Past Workshops
Immaterial Labor

Immaterial Labor and the University in Crisis


  • Lenora Hanson (English)
  • Megan Massino (English)
  • Elsa Noterman (Geography)
  • Jonathan Senchyne (School of Library and Information Studies)
  • Keith Woodward (Geography)

Contact: Lenora Hanson ( or Elsa Noterman (

Now in its third year, the Immaterial Labor workshop continues to explore emerging currents within scholarship and political organizing that respond to the university within the context of neoliberalism, or through the lens of what Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades have termed “academic capitalism.” We seek a cross-campus conversation that is attentive to the broad consequences of recent political and social transformations that have been crystallized in struggles over higher education: financial crises and austerity cuts, new forms of political protest, the economic value of immaterial labor within and beyond campus, and the increasing privatization of public goods.

The 2014-15 workshop will seek to better understand how the university of today increasingly insures its future through similar speculative financial practices that proved so destructive in the most recent economic crisis. This year the workshop will be convened as a collaborative research project that analyzes the university’s relationship to economic crisis through the lens of financialization. We turn our focus to understanding and mapping our university’s speculative practices and its impact on the larger community of Madison and the Midwest, asking how these practices influence decisions about resource distribution and austerity measures at our own institution. We will ask how this trend has materialized in high-cost construction projects that are subsidized by skyrocketing tuition increases and student debt, as well as inquire into the escalation of administrative bloat and attempts to make technology transfer to the private market faster and more profitable. What are the costs to university workers, students and families, and the racial, sexual, and class diversity of public universities when they increasingly pursue privatized funding and a corporate model of wage distribution and property rights? And how does their greater reliance on private funds shape the way that university’s allocate, invest, and also imagine their resources?



Undercommoning: A Workshop
Thursday, June 4, 2015
313 University Club, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Free and Open to the Public. 
RSVP by May 28th - email or; please let us know if you will require translation or interpretation of some kind.

9:00 AM - 10:30 AM  Opening Session: Discussion of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney (Elise Thorburn and Eli Meyerhoff)

Discussion questions: What do Moten and Harney mean when they recommend criminality as our proper relationship to the university? What would this look like in our institutions and disciplines? Where do the undercommons exist or where can it be created? What skills do we need to develop to become thieves? Where would we use stolen and reappropriated resources?

10:30 AM - 12:30 PM Skill-Sharing Sessions:

  1. Doing Counter-Hegemonic Archival Research
    (Laura Goldblatt and Zach Schwartz-Weinstein)

    Laura’s work involves viewing the archive as a space that documents a complex set of power relationships, as well as the absence of archival documents in research. She will discuss FOIA requests and strategies to construct a political narrative when those documents are withheld or do not exist.

    Zach’s dissertation research involves looking at private university archives to document anti-union strategies as well as under-researched spaces like parking lots as sources of profit for universities. 
  2. Investigating University Finances
    (Max Haiven, Lenora Hanson and Elsa Noterman)

    Max Haiven writes on the art and culture produced under financialization and the limited imagination that contemporary capitalism offers for producing another reality.

    Lenora and Elsa have researched and published on UW-Madison’s increasing investment in high-cost construction projects, the costs this places on students, and the wage-pressures it puts on workers here.

12:30 PM - 2:00 PM  Lunch Break (provided for registered attendees)

2:00 PM - 3:15 PM  Radical/Counter Cartographies (Liz Mason-Deese)

As a part of the Counter-Cartographies Collective, Liz uses maps and mapping to make marginalized spaces visible, to destabilize hegemonic spatial representations, and to build alternative spatial imaginaries and practices.

3:15 PM - 4:00 PM Coffee Break

4-5:30 PM Conversation with M Adams (Young Gifted and Black Coalition) and Karma Chavez (Communication Arts, UW-Madison)--moderated by Thea Sircar

What is the role of university workers in supporting undercommoning and radical resistance occurring in our communities? How can we appropriate the resources of the university to take action beyond campus? How do non-black allies stand with those involved in radical black struggles? 


Informational Meeting

Thursday, September 18, 2014 @ 4:30pm
University Club room 212

We'll discuss the goals of the workshop, along with the research skills we will need to build together in order to achieve them.


We will meet in University Club Room 313 at 4:00 PM on the following Thursdays: February 20, April 3, April 23, and May 23Details and readings below.

At the roundtable for the Subconference of the MLA Prof. Chris Newfield, author of Unmaking the Public University, proposed a thought experiment for a new university that he suggested could reconfigure the current race towards privatization. What would begin as a commitment by faculty, graduate students, and post-docs to teach one course a year outside their institutions would develop, over the course of time, into a more personalized, higher quality form of education that would slowly build its own internal infrastructure entirely without the assistance of an administrative class. In the future, large universities would contract out to these external operations to teach their students. (Live video of his talk can be found here--note that it is around the 45:00 minute mark in the final box.)

Leading up to Prof. Newfield's visit to our workshop on April 23, this semester the "Immaterial Labor and the University in Crisis" workshop series will take his proposition as the telos for our meetings. Also drawing from previous discussions with earlier workshop guests like Brian Holmes and Ben Robinson, we will carefully consider the potential stakes, values, and costs of autonomous education projects that function partially or completely independent of institutional universities.

On Feb. 20 @ 4:00 PM, we begin the semester by inquiring into the histories of various free, open, or autonomous universities. We will discuss the contexts in which these projects arise and their critical function in relationship to established institutions of higher education. (Meeting in University Club 313.)

Feb 20 Readings: "Why We Must Disestablish School" from Deschooling School, 1-24 ONLY, Ivan Illyich; "Inside, Outside, and on the Edge of the Academy" from Anarchist Pedagogies, 175-200,  Elsa Noterman and Andre Pusey; Recommended (but not required): "Liberals, Don't Homeschool Your Kids" Dana Goldstein. (email organizer for readings)

Our April 3 meeting @ 4:00 PM will take a more theoretical tack, drawing from Jacques Ranciere's The Ignorant Schoolmaster and Paulo Freire's work to consider Newfield's and others' proposals. We will also likely take up a portion of Ben Robinson's presentation to our workshop from last year and his critique of autonomous projects as too complicit with the production of MOOC's and neoliberalism more broadly. Please peruse chapter one of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed and the introduction to Jacques Ranciere's The Ignorant Schoolmaster (email Lenora Hanson for a copy). (University Club 313.) 

On Wednesday, April 23 @ 4:00 PM in University Club 313Chris Newfield will join our workshop discussion, when we will discuss the afterlife of the university in the wake of neoliberalism's crippling impact on higher education. Drawing from his earlier work Unmaking the Public University and his forthcoming book, Prof. Newfield will propose a semi-autonomous disciplinary formation for the humanities and the social sciences as a way to reverse contemporary trends like administrative bloat and privatization of resources and knowledge. This autonomous model would have to move beyond the nostalgic desire for the welfare state and its era of robust federal funding as well as the more recent fashioning of the university into a site of financialization and speculative investment. Instead, it must constitute an alternative for higher education that emerges out of the definitive failures of global, late-stage capitalism and the "knowledge economy" embraced in the West.

Readings: "Marx in Detroit, Smith in Beijing" (Giovanni Arrighi) and "Reading Literature and the Political Ecology of Gestures in the Age of Semiocapitalism" (Yves Citton). Readings are password protected. Email for password.

On Friday, May 23, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Room 245 of the Education Building, we will hold a research workshop on the financialization of the university with researchers from the University of Michigan. The agenda includes opening discussion with refreshements at 8 a.m., presentations by Brian Whitener and Dan Nemser from 9 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., including a working lunch for participants, followed by brainstorming for next year's workshop's research project from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m.


MLA Subconference

Chicago, IL, January 8-9, 2014

2013 Immaterial Labor workshop meetings have been organized with an eye towards the first MLA Subconference in Chicago, IL, on January 8-9.  Below you will find more detailed information about that event. Please feel free to circulate to friends and colleagues here and elsewhere.

This inaugural year of the Subconference has been organized by an independent group of graduate students as an internal challenge to us all to recompose the university, in the words of Marc Bousquet and Tiziana Terranova, through solidarity and collective action.

Along with graduate students, independent scholars, and adjunct and tenured faculty, members of the Chicago Teachers' Union, UNITE HERE, Occupy Homes, the Adjunct Project, and Fight for 15 will join us to discuss recent struggles over social and economic justice. Whether facing the privatization of k-12 and higher education, predatory home foreclosures, or a contingent labor landscape said to be impossible to organize, our success in resisting, rather than simply existing, in these vulnerable times depends on doing so together and on the ground. The Subconference aims to make that success a central part of academic life and work.

We encourage, but do not require, that interested attendees RSVP at our website. An official program is here; please circulate to other interested parties.

There is no need to be a member of the MLA or have plans to attend the official convention in order to take part in the Subconference, and we welcome attendees from disciplines outside those associated with the MLA. Also, if you would like to travel to Chicago to take part in the Subconference, please contact Immaterial Labor organizers; we will be able to reimburse some travel expenses with workshop funds.

(Please note that the Subconference is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by the Modern Language Association.)


Professions of Precarity

A conversation with Jonathan Pollack and Darien Lamen

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 @ 5:30 PM
University Club 313

Precarity is now a buzzword in academic conversations for good reason. Part-time faculty constitute 48% of all faculty in higher education today. At UW-Madison, reliance on non-tenure track faculty increased from 38% to 52% between 1995 and 2009. But despite the ubiquity of contingent labor, sharp divisions tend to characterize what are offered as pragmatic responses to this labor "revolution" and what might be thought of as a radical imaginary beyond it.

For the November 13 meeting of the "Immaterial Labor and the University in Crisis" workshop series, we aim to discuss the gap that oftentimes exists between responses today and the horizon of tomorrow. We welcome two guests who will discuss how contingent workers elsewhere are organizing for better material conditions by reframing the political economy that underlies precarious employment.

Please join us for a conversation with Jonathan Pollack (History; MATC; IRH Fellow) and Darien Lamen (Ethnomusicology; UW-Madison; Fight for 15 Campaign). In preparation for our meeting, please read chapters 2 and 4 of Fred Moten's and Stefano Harney's recently released "The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study."


Moten and Harney. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study.


Discussion of "Death of an Adjunct" and Derrida's "The University Without Condition"

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 @ 5:30pm
University Club, room 313




The Paradox of MOOCs

Lecture & Discussion with

Thursday, May 2, 2013 @ 5:00pm
313 University Club Building (3rd floor, 432 East Campus Mall)
All are welcome.

During the recent two-day strike at Indiana University, Ben Robinson led a teach-in, asking participants to consider the paradox of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) within the humanities:

If liberal arts education demands a human space of enunciation, why are the humanities so eager to move online?

His response turns to the 60's-era debate between Althusser and Ranciere over scientific Marxism, which he argues is being replayed today in the claim for a decentralized, egalitarian pedagogy of MOOCs.

Suggested readings

Suggested: Chapter 1 and Chapter 3 of Jacques Ranciere. The Hatred of Democracy. Trans. Steven Cocoran. NY: Verso, 2006.

Very Optional: Jacques Ranciere. Althusser's Lesson. Trans. Emiliano Battista. NY: Continuum, 2011.

Reading prior to the workshop is not required!

Benjamin Robinson is Associate Professor of Germanic Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. His current research focuses on the semiotics of indexicality. His recent publications include The Skin of the System: On Germany's Socialist Modernity (Stanford UP, 2009) and articles on Alain Badiou, leftist ontology, and socialism.


Academic Capitalism and the New Economy

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 @ 5:00pm (note that this is a reschedule)
313 University Club Building (3rd floor, 432 East Campus Mall) 


Grammar of the Multitude

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 @ 5:00pm
IRH Library, 2nd floor, University Club
To start off this semester, we will be reading a few sections from Paolo Virno's Grammar of the Multitude, which was delivered as a lecture in 2001 and translated into English in 2004. Some of us might recall that Hardt's & Negri's Empire was published shortly before, in 2000; this text will take up a lot of the same concepts with a far more ambivalent and cautious tone. It should help us to set up a general framework for the semester by developing a theory about transformations in labor, knowledge, and communication and their impact on collective politics. It's a very accessible text that tries to take seriously what radical politics might look like in a world where value seems to be produced through the cultivation of "unproductive" workers, in a classically Marxist sense, and subjects are adapted to the precarious and arbitrary rather than formed by discipline and punishment. Also thrown in for a local touchstone, a recent Isthmus write-up on WID director David Krakauer.

Marx Reloaded (film screening) and report from debt & labor workgroup

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 @ 7:00pm
University Club, room 313

The plan is to mix a little pleasure with business, or analysis with entertainment, so we will actually start the evening off with a 15-20 min overview of what the investigative arm of the workshop has been doing to uncover the situation of student debt, adjunct labor, and financial investment on our own campus. Then we will move straight into the object of our collective viewing pleasure, director Jason Barker's Marx Reloaded, featuring interviews with Norbert Bolz, Micha Brumlik, John Gray, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Nina Power, Jacques Ranciere, Peter Sloterdijk, Alberto Toscano, and Slavoj Zizek.

Find out more about the film here:

We hope to see you all there. Please spread the word! See the event on facebook to RSVP and share.



Meeting of research group on analyzing UW finances (open to all)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 @ 3:00-5:00pm
(rescheduled from Wednesday, November 7, 2012)
313 University Club Building (3rd floor, 432 East Campus Mall) 
1. "American Students: The Coal Miners of Today" Counterpunch *see article posted on our blog, as counterpunch seems to be down*
4. "They Pledged Your Tuition to Wall Street" An Open Letter to UC Students from Bob Meister, President, Council of UC Faculty Associations. Professor of Political and Social Thought, UC Santa Cruz.


Lecture/Discussion with Guest Brian Holmes

"Autonomous Universities" 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 @ 4:00-6:00pm
212 University Club Building (2nd floor, 432 East Campus Mall)


THE AUTONOMOUS UNIVERSITY: A Question of Collective Action
As its name implies, the "knowledge-based economy" was built in the classrooms, research laboratories and business centers of the university. Today that economy lies in ruins - yet the bankers, executives and administrators who are responsible for its collapse still dominate the world of ideas. How to create a counter-force, when higher education has been reorganized for maximum profitability and academic labor has been reduced to generalized precarity?
This lecture/workshop asks about the conditions for an autonomous and networked university, mobilizing students, grads, adjuncts, professors, activists and members of local communities in the effort to generate an effective critique of the neoliberal order. At stake is the transfer of living knowledge outside the frameworks of financial control. Sure, it sounds risky and difficult - but it could be the only way for egalitarian and ecological ideas to retake their lost positions in our most vital social institutions.
2. UPDATED: Christopher Newfield, "Facing the Knowledge Managers" (chapter 8, pp of Unmaking the Public University: The Forty Year Assault on the Middle Class, Harvard UP, 2008)

Brian Holmes is a Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he teaches an intensive summer seminar. He holds a doctorate in Romance Languages and Literatures from the University of California at Berkeley, and is the author of the book Hieroglyphs of the Future. Holmes gives lectures widely in Europe and North & South America, is a frequent contributor to the international mailinglist Nettime, the art magazines Springerin (Austria) and Brumaria (Spain) and the interdisciplinary journal Multitudes (France). In recent years, Holmes has been co-organizing a series of seminars with the New York City based reading group 16 Beaver Group under the title Continental Drift, working on the issues of geopolitics and geopoetics. He regularly blogs at Continental Drift: The Other Side of Neoliberal Globalization.


Continental Drift through the Pampa: From Geopolitics to Geopoetics

Brian Holmes
Lecture/slideshow at Rainbow Bookstore

Thursday, November 15, 2012 @ 5:00pm
426 W. Gilman Street, Madison
Free and open to the public

“Continental Drift through the Pampa” is an encounter with Argentine artists, poets and activists ― but also a voyage to the toxic empire of genetically modified soy production. Halfway between critical research and artistic experiment, this project is a collaboration between the artists’ group El Levante, from Argentina, and the essayist Brian Holmes and the photographer Claire Pentecost, from the USA. Together we traveled from the great grain-exporting port of Rosario, on the Rio Paraná, to the industrial port of Bahía Blanca, south of Buenos Aires. Our aim was to investigate the social transformation of the country since the 2001 insurrection, with a particular focus on the rise of hi-tech agriculture. Paradoxically, the surging prices of transgenic soy are what has allowed the current leftist government to set a new direction and attempt a more egalitarian form of development.

The story of this journey is included in the freshly published book Deep Routes: The Midwest in All Directions. The connection is very simple. In South America, the grain-exporting city of Rosario is known as “the Chicago of Argentina.” So we told everyone that we were from Chicago, “the Rosario of the United States.” Why should globalization run in only one direction? Continental Drift puts poetics into politics, exploring the multiple scales of coexistence.

Reading Group Meeting with Guest Joshua Clover

"The Militarization and Financialization of Campus" 

Thursday, October 18, 2012 @ 4:00pm
212 University Club Building (2nd floor, 432 East Campus Mall)

1. Joshua Clover, "Reflections from UC Davis: On Academic Freedom and Campus Militarization." College Literature 39.2 (Spring 2012).
2. "After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California." 
3. Joshua Clover, "Value, Theory, Crisis." PMLA 127.1 (January 2012).
Armstrong, Amanda and Paul Nadal. “Building Times: How Lines of Care Occupied Wheeler Hall.” Reclamations Journal 1. (December 2009).


1. Adamson, Morgan. “The Financialization of  Student Life: Five Propositions on Student Debt.” Polygraph 21 (2009): 97-110.
2. Bernes, Jasper. “The Double Barricade and the Glass Floor.” Reclamations Journal 2 (April 2010).
3. Inoperative Committee. “University Occupations: France 1968, 2006, Greece 2006, NYC 2008-9.”
4. Joshua Clover, "The Time of Crisis: Class Struggle and the Politics of Time" reprinted on

5. Steve Horn (workshop member!) "How Private Warmongers and the US Military Infiltrated American Universities" and "Defunct War Strategy Program May Still Overshadow University of Wisconsin-Madison's History of Dissent" (both at TruthOut)

Joshua Clover is a poet, critic, journalist, and author, as well as a Professor of English Literature and Critical Theory at the University of California, Davis. He writes a column of film criticism for Film Quarterly under the title "Marx and Coca-Cola," is a former senior writer and editor at the Village Voice, writes for The New York Times, The Nation, among others. Along with eleven students at UC-Davis, he engaged in a sit-in to protest the campus's financial arrangements with U.S. Bank. Clover and the eleven students, known as the "Davis Dozen," have each been charged with 20 counts of obstructing movement in a public place and one count of conspiracy.



Planning Meeting 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 @4:00 pm
313 University Club Building (432 East Campus Mall)

Please join us at an organizational meeting to decide how the workshop will run, what participants want to see, and how we all want the workshop to be structured. Bring suggestions for our working bibliography, ideas for projects and partnerships, or just yourself.

Readings: For our first meeting, two light readings that will contextualize the concept of immateriality:

1. "Recomposing the University" (Marc Bousquet and Tiziana Terranova)
2. "N is for Negri" (a transcript, of an interview with Negri by Carles Guerra, translated, and organized alphabetically)

Both of these readings have emerged from a particular political tradition behind "immaterial labor" that tends toward a Marxist interpretation. But one thing we hope to think about throughout the year in our discussions is the ambiguity of this term and the ways in which it has been presented both as a source of power and as a source of domination, its precarious situation as a Marxist or feminist or neoliberal, etc. concept, and the debate over its legitimacy as a tool for understanding contemporary economic, social, and political transformations. We'll also be looking at "immaterial labor" through the lens of local and international protest movements and the revolution within higher education, bound up with, but also divergent from, some of the above perspectives.