Higher Education

the hacker and the (educational) institution

As I see it, the hacker exists in a symbiotic relationship with institutions. No institutions, nothing to hack. In some people's views (and perhaps with some hackers) the relationship is more parasitical. No doubt there is a balancing act. If the institution views you as a parasite, it will attempt to stamp you out, as we have seen with hackers in the past. On the other hand, the hacker desires a degree of freedom and is unwilling to articulate his/her activities strictly within the dictates of institutional interests.

An educational hacker would exist in a symbiotic relationship with educational institutions: remixing and reusing institutional content, methods, technologies, expertise, etc. Perhaps such hackers act out of some ethical or political imperative, offering their products freely. Perhaps they are participating in a reputation or gift economy. Either way institutions will exist to recapture that labor and draw it back toward the capitalist marketplace. One can see this, for example, in the way commercial enterprises build up around Linux. Certainly one of the purposes of the conference I mentioned in my last post is imagining commercial enterprises that might build around social-mediated education.

But these are not extra-institutional relations. Pedagogy is an institutional function. It starts with the institution of the family, right? Parents are the first teachers. Then they are the ones who take you to school. How do parents know what to teach? Do they develop a pedagogy in a vacuum? Of course not.

Later, you decide that you will self-educate. What will you learn? English? history? economics? biology? computer science? Will you give a name to your educational path? Are you not then immediately entering into an institutional relationship? Is there a body of knowledge for which no profession and institution exists? If you will learn history, will you not learn it as a historian or from a historian? If you do not, how will you be able to say what you have learned is "history"?

No, you will enter into an institutional relationship. Perhaps you will hack history in the same way that one might say that Deleuze hacked philosophy. But does one hack a computer without first becoming a  computer scientist? Without first entering into an institutional relationship with the professional discourse community of computer science? No. And one does not, cannot, hack history without being a historian. Needless to say, Deleuze was a philosopher.

"Self-education" is only possible through a relationship with educational institutions. Perhaps a different one from that of the conventional student, but a relationship nonetheless.

I agree that participatory media networks will require educational institutions to change. But when we imagine "bottom up" educational forces, we should not imagine that those forces are not also institutional. Think Foucault here.

As I mentioned in an unrelated post, the degree zero of pedagogy might be sticking someone in a library with a reading list. That's the pre-internet version of self education, but even that requires extensive institutional enterprises. How will one develop the expertise to write the book? How will we vett it? Who will create the reading list? The questions go on and on. The network of institutional forces acting on an particular pedagogic event is extensive. The social media version of self-education involves, if possible, even a wider array of institutional forces at work in the delivery of the technological network. Social media may get you out of the physical classroom, but it doesn't get you out of the institution: the institution of the browser, the keyboard, the screen, etc., etc.

The printing press might make the profession and institutions of scribes obselete, but only by creating new institutions. Social media, in turn, creates its own institutions. Of course there will be learning outside institutions. As humans we maybe cannot help to learn from day to day, moment to moment. But we need to distinguish between these moments of learning and the sustained project of education, which is an institutional mechanism. There will be those who will hack the institution, but the hackers, in their own way, are as reliant on the health of the institution as those who operate more conventionally within institutional bounds.