Thursday, 10 January 2008

Legitimising games

I still have 11 pieces of paper with Lyotard quotes cluttering the living room wall, so I'll move on to the next one. I am simply trying to store them somewhere safe, by doing this, so it really should be quicker than it currently is.

In my last Lyotard post I posted quotes describing universities' function in legitimising knowledge, deciding what is knowledge, beautifully described in Hesse's Glass Bead Game as: 

"we are the bureau of standards for cultural weights and measures".

In Chapter 3 of a Report on Knowledge, Lyotard describes the method of legitimation as language games.

"...three observations about language games ... (1) their rules do not carry within themselves their own legitimation, but are the object of a contract...between players (which is not to say that the players invent the rules. (2) ...if there are no rules there is no game (3) ... every utterance should be thought of as a move in a game." P.10

Some of my thinking in reading this book has been around explaining why Higher Education seems to be losing its value significance in society, particularly in a 'knowledge economy' when everything suggests that it 'should' be HE's moment of glory. I have wondered if perhaps the character of knowledge in society has changed and that Higher Education's knowledge - for better and worse - has not. End digression.

This legitimising game, performed by academics, in Lyotard's sense, might correspond (perhaps a little clumsily) with the metanarrative of Hesse's Glass Bead Game. This game conceives of knowledge as one large body that can be linked - the game (not fully described) seems to use the game's rules to draw links between knowledge of different types, so they become a part of one body.

When main character Joseph Knecht writes his letter to the Board of Castalia and as he rejects Castalian life for life 'in the world', his concern seems largely to be about a distinction between 'pure' academia and instrumental knowledge. This division, and the monastic cloister of academia is described as a result of academic independence. Independence = academic freedom from political interference - in the novel independence contrasts to an earlier period called the 'Age of Feuilleton' in which there was "truly no pleasure and no honour in being a scholar or a writer", since academics were politicians' puppets, or they starved (p. 334). While academic freedom was valuable in contrast to this, Knecht's argument is that academic independence has led to academic irrelevance.

These are familiar arguments, I think, in this period of educational instrumentalism and industry-funded research. Knecht says that Castalia is therefore a luxury for society and, when under pressure, society will stop funding it (also sounds familiar). 

What has this to do with the legitimation of knowledge? Returning to Lyotard, this time Ch 8:

"It is recognised that the conditions of truth are immanent in that game...there is no other proof that the rules are good than the consensus extended to them by the experts" pp.28-29

Knowledge and power, of course, in what is not much more than a game. Meaning society hands this power to academics who are independent of the system and who are a luxury.

In chapter 9 we find that the character of the University itself is remarkably similar to the character of the Glass Bead Game:

"Schools are functional; the University is speculative... must restore unity to learning... in a language game that links the sciences together as moments in the becoming of spirit, in...metanarration" (Lyotard p.33)

"In this perspective, knowledge first finds legitimacy within itself, and it is knowledge that is entitled to say what the State and what Society is. But it can only play this role by ... becoming ... the knowledge of the knowledge of the referent - that is, by becoming speculative."

Higher education is standing on shakier and shakier ground here, but we also see many of the qualities of academic knowledge that we hold to be precious: independent and speculative are probably two key things that we would say make university-based knowledge what it is.

Lyotard described the way all this is changing.... but that is for the next post. (Down to 8 pieces of paper now...)

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