Democracy, Science and Business-isation of Academic Work

Again and again we hear about the democratic deficit – leaving aside the half-hearted debates on contemporary issues: der EU and the lack of democratic accountability, the oppressive demands by the IMF when it comes to national policies answering the crisis – the main critique is directed against so-called totalitarian theories, in particular Marxism. On the other hand, however, we find not less frequently the emphasis of a need of holistic approaches, aiming on overcoming the separation between different areas of science and even recognising the problematic issue of drawing a fundamental division between “science” and “social science”. Of course, much had been written about it – and as much as the “totalitarian character” of Marxism as theory had been wrongly equalised with undemocratic as obvious had been the failure of an open society of Popperian stance.

And also we hear again and again the problems of academic work and academia – seemingly being trapped by elitism on the one hand and opening universities on the other hand (see on this issue the recent posts).

Leaving this aside I experienced over the last days again an interesting issue, seemingly not linked and nevertheless so obvious part of the same issue: writing a dictionary.

In actual fact, i received the three volumes of a dictionary to which I delivered the texts of some entries – published by a “major publisher”, and buying it will ask for a major “contribution” . The same day I received incidentally the same day a mail from a colleague: a reminder to deliver the promised contributions to another dictionary, its second edition – another “standard dictionary” which you can buy for a price  that is standard too, sadly high (the author’s “income”: the opportunity to buy the final opus for a reduced price or even getting a free copy of the complete  work). Working on such projects usually means one gets at most finally a a  “review” – some comments which are sent on a draft – I say comments though I probably could also say demands and orders to change. No names – the name of the author is not known to the reviewer and the reviewer is the one frequently publicly mentioned in a footnote: My thanks go to the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on a first draft; and frequently they are talked about privately: there had been somebody making some requests as s/he had to show the importance of the review process but actually the comments clearly show that s/he didn’t even read the text let alone showing any insight of understanding – this is especially obvious when two reviews are completely contradicting each other).
Trinity – I am currently again more involved in the elaboration of a less standard dictionary – the HKWM, Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism. The entire group – be it during meeting face to face meetings, be it via e-mail exchange around the globe – thinks about the key words that are worth to be considered to written about, a draft is circulated, commented, different people take initiative, decide themselves if they feel competent, engage in discussions, are criticised and even rebuked …, a second draft, discussion, the work across different languages as somebody may have submitted for instance a text in …, Italian (this happened recently where language caused difficulties during the debate and commenting) … – somebody who volunteered to write in the first instance is “kindly” pushed out … – yes, discussions can be hard at times. And of course there are hierarchies etc.. but it seems to me that the work is truly academic in the sense of a social science: social not least by recognising the social process of elaborating “knowledge”, academic as well by way of an open process, indeed: producing not an open society in which decisions on truth are then made by the top: managers, efficiency planners, organisers. Instead here it is about producing a comprehensive knowledge in the best way: bringing different perspectives together, making up for a “totality” that then allows developing knowledge based on reflecting the totality of reality – as a complex identity with its various reifications. – And here, everybody has a name rather than remaining covered by a veil of anonymity.

To me this seems to be a more workable model than that one that pursues the permanent re-invitation of the wheel by individuals: contributing to the building of a railway of which the single wheels may look perfectly constructed, where every screw fits neatly and where the public rail-transport nevertheless remains a disaster.

Coming to a forth way then: WIKIPEDIA seems the worst conglomeration of these different moves: “democracy as arbitrary coming together” of knowledge, commitment and political orientation – control left to arbitrary activities, underlying the control of randomness. The look good factor, put over the factor of being good: total, comprehensive and disputatious.

Surely, personally for me it is exciting being part of all this.

Social Quality From Theory to Indicators

Social Quality From Theory to Indicators
Edited by Laurent J. G. Van Der Maesen and Alan Walker;
Palgrave/MacMillan

Now it is out – the publication is now available, the work done and at the same time it is just the point of departure for further elaboration of the social quality approach. This work started already with major cooperations in particular in the city of The Hague. Next Wednesday important negotiations will take place in order to venture future plans, not least consider closer cooperation with Eurispes – Istituto di Studi Politici Economici e Sociali in Rome
This is not least  and in particular an important issue on taking centrally the question of sustainability on board. The present book can sulrey be seen as a mile stone in this respect.

On the book the following information is taken from the flyer.

This book provides the most up to date account of the concept of social quality. Developed originally as a response to the promotion of neo-liberal policies in Europe, the idea has been taken up and applied in China and East Asia. This book is the key reference point for the continuing spread and adoption of the concept. It develops the theoretical foundations of social quality and locates it within the main theoretical frameworks of western social science. It provides a clear account of the methods for measuring social quality which includes the initial indicators developed by a major European research project. It includes an in-depth analysis of the four core components of social quality: socio-economic security, social cohesion, social inclusion and social empowerment. Then it applies the concept of social quality to some of the most pressing policy challenges, including the future of the European Union and sustainability. Its theory, methods and compelling arguments in favour of social justice are essential for students studying a wide variety of social sciences and policy makers and general readers interested in creating a more socially just society.
CONTENTS:

  • Introduction; L.van der Maesen & A.Walker
  • European and Global Challenges; L.van der Maesen & A.Walker
  • Theoretical Foundations; W.Beck, L.van der Maesen & A.Walker
  • Conceptual Location of Social Quality; P.Herrmann, L.van der Maesen & A.Walker
  • Social Quality Indicators; P.Herrmann, L.van der Maesen & A.Walker
  • Socio-Economic Security; D.Gordon Social Cohesion; Y.Berman & D.Phillips
  • Social Inclusion; A.Walker & C.Walker
  • Social Empowerment; P.Herrmann
  • The Functions of Social Quality Indicators; L.van der Maesen
  • Social Quality and Sustainability; L.van der Maesen & A.Walker

It remains to be emphasised that the work on the book, taking so much time, had been a most exciting and valuable experience of … – social quality. Combining individual work with close cooperation – and with gaining and maintaining collegiality and friendships.
From my side I want to add my very personal Thank You to Laurent for all the work and also to Yitzhak with whom I galdly maintained contact even after our immediate cooperation ended.

The cooperation – for me at least – showes: also in academia another world is possible, not in need of any presidential elitist advise (on this also here).

Having Time

“I do not have the time for that, I am just composing my 4th symphony.”
According to the program of yesterday’s Bruckner-concert*:
‘This is the answer Anton Bruckner gave during the winter 1873/74, responding to the advise of one of his pupils to enjoy the ordinary niceties of life, to prefer the norms of the ordinary civil life rather than those of living as an artist, consider to marry.’
Fortunately he didn’t have the time for that …  😉 – and I guess I don’t have to add: Danny B. had been amazing as ever. And the question, the alterative that is proposed shows part of the mendacity of the life of many. Giving some impression, here from a performance in Vienna …, the same conductor, the same orchestra …, but not life …

Not the Time to Say Good-Bye

January 15th, looking back over the many years, one may even say: over an entire era that seems to be behind us, overcome – looking back to the 15th of January 1919 shows so clear that an era ended but this end is far from being the end of history.

Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, most consequent members of the German left, fundamentally opposing against militarism not only by words but also by their political action had been killed on that day – after a trial: briefly pretending that everything would be dealt with according to the rules of the proverbial German law and order they had been stabbed and thrown in the river, showing to which extent the German law and order had been ready to bend the law in favour of ‘order’. It had been the order or normality – the mad normality. The 3rd commandment (see comments for correction) – here from the Exodus-version

Though shalt have no other gods before me

– had been translated by German law and order politics into the sovereignty of the state, disjoined from the people, disjoined from truth, opening the way to any arbitrary ruling within an illusionary world of rational-legal authority. It had not been by accident that one of the most pronounced analysis of the development of different systems of authority, ruling and governance had been presented by the German sociologist MaxWeber, not least pointing out the complex contradictions, highlighting the dangers of a development towards an iron cage in which we may be easily trapped; law and order – the seedbed and fruit of an authoritarian personality as analysed by Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson and Nevitt Sanford (1950), the dangers “eclipsed by the light of reason“.

It is true:

With the finest leaders of the German Communist movement murdered, the gates of rising German facism opened unhindered.

And it is equally true that shooting people, throwing them into a river as it happened to Rosa and Karl, is not the only way of killing. The Silent Revolution which Ronald Inglehart had in mind after wrapping everything into figures surely shows something as all statistics say something. But it easily lets us forget its companion: the silent killing – performed on the catwalk, in the statistical offices, and the careless orientations on an alleged elitism…, and the hesitant agreement with critical voices: remaining on the surface level or limited to agreement behind the closed doors …. all this should makes us think of the two and what happened to the world after they had been silenced.

It may sound distant – but it may sound obvious and challenging at the same time, not least for working in academia: we have to be brave, looking for powerful points even if they are not obvious, not matching the powerpoint-format.

Yes, it is time to look back – not in order to say good-bye, but in order to move forward.

The Moor Back on Stage

The Moor has done his work – the Moor may go!

Reference to this sentence from Schiller’s tragedy Fiesco, or the Genoese Conspiracy had been made on a recent occasion, raising concerns over the ongoing validity of the Europea Anthem. But one may also say that with the supposed post-modern era all this doesn’t play a role – borders of spaces blurred: we live in Ireland, in Europe, in our workplaces and various leisuretime venues; we are ‘present’ everywhere and any time, GPS: globally positioned, systematically; time is time of presence, doesn’t know history and thus doesn’t have to think about future and …

…, well, and it ends with consequently loosing actuality, being reduced to pure immediate presence.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright

We write about middle of January – it it not long time ago and many had been singing these lines from a poem, written in 1816 by the Austrian priest Joseph Mohr. The background of the lyrics is somewhat interesting – you my read it yourself, following the link. Summarising it: routines lost, the usual distraction not availabe leding to the need of considered means, approproating the situation: appropriating it by utilising the given means, doing things in an appropriate way.

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After recent debates concerning the public statement of the president of University College Cork, the following effort by the School of Applied Social Studies at the same University to defend numbers and also to defend the disadvantaged and their achivements in a letter sent – as open letter – to Mr Murphy, the accused defended himself, writing himself a letter, also as open letter to the members of the ‘university community’, stating serval things.

First, little bit reminding at the reaction of the little son of a friend of mine, frequently smirking ‘It wasn’t me’. In Mr. Murphy’s version (may be a practice test for a political carreer):

my speech to the Chamber of Commerce was mischievously reported, at best, in the local media.

Well, may be I like the gripe and should juyst ignore it – Sill, being far less ‘public’ then Mr. M, and being surely less exposed to such misreporting (actually media occasionally like to quote exactly what I say, thinking that this is offensive agsinst myself and positions I represent, they are thinking what I say is in itself undermining my reputation – and others quote it literally as they really like what I say), I (or groups I represent[ed]) would immediately ask for public apology and rectification,’offering’ in particular in such ‘mischievous cases’ just one alternative: a nice meeting, venue: court; topic: defamation, reputational damage … – Seems I missed that one by the president – or it had been forgotten to mention this in his answer (Ah, politicians are so forgetful when it comes to certain things …).

There had been some mails sent after the ‘university community’ received the mischeievous reply – at the end only very few; most of these not going even a quarter of an inch beyond number crunching, looking for better statistics and ‘clarifiaction of evidence’. As if all this would be a matter of penal relevance like a traffic incidence: Speeding, 20 miles or 25 miles too fast, looking for the exact ways of dealing with technicalities. But little could be heard about truly driving on the wrong side of the road let alone asking if we should change means of transport. – Not penality law is the matter in case: it is about questions of fundamental rights: ‘law of nations’ if you want …, and if you are ready to take it as law of people, as matter of rather fundamental rights.

One really intersting, valuable and serious exception of the mails circulated after Mr. Murphy’s statement had been issued – it had been a mail that unfortunately only sent to colleagues of the department (somewhat sympotmatically for today’s debates on such issues not just in Cork I think). It had been sent only to this illustrious circle – and so I will refrain from making it public. Nevertheless, I want to point at least on some aspects of the mail and also adding my reply, including some additional remarks.

Mr. M’s reply is indeed something we should be grateful for, enlightening in its own terms. If in fairness we

accept that sometimes words can be misinterpreted particularly if arguments are ambiguously phrased
(from the said mail sent in reaction to the president’s reply to the members of the department)

and we surely should do that, we should read the reply in this light: a statement, carefully worded, and making the point of … elitism even clearer. I actually hesitate to use the term elitism as it is in my eyes much worse; and much more complicated.

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So second then on the content of what never had been said – and not been publicly denounced as imputation: We are coming to the really crucial point – in need of discussion indeed much beyond the recent quarrel, much beyond Cork. I remember one of the mails, sent while discussing the School’s letter as reaction to the speech, saying that this would be a particularly important issue as the remarks made in the speech would very much concern the corporate image and indentity (sorry, I do not have the mail available, cannot quote it literally). So lt me have a brief look at the corporate socaial identity (surely a responsible one I ghuess). Part of this question is then surley the question of accessibility. Analytically there are different moments to this

  • emphasising the need of support for especially gifted students is one thing
  • ‘balancing’ this with with general educational requirement is another moment
  • and again different is the matter of accessibility for ‘people from disadvantaged background’.

Oh, holy trinity of academia: All this considers the existing ground pattern of education and of science as valid rather than being open for a more fundamental critique – questioning the Janus -faced holy Grail. This ommission however limits the debate on ‘mediocrity’ versus ‘excellence’, leaving the question ‘mediocrity’ versus ‘excellence’ of what outside of the equation, thus taking it as invariable.

_______________

With this a third point shows up – and indeed it is an issue we – people who are lecturing, doing research, working in academia – frequently complain about it: the …, yes mediocrity of students, of publishing … . We sometimes complain about students not being ready to read, not being critical, not engaging in debates, focussing their work on the exams. Complaining about publications, hastily made, providing new ‘evidence’ for old ideas and concepts barely bringing forward new ideas – or complaining about publications not being made: holding new ideas back until they are completely matured, avoiding making them public at an early stage as this would allow others to exploit them for their own benefit (yes, I have to admit: seeing others taking off with own ideas is sad, depressing). The statement which had been the bone of contention made the ‘social question’ of access the core issue for mediocrity, suggested it as reason behind it: assisting people rather than challenging them beng proposed by Mr. M. as root of all evil. – Rings a bell? This is the other way round a notion of current employment policy, suggesting that people should be challenged rather than being assisted (known from the new ‘social democrats’ to the consersatives – or the other way round?).

I think when it comes to reasons for mediocrity a more important point than access is actually ‘standing’: the social position, the question where we locate academia. Coming to the speech in question then we learn that the reason for mediocrity is consequence of

expansion and democratisation of higher education

We should actually hesitate; the immediate rejection of the apparent rejection of

expansion and democratisation of higher education

may need further calrification. We should ask decisively: What kind of expansion and democratisation did we actually see? Is it just about numbers? Easing access and taking in more people? Let us be serious and hopefully sufficiently provocative in the formulation: the real problem is expansion and ‘opening the doors’. Content of teaching, subjects and the syllabus of many courses is not following the interest as it emerges from academic insight, it is not based on the ‘rational being’ as it had been envisaged by great thinkers of enlightenment and Sturm und Drang: Kant, Voltaire, Descartes, Humboldt, Schiller, Paine …; let alone that it is following the ‘need of people and society’. It is part of a larger hegemonic system: bureaucracies, economic interests and also self-elected professional ‘peers’ acting as gatekeepers not over access of students but holding the key for the ‘golden gates’ which opens the door for what actually may be said in our lectures, part of research and gets the acceptance in the race for excellence-research. Sure, McCarthy is dead, the West-German Berufsverbots-law discontinued. But thi sis not the end of various mechanisms securing hegemonic power, guiding us to the wrong demoi of money, growth, skills rather than knowlege … – such a wide field for later anthropological reasearch of tribe leaders of the early 22st century and the role of te fetish.

_______________

Fourth, then: I asked for including a paragraph on the science shops in the letter of the School – the science shop, an initiative of the School of Applied Social Studies, and going back on more or less radical efforts to change academias agenda and curricula. Especially in its very notion, the science shop idea had been obsessed by the idea of developing a rdaical shift towards an understanding of science for the people, enabling the people to make use of science in their very own interest. This is quite different to the simplistic idea of opening academic institutions for the, ar at least for more people, right? It is a core moment as we can now come to the very moement of democratisation, Yes, I would say: Mediocracy had been and is a problem of expansion. But only because most of the expansion had been taking the wrong demos as point of reference: the demos of capitalist expansion, of growth, orienting academia on a partnership with growth policies.

To compete in a knowledge intensive world the majority of the population must enjoy a high quality third level education …

… these words evoke the same chill as the words of the 2000-Lisbon strategy, striving for ‘making Europe the most competitive ….‘ Can intelligent people not grasp the importance, the only valid standard of cooperation, of open systems, striving in permanent debates with the people for improving society. Competitiveness of countries, enterprises, universities … will fail: countries may see themselves ending in gravel of competitive wars and crusades, enterprises undermine the means of their own existence and universities loose their universality ….

Opening doors, expansion is only then a matter od democratisation if the demos is not a demon.

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Fifth and finally expanding on the statement from the speech in question, suggesting

To compete in a knowledge intensive world the majority of the population must enjoy a high quality third level education and a substantial minority must embrace 4th level education delivered by institutions performing to world beating standards.

This seems to be nothing else than frothing [would be such a nice play with words in German – if you translate the German for frothing literally it is ‘beating froth’ ;-)] Even standard economists as Joe Stiglitz learned in the meantime that growth of GDP is not all, competitiveness has to be about something else (though it sadly seems that such trivialtiy and pragmatism is sufficient for gaining reputation.* But people who make reference to

the ephemera of the Celtic Tiger

fail to see that it is not about restoring economic prominence. We are searching something we may still not be able to define in proper terms. But not knowing exactly the question is surely no excuse for hastily giving an answer.

_______________

Coming to a preliminary end, much of the debate seems to go a wrong way, looking for privileges for all rather than a way towards a society of which the real privilege is that, indeed, we all are living in a society as outlined by Marx in the German Ideology, a society

where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

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In the beginning of this note I wrote:

time is time of presence, doesn’t know history and thus doesn’t have to think about future and ……, well, and it ends with consequently loosing actuality, being reduced to pure immediate presence.

So there seems to be no reason for starting with silence, and consideration. ‘Statistics‘, ‘evidence’ successfully flattening the argument in advance – simplicity of countering an unfettered financial market by some more or less loose regulatory strings, preaching against hectic and meaningless hassle and bustle, putting forward the call for a good life – libraries filled with books that simplify complex analysis by telling us nothingness about positive thinking, blogging appeals to quit and to do it now – like the idealist, illusionist proposal to meet the concept of a smart economy by proposing a smart society:

All is calm, all is bright

And from here, it seems, we lean back – all seems good

Silent night, holy night

Postmodernism allows apparently everything – even the celebration of refusing to accept evidence by providing evidence for the lack of its relevance. So it may be a good thing that people in Cork get these days an invitation to a lecture titled:

Professional work and the interference of evidence: Why evidence-based practice is not really a good idea.

Leaving aside that fact that this should be well known by now [many years ago and in various discussions many of us gave evidence for this, discussing the seemingly hot topic of evidence based practice as another means of frothing ;-)] one thing lets me hesitate to full-heartedly welcome this invitation. The presenter is somebody from a School of Education, somewhere abroad. Although I surely like to see the crossing of borders, welcoming people who are coming from abroad I am not sure why somebody has to cross this border, why somebody has to cross the border at this point: from education to all other social science. The abstract, sent with the invitation, promises the need to

focus on assumptions about the nature of professional action and the role of knowledge and values in this, on assumptions about the relationship between knowledge and action, on the different ways in which research can be of practical use, and on what might be required to make things ‘work’ in the domain of human action and interaction

But for this we surely do not need primarily educationists but … – those who are looking for education, those who do not want to cross the border into the elitist system but who want remove the walls, and claim a new practice, as I asked for on another occasion: a practice that does not occupy but liberates from occupants. This is surely different from postmodern arbitrariness, a step to decisive commitment.

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* I have to add a personal note: this remark sounds disrespectful. However, I have to admit that I have huge respect for the work of another member of the Commission, namely Amartya Sen who had been its advisor. Though I surely do not entirely agree with Amartya on different aspects and criticised his work also in some publications, again, I respect his circumspect approach and openness to debate …, and I am grateful not least for the personal warmth and respect I experienced in our encounters.