Re: [xmca] University & Conformity

From: E. Knutsson <eikn6681 who-is-at>
Date: Thu May 22 2008 - 07:33:11 PDT

Contemporary universities unfortunately often appear to be dysfunctional -
haunted by hypocrisy, conformism and careerism. According to
Thorstein Veblen, an institution is “a prevalent habit of thought, and as such
it is subject to the conditions and limitations that surround any change in the
habitual frame of mind prevalent in the community.” Veblen portrayed the
American university as “encouraging publications largely for the sake of
institutional prestige, rewarding mediocrity as often as merit, and exerting
enormous pressure on dissident faculty to conform”. In the spirit of Veblen,
Michael Taves observes: "Universities are deadly to serious intellectual work.
The university ethos fosters mediocrity, boredom, and gutlessness. It has
become a haven for conformist intellectuals who value patronage and status over
intellectual quality and challenge"
( ).

Most of you are probably familiar with Pierre Bourdieu's "Homo Academicus" and
Frank Furedi's "Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? Confronting 21st Century
Philistinism" (London & New York: Continuum, 2004). In Furedi's book, there are
some telling subtitles such as "From meritocracy to mediocracy", "The
conformist intellectual" etc.:

"There has never been a period since the beginning of modernity when people
working with ideas were so complacent about their role. This atmosphere of
conformism is particularly evident among professional academics" (p. 47).

The academic field is to some extent determined by what could be termed
the “academic habitus”, the “feel for the game”, the principle of
hierarchization, maximization of specific symbolic or social profits. Agents
involved in the “game” within a social field do not necessarily perceive it as
a game. They believe in it; they take it seriously. The strategies and systems
of values within a field may appear illusory to anyone outside of the field.
For Bourdieu, intellectuals (or scientists or academics) have “disinterested
interests” or an “interest in disinterestedness” (Bourdieu 1993).

“What is experienced as obvious in illusio appears as an illusion to those who
do not participate in the obviousness because they do not participate in the
game . . . Agents well-adjusted to the game are possessed by the game and
doubtless all the more so the better they master it. For example, one of the
privileges associated with the fact of being born in the game is that one can
avoid cynicism since one has a feel for the game; like a good tennis player,
one positions oneself not where the ball is but where it will be; one invests
oneself not where the profit is, but where it will be” (Bourdieu quoted in
Lucas, Lisa. Research Game in Academic Life. Buckingham: Open University Press,
2006, 63)

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Received on Thu May 22 07:34 PDT 2008

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