The University in the Knowledge Society

Delanty, Gerard (2001) The University in the Knowledge Society. Organization, 8 (2). pp. 149-153. ISSN 1350-5084

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The university has become the subject of much critical debate in the social sciences in recent years. While earlier interpretations, such as those of Weber (see Shils, 1973), Parsons (Parsons and Platt, 1973), Bourdieu (1988, 1996), emphasized the autonomy of the university within the context of a social theory of modernity, the recent appraisals are more critical and call into question the very coherence of the project of modernity in the postmodern and global age. Four debates can be identified.

1. The entrenched liberal critique, which can be called a cultural critique since it is primarily concerned with the university as a medium of cultural reproduction. The liberal idea of the university—associated with the positions of Allan Bloom (1987), who bemoans the attack on the traditional curriculum in the name of diversity, and Russell Jacoby (1987), who regrets the decline of the public intellectual who has disappeared from the university—on the whole looks backwards to the golden age of an earlier university. Despite the different positions within this broad stance that derives from the neo-humanist tradition, the tendency is to see the university in crisis because of the decline of the autonomy of culture, be it the culture of critique or, in its more conservative version, the traditional culture of the canon.
2. The postmodern thesis, associated with Lyotard (1984) and recently restated by Bill Readings (1996), announces the end of the university along with the end of the nation-state. It is claimed that knowledge has lost its emancipatory role and the very notion of universality, or even the very idea of a curriculum, is now impossible, given the fragmentation of knowledge, as in, for instance, the separation of teaching and research.
3. The reflexivity thesis, which is best associated with claims that there is a new mode of knowledge based on a more reflexive relationship between user and producer, offers a less dramatic theory but one nevertheless that announces the obsolescence of the university (Gibbons et al., 1984). As a Mode 2 paradigm around applied knowledge emerges, the university, which is caught up in the more hierarchical and disciplinary-based Mode 1 knowledge production, becomes, it is claimed, increasingly irrelevant to the postfordist economy.
4. The globalization thesis draws attention to the instrumentalization of the university as it embraces market values and information technology. According to various authors, the university is far from irrelevant to capitalism, as the previous thesis would claim, but is in fact fully integrated into it and, as a new manageralism takes over the university, there is a resulting loss of academic freedom (Curie and Newson, 1998; Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, 1997; Slaughter and Leslie, 1997). This thesis suggests that the university has become a major player in the global market and in information-based capitalism.

What are we to make of these announcements of crisis and even of the decline of the university? I believe a more nuanced interpretation is possible.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Sociology
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 30 May 2012 11:37
Last Modified: 30 May 2012 11:37
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