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Sub-brand to go here. Imagining the university. Ronald Barnett Invited seminar, Ljubljana, February, 2012 [email protected] Centre for Higher Education Studies. This talk. ‘Imagining the University’ - an examination of the idea itself

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Imagining the university

Sub-brand to go here

Imagining the university

Ronald Barnett

Invited seminar, Ljubljana, February, 2012

[email protected]

Centre for Higher

Education Studies

This talk
This talk

  • ‘Imagining the University’

    - an examination of the idea itself

  • What is it to imagine the university?

  • What are the forms of the imagination – in imagining the university?

  • What is the role of/ the possibilities for the imagination?

    - and its limitations

  • What is its structure

    • And what is its prospects?

A missing imagination
A missing imagination?

  • Starting reflection: that the current debate as to the idea of the university is hopelessly impoverished

  • Dominated by considerations of the market, competition, customerisation, ‘knowledge-for-sale’, audit, regulation ..

  • 3 tacit (or not so tacit) ideas:

    • The Entrepreneurial University

    • The Corporate University

    • The Bureaucratic university

  • A dominant discourse

  • NB – tensions here; perhaps even spaces.

Hopelessly impoverished
Hopelessly impoverished?

  • Impoverished since

    • Narrow, dominant

  • Lacking considerations of global and even personal wellbeing; or even possibility

  • Lacking a care for the potential of the university – and the challenges upon the university – in the C12

  • But also ‘hopelessly’ – lacking hope; visions of the future

    • Hope that things could come out better for the university

    • Or even differently, in fundamental ways

Undue pessimism
Undue pessimism

  • NB: pessimism not without its merits – (Joshua Dienstag)

  • But unremitting bleakness even within much contemporary scholarship

    • ‘Commodification’

    • ‘Neo-liberalism’

    • ‘Quality regimes’

    • ‘Managerialism’

    • ‘Performativity’

    • ‘The regulative/ evaluative state’

  • Not undue optimism

  • Believe matters could go better – grounded optimism

  • Positive possibilism

  • But what is possible? Not likely but possible

Feasible utopias
Feasible utopias

  • Identifying possibilities

  • Not neutral

  • But value-laden

  • Utopian – probably will not be reached

  • But not out of reach

  • Already instances embryonically visible

  • Empirical warrant (G&D)

  • A muted pessimism - things could go better

A critical project of the imagination
A critical project of the imagination

  • Large role for the imagination

  • Concept of ‘the imaginary’

  • Taylor – building on traditions, collective sediments

  • Kearney – imagination based on narratives; a psycho-phenomenology of the imagination

  • Sartre – more one of building the future; of willing the future

    • A strike for freedom

  • A critical project – identified shortcomings in the present

    • Articulation of imaginative concepts - critical standards

Responsible anarchism
Responsible anarchism

  • The imagination and responsibility: a complex set of relationships

  • The imagination should, firstly, be anarchic; it should fly, unconstrained, to envision new possibilities and to find a new language (new ‘conceptual grammars’ – Morley)

    • Guided by responsibility, responsiveness to counter-values, new ideas are created, imagined; searching for a poetry of the university

  • But then this imagination needs to be restrained by ‘responsibility’ in/to the real world: head in the clouds and feet on the ground

    • The anarchic imagination has to be responsible; even poets have to live in the real world

  • (This amounts to an exercise in ‘imaginative critical realism’ – being real and being critical but also being imaginative.)

Some ideas of the university
(Some) Ideas of the university

  • The metaphysical university

  • The research university

  • The entrepreneurial university

  • The neoliberal university

  • The postmodern university

  • The bureaucratic university

  • The networked university

  • The liquid university

  • The therapeutic university

  • The soulless university

  • The ecological university

  • NB: the formal structure of each phrase is the same – but they vary considerably in their imaginative weight.

Imagining the university1
Imagining the university

  • The romantic imagination

  • The empirical imagination

  • The ideological imagination

  • The hopeful imagination

  • The dystopian imagination

  • The utopian imagination

    • ie reaching towards a structure of the imagination;

      • And a layered structure at that.

The romantic imagination
The romantic imagination

  • The metaphysical university

  • The liberal university

  • The civic university

  • The service university

  • The research university

The empirical imagination
The empirical imagination

  • The bureaucratic university

  • The corporate university

  • The marketised university

  • The commodified university

  • The capitalist university

  • The performative university

The ideological imagination
The ideological imagination

  • The entrepreneurial university

    • (The enterprise university)

  • The accessible university (the ‘open’ university)

  • The European university

  • The global university

  • The postmodern university

The hopeful imagination
The hopeful imagination

  • The borderless university

  • The networked university

  • The liquid university [Bauman]

  • The supercomplex university

  • The therapeutic university

  • The edgeless university (Bradwell)

The dystopian imagination
The dystopian imagination

  • The soulless university

  • The subservient university

  • The selfish university

  • The self-important university

    NB Problem – the dystopian university has already arrived (the ideological and the actual)

Ideas of the university a framework 3 axes
Ideas of the university – a framework (3 axes)

  • Endorsing – Critical

  • Surface – Deep

  • Pessimism – Optimism


    ‘Entrepreneurial University’ – endorsing/ deep/ optimistic

    ‘Edgeless University’ – critical/ surface/ optimistic

    ‘Capitalistic University’ – critical/ deep/ pessimistic

Critical questions and a challenge
Critical questions – and a challenge

  • Can we find/ identify/ imagine ideas and forms of the university that do not succumb unduly to ideology?

    • After all, ‘We cannot jump out of our psychological and sociological skins’ (Gellner)

  • Can we avoid undue pessimism on the one hand, and seduction by ‘the self-images of the age’ (MacIntyre) on the other hand?

  • - and so we return to our initial hope/ idea of ‘feasible utopias’

    Challenge – is that of imaginative ideas that are critical/ deep/ & optimistic

    - This is where feasible utopias would be found

  • Is there space for such ideas to be realised in the twenty-first century?

  • Or has the space for the university so shrunk that such ideas (even if they could be forthcoming) could not be realised?

The utopian imagination
The utopian imagination

  • The anarchic university/ the iconoclastic university

  • The authentic university

  • The dialogical university

  • The ecological university

  • The perverse university

  • The public university (Masschelein/ Simons)

  • The socialist university (Peters)

  • The foolish university (Kavanagh)

  • The wise university (Maxwell)

  • The virtuous university (Nixon)

  • The theatrical university (Parker)

Criteria of adequacy
Criteria of adequacy

- Range (theory/ ideas/ practice/ policy)

  • Depth (structures/ experience/ ideas)

  • Feasibility (power/ organization)

  • Ethics (flourishing – human/ organizational/ societal/ global)

  • Continuing possibilities/ emergent properties

  • Severe tests, but they will extend imaginative ideas

  • - and help to provide a legitimation of the imagination

  • - supplying potency and efficaciousness to the imagination

The ecological university or prospects of for the imagination
The Ecological University(or: Prospects of/ for the imagination)

[A case study]

  • Sees itself within and as part of a global ecology

  • Does what it can to enable the world to flourish (not just to ‘sustain’ it)

  • Has a care/ concern (H) for the world

  • Is active/ is engaged with the world; reaches into the world

  • Puts its knowledges to work in the interests of the world

    This imaginary university passes muster against all of the tests of adequacy (previous slide)

    - of range, depth, feasibility, ethics and possible emergence.


  • We need to imagine the university anew

    • (The imagination is prior to the imaginary)

  • We need lots of imaginative ideas – and daring, bold thinking;

    identifying the best in all possible worlds: ie, utopian thinking

  • But there is a responsibility on the imagination – to identify feasible

    ideas of the university – ie, feasible utopias

  • Feasible utopias are neither unduly optimistic nor unduly pessimistic

  • - but hold out critical standards against which to test emerging ‘universities’

    and to steer us towards positive possibilities – positive possibilism.

  • The university just could help us towards a better world –

  • The imagination isn’t a sufficient condition – but it is a necessary condition.

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