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Anthropologies of university reform


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As all of us play the waiting game, I've been thinking about the future of higher education and some of the books that have been published on this topic lately: Marc Bousquet's How The University Works: Higher Education and the Low Wage Nation and, more recently, Louis Menand's The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Reaction in the American University. I haven't read either one yet, but I've certainly heard a lot of buzz about them.

Anyway, Social Anthropology has just put out a special issue on the theme of "anthropologies of university reform." And, believe it or not, full-text access to it is free, which is exciting for those of us who are currently unaffiliated with a major university library. Here's the link:


The issue revolves around four articles examining university settings in New Zealand, Italy, Serbia and South Africa. There's also a debate section (which isn't really much of a debate, per se), with Elizabeth Rata and the brilliant Dominic Boyer, who teaches at Rice. I'll just post an excerpt from Boyer's piece:

Universities are being placed in the 'schizophrenic' situation of being allegedly open and competitive marketplaces of knowledge that are yet subjected to increasing technocratic control to align research with the goal of generating new revenue forms for states and their allied corporate interests. All of this is done, of course, on the cheap given that late liberal states usually find themselves unwilling or unable to finance their own fantasies of dominance in a globally competitive knowledge economy. The paradox is, in my view, insurmountable and its pathologies seem destined to intensify. [...] And, yet, implicitly at least, those of us who write critically on this topic must believe in the possibility of alternate futures. Thus the question must follow: On what basis do we believe in alternative futures for the university?

I'd be curious to hear other aspiring anthropologists weigh in on this, both in terms of your own career and in terms of sustaining the possibility of higher education as a space of liberation.

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