There’s so much that I want to write about that somehow I end up not writing anything. So as a bit of a placeholder, let me post a current draft of my diss. research proposal (taken from the NSF research proposal). It’s a bit long for a blog post, I warn you, and is still very much under revision. More new material soon, I promise.
1. Introduction: Clashing futures in university politics
What is the future of French universities in a globalized world? According to the Magna Charta Universitatum, signed by a number of rectors of European universities in 1988, “the future of humankind depends largely on cultural, scientific and technical development; and this is built up in centers of culture, knowledge and research as represented by true universities” (Rectors 2003:6). But not everyone in Europe shares this utopian view of universities as the salvation of the human species. In the midst of French protests against university reforms in 2007, the Department of Philosophy at the University of Paris-VIII held a meeting to discuss the campus strikes. According to the minutes: “Questions were raised about concerns over finding work. That one would worry about one’s future – to say the least – doesn’t mean that one wants one’s concerns instrumentalized by and for projects that will make the future even darker still” (Paris8philo 2007). In other words, in the thick of the political fray, these philosophers viewed academic knowledge not as the future of humankind, but rather as an uncertain defense against a world of scarce employment and darkening futures.
What, then, is the relationship between academic knowledge, politics and the future in contemporary France? In the “knowledge society,” how does the future come to mediate knowledge-making and politics alike; and how do knowledge and the university come to be central to political futures in France and across Europe? Along with several other scholars (Fuller 2003; Meyer, et al. 2006; Nassehi 2004), I reject the view that the “knowledge society” constitutes a radically new society or economy. Rather, I see the “knowledge society” as a new cultural schema and political discourse, one whose cultural metamorphoses and political dynamics demand anthropological analysis. This project will thus examine the academic production and politics of knowledge via an ethnographic study of contemporary French philosophy, and of the political struggles that surround contemporary French universities. This is not the only site where knowledge society politics have become significant (cf. Rabinow 1999), but it is a good one, insofar as universities are among the knowledge society’s key institutions.
French philosophy in particular appears to be an especially good place to examine the relationship between academic life and national knowledge politics, since philosophy has long been central to the French Republican project (Douailler 1988). To gain a comparative understanding of contemporary philosophical practice, I plan to study two philosophy departments: I will spend a semester each at the University of Paris-VIII (St-Denis) and the University of Provence (Aix-en-Provence). Within these two departments, I will examine philosophical knowledge-making and political engagement. Beyond the departments, I will scrutinize policy, media and activist discourses dealing with the national university system. In particular, I will focus on the different futures that are imagined, feared, longed for, and put in question in these sites. The French university is often said to be “in crisis,” and its future has often been debated, as has the future of philosophy as a discipline. I hypothesize that, by scrutinizing the cultural production of futures, we will be better able to understand how philosophical knowledge-making is related to the politics of French universities and of the “knowledge society” at large.
The underlying theoretical agenda of this project is organized around four related questions. First, how is philosophical knowledge understood, made and learned? Second, how is philosophical knowledge-making changing in the context of French university politics? Third, how does this philosophical knowledge, in turn, find its place within its broader political situation; how does philosophy become politically or publicly engaged? And finally, what sorts of future-making projects connect or differentiate philosophical knowledge-making and university politics; what common futures bring structure to the cultural scene of universities in the “knowledge society”? I draw these questions from research traditions in anthropology and sociology of knowledge; from studies of the semiotics and politics of academic institutions, particularly from recent studies on the sociology of French philosophy and the transnational politics of the Bologna process; and from recent anthropological research on futures in other contexts. In bringing these disciplinary traditions together, I hope to contribute a new, anthropological perspective on the politics of the future to a growing interdisciplinary scholarship on knowledge and academic cultures. Such a perspective is badly needed in a moment when most scholarship on higher education, critical or not, tends to see universities as ruined or threatened institutions (Readings 1996, Slaughter and Leslie 1997). Rather than seeing universities as sites of organizational conflict and disarray (Kerr 2001) or functionalist reproduction of neoliberal capitalism (Shumar 1997), I will propose we view them as vehicles for cultural projects of “knowledge” and future-making that deserve further attention.
2. Theoretical context: Anthropology of knowledge and the future
The theoretical foundation of this project lies in anthropology and sociology of knowledge (Barth 2002; Crick 1982; Swidler and Arditi 1994), a tradition which has evolved from its Marxian, Nietzschean and Durkheimian origins to encompass studies of contested knowledge in social fields (Bourdieu 1977), of large-scale formations of knowledge and power (Foucault 1972; Foucault 1995), and of the micro-social workings of semiosis and concept formation (Silverstein 2004). Much recent ethnographic research has focused specifically on knowledge workers and expert cultures (Glaeser 2003; Knorr Cetina and Bruegger 2000; Mazzarella 2003; Riles 2000). Here, in examining how French philosophy is involved with French politics, I draw particularly on studies that demonstrate a reciprocal relationship between experts and their surrounding social orders. That is, while experts shape public knowledge and national culture, they are themselves constituted and limited by the national knowledge they help produce (Boyer 2000; Masco 2004; Verdery 1991). I am also influnced by research on what has been termed the “politics of knowledge” (cf. Pels 1997), which encompasses struggles over the state’s involvement in science and higher education (Delanty 2002; Fuller 2000; Weiler 2005), the negotiation of competing claims of expertise (Bloor 2000; Epstein 1996; Wayland 2003), and the involvement of academics and academic knowledge in the political realm (Lagasnerie 2007). All of these issues are indeed central to the analysis of my chosen ethnographic case. However, in this project, I also hope to substantiate two major critiques of this literature.
(1) It suffers from a lack of interest in epistemic structure and system, topics which were best developed methodologically by an earlier era’s cognitive and structuralist anthropology (Berlin, et al. 1968; D’Andrade and Romney 1966; Frake 1964; Lévi-Strauss 1963; Lévi-Strauss 1966; Sahlins 1976). For example, Dominic Boyer’s recent study in anthropology of knowledge (Boyer 2005) traces the tropes of “system” and “spirit” through German journalistic practice without giving more than an impressionistic sketch of the general system of everyday forms of knowing in which these tropes take their place. Karin Knorr-Cetina’s research on “epistemic cultures” (Knorr Cetina 1999), a capstone work of laboratory studies of science, never really systematizes the systems of knowing that she examines. As a corrective to this tendency for practice to displace structure in anthropology of knowledge, I will propose that we theorize knowledge not just as a semiotic outcome of social interaction and negotation (Latour 1987), but also as a system of epistemic forms, analogous to the general system of communicative forms theorized long ago by Hymes (1964) in linguistic anthropology. Of course, this system of forms is reshaped and reproduced in social practice, and, following on studies of science laboratories (Gusterson 2001; Knorr Cetina 1979; Latour and Woolgar 1986 ; Sims 2005; Traweek 1988), I will also attend to the practices of knowledge making through which this knowledge system is produced.
(2) An unresolved tension lingers in this literature between theorizing knowledge as a universal aspect of human society (Barth 2002), and theorizing “knowledge” as a culturally specific phenomenon, even as an ideological project. In theorizing the “knowledge society,” Stehr comments that while knowledge is an “anthropological constant,” the knowledge society is unique because of the unprecedented degree to which knowledge becomes central to economic production (Stehr 1994:93-99). But while anthropologists of knowledge typically assume that “knowledge” is a universally applicable analytic category, the “knowledge society” affords a very clear case in which the very category of “knowledge” becomes a locally politicized symbol. To study the “knowledge society” is to study the ideological processes that constitute “knowledge” as a key stake of political struggle — which is obviously not a culturally universal scenario. I hope to shift the emphasis, that is, away from a universalistic study of knowledge and towards a particular analysis of “knowledge” as a “lexical totem” (Boyer 2005:60) of a certain European cultural and political order.
These theoretical concerns take on more specificity when brought into studies of French academic culture, which have, in fact, not always taken “knowledge” as a central theoretical object. Pierre Bourdieu has produced the most substantial and well-known body of research on French higher education, offering analyses of class reproduction among students, of professional struggle among faculty, of the types of capital displayed in academic discourse, and so on (Bourdieu 1988; Bourdieu 1990; Bourdieu 1996; Bourdieu, et al. 1994; Bourdieu and Passeron 1979). In fact, the most empirically relevant prior literature for my own project derives from a Bourdieuan school of sociologists, who have produced a detailed set of studies of French philosophy, dealing with such things as the academic book market, the representation of foreign philosophers, the reproduction of the philosophical profession, and the structural situation of the avant-garde (Boltanski 1975; Fabiani 1983; Fabiani 1988; Godechot 1999; Lepenies 1983; Pinto 1983; Pinto 1994; Pinto 2000; Pinto 2007; Soulié 1995; Soulié 1997; Soulié 2002; Verdes-Leroux 1975). But there are two problems with this literature. First, on an empirical level, the sociologists are too quick to delimit their research object, assuming prematurely that the social field of philosophy is identical to the academic discipline (cf. Lagasnerie 2007). Here, on the contrary, I hope to show that in France the social field of philosophical action goes beyond the narrow confines of the discipline, becoming substantially entangled with the field of university politics. This result, once substantiated, will also be an important corrective to the substantial literature on French university governance (Chevaillier 1998; Musselin 1997; Musselin 2004; Tavernier 2004; Weisz 1983), which tends to over-privilege the top-down policy perspective in analyzing university politics, and hence overlook less official forms of public and political engagement.
Second, I would emphasize that the ultimate result of Bourdieu’s theory of practice, in which the habitus is always more or less well adjusted to the objective social and cultural structures in which it finds itself, is one in which knowledge always ends up being ultimately instrumental to social reproduction (Sewell 1992). It seems to me that this formula could be usefully reversed: rather than viewing knowledge as an instrument of social reproduction, as in Bourdieu, we could view social reproduction as the process by which culturally given knowledge projects are realized (see Sahlins 1976). Departing from Foucauldian and Bourdieuian paradigms in which, other differences aside, knowledge-making is seen as an instrument of social reproduction and political power, I will suggest, as mentioned above that we view politics and social practice as, among other things, vehicles for culturally arbitrary knowledge projects — the “knowledge society” being the most recent. This should both invert and complement the traditional Bourdieuian and Foucauldian view.
The future, and temporality in general, become important here because knowledge-making projects, particularly those examined here, are structured centrally around differently imagined futures, hopes and expectations (Miyazaki 2004). The future has attracted much recent attention from ethnographers (Boyer 2006; Escobar 1995; Guyer 2007; Peebles 2008; Rosenberg and Harding 2005; Weiss 2004), who have explored how futures are both discursively formulated and tacitly enacted. But although a number of studies have examined the temporal structure of academic cultures (Bourdieu 1988; Goffman 1981; Millet 2003; Moffatt 1989; Sabin 2007), they have remained primarily descriptive, and aside from a few brief remarks about class reproduction and vocational orientation (Bourdieu 1979:63; Nathan 2005:151-2), the future has not come into question there. Here, I hope to advance our theoretical understanding of futures in academic contexts by drawing on Jean-Paul Sartre’s notion of futurity and Nancy Munn’s analysis of intersubjective spacetime. In Sartre’s existentialist philosophy, a future is always projected as the horizon of an actor’s practical activity, and every practical project is oriented towards an implied future (Sartre 1992:180-187). In a more sociocentric version, I would argue that we can view social practice as necessarily embodying future-making projects, whether at an individual, institutional or societal level. Hence, we can analyze the implied or explicit future horizon towards which social practices are oriented. Such a perspective is essentially consistent with Munn’s more recent anthropology of time and value, which showed that, in Gawa, the processes of expanding “intersubjective spacetime” are means by which “[the] community seeks to create the value it regards as essential to its communal viability” (Munn 1986:3, my emphasis). While Munn did not specifically examine futures, I expect to find that, along these lines, the future becomes a form of value in my fieldsites. In other words, I will ultimately advance a theory of the cultural production of futures, not only as a mode of representation and experience, but as a medium of social and political value, and as a tacit dimension of knowledge-making projects.
3. Historical context and site selection: French philosophy and the European knowledge society
The national political role of French philosophy dates at least to post-revolutionary debates about education in the 1790s (Douailler 1988). By the early 19th century, philosophy was instituted as an obligatory lycée course, viewed as both the intellectual pinnacle of secondary education and as a form of political education for enlightened citizens. In this way, philosophy was at once intellectually and politically central to the French Republic. This view persists to this day: according to Mark Sherringham, currently Inspector General of National Education, “The Republic surpasses the teaching of philosophy, but its content and its conditions of possibility remain at the same time fully philosophical” (Sherringham 2006:62). In keeping with this disciplinary commitment to the Republic, a number of French philosophers have served as high government officials, notably Victor Cousin (Goldstein 1968) and Louis Liard (Greenberg 1981; Weisz 1983) in the 19th century, Alexandre Kojeve in the post-war period (Price 2000), and recently Luc Ferry (Pinto 2007:141-154) and Blandine Kriegel (Bowen 2007:13-16). At the same time, philosophy has harbored deeply oppositional political projects, notably those of twentieth-century Marxist philosophers like Kojève, Louis Althusser and Etienne Balibar, and unorthodox intellectuals like Sartre and Michel Foucault (Foucault 1980; Roth 1985; Schalk 1979; Sprinker 1985). In short, scholastic traditions and outright political dissent have been brought together within a discipline that has, at least at moments, also become the legitimate intellectual discourse of national, Republican ideals (Mathy 2000:ch. 3; Wolin 2000).
But the relation of academic knowledge to politics has changed in France, as Europe has become increasingly economically and institutionally integrated (Borneman and Fowler 1997), and as universities have become increasingly central to mass social reproduction (Schofer and Meyer 2005). This new “politics of knowledge” has its roots in the 1960s and ’70s, when social scientists like Daniel Bell (Bell 1973) and Alvin Gouldner (Gouldner 1979) foretold the coming of a “post-industrial” or “knowledge” society, run by a “new class” of technocrats and intellectuals and newly centered on knowledge production and management (Stehr 1994). By the end of the century, these prophecies, whatever their flaws, had moved into the political and policy arena. In the last twenty years, an extensive discourse on the “knowledge society” has developed in European higher education policy, politics, and rhetoric. From the 1988 Magna Charta Universitatum quoted above, to the European Commission’s 1997 declaration of a “Europe of Knowledge” and the international Bologna Process (1999-2010), the basic premise of university policy has been that knowledge is central to society’s existence in a new way. An accompanying series of international reforms has aimed to “harmonize,” rationalize and improve university education, under the banner of “developing European cultural dimensions, … citizens’ mobility and employability and the Continent’s overall development” (European Ministers of Education 1999:7).
In France, however, the government policies implementing these reforms have met with major opposition. As I mentioned earlier, students at dozens of universities have protested university reforms, notably in 2003 and 2007. Faculty have organized collectives like “Save the University” and “Save Research,” and produced a growing critical discourse on the Bologna Process and French university policy (Charle, et al. 2004; Charle and Soulié 2007; Faure, et al. 2006; Oblin and Vassort 2005; Schultheis, et al. 2008). Yet as I indicated above, the future figures as a central concern across all sides of these political struggles. While continental “knowledge society” discourse has its utopian faith that universities are crucial to the European future, the futures of French universities are constantly cast in question. Troubled by low funding, low prestige, and questionable vocational relevance, they are constantly described as “in crisis,” “mediocre,” “a field of ruins,” even “dead.”
Philosophy serves as a good barometer of the changing politics of the “knowledge society,” because philosophy’s status has changed in the post-war period. Philosophy, considered the “queen of the sciences” in the 19th century (Fabiani 1988), has lost its pre-eminence as natural and social sciences have become increasingly prominent, and has had long-standing rivalries with other disciplines, notably history, sociology and psychology (Bourdieu and Passeron 1967; Chimisso 2000). After 1968, the political engagements of the discipline shifted back towards a less-radicalized Republican liberalism (Mathy 2000; Pavel 1989), and today the discipline itself has an uncertain future. While some, like Sherringham, portray philosophy as a centerpiece of secondary education, others fear a world of declining resources (Bourgeois and Menasseyre 2008). While the likes of Alain Badiou (2004) and Dominique Lecourt (2001) lament the lost radicalism of the past and accuse the present of mediocrity, others, such as Pascal Engel (2004) and Luc Ferry (Ferry and Renaut 1990), reject the past to advocate a depoliticized future of “modesty” and “humanism.” These debates about the discipline’s future, crucially, have taken the form of a debate over its relationship with politics. Philosophy’s future, I suspect, is put in doubt by European knowledge politics in which science and technical advances serve to guarantee national viability in the international marketplace, and philosophy is less central to French Republican legitimacy.
The question, then, is how philosophers manage their changing political fates in practice, and how that impinges on their daily academic knowledge-making. The two field sites I have selected are designed to show two quite contrasting forms of political engagement within the discipline. Philosophy at the University of Paris-VIII (Vincennes–St.-Denis), in an unpretentious Parisian suburb, was formed in 1970 in response to the educational crisis of the ’60s, and originally the department was comprised almost entirely of Marxist philosophers (Soulié 1998). Although it later become less radical, its chief priority remains “the analysis of the historical contexts and political implications of philosophies.” Its students also remain very politically active, supporting undocumented immigrants’ right to education, and proposing a “day of reflection on the future of the university” during the blockades of 2007. On the other hand, philosophy at the University of Provence, in the small provincial city of Aix-en-Provence, is known as a center of the American-influenced, less politicized “analytic” philosophy. The department offers a master’s in “argument and social influence,” the only such program in France, which they view as relevant to public activism and private enterprise alike. Its students wrote in their first annual newsletter that they were “allergic to militantisms of all stripes” (AsPhiX 2003). In short, while Paris-VIII exhibits a more direct form of philosophical engagement with politics, Aix-en-Provence is a place where new currents within the discipline and non-politicized forms of public engagement are more prominent.
4. Methods: Comparative departmental studies in context
As indicated above, primary fieldwork for this project will be divided between the two chosen departments. I plan to spend Autumn 2009 at the University of Paris-VIII, and Spring 2010 at the University of Provence. In choosing the university department as my primary unit of analysis, I hope to move beyond studies that focus exclusively on students or on faculty and hence fail to scrutinize the general social system of the university (Bourdieu 1988; Bourdieu and Passeron 1979; Felouzis 2001; Millet 2003; Moffatt 1989; Nathan 2005). Unlike a study of a classroom or a laboratory (Latour and Woolgar 1986 ; Thorkelson 2008), a study of a university department affords a site in which the functionally differentiated activities of teaching, research, extra-academic interaction and organizational work are brought together. Yet university departments per se have not often been the primary objects of social-scientific or ethnographic inquiry. The limited number of extant studies has focused on internal conflicts and the department’s relation with its broader discipline (Camic 1995; Jennings 1997; Small 1999; Tuunainen 2005), on disciplinary “moral orders” (Ylijoki 2000), on research management (Morris 2002; Walton 1986) and on the teaching-research relation (Snell 2001). These studies tend to conceptualize the department as a social and organizational unit rather than as a site of knowledge-making, and tend to be oriented inwards towards the institution or the discipline. I would argue that we need to analyze departments more rigorously as “epistemic cultures” (Knorr Cetina 1999), and that we need to expand our analysis outwards to see how departments orient themselves towards external and extra-academic publics and political circumstances.
Hence, in this project I conceive of the department as a heterogeneous site of knowledge-making and public/political engagement, oriented at once inwards around its own bureaucratic and social structures, and outwards towards its broader institutional and political contexts. To explore these multiple facets of departmental structure, I envision multiple forms of data collection. I plan to conduct (a) observation of philosophical events such as lectures, seminars, colloquia, conferences, and meetings (building on my own ethnography of literary theory classrooms, Thorkelson 2008); (b) interviews with university professors, university students, and administrators; (c) observation of normally private philosophical activities like reading and writing, particularly when informants can be persuaded to narrate these activities to me (following on Bazerman 1985); and (d) examination of official documents, published papers, website activities, and secondary sources on the departments.
I plan to select two or three classrooms for intensive semester-long observation, at both license (undergraduate) and master levels, in order to gain a cross-section of knowledge-making practices. I will choose courses on the history of philosophy, on epistemology (a speciality of Aix-en-Provence), and on politics (a speciality of Paris-VIII), since these are the courses most likely to yield metadiscourse on philosophy, knowledge-making, and political engagement. Within these classrooms, and in other public philosophical settings, I will primarily be making a record of discourse and social practice, but will take preliminary notes about how philosophical knowledge-claims are made, how metadiscourse emerges around these knowledge claims (Hyland 1998; Silverstein 2003), how disciplinary and university politics are invoked or impinge on the situation, and how futures are enacted or discursively constructed. In interviews, I plan to pursue the same sorts of questions more directly, asking more specifically for actors’ views on the mechanics of philosophical knowledge-making, the relationship between ordinary academic life and university politics, and about individual views of the future. I intend to select informants and interviewees through a general request for all students, staff and faculty to speak to me; while this will not yield a 100% response rate, it will avoid the tendencies of snowball sampling to reproduce the existing lines of social association and dissociation within the departments.
To supplement this departmental research, I plan to conduct additional fieldwork on the political life of the French university system at large. First, I will assemble an archive of media coverage, official documents, and critical commentary on the university system and the broader discourse of the European “knowledge society.” Second, I will conduct a series of interviews with university and government officials, education researchers, and journalists who are involved in public discourse on universities. I will be asking primarily about the workings of university politics, and about individual views of the university’s future. Third, I will observe the organizational practices of three recently-formed groups that focus on university politics: ARESER (Association for reflection on higher education and research), Save the university, and Save Research. I will also examine philosophical organizations, such as the French Society of Philosophy, the Society of Analytic Philosophy, and the Association of Philosophy Students in Aix-En-Provence (AsPhiX), especially inasmuch as these become engaged with changing university politics. I envision attending these organizations’ public meetings, collecting documents, and analyzing the resulting discourse for its structures of political engagement and mobilizations of academic knowledge. This additional research, which I plan to conduct alongside the more focused departmental work, will be aimed at gaining a more global view of the political and intellectual world of French universities beyond the departmental situation.
All this data collection is intended to enable four avenues of analysis, which correspond to the theoretical topics listed above and which I will elaborate below. First, I intend an analysis of the forms and practices of philosophical knowing; second, an analysis of the political organization of French university reforms as they impinge on the departments I’ve chosen; third, an analysis of the modes of political or public engagement that I observe; finally, and most importantly, an analysis of future-making projects across all these sites. I envision the first three analytical topics as necessary foundations for an analysis of futures; while I view the analysis of futures as a way of grasping the underlying cultural conditions of the other three analyses. So these are not four totally separate types of analysis, but will rather, ideally, be reciprocally informing.
My analytic approach to philosophical knowledge as such is primarily inspired by the methodology of contemporary linguistic anthropology. I am interested both in the practiced system of knowledge-making (Frake 1964; Hymes 1964) and in the system of local ideologies about knowledge that regiment this system (Silverstein 2003; Thorkelson 2007). Therefore, drawing on transcripts of my observed situations, I will begin by constructing a taxonomy of philosophical knowledge forms, such as a “dissertation,” an “argument,” a “thesis,” a “distinction,” an “oeuvre,” and any other local forms that emerge in the field. I will then expand my analysis to include the practices through which knowledge forms are created, circulated and reworked, and in which knowledge claims are introduced and negotiated. In particular, I will examine the production of knowledge in social and symbolic interaction (Goffman 1974); its use and reception; its media of transmission (Barth 2002); its affective structure (e.g., what kinds of knowledge are considered “exciting” or “interesting,” cf. Davis 1971); and its relationship to politics (politically significant? apolitical?). Drawing on semiotic studies of texts and textuality (Brenneis 1999; Mertz 2007; Silverstein and Urban 1996; Urciuoli 1999), I will particularly scrutinize the way that knowledge-making is textually mediated in books, essays, websites, lectures, and other genres, which serve technical instruments of philosophical knowledge in something of the way that particle detectors do in physics (Galison 1997). I will also examine ideologies about knowledge, noting what counts as valid or legitimate knowledge; who is a legitimate knower; what forms of knowledge are considered sound and unsound, and so on. The analytic aim is to assemble a holistic picture of departmental knowledge production systems, and to be able to compare knowledge-making across my two chosen departments.
My approach to political organization and political engagement, on the other hand, is mainly influenced by Pierre Bourdieu’s prior research on academic institutions (Bourdieu 1988; Bourdieu and Passeron 1979), and by Jacques Rancière’s research on politics (Ranciere 1992). I will begin by assembling an analysis of the social field on which the maneuvers of university politics take place. This will draw on my broader background research on public discourse and official governmental interventions on universities, as well as on focused interviews in which I hope to explore personal views and experiences of university politics. The idea is simply to assemble a map of the policy actors, governance systems, political maneuvers, and debates within French universities. I will pay particular attention to how these are affected by transnational European reforms. Having thus gained a general picture of the political situation, I will follow political events as they happen during my fieldwork, focusing on the following analytical questions: (a) what counts as “political”; (b) who is recognized as a legitimate political actor, such as politicians, officials, student organizations, unions, and the like; (c) how academic knowledge, particularly philosophy, becomes politically significant; and (d) what is recognized as valid or successful political engagement.
In tandem with these analyses of politics and knowledge-making, I hope to develop my analysis of futures and future-making projects. Drawing on the concept of the future that I derive from Sartre and Munn, as described above, I will be interested in observing tacit futures in philosophical practice; I will also inquire about people’s plans, projects, and thoughts about the future, as well as examining public rhetorics of the future. Again, I will look for these in both collected documents and transcribed social situations. (The frequent semiotic invocations of “crisis” in French universities, and of “fear of the future,” will be especially important to investigate, as they indicate a perceived lack of a stable future.) I plan to examine futures at four analytical levels: (a) the futures of individuals, particularly their career or vocational prospects; (b) the collective futures of philosophy departments and academic associations; (c) the future of philosophy in France; and (d) the mass futures of French and European universities at large. Then, having assembled this array of futures, I will attempt to ascertain which ones are unique to particular sites, which ones spread across contexts, and how this whole array of futures fits together or falls into contradiction. The aim, ultimately, will be to discern how different futures underlie the interlocking but quite different projects of philosophical knowledge-making and university political action. The choice of the two philosophy departments, moreover, should open up two different perspectives on the future of philosophy in France, since Paris-VIII and Aix-en-Provence differ greatly in their trajectories within the discipline, and can be hypothesized to have quite different future orientations. Finally, I will compare the local and institutional futures I observe with the futures projected in broader European discourses on the knowledge society, which will offer at least one datum on how the “knowledge society” is contested and lived.
6. Broader impacts for anthropology of universities
I envision a number of broader impacts for this project. First, the very process of doing the research, by virtue of its choice of ethnographic object, should contribute to especially rich international collaboration with French colleagues who are both analysts and participants in the university system. As mentioned above, I have already been invited to affiliate with a laboratory (LAHIC) studying the history and anthropology of cultural institutions, and I expect the project to yield long-lasting possibilities for trans-Atlantic intellectual exchange. Second, the research, when appropriately summarized and popularized, should afford eventual opportunities for anthropological participation in current debates over U.S. higher education and academic politics. All too often, U.S. debates on universities are not informed by an international, cross-cultural perspective, and anthropology offers great potential for offering more culturally sensitive analysis of university cultures. I have already been involved in several projects aiming to make social research relevant to university governance and reform, and plan to actively report this research in these extra-scientific forums. Third, the focus on the classroom and departmental setting will hope to contribute to engaged scholarship on teaching and learning in academic settings, a field which has suffered from a lack of basic research (Thorkelson 2008; Wisniewski 2000). Fourth, the focus on the discipline of philosophy and its engagement in politics may offer new empirical support for the social function and utility of humanistic disciplines, which are all too often overlooked by research that sees only natural and social sciences as having social benefits. Finally, by examining futures, perceived crises in the future, and fears about the future, I hope to shed some light on the contemporary hopes and anxieties that the image of the “knowledge society” at once condenses and obscures.
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