The Digital University

A Dialogue and Manifesto

by Michael Adrian Peters (Author) Petar Jandrić (Author)
©2018 Monographs X, 376 Pages


The Digital University: A Dialogue and Manifesto focuses on teaching, learning, and research in the age of the digital reason and their relationships to the so-called knowledge economy. The first part of the book, ‘The University in the Epoch of Digital Reason,’ presents the authors’ insights into the nature of the contemporary university. The second part, ‘Collective Intelligence and the Co-creation of Social Goods,’ explores various collective ways of knowledge creation, dissemination, and education. The final part, ‘Digital Teaching, Digital Learning and Digital Science,’ presents an ongoing series of one-to one dialogues between Michael Adrian Peters and Petar Jandrić about philosophy of education in the age of digital reason, relationships between learning, creative col(labor)ation, and knowledge cultures, digital reading, digital self, digital being, radical openness, creative labour, and the co-production of symbolic goods. Situated in, against, and beyond the current state of affairs, the book ends with the Digital University Manifesto, which explores what is to be done in and for a better future of the digital university.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise For The Digital University
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • The University in the Epoch of Digital Reason
  • 1. ‘Internet Universality’: Human Rights and Principles for the Internet
  • 2. Technological Unemployment: Educating for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  • 3. The University in the Epoch of Digital Reason: Fast Knowledge in the Circuits of Cybernetic Capitalism
  • 4. Educational Web Science
  • 5. Digital Archives in the Cloud: Collective Memory, Institutional Histories and the Disclosure of Information
  • 6. The Political Economy of Informational Democracy
  • 7. The Eco-University in the Green Age
  • 8. Who Is Really in Charge of Contemporary Education? People and Technologies in, Against and Beyond the Neoliberal University
  • Collective Intelligence and the Co-creation of Social Goods
  • 9. Conversation With Fred Turner, U.S. Historian of Digital Technologies: From the Electronic Frontier to the Anthropocene
  • 10. Toward a Political Theory of Social Innovation: Collective Intelligence and the Co-creation of Social Goods
  • 11. Toward a Philosophy of Academic Publishing
  • 12. Collective Writing: An Inquiry Into Praxis
  • 13. Conversation With Pierre A. Lévy, French Philosopher of Collective Intelligence
  • 14. Inside the Global Teaching Machine: MOOCs, Academic Labour and the Future of the University
  • Digital Teaching, Digital Learning and Digital Science
  • 15. Philosophy of Education in the Age of Digital Reason
  • 16. Learning, Creative Col(labor)ation, and Knowledge Cultures
  • 17. Digital Reading: From the Reflective Self to Social Machine
  • 18. The Digital Self
  • 19. A Vision of the Digital University: Radical Openness, Creative Labour, and the Co-production of Symbolic Goods
  • 20. Prologue to the Digital University Manifesto
  • The Digital University Manifesto
  • Index

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This book contains various previously published articles. We are grateful for the permission to republish these articles, with and without changes, to the following publishers:

Hayes, S., & Jandrić, P. (2014). Who is really in charge of contemporary education? People and technologies in, against and beyond the neoliberal university. Open Review of Educational Research, 1(1), 193–210.

Jandrić, P., Devine, N., Jackson, E., Peters, M., Lăzăroiu, G., Mihaila, R., … Brighouse, S. (2017). Collective writing: An inquiry into praxis. Knowledge Cultures, 5(1).

Peters, M. A. (2004). The political economy of informational democracy. The International Journal of Learning, 14(6), 1–36.

Peters, M. A. (2014). ‘Internet universality’: Human rights and principles for the Internet. Knowledge Cultures, 2(3), 15–28.

Peters, M. A. (2014). The university in the epoch of digital reason fast knowledge in the circuits of cybernetic capitalism. In P. Gibbs, O.-H. Ylijoki, C. Guzmán-Valenzuela, & R. Barnett (Eds.), Universities in the time of flux: An exploration of time and temporality in university life. London: Routledge.

Peters, M. A. (2015). Educational web science. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 48(11), 1093–1099.

Peters, M. A. (2015). Interview with Pierre A. Lévy, French philosopher of collective intelligence. Open Review of Educational Research, 2(1), 259–266. ← vii | viii →

Peters, M. A. (2016). Inside the global teaching machine: MOOCs, academic labour and the future of the university. Learning and Teaching, 9(2), 66–88.

Peters, M. A. (2017). Technological unemployment: Educating for the fourth industrial revolution. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 49(1): 1–6.

Peters, M. A. (2016). The eco-university in the green age. Review of Contemporary Philosophy, 15, 60–69.

Peters, M. A., & Heraud, R. (2015). Toward a political theory of social innovation: collective intelligence and the co-creation of social goods. Journal of Self-Governance and Management Economics, 3(3), 7–23.

Peters, M. A., & Jandrić, P. (2015). Learning, creative col(labor)ation, and knowledge cultures. Review of Contemporary Philosophy, 14, 182–198.

Peters, M. A., & Jandrić, P. (2015). Philosophy of education in the age of digital reason. Review of Contemporary Philosophy, 14, 161–182.

Peters, M. A., & Jandrić, P. (2016). Digital reading. Review of Contemporary Philosophy, 15, 153–170.

Peters, M. A., Jandrić, P., Irwin, R., Locke, K., Devine, N., Heraud, R., … Roberts, P. (2016). Toward a philosophy of academic publishing. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 48(14), 1401–1425.

Turner, F., & Jandrić, P. (2015). From the electronic frontier to the anthropocene: A conversation with Fred Turner. Knowledge Cultures, 3(5), 165–182.

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An epoch is a period of time marked by distinctive features. In relation to knowledge, an epoch marks the realm of accepted theory and discourse and adopts the notion of epistêmê that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge with the possibility of distinguishing true from false statements. Foucault is famous for defining epistêmês. In The Order of Things (1994) he follows a long line of scholars and thinkers who adopt a structuralist or systems understanding of beliefs and assumptions that organize scientific practices and worldviews. Thomas Kuhn similarly uses the term ‘paradigms’ (Kuhn, 1970), and Jean Piaget (1968) looks to genetic epistemology to provide a similar framework. Heidegger classifies the whole of Western philosophy through the organizing concept of ‘Being.’ In ‘Being and Power: Heidegger and Foucault,’ Hubert L. Dreyfus provides the following insightful comparison:

At the heart of Heidegger’s thought is the notion of being, and the same could be said of power in the works of Foucault. The history of being gives Heidegger a perspective from which to understand how in our modern world things have been turned into objects. Foucault transforms Heidegger’s focus on things to a focus on selves and how they became subjects. And, just as Heidegger offers a history of being, culminating in the technological understanding of being, in order to help us understand and overcome our current way of dealing with things as objects and resources, Foucault analyzes several regimes of power, ← 1 | 2 → culminating in modern bio-power, in order to help us free ourselves from understanding ourselves as subjects. (Dreyfus, 2008)

Heidegger claimed that we were entering a final epoch which he called the technological understanding of being although he does not specify digital being or digital reason as the responsible mechanisms. As Dreyfus makes clear, technology belongs to the last stage in the history of the Western understandings of being by replacing poiesis with a world of digital control that leads to more flexible and efficient ordering of symbolic resources.

In Crossing the Postmodern Divide, Borgmann (1992) extends Heidegger’s analysis to discuss the emergence of soft technologies that focus on the production of flexible and adaptive devices in the shifts from production of goods to information service industries. Such shifts ultimately replace the limitations of the real world through simulations and simulacra that are completely under our control. He thereby extends the concept of hyperreal and hyperactivity to society as a whole defining it as “a state of mobilization where the richness and variety of social and cultural pursuits, and the natural pace of daily life, have been suspended to serve a higher, urgent cause” (Borgmann, 1992: 14).

Defining the Epoch of Digital Reason

Digital computers operate by manipulating on/off signals to implement logic functions. Over time, the means to generate on/off signals have changed from early mechanical devices to transistors, integrated circuits and beyond. These improvements brought about faster and smaller components that have transformed computers into everyday devices. While the means of on/off signals are constantly changing, the original logic remains based in the binary system of ones and zeros which conforms to a set of rules invented by George Boole in 1850, where three operations (AND, OR, and NOT) can perform all logic functions. However, Boole’s system had remained largely unused and unacknowledged, until Claude Shannon applied Boolean algebra to the design of logic circuits using electromechanical relays.

The post-war period defines the first cybernetics era through the use of constructed computer circuits from mechanical or electrical ‘gates’—from contact relays, through transistors, to microprocessors, silicon chips and integrated circuits. This definition is correct, because digital computers are indeed the embodiment of our twenty-first century technology. However, the central ← 2 | 3 → historical difficulty in defining the epoch of digital reason based on the development of digital logic is that many elements of this technology date from the prehistory of the first gears and wheels used as switches and Boole’s logic system—and this prehistory had been instrumental in setting the stage for the cybernetics revolution that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. A possible way to go about this difficulty is to say that digital logic has arrived to age with the development of integrated circuits which are currently reduced to less than 14 nanometers (Nobel Prize, 2016), and which have enabled production of digital computers as we know them today. Technically, this solution is fairly arbitrary. In terms of the relationships between digital technologies and the society, however, this solution seems quite plausible.

In the first instance, the epoch of digital reason is defined by the technical application and improvement of the embodiment of digital logic in electronic circuits; and then by its spread and distribution within networks to define the exchange of information between machines and databases. As David M. Berry (2011: 2) argues: “networked software, in particular, encourages a communicative environment of rapidly changing feedback mechanisms that tie humans and non-humans together into new aggregates.” And he observes:

faster processing speeds are crucial for them to be data-mined for predictive, marketing, and social monitoring purposes by governments, corporations, and other large organisations, often without our knowledge or consent. This transforms our everyday lives into data, a resource to be used by others, usually for profit, which Heidegger terms standing-reserve. (Heidegger 1993a: 322)

In its most pervasive form, the computer provides the full spectrum of modalities of the text, still and moving images, sound, and mathematic representation into one master medium that can electronically create, store, redisplay, publish and distribute stored information by exploiting the communication between computers (Van der Weel, 2011). These core features create a machine-readable, infinitely manipulable text and prevent its closure. The new digital order has a number of social characteristics including great interactivity, interconnectivity, automation of social functions, and lack of privacy. The notion of the social web is well advanced, and Berners-Lee uses the notion of ‘social machine’ (Hendler & Berners-Lee, 2010) as a construction to capture its complexity, relations, and social characteristics. Some scholars argue that this late development represents the growth of knowledge spaces and its inevitable democratisation.

The epoch of digital reason—a term that embraces all these developments in a Kantian-styled formulation—is the general basis for understanding the nature of ← 3 | 4 → contemporary human cultural evolution. The historical inventions of writing and then printing had defined the literate minds of their epochs, and the digital text defines a reordering of the digital mind. This is an ontologico-technical shift that transforms all aspects of writing, reading, viewing, learning and publishing, which comprise the core academic practices which define the modern university. The university that merely applies information systems without understanding their nature, their history, or projected futures, remains a prisoner of the age. In order to gain the capacity to transcend limitations of our times, the university needs to reinvent itself in and for the age of the digital reason. It is within these circumstances that this book offers various insights into the nature of the contemporary university. Using various forms of col(labor)ation and dialogue, the book offers analyses and directions for future development of the digital university.

Structure of This Book

This book is divided into three sections. In the first section, ‘The university in the epoch of digital reason,’ we present various insights into the nature of the contemporary university that we have developed over the recent years. Starting from questions regarding human rights and principles for the Internet, we inquire what it means to educate for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We proceed to explore various relationships between knowledge creation and cybernetic capitalism, and then narrow our inquiry to educational web science. Looking at digital archives in the cloud we examine the relationships between collective memory, institutional histories and the disclosure of information. We explore political economy of informational democracy, analyse the role of eco-university in the green age, ask who is really in charge of contemporary education, and develop an active approach to the relationships between humans and technologies.

The second section, ‘Collective intelligence and the co-creation of social goods,’ starts with a dialogue about individualism and collectivism in the history of digital technologies with the historian Fred Turner. We move on to explore relationships between collective intelligence and the co-creation of social goods, and develop preliminary ground for a political theory of social innovation. The next two chapters present results of our experiments in collective writing conducted with the New-Zealand based organisation The Editors’ Collective founded by Michael Peters. The first collectively written chapter explores possible routes towards contemporary philosophy of academic publishing, and the second collectively written chapter explores authors’ self-reflections about the process of ← 4 | 5 → collective writing. We explore some of these issues in more depth through a philosophical dialogue with Pierre A. Lévy, French philosopher of collective intelligence. Using the case of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), we explore issues pertaining to academic labour and the future of the university.

The first and the second section of this book contain works that have either been written by one of the authors, or have been co-written by one of the authors and somebody else, or have been co-written by both authors in large teams of the Editors’ Collective. In contrast, the third section entitled ‘Digital teaching, digital learning and digital science’ presents an ongoing series of one-to one dialogues between Michael Adrian Peters and Petar Jandrić. In the first dialogue we explore philosophy of education in the age of digital reason, and in the second dialogue we inquire various relationships between learning, creative col(labor)ation, and knowledge cultures. We move on to look into the evolution of digital reading, and then inquire the nature of digital self and digital being. We explore radical openness, creative labour, and the co-production of symbolic goods, and start building our own vision of the digital university. We explore various manifestos, declarations and letters which reflect human life, research, and learning in our (post)digital age. In place of conclusion, we summarize analyses and conclusions from this book in the Digital University Manifesto.

The Digital University

We live in the epoch of digital reason, which has significantly altered the traditional order of things. In our epoch, yesterday’s institutions will either become slaves to corporate capitalism, or they will significantly transform in order to maintain an active role in co-creation of the present and future. Political, social, and economic pressures strongly favour the first option—however, we firmly believe that our society needs to opt for the latter. It is only with free knowledge creation, and free education, that our society and its members can be truly free.

Having said that, social development is tricky business which consists of trial and error. The traditional university will probably perish and evolve, lose and gain, play positive and negative roles in human learning and knowledge development—and all of that at the same time. We embrace multiplicity of understandings of the contemporary university, and strongly reject simplistic polarisations between us and them, the good guys and the bad guys, the digital and the non-digital, the human and the post-human. Therefore, our work can be well described by John Holloway’s phrase in, against, and beyond (Holloway, 2016). We understand ← 5 | 6 → that our work is deeply imbued in the current system of knowledge production and education. Our research points towards various systemic problems with this system, and we strongly struggle against these problems. Instead of succumbing to the frightening and often non-productive binary characteristic for the position in and against, we strive beyond the current university and towards our vision of the digital university. Our book consists of academic inquiry, solutions development, social and philosophical visions, and the ethos of radical openness—and we believe that all these components are essential for developing a viable path towards the future.

We embrace this position not just theoretically, but also practically. In this book, therefore, we offer a mix of chapters written in various standard and non-standard academic genres. Some chapters are (presented as) typical academic papers; others are written as dialogues. Some chapters are written individually; some chapters are co-written by the two of us; ‘Towards a philosophy of academic publishing’ is co-written by 26 people. Some chapters are philosophical; others are oriented to very practical matters. In place of a traditional conclusion, we summarize the book with the Digital University Manifesto.

This book is an experiment, a reflection of the epoch of digital reason, and a statement of our political and personal positions. Social development is a slow collective process, and our vision is just one of many. However, we feel that it is important to experiment, to challenge, and to explore. It would thrill us to see this book succeed, but we will not be too sorry if it fails to meet the established social and academic expectations—as scientists, we must supress own vanity and understand that negative results are just as valuable as positive results. On that basis, we can merely hope that The Digital University: A Dialogue and Manifesto will serve as a small building block in the large collective consideration about the future of the digital university.


Berry, D. M. (2011). The philosophy of software: Code and mediation in the migital age. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Borgmann, A. (1992). Crossing the postmodern divide. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Dreyfus, H. L. (2008). Being and power: Heidegger and Foucault. International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 4(1), 1–16.

Foucault, M. (1994). The order of things: An archaeology of the human sciences. New York, NY: Vintage.

Hendler, J., & Berners-Lee, T. (2010). From the semantic Web to social machines: A research challenge for AI on the World Wide Web. Artificial Intelligence, 174(2), 156–161. ← 6 | 7 →

Holloway, J. (2016). In, against, and beyond capitalism: The San Francisco lectures. Oakland, CA: PM Press/Kairos.

Kuhn, T. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Nobel Prize. (2016). The history of the integrated circuit. Retrieved November 7, 2016, from http://www.nobelprize.org/educational/physics/integrated_circuit/history/

Piaget, J. (1968). Genetic epistemology. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Van der Weel, A. (2011). Changing our textual minds: Towards a digital order of knowledge. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ← 7 | 8 →

← 8 | 9 →

The University in the Epoch of Digital Reason

← 9 | 10 →

← 10 | 11 →



‘Internet Universality’

Human Rights and Principles for the Internet


X, 376
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. X, 376 pp., 1 b/w ill., 1 table

Biographical notes

Michael Adrian Peters (Author) Petar Jandrić (Author)

Michael Adrian Peters is Professor of Education at the University of Waikato, New Zealand and Emeritus Professor in Educational Policy, Organization, and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. His interests are in education, philosophy, and social policy, and he has written over sixty books. Petar Jandrić is Professor of Digital Learning and Programme Director of BSc (Informatics) at the University of Applied Sciences in Zagreb (Croatia), and he is also Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Zagreb (Croatia). His research interests are focused on the intersections between critical pedagogy and digital cultures.


Title: The Digital University
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388 pages