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Sub-brand to go here. Imagining the university. Ronald Barnett Invited seminar, Ljubljana, February, 2012 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

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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