Re: [xmca] University & Conformity

From: Michalis Kontopodis <michalis.kontopodis who-is-at>
Date: Fri May 23 2008 - 04:02:04 PDT

Dear Eric,

I cannot resist commending your ideas: at the moment a neo-liberal
educational reform is taking place in Europe--which I experience at
two different sites: Germany (centre, where I work) and Greece
(european periphery, where I come from).

The 'dysfunctionality' of the (public) university is the main
argument, which neo-liberal politicians use, in order to convince the
public opinion that competition between universities and evaluation,
free market of knowledge, commercialization of education etc. are the
only existing possibilities towards broader national development,
progress, etc.

In this context, the upper classes of Greece & Germany which are
mainly represented in the university (as well as in other state
institutions) seem to lose their privileges and turn into either
normal workers (short term contracts, less security etc.) or into
managers of research centers (much more profit, than ever before).

At the same time, students mainly from middle social classes (not
legal or illegal migrants, not workers) protest for maintaining the
free public educational system, academic freedom etc.

The university in (West) Germany and in Greece has never been indeed
revolutionary. In its best times it represented the development of
middle class and supported its establishment by means of state
politics, funds, long-term working contracts etc. Exams, notes,
certificates etc. have been the tools that supported this
establishment and attributed a lot of authority to university as an
institution. The division of theory & praxis, the disciplinary
knowledge and the abstract and universal way science views the world
as a meaningful whole have also been important characteristics of this

Taking under consideration that no university existed in the medieval
mediterranean space, and the particular character the university has
gained after the French Revolution, I would argue that: from the very
beginning of capitalism or of modernity the European university had
the above-mentioned internal contradictions which are expressed in a
very particular way in the context of contemporary neo-liberalism,
globalisation etc.

I would be very happy if the university would be re-territorialized
and connected to pioneer social praxis and am sure that educational
cooperations between schools and universities, community education and
other programs (see: Cole, Hedegaard & Chaiklin, M. Gibson etc.),
social and political anthropological projects etc. can be seen as
examples of how such a social praxis would look like.

Michalis Kontopodis

research associate
humboldt university berlin
tel.: +49 (0) 30 2093 3716
fax.: +49 (0) 30 2093 3739

On May 22, 2008, at 11:31 PM, E. Knutsson wrote:

> 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?
> Eric
> 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)
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
>> _______________________________________________
>> xmca mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list
Received on Fri May 23 04:04 PDT 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sun Jun 01 2008 - 00:30:04 PDT