Living Learning

The term living learning has borrowed from the accumulative experiences and knowledge production of numerous knowledge-based social and political movements in different parts of the world in recent years (Dokuzovic 2016). Living learning, although fluid and “living,” is based on some recurring notions that have been developed by these movements, such as understanding lived experiences and struggles as knowledge, self-education, self-determination, acknowledging all knowledges as equal, focusing on capacity rather than lack, using that capacity to demand rights, and placing the most disenfranchised experiences at the center of struggles. Living learning has heavily drawn from the notion of lokavidya coined by the Lokavidya Jan Andolan (People’s Knowledge Mass Movement) of India,1 which is understood as a people’s knowledge that includes skills, life experiences, culture, struggle, as well as knowledge disseminated in institutions. The Lokavidya Jan Andolan uses this notion for a struggle against conditions that separate people along knowledge-based hierarchies.

Another common practice of many knowledge-based movements, which seek equal access to institutional knowledge, is hijacking university knowledge. The Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack-dwellers movement that has developed since a mass protest in 2005 in Durban, South Africa, has exemplified notions of hijacking university knowledge by electing several members of the movement, along with members of the Rural Network, to attend The University of KwaZulu-Natal to bring back as much knowledge as possible to share throughout the shack-dwelling community in order to strengthen their continued struggles (see Figlan et al. 2009). They have, furthermore, claimed that “struggle is our school” (see Mdlalose 2012)  and invite activists into their “protest universities” such as “the University of Kennedy Road” (see Abahlali 2006). Strategies such as self-education, knowledge-sharing, or hijacking university knowledge have allowed knowledge-based movements to develop more effective tactics for demanding rights, or even for basic survival, as in the two outlined examples.

In Europe, Australia, and the Americas, many knowledge-based struggles have fought for free access to universities as well as archives and other institutions of knowledge production. They have thus focused on fighting austerity measures, which have both introduced and raised tuition fees, as well as developing strategies for self-education and for creating self-determined histories, knowledges, arts, and cultural practices, or forms of hacking and hijacking to gain access to certain content. Some of the radical perspectives that have informed these practices and my use of the term living learning are contrapoder, the undercommons (Harney and Moten 2013), postdevelopment, radical pedagogy, co-research, translocality, feminist ecology, and social justice. These perspectives also closely relate to practices by the Zapatistas of struggles based in life, knowledge, and dignity that veer from explicitly Marxist-Leninist practices of previous struggles (Flood 1999).

The measures which have increasingly restricted access to institutions of knowledge production, such as the aforementioned austerity cuts, consist of a series of global reforms that have been implemented to differing degrees over the last few decades. These reforms have sought to transform education and knowledge by creating enclosures and forms of stratification in institutions that allow for a greater commodification of knowledge. Furthermore, these reforms have prioritized the more “profitable” knowledges, attempting to homogenize teaching/learning approaches and erase traditional, local, communal, or Indigenous knowledges. Consequently, as such reforms focus on economic profitability, one of their major driving forces has been economic crisis, which has also been a driver behind the development of cognitive capitalism.

Many knowledge-based struggles have explicitly fought against tuition fees and many of the tenets of the cognitivization of capital and the accompanying precarization of labor and education. However, living learning has gone beyond the walls of the university, and official institutions of knowledge production, to question the links between life and knowledge in a transforming economic landscape, and the encroachment of capital onto that relationship. Therefore, Marx’s notion of the General Intellect developed in Grundrisse plays a major role in both critical theories of cognitive capitalism and in knowledge-based struggles. However, living learning also takes into account the role of production within the “social factory” – developed by the Italian autonomous Marxist autonomia as well as radical feminists during the 1970s – and applies it to the “knowledge factory”2 In other words, living learning departs from the idea that knowledge production takes place well beyond the job site in cognitive capitalism or the walls of the university.3 It acknowledges invisible labor, home-based labor, the productivity of peasants, displaced persons, etc. for a broader perspective for self-empowerment and unified struggle based in common knowledges. Therefore, recognizing the role of diffuse modes of knowledge production and starting out from people’s capacity rather than lack, living learning creates the potential for a stronger struggle based in constituent counter-power than some of its predecessors, whose struggles focused on the formal sector.4