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Finding that tiny little crack in our thinking
Escaping the trap of the present
There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. Leonard Cohen, Anthem.
An upcoming podcast on FuturePod with Peter Hayward and Riel Miller surfaced the notion of where to find the crack in our current thinking about futures in the present. I had actually forgotten about my previous thinking about ‘the crack’.
In my PhD thesis, I wrote about expanding and deepening our thinking “enough to stretch, crack and even break open the extant discourse to let in all possible futures that we can know in the present?” And I sought a new conversation where thinking about a future without a university “might actually ‘crack open’ the [current] discourse enough to allow consideration of the university the future needs to become the focal point of our conversations.” I got this idea from Catherine Manathunga and Dorothy Botterell in their book Resisting neoliberalism in higher education: Prising open the cracks, Volume II* which I used when exploring how neoliberalism has trapped university in the mire of the present. That’s another post.
Finding the new ideas about universities in the present
Finding new ideas of the university to find new futures in the present was what I was trying to do with my thesis. Because, it is those ideas that all exist today that drive our thinking about university futures right now. Our ideas - about anything really - are entwined with our history and our current relationships with society as it is constructed in our context(s). It is society that gives the university its legitimacy, and not the university as it was assumed in the nineteenth century. And if society changes it mind - and ‘thinks’ differently, that legitimacy will be contested.
This figure shows what I used to try and explain this in my thesis, where I identified four ideas: Traditional, Managerial, Reframed and Dismissive.
In the left section, there was one dominant university because that type had been given legal legitimacy by the state. There was then a major social disruption caused by World War II. In the centre section, there was eventually a disconnect as a result, a crack in the Traditional Idea which was caused by the rise of the neoliberal university (also given legitimacy by the state) and the Managerial Idea that are dominant now. But the Traditional idea didn’t go away; it stayed around to promote resistance to the Managerial Idea - which developed a crack in the present, leading to the rise of the Reframed Idea which is seeking a new university form in the present, and still emergent.
A second crack in the Managerial Idea has also appeared in the last couple of decades too, leading to the Dismissive Idea (right section) which believes there is no future role for the university as we know it today; it has emerged from within society itself. This is a weak idea, but it is growing in strength especially with the increasingly rapid emergence of AI.
If interested you can read more about this in a paper I wrote about the ideas. I also guest edited a special issue of World Futures Review on Imagining Possible Futures for the University which you can read here.
All these ideas are different ways of knowing the university as an organisation, and all exist in the present. They are all valid in the present - some stronger than others - and the last two (Reframed and Dismissive) are cracks in the current dominant conversations being held about university futures. These cracks give us permission to imagine new futures for the university, beyond what is required by the dominant frame of thinking imposed on them by neoliberalism.
The point about this example from my thesis is that by actively thinking to find new ways of thinking about the present - which for me was university futures - will crack open our thinking and allow us to find the new in the present, including new future images. Our assumptions are what seal our thinking today, and if we can challenge them to prise open the first crack, the light will get in and expand and deepen our thinking and imaginations to find new ways of knowing the present, new ways of perception and widened perspectives and new actions today.
Our assumptions are what traps us, and finding the crack in our assumptions in the present - about university futures or about futures in general - is what I am seeking to do. But this crack is personal at first, and the more people who find it and spend time on widening it successfully will lead to a critical mass of people who are more open to the new and novel in the present.
The next post will be a bit more about this, based on my current research and the assumptions mapping frame I’m working on. Stay tuned, as they say.
*Manathunga, C & Bottrell, D (eds) 2019, Resisting neoliberalism in higher education: Prising open the cracks, Volume II, Springer Nature, Cham.
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