Sociology of Irish Higher Education or An Irish Sociology of Higher Education? The Challenge of Southern Theory. #SAIConf2017

The second paper I gave at the Sociological Association of Ireland conference in Belfast recently is an offshoot of my work on the impact of research performance measure on academic practice and identity.  The abstract is as below:

What would happen if we viewed Irish higher education through the lens of southern theory. Southern theory argues that dominant epistemologies appear as if from no particular geohistorical location, so pertaining to be universal. Yet, these epistemologies are reflections of and inherent in the imperialism and colonialism of the metropolitan centres of Western Europe and North America. Universal knowledge is, in fact, the imperialism of Europe’s parochialism1&2 and universities have been implicit in epistemic violence as a basis for colonial power3. We need to ask whether, in interpreting Irish higher education, we have simply imported the thematic concerns of the metropole, accepted a subaltern position, and so neglected to develop a unique perspective that takes seriously Ireland as a post-colony4.

What might an Irish sociology of Higher Education look like?

  • This sociology would acknowledge that it speaks from somewhere, emerges from a particular geohistorical experience of colonialism, settler colonialism, nationalist nation-building, and globalization;
  • It would seek to re-story the history and dynamics of higher education in Ireland from that perspective, working with, beyond, and against the dominant concepts of the metropole;
  • It would speak between epistemologies5, critiquing both the continuing coloniality of power and nationalist ideology – an ecology of knowledge6.

1Mignolo, D. (2000) The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference, South Atlantic Quarterly 101(1): 57–96.

2Quijano, A. (2007) Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality, Cultural Studies 21(2): 168–78.

3Grosfoguel, R. (2013) The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities: Epistemic Racism/Sexism and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long 16th Century. Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge 11(1): 73-90.

4Connell, R. (2007) Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Cambridge: Polity Press.

5Khatibi, A. (1990) Love in Two Languages. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

6Santos, S. (2014) Epistemologies of the South. Justice against Epistemicide. London: Paradigm.

The paper was presented as a sociological story,

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  1. A BOOK

I open the newly arrived book, running my hand across its cover. I am conscious about how opportune its publication is, arriving when my mind is turned again to considering the political economy of higher education. I am working on a research proposal – how research performance management impacts on academic practice and identity in the more peripheral zones of Europe. Poland, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Iceland, Slovenia, Croatia…Ireland, all buffeted by similar forces of the knowledge economy and globalisation, pushing us to reconsider the purposes and practices of knowledge production and dissemination, of knowledge work itself. These are well-worn tropes, and Simon Marginson is a well-known articulator of how higher education is becoming globalised, how it is being wrenched from its national moorings.  As a scholar, I am committed to a notion of knowledge work as a common good. So, the title of Marginson’s new book “Higher Education and the Common Good” is obviously attractive. I know his work, have followed its development over time, informed by his key concepts I have been able to look beyond the immediate actions of managers, beyond the demands I place upon myself to be productive in specific ways, and can see the more general dynamic forces at play in the intimate lifeworlds of my colleagues and friends.

But my reading is disrupted. My assuredness in my epistemological position has ben challenged, has been questioned. I have always been uncertain about the way these texts, these sociologies of higher education, are empty of life, empty of the passions and pain endured by flesh and blood people. I have never been properly able to connect the misery, the excited anticipation of my own heartfelt life as an academic in their people-less words. But this is a different disruption. I read Marginson’s book as if two people. One scans the words, the familiarity of the conceptual framing, and familiarity of the argumentative flow. It describes my world as I have come to experience it. But the other reader focuses in on core words and raises a hand, telling me to pause and consider, consider what perhaps is also being said here, something fundamental.

Although he seeks to provide a long historical and broad geographical view of higher education and its relation to the common good, he admits that the animating model of a globalised higher education is that of the United States. Here he proposes that the idea of mass higher education itself is specifically given by the American history of higher education expansion, noting its beginning in the ‘land grant’ colleges initiated under Lincoln and the subsequent expansion following WW2, and the institutionalisation of America as a global power in part through its universities and colleges.

Although this is the kind of historical narrative I am familiar with, and have been comfortable with, it now disturbs and upsets. In this narrative of America’s internal expansion of higher education there is a complete absence of how America itself and so its system of higher education was founded upon processes of appropriation, dispossession, enslavement and violence.

 

  1. SEMIOTICS

Each morning I pass the original buildings of the university – the quadrangle. Everyone here knows its image, used in all marketing materials, often alongside the newest biotechnology labs. Old and modern in equal measure.

The front cover of the university’s strategic report, Vision 2020, depicts the ‘quadrangle’, a semiotic reminder of Galway’s origins as one of the “Queen’s Colleges”. Without any sense of reflexive pause Vision 2020 notes that the institution was established in the context of the Irish Famine. The running of this statement alongside its corporate text of excellence and achievements should, I feel, cause a pause, a moment of reflection.

In 1845 the foundation stones of Queen’s College Galway were being laid at the edge of the city. From the new Quadrangle building, in 1849, the first intake of 68 students looked out across empty fields and a city ravaged by fear. But, the text reads, the University founders did not allow those challenges to limit their ambitions. Continuing with this heroic narrative the document proclaims that their work began a tradition of scholarship and discovery that would confront the problems of the day, and empower their city and region to prosper. Prosperity on top of misery.

The historic tragedy of the famine becomes, in this institutional document, no more than a marker of heritage. It hides the way imperial epistemologies work. The famine was unique in 19th century Europe and occurred in the centre of the largest empire on earth, amongst those, following the Act of Union, who were UK subjects like those in London, Birmingham, Cardiff or Glasgow. The historical development of Ireland, integrated as it was in the Imperial economy, made it a net exporter of goods, specifically foodstuffs. Consequently, the famine happened in the midst of an expansion of Irish food exports.

 

  1. INTERLUDE

Voices cluster around my ears – Mignolo, Bhambra, Grosfoguel, Anzaldua, Santos, Quijano. These are not the names I am used to in reading and thinking a sociology of higher education.

They plant troubling questions in my mind, make my reading treacherous, unsettling. Their arguments are unfamiliar but potent, persuasive, touching.

Once familiar concepts and frameworks are reworked, rendered fresh by conversation with the liberating vocabulary of my new interlocutors – coloniality of power, empires of the mind, epistemic fundamentalism, border thinking. It is dizzying, fundamental, exciting.

 

  1. ANOTHER BOOK

A different book cover, but a similar set of omissions. Patrick Clancy’s comparative study of Irish higher education is certainly ambitious in its attempt to map the development and expansion of contemporary Irish higher education. He notes how the sector has become a focus for sustained attention following the economic and financial crises. The thesis is now predictable – higher education is being reformed in face of the knowledge economy and globalisation, both economic globalisation and the integration of national economies into global markets, including that of higher education.

Clancy’s narrative is curiously ahistorical. Admitting to a form of methodological nationalism, Irish higher education begins in 1921. The idea of universities being constitutive elements of empire and colonialism, let alone settler colonialism, is absent from the account:

“While universities and other higher education institutions are creatures of the nation state, increasingly analysts feel that a single-country perspective fails to provide an adequate frame of reference for understanding the dynamic of higher education in contemporary societies”

Was it ever the case that higher education in Ireland was not coterminous with a globalisation of power and economy?

Was it ever the case that what might be considered Irish higher education was primarily a construct of the nation state?

ANSWERS?

A) IRELAND AS PART OF A GLOBALISED ECONOMY

There is a specific history of empire that makes sense of the awful condition of famine when a university was founded in Galway, when rampant want and death coexisted with the export of foodstuffs, and the legislated neglect of imperial subjects. It is a history of Ireland’s integration into a British imperial economy as England expanded west, Ireland incorporated into England’s Atlantic Economy that would include the trade in human souls whose surplus value would make possible the American dream of mass higher education. The transformation of a potential independent Irish economy into the producer of foodstuffs specifically to feed imperial expansion, dispossession, and terror. By 1845 the Irish economy could not feed its own people and feed imperial expansion.

 

B) IRELAND AND IMPERIAL KNOWLEDGE

As well as foodstuffs for Empire, Ireland became the locale for the production of imperial epistemologies, Ireland as part of what Andrew Porter calls EMPIRES OF THE MIND.

– Ireland, simultaneously a partner in the Union and subject nation, supplied large numbers of imperial administrators.

Between 1855-1863 24% of all Indian civil service recruits were from Ireland because the Queen’s Colleges of Belfast, Cork and Galway had a particular role in supplying administrators to the Indian Civil Service.

Archives can be wonderful places, revealing treasures. One such treasure, presaging the current obsession with performativity, was the 1901 Royal Commission on University Education in Ireland. We see the President of University College Galway defending the performance of the college against sever criticism on the basis of its contribution to the Indian Civil Service

“Galway graduates, for example, were prominent in the Indian medical and engineering services as well as filling various imperial and quasi-imperial positions…”

We can hear these words echoing through the centuries, repeated now in university league tables and parliamentary committees.

 

  1. A PROPOSAL

The construction of an Irish sociology of higher education, as distinct from a sociology of Irish higher education, is not the articulation of a new national(ist) history. While I argue that it is important to understand contemporary political economy of higher education through the lens of Ireland as a post-colony, I do so in order to locate it in broader global networks, and thus not to reify and homogenise the idea of Ireland.

In proposing that we ‘speak from somewhere’, from the condition of Ireland, I speak from the particularity of the West of Ireland. This is not a purely geographical location. The West is a creation of the coloniality of power, a first colony in European Atlantic expansion, caught up in the hegemonic contestation between ascendant Spanish and Portuguese empires. The West is a consequence of Elizabethan and especially Cromwellian dispossession, expulsion and violence that subalternised Ireland and particularly the West – a process continued in numerous ways in the context of a post-colony.

Ramon Grosfoguel notes that,

“The Western/masculinist idea that we can produce knowledges that are unpositioned, unlocated, neutral, and universalistic is one of the most pervasive mythologies in the modern/colonial world”

Instead, we need to account for the geopolitics of our knowledge production. Inherent in this proposition is the suggestion that thinking Irish higher education otherwise is a project of epistemic decolonisation.

Bibliography

Ballantyne, T. (2005) ‘The Sinews of Empire: Ireland, India and the construction of British colonial knowledge’, in Terence McDonagh (Ed) Was Ireland a Colony? Economics, politics and culture in nineteenth-century Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.

Clancy, P. (2015) Irish Higher Education: A Comparative Perspective. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration.

Connell, R. (2007) Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Grosfoguel, R. (2013) The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities: Epistemic Racism/Sexism and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long 16th Century. Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge 11(1): 73-90.

Khatibi, A. (1990) Love in Two Languages. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Marginson, S. (2016) Higher Education and the Common Good. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Mignolo, D. (2000) The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference, South Atlantic Quarterly 101(1): 57–96.

Mignolo, W., D. and Tlostanova, V. (2006) Theorizing from the Borders: Shifting the geo-and body politics of knowledge. European Journal of Social Theory, 9(2): 205-221.

O’Hearn, D. (2005) ‘Ireland in the Atlantic Economy’, in Terence McDonagh (Ed) Was Ireland a Colony? Economics, politics and culture in nineteenth-century Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.

Quijano, A. (2007) Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality, Cultural Studies 21(2): 168–78.

Santos, S. (2014) Epistemologies of the South. Justice against Epistemicide. London: Paradigm.

 

ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITY AND THE INTERNATIONALISATION AGENDA IN HIGHER EDUCATION #SAIConf2017

I had the pleasure to attend the Sociological Association of Ireland conference in Belfast last week.  One paper I presented was based on work I have done with my colleague Lisa Moran, and her critical inquiry into the experience of being an ‘international student’.  Lisa presented on this research at the SAI last year, and I presented some of the work at the European Conference on Educational Research at UCD last summer.  That presentation was part of a symposium related to a large project examining ethical internationalisation in higher education.  On the basis of that Lisa and myself were invited to work up our paper for submission to a special issue of the European Educational Research Journal, on ethical internationalisation.  The presentation in Belfast was based on that paper.

Below, I summarise the Belfast presentation.


The presentation explored how the Biographical Narrative Interpretive Method (BNIM) makes it possible to re-story internationalisation in ways that recognise the agency of international students, produces narratives where international students themselves speak to, around, about, and of internationalisation, and enables us to trouble dominant discourses on higher education internationalisation. While the BNIM approach is comparable to other narrative interviewing approaches, it is the iterative method of BNIM that enables the production of powerful narratives.  Lisa is the expert on BNIM so my presentation focused on mostly on other aspects of the research, particularly the ethical dimension.

I presented some highly selective extracts from the extended interviews conducted with those individuals who participated in the research, compared these to the way students are narrated in policy discourse, then discussed how BNIM made it possible to produce these narratives, and finally to argue such narratives enable us to trouble dominant policy discourses.

THE STUDY

A key argument made in the presentation was that individuals are constituted as international students by being caught up in networks of texts (such as national or institutional strategies), local organisational practices, interpersonal interactions, and improvisations in living.

‘I don’t see why the college thinks we are different although it treats us as different…. I had to pay 2 years of fees for 1 year in first year and get a reimbursement in the future and that’s because I’m international’ (Amy 24)

This extract refers to the way students are constituted as ‘international’ and thus different through administrative systems.

While Amy recounted her own ideas of being international that were very much to do with expanding her social, cultural and intellectual horizons, particularly as a woman, this contrasted with how she was constituted by the institution as an international student.

IT IS BY BEING CAUGHT UP IN ADMINISTRATIVE PROCESSES THAT A PERSON IS CONSTITUTED AS DIFFERENT.

‘Irish are just like onions… you have to peel back the layers to know what they are saying…. Like what you’re all really saying…’ (laughs) (Louisa 37)

‘We say everything really directly but here there is a subtext… an agenda. People will cancel at the last minute…. Now I’ve adopted that too…. I’ll just do as the Irish do and when I go back to Germany, I’m German again’ (Katherine 26)

Policy discourse stresses intercultural competence as a positive aspect of mobility as a central feature of internationalisation.

Intercultural competence certainly featured in the narratives of the students.  However, it took on a different quality to that found in policy discourse.  Intercultural competence for the students was emplaced, lived, often anxious, and positioned them as other.

Interestingly, most of the women did not speak about internationalisation in terms of their studies but in terms of their sense of self and difference and new possibilities for being in the world.

But they also talked about danger, of the vulnerability of being a young woman in a different place where the cultural scripts may be different, where being friendly and open can easily be conceived as sexual availability, and so make them objects of the male gaze.

‘I was walking on the terrain, renegotiating what the terrain means of localness, otherness and international and what this means for the self and for others……’ (Rachel 34)

Belonging is a performative and negotiated act. These individuals spoke about how they were positioned through policy, through interpersonal interaction, mediated through cultural scripts and norms – how this positioning as international student or foreigner was troubling for them and for others, could often be ambiguous, and how it was always embodied, in specific bodies that were gendered and racialised – and how this is absent from the disembodied, unplaced discourses of policy.

POLICY

In a world of increasing globalisation and interconnectedness, with the emergence of new powerhouse economies and the reorientation of the world economy, Ireland needs to take a strategic approach to developing relationships that will be of national importance in the coming years (Investing in Global Relationships DES 2010)

(1)recruiting the best international students to undergraduate and postgraduate programmes; (2) encouraging all staff to engage internationally; (3) promoting global citizenship and (4) fostering a culturally enriched and respectful university campus (Based on the fieldwork institution strategic vision)

Although the institutional strategy is closely aligned with the national strategy, and it is aligned with the European strategy which in turn is strongly aligned to the OECD position, these strategies are not identical, though they carry similar social imaginaries of higher education and internationalisation.

These two strategy documents present ways of conceiving or imagining higher education in the context of internationalisation.

Mobility, in these two documents, is framed by economic rationales through the close alignment of knowledge work with discourses of the knowledge economy.

Investment in internationalisation is fundamentally concerned with the exchange-value benefits to the national economy through enhancing global higher education networks. Indeed, the national internationalisation strategy represents part of the ‘branding’ of Irish higher education as a tradable commodity as ‘Education Ireland’. The national strategy explicitly discusses how Irish higher education should be conceived as a ‘brand’ in similar terms to that of tourism or the attraction of inward foreign investment

Framed by a corporate imaginary, national policy documents portray a ‘transactional’ understanding of internationalisation whereby international students are perceived as investments in future business and research opportunities.

ETHICAL INTERNATIONALISATION?

Dominant discourses, institutional strategies, and practices purport to ‘know’ international students without speaking to them.

A transactional approach requires little in terms of institutional response. If the international student is already known, either in terms of them being bearers of ‘recruitment targets’ or future ‘returns on investment’, then there is no need for an ethical response, or to know them in their full humanity.

Drawing on Levinas, we argue that such discourses, strategies, and practices constitute acts of violence in denying the humanity and personhood of international students.

…SPEAKING BACK TO POLICY

We argued that BNIM, because of its iterative method, makes it possible for international students to re-story, and re-embed experiences of internationalisation that escapes dominant storylines.

The BNIM method allows for participants to construct storylines that are troubled by dominant discourses, but can also ‘trouble’ policy. These discourses ‘trouble’ or ‘disconcert’ policy narratives by emphasising the agency of international students themselves (e.g. how international students ‘transcend’ how they are portrayed as mere ‘categories of policy’ and ‘income generators’ for universities).

However, these storylines also underline the ‘dark’ side of internationalisation. In this case the highly gendered and racialised experience of being ‘other’ and ‘othered’ in diverse, ‘everyday’ spaces and places (e.g. policy realms, the home, recreational spaces).

The BNIM narratives revealed here act as an ethical demand to radical hospitality. Being open to the ‘other’, in this way, means being open to change as a consequence. This ethical demand to openness contributes, we argue, to rethinking and re-scripting higher education ‘otherwise’.

The university may well gain from ‘recruiting’ international students in domains like university rankings, and future research and investment in the Irish economy. But the ethical relations between international students and institutions must be re-ordered or ‘thought otherwise’.

Institutions can also gain from speaking to international students rather than just about them. This invites a shift from learning about the international student to learning from them, and in so doing, thinking the university differently.

Building on the student narratives about their experience of difference, becoming, and ‘gendered danger’ invite an ethical response. We argue that this requires going beyond received notions of intercultural understanding or abstract ideas of how the international experience expands individual’s personal horizons.

Taking the experience of ‘gendered danger’ we argue that the ethical invitation necessitates a transcendence of institutional responses to internationalisation that are usually framed through the lens of the provision of services (e.g. sexual consent training), as vital as these are.

Instead, it invites institutional leaders to examine the degree to which cultural scripts and knowledge that is embedded in higher education institutions ignore or denies the embodied and gendered nature of student and faculty experience, of how higher education institutions can be ‘careless’ places for women and many men.

In being ethically open in this way the university can become, in its interaction with international students, more than itself, more than it was before its encounter with these students. This implies a dialogical ethics as a basis for internationalisation strategy and practice where the possibility for what the university can be is constituted in the spaces where university and international student encounter each other.

BNIM enabled us to construct narratives that have the potential to trouble dominant discourses of internationalisation through outlining some of the boundaries of this dialogical encounter and responsibility.