Isabelle Bruno is a French political scientist who has written on the range of mechanisms used by the European Union to regulate and redefine the public sector. Christopher Newfield is an American cultural studies scholar who has written about innovation and the fate of public higher education, including the “budget wars” over the arts and humanities.They met as co-panelists at a conference in Toulouse in the fall of 2008. Organized by the association Sauvons la Recherche, the conference explored opposition and alternatives to the neoliberalization of higher education as envisioned by the Sarkozy government in France, influenced by British and American examples.
What can the world’s knowledge workers—the cognitariat—do about their current social and institutional predicaments? American management theorists like Peter Drucker have long argued that the knowledge workers would inherit the earth—or at least the economy.European critics of capitalism like Antonio Negri and André Gorz also noted the tendency of capitalism toward monopoly control of everything, knowledge included. But they agreed with Drucker and Daniel H. Pink that the increasingly immaterial or cognitive status of worker know-how allowed it to belong to—and therefore be controlled by—its individual possessors. The members of this cognitariat, for Drucker, Negri, and Gorz alike, are not therefore a new proletariat, but a new knowledge class with new strengths to bring to bear in ongoing conflicts with capitalism, which has itself been changed by the new ubiquity of knowledge.
What follows is a dialogue based on five hours of discussion between Bruno and Newfield one Saturday afternoon in Lille, in January 2010. The original discussion was conducted in French.
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