Academography year three

The Academography project began in late 2016 and now it’s almost March 2018, so it seems as good a time as any to take stock of our progress.

Globally speaking, as far as I can tell, higher education has not changed enormously in the past sixteen months. It continues to be a highly contested space whose history is inseparable from all the other major global processes. I’m thinking of things like the evolution of neoliberal governance, the progress of decolonizing projects such as Transformation in South Africa, the ongoing conflicts about immigration and racialization, the resurgence of ethnonationalisms notably under Donald Trump, antisexist projects like #metoo, and ongoing debates about precarious labor.

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Interview with Gina Hunter (Ethnography of the University Initiative)

Gina Hunter is an anthropologist teaching at Illinois State University, in the Midwestern United States, and a longstanding participant in the Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI). The EUI, which we’ve written about before, is an institutional initiative housed at the University of Illinois which aims to support reflexive student research projects about higher education. The project has been around since 2002, and Hunter was its co-director from 2006–2014. She generously took the time to answer a number of questions about the project, its politics and context. The interview, if I may say so, is particularly relevant for teachers thinking about the politics of students doing critical research on their own educational institutions.

Eli Thorkelson: Can we perhaps start by talking a bit more about the internal history of the project? I know the project was initiated by Nancy Abelmann (whose 2009 book about Korean American college students I really loved) and Bill Kelleher, but I’m wondering how you yourself came to the project? How has its organizational atmosphere changed over the years, as it has gone from novel experiment to a more durable part of the institution?

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Goodman, “Acts of Negotiation”

I’ve been interested lately in a stream of new work coming out on language politics in global higher education. Yesterday I came across a new paper on English language instruction in Ukraine: Bridget Goodman’s “Acts of Negotiation: Governmentality and Medium of Instruction in an Eastern Ukrainian University,” just published in Anthropology & Education Quarterly. It’s a fine-grained ethnographic analysis of what’s at stake in teaching in multilingual situations.

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On campus ethnography: the Columbia “Sex Study”

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education had an unusually detailed article on the Columbia self study of student sexual behavior.  For those with access to the Chronicle, see https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Sex-Study-That-Could-Alter/242484.  Various attempts to attach this here as a pdf failed. Sorry.

Aside from the politics of research which are fraught, the study is interesting both in content and also for the contrast and comments made by Elizabeth Armstrong, whose work I greatly admire.  After reading this and thinking for a moment, I am amazed that anyone is surprised at what is happening. We herd together 18-21 year olds without parental supervision and with some spending money in intimate environment in which liquor and drugs are easily available and then say we are surprised when, in addition to liquor and drugs, they do “that”.  Are we as foolish as we seem to be?  Are we willing to change campuses to the point necessary to change this social environment? I doubt it.

 

The wreckage

For those who have not seen it, this piece from Inside Higher Education on the personal and professional consequences of “precarious” is unflinching in showing the costs of the neoliberal university in both personal and professional terms.  https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/02/13/historians-quit-lit-essay-rejects-notion-leaving-higher-ed-equals-personal-failure

I particularly like the call for those who made it to tenure to reflect on this.  My own career, despite all the hard work, was significantly built on chronological luck of entering the professoriate when it was a possible vocation and not a fee-for-service job overseen by armies of non-academics.  What obligations do the tenured now have to the “wreckage”? If there is an obligation, how is it to be met?

Davydd