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Presentation on theme: "SCHOOL OF EDUCATION KNOWLEDGE? LOOK AGAIN! ASYMMETRY, DEMOCRACY AND HIGHER EDUCATION Gert Biesta University of Stirling SRHE 25-26 June 2012."— Presentation transcript:


2 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION KNOWLEDGE? LOOK AGAIN! ASYMMETRY, DEMOCRACY AND HIGHER EDUCATION Gert Biesta University of Stirling I deny that I am a knowledge-denialist SRHE June 2012

3 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION It is 6.45 and the alarm clock on my mobile phone goes off. As I made it quite late last night, having to put the finishing touches on an end of award report for a recently finished research project, I take a couple of minutes to wake up. I have a quick look at the s on my phone to see what has come in during the night. There's an from the president of the society in the USA of which I was president last year, asking whether we should switch our bank account to a new provider. There's a Google scholar alert indicating that four new publications have come out citing my work. I feel grateful, though the reference in a journal on dentistry makes me smile. There's an from my doctoral student R, who I am meeting this afternoon, apologising profusely for sending me her draft chapter so close to the wire. Two s from the manuscript submission system of the journal I edit. I have a quick look at the titles and some names of possible reviewers already come to mind, so that shouldn't be too difficult. There's an from my colleague P who has been reading transcripts from the interviews our research assistant conducted. He has found some interesting quotes that could support the ideas we are developing and asks whether I can have a look.

4 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION 7.45: I stop for a coffee on my way to work. I look at the our finance person sent yesterday with a draft budget for a new research bid. It turns out to be difficult to get it below the £200,000 limit, so she asks me whether I want to reduce the length of the project or cut the research fellow post from full-time to.8. A difficult one, but I decide to go for the.8. I read through the papers for the meeting of the University's Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee that will start at Interesting that some departments are managing to get quite a large number of grants, although it's rather small sums. Makes me wonder how viable that is, but it looks good on their record. I hope the meeting will finish on time so that I can read R's chapter before we meet. Oh, and I shouldn't forget to come up with a title and an abstract for this thing in Oxford. Hope I will find some inspiration!

5 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION INTRODUCTION: ALL ABOUT KNOWLEDGE? pertinent questions about knowledge and higher education new questions? yes familiar question? also yes a focus on knowledge on the assumption that what is distinctive about higher education (or the university, science, research, the academy) is that it is engaged in (1)the production or discovery of knowledge (through research and scholarship) (2) in its dissemination (through teaching and publication), and (3) its application (through technology) so that to understand what is going on in higher education we need to focus on knowledge and the disciplines and use the tools of epistemology which has been going on for a very long time, with the ambition to show that scientific knowledge is a special kind of knowledge

6 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION Is higher education all about knowledge? Is my work as a real professor in a real university all about knowledge? about the disinterested pursuit of truth or is it perhaps more about money, networks and text? OBJECTION 1 an idiosyncratic case from the margins of the academy Latour & Woolgar (1979; 1986) Laboratory life: The (social) construction of scientific facts Salk Institute – Nobel Prize winner Roger Guillemin texts, networks and capital Is this the more accurate story of what is going on?

7 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION OBJECTION 2 Historical, sociological, anthropological, psychological and economic stories about science and its development are mighty interesting but they have no relevance for the question whether the knowledge that is generated is true or not. This question can only be settled by the proper application of scientific procedures and methods, such as experimentation, observation and testing.

8 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION Hans Reichenbach context of discovery (the stories & anecdotes) context of justification (justification of knowledge) [1] verificationism (logical positivism) [2] falsificationism Karl Popper Logik der Forschung (1934) Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959) however: alsification is ultimately a social process depending on the judgement of the experts because facts dont speak for themselves 1962

9 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION the sociology of science the sociology of scientific knowledge David Bloor (1976) Knowledge and Social Imagery from epistemology to sociology? OBJECTION 3 We should not make sociology into the mother of all disciplines and the arbiter of all knowledge. We cannot make sociology into this. Bruno Latour: Science in Action (1979) What counts as nature is the outcome of the settlement of a controversy What counts as society is the outcome of the settlement of a controversy Therefore we can neither use nature nor society to explain how and why a controversy becomes settled

10 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION therefore overcoming the cognitive bias in understanding higher education is not a matter of switching from epistemology to sociology but requires that we ask a different question How has science managed to become something special? And what is special about it? (If it is not the knowledge, nor a matter of sociology) a case: the evolution of academic publishing not in terms of knowledge but in terms of democracy from Who controls our knowledge? to how academic publishing is itself implied in the construction and maintenance of very particular asymmetries

11 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION ACADEMIC PUBLISHING AND THE SORCERERS APPRENTICE SYMDROME 2004 $65bn & 250,000 employees in academic publishing scholarly journals 2008: 61,620 Springer S+BM created in 2003 for 1.6bn, sold in 2009 to EQT for 2.3bn impact of Thompson Reuters on academic publishing (see, e.g., the Netherlands or Belgium) what started out as an infrastructure for supporting academic activity is increasingly imposing its own system logic on this work, thus creating perverse incentives that run the risk of distorting the very point of academic work

12 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION SETTING ACADEMIC PUBLISHING FREE? e.g., open access However: freeing academic publishing from the control of commercial publishers does not move it into an interest-free zone. we should not assume that we can simply detach academic publishing from its wider political economy Before trying to say who should control our knowledge, we should ask: (1)whether academic activity is indeed best understood in terms of knowledge (2)whether academics can legitimately claim to be in the possession of knowledge

13 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION THE EPISTEMIC FALLACY (the idea that what is special about science has to do with the quality of the knowledge it produces) step 1 There is a difference between what scientists/researchers say they do, and what they actually do. They tell the story of knowledge (of disinterested pursuit of truth), but they produce text, technology, practice, networks, etc. In this regard the story of knowledge is not very accurate. step 2 This is not to suggest that science doesnt produce technology that works or statements that make sense, but such technology works under very specific conditions and the statements make sense in very specific situations. it is entirely local

14 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION The astonishing fact (Latour) about modern science lies in its ability to build networks (of things and people) so that local technologies and statements become (near) universal and (near) inevitable. Not the dissemination of science and technology into society, but the incorporation of society into the networks of science. (The Pasteurisation of France) this leads to a distinction between regular/normal and alternative (regular and alternative medicine; mainstream and alternative schooling) the production of asymmetries academic publishing, both in its closed and open mode, is part of the process through which asymmetries are constructed (and so is open science) what we call knowledge and what we call reality is also part of this process; hence the limits of understanding what is going on here in terms of knowledge and through the tools of epistemology

15 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION asymmetries are not necessarily bad, but nor are they necessarily good but when they are presented in epistemological terms, for example as scientific truths, then it becomes increasingly more difficult to challenge them (more generally: the bigger and more pervasive a network becomes, the more difficult and expensive it becomes to develop an alternative network) enter John Dewey ( )

16 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION DEWEY AND THE CRISIS IN RATIONALITY Does Dewey worship the natural sciences? Max Horkheimer: The Eclipse of Reason (1947) It is a mistake to think that science is the only valid kind of knowledge. It is a mistake to think that knowledge is the only valid way to get in touch with reality, that knowledge is the measure of the reality of all other modes of experience. the main problem the identification of what is known with what is real = the most fundamental mistake of modern philosophy; the cause of a crisis in modern culture

17 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION a crisis in rationality If only that which is revealed through modern (experimental) science is considered to be real, then everything else becomes entirely subjective. two equally unattractive options: the inhuman rationality of modern science the human irrationality of everyday life a crisis in rationality, because if science shows us the world as it really is, then we have to surrender ourselves to this The idea that knowledge is about reality as it really is, is inherited from the Greeks and their idea that real knowledge is knowledge of what is fixed and immutable. a Kodak theory of knowledge the spectator theory of knowledge

18 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION with the rise of modern experimental science there were two options interpret the outcomes of science with the Greek view of knowledge (the spectator theory) or update our understanding of knowledge Deweys transactional theory of knowing knowledge is about the relationships between actions and consequences; it does not generate certainty, but highlights possibilities there is therefore no epistemological justification for the hegemony of modern (experimental) science (that is for the particular asymmetry that modern science has managed to construct) it generates local possibilities (warranted assertions, technologies, practice)

19 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION CONCLUSIONS: KNOWLEDGE/DEMOCRACY the case of academic publishing shows that (1)academic publishing is itself implied in the production of particular asymmetries so that (2) making such publishing open, does not address the deeper question whether such asymmetries are justified/justifiable or not (3) to assume that the knowledge of modern science is a special kind of knowledge, i.e., knowledge that gives us access to reality as it really is, is another way to construct particular asymmetries (which, following Dewey, result in a crisis in rationality in modern societies) (4) if we adjust our conception of knowledge to the idea of experimentation, then knowledge has to do with the relationships between actions and consequences from certainty to possibility this leads to a bigger question for us academics

20 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION How, in what ways, and to what extent are we involved in the creation and maintenance of asymmetries that reduce possibilities for thinking and doing otherwise? How, in what ways, and to what extent are we involved in and motivated by attempts to pluralise thinking and doing, to overcome (unwarranted) asymmetries) so as to contribute to the democratisation of knowledge. the challenge of knowledge/democracy a need to tell different stories to our students about what it means to be an academic or a researcher than the story of knowledge the story of justice, equality, democracy? and a need to tell different stories to ourselves than the story of knowledge

21 SCHOOL OF EDUCATION THANK YOU Biesta, G.J.J. (in press/2012). Knowledge/Democracy. Notes on the political economy of academic publishing. International Journal of Leadership in Education Biesta, G.J.J. (2011). How useful should the university be? On the rise of the global university and the crisis in higher education. Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences 20(1), Biesta, G.J.J., Kwiek, N., Locke, G., Martins, H., Masschelein, J., Simons, M. & Zgaga, P. (2009). What is the public role of the university? A proposal for a public research agenda. European Educational Research Journal 8(2): Biesta, G.J.J. (2009). What kind of citizenship for European Higher Education? Beyond the competent active citizen. European Educational Research Journal 8(2): Biesta, G.J.J. (2007). Towards the knowledge democracy? Knowledge production and the civic role of the university. Studies in Philosophy of Education 26(5),


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