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



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Pedagogy, 28 August 2014,
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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,
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‘#StandingRockSyllabus’, NYC Stands with Standing Rock, 11 October 2016,
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Williamson, Ben. ‘Number Crunching: Transforming Higher Education into “Performance Data”’,
Medium, 16 August 2018,

Sollfrank, Francke & Weinmayr
Piracy Project

Giving What You Don't Have

Andrea Francke, Eva Weinmayr
Piracy Project

Birmingham, 6 December 2013

Eva Weinmayr: When we talk about the word piracy, it causes a lot of problems
to quite a few institutions to deal with it. So events that we’ve organised
have been announced by Central Saint Martins without using the word piracy.
That’s interesting, the problems it still causes…

Cornelia Sollfrank: And how do you announce the project without “Piracy”? The

E. W.: It’s a project about intellectual property.

C. S.: The P Project.

Andrea Francke, Eva Weinmayr: [laugh] Yes.

Andrea Francke: The Piracy Project is a knowledge platform, and it is based
around a collection of pirated books, of books that have been copied by
people. And we use it to raise discussion about originality, authorship,
intellectual property questions, and to produce new material, new essays and
new questions.

E. W.: So the Piracy Project includes several aspects. One is that it is an
act of piracy in itself, because it is located in an art school, in a library,
in an officially built up a collection of pirated books. [01:30] So that’s the
second aspect, it’s a collection of books which have been copied,
appropriated, modified, improved, which live in this library. [01:40] And the
third part is that it is a collection of physical books, which is touring. We
create reading rooms and invite people to explore the books and discuss issues
raised by cultural piracy.
[01:58] The Piracy Project started in an art college library, which was
supposed to be closed down. And the Piracy Project is one project of And
Publishing. And Publishing is a publishing activity exploring print-on-demand
and new modes of production and of dissemination, the immediacy of
dissemination. [02:20] And Publishing is a collaboration between myself and
Lynn Harris, and we were hosted by Central Saint Martins College of Art and
Design in London. And the campus where this library was situated was the
campus we were working at. [02:40] So when the library was being closed, we
moved in the library together with other members of staff, and kept the
library open in a self-organised way. But we were aware that there’s no budget
to buy new books, and we wanted to have this as a lively space, so we created
an open call for submissions and we asked people to select a book which is
really important to them and make a copy of it. [03:09] So we weren’t
interested in piling up a collection of second hand books, we were really
interested in this process: what happens when you make a copy of a book, and
how does this copy sit next to the original authoritative copy of the book.
This is how it started.

A. F.: I met Eva at the moment when And Publishing was helping to set up this
new space in the library, and they were trying to think how to make the
library more alive inside that university. [03:44] And I was doing research on
Peruvian book piracy at that time, and I had found this book that was modified
and was in circulation. And it was a very exciting moment for us to think what
happens if we can promote this type of production inside this academic

[04:05] Piracy Project
Collection / Reading Room / Research

The Collection

E. W.: We asked people to make a copy of a book which is important to them and
send it to us, and so with these submission we started to build up the
collections. Lots of students were getting involved, but also lots of people
who work in this topic, and were interested in these topics. [04:38] So we
received about one hundred books in a couple of months. And then, parallel to
this, we started to do research ourselves. [04:50] We had a residency in
China, so we went to China, to Beijing and Shanghai, to meet illegal
booksellers of pirated architecture books. And we had a residency in Turkey,
in Istanbul, where we did lots of interviews with publishers and artists on
book piracy. [05:09] So the collection is a mix of our own research and cases
from the real book markets, and creative work, artistic work which is produced
in the context of an art college and the wider cultural realm.

A. F.: And it is an ongoing project.

E. W.: The project is ongoing, we still receive submissions. The collection is
growing, and at the moment here we have about 180 books, here at Grand Union

A. F.: When we did the open call, something that was really important to us
was to make clear for people that they have a space of creativity when they
are making a copy. So we wrote, please send us a copy of a book, and be aware
that things happen when you copy a book. [05:57] Whether you do it
intentionally or not a copy is never the same. So you can use that space, take
ownership of that space and make something out of that; or you can take a step
back and allow things to happen without having control. And I think that is
something that is quite important for us in the project. [06:12] And it is
really interesting how people have embraced that in different measures, like
subtle things, or material things, or adding text, taking text out, mixing
things, judging things. Sometimes just saying, I just want it to circulate, I
don’t mind what happens in the space, I just want the subject to be in the
world again.

E. W.: I think this is one which I find interesting in terms of making a copy,
because it’s not so much about my own creativity, it’s more about exploring
how technology edits what you can see. It’s Jan van Toorn’s Critical Practice,
and the artist is Hester Barnard, a Canadian artist. [07:02] She sent us these
three copies, and we thought, that’s really generous, three copies. But they
are not identical copies, they are very different. Some have a lot of empty
pages in the book. And this book has been screen-captured on a 3.5 inch
iPhone, whereas this book has been screen-captured on a desktop, and this one
has been screen-captured with a laptop. [07:37] So the device you use to
access information online determines what you actually receive. And I find
this really interesting, that she translated this back into a hardcopy, the
online edited material. [07:53] And this is kind of taught by this book,
standard International Copyright. She went to Google Books, and screen-
captured all the pages Google Books are showing. So we are all familiar with
blurry text pages, but then it starts that you get the message “Page 38 is not
shown in this preview.” [08:18] And then it’s going through the whole book, so
she printed every page basically, omitting the actual information. But the
interesting thing is that we are all aware that this is happening on Google,
on screen online, but the fact that she’s translating this back into an
object, into a printed book, is interesting.

Reading Room

A. F.: We create these reading rooms with the collection as a way to tour the
collection, and meet people and have conversations around the books. And that
is something quite important to us, that we go with the physical books to a
place, either for two or three months, and meet different people that have
different interests in relation to the collection in that locality. We’ve been
doing that for the last two years, I think, three years. [09:12] And it’s
quite interesting because different places have very different experiences of
piracy. So you can go to a country where piracy is something very common, or a
different place where people have a very strong position against piracy, or a
different legal framework. And I feel the type of conversations and the
quality of interactions is quite different from being present on the space and
with the books. [09:36] And that’s why we don’t call these exhibitions,
because we always have places where people can come and they can stay, and
they can come again. Sometimes people come three or four times and they
actually read the books. And a few times they go back to their houses and they
bring books back, and they said, I’m going to contact this friend who has been
to Russia and he told me about this book – so we can add it to the collection.
I think that makes a big difference to how the research in the project

E. W.: One of the most interesting events we did with the Piracy collection
was at the Show Room where we had a residency for the last year. There were
three events, and one was A Day At The Courtroom. This was an afternoon where
we invited three copyright lawyers coming from different legal systems: the
US, the UK, and the Continental European, Athens. And we presented ten
selected cases from the collection and the three copyright lawyers had to
assess them in the eyes of the law, and they had to agree where to put this
book in a scale from legal to illegal. [10:51] So we weren’t interested really
to say, this is legal and this is illegal, we were interested in all the
shades in between. And then they had to discuss where they would place the
book. But then the audience had the last verdict, and then the audience placed
the book. [11:05] And this was an extremely interesting discussion, because it
was interesting to see how different the legal backgrounds are, how blurry the
whole field is, how you can assess when is the moment where a work becomes a
transformative work, or when it stays a derivative work, and this whole
[11:30] When we do these reading rooms – and we had one in New York, for
example, at the New York Art Book Fair – people are coming, and they are
coming to see the physical books in a physical space, so this creates a social
encounter and we have these conversations. [11:47] For example, a woman stood
up to us in New york and she told us about a piracy project she run where she
was working in a juvenile detention centre, and she produced a whole shadow
library of books because the incarcerated kids couldn’t take the books in
their cells, so she created these copies, individual chapters, and they could
circulate. [12:20] I’m telling this because the fact that we are having this
reading room and that we are meeting people, and that we are having these
conversations, really furthers our research. We find out about these projects
by sharing knowledge.


A. F.: Whenever we set our reading room for the Piracy Project we need to
organise the books in a certain way. What we started to do now is that we’ve
created these different categories, and the first set of categories came from
the legal event. [12:56] So we set up, we organised the books in different
categories that would help us have questions for the lawyers, that would work
for groups of books instead of individual works. [13:07] And the idea is that,
for example, we are going to have our next events with librarians, and a new
set of categories would come. So the categories change as our interest or
research in the project is changing. [13:21] The current categories are:
Pirated Design, so books where the look of the book has been copied but not
the content; recirculation, books that have been copied trying to be
reproduced exactly as they were, because they need to be circulating again;
transformation, books that have been modified; For Sale Doctrine, so we
receive quite a few books where people haven’t actually made a copy but they
have cut the book or drawn inside the book, and legally you are allowed to do
anything with a book except copy it, so we thought that it was quite important
so that we didn’t have to discuss that with the lawyers; [14:03] Public
Domain, which are works that are already out of copyright, again, so whatever
you do with those books is legal; and collation, books gathered from different
sources, and who owns the copyright, which was a really interesting question,
which is when you have a book that has many authors – it’s really interesting.
Different systems in different countries have different ways to deal with who
owns the copyright and what are the rights of the owners of the different

E. W.: Ahmet Şık is a journalist who published a book about the Ergenekon
scandal and the Turkish government, and connects that kind of mafioso
structures. Before the book could be published he was arrested and put in jail
for a whole year without trial, and he sent the PDF to friends, and the PDF
was circulating on many different computers so it couldn’t be taken. [15:06]
They published the PDF, and as authors they put over a hundred different
author names, so there was not just one author who could be taken into

[15:22] We have in the collection this book, it’s Teignmouth Electron by
Tacita Dean. This is the original, it’s published by Book Works and Steidl.
And to this round table, to this event, we invited also Jane Rolo, director of
Book Works (and she published this book). [15:41] And we invited her saying,
do you know that your book has been pirated? So she was really interested and
she came along. This is the pirated version, it’s Alias, [by] Damián Ortega in
Mexico. It’s a series of books where he translates texts and theory into
Spanish, which are not available in Spanish. So it’s about access, it’s about
circulation. [16:07] But actually he redesigned the book. The pirated version
looks very different, and it has a small film roll here, from Tacita Dean’s
book. And it was really amazing that Jane Rolo flipped the pirated book and
she said, well, actually this is really very nice.

[16:31] This is kind of a standard academic publishing format, it’s Gilles
Deleuze’s Proust and Signs, and the contributor, the artist who produced the
book is Neil Chapman, a writer based in London. And he made a facsimile of his
copy of this book, including the binding mistakes – so there’s one chapter
upside down printed in the book. [17:04] But the really interesting thing is
that he scanned it on his home inkjet printer – he scanned it on his scanner
and then printed it on his home inkjet printer. And the feel of it is very
crafty, because the inkjet has a very different typographic appearance than
the official copy. [17:28] And this makes you read the book in quite a
different way, you relate differently to the actual text. So it’s not just
about the information conveyed on this page, it’s really about how I can
relate to it visually. I find this really interesting when we put this book
into the library, in our collection in the library, and it sat next to the
original, [17:54] it raises really interesting questions about what kind of
authority decides which book can access the library, because this is
definitely and obviously a self-made copy – so if this self-made copy can
enter the library, any self-made text and self-published copy could enter the
library. So it was raising really interesting questions about gatekeepers of
knowledge, and hierarchies and authorities.

On-line catalogue

E. W.: We created this online catalogue give to an overview of what we have in
the collection. We have a cover photograph and then we have a short text where
we try to frame and to describe the approach taken, like the strategy, what’s
been pirated and what was the strategy. [18:55] And this is quite a lot,
because it’s giving you the framework of it, the conceptual framework. But
it’s not giving you the book, and this is really important because lots of the
books couldn’t be digitised, because it’s exactly their material quality which
is important, and which makes the point. [19:17] So if I would… if I have a
project which is working about mediation, and then I put another layer of
mediation on top of it by scanning it, it just wouldn’t work anymore.
[19:29] The purpose of the online catalogue isn’t to give you insight into all
the books to make actually all the information available, it’s more to talk
about the approach taken and the questions which are raised by this specific

Cultures of the copy

A topic of cultural difference became really obvious when we went to Istanbul.
A copy shop which had many academic titles on the shelves, copied, pirated
titles... The fact is that in London, where I’m based, you can access anything
in any library, and it’s not too expensive to get the original book. [20:27]
But in Istanbul it’s very expensive, and the whole academic community thrives
on pirated, copied academic titles.

A. F.: So this is the original Jaime Bayly [No se lo digas a nadie], and this
is the pirated copy of the Jaime Bayly. This book is from Peru, it was bought
on the street, on a street market. [20:53] And Peru has a very big pirated
book market, most books in Peru are pirated. And we found this because there
was a rumour that books in Peru had been modified, pirated books. And this
version, the pirated version, has two extra chapters that are not in the
original one. [21:13] It’s really hard to understand the motivation behind it.
There’s no credit, so the person is inhabiting this author’s identity in a
sense. They are not getting any cultural capital from it. They are not getting
extra money, because if they are found out, nobody would buy books from this
publisher anymore. [21:33] The chapters are really well written, so you as a
reader would not realise that you are reading something that has been pirated.
And that was really fascinating in terms of what space you create. So when you
have this technology that allows you to have the book open and print it so
easily – how you can you take advantage of that, and take ownership or inhabit
these spaces that technology is opening up for you.

E. W.: Book piracy in China is really important when it comes to architecture
books, Western architecture books. Lots of architecture studios, but even
university libraries would buy from pirate book sellers, because it’s just so
much cheaper. [22:26] And we’ve found this Mark magazine with one of the
architecture sellers, and it’s supposed to be a bargain because you have six
magazines in one. [22:41] And we were really interested in the question, what
are the criteria for the editing? How do you edit six issues into one? But
basically everything is in here, from advertisement, to text, to images, it’s
all there. But then a really interesting question arises when it comes to
technology, because in this magazine there are pages in Italian language
clearly taken from other magazines.

A. F.: But it was also really interesting to go there, and actually interview
the distributor and go through the whole experience. We had to meet the
distributor in a neutral place, and he interviewed us to see if he was going
to allow us to go into the shop and buy his books. [23:31] And then going
through the catalogue and realising how Rem Koolhaas is really popular among
the pirates, but actually Chinese architecture is not popular, so there’s only
like three pirated books on Chinese architecture; or that from all the
architecture universities in the world only the AA books are copied – the
Architectural Association books. [23:51] And I think those small things are
really things that are worth spending time and reflecting on.

E. W.: We found this pirate copy of Tintin when we visited Beijing, and
obviously compared to the original, it looks different, a different format.
But also it’s black and white, but it’s not a photocopy of the original full-
colour. [24:23] It’s redrawn by hand, so all the drawings are redrawn and
obviously translated into Chinese. This is quite a labour of love, which is
really amazing. I can compare the two. The space is slightly differently

A. F.: And it’s really incredible, because at some point in China there were
14 or 15 different publishers publishing Tintin, and they all have their
versions. They are all hand-drawn by different people, so in the back, in
Chinese, it’s the credit. So you can buy it by deciding which person does the
best drawings of the production of Tintin, which I thought it was really…
[25:14] It’s such a different cultural way to actually give credit to the
person that is copying it, and recognise the labour, and the intention and the
value of that work.

Why books?

E. W.: Books have always been very important in my practice, in my artistic
practice, because lots of my projects culminated in a book, or led into a
book. And publications are important because they can circulate freely, they
can circulate much easier than artworks in a gallery. [25:50] So this question
of how to make things public and how to create an audience… not how to create
an audience – how to reach a reader and how to create a dialogue. So the book
is the perfect tool for this.

A. F.: My interest in books comes from making art, or thinking about art as a
way to interact with the world, so outside art settings, and I found books
really interesting in that. And that’s how I met Eva, in a sense, because I
was interested in that part of her practice. [26:26] When I found the Jaime
Bayly book, for me that was a real moment of excitement, of this person that
was doing this things in the world without taking any credit, but was having
such a profound effect on so many readers. I’m quite fascinated by that.
[26:44] I'm also really interested in research and using events – research
that works with people. So it kind of creates communities around certain
subjects, and then it uses that to explore different issues and to interact
with different areas of knowledge. And I think books are a privileged space to
do that.

E. W.: The books in the Piracy collection, because they are objects you can
grab, and because they need a place, they are a really important tool to start
a dialogue. When we had this reading room in the New York Art Book Fair, it
was really the book that created this moment when you started a conversation
with somebody else. And I think this is a very important moment in the Piracy
collection as a tool to start this discussion. [27:44] In the Piracy
collection the books are not so important to circulate, because they don’t
circulate. They only travel with us, in a way, or they travel here to Grand
Union to be installed in this reading room. But they are not meant to be
printed in a thousands print run and circulated in the world.

C. S.: So what is their function?

E. W.: The functions of the books here in the Piracy collection are to create
a dialogue, debate about these issues they are raising, and they are a tool
for a direct encounter, for a social encounter. As Andrea said, building a
community which is debating these issues which they are raising. [28:32] And I
also find it really interesting – when we where in China we also talked with
lots of publishers and artists, and they said that the book, in comparison to
an online file, is a really important tool in China, because it can’t be
controlled as easily as online communication. [28:53] So a book is an
autonomous object which can be passed on from one hand to the other, without
the state or another authority to intervene. I think that is an important
aspect when you talk about books in comparison with circulating information

Passion for piracy

A. F.: I’m quite interested in enclosures, and people that jump those
enclosures. I’m kind of interested in these imposed… Maybe because I come from
Peru and we have a different relation to rules, and I’m in Britain where rules
seem to have so much strength. And I’m quite interested in this agency of
taking personal responsibility and saying, I’m going to obey this rule, I’m
not going to obey this one, and what does that mean. [29:42] That makes me
really interested in all these different strategies, and also to find a way to
value them and show them – how when you make this decision to jump a rule, you
actually help bring up questions, modifications, and propose new models or new
ways about thinking things. [30:02] And I think that is something that is part
of all the other projects that I do: stating the rules and the people that
break them.

E. W.: The pirate as a trickster who tries to push the boundaries which are
being set. And I think the interesting, or the complex part of the Piracy
Project is that we are not saying, I’m for piracy or I’m against piracy, I’m
for copyright, I’m against copyright. It’s really about testing out these
decisions and the own boundaries, the legal boundaries, the moral limits – to
push them and find them. [30:51] I mean, the Piracy Project as a whole is a
project which is pushing the boundaries because it started in this academic
library, and it’s assessed by copyright lawyers as illegal, so to run such a
project is an act of piracy in itself.

This method of doing or approaching this art project is to create a
collaboration to instigate this discourse, and this discourse is happening on
many different levels. One of them is conversation, debate. But the other one
is this material outcome, and then this material outcome is creating a new


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