This special issue focused on ‘Digital Media and Contested Visions of Education’ provides an opportunity to examine the tendency to hypothesise a rupture in the history of the university. It does so by contrasting the traditional Humboldtian ideals of the university with a neoliberal marketised version and in order to ask questions concerning evaluations of the quality of higher education within a knowledge economy. Theorising the rupture has led to a variety of different accounts most of which start from an approach in political economy and differ according to how theorists picture this change in capitalism. Roughly speaking the question of whether to see the political economy of using social media in higher education from a state perspective or a network perspective is a critical issue. A state-centric approach is predisposed towards a reading that is based on a critical realist approach of Marxist political economy (). By contrast an approach that decentres the state and focuses on global networked finance capitalism ironically grows out of a military-university research network created by the U.S. government. Arguably, networks, not states, now constitute the organising global structure () and while state-centric theory with hierarchical structures are still significant, relational, self-organising and flexible market networks have become the new unit of analysis for understanding the circuits of global capital (; ). However, states still have a role to play in norming the networks or providing the governing framework in international law.