University Futures

The new face of university research centres as local anchors and intermediaries in the creative and cultural economy: The case of Queen Mary University of London (Tarek Virani, Queen Mary University of London (presenting), Morag Shiach and Andre Piza)

A university research centre (URC) now needs to be about much more than the pursuit of academic research.  This is especially true in work that focuses on the creative and cultural economy (CCE). When researching and developing CCE policy for cities like London it can be argued that the current approach taken by some policy makers and third sector organisations is often linear. This risks missing important facets of practice as well as relationship building which make up an essential part of the sector. There is a danger of undermining the critical role of research in enabling understanding of the quickly changing nature of the CCE in cities like London if the sector is viewed as static and/or slow moving – which is far from the truth. Currently in London the CCE is inextricably tied to five things: the value of property, the elevation of creative work space as policy panacea, the changing nature of innovation policy, public funding, and the shifting sands of Shoreditchification – all of which have implications for local areas and local economies which is where most of the CCE lives. The need to: anchor research activities and relationships within safe spaces of dialogue, mediate between research agendas, contribute to local development, as well as provide new platforms for engaging with top-down policy has never been more critical. This paper argues that the new role of the URC is to do exactly this. It presents a case study of a URC embedded beyond the academy thereby positioning itself as both anchor and intermediary within often differing policy standpoints, differing realities, and more importantly differing worldviews.

Privatising Creativity? The role of the university in keeping creativity public (Oli Mould, Royal Holloway, University of London)

On July 21st 1969, NASA landed the first humans on the moon. After the largest commitment of resources ($24 billion) ever made by any nation in peacetime and the work of thousands of universities and publicly-funded bodies, humanity achieved perhaps it’s most significant feat of creativity. It was a global triumph of the collective creative and public imagination to propel humanity onward on its journey of civilisation. It was the belief in, and achievement of, an impossible dream. But perhaps, it was the last.

In what is clearly a deliberate reference to the Moon landings, an Alphabet company, named simply ‘X’ describe themselves as a ‘moonshot factory’. Emanating from the Silicon Valley modus operandi, X have a blueprint for multiple moonshot projects. Their project include driverless cars, online access for millions of unconnected people via internet-enabled balloons that hover in the stratosphere, delivery drones, contact lenses that enable augmented reality, and a host of machine learning products.

While these are important creative interventions in an unjust world, they are being thought of within the confines of a trillion dollar corporation – which suggests that their implementation will be anything but democratic. What is more, by sheer economic force the X lab is eclipsing all other public projects in universities and government research labs that are attempting to do similar things but on much smaller budgets.

This paper seeks to explore how universities can act as important checks in the ongoing privatization of creativity. The world faces huge challenges, yet if we continue to allow private companies to dictate which solutions are created, then those challenges will only increase. Championing the publicness of invention and creativity, this paper outlines the mechanisms by which universities can be the catalysts for imagining futures beyond capitalism versions of creativity.

Recuperating Innovation (Patrick Crogan, UWE)

This paper will mobilise insights from philosopher and cultural activist Bernard Stiegler’s critique (in Automatic Society and elsewhere) of neoliberal technocapitalism and the complicity of universities within its destructive and nihilistic trajectory. The commandeering of knowledge production in the service of technological innovation understood as source of competitive commercial edge in the ‘knowledge economy’ is, in this perspective, a systematic channelling of the disruptive potential of technology which is destroying the very system on which it rests – the system of mutually inflecting individuations of the technical and the human. It is critical to grasp the dynamics of this ‘system of systems’ in order to properly frame the nature and stakes of innovation as the invention of the milieu of human becoming, a becoming which is never achieved and which Stiegler prefers to describe as the possibility for a ‘non in-human’ to come. Through neoliberal-inspired prioritisation of state-funding of research and teaching, the advancing privatisation of the sector and, as well, the voluntarism and naivety of some staff, universities have to a worrying extent become part of this systematic and destructive (and auto-destructive) channelling.  I will provide a brief overview of Stiegler’s critique of this situation and his propositions for ways to recuperate – which means both to recover health and to reclaim something – knowledge production and/for technological innovation from this spiralling trajectory towards all kinds of system failures that only the most naïve or cynical could today deny are gathering on the horizon, if not already upon us (non)in-humans.

Chair: Simon Moreton, UWE Bristol

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