Capitalism’s Mindgrab: The New Imperialism, Dispossession and English HE
In this paper I draw on Fraser’s (2022) generative metaphor of ‘cannibal capitalism’ to argue that the creation of a higher education market in England over the past three decades, is akin to capitalism’s ‘mindgrab’. It mimics that of its imperialist cousin, the landgrab. Yet so far, writers like Harvey (2003) and Fraser (2022), whilst mentioning education as a sector open to potential exploitation, tend to treat it as sitting in the extra-economic. However, the case of English higher education shows it is now squarely in the economic realm, as a GDP producing services sector in the global economy (Robertson and Martini 2023). In this paper I draw upon a series of concepts from the oeuvre of Marx, Luxemburg, Fraser, and Harvey, and add in recent work of Balibar (2019) (of absolute capitalism, labouring capacity and total subsumption to human capital) to show how, over time, a set of discursive and material processes have been put to work to dispossess society of its knowledge commons. By enclosing, privatising, commodifying, instituting, and transforming, advanced knowledge makers and making in the academy into a set of market exchanges, relations and social and moral orderings, it brings higher education onto the frontstage of the capitalist economy. In doing so, it devours the very thing – labour, knowledge that brings dynamism to capitalist expansion.
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Fraser, N. (2022) Cannibal Capitalism: How Our System is Devouring Democracy, Care and the Planet and What Can We Do About It, London and New York: Verso
Harvey, D. (2003). The New Imperialism. Oxford University Press.
Luxemburg, R. (1951). The Accumulation of Capital. Yale University Press.
Robertson, S. and Martini, M. (2022) Multiple Modalities of Privatising of English Higher Education, Working Paper, Universities and Crises ESRC Project.