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Memories of academia « Previous | |Next »
March 2, 2003

Whilst painting the front part of the electronic cottage yesterday in the autumn sunshine I got to thinking about academia and painting as ways of making a living.

This came up because a couple of professionals were tarting up the place up next door for tenants and we got to talking as they were leaving for another quick job. They asked me about the standard poodles who were keeping an eye on the comings and goings and about how the job was going. They talked about how they felt about getting bogged down on the job and the need to keep pushing through the depression.

It was one of those friendly chance encounters that make your day and make inner city living so pleasurable. It was the lack of this, coupled to the underlying unspoken hostility and suspicion in suburbia, that caused me to flee sububia to the inner city.

Whilst rendering a wall an hour or so latter I thought about the tedious nature of the job, then recalled that academia was similar. I hated the hated marking of bad essays and exams; could not get enthused about teaching; detested the hype about scholarship liberal education and meritocracy; recoiled from the worsening work conditions and the lack of money for research in philosophy; the ignorance masquerading as knowledge etc etc.

Basically I couldn't wait to get out. Political life was a breath of fresh air and I felt alive once again. I had no desire to return. Today if tenure was offered I would not take it. The security is not worth the sacrifice of autonomy by living a sick mode of life.

Then this morning, after breakfast, I read this and this by Dorothea; this by Alex; this and this by Liz and this by Baraita.

What did I came across in my reading? Insularity for one thing.

Few looked beyond the walls of academia to see themselves in the context of public policy or political life. Most were concerned with their life within the institution. I came across a narrow life of marking and teaching, little time of research and a life marked by trade union concerns. Alex is concerned with intellectual property and the pressures of research; Liz, who has got tenure, speaks about the pressures of research but loves her job and celebrates her job. Dorothea like me, thinks that academia is a lousy system that damages people.

Liz is very up beat about the play, autonomy, openess and creativity in academia. On her account there is a lot more of this in academia than in painting houses. I agree. But academia is still an inward-looking institution with some very bad practices that damage people.

Despite the phenomena of academics with weblogs, I see little effort being made by academics to engage with webloggers. It is still a case of high culture versus popular culture:---academics see webblogs as involving a dumbing down of their arguments for mass consumption; rather than as another kind of writing from a different place in civil society. Very few seem to understand the weblog as a way to foster the Habermasian public sphere like Tim Burke

Most of the commentary was within academia about academia with a little looking out beyond the ivy walls to the wider society via the internet. There was little effort to locate this academic mode of life into the broader dynamics of society and the economy--ie the way the state is shaping the shift to the knowledge society through market mechanisms. Why not view academia from the market perspective of the policy makers?

Maybe Australia is different because higher education reform is currently a crucial public policy issue of the Howard Government. These reforms are designed to force the universities to become education industries whilst protectign regional diversity. What we have is the push to tap into, and then apply the academic resources of new knowledge generated by an increasingly technoscience-based society.

What the policy makers see is the new economy being organized around networks of capital, management and information. They see that the access to techological know-how is at the roots of increasing productivity and competitiveness of the economy. For them academia is now a set of interconnected nodes through which communications flows occur. This is the network society. Maybe all this is accepted as the norm in the US and the market mode of university life is the way things are done around there.

So where to from now in terms of critique, when the ivory tower is no longer the ivory tower of scholarship. What we are noticing in Australia is that, intellectual practice shifts more and more outside the university and to the centre of civil society. Coupled to this fusion of the deregulated market and intellectual practice there is a decline in the critical and culturally interpretative role of intellectual practices.

What we now have is an instrumental market mode of life that is increasingly stripped of the established reference points in history, nature, place and tradition. It is a fundamental shift. Few in academia are addressing it. Maybe the US academic webloggers take this shifted for granted?

Still, the hollowing out of critique is a big worry. Do we sing songs and write poems instead?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:34 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (3)
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