After the Massive Open Online Courses


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  • Title: After the Massive Open Online Courses: Re/making Humanities in the Era of Cognitive Capitalism
  • Author(s): Lawrence Hanley
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: New Directions in the Humanities
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review
  • Keywords: Paradigms, Future Directions, Technology
  • Volume: 12
  • Issue: 1
  • Year: 2015
  • ISSN: 1447-9508 (Print)
  • ISSN: 1447-9559 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Hanley, Lawrence. 2015. "After the Massive Open Online Courses: Re/making Humanities in the Era of Cognitive Capitalism." The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review 12 (1): 23-28. doi:10.18848/1447-9508/CGP/v12/43964.
  • Extent: 6 pages


The recent failure of for-profit Massive Open Online Courses (Udacity, Coursera, etc.) says less about MOOCs than about a failed strategy to capture surplus value within the new landscape of cognitive capitalism. Like Wikipedia and Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MOOGs), MOOCs belong to the broader phenomenon of “Web 2.0.” While the deterritorializing logic of “Web 2.0” threatens to make existing institutions, like the humanities, more precarious, the “communalizing” logic of new ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) also opens up ways to renew the humanities through deeper engagement with the participatory cultures spawned within cognitive capitalism, like MOOCs, MMOGs, and Wikipedia. My paper locates current debates about the fate of the humanities and humanities education within contemporary descriptions of cognitive capitalism offered by thinkers like Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt (“Empire, Multitude”), Yann Moulier Boutang (“Cognitive Capitalism”), and Carlo Vercellone. I argue that the “architecture(s) of exodus” (Pierre Levy, “Collective Intelligence”) common to new ICTs both infuse existing institutions with new precarities and open up new ways of thinking about the humanities and humanities education. This second, more positive set of possibilities depends on understanding the challenge of phenomena like MOOCs within recent “communalization” theories advanced by thinkers like Raul Zibechi (“Dispersing Power”) and Gerald Raunig (“Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity”). First, my paper reevaluates——beyond the recent hype and clamor——the importance of MOOCs to the university and humanities education. Second, my paper attempts to move the debate about the future of the humanities beyond advocacy efforts and toward fundamentally remaking our relation to “the public,” e.g. by engaging with, and immersing the humanities within, the new participatory cultures necessary to, and exploited by, cognitive capitalism.