investor and venture-capital-
funded professional entrepreneurs who run to exploit the data
flows generated by the academics who use the platform as an intermediary for
sharing and discovering research”. Moreover, he emphasises that in the open-
access world (outside of the exploitative practice of for-profit publishers
like Elsevier, who charge a premium for subscriptions), the privileged
position is to be the one “ _who gate-keeps the data generated around the use
of that content_ ”. This lucrative position has been produced by recent
“[recentralising tendencies](
not-be-decentralised-blockchains/)” of the internet, which in Academia’s case
captures various, scattered open access repositories, personal web pages, and
other archives.

Is it possible to redecentralise? Can we break free of the subjectivities that is crafting for us as we are interpellated by its infrastructure?
It is incredibly easy for any scholar running Dat Library to make a library of
their own publications and post the key to their faculty web page, Facebook
profile or business card. The tricky — and interesting — thing would be to
develop platforms that aggregate thousands of these libraries in direct
competition with This way, individuals would maintain control
over their own work; their peer groups would assist in mirroring it; and no
one would be capitalising on the sale of data related to their performance and

We note that is a typically centripetal platform: it provides no
tools for exporting one’s own content, so an alternative would necessarily be
a kind of centrifuge.

This alternative is becoming increasingly realistic. With open-access journals
already paving the way, there has more recently been a [call for free and open
access to citation data](
access). [The Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC)]( is
mobilising against the privatisation of data and working towards the
unrestricted availability of scholarly citation data. We see their new
database of citations as making this centrifugal force a possibility.

### Publication format

In writing this README, we have strung together several references. This
writing might be published in a book and the references will be listed as
words at the bottom of the page or at the end of the text. But the writing
might just as well be published as a HyperReadings object, providing the
reader with an archive of all the things we referred to and an editable
version of this text.

A new text editor could be created for this new publication format, not to
mention a new form of publication, which bundles together a set of
HyperReadings texts, producing a universe of texts and references. Each
HyperReadings text might reference others, of course, generating something
that begins to feel like a serverless World Wide Web.

It’s not even necessary to develop a new publication format, as any book might
be considered as a reading list (usually found in the footnotes and
bibliography) with a very detailed description of the relationship between the
consulted texts. What if the history of published works were considered in
this way, such that we might always be able to follow a reference from one
book directly into the pages of another, and so on?

### Syllabus

The syllabus is the manifesto of the twenty-first century. From [Your
Baltimore “Syllabus”](
baltimore-syllabus/), to
to [Women and gender non-conforming people writing about
syllabi are being produced as provocations, or as instructions for
reprogramming imaginaries. They do not announce a new world but they point out
a way to get there. As a programme, the syllabus shifts the burden of action
onto the readers, who will either execute the programme on their own fleshy
operating system — or not. A text that by its nature points to other texts,
the syllabus is already a relational document acknowledging its own position
within a living field of knowledge. It is decidedly not self-contained,
however it often circulates as if it were.

If a syllabus circulated as a HyperReadings document, then it could point
directly to the texts and other media that it aggregates. But just as easily
as it circulates, a HyperReadings syllabus could be forked into new versions:
the syllabus is changed because there is a new essay out, or because of a
political disagreement, or because following the syllabus produced new
suggestions. These forks become a family tree where one can follow branches
and trace epistemological mutations.

## Proposition (or Presuppositions)

While the software that we have started to write is a proposition in and of
itself, there is no guarantee as to _how_ it will be used. But when writing,
we _are_ imagining exactly that: we are making intuitive and hopeful
presuppositions about how it will be used, presuppositions that amount to a
set of social propositions.

### The role of individuals in the age of distribution

Different people have different technical resources and capabilities, but
everyone can contribute to an archive. By simply running the Dat Library
software and adding an archive to it, a person is sharing their disk space and
internet bandwidth in the service of that archive. At first, it is only the
archive’s index (a list of the contents) that is hosted, but if the person
downloads the contents (or even just a small portion of the contents) then
they are sharing in the hosting of the contents as well. Individuals, as
supporters of an archive or members of a community, can organise together to
guarantee the durability and accessibility of an archive, saving a future
UbuWeb from ever having to worry about if their ‘ISP pulling the plug’. As
supporters of many archives, as members of many communities, individuals can
use Dat Library to perform this function many times over.

On the Web, individuals are usually users or browsers — they use browsers. In
spite of the ostensible interactivity of the medium, users are kept at a
distance from the actual code, the infrastructure of a website, which is run
on a server. With a distributed protocol like Dat, applications such as
[Beaker Browser]( or Dat Library eliminate the
central server, not by destroying it, but by distributing it across all of the
users. Individuals are then not _just_ users, but also hosts. What kind of
subject is this user-host, especially as compared to the user of the server?
Michel Serres writes in _The Parasite_ :

> “It is raining; a passer-by comes in. Here is the interrupted meal once
more. Stopped for only a moment, since the traveller is asked to join the
diners. His host does not have to ask him twice. He accepts the invitation and
sits down in front of his bowl. The host is the satyr, dining at home; he is
the donor. He calls to the passer-by, saying to him, be our guest. The guest
is the stranger, the interrupter, the one who receives the soup, agrees to the
meal. The host, the guest: the same word; he gives and receives, offers and
accepts, invites and is invited, master and passer-by… An invariable term
through the transfer of the gift. It might be dangerous not to decide who is
the host and who is the guest, who gives and who receives, who is the parasite
and who is the table d’hote, who has the gift and who has the loss, and where
hospitality begins with hospitality.” — Michel Serres, The Parasite (Baltimore
and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press), 15–16.

Serres notes that _guest_ and _host_ are the same word in French; we might say
the same for _client_ and _server_ in a distributed protocol. And we will
embrace this multiplying hospitality, giving and taking without measure.

### The role of institutions in the age of distribution

David Cameron launched a doomed initiative in 2010 called the Big Society,
which paired large-scale cuts in public programmes with a call for local
communities to voluntarily self-organise to provide these essential services
for themselves. This is not the political future that we should be working
toward: since 2010, austerity policies have resulted in [120,000 excess deaths
in England]( In other words,
while it might seem as though _institutions_ might be comparable to _servers_
, inasmuch as both are centralised infrastructures, we should not give them up
or allow them to be dismantled under the assumption that those infrastructures
can simply be distributed and self-organised. On the contrary, institutions
should be defended and organised in order to support the distributed protocols
we are discussing.

One simple way for a larger, more established institution to help ensure the
durability and accessibility of diverse archives is through the provision of
hardware, network capability and some basic technical support. It can back up
the archives of smaller institutions and groups within its own community while
also giving access to its own archives so that those collections might be put
to new uses. A network of smaller institutions, separated by great distances,
might mirror each other’s archives, both as an expression of solidarity and
positive redundancy and also as a means of circulating their archives,
histories and struggles amongst each of the others.

It was the simultaneous recognition that some documents are too important to
be privatised or lost to the threats of neglect, fire, mould, insects, etc.,
that prompted the development of national and state archives (See page 39 in
[Beredo, B. C., Import of the archive: American colonial bureaucracy in the
Philippines, 1898-1916]( As public
institutions they were, and still are, tasked with often competing efforts to
house and preserve while simultaneously also ensuring access to public
documents. Fire and unstable weather understandably have given rise to large
fire-proof and climate-controlled buildings as centralised repositories,
accompanied by highly regulated protocols for access. But in light of new
technologies and their new risks, as discussed above, it is compelling to
argue now that, in order to fulfil their public duty, public archives should
be distributing their collections where possible and providing their resources
to smaller institutions and community groups.

Through the provision of disk space, office space, grants, technical support
and employment, larger institutions can materially support smaller
organisations, individuals and their archival afterlives. They can provide
physical space and outreach for dispersed collectors, gathering and piecing
together a fragmented archive.

But what happens as more people and collections are brought in? As more
institutional archives are allowed to circulate outside of institutional
walls? As storage is cut loose from its dependency on the corporate cloud and
into forms of interdependency, such as mutual support networks? Could this
open up spaces for new forms of not-quite-organisations and queer-
institutions? These would be almost-organisations that uncomfortable exist
somewhere between the common categorical markings of the individual and the
institution. In our thinking, its not important what these future forms
exactly look like. Rather, as discussed above, what is important to us is that
in writing software we open up spaces for the unknown, and allow others agency
to build the forms that work for them. It is only in such an atmosphere of
infinite hospitality that we see the future of community libraries, individual
collections and other precarious archives.

## A note on this text

This README was, and still is being, collaboratively written in a
Git is a free and open-source tool for version control used in software
development. All the code for Hyperreadings, Dat Library and their numerous
associated modules are managed openly using Git and hosted on GitHub under
open source licenses. In a real way, Git’s specification formally binds our
collaboration as well as the open invitation for others to participate. As
such, the form of this README reflects its content. Like this text, these
projects are, by design, works in progress that are malleable to circumstances
and open to contributions, for example by opening a pull request on this
document or raising an issue on our GitHub repositories.

syllabus in Graziano, Mars & Medak 2019

Graziano, Mars & Medak
Learning from #Syllabus






The syllabus is the manifesto of the 21st century.
—Sean Dockray and Benjamin Forster1
#Syllabus Struggles
In August 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old boy living in Ferguson, Missouri,
was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson. Soon after, as the civil protests denouncing police brutality and institutional racism began to mount across the United
States, Dr. Marcia Chatelain, Associate Professor of History and African American
Studies at Georgetown University, launched an online call urging other academics
and teachers ‘to devote the first day of classes to a conversation about Ferguson’ and ‘to recommend texts, collaborate on conversation starters, and inspire
dialogue about some aspect of the Ferguson crisis.’2 Chatelain did so using the
hashtag #FergusonSyllabus.
Also in August 2014, using the hashtag #gamergate, groups of users on 4Chan,
8Chan, Twitter, and Reddit instigated a misogynistic harassment campaign against
game developers Zoë Quinn and Brianna Wu, media critic Anita Sarkeesian, as well as
a number of other female and feminist game producers, journalists, and critics. In the
following weeks, The New Inquiry editors and contributors compiled a reading list and
issued a call for suggestions for their ‘TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism’.3
In June 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United
States. In the weeks that followed, he became the presumptive Republican nominee,
and The Chronicle of Higher Education introduced the syllabus ‘Trump 101’.4 Historians N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain found ‘Trump 101’ inadequate, ‘a mock college syllabus […] suffer[ing] from a number of egregious omissions and inaccuracies’,
failing to include ‘contributions of scholars of color and address the critical subjects
of Trump’s racism, sexism, and xenophobia’. They assembled ‘Trump Syllabus 2.0’.5
Soon after, in response to a video in which Trump engaged in ‘an extremely lewd
conversation about women’ with TV host Billy Bush, Laura Ciolkowski put together a
‘Rape Culture Syllabus’.6


Sean Dockray, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office, ‘’, Hyperreadings, 15 February
Marcia Chatelain, ‘Teaching the #FergusonSyllabus’, Dissent Magazine, 28 November 2014,
‘TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism’, The New Inquiry, 2 September 2014, https://thenewinquiry.
‘Trump 101’, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 June 2016,
N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain, ‘Trump Syllabus 2.0’, Public Books, 28 June 2016, https://
Laura Ciolkowski, ‘Rape Culture Syllabus’, Public Books, 15 October 2016, https://www.



In April 2016, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe established the Sacred Stone
Camp and started the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the construction of
which threatened the only water supply at the Standing Rock Reservation. The protest at the site of the pipeline became the largest gathering of native Americans in
the last 100 years and they earned significant international support for their ReZpect
Our Water campaign. As the struggle between protestors and the armed forces unfolded, a group of Indigenous scholars, activists, and supporters of the struggles of
First Nations people and persons of color, gathered under the name the NYC Stands
for Standing Rock Committee, put together #StandingRockSyllabus.7
The list of online syllabi created in response to political struggles has continued to
grow, and at present includes many more examples:
All Monuments Must Fall Syllabus
Puerto Rico Syllabus (#PRSyllabus)
Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves
Syllabus: Women and Gender Non-Conforming People Writing about Tech
What To Do Instead of Calling the Police: A Guide, A Syllabus, A Conversation, A
It would be hard to compile a comprehensive list of all the online syllabi that have
been created by social justice movements in the last five years, especially, but not
exclusively, those initiated in North America in the context of feminist and anti-racist
activism. In what is now a widely spread phenomenon, these political struggles use
social networks and resort to the hashtag template ‘#___Syllabus’ to issue calls for
the bottom-up aggregation of resources necessary for political analysis and pedagogy
centering on their concerns. For this reason, we’ll call this phenomenon ‘#Syllabus’.
During the same 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 film, a song, a piece of artwork, or an assignment that
speaks to some aspect of Ferguson. Use the hashtag: #FergusonSyllabus.8
Her call had a much greater resonance than she had originally anticipated as it reached
beyond the limits of the academic community. #FergusonSyllabus had both a significant impact in shaping the analysis and the response to the shooting of Michael
Brown, and in inspiring the many other #Syllabus calls that soon followed.
The #Syllabus phenomenon comprises different approaches and modes of operating. In some cases, the material is clearly claimed as the creation of a single individual, as in the case of #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus, which is prefaced on the project’s
landing page by a warning to readers that ‘material compiled in this syllabus should
not be duplicated without proper citation and attribution.’9 A very different position on
intellectual property has been embraced by other #Syllabus interventions that have
chosen a more commoning stance. #StandingRockSyllabus, for instance, is introduced as a crowd-sourced process and as a useful ‘tool to access research usually
kept behind paywalls.’10
The different workflows, modes of engagements, and positioning in relation to
intellectual property make #Syllabus readable as symptomatic of the multiplicity
that composes social justice movements. There is something old school—quite
literally—about the idea of calling a list of online resources a ‘syllabus’; a certain
quaintness, evoking thoughts of teachers and homework. This is worthy of investigation especially if contrasted with the attention dedicated to other online cultural
phenomena such as memes or fake news. Could it be that the online syllabus offers



Marcia Chatelain, ‘How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson’, The Atlantic, 25
August 2014,
Frank Leon Roberts, ‘Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance, and Populist Protest’, 2016, http://
‘#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 #Syllabus initiatives.
Bob Moses, a civil rights movement leader who was the head of the literary skills initiative in Mississippi, recalls the movement’s interest, at the time, in teaching methods
that used the very production of teaching materials as a pedagogical tool:
I had gotten hold of a text and was using it with some adults […] and noticed that
they couldn’t handle it because the pictures weren’t suited to what they knew […]
That got me into thinking about developing something closer to what people were
doing. What I was interested in was the idea of training SNCC workers to develop
material with the people we were working with.12
It is significant that for him the actual use of the materials the group created was much
less important than the process of producing the teaching materials together. This focus
on what could be named as a ‘pedagogy of teaching’, or perhaps more accurately ‘the
pedagogy of preparing teaching materials’, is also a relevant mechanism at play in the
current #Syllabus initiatives, as their crowdsourcing encourages different kinds of people
to contribute what they feel might be relevant resources for the broader movement.
Alongside the crucial import of radical black organizing, another relevant genealogy in
which to place #Syllabus would be the international feminist movement and, in particular, the strategies developed in the 70s campaign Wages for Housework, spearheaded


Daniel Perlstein, ‘Teaching Freedom: SNCC and the Creation of the Mississippi Freedom Schools’,
History of Education Quarterly 30.3 (Autumn 1990): 302.
Perlstein, ‘Teaching Freedom’: 306.



by Selma James and Silvia Federici. The Wages for Housework campaign drove home
the point that unwaged reproductive labor provides a foundation for capitalist exploitation. They wanted to encourage women to denaturalize and question the accepted
division of labor into remunerated work outside the house and labor of love within
the confines of domesticity, discussing taboo topics such as ‘prostitution as socialized housework’ and ‘forced sterilization’ as issues impacting poor, often racialized,
women. The organizing efforts of Wages for Housework held political pedagogy at their
core. They understood that that pedagogy required:
having literature and other materials available to explain our goals, all written in a
language that women can understand. We also need different types of documents,
some more theoretical, others circulating information about struggles. It is important
that we have documents for women who have never had any political experience.
This is why our priority is to write a popular pamphlet that we can distribute massively and for free—because women have no money.13
The obstacles faced by the Wages for Housework campaign were many, beginning
with the issue of how to reach a dispersed constituency of isolated housewives
and how to keep the revolutionary message at the core of their claims accessible
to different groups. In order to tackle these challenges, the organizers developed
a number of innovative communication 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
local events.
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: ‘Wages
for Housework: Pamphlets – Flyers – Photographs’, MayDay Rooms,



#Syllabus as a Media Object
Besides its contextualization within the historical legacy of previous grassroots mobilizations, it is also necessary to discuss #Syllabus as a new media object in its own
right, in order to fully grasp its relevance for the future politics of knowledge production and transmission.
If we were to describe this object, a #Syllabus would be an ordered list of links to
scholarly texts, news reports, and audiovisual media, mostly aggregated through a
participatory and iterative process, and created in response to political events indicative of larger conditions of structural oppression. Still, as we have seen, #Syllabus
as a media object doesn’t follow a strict format. It varies based on the initial vision
of their initiators, political causes, and social composition of the relevant struggle.
Nor does it follow the format of traditional academic syllabi. While a list of learning
resources is at the heart of any syllabus, a boilerplate university syllabus typically
also includes objectives, a timetable, attendance, coursework, examination, and an
outline of the grading system used for the given course. Relieved of these institutional
requirements, the #Syllabus typically includes only a reading list and a hashtag. The
reading list provides resources for understanding what is relevant to the here and
now, while the hashtag provides a way to disseminate across social networks the call
to both collectively edit and teach what is relevant to the here and now. Both the list
and the hashtag are specificities and formal features of the contemporary (internet)
culture and therefore merit further exploration in relation to the social dynamics at
play in #Syllabus initiatives.
The different phases of the internet’s development approached the problem of the
discoverability of relevant information in different ways. In the early days, the Gopher
protocol organized information into a hierarchical file tree. With the rise of World Wide
Web (WWW), Yahoo tried to employ experts to classify and catalog the internet into
a directory of links. That seemed to be a successful approach for a while, but then
Google (founded in 1998) came along and started to use a webgraph of links to rank
the importance of web pages relative to a given search query.
In 2005, Clay Shirky wrote the essay ‘Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links and
Tags’,15 developed from his earlier talk ‘Folksonomies and Tags: The Rise of User-Developed Classification’. Shirky used Yahoo’s attempt to categorize the WWW to argue
against any attempt to classify a vast heterogenous body of information into a single
hierarchical categorical system. In his words: ‘[Yahoo] missed [...] that, if you’ve got
enough links, you don’t need the hierarchy anymore. There is no shelf. There is no file
system. The links alone are enough.’ Those words resonated with many. By following
simple formatting rules, we, the internet users, whom Time magazine named Person of
the Year in 2006, proved that it is possible to collectively write the largest encyclopedia
ever. But, even beyond that, and as per Shirky’s argument, if enough of us organized
our own snippets of the vast body of the internet, we could replace old canons, hierarchies, and ontologies with folksonomies, social bookmarks, and (hash)tags.


Clay Shirky, ‘Ontology Is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags’, 2005,



Very few who lived through those times would have thought that only a few years later
most user-driven services would be acquired by a small number of successful companies and then be shut down. Or, that Google would decide not to include the biggest
hashtag-driven platform, Twitter, into its search index and that the search results on
its first page would only come from a handful of usual suspects: media conglomerates, Wikipedia, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, Reddit, Quora. Or, that Twitter would
become the main channel for the racist, misogynist, fascist escapades of the President
of United States.
This internet folk naivety—stoked by an equally enthusiastic, venture-capital-backed
startup culture—was not just naivety. This was also a period of massive experimental
use of these emerging platforms. Therefore, this history would merit to be properly
revisited and researched. In this text, however, we can only hint to this history: to contextualize how the hashtag as a formalization initially emerged, and how with time the
user-driven web lost some of its potential. Nonetheless, hashtags today still succeed in
propagating political mobilizations in the network environment. Some will say that this
propagation is nothing but a reflection of the internet as a propaganda machine, and
there’s no denying that hashtags do serve a propaganda function. However, it equally
matters that hashtags retain the capacity to shape coordination and self-organization,
and they are therefore a reflection of the internet as an organization machine.
As mentioned, #Syllabus as a media object is an ordered list of links to resources.
In the long history of knowledge retrieval systems and attempts to help users find
relevant information from big archives, the list on the internet continues in the tradition of the index card catalog in libraries, of charts in the music industry, or mixtapes
and playlists in popular culture, helping people tell their stories of what is relevant and
what isn’t through an ordered sequence of items. The list (as a format) together with
the hashtag find themselves in the list (pun intended) of the most iconic media objects
of the internet. In the network media environment, being smart in creating new lists
became the way to displace old lists of relevance, the way to dismantle canons, the
way to unlearn. The way to become relevant.
The Academic Syllabus Migrates Online
#Syllabus interventions are a challenge issued by political struggles to educators as
they expose a fundamental contradiction in the operations of academia. While critical pedagogies of yesteryear’s social movements have become integrated into the
education system, the radical lessons that these pedagogies teach students don’t
easily reconcile with their experience: professional practice courses, the rethoric of
employability and compulsory internships, where what they learn is merely instrumental, leaves them wondering how on earth they are to apply their Marxism or feminism
to their everyday lives?
Cognitive dissonance is at the basis of degrees in the liberal arts. And to make things
worse, the marketization of higher education, the growing fees and the privatization
of research has placed universities in a position where they increasingly struggle to
provide institutional space for critical interventions in social reality. As universities become more dependent on the ‘customer satisfaction’ of their students for survival, they
steer away from heated political topics or from supporting faculty members who might
decide to engage with them. Borrowing the words of Stefano Harney and Fred Moten,



‘policy posits curriculum against study’,16 creating the paradoxical situation wherein
today’s universities are places in which it is possible to do almost everything except
study. What Harney and Moten propose instead is the re-appropriation of the diffuse
capacity of knowledge generation that stems from the collective processes of selforganization and commoning. As Moten puts it: ‘When I think about the way we use the
term ‘study,’ I think we are committed to the idea that study is what you do with other
people.’17 And it is this practice of sharing a common repertoire—what Moten and
Harney call ‘rehearsal’18—that is crucially constitutive of a crowdsourced #Syllabus.
This contradiction and the tensions it brings to contemporary neoliberal academia can
be symptomatically observed in the recent evolution of the traditional academic syllabus. As a double consequence of (some) critical pedagogies becoming incorporated
into the teaching process and universities striving to reduce their liability risks, academic syllabi have become increasingly complex and extensive documents. They are
now understood as both a ‘social contract’ between the teachers and their students,
and ‘terms of service’19 between the institution providing educational services and the
students increasingly framed as sovereign consumers making choices in the market of
educational services. The growing official import of the syllabus has had the effect that
educators have started to reflect on how the syllabus translates the power dynamics
into their classroom. For instance, the critical pedagogue Adam Heidebrink-Bruno has
demanded that the syllabus be re-conceived as a manifesto20—a document making
these concerns explicit. And indeed, many academics have started to experiment with
the form and purpose of the syllabus, opening it up to a process of co-conceptualization with their students, or proposing ‘the other syllabus’21 to disrupt asymmetries.
At the same time, universities are unsurprisingly moving their syllabi online. A migration
that can be read as indicative of three larger structural shifts in academia.
First, the push to make syllabi available online, initiated in the US, reinforces the differential effects of reputation economy. It is the Ivy League universities and their professorial star system that can harness the syllabus to advertise the originality of their
scholarship, while the underfunded public universities and junior academics are burdened with teaching the required essentials. This practice is tied up with the replication
in academia of the different valorization between what is considered to be the labor of
production (research) and that of social reproduction (teaching). The low esteem (and
corresponding lower rewards and remuneration) for the kinds of intellectual labors that
can be considered labors of care—editing journals, reviewing papers or marking, for
instance—fits perfectly well with the gendered legacies of the academic institution.

Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, New York:
Autonomedia, 2013, p. 81.
17 Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, p. 110.
18 Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, p. 110.
19 Angela Jenks, ‘It’s In The Syllabus’, Teaching Tools, Cultural Anthropology website, 30 June 2016,
20 Adam Heidebrink-Bruno, ‘Syllabus as Manifesto: A Critical Approach to Classroom Culture’,
Hybrid Pedagogy, 28 August 2014,
21 Lucy E. Bailey, ‘The “Other” Syllabus: Rendering Teaching Politics Visible in the Graduate
Pedagogy Seminar’, Feminist Teacher 20.2 (2010): 139–56.



Second, with the withdrawal of resources to pay precarious and casualized academics during their ‘prep’ time (that is, the time in which they can develop new
course material, including assembling new lists of references, updating their courses as well as the methodologies through which they might deliver these), syllabi
now assume an ambivalent role between the tendencies for collectivization and
individualization of insecurity. The reading lists contained in syllabi are not covered
by copyrights; they are like playlists or recipes, which historically had the effect of
encouraging educators to exchange lesson plans and make their course outlines
freely available as a valuable knowledge common. Yet, in the current climate where
universities compete against each other, the authorial function is being extended
to these materials too. Recently, US universities have been leading a trend towards
the interpretation of the syllabus as copyrightable material, an interpretation that
opened up, as would be expected, a number of debates over who is a syllabus
rightful owner, whether the academics themselves or their employers. If the latter interpretation were to prevail, this would enable universities to easily replace
academics while retaining their contributions to the pedagogical offer. The fruits of
a teacher’s labor could thus be turned into instruments of their own deskilling and
casualization: why would universities pay someone to write a course when they can
recycle someone else’s syllabus and get a PhD student or a precarious post doc to
teach the same class at a fraction of the price?
This tendency to introduce a logic of property therefore spurs competitive individualism and erasure of contributions from others. Thus, crowdsourcing the syllabus
in the context of growing precarization of labor risks remaining a partial process,
as it might heighten the anxieties of those educators who do not enjoy the security
of a stable job and who are therefore the most susceptible to the false promises of
copyright enforcement and authorship understood as a competitive, small entrepreneurial activity. However, when inserted in the context of live, broader political
struggles, the opening up of the syllabus could and should be an encouragement
to go in the opposite direction, providing a ground to legitimize the collective nature
of the educational process and to make all academic resources available without
copyright restrictions, while devising ways to secure the proper attribution and the
just remuneration of everyone’s labor.
The introduction of the logic of property is hard to challenge as it is furthered by commercial academic publishers. Oligopolists, such as Elsevier, are not only notorious for
using copyright protections to extract usurious profits from the mostly free labor of
those who write, peer review, and edit academic journals,22 but they are now developing all sorts of metadata, metrics, and workflow systems that are increasingly becoming central for teaching and research. In addition to their publishing business, Elsevier
has expanded its ‘research intelligence’ offering, which now encompasses a whole
range of digital services, including the Scopus citation database; Mendeley reference
manager; the research performance analytics tools SciVal and Research Metrics; the
centralized research management system Pure; the institutional repository and pub-

22 Vincent Larivière, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon, ‘The Oligopoly of Academic
Publishers in the Digital Era’, PLoS ONE 10.6 (10 June 2015),



lishing platform Bepress; and, last but not least, grant discovery and funding flow tools
Funding Institutional and Elsevier Funding Solutions. Given how central digital services
are becoming in today’s universities, whoever owns these platforms is the university.
Third, the migration online of the academic syllabus falls into larger efforts by universities to ‘disrupt’ the educational system through digital technologies. The introduction
of virtual learning environments has led to lesson plans, slides, notes, and syllabi becoming items to be deposited with the institution. The doors of public higher education are being opened to commercial qualification providers by means of the rise in
metrics-based management, digital platforming of university services, and transformation of students into consumers empowered to make ‘real-time’ decisions on how to
spend their student debt.23 Such neoliberalization masquerading behind digitization
is nowhere more evident than in the hype that was generated around Massive Open
Online Courses (MOOCs), exactly at the height of the last economic crisis.
MOOCs developed gradually from the Massachusetts Institute of Techology’s (MIT) initial experiments with opening up its teaching materials to the public through the OpenCourseWare project in 2001. By 2011, MOOCs were saluted as a full-on democratization of access to ‘Ivy-League-caliber education [for] the world’s poor.’24 And yet, their
promise quickly deflated following extremely low completion rates (as low as 5%).25
Believing that in fifty years there will be no more than 10 institutions globally delivering
higher education,26 by the end of 2013 Sebastian Thrun (Google’s celebrated roboticist
who in 2012 founded the for-profit MOOC platform Udacity), had to admit that Udacity
offered a ‘lousy product’ that proved to be a total failure with ‘students from difficult
neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in
their lives.’27 Critic Aaron Bady has thus rightfully argued that:
[MOOCs] demonstrate what the technology is not good at: accreditation and mass
education. The MOOC rewards self-directed learners who have the resources and
privilege that allow them to pursue learning for its own sake [...] MOOCs are also a
really poor way to make educational resources available to underserved and underprivileged communities, which has been the historical mission of public education.28
Indeed, the ‘historical mission of public education’ was always and remains to this
day highly contested terrain—the very idea of a public good being under attack by
dominant managerial techniques that try to redefine it, driving what Randy Martin

23 Ben Williamson, ‘Number Crunching: Transforming Higher Education into “Performance Data”’,
Medium, 16 August 2018,
24 Max Chafkin, ‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course’,
FastCompany, 14 November 2013,
25 ‘The Rise (and Fall?) Of the MOOC’, Oxbridge Essays, 14 November 2017, https://www.
26 Steven Leckart, ‘The Stanford Education Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever’,
Wired, 20 March 2012,
27 Chafkin, ‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun’.
28 Aaron Bady, ‘The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform’, Liberal Education 99.4 (Fall 2013),



aptly called the ‘financialization of daily life.’29 The failure of MOOCs finally points to a
broader question, also impacting the vicissitudes of #Syllabus: Where will actual study
practices find refuge in the social, once the social is made directly productive for capital at all times? Where will study actually ‘take place’, in the literal sense of the phrase,
claiming the resources that it needs for co-creation in terms of time, labor, and love?
Learning from #Syllabus
What have we learned from the #Syllabus phenomenon?
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 imperatives of capital accumulation and social control prevail. We
thus need to re-appropriate the process of production and distribution of #Syllabus
as a media object in its totality. We need to build tools to collectively control the workflows that are becoming the infrastructures on top of which we collaboratively produce
knowledge that is vital for us to adjust, resist, and live. In order to successfully intervene in the world, every aspect of production and distribution of these new media objects becomes relevant. Every single aspect counts. The order of items in a list counts.
The timestamp of every version of the list counts. The name of every contributor to

29 Randy Martin, Financialization Of Daily Life, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.



every version of the list counts. Furthermore, the workflow to keep track of all of these
aspects is another complex media object—a software tool of its own—with its own order and its own versions. It is a recursive process of creating an autonomous ecology.
#Syllabus can be conceived as a recursive process of versioning lists, pointing to textual, audiovisual, or other resources. With all of the linked resources publicly accessible to all; with all versions of the lists editable by all; with all of the edits attributable to
their contributors; with all versions, all linked resources, all attributions preservable by
all, just such an autonomous ecology can be made for #Syllabus. In fact, Sean Dockray, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office have already proposed such a methodology in
their Hyperreadings, a forkable plaintext document on GitHub. They write:
A text that by its nature points to other texts, the syllabus is already a relational
document acknowledging its own position within a living field of knowledge. It is
decidedly not self-contained, however it often circulates as if it were.
If a syllabus circulated as a HyperReadings document, then it could point directly to the texts and other media that it aggregates. But just as easily as it circulates, a HyperReadings syllabus could be forked into new versions: the syllabus
is changed because there is a new essay out, or because of a political disagreement, or because following the syllabus produced new suggestions. These forks
become a family tree where one can follow branches and trace epistemological
It is in line with this vision, which we share with the HyperReadings crew, and in line
with our analysis, that we, as amateur librarians, activists, and educators, make our
promise beyond the limits of this text.
The workflow that we are bootstrapping here will keep in mind every aspect of the media object syllabus (order, timestamp, contributor, version changes), allowing diversity
via forking and branching, and making sure that every reference listed in a syllabus
will find its reference in a catalog which will lead to the actual material, in digital form,
needed for the syllabus.
Against the enclosures of copyright, we will continue building shadow libraries and
archives of struggles, providing access to resources needed for the collective processes of education.
Against the corporate platforming of workflows and metadata, we will work with social
movements, political initiatives, educators, and researchers to aggregate, annotate,
version, and preserve lists of resources.
Against the extractivism of academia, we will take care of the material conditions that
are needed for such collective thinking to take place, both on- and offline.

30 Sean Dockray, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office, ‘’, Hyperreadings, 15 February



Bady, Aaron. ‘The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform’, Liberal Education 99.4 (Fall 2013), https://
Bailey, Lucy E. ‘The “Other” Syllabus: Rendering Teaching Politics Visible in the Graduate Pedagogy
Seminar’, Feminist Teacher 20.2 (2010): 139–56.
Chafkin, Max. ‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course’,
FastCompany, 14 November 2013,
Chatelain, Marcia. ‘How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson’, The Atlantic, 25 August
_____. ‘Teaching the #FergusonSyllabus’, Dissent Magazine, 28 November 2014,
Ciolkowski, Laura. ‘Rape Culture Syllabus’, Public Books, 15 October 2016, https://www.publicbooks.
Connolly, N.D.B. and Keisha N. Blain. ‘Trump Syllabus 2.0’, Public Books, 28 June 2016, https://www.
Dockray, Sean, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office. ‘’, HyperReadings, 15 February 2018,
Federici, Silvia, and Arlen Austin (eds) The New York Wages for Housework Committee 1972-1977: History, Theory, Documents, New York: Autonomedia, 2017.
Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, New York:
Autonomedia, 2013.
Heidebrink-Bruno, Adam. ‘Syllabus as Manifesto: A Critical Approach to Classroom Culture’, Hybrid
Pedagogy, 28 August 2014,
Jenks, Angela. ‘It’s In The Syllabus’, Teaching Tools, Cultural Anthropology website, 30 June 2016,
Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon, ‘The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era’, PLoS ONE 10.6 (10 June 2015),
Leckart, Steven. ‘The Stanford Education Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever’, Wired,
20 March 2012,
Martin, Randy. Financialization Of Daily Life, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.
Perlstein, Daniel. ‘Teaching Freedom: SNCC and the Creation of the Mississippi Freedom Schools’,
History of Education Quarterly 30.3 (Autumn 1990).
Roberts, Frank Leon. ‘Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance, and Populist Protest’, 2016, http://www.
‘#StandingRockSyllabus’, NYC Stands with Standing Rock, 11 October 2016,
Shirky, Clay. ‘Ontology Is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags’, 2005,
‘The Rise (and Fall?) Of the MOOC’, Oxbridge Essays, 14 November 2017, https://www.oxbridgeessays.
‘TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism’, The New Inquiry, 2 September 2014,
‘Trump 101’, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 June 2016,
‘Wages for Housework: Pamphlets – Flyers – Photographs,’ MayDay Rooms,
Williamson, Ben. ‘Number Crunching: Transforming Higher Education into “Performance Data”’,
Medium, 16 August 2018,


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