Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Knowledge legitimation and the role of universities

Started this post a thousand years ago and I'm just gonna post it without finishing it. So there!

...the question of double legitimation...comes to the fore. For it appears in its most complete form, that of reversion, revealing that knowledge and power are simply two sides of the same question: who decides what knowledge is, and who knows what needs to be decided?

Lyotard p8-9

Also see Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game, as Joseph Knecht writes his circular letter to the Board of Castalia. This is from P. 338 of the Vintage 2000 edition:

Therefore it is not our business to rule and not our business to engage in politics. We are specialists in examining, analysing and measuring. We are the guardians and constant verifiers of all alphabets, multiplication tables, and methods. We are the bureau of standards for cultural weights and measures.

Granted, we are many other things also. In some circumstances we can also be innovators, discoverers, adventurers, conquerors, and reinterpreters. But our first and most inportant function, the reason the people need us and keep us, is to preserve the purity of all sources of knowledge.

In trade, in politics, and what have you, turning X into a Y may occasionally prove to be a stroke of genius; but never with us.
I had planned on working through Lyotard more meticulously, but I need to move on and get these bloody bits of paper of the walls, so we'll skip forward to Part 10: Delegitimation, and again, I'll just pop in the quote:

What we have here is a process of delegitimation fueled by the demand for legitimation internal erosion of the legitimacy principle of knowledge...erosion at work inside the speculative game, and by loosening the weave of the encyclopedic net in which each science was to find its place, it eventually sets them free.

The classical dividing lines between the various fields of science are thus called into question - disciplines disappear overlappings occur...The speculative hierarchy of learning gives way to an immanent..."flat" network of areas of constant flux. The old "faculties" splinter into institutes and foundations of all kinds, and the universities lose their function of speculative legitimation.
Lyotard, Post. Con: Rpt Knowledge P.39 (should be) legitimation works: Lyotard's language games and the glass bead game. Maybe.

Technology transfer and commercialisation

I have been working on a paper on whether or not postgraduate coursework, developed with industry, is a useful mechanism for enabling widespread, practical implementation of scientific research, partly to try to tease out the somewhat confused value and purpose of postgraduate coursework generally. The test case, for this paper, is the (Faculty of Vet Science at Sydney) program in animal breeding management, where we aim to put animal genetics knowledge in the hands of people who will be advising breeders etc. and support economic productivity in the sector. (And yes, I think these things matter too).

I've also been thinking, naturally, about the commercialisation of research and technology transfer, as you do.

Transfer is about getting the research into practice, where it becomes useful...big concern in a knowledge economy where it is clear that the faster it can be converted (or, as it is rather unfortunately phrased, exploited) the more valuable it will be.

Check out the wikipedia entry on technology transfer:

Technology transfer is the process of developing practical applications for the results of scientific research. ... Many companies, universities and governmental organizations now have an "Office of Technology Transfer" dedicated to identifying research which has potential commercial interest and strategies for how to exploit it...

The process to commercially exploit research varies widely. It can involve...
What starts as locating practical uses for research very rapidly becomes research commercialisation so that the use of research and the sale of research amounts to exactly the same thing. Enter long lines of lawyers to ensure research organisations get every cent they are owed for every idea they've ever had.

This has to be a classic case of converting use-value into exchange-value if ever there was one. Even if I think of it only in economic terms (ie not even caring about knowledge in itself) we've gone from converting (A) research into widespread knowledge that underpins the national agricultural productivity into (B) research we can sell to someone on the basis of its convertability, which is quite a different thing.

In both cases the financial value of knowledge is at the core in one way or another, but there is still something new here in knowledge's saleability (Lyotard p. 51) rather than its social and economic value.

Then again, I am a novice in this area. Am I wrong? Have I made any sense at all?

Anyway, back to the paper....maybe the scientists I work with can help me figure this out.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Elected party night

We ventured out last night to GLEDHILL07, our friends Nick and Amelia's election party. Wonderful night, cheering at the ABC coverage. The highlight for me was that my lovely 7-year-old was able to taunt politicians coherently until nearly midnight, waving sparklers for every additional labor seat won and singing the song he and a school friend had made up:

Give John Howard a grave stone
give John Howard a grave.
Give John Howard a grave stone
give John Howard a grave.
All together now....
The song gained meaning as Bennelong's numbers looked more and more like an actual loss for the PM.

Managed to get the little boy home by midnight, piggy-backed through the crowds attending Newtown's Good Rid Dance party in the street, which largely appeared to be people crowded on The Hub steps watching the ABC coverage on a big screen, cheering as if for sport.

A sleepy and slightly cranky boy this morning is still saying "remember when Peter Costello said...and I yelled..."

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

3 lessons from my life as a manager

The type of work I am doing today encourages me (as an aside to it) to reflect on my role as an educational manager and to consider, before I leave, what I think are the 3 key lessons I've learned in this job.

Today, I think they are:

  1. Keep one eye on the goal, the other on the ball
  2. 99.9% of problems will pretty much solve themselves if you are open and honest about them
  3. If you declare it to be true it will normally become so

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Knowledge in a computerised society: Lyotard part 1

One of the things I've been doing is trying to get something resembling a grip (rather than a vague idea) of Lyotard and how that might work with my project. Naturally, since the project is also only emerging, the links are a little fliud. And in this heat, so is my brain. However, it is time for the bits of paper I've stuck up on the loungeroom wall to come down, so this is where they are going. I bold words so they stand out to me on the wall and wanky as it may sound, I find they start to sink in a little subliminally until I have one of those ah-ha moments (I think this is a learning-with-no-time strategy). I'll do it here too, not sure if they'll have the same effect. It can be an experiment.

Right. The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge. This is part 1, knowledge in a computerised society.

It [HE knowledge] can fit into the new channels, and become operational, only if learning is translated into quantities of information...knowledge that is not translatable in this way will be abandoned...

Along with the hegemony of computers comes a certain logic and therefore a certain set of prescriptions determining which statements are accepted as 'knowledge' statements.
(P. 4)

Basically, what we find acceptable as knowledge has changed because a computerised society tends to 'informationalise' - a little like chunking, but also impacts the way we expect to be able to retrieve information and use even non-digital tools etc. A change to what is allowed to be knowledge is obviously significant and worth tracing historically.

We may thus expect a thorough exteriorisation of knowledge with respect to the "knower" at whatever point he or she may occupy in the knowledge process.
So, in our knowledge-machine, the individual does not matter, but the role does. Sounds like HR.

The old priciple that the acquisition of knowledge is indissociable from...individuals, is becoming obsolete.
There is a reason for this...

The relationship of the suppliers and users of knowledge to the knowledge they supply and use is now assume the form already taken by the relationship of commodity producers and consumers to the commodities.
If knowledge is to be commodified in the type of mechanised structure imagined, it must be separable from the knower so that it can systematised (or informationalised, in this case).

Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold and it will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its "use-value".
(pp. 4-5)
This is just describing the process of commodification as Marx did, as it applies to knowledge. I always have to remind myself about use-value and to do this I keep a stupid image of a hammer in my head: a hammer costs, I dunno, $5 - its exchange value. But if you were a builder, through use that hammer would produce value that far exceeds what the damn thing costs. And (to put it a little clumsily) this is its "inherent" value (so if there was no money in the world at all, it would still be worth this). Commodification's key characteristic is to declare that this use-value has no value and that it is only "worth" what you could sell it for - since the system is based on exchange.

We know all this. But when it applies to knowledge, things change that perhaps we did not expect:
...knowledge has become the priciple force of production...

Knowledge in the form of an informational commodity indispensable to productive power is already, and will continue to be, a major - perhaps the major - stake in the worldwide competition for power.
This forms what has become known as the knowledge-economy, in which knowledge (rather than labour) underpins productivity. Naturally, where knowledge is commodified, this changes the role of learning:
It is not hard to visualise learning circulating along the same lined as money...the pertinent distinction would no longer be between knowledge and ignorance, but rather, as is the case with money, between "payment knowledge" and "investment knowledge".
This then changes the role of higher education and the state:

The notion that learning falls within the purview of the State, as the brain or mind of society, will become more and more outdated with the increasing strength of the opposing principle, according to which society exists and progresses only if the messages circulating within it are rich in information and easy to decode.

So we have both a change to the structure of society, repositioning the state from the "brain" role it had previously and a change to the nature and role of knowledge, in which the exchange of knowledge, rather than the decisions of the state, drive progress. One might expect this to be both good and bad news to Higher Education: 'bad', in that funding would fall with the state's lack of involvement (yes...though maybe not everywhere) and 'good' in that Universities could, perhaps, have a central role given their role in knowledge production and dissemination. But the character, not just the role of knowledge has also changed, which may well be the key to Universities' lack of success in really doing well out of this set-up (if it is true).

And it could potentially be a problem for the legitimacy and relevance of the state:
...communicational "transparency", which goes hand in hand with the commercialisation of knowledge will begin to perceive the State as a factor of opacity and "noise".
Transparency has so many meanings I am not 100% sure of this one, but suspect it might just be a straightforward transparent communication as business talks about it (experts, please correct me) in which we can imagine a State that was actually interested in knowledge would actually get in the way of a knowledge free-market.

Overall, 30 years ago, Lyotard took the idea of commodified knowledge, knowledge capital and a knowledge economy and extrapolated it to give a picture of what it might look like and it socio-political implications. Might wait until a little further into the book, but it is plausible and aligns somewhat to experience.

Failure to invest in higher education is irresponsible economic management

Our government has been given strong, expert advice on the need for increased investment in research and education - and not from a bunch of whinging out-of-touch academics, as Julie Bishop would have us believe.

Here are some of the government's advisors: Mr Hutch Ranck Managing Director, DuPont (Australia) Limited; Dr John Bell Associate Director, The Allen Consulting Group; Dr Graeme Blackman Managing Director, Institute of Drug Technology; Ms Mara Bún former Director, CSIRO Business Development; Dr Megan Clark Vice-President Technology, BHP Billiton; Professor Peter Høj Chief Executive Officer, Australian Research Council; Mr Tony Pensebene Associate Director, Economics and Research, Australian Industry Group...and more.

What they had to say more than a year ago is quite terrifying. They had a really straightforward brief, really - just to talk to the government about the impacts on Australia of economic growth in India and China, which is "is focussing the attention of all major economic powers". Here is the graph the Prime Minister and education minister were shown:

(Source: PMSEIC Working Group on Asia presentation)

This situation, of course, provides Australia and everyone else with opportunities to benefit from participating in a new economy, which is driven largely by the sheer size of these emerging powers and markets. The opportunities for Australia depend on linkages internationally, formed through exports. Australia's exports, in turn, are dependent on good research and development and well-trained people who can implement the latest ideas in real workplaces. Research and education are the foundation of economic development.

Just in case politicians failed to understand this argument, they were given this image:
(Source: PMSEIC Working Group on Asia Report)

The problem is, as we know, Australia has fallen well below the OECD average for investment in research and higher education. This is a particularly large problem, because China and India are seriously investing in these areas - meaning they will soon be able to do very nicely without us, thank you very much...and in fact we will probably need them, given our own skill shortages.

On creating linkages (the second tier of that highly complex pyramid), the report said:
Australia is competing for attention against all other global players. Other OECD countries are making a much greater effort to develop science and technology-based links with China and India (see Appendix 4). Clearly we cannot compete on scale but we must significantly improveour investment in these relationships if we are to make an impact.
Just in case the Education minister was still thinking that these people asking for additional funding for universities were actually whinging academics in disguise, she and the PM were told that their good friemd George Bush is doing it: increasing investment in research and higher education to $136 Billion over 10 years. [As an aside, rumour has it that Mr Bush was convinced to do this due to racist inclinations - fear of China. It has been suggested that perhaps if we cultivated some racist sentiments against these neighbours of ours, perhaps we might see some real investment here.]

The message was pretty clear (remembering this was more than a year ago):
When the working group started, we focused on business opportunities and threats. But during our deliberations and interactions, we unanimously came back to the same premise – without a strong education foundation no strategy is sustainable.
And so were the consequences:
The prognosis is alarming...not only do we not have the capacity to improve our position as a knowledge economy, our ability to sustain our current position is doubtful.
One would think that our economically responsible Prime Minister would be concerned about this, correct? Well, according to rumour, he was, and asked the education minister to look into this and report back. Apparently she reported back, simply stating what the government is currently spending on research and higher education. [She has since consistently publicly declared that Universities are extremely well-funded, even describing the research-based opinions of leading researchers in Higher Education as 'out of touch', making it a little worrying about the basis on which she makes decisions - see]

So, all these people work together to make a report that says Australia is in big, big trouble economically unless we invest in research and education.

The government fails to act. And yet claim to be economically responsible.

What (almost) seems worse, is Kevin's "this irresponsible spending has to stop" line means that it looks like under a change of government things won't get much better. Though I would prefer to be disappointed in a politician who at least says higher education is important. Of course he can't say that "this irresponsible lack of spending has to stop", but it would be more accurate.

Shouldn't politicians be held accountable for this? The government has been given clear and credible advice that to be economically responsible means investing in research and education. They haven't ... and it appears they wont.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Who gets to play the glass bead game?

My current reading-for-fun is Herman Hesse's Glass Bead Game. I've not read any Hesse before and I am certainly not a scholar in any of the areas it considers (**uninformed opinion warning**).

I am only around one third of the way through and am disturbed by something, which I'll get to in a sec.

I am enjoying the book, particularly the descriptions of the complexities and obsessive-compulsive characteristics of intellectual pursuits, the exploration of the monastic "calling" of academia, the role of the ivory tower in society and of course the dialectic of pure intellectual exploration and participation in and contribution to society. The glass bead game itself is nicely positioned as a kind of impossible metanarrative and a playful interdisciplinarity.

There's plenty in here and the tendency to somewhat ponderous or self-indulgent writing is justifiable when it works as well with the subject matter as this one does.

So, overall, I have no problem with the elitism of Castalia or its monastic qualities, because these allow the author to explore these characteristics of academia and its institutions in a more-serious Jonathan Swift kind of way. I like it.

Moreoever, the narrator, like the main character Joseph Knecht, betrays a weakness for the elitism and self-indulgence of a purely intellectual life - but also feels guilty and uncertain about it. It is utopian but carries with it all the dangers of utopia. I think a lot of us can relate to this and to the complex and somewhat uncertain positioning and justification for the intellectual pursuits of the academic system (the value of which we may be guilty of oversimplifying due to the similarly oversimplified attacks it is constantly bombarded with).

But the monastic qualities of Castalia does not, in my mind, justify the complete absence of women in at least the first third of the novel (will update this opinion if they sudden appear in the last two thirds). This might seem a little on-the-side, but I do find it quite disturbing and not a little insulting, to be honest.

For Castalia is a utopia - but the consequences of its elitism are questioned and explored. But what of the consequences of its gendered structure?

Here is the only real mention of women thus far:
The danger of wasting himself on women
or on losing himself in sports
similar, aren't they - women and sport? In their impact on intellectual life.
is also minimal. As far as women are concerned, the Castalian student is not subject to the temptations and dangers of marriage, not is he oppressed by the prudery of a good many past eras...which made them

We are of course only concerned with them...

turn to more or less venal and sluttish women.

Uh oh....
Since there is no marriage for the Castalians, love is not governed by a morality directed towards marriage. ... It is customary in the Province for the daughters of the citizenry

I am of course a daughter of a citizen, not a citizen myself...

not to marry early, and in the years before marriage they look upon students and scholars as particularly desireable lovers.
What an enlightened system!
The young men, for their part...since they have no money, must make their repayment by giving more of themselves than others would. In Castalia the sweetheart of a student does not ask herself: will he marry me? She knows he will not.
And I hardly know where to start with that section!

I hate it when I suspect I might be a little over-sensitive to these things, but an intellectual utopia in which this is the only mention of women does taint the novel slightly.