Sunday, 31 January 2010

Four Provocations

I have 4 possibly provocative propositions regarding university quality.

1. You don't get quality by measuring it.

2. Academic freedom is foundational to quality of knowledge, research, teaching. Accountability is important too, but must be structured to NEVER interfere with academics' and institutions' ability to choose what they research and teach.

3. Benchmarking achieves nothing when everything is crap.

4. Constructive alignment can cause a decline in disciplinary standards if your students are not good enough.

There will probably be more.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

There are no more ideologies...only advertisements for the world.

"The isolation of the mind from human production heightens its esteem but also makes it a scapegoat in the general consciousness for that which is perpetrated in practice." p.24

"Whenever cultural criticism complains of 'materialism' it furthers the belief that the sin lies in man's desire for consumer goods, and not in the organisation of the whole which withholds those goods from man: for the cultural critic, the sin is satiety, not hunger." 24-25

"Cultural criticism is, however, only able to reproach culture so penetratingly for prostituting itself, for violating in its decline the pure autonomy of the mind, because culture originates in the radical separation of mental and physical work." 26

"The objectivity of truth, without which the dialectic is inconceivable, is tacitly replaced by vulgar positivism and pragmatism - ultimately, that is, by bourgeois subjectivism. During the bourgeois era, the prevailing theory was the ideology and the opposing praxis was in direct contradiction. Today, theory hardly exists and the ideology drones, as it were, from the gears of an irresistible praxis. No notion dares to be conceived any more which does not cheerfully include, in all camps, explicit instructions as to who its beneficiaries are - exactly what the polemics once sought to expose." 29

"There are no more ideologies...only advertisements for the world. ... Hence the question of the causal dependence of culture, a question which seems to embody the voice of that on which culture is thought only to depend, takes on a backwoods ring.

The materialistic transparency of culture has not made it more honest, only more vulgar. ... To call it to account before a responsibility which it denies is only to confirm cultural pomposity.

Even the most extreme consciousness of doom threatens to degenerate into idle chatter. Cultural criticism finds itself faced with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today." 34

Adorno, Cultural Criticism and Society, in Prisms

Cheerful fellow, isn't he?

Ideas on display: more Adorno

"Yet this very sovereignty, the claim to a more profound knowledge of the object, the separation of the idea from its object through the independence of the critical judgment threatens to succumb to the thinglike form of the object when cultural criticism appeals to a collection of ideas on display, as it were, and fetishizes isolated categories such as mind, life and the individual".

Adorno, Cultural Criticism and Society, in Prisms, pp. 23

Monday, 18 January 2010

Intellectuals and cultural criticism: Adorno

"Professional critics were first of all 'reporters': they oriented people in the market of intellectual products...

While they adroitly slipped into gaps and won influence with the expansion of the press, they attained that very authority which their profession already presupposed. Their arrogance derives from the fact that, in the forms of competitive society in which all being is merely there for something else, the critic himself is also measured only in terms of his marketable success...

Knowledge and understanding were not primary, but at most by-products ... when the critics ... permit themselves to be degraded to propagandists or censors it is the old dishonesty of trade fulfilling itself in their fate. The prerogatives of information and position permit them to express their opinion as if it were objectivity. But it is solely the objectivity of the ruling mind. They help to weave the veil.

The notion of the free expression of opinion, indeed, that of intellectual freedom itself in bourgeois society, upon which cultural criticism is founded, has its own dialectic. For while the mind extricated itself from a theological-feudal tutelage, it has fallen increasingly under the anonymous sway of the status quo. ... Not only does the mind mould itself for the sake of its marketability, and thus reproduce the socially prevalent categories. Rather, it grows to resemble ever more closely the status quo even where it subjectively refrains from making a commodity of itself"

Adorno, Cultural Criticism and Society, in Prisms, pp. 20-21

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Models of thesis structure

Just before Christmas I started playing with a variety of thesis structures. This started out as a really fun task - what story do I want to tell? I asked myself. Is this a glimmer-of-hope-in-the-darkness type story? Or a rise and fall of the empire one? Or is it a morality tale, the consequences of corruption? I played with them all. I could not really see a tale of triumph in adversity in the commodification of university knowledge and decided it would be perverse to try such a structure.

It turned out to be trickier than I thought. All that pinning down arguments, remembering what on earth my thesis was supposed to be about, realising I know absolutely nothing and never will and that I have nothing to say worth saying was exhausting.

However, I think that I have something that resembles an argument now and I definitely have four models of potential thesis structures to be whittled down, discarded, amended and, before too long I hope, written!

Model A is a three part story that focuses on the purposes of university knowledge: Knowledge for the Nation, Knowledge for the Economy and Knowledge "for its own sake". It shows that "for its own sake" is shorthand for a multiplicity of important things, none of which can be achieved without academic freedom. The argument continues but is pretty much the same for each model so I'll elaborate as I go.

Model B focuses on types of knowers and knowledge owners across the period, looking at The Romantic Hero, The Innovator, The Revolutionary, The Consumer, The Reformer and The Landowner. It shows that  between 1939 and 1996, the focus on the nation and economy meant that authority over knowledge - those deemed competent say say what knowledge is - shifted from academic to the market, removing academic freedom and replacing it with a free market (so do the other models, just in different structures of course).

Model C is based on what I believe to be my argument. It shows that the tradition of mastery had imagined knowledge to be a separate substance, created through expert dialectic and needing protection by acknowledged masters. The student protest movements and the pedagogies that emerged from them unified knowledge with its knower, who could deploy knowledge produced from a variety of locations in moral and political ways, all of which would be from their own unique learning path. This made mastery - and academic freedom - unnecessary, accidentally transferring freedom through student choice to the authority of the market.

Model D is chronological, and (like the others) sees the Dawkins reforms and the other changes contemporary to it as a type of protestant reformation, undermining the authority of the corrupt priesthood in favour of client-based authority through student consumers, industry and a key consumer of university knowledge: the government. Government policies that compelled universities to produce particular types of intellectual property policy and universities' own commercialisation goals led, in intellectual property, to a de-coupling of knowledge and knowers in order to commodify knowledge.

All is not lost, however. For universities could commodify and refigure their business as a vast trade in knowledge, but their Acts - and indeed their oft-overlooked purposes - still ask for knowledge that supports civil, ethical, safe, healthy, prosperous democratic societies (public good) - and still require academic freedom. There is good reason to argue that academic, not market, freedom offers the best chances for quality knowledge and is much better positioned to meet the purpose of the university than the market is likely to. At this point the hope is still a glimmer - but it is there nonetheless.

Feel free to email me with your preferred model - or if you think I've made a mistake here somewhere....

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Distance education in an era of eLearning

It is very exciting to finally see this paper published! Distance Education in an era of eLearning by me, Jenny Pizzica, Ruth Laxton and Mary-Jane Mahony, published HERD 29(1), 2010.

Also, it is kind of fabulous, on 6 January, to have a 2010 publication! Happy new year to all.