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Commodification of Knowledge :: Iva Nenić

Production and management of knowledge (the way information is created, find presented, infection archived, malady transmitted, shared, judged) is subjected to the material conditions of a given historical moment and specificity of cultural educational practices. The very object of knowledge is rapidly changing in postindustrial societies due to growing speed of technological development and the resulting ubiquitousness of information. The logic of capital has penetrated contemporary field of education, changing the concept of knowledge from “an organized body of information” to “informational commodity”. As Louis Althusser warned, “the ideological State apparatus which has been installed in the dominant position in mature capitalist social formations as a result of a violent political and ideological class struggle against the old dominant ideological State apparatus is the educational ideological apparatus”.[1] Late capitalism regulates the learning process in such a manner, whereas the “dominant ideology” is not mere implementation of a State hegemonic principle, but more profound change at the very core of educational systems. Knowledge is commercialized, the relevance and amount of information is rapidly growing, new technologies are conditio sine qua non of any learning process. Thus Jean François Lyotard states, that “[k]nowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange”.[2] This also affects the role of learning: today, it is not to know for “one’s own purposes”, but to utilize the knowledge in the educational market, to make the most of one’s abilities and imagination. Knowledge as a commodity-for-sale is the hallmark of late capitalism’s hegemonic know-how approach, where quick grappling the information (having right speed and location) is more important then pursuing individual creativity outside conventional institutional framework. The value of immaterial labor, creativity and innovation, on the other hand, is recognized by the market resulting in emergent “parasitic exploitation of the immaterial domain by the material one”[3].

Commodification of knowledge, then, is a process of transformation taking place at the basis of educational system and also a present dominant condition of knowledge. The call for counteraction in the sense of various forms of critique and counterhegemony, aims towards both theory and practice. The question is how to think the value of knowledge today and how to develop open and self-reflective means of education differing from conventional teaching and learning. These strategies must take in account both global and local circumstances such as digital divide and societal inequalities, in order to trace particular needs and build context-specific tactics of combating the ruling logic of today’s cognitive capitalism.


[1] Louis Althusser (1971), “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, New York and London: Monthly Review Press, pp. 127-187, 152.

[2] Jean François Lyotard (1984), The Postmodern Condition: A report on knowledge, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 4.

[3] Matteo Pasquinelli, “Immaterial Civil War: Prototypes of Conflicts Within Cognitive Capitalism”, Barcelona, September 2006, p. 8 http://www.rekombinant.org/ImmCivilWar.pdf

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