Open Platforms, Para-Academic Practices, and Possible Futures for the University

Currently 1 million of the 1.5 million people teaching in U.S. colleges and universities are contingent, adjunct faculty. The University must produce cheap, precarious labor for itself so that it can continue to manufacture its products for the greater good of society. Today it’s a question: whether or not the University will be able to continue in the face of neoliberal ideological onslaught. One wonders if the University is doing itself in by gorging on the labor of adjuncts while simultaneously lowering the value of the work their professors do by giving it away for free. What the rise of the MOOCs (massive open online courses) suggests is that the University is shifting from producing educated human bodies to producing accredited human bodies.

To distinguish between those that toil in these contingent, adjunct conditions at Universities, we employ Nicola Masciandaro’s term, para-academic. The para-academic coexists with the University. At times the relationship might appear parasitic (perhaps both entities wondering which is the host), at other times their relationship will be characterized as complementary—para-, meaning alongside. The para-academic, regardless of the relationship to the University at a particular point, will be characterized by their practices for novelty generation. Both para-academia and the University are imagined communities. However, the University is an institution that accredits, controls, and stamps the passports of those that would enter its territory. It is a striated space as opposed to para-academia’s fluid space. The Open Access movement and the sprouting of para-academic activities are not only about broadly distributing the ability to publish as a democratic gesture. As an editor of an Open Access, Creative Commons-licensed journal, continent. (, I believe we are making a distinction between publishing and publication: publishing is about making stuff knowable, publication is about public-making.


Paul Boshears is a PhD candidate at Europäische Universität für Interdisziplinäre Studien (the European Graduate School) in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. He is founder and co-editor of the journal continent. and actively involved in the Atlanta arts community. Paul’s research has been conducted in East Asia, West Africa, North America, and Europe. His first book, Spectacular Agency, is forthcoming from Punctum Books, an Open Access publisher and home to acts of scholarly combustion. Boshears is currently occupied with the role of learning in self-cultivation and the affordances widespread digital publishing provides.