“Globalization” has become a buzzword. When discussing it, the spectrum of views moves between seeing in every aspect of life an aspect of globalization and the view that there is nothing new about it: it was present in some form in all periods of history. In a way, both claims are true and we need some conceptual fine-structuring in order to make our point.
If we mean international trade or spread of inventions, of other types of new ideas or of knowledge in general, it existed from ancient times. On the other hand its scope and depth today is unprecedented and it is universal. In a very real sense the world has become one: political ideas, social institutions, universities have all become globalized as we shall see below.
While under “globalization” for a while mainly economic matters and new techniques of communication were meant, it soon became evident that many other aspects, like, for example, political ideologies, also became globalized. Democracy has become much more widespread in the last decades than ever before, but even more than actual democracy, it is the language—the political discourse—which became globalized. When listening to politicians representing genuine democracies, military dictatorships, communist one-party systems, fanatic theocracies, they all sound the same, evoking the same slogans, quasi the same ideals.
Yet, what was feared by many, of the world becoming an undifferentiated flatland, using a universal bad English as means of communication, has not materialized. On the contrary, all those aspects which did not fall under the aegis of economic interests, or were not part of a universal IT-system, became locally emphasized and cultivated more than before: local cultures, religions, languages, traditions and so forth.1
Curiously, the university belongs to the first category: hundreds of new universities in the world, most of them in India and China, are mushrooming, all built on the model of the university as it has developed in the West in the last hundred years. By now, the fact that they were developed in the West has lost much of its meaning, or its political overtone, but the basic similarity of all of them remains. It is an interesting question—not to be explored here—what is actually being copied when universities are established on a given model. Is it full-scale copying of every detail, or is it some basic triggers or “stimulations” which then have to be developed locally? If the second, then it is a curious state of affairs that there is so little local influence on the curricula.2
The strongest proof of this development is the
Our overall argument here is that Modern and post-Modern societies rest on a central conceit […] that the world is a unified and law-like place, comprehensible to everyday persons. Our argument helps explain why the university does not yield to technically superior competition. The university survives and flourishes over recent centuries as the locus of this conceit—the repository of
universalized knowledge—not as the training ground for an increasingly complex role system […]. The university’s isomorphism worldwide follows from the fact that universities spread in a top-down process—instantiating models institutionalized in world society—not from the bottom-up. And the university succeeds at certifying […] much better than it succeeds in training because training is not the point. The university may be bad in teaching skills, but it is good at re-envisioning local particulars as global universals. Frank and Meyer 2007, 28
[…] it is often quite difficult, in examining university catalogues, to find much curricular material that directly indicates just what country, place and period the catalogue is covering […]. Another indicator of universalism appears in the detailed contents of courses that initially appear to be immediately and obviously role-related. Frank and Meyer 2007, 30
The paper, and the book quoted above, are so meticulously researched that I do not doubt the exactness of what is described as the prevailing situation. Indeed, their criticism that most of the research is either about a single discipline, or a single country or even a university, is correct. Very rarely is research on higher education comparative.
My problem lies with the presupposition—the conceit as they call it—that the “world is a unified and law-like place, comprehensible to everyday persons.” The world is complex and messy, not at all unified and consisting of and exhibiting universally true phenomena, and it is precisely for this reason that the task of the
In his Foreword to the Frank and Gabler book (mentioned above), John Meyer talks of “a rather unified university” worldwide, “serving as a kind of church for
(1) that the university is definitionally committed to mapping reality and (2) that changes in the assumed features of reality thus reconstitute the academic core […]. By cultural fiat and organizational rule, the university presents reality in objective and universal terms […]. Violations of the standards of objectivity and universalism disqualify an organization from being a university.
The huge expansion of the rationalistic social sciences […] provides the needed support for this explosion that Foucault called
governmentality. And the relative decline of the humanities helps weaken the alternatives – the senses of the power of tradition, of local particularities, of the gods and spirits, or of natural human desires and needs. Frank and Gabler 2006, xiv
Lest I be misunderstood, and risking redundancy, I wish to emphasize that I do not want change through the abolishment of teaching disciplines: we need them as a rigorous, methodologically rich foundation for all knowledge, and they must be the basis of undergraduate education from the beginning. The change must come—as we shall see in detail below—by accompanying those introductory, rigorous first-year courses by seminars, given parallel to these, discussing real-life situations, which are almost always
In order to make the redundancy somewhat less vexing, let me formulate the above thesis in a different language: if we distinguish between the body of language and the images of knowledge, which are statements about knowledge, by describing body of knowledge as
By way of an epistemological caveat, I would like to remind the reader of another concept, which seems to be very relevant here: “Concepts in Flux”: in the creative formative stage when a new theory is being formulated by one or several scholars, the questions arises whether the “discoverer,” while working on the details of the new theory, is speaking “newspeak” or “oldspeak”; when
But before that comes the challenge to create a general awareness of the acuteness of the problems of the world and the urgency for doing something about them. This is relevant here, because, as a clearly formulated task for the
What unites East and West, North and South—that is, world consciousness—is the growing crisis of the physical well being of our earth. The environmental, economic and public health crisis is a causally linked, unintended consequence of the very success of the scientific-technological-economic success of modern times. As Paul Collier pointed out, poverty in some parts of the world is simultaneous with the unprecedented accumulation of riches in other parts of the world Collier 2007. At the same time, the gap between rich and poor in the richest, most successful countries is growing all the time.
Let me elaborate on this demand from the point of view I called previously a need to rethink the Enlightenment. Western capitalistic society gained its success by creating new knowledge in most areas and by accumulating material riches due to a series of values, which for almost two centuries guided thinking and research. These values were formulated during the Enlightenment and became centrally important in the nineteenth century when practical lessons were drawn from what was understood to be the message of the Enlightenment.
This cluster of values serves as a political guideline to most politicians in most democracies, but also as a cluster of research values to which most scientists/scholars adhere. The presently widespread undergraduate
We should get used to the fact that all knowledge must be seen in context: not only when looking at its origin, but even when trying to establish its validity and even when looking for its possible application for solving burning problems. A concise way of putting the requirement for an epistemological need for rethinking our world in a metaphorical formulation is “From Local Universalism to
One special aspect of global contextualism, to be discussed below, is the
I would like to argue that to a large extent universities are themselves to blame for their failure to respond adequately to the external pressures of the day. Barring the work of a few exceptional departments and individuals here and there, universities are incapable of addressing precisely those problems that most preoccupy our societies today.
Granted, universities rightly regard themselves as playing a key role in preserving intellectual, academic and cultural traditions. This, however, should not be taken to be an acceptable excuse for not dealing with fundamental social injustices and discrepancies—problems often deemed to lie outside the scope of a university’s legitimate interests. Since universities are by far the most important institutions in any modern society entrusted with the task of creating knowledge (whether the exclusivity of this knowledge-creating role is a good thing is another question), they should also strive to apply the knowledge created there to major social issues at any given time.
A few examples, some of them already mentioned above, will illustrate my thesis. It would be difficult to find a significant department of
As a last example, let us take up
Paradoxically, by stretching the university’s functions and capacities to breaking point and by blurring its identity, globalization created the exact opposite of what we should expect of places of learning and scholarship today. To repeat: what we need is to move away in our teaching—and thus also in our thinking—from
In a nutshell, global contextualism is the idea that, whatever the academic discipline, every single universal or seemingly context-independent theory or idea rooted in the tradition of the Enlightenment should be rethought and reconsidered in every political or geographical context, different from the world as it used to be in the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, also in America.
Although it is hard to do justice to the complex issues of contextualism here, it is clear that to raise a question about context is first and foremost to raise a question about meaning. But it is precisely meaning—with all its flexibility, plasticity, ambiguities, and contradictions—that is neglected by universities for both systemic and intellectual reasons, and to which reasons I now turn. These reasons can probably be subsumed under the problem of
Let me again offer some examples. Consider, first, what is happening in
Similarly, this is the case in departments of
Unfortunately the granting agencies and funding institutions and foundations follow the same pattern. But even more importantly, there is once more the epistemological consideration: mainstream
Jerome Bruner has convincingly argued on a number of occasions that psychology,
As a result, not only is the academic career of young scholars being influenced, but very often graduate students are not allowed to carry out research in other than mainstream areas, based on a paradigm different from the established and accepted one. Graduate students are not given the place, the
Interestingly, this development has been paralleled, also at Columbia, by introducing “narrative medicine” into the medical school. These are laudable attempts to break with earlier practices to exclude the study of meaning from teaching and research at psychology and cognitive science departments, but they are not sufficient on their own.
In a way, more broadly than the need to study “meaning,” there is a good case to be made that the exclusion of
When returning to historical and comparative
Daniel Dor’s theory of language as a socially-constructed
These antiquated curricular practices are paralleled by the design of the grant system for funding academic research. Foundations, as already mentioned, often attune themselves to the research agenda and institutional organization of the universities. This is an unholy alliance that severely limits the
Discussions on curricula and institutional design often tend to concentrate exclusively on
We have so far—I believe correctly—discussed only epistemological issues, mainly contents and curricula. But needless to say, these are intricately involved with structural matters in the way academe is organized. Only in America and in Europe are there around one million faculty members who earn a living by teaching at universities, but who in fact publish research papers.
Witness the growing pressure to produce publications. This by now has become a sine qua non of academic success, indeed even of mere survival in academe. But it is perhaps the most important limitation on genuine
Not as lip-service, but by genuine conviction society has to learn to respect those faculty members, who by temper and talent can and want to dedicate most of their life to teaching. These are not less gifted or less intelligent members of the faculty than the full-time researchers, but individuals with different priorities and temperament. They are not, nor should be treated or considered, as second-class citizens. They should have the same salaries, promotion conditions and enjoy the same academic “perks” as the researchers.
One cannot EOAemphasize enough that we should not abandon teaching disciplines; it would lead to the loss of intellectual responsibility. However, it is time we took note of the fact that a young person, after completing three or four years of university studies, will typically face problems “out there” that are
When a problem is
Even when universities, research centers, or funding organizations do take on board the notion of
In order to acquire this interdisciplinary way of thinking, rigorous and stimulating training is required from the early undergraduate level. I do not have the space here to describe in detail how such training ought to be designed, but I can offer a few examples. First, as already noted, in order to train a person to think in terms of disciplinary paradigms as well as beyond the limits of the disciplines, we will need to begin with first-year students and not with advanced students already seeking a doctoral degree. It is too late for someone writing a doctoral dissertation in physics to discover that, for example,
It was for this reason that we proposed above to teach, in parallel, basic introductory undergraduate courses (in science, or economics, or in any other discipline) and seminars that will expose students to conceptual inconsistencies, to phenomena or situations where the basic theory does not work, or even to the basic incoherence or incompleteness of the basic theories as such. Such seminars would bring into focus the “real-life” situation. In an ideal world, one and the same professor would teach these parallel courses in the given discipline, although anybody familiar with higher education, and not naïve, knows that this suggestion would be hard to put into practice.
Our century-old resistance
The second fundamental objective in
Quite simply, educating concerned citizens is to educate young people—all of them—to understand the main problems of the world; one encounters these on the pages of any good daily newspaper. Why is it, we may want to ask, that we have so little understanding of how to fight poverty and how to help the “bottom billion” (to use Paul Collier’s term)? Why is it that we do not know how to come to grips with the medical, social and economic problems of worldwide epidemics? Problem-oriented thinking focusing on such issues must be introduced as early as the undergraduate level.
The concept of a “concerned citizen” has two dimensions: a moral/social and a cognitive. The moral/social is very often invoked: for example, a recent publication of LEAP 2007 (Liberal Education & America’s Promise), called “College Learning for the New Global Century,” formulates it as “Personal and Social Responsibility.” This involves civic values and engagement, knowledge of the major social problems that plague the world and the fundamentals for social/political activism. At the same time university is not supposed to deal directly with political issues, and the teaching should not be politicized. Social skills are also subsumed here. One could also mention under this heading education for democracy—I deal with this in a special chapter of my forthcoming book because of its importance (Elkana forthcoming, forthcoming).
On the other hand the
It seems so obvious that it is perhaps superfluous to make a point of it. Yet, it so often happens that when tackling a problem which spans many disciplines, it is forgotten that the relevant disciplines must be brought together in the most rigorous fashion, especially since it is expected that every participant in the work for the solution of an
Finally, we need to understand and draw practical conclusions from the fact that almost all of these major problems society faces today are what can be termed colloquially nonlinear in terms of the mode of thinking and method they require. That is to say, they are non-predictable, nondeterministic and often resist reduction toward one, universal general theory. They are much more complex and ambiguous and rich in contradictions. This point is worth elaborating on in some greater detail.
As a caveat, it should be mentioned that all of these “new” sciences and “new” concepts like non-linear dynamics, chaos, complexity, network theories, actually emerged, sometimes even in the very same terms, at the end of the nineteenth century in works of scientists like Poincaré, Boltzmann, Gibbs, and later Shannon and von Neumann. What is definitely new is the scope of their spread and relevance, and the successful attempt to show that the concepts and the mathematical formulations that involve them are identical for a broad array of disciplines in the natural, as well as in the social sciences. It brings back a new kind of “unity” of knowledge describing, however, a messy, complex, unpredictable, indeterministic world.
The presuppositions underlying such a course (or courses, or seminars, or discussion groups), repeating what was said above, are as follows: it is important at an early stage, parallel to rigorous introductory courses of basic science, to show where these rigorous, classical theories fail to explain phenomena and to give the best possible introductory course—non-rigorous as it may turn out—of interesting real-life phenomena which are not covered by the basic courses and for which the students are definitely technically not ready. However, socially, morally and in the extent of their curiosity, they are more than ready.
Introductory courses in the sciences and the social sciences are rigorous, systematic, reductionist,
It is here that a host of new emphases in knowledge become relevant: chaos, complexity, non-linear dynamics, emergence as a general phenomenon in nature or in society. A host of new concepts, indispensable for studying irregular phenomena, like attractors, fractals, bifurcations, nodes, hubs and many others have to be understood. They must become part of the basic
Much of classical science was built on the presupposition that systems can be understood in terms of their constituent parts; systems could be broken down to those ingredients and could be built up again from them. The idea was that the whole could be built up from the parts, and that the whole was neither more nor less than the sum of the parts. In the natural sciences this meant analyzing all kinds of bodies into atoms, nuclei, electrons, and in later developments, into quarks; live systems into chromosomes, genes, neurons. The processes of breaking down to constituent parts, or in building up the whole, was pure reductionism with no place for randomness. The eighteenth-century dream (Laplace and others) of deterministic probability no longer applies.
In a different formulation it could be said:
In what follows I will try to illustrate, albeit superficially, what could be part of such an introductory seminar or discussion group, relying on what was stated above. An obvious beginning would be the so-called “butterfly effect” (also called “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”). Unlike what is presupposed in classical science, small differences in the initial conditions can make enormous differences in all those cases where deterministic numerical forecasting does not hold.
In all model-making disciplines like biology or economics or politics, what usually happens is that if the model predicts absurd situations, the programmers revise the equations to fit the output to the expectations. Especially economic forecasts were blind to what the future would bring while the politicians, for want of anything better, tend to act on those predictions.
In one of the formulations: in linear systems the whole is precisely equal to the sum of its parts. When the whole amounts to much more than the sum of its parts—most nature is like that—the mathematical expression of this state is in non-linear equations (one whose graph is not a straight line but some kind of curve). (One could study the narrative of the Los Alamos Center for Nonlinear Systems.)
Phil Anderson’s classic paper could be an important source for discussion Anderson 1972. Probably the strongest statement against reductionism with its claim that the idea of all physical laws, in the final account, can be reduced to one basic law. Raising the question: “how do we know that not all different levels of organization have different fundamental laws, not reducible to each other?” opened up totally new approaches to nature and life.
Stuart Kauffmann’s latest book against reductionism might serve as recommended reading Kauffmann 2008. His previous books (still imbued by a reductionist spirit), about life, the nature of complexity and self-organizing systems might be too technical for this kind of course Kauffmann 1993; Kauffmann 1995.
An extended narrative of classical vs.
In sociology, the students could be introduced to Mark Granovetter’s classic paper:
Clearly these were a random collection of points to be included in the preparation of a course on
The greatest obstacle to adopting the approach advocated here is the arguable worry of many scholars that introducing all these important concepts and theories on a superficial level will result in cultivating half-baked ideas. The answer here is that if such “sources” are given parallel to the rigorous, technically sophisticated introductory courses, which however do not apply to most real-life situations, the balance between being serious and scholarly and being popular, relevant and urgent is addressed. On the even more positive side, students’ curiosity about real-life situations with which most of them enter university will be satisfied instead of postponed to graduate studies—a time by which many of the students will have dropped out—intellectually or physically—frustrated by irrelevance and boredom.
Let me end on an optimistic but, I hope, not irrationally optimistic note. Many of the problems I have outlined emerged because many of the “good” young people have tended not to go into politics or into academe for the last thirty years, but preferred to make money. As a result, the world of academe has fewer doctoral students and gifted researchers and politics has very few genuine leaders and change-makers. Talent has preferred making money on Wall Street or in law firms instead. According to some recent estimates, as many as 60% of the most talented graduates have gone to Wall Street during the last few years. Seemingly and hopefully this bubble has burst.
Once again, we see national governments and national institutions acquiring new strength in the wake of the global economic and financial crisis. At the same time, the increasing influence of governments will predictably lead to a strengthening of the party system. As a result, many gifted young people who now have nowhere to go will once again choose academe and politics. This may well become the trend dominating the higher education sector in the coming years.
We have some reason to hope that the growing significance and intensity of political life will attract better people, who in turn will turn to the universities again for intellectual ammunition and knowledge better suited to handling today’s problems. That could provide new incentives to
The current crisis of the university is intellectual. It is a crisis of purpose, focus and content, rooted in fundamental confusion about all three. As a consequence, curricula are largely separate from research, subjects are taught in disciplinary isolation, knowledge is conflated with information and is more often than not presented as static rather than dynamic. Furthermore, universities are largely reactive rather than providing clear forward-looking visions and critical perspectives. The crisis is all the more visible today, as the pace of social, intellectual and
Here we present a set of eleven overlapping principles designed to inform an international dialogue and to guide an experimental process of
Curricular changes of this magnitude and significance both require and produce changes in the structural arrangements and institutional profiles of universities. This is true for matters of governance, leadership, and finance as well as for systems of
These principles are the conclusion of deliberations by a working group of scholars that met at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin during the academic year 2009/10. Some were fellows at the Kolleg, others joined the group because of their interest in these issues. The Wissenschaftskolleg supported the work of its fellows. In addition, these principles have already been adopted by a first group of institutions as a blueprint for local
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Arthur, Brian W. (1989). Positive Feedbacks in the Economy. Scientific American
Barabási, Albert-László (2003). Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. New York: A Plume Book.
Beller, Mara (1999). Quantum Dialogue: The Making of a Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Collier, Paul (2007). The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Evans, Nicholas, Stephen Levinson (2009). The Myth of Language Universals: Language Diversity and its Importance for Cognitive Science. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32(5): 429-494
Frank, David John, Jay Gabler (2006). Reconstructing the University: Worldwide Shifts in Academia in the 20th Century. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Frank, David John, John W. Meyer (2007). Worldwide Expansion and Change in the University. In: Towards a Multiversity: Universities Between Global Trends and National Traditions Ed. by Georg Kruüken, Anna Kosmützky, A. K.. Bielefeld: Transaction Publishers 19-44
Gleick, James (1988). Chaos: Making a New Science. London: Heinemann.
Granovetter, M. (1973). The Strength of Weak Ties. American Journal of Sociology 78(6): 1360-1380
Jespersen, Otto (1889). The Articulations of Speech Sounds Represented by Means of Analphabetic Symbols. Marburg in Hessen: Elwert.
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Kauffmann, Stuart A. (1993). The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Watts, Duncan J. (2004). Six Degrees: The New Science of Networks. London: Vintage.
On the different types of knowledge transfer in different periods, see many of the other chapters in this volume.
Two publications should be noted: Frank and Gabler 2006; Frank and Meyer 2007, 19–44.
See Elkana 1981; Elkana 1986; Elkana 1988.
See also Elkana 1970a; Elkana 1970b. More recently Mara Beller made good use of it in her important book Beller 1999.
For more on this topic, see Elkana 2000.
See my paper on rethinking the doctorate Elkana 2006.
Part 3 of the present volume, especially the survey chapter 16, is an important reminder of this issue.
See the work of Guy Deutscher of the University of Manchester, or of Nicholas Evans and Stephen Levinson Evans and Levinson 2009.
Mauthner was an Austrian linguist and a student of Ernst Mach.
Jespersen’s works appeared from 1889 onward; he was a famous Danish linguist, specializing in English grammar. See, for example, Mauthner 1901.
Table of Contents
1 The Globalization of Knowledge in History: An Introduction
Jürgen Renn, Malcolm D. Hyman
2 Knowledge and Science in Current Discussions of Globalization
Helge Wendt, Jürgen Renn
PART 1: From Technology Transfer to the Origins of Science
3 Survey: From Technology Transfer to the Origins of Science
Malcolm D. Hyman, Jürgen Renn
4 Technological Transfer and Innovation in Ancient Eurasia
Daniel T. Potts
6 The Origins of Writing and Arithmetic
PART 2: Knowledge as a Fellow Traveler
9 Survey: Knowledge as a Fellow Traveler
10 The Spread of Buddhism as Globalization of Knowledge
12 Normative Islam and Global Scientific Knowledge
13 From Khwarazm to Cordoba: The Propagation of Non-Religious Knowledge in the Islamic Empire
14 The Sciences in Europe: Transmitting Centers and the Appropriating Peripheries
Manolis Patiniotis, Kostas Gavroglu
PART 3: The Place of Local Knowledge in the Global Community
16 Survey: The Place of Local Knowledge in the Global Community
18 The Introduction of the European University System in Brazil
Oscar Abdounur, Adriana Cesar de Mattos
19 Celestial Navigation and Technological Change on Moce Island
Jarita C. Holbrook
21 On Juridico-Political Foundations of Meta-Codes
23 The Transformations of Knowledge Through Cultural Interactions in Brazil: The Case of the Tupinikim and the Guarani
Circe Mary Silva da Silva, Ligia Arantes Sad
PART 4: The Globalization of Modern Science
24 Survey: The Globalization of Modern Science
Jürgen Renn, Malcolm D. Hyman
25 The University of the 21st Century: An Aspect of Globalization
26 The Soviet Psychologists and the Path to International Psychology
27 The Global Diffusion of Nuclear Technology
28 The Role of Open and Global Communication in Particle Physics
Hans Falk Hoffmann
29 Internationalism and the History of Molecular Biology
30 The Role of Chemistry in the Global Energy Challenge
31 Climate Change as a Global Challenge – and its Implications for Knowledge Generation and Dissemination
Daniel Klingenfeld, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber
32 Toward an Epistemic Web
Malcolm D. Hyman, Jürgen Renn
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