Re: [xmca] University & Conformity

From: E. Knutsson <eikn6681 who-is-at>
Date: Thu May 22 2008 - 14:31:52 PDT

Mike: unfortunately, my concluding comments vanished without a trace. The idea
was to get some brainstorming feedback/viewpoints/thoughts from experienced
XMCA-academics. What's the problem with the university? Its medieval origins?


On 2008-05-22, at 22:48, Mike Cole wrote:
> All this seems very recognizable to me and it is a topic of discussion among
> my close
> colleagues here at UCSD.
> In what context have you posted these ideas here?
> mike
> On Thu, May 22, 2008 at 7:33 AM, E. Knutsson <> wrote:
>> 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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