Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Flora Sapio: "Thoughts on the Globalized University and the Logic of the Nation-State as an Ideal Form"

(By Laurentius de Voltolina - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=160060)

In The Globalization of University Education and Interference in the Domestic Social and Political Orders of States: Considering Chinese and Australian Approaches, I explored some of the political ramifications  in China and Australia relating in large measure to the management and use of higher education and the projection of ideologies of knowledge and to control of interpretation abroad. Some reference was made to Chinese efforts and to Australia's National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference (Bill 2017). I suggested the way that these sorts of engagements "move quickly, then, from a "thing" (knowledge and learning) to values, interpretation, management and ideology.  We move from the collection and deployment of data bits to (1) power (who determines what may be learned; and what is taboo),  and (2) form (what may be learned; the form does this knowledge take)."

Flora Sapio has been kind enough to offer further reflections on the themes raised.  Her essay, Scattered Thoughts on the Globalized University and the Logic of the Nation-State as an Ideal Form, follows below.

Scattered Thoughts on the Globalized University and the Logic of the Nation-State as an Ideal Form
Flora Sapio

In a previous post, I noticed how the university may be considered the site where at least four different ‘systems of rules’ coexist, and I described them using the ideal types of:

the university as an institution of higher education where scholars conduct independent and impartial intellectual enquiries;

the university as a state institution tasked with providing education to citizens of a nation-state;

the university as a think tank, or as a policy institute;

the university as a domestic enterprise operating on the local education market;

the university as a multinational enterprise operating on the global education market, and committed to the multiple goals of maximizing profit, complying with its corporate social responsibility obligations, and serving its domestic and international customers;

The coexistence of these four different views of the world within a single institution can, at times, produce tensions. The existence of these tensions is a perfectly natural phenomenon.

Globalization is no longer limited to importing exotic goods for the very few, trading in components of ammunition, and extracting resources from colonies.Today, globalization involves each and every aspect of the political, economic, social, and cultural life of a people. In several cases, the most immediate response to the change in one’s once-familiar environment is an attempt to keep the unknown and unfamiliar at bay.

We live at a time in history when a well established, internally coherent, shared system of norms on globalization does not yet exist. Given this circumstance, reactions of refusal are all too normal. Attempts at constructing a global system of norms are indeed taking place. But, as valuable as these attempts are, they remain rooted in the logic of the nation-state.

The state is not the only actor in globalization, and flows of persons, information, and commodities are no longer uni-directional. Networked channels of communication involve each and every entity – be it a corporate or individual entity, a for-profit or a not-for-profit entity, a legal or a non-legal entity, a state or a non-state entity. The vectors through which information, people, ideas and values are exchanged criss-cross each and every existing institution.

Given that this is how things are, it is all too natural for the globalized university to be one of the poles where vectors of information and ideas converge. Any space where information, ideas, and values are exchanged is – by definition – a place where one’s individuality is made permeable to different systems of thought and views of the world.

While permeability is synonymous of influence, a state of influence is not coterminous with a state of acceptance. However, coupled to the lack of a system of norms, the porousness that inevitably results from studying, working, and living close to “The Other” can easily result in a:

discredit[ing] of globalization in education (…) as politics by other means- as a form of projection of power at the soft underbelly of a society through the education of the young”.

Such a discrediting of globalization in education is not surprising: globalization involves exchange processes which all those entities accustomed to the logic of power projection find difficult to accommodate.

The exposure to different value systems, the role of nation-states as partners in an exchange rather than as sovereign entities, and their inherent inability to control flows of ideas and information will inevitably produce new tensions, and call for new responses. These responses can take various different forms. The variables that may determine the adoption of one specific response over all the other possible ones are beyond the scope of this post.

One cannot fail to notice, however, how in little more than one month both the People’s Republic of China and Australia moved to protect their educational sectors from values, practices, and influences seen as incompatible with their domestic governance systems. China and Australia’s move to protect their respective educational sectors from external threats is understandable and legitimate, from the point of view of the nation-state as an abstract entity.

What is really at stake are not threats per se. Much more important is how the nation-state responds to globalization in education, and whether its responses are susceptible of strengthening its position among the actors of globalization, or undermining it. After all, power projection and attempts to use the most diverse means to gather information existed in Ancient Rome already, and yet today we tread on the ruins of the Roman Senate...

Given the differences in their respective domestic governance systems, China and Australia adopted different responses to the threat of foreign influence in their educational system.

China’s response to the challenges of globalization in education came through the classic format of an Opinion on Comprehensively Deepening the Reform of the Ranks of Teachers in the New Era issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and by the State Council on January 31. Among others, the Opinion regulates the behavior of what the CPC and the State Council consider the backbone of the globalized university: tenured academic staff. “To rejuvenate China” reads the Opinion, “we must strengthen teachers”. This document has already been described by all major American and European newspapers, so there is no need to further comment upon it.

Australia’s response to the challenges of globalization in education came through state regulation as well. On December 7, 2017 the Australian parliament tabled the Australian National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017. The full text of the proposed amendment is available on the website of the Parliament of Australia, at this page. To add clarity to the proposed amendment to the criminal legislation of Australia, and facilitate public comment, the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia published an Explanatory Memorandum (304 pages), that summarizes the proposed amendments, explains the meaning of specific terms, and assesses the impact of proposed legislation on the right to freedom of expression, etc. The public consultation period for the review of this bill has been extended to February 15, so all those who are interested in commenting upon the new national security legislation can visit this page, where they will find out how to make a submission to the Parliament of Australia.

The difference in responses – a document of the Communist Party of China versus an amendment to national security legislation – is easily explained by the difference in political system between the People's Republic of China (“socialist state under the people’s democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants”) and Australia (“one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”). But, it is hard not to notice how both countries chose to respond to the challenges of globalization in education through state regulation. The legitimacy of their responses is beyond question – both countries are dealing with matters falling within the scope of their national sovereignty.

The spectator to the legislative developments taking place in China and Australia, however, may be easily beset by questions about the roles, weight and importance of each one the available regulatory instruments that may be used to bring order to dynamics originating at the transnational rather than at the domestic level.

There is indeed a bit of unreality to the entire discourse. What emerges, though, is not a sense of fear, but a further stage in the transformation of the sites of knowledge production, and the addition of yet another “soul” to institutions of higher education.

The issue of what knowledge can be useful and of the utility of knowledge remains. But, I believe the main locus of knowledge, or I should say a center, a main locus of knowledge can no longer be easily identified. For the most part of history (and leaving aside what in retrospect already looks as a short-lived attempt to centralize knowledge) knowledge has been fractured. A state of fracture ought to be considered as the normal state of knowledge. Any attempt at codification or centralization will lead to the stifling of knowledge and to its eventual loss.

Academic attainment and certification, understood as a commodities, can be centralized. Data can be centralized as well. But, the notions one gains throughthe process of learning, the symbolic and social capital acquired through certification are distinct from knowledge. Data is distinct from knowledge too, as data is a mere symbolic representation of a limited part of information on a subject. Also, data is useful only as long as:
→it complies with reliability, completeness, compilation, and quality standards and good practices

→it exists independent from interpretation

Once an interpretation is formed a priori, and used to create, locate, or collect data, the real locus of information is overlooked.

But the point, of course, is whether one is looking for knowledge or certification, information or data, the gift of interpretation or mere literacy.

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