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  • Mark 7:57 pm on November 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: digital university, ,   

    The end of the opaque classroom 

    From The Idea of the Digital University by Frank Bryce McCluskey and Melanie Lynn Winter pg 6-7:

    What makes the online course so different? When the semester is finished, there is a record of every interaction, every question and every event that occurred in the digital course. There was no such record with the traditional classroom. For hundreds of years, a single professor would close the door; class would begin; and there was no oversight, record or map of what had happened. We did not have the tools to determine if a class was well taught. Many teachers never entered the classrooms where their colleagues taught. Professors taught in isolation. Comparisons between each other did not occur or if they did, it was a subjective interpretation. While there were occasional efforts at team-teaching and collaboration, teaching was an individual matter that was not recorded.

     
  • Mark 9:17 am on November 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , digital university, , ,   

    Against university marketing 

    There’s a gently scathing inditement of university marketing in today’s WonkHE newsletter. I’ve been interested in university marketing for years, without ever having written properly on the topic. I find it fascinating to see how universities choose to position themselves to (imagined) publics, as well as what this positioning says about them and the context within which they work. As WonkHE observes, what’s striking about advertising (in the UK) is how familiar it all seems, making reference to their place within an imaginary league table without any evidence that students or employers care about this:

    Sector PR teams need to wean themselves off league tables and find more transparent ways to highlight their individual qualities. That’s the primary message falling out of six Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rulings concerning different – yet somehow depressingly similar – advertisements from six universities.

    In each case the institution in question had sought to position itself towards the top of a largely imaginary league table. The use of sector jargon (what is a “modern university”? or an “arts university”?) and unqualified claims (who said you were “university of the year”? why?) serves, in the eyes of the regulator, only to confuse people further.

    Being slapped down for these practices isn’t just a bad look for the sector –- it’s bad marketing practice. There’s little evidence that students or employers care that you are in the top 5% of modern universities in the Greater Stroud Valley region, so why make the claims in the first place? It seems a risk not worth taking.

    We need a turn-around in university marketing practice because the current trajectory could lead us to some pretty appalling places. On pg 20 of her Lower Ed, Tressie McMillan Cottom observes how marketing related spending outstrips tuition at some for-profit colleges in the United States:

    If budgets are moral documents, the fact that some financialized for-profit colleges reportedly spent 22.4 percent of all revenue on marketing, advertising, recruiting, and admissions staffing compared with 17.7 percent of all revenue, on instruction speaks to the morals of financialization.

    I assume we’re a long way from this in the UK, though there is no comparative data available to the best of my knowledge. But the reasons for growth are structural, as Andrew McGettigan makes clear in The Great University Gamble:

    There are obvious inefficiencies in this competition as increasing resources have to be devoted to marketing and recruitment … The cost of financing higher education through the botched loan scheme means that the Treasury has insisted on an overall cap on student numbers. This creates a zero sum game where the sector is unable to expand overall and individual institutions are fighting for market share.

    The ‘depressing similarity’ of university advertising suggests this process is expanding in a similar way within otherwise different universities. Some of this activity reaches into areas where I can claim some expertise, such as the growth of viral videos which often create a backlash for the institution. But it strikes me the overarching process is one which is ripe for analysis, providing a productive lens through which we can investigate transformations underway within the university. For this reason, I find it hard not to welcome the ASA judgement, as well as to hope it leads to a different direction of travel in university marketing.

    I’d like to keep an Instagram of university advertising in the UK: https://www.instagram.com/theacceleratedacademy/

    Please get in touch if you have any pictures you’d like to contribute!

     
  • Mark 3:10 pm on March 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , digital university, , , , , uberfication of the university   

    The Uberfication of the University: the Digital Studienbuch and the 21st Century Privatdozent 

    In my copy of The Vocation Lectures, edited by David Owen and Tracy B. Strong, the editors helpfully annotate Weber’s description of the occupational realities of the German academic. From pg 2:

    German students used to have a Studienbuch, a notebook in which they registered the coruses they were taking in their field. They then had to pay a fixed fee for each course. For staff on a full salary – that is, professors – these tuition fees were a welcome extra. For the unsalaried Privatdozent, these fees were the sole source of income. Science as a Vocation, pg 2. 

    Is this where the Uberfication of the University could lead? I find it easy to imagine a Digital Studienbuch, the killer app of educational disrupters, dispersed throughout the university system. Universities would still exist to manage the ‘student experience’, control the academics and provide infrastructure. Perhaps there would still be paid professors to replenish the knowledge system and train the Privatdozent. But the university wouldn’t be the platform, instead it would be a whole series of arenas (with declining influence as the system became embedded), facilitating extraction from a relationship between teacher and taught on the part of a distant technology company.

    Weber’s description of the academic career in Germany, “generally based on plutocratic premises”, seems eerily familiar from a contemporary vantage point:

    For it is extremely risky for a young scholar without private means to expose himself to the conditions of an academic career. He must be able to survive at least for a number of years without knowing whether he has any prospects of obtaining ta position that will enable him to support himself.  Science as a Vocation, pg 2. 

     
    • Martha Bell 5:42 pm on March 19, 2017 Permalink

      Yes, absolutely this is where the University is going. The 2-decades long campaign to become ‘research-led’ is clearly meant to compel academics to discipline each other. Human Resources departments exist to bureaucratise the process, not direct it in any way. There is no reason to engage with ‘the community,’ because such relationships do not facilitate powerful positioning within the academy.

    • Mark 11:47 am on March 26, 2017 Permalink

      And might even hurt it, perhaps

  • Mark 8:13 am on March 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , digital university, marketing and communications,   

    Marketing the Digital University 

    In the excellent Lower Ed, Tressie McMillan Cottom reflects on the market-orientation of for-profit colleges, tending to seek a continual growth in student numbers. This growth imperative can manifest itself in marketing and recruitment outstripping teaching in institutional spending. From pg 20:

    If budgets are moral documents, the fact that some financialized for-profit colleges reportedly spent 22.4 percent of all revenue on marketing, advertising, recruiting, and admissions staffing compared with 17.7 percent of all revenue, on instruction speaks to the morals of financialization

    Since the previous Labour government kicked off the radical changes in higher education in the UK, I’ve been interested in the transformation of university marketing. The reforms created a pressure to differentiate but to what extent did that incentivise the growth of marketing and communications at the (potential) expense of investment elsewhere? I hadn’t thought about this issue for a while but it occurs to me that the extreme end of the US for-profit sector represents an exemplar of where the market logic now taking hold in the UK could lead, in so far as that linking financial performance to student numbers increases the structural importance of marketing and communication functions. How this logic plays out in practice depends on many organisational and sectoral factors which I’d like to understand better than I currently do.

    How do we characterise the broader change in the sector? Cynics would see it as a distraction from the core functions of the university, with increasing resources being directed to marketing exercises with a possibly uncertain payoff in terms of recruitment. What concerns me is the competitive escalation that can arise in a (relatively) undifferentiated sector where actors compete for scarce attention: how can universities be heard above the din? One way is to accelerate the investment in marketing and communications, expanding into new arenas and further investing in staffing and systems. This is something which those staff are liable applaud, a message that might have particular force when their function is on the ascendency within the university and they can speak with authority gleamed from work outside the sector.

    But others would argue that any uncertainty could be overcome by instilling a “marketing culture” in which “return on investment of each activity is carefully weighed up”. This is how Communications Management, ‘the education specialists’ report on findings of a project they were involved on:

    Key findings

    • Over two-thirds (69%) of UK marketing directors have seen an increased investment in marketing over the past three years
    • Branding is often still not understood within the higher education sector
    • Modern students are ‘demanding customers’ looking for a response 24/7, meaning that a shift in marketing techniques is crucial
    • Social media must be handled in the right way to avoid “pushy communications” and encroaching on student space
    • Increase in senior strategic marketing appointments in Higher Education Institutions

    However survey respondents – a third of the UK’s HE marketing directors – also stated that though budgets still rarely approach those in the private sector, they consider short term funding to be less important than moving to such a “marketing culture,” in which return on investment of each activity is carefully weighed up.

    http://www.communicationsmanagement.co.uk/blog/he-marketing-has-become-more-credible/

    There are many things to explore here. What particularly interests me is the role of professionalisation (within the sector) and external agencies (from outside the sector) in shaping the new common-sense concerning marketing in the digital university.

    I just stumbled across an interesting report, Trends in Higher Education Marketing, Recruitment, and Technology, focusing on the United States context and would welcome any suggestions of reading that focuses more on the UK.

     
  • Mark 9:27 am on March 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , digital university, , scholarly craft, , ,   

    The Technology of Intellectual Work 

    In 1988 Pierre Bourdieu chaired a commission reviewing the curriculum at the behest of the minister of national education. The scope of the review was broad, encompassing a revision of subjects taught in order to strengthen the coherence and unity of the curriculum as a whole. In order to inform this work, the commission early on formulated principles to guide their endeavour, each of which were then expanded into more substantive observations concerning their implications.

    One of these stood out to me as of great contemporary relevance for the social sciences in the digital university. Their principle considers those “ways of thinking or fundamental know-how that, assumed to be taught by everyone, end up not being taught by anyone”. In other words, what are the elements of educational practice which are integral to it and how can we assure their succesful transmission in training? These include “fundamental ways of thinking” such as “deduction, experiment, and the historical approach, as well as reflective and critical thinking which should always be combined with the foregoing” and “the specific character of the experimental way of thinking”, “a resolute valuation of qualitative reasoning”, a clear recognition of the provisional nature of explanatory models” and “ongoing training in the practical work of research”. It extends this discussion to the technologies used in practice:

    Finally, care must be taken to give major place to a whole series of techniques that, despite being tacitly required by all teaching, are rarely the object of methodical transmission: use of dictionaries and abbreviations, rhetoric of communication, establishment of files, creation of an index, use of records and data banks, preparation of a manuscript, documentary research, use of computerised instruments, interpretation of tables and graphs, etc.

    Political Interventions: Social Science and Political Action, pg 175

    This concern for the “technology of intellectual work” is one from which we could learn a lot, as well as the importance placed upon “rational working methods (such as how to choose between tasks imposed, or to distribute them in time)”. It maps nicely onto what C. Wright Mills described as intellectual craftsmanship. When we consider the technologies of scholarly production – things like notebooks, word processors, index cards, post it notes, print outs, diagrams and marginalia – our interest is in their use-in-intellectual-work. The technologies become something quite specific when bound up in intellectual activity:

    But how is this file – which so far must seem to you more like a curious sort of ‘literary’ journal – used in intellectual production? The maintenance of such a file *is* intellectual production. It is a continually growing store of facts and ideas, from the most vague to the most finished.

    The Sociological Imagination, pg 199-200

    If we recognise this, we overcome the distinction between theory and practice. The distinction between ‘rational working methods’, ‘technology of intellectual work’ and ‘fundamental ways of thinking’ is overcome in scholarly craft. The role of the technology is crucial here: if we suppress or forget the technological, transmission of these practices is abstracted from their application, leaving their practical unfolding to be something which has to be discovered individually and privately (“ways of thinking or fundamental know-how that, assumed to be taught by everyone, end up not being taught by anyone”). But places for discussion of craft in this substantive sense have been the exception rather than the rule within the academy.

    Perhaps social media is changing this. It is facilitating a recovery of technology, now finding itself as one of the first things social scientists discuss when they enter into dialogues through social networks and blogs. But it also facilitates what Pat Thompson has described as a feral doctoral pedagogy:

    Doctoral researchers can now access a range of websites such as LitReviewHQ, PhD2Published and The Three Month Thesis youtube channel. They can read blogs written by researchers and academic developers e.g. Thesis Whisperer, Doctoral Writing SIG, Explorations of Style, and of course this one. They can synchronously chat on social media about research via general hashtags #phdchat #phdforum and #acwri, or discipline specific hashtags such as #twitterstorians or #socphd. They can buy webinars, coaching and courses in almost all aspects of doctoral research. Doctoral researchers are also themselves increasingly blogging about their own experiences and some are also offering advice to others. Much of this socially mediated DIY activity is international, cross-disciplinary and all day/all night.

    https://patthomson.net/2014/06/16/are-we-heading-for-a-diy-phd/Doctoral researchers 

    There can be problematic aspects to this. But when it’s valuable, it’s at the level of precisely the unity of thinking, technology and activity which the commission advocated. Social media is helping us recover the technology of intellectual work and it’s an extremely positive development for the social sciences.

     
  • Mark 4:53 pm on January 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , digital university,   

    Pascalian Meditations on the Digital University 

    1. Does the situation of skholḗ still obtain in the accelerated academy? This is what Bourdieu described as “the free time, freed from the urgencies of the world, that allows a free and liberated relation to those urgencies and to the world” (p. 1). This condition was always unevenly distributed, its ubiquity apparent only relative to one’s own elite status within similarly elite institutions, allowing practicalities in here to pass unnoticed and those out there in other institutions to evade recognition. The organisational sociology of skholḗ seems implausible, suggesting the distance is between the institution and the outside world, rather than within the institution itself. There are many changes in the university which have undermined the experienced situation of skholḗ but the one which interests me most is automation. In so far as support staff have been replaced by digital technology, meeting the practical demands of professors now entails their own participation in what Craig Lambert calls ‘shadow work’ (i.e engaging with automated systems) rather than delegation to those within the institution whose role it is to handle practicalities. I’m still relatively new to Bourdieu’s work on universities but thus far, it’s hard to avoid the impression that he sees universities as exclusively populated by ‘professors’ and ‘students’ (see for example p. 41).
    2. If the scholarly vocation involves a form of learned ignorance, in which “base calculations of careerist ambition” are systematically excluded, scholarly blogs and tweets which address professional issues become a crucial site of struggle over shared identity. The lived frustrations of pluralistic ignorance, as well as the more mundane challenge of what to tweet/blog about and the fact this generates traffic, generates a tendency for academics to blog about their own practice. This reclamation of scholarly craft must proceed within strict boundaries, lest it be accused of advocating careerism. I was fascinated by someone who felt the need to comment on sociological imagination that they found some career advice I linked to ‘disgusting’ because it represented the ‘neoliberal subject’. The discursive tendencies of academics who have taken to social media represent a challenge to the disavowal of the practical which, argues Bourdieu, should be seen as partly constitutive of the scholarly field. But perhaps this represents a form of “making explicit what ordinarily remains implicit” (p. 37) which opens up the professional socialisation process to those excluded from it.
    3. Are we seeing the emergence of an organic reflexive sociology of the digital university? It seems to me that we are but we should add a crucial caveat about its organic character. It necessarily reproduces the illusio of its players, with even the most sophisticated accounts taking the stakes of the academic game as a given. This is why arguments about ‘careerism’ and the coverage of ‘ex-academics’ prove so richly divisive. This is when the stakes of the game are seen to be susceptible to challenge, even by those who are party to them, opening up contrasting possibilities that this is just a game that we are playing and furthermore it is a game that we can elect to leave. This mechanism produces systematic blindspots, leading what might otherwise be communally empowering reflections on shared conditions into meandering and myopic alleys which permit of little practical development. There are cultural forms which circulate successfully under these conditions which it is valuable to critique on this basis e.g. the slow professor. The politics of advice in academic social media are complex and little scrutinised.
    4. Social media can prove alluring for the scholar because of the “excessive confidence in the powers of language” which plague them (p. 2). It offers an imaginative recuperation of the “apartness from the world of production” that is experienced as “both a liberatory break and a disconnection, a potentially crippling separation” (p. 15). The combination of a vaguely defined audience on to which one can project and architecture of platforms which encourage contention provides a perfect forum in which those who “regard an academic commentary as a political act or the critique of texts as a feat of resistance, and experiencer revolutions in the order of words as radical revolutions in the order of things” can act out their political ambitions on a safe and inconsequential stage of their own making (p. 2).
    5. Until perhaps they confront those from adjacent fields, their movements similarly inflected through comparable processes of digitalisation. What happens when scholars meet journalists? What happens when they meet policy makers? What happens when they meet their own students? What happens when they meet ‘trolls’? How do these increasingly everyday encounters provide opportunities for the reproduction or transformation of their investment in the scholarly field? The sociology of such boundary encounters is much more complex than tends to be acknowledged. What seems clear to me is that accounts of social media as democratising the academy in relation to wider society fail to capture what is going on here.

     

     
    • Benjamin Geer 6:25 pm on January 24, 2017 Permalink

      “Does the situation of skholè still obtain in the accelerated academy?”

      This is a great question. Maybe an answer could go something like this, focusing on the distinction between scholastic thinking and practical sense: When I’m sitting at my desk, reading about bullfights (which I know only from books, having never seen one), I have considerable distance from the urgencies of the world of bullfights. Even if I only have ten minutes to read about bullfights while preparing a lecture I have to give in an hour, I’m still treating the bullfight as an object of scholastic contemplation. It’s not me fighting the bull. But if my colleague walks in and announces that he’s just published an article in that journal I’ve always wanted to publish in, and which has always rejected my submissions, and I’m overwhelmed with jealousy, I have no such distance. My reaction comes from my practical sense. The accelerated academy reduces the amount of time available for skholè, but that reduced time can still be time spent in a scholastic relation to the object of study. But how little time can we get away with? What happens to academics when they no longer have time to read?

    • Mark 9:36 pm on January 24, 2017 Permalink

      Thanks Ben, that responses makes a lot of sense to me in terms I’ve been writing about as cognitive triage. So we’re talking about objective conditions (a preponderance of time & a relative autonomy in its deployment) and subjective conditions (establishing a relation of attachment to the object of study), right? Your point is that an erosion of the former doesn’t necessarily preclude the latter. But is there a tipping point at which it starts to render it so peripheral that it largely becomes impossible?

    • Mark 9:40 pm on January 24, 2017 Permalink

      And does this preclude scholarship? Or are there other forms of engagement which can produce knowledge which are congruent with the temporalities of the accelerated academy?

      Take this brief exchange, which I’ve found illuminating, much as I found two hours of reading this afternoon illuminating. I’m not sure they can be compared or what the rubric for a comparison could even be. But they seem obviously distinct, even if I can’t specify the basis of the distinction.

      The question underlying this is whether social media by academics, in a context of institutional acceleration, necessarily erodes skholè. Or can social media also prove adaptive, offering faster & iterative forms of engagement which allow knowledge production without detachment. The ethos of the pirate sociologist perhaps: https://markcarrigan.net/2016/11/03/towards-a-pirate-sociology/

    • Benjamin Geer 11:07 pm on January 24, 2017 Permalink

      “So we’re talking about objective conditions (a preponderance of time & a relative autonomy in its deployment) and subjective conditions (establishing a relation of attachment to the object of study), right?”

      Yes! Your habitus is adapted to the kinds of thinking that go on in your field. They’ve become second nature for you. So you can turn on that kind of thinking any time, even for a few minutes, just as a skilled pianist can sit down any time, at any piano that happens to be handy, and play. But to acquire that habitus, you have to go through a long, gradual process of adaptation and integration into a field, which in academia means spending a lot of time reading about and thinking through ideas and problems that are considered important in your field. I think that in the humanities and social sciences, the main time when people get to do this is during their PhD. But if time for reading and thinking becomes very scarce after the PhD, what happens? Perhaps people’s academic habitus is durable enough to allow them to keep repeating the same patterns in teaching and writing, year after year. But original thinking, or serious engagement with other people’s original thinking, must become very hard to do.

      “Take this brief exchange, which I’ve found illuminating, much as I found two hours of reading this afternoon illuminating. I’m not sure they can be compared or what the rubric for a comparison could even be…. The question underlying this is whether social media by academics, in a context of institutional acceleration, necessarily erodes skholè. Or can social media also prove adaptive….”

      I’m guessing that it depends on the objective relation between the people involved. Today I got an email announcing the latest issue of a journal I’ve published in, and as usual I had absolutely no interest in any of the articles. Whereas when I saw the title of this blog post, I was immediately interested, and in the post you brought up a lot of things I care about. I’m guessing that these shared preoccupations reflect a homology between our positions in academic fields. Given that sort of objective relation, I think you can have a great interaction with someone, whether it’s in person, via email, or on social media. On the other hand, getting trolled, or just subjected to everyone’s relentless self-promotion, clearly isn’t going to do you any good. What I look for on social media is people who are exploring things I’m exploring, trying to go in directions that I want to go in. Then I think there really is value to an interaction that’s faster and less formal than academic publishing. In a format like this, we can compare possible ways of thinking about a problem, without having to wait three years for the peer-reviewed article or book.

      I feel like social media aren’t really designed to facilitate these kinds of connections. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out who to follow on Twitter, and Twitter’s suggestions of academics for me to follow usually aren’t much help. I could imagine a social media platform that does something like the analysis in Homo Academicus, where Bourdieu identifies a whole group of scholars like himself who, at a particular historical moment, had similar positions and career trajectories. But then I’d worry about it selling my data…

    • Mark 12:49 pm on January 25, 2017 Permalink

      “What I look for on social media is people who are exploring things I’m exploring, trying to go in directions that I want to go in. Then I think there really is value to an interaction that’s faster and less formal than academic publishing. In a format like this, we can compare possible ways of thinking about a problem, without having to wait three years for the peer-reviewed article or book.”

      I couldn’t agree more with this but it’s a theoretical question that interests me. Do you see this as a matter of habitus? Because for me this seems archetypally a matter of reflexivity…

    • Benjamin Geer 10:52 pm on January 25, 2017 Permalink

      “Do you see this as a matter of habitus? Because for me this seems archetypally a matter of reflexivity…”

      I think it’s both. In Homo Academicus, Bourdieu argues that in the 1960s, young academics whose professional aspirations were based on the old mode of academic recruitment were surprised and angry when it didn’t work for them. The shock of this hysteresis of habitus led them to question the previously taken-for-granted social structures of academia, and then those of society at large, and some of them then became leaders of the mass uprising of May 1968. I take this to mean that a person’s habitus and social trajectory can predispose them to become more reflexive.

      You and I both have unorthodox career trajectories. We occupy peripheral positions in the landscape of academic institutions, in sort of no-man’s-land between the worlds of research and of applied technology. Simultaneously insiders and outsiders, we have an intuitive feel for how academia works, but we lack the total investment (illusio) of those who occupy dominant positions. I think sort of position is ideal for developing reflexivity. Bourdieu studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, but as the son of a provincial postman, he felt like an outsider there. However successfully he adapted and gained access to the centres of academic power, his trajectory would never be the same as that of someone whose parents were normaliens. This experience of being different no doubt had a lasting effect on his habitus, helping him to gain the reflexivity needed for a study like The State Nobility.

    • Benjamin Geer 10:56 pm on January 25, 2017 Permalink

      *in sort of no-man’s-land

      *this sort of position

    • Mark 6:09 pm on January 29, 2017 Permalink

      I see what you’re saying but the impression I’ve got from reading the Pascalian Meditations thus far is that Bourdieu conceived of the university as consistently solely of students and professors. He may have had conditions which were epistemically conducive to understanding the rules of the academic game, but does that necessarily entail a comparable insight into universities as organisations? I’m not sure if I’m being unfair, but it’s the thought I keep coming back to & relates to what you’re saying about our respective positions as people who are not students, professors or researchers in the straight-forwardly post-doctoral sense.

    • Benjamin Geer 9:00 pm on January 29, 2017 Permalink

      “does that necessarily entail a comparable insight into universities as organisations?”

      I don’t think it does. Although I think Bourdieu’s initial trajectory has something in common with ours, his experience of universities was also very different, and not just because he ended up in a dominant position in his field. For one thing, I think French universities in the second half of the twentieth century enjoyed greater institutional autonomy, and were more firmly under the control of professors, than universities in most other parts of the world. Perhaps struggles between administration and professors weren’t as big a part of his experience as they are of ours. And France hadn’t (and still hasn’t) introduced precarious, low-wage academic employment on a large scale, as the US has, or subjected academics to anything like Britain’s REF.

      Bourdieu was definitely concerned with threats to the autonomy of academic fields, including ‘the more and more frequent recourse of university research to sponsorship, and of the creation of educational institutions directly subordinated to business’ (The Rules of Art, 344-45). He explored some of this in The State Nobility, but that book is mainly about individuals’ academic careers, and about the field of academic institutions, rather than about considering each institution as a field in itself. His response to these threats was to call for cultural producers to engage in a collective struggle for ‘power over the instruments of production and consecration’, and I think that’s more relevant than ever. In his day, that meant things like creating his own academic journal. Today I think we need to do much more, and I think projects that seek to transform the economics of academic publishing, like the Open Library of the Humanities, are part of that.

      I think it’s important not to limit Bourdieu’s theoretical tools to the ways in which he himself used them. It’s tempting to get frustrated with him for not being interested in some of the things we’re very interested in today. But it’s inevitable that his horizons were different from ours. We can ask a lot of questions about reflexivity and autonomy that he never asked, and that’s as it should be. It could be very interesting to try to find out what sorts of habitus and social trajectories are likely to give people insight into universities as organisations.

    • Benjamin Geer 9:30 pm on January 29, 2017 Permalink

      A further thought: in The State Nobility, the people who don’t succeed in their academic careers end up as schoolteachers. Bourdieu emphasises that the division between those who succeed and those who fail is often arbitrary, but he doesn’t envisage any academic future for the rejects. All they can do is try to convince themselves that they’re content not to do research anymore. But now there seems to be a greater variety of non-academic or quasi-academic positions in and around universities, occupied by people who, in one way or another, are turning their knowledge of academia to their advantage. A lot of this seems to involve various kinds of servile roles (such as selling advice about how to game the system in order to succeed as an academic). But I’m wondering whether it’s possible for such a position to lend itself to autonomous research. In particular, if nobody expects you to do research at all, you’re under no pressure to publish, and this might make it possible to do certain kinds of ‘slow’ research that would be more difficult for others to do. And getting back to your theoretical question, what would make someone in such a position want to do something like that, while others don’t?

    • Mark 8:04 pm on February 3, 2017 Permalink

      That’s exactly why I’ve been interested in alt-academic careers since I first came across them (as well as the practical concern of being fairly sure I wanted one) – what I’m now realising is how theoretically significant this is for academic labour and academic self-conception. An obvious empirical question: do alt-academics seek to consecrate their research as research? If so, how do they do this?

    • Mark 8:05 pm on February 3, 2017 Permalink

      So you think it’s a matter of focus in a given context? That fits very nicely with Margaret Archer’s critique of Bourdieu which I think is pretty much uniformly misunderstood. Her problem isn’t with the sociology as much as the unthinking transposition of it from a very particular kind of centralised and relatively stable structural context.

    • Benjamin Geer 11:01 pm on February 5, 2017 Permalink

      ‘So you think it’s a matter of focus in a given context?’

      Yes, and I think that in general, as insiders in any context, we’ve internalised certain assumptions about what sorts of things are important in that context. That’s part of our insider’s habitus. For Bourdieu, reflexivity in social science requires a constant, conscious struggle against our habitus. We need all the objectifying tools that social science has to offer, such as ethnography and statistics, to make gains in that struggle. He used those tools to gain some reflexivity about the academic world he had been initiated into, but his reflexivity had limits.

      I think one striking example of this is his relative neglect of the topic of religion. Despite having developed field theory through an engagement with Weber’s ideas about religion, and despite using all sorts of religious metaphors (‘consecration’, ‘theodicy’, ‘prophecy’, ‘heresy’), he didn’t pay much attention to religion itself in his research. I have a suspicion (though no direct evidence) that this was because, like many French intellectuals of his generation, he assumed that religion was a spent force, one that had become nearly irrelevant. It must have been easier to hold that view in France than in many other parts of the world, especially at that time, and perhaps if he were alive today, he would see things differently.

      I used to read a lot of critiques of Bourdieu, but I ended up finding it a tiresome activity, because they nearly always turn out to be arguing against straw men, and usually it’s clear that the authors have read very little of what Bourdieu actually wrote. I suppose that many have read a bit of Bourdieu for the sole purpose of dismissing his ideas, ‘as a shortcut towards visibility more convenient than producing work of their own’, as he says in Pascalian Meditations (in the section ‘Digression: a critique of my critics’). I’ve just had a quick look at Archer’s critique in Making our Way Through the World, and it seems to be based on a common caricature of the concept of habitus, which Bourdieu rejects in that same passage, and which takes habitus to be a ‘monolithic’, ‘immutable’, ‘inexorable’, and ‘exclusive’ principle. I rather think Bourdieu saw habitus merely as a guide to improvisation, much as a song is a guide to a jazz musician’s improvisation. It makes certain things more likely and other things less likely, and provides ready-made categories that can be used to make sense of new situations, but in no way does it rigidly determine thought or action.

      About the consecration of the work of alt-academics, this just occurred to me: perhaps in the old days, academics whose work was too heterodox (e.g. because they didn’t fit neatly into any academic field) would simply be ejected from academia. Or if they were very lucky, like Bourdieu, they might be able to cross over from one field to another (from philosophy to sociology in his case). But nowadays, they might also get a ‘second chance’ in alt-ac jobs. If those jobs really tend to be populated by such individuals, and if they still want to do research and publish, it stands to reason that they would need to engage in a struggle over the means of consecration. The question of how they do it is a good empirical question.

    • Mark 7:12 pm on February 6, 2017 Permalink

      that’s very interesting, thanks. I’m certainly becoming much more open-minded since engaging with Pascalian Meditations.

      I wonder if the key problem is how to avoid the research being construed as effectively a hobby. the desire to avoid playing the game of seeking high-status journal publications is definitely one factor in the alt-academic discourse but, without this consecration, what’s the status of the work that’s not being written up? I wonder if it would be as straight forward as simply asking self-identified alt-academics about how they see their research & analysing their construction of the problem?

    • Benjamin Geer 9:28 pm on February 6, 2017 Permalink

      ‘I wonder if it would be as straight forward as simply asking self-identified alt-academics about how they see their research & analysing their construction of the problem?’

      I think that would definitely be a place to start. Bourdieu placed a high value on understanding the author’s point of view: what were the alternatives the author faced? In his examples of revolutions in fields, he often talks about authors who were confronted with a field divided into two opposing camps, and who rejected both of them. I’m wondering whether a refusal to choose between ‘high-status journal publications’ and ‘work that’s not being written up’ could lead to new forms of research and consecration.

      Personally I want to keep publishing, but since I no longer need to care about how a publication looks on my CV, and since I don’t think aggressive peer review adds much value, I don’t care how high-status the journal is. It’s more important to me that it’s an open-access journal and doesn’t make me wait a year for a decision, and it’s even better if it’s interdisciplinary. My feeling is that the consecration that matters happens after publication in any case, if it happens at all.

      I would also like to reclaim the respectability of doing work as a hobby. In historical terms, all scientists did research as a hobby until very recently. Today, someone like Charles Darwin wouldn’t be able to spend thirty years working on the theory of evolution before publishing it, because no institution would fund him for that long. He was able to do it because he was independently wealthy, and science was a hobby for him. But perhaps alt-ac careers offer another way to do science as a hobby, and thus to escape the pressure to publish quickly.

    • Mark 9:54 pm on February 17, 2017 Permalink

      But I’ve had the argument put to me that the questions which can meaningfully be investigated as a hobby are not the meaningful questions. There’s something self serving and dismissive about this but I’m worried there’s also an element of truth to it.

    • Mark 9:55 pm on February 17, 2017 Permalink

      I wonder if consecration within the market place of ideas is (unfortunately) most likely to emerge under these circumstances. Your work is taken seriously if it can garner engagement by others (particularly outside of the academy) even if it lacks formal consecration within it.

    • Benjamin Geer 8:39 am on February 18, 2017 Permalink

      “the questions which can meaningfully be investigated as a hobby are not the meaningful questions”

      The history of science shows that this is not true. I’ve mentioned Charles Darwin, all of whose scientific work was done as a hobby. Some other examples are Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier, Henry Fox Talbot, and Ada Lovelace.

      “I wonder if consecration within the market place of ideas is (unfortunately) most likely to emerge under these circumstances.”

      One doesn’t need to be a salaried researcher to publish in scientific journals. Albert Einstein published his groundbreaking papers during his seven years as an employee of the Swiss patent office.

    • Mark 10:24 am on February 20, 2017 Permalink

      But it’s telling that all those examples are historical: we might see professionalisation, disciplinary specialisation & the fragmentation of the knowledge system as regrettable. But they are, I think, all barriers to what you’re saying being possible now.

    • Mark 10:25 am on February 20, 2017 Permalink

      Btw it occurs it might be nice to compile our exchange into a new blog post and see what people make of it. It would be interesting to get the perspective of wider alt-academic community on these issues.

    • Benjamin Geer 10:44 am on February 20, 2017 Permalink

      “But it’s telling that all those examples are historical: we might see professionalisation, disciplinary specialisation & the fragmentation of the knowledge system as regrettable. But they are, I think, all barriers to what you’re saying being possible now.”

      I think it depends on what kind of research you want to do. If you need a particle accelerator, you probably have to be a professional scientist. But in the social sciences and humanities, a lot of research is done with nothing more than a PhD plus time, thought, publicly available data, and a bit of computing power. Time seems to be the scarcest resource for academics. I actually have more time for research now, with an alt-ac job, than I had when I was a Visiting Assistant Professor.

      I think it’s important to distinguish between academic fields and academic institutions. Perhaps the biggest barrier to what I’m suggesting is the illusion, promoted by academics and academic institutions themselves, that having an academic position equals participation in an academic field. I think this is a bit like when priests say that there is no salvation outside the Church.

      “Btw it occurs it might be nice to compile our exchange into a new blog post and see what people make of it.”

      Definitely!

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