This introduction to Conflict in the Academy, by Marcus Morgan and Patrick Baert, nicely captures something I’ve been preoccupied by recently. From loc 63:
we would like to suggest that tired clichés of ‘ivory towers’ and ‘dreaming spires’, or even more self-complementary myths of universities as platonic institutions directed towards disinterested enlightenment lead to an unhelpful black-boxing of these zones of social life from attentive sociological enquiry, usually on the odd assumption that the ‘real world’ is somehow always going on elsewhere. This book intends to contribute toward a growing literature that refuses to content itself with such popular accounts of academia as a withdrawn and therefore somehow asocial zone, and which instead takes the reflexive academic analysis of the social processes of academic life seriously
What comparable myths are there? I’m interested in how these notions of academic exceptionalism inculcate a blindness about the character of academic labour.
It’s an argument that needs to be made carefully, but I suspect entrenched stereotypes prop up this exceptionalism. From loc 933:
a fusty character, whose eccentricities depend upon the removal from practical necessity that his (the classical stereotype remains almost invariably the unmarried male) cloistered archaic existence affords him, and who treats any prospect of ‘progressive development’ in the running of university or college affairs with the utmost suspicion. Again, whether or not it bears any resemblance to reality, the popular cynical image of the Oxbridge don (much of which seems to have arisen from a period prior to the reforms of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Roach, 1959: 235–6) is of an individual comfortable in his sinecure, perhaps more interested in the quality of the college claret than in the quality of their own research, let alone the quality of an undergraduate’s education (e.g. Rose & Ziman, 1964).