|

Community

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Thinking about our own understanding of community—both the community that the university is and the community within which the university operates—might return us briefly to Kuhn and his interest in the ways that scientific revolutions operate in part by throwing the scientific community into crisis. Kuhn suggests that paradigm shifts very often require transformations in the community itself, precisely because of its members’ attachment to the ways that things have been done. It’s thus no accident that paradigm shifts frequently align with generational change, as the new discoveries required to create new paradigms are commonly uncovered by “men so young or so new to the crisis-ridden field that practice has committed them less deeply than most of their contemporaries to the world view and rules determined by the old paradigm” (Kuhn 143). Undoubtedly so. And yet, in reading The Structure of Scientific Revolutions today, it’s impossible to avoid the degree to which the community remains precisely the same throughout: not “men” as a now-antiquated ostensibly neutral term for “people,” but men, men, men. Not a single woman is mentioned throughout the volume. It took later feminist and other critical approaches to the history and sociology of science to begin to make the effects of this gap clear. As Sandra Harding argues in Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?, in addition to telling us empirically verifiable things about the world, science has always also been “politics by other means,” and the failure to be conscious of those politics has led to limitations in what science can do (10). In fact, the conception of the natural sciences as the epitome of objectivity and rationality has hampered the development of sciences “that are not systematically blinded to the ways in which their descriptions and explanations of their subject matters are shaped by the origins and consequences of their research practices and by the interests, desires, and values promoted by such practices” (Harding 15). Science—like all forms of academic research—may aspire to objectivity, but it has always been conducted by humans, who are inescapably subjective beings. What has been required in order to create the kind of paradigm shift that allows us to see that subjectivity and its effects—the kind of paradigm shift that can genuinely affect not just the results but the very practice of academic work—is, as the epigraph from McMillan Cottom suggests, not a new tool or a new technique or a new method, but a new politics.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 This is as broadly true of the institutions of higher education that host the work as it is of the work undertaken within particular academic fields. As Mary Beard notes in Women and Power, “You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders” (86-87). And so of difference of many kinds: you cannot easily fit people of color into a structure that is already coded as white, not if you are trying to create an institution that genuinely reflects the needs and interests of the entirety of the community. Instead, you must change the structure and its coding in ways that make not just diversity but genuine inclusivity possible. This type of change requires a willingness to think about the institution’s often unspoken structural biases, not just making it possible for more kinds of people to achieve conventionally-coded success within the institution, but instead examining what constitutes success, how it is measured, and why. It requires thinking first and foremost about values, as well as about the ways those values are instantiated in the processes through which the institution operates.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 3 Among those values that need examination, as I hope the preceding discussion suggests, is prestige: how it is defined, how it is awarded, how it is withheld. As the provost whose talk opened this chapter laid bare, prestige is a competitive matter, with a singular goal, and the quest for it is one of the things that isolates our institutions, both from one another and from their communities. In seeking prestige, we reinforce hierarchy and exclusion. And so, pace Beard, in decoupling power from prestige, we need not just to think about followers, but also to reconsider what it is we focus on when we talk about leaders, and why we think of the non-elite as “followers” in the first place. What if, instead of leaders and followers, we were able to focus our attention on the building of communities, collectives working together toward common goals? How might such a shift in focus transform the educational mission, as well as the structural objectives, of institutions of higher education? Conventionally,  thinking about universities’ role in the development of “tomorrow’s leaders” means focusing on (or hoping for) the production of future CEOs and elected officials, individuals with the kinds of power and prestige that might reflect on (and, in those hopes, be brought to the future assistance of) the institutions from which they came. If universities were instead to focus on the development of communities, the mode of leadership they educate for might be grounded less in prestige—in individualistic markers of power—than in connection and collaboration.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 This need for a focus on community has given rise to several of the alternative models for higher education I mentioned a moment ago. Myles Horton, for instance, in thinking about the purposes and goals of the Highlander Folk Institute, noted the purposeful decision he’d made not to work within traditional institutions of higher education, but instead to seek ways of “working with emerging community leaders or organizational leaders, to try to help those people get a vision and some understanding of how you go about realizing that vision so that they could go back into their communities and spread the ideas” (Horton and Freire 184). In order to make this possible, Highlander had to dismantle conventional understandings of education, allowing the work to be driven by the needs and concerns of the people involved. But translating this cooperative mode of engagement to more traditional institutions of higher education requires not just new pedagogies, or new internal structures, but a new paradigm, even a new political unconscious: a turn from privatized, rationalist, competition-based models for knowledge production to ways of knowing, of learning, of being in community that are grounded in an ethic of care.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Feminist care ethics derives primarily from the work of Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings, who proposed caring as an alternative to rationalist ethical models focused on objective principles. These models, typified by Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, suggested that women are less highly developed as moral beings because their judgment is based less on abstract cases and principles and more on intimate human connections and feelings. Gilligan and Noddings argued, by contrast, that focusing on women’s grounding in interpersonal relationships and resulting personal responsiblities might enable the development of “a powerful and coherent ethic and, indeed, a different sort of world” from the male-dominated rational-objective world of principles (Noddings 92). This ethic is one based not in universalized notions of right and wrong but rather in the obligations that each of us bear to care for those around us who are in need. Key to that ethic is receptivity: both the openness of what Noddings refers to as the “one-caring” to the needs of the other, and the openness of the “cared-for” to the care being provided. This position of receptivity bears a great deal in common with the listening practices that I emphasized in chapter 2, including a willingness to attend to the other, to hear their concerns, and to act as best as possible in consideration of the needs expressed. In that discussion of listening, however, I focused on the obligation that each of us bears individually to those around us. What I would now like us to consider is how the university might become a more receptive institution, more attuned to the needs of the communities that should form its cared-for. How might the university, both internally and externally, become a caring community?

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 1 There are some risks associated with focusing an institution or a community around principles of care, perhaps needless to say. The need around us is infinite, and as Noddings notes the thought of meeting such need is sufficiently overwhelming that as individuals we are faced with “the temptation to withdraw from the public domain,” to focus on our own internal requirements. This is perhaps part of the way the university finds itself in its current predicament: unable to meet all the need by which it is surrounded, and under relentless examination by a rationalist culture, the institution turns inward, becoming hermetic and isolated. However, while the ethic of care creates an obligation to connect, that obligation is not infinite: “we cannot care for everyone. Caring itself is reduced to mere talk about caring when we attempt to do so” (Noddings 145). The obligation is greatest when it is closest to home. In fact, the further from home we attempt to extend our concern, the more likely that caring-for will devolve into what Noddings calls “caring about,” a more abstracted position in which any obligation can be readily dimissed:  “‘Caring about’ always involves a certain benign neglect. One is attentive just so far. One assents with just so much enthusiasm. One acknowledges. One affirms. One contributes five dollars and goes on to other things” (181). Caring-about seems to be the primary mode in which the university usually operates with respect to its surrounding community: making a largely symbolic contribution, feeling good about it, and moving on. True caring requires remaining in relation, genuinely becoming part of a community, while recognizing and acknowledging the limitations involved in doing so. I’ll discuss some examples shortly of ways that the university might become a more receptive institution, more attuned to and guided by the needs around it.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 1 But I’ll also need to talk about ways that the university, in becoming more receptive to the community around it, must also develop an internal receptivity, an internal sense of community as well. Because the risks associated with creating a caring community do not lie solely in its inability to meet an infinite external need, but also in the unequal distribution of caring responsibilities. It hardly needs to be pointed out that western culture places far greater demands for caring on women rather than men. And while Noddings and Gilligan derive their arguments about care from feminist ideals of connection and relation, other critics, including Nancy Chodorow, have argued that the reproduction of the caring relationship typified by mothering works to reinforce rather than subvert patriarchal social structures. Faculty members have long seen that danger in operation within the university, as women and faculty of color take on a disproportionate share of the care-related activity involved in mentoring and other forms of service within the institution. This work is often profoundly meaningful to the individuals involved, and yet the time and energy devoted to care risks causing individual scholars to lose competitiveness within their cohorts every bit as much as the provost at the chapter’s outset projected it would for an institution writ large. As long as faculty success is organized around individual competition—as long as universities’ incentives and reward structures are largely focused on valorizing individual labor toward competitive ends—community-oriented activities will fall to those of lower status, and will perpetuate that hierarchy. The response to this form of inequity has often been the strong advice to women and faculty of color to say no, to refuse the labor of caring, to protect their time, to demand equal access to the individualistic, competitive focus that the institution rewards. Noddings notes that this response is in many ways the path of least resistance: “In an age concerned with equity and justice—and far less concerned with relatedness and cooperation—we shall almost surely find it easier to join men in their traditional ways than to induce them to join us” (190). But it is also a path that leads away from community, that prevents connection, that leaves the university and its members caught up in the mandate to compete all the time. Instead, as Mary Beard suggests, we have to change the structure. In turning the institution toward outwardly-expressed forms of care for its community, we must also turn it toward inwardly-expressed forms of care, including ensuring that demands for emotional and relational labor within the university are equitably distributed and, most importantly, ensuring that such labor is prioritized and rewarded. And this, as I’ll discuss in a bit, requires standing the institution’s assessment practices on their heads, creating a caring community by becoming a community that genuinely values care.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 1 Moreover, there are important potential benefits that might derive from colleges and universities together understanding themselves to be a community rather than existing primarily in competition with one another. Individual institutions cannot solve the problems faced in today’s libraries, for instance—such as the need to balance preservation of print collections with demands on the space they require, or the need to provide digital access to collections while contending with the labor and infrastructure requirements involved in doing so—but working together, solutions (rather than Solutions) might be found. Some not-for-profit organizations such as HathiTrust and some informal collectives such as the Future of the Print Record working group are trying to point the way, but ensuring that the not-for-profits are adequately supported to be able to take on such a monumental task and that the collectives become more formalized collaborations remains a challenge (“Concerted Thought”). And the challenge remains, not least, because the library is one of the key points of competition among universities, a point of invidious comparison that keeps institutions fighting for prestige rather than building community.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 2 It is in focusing on community at all levels, rather than on particular skills or areas of knowledge, that I believe the university can make its greatest contribution to its culture, helping to ensure that we remain a strong, functioning democracy. Scholars such as Martha Nussbaum have pointed to the role of the humanities—especially philosophy, history, and literature—in cultivating “the ability to think critically; the ability to transcend local loyalties and to approach world problems as a ‘citizen of the world’; and, finally, the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person,” abilities that are, she argues, “crucial to the health of any democracy internally, and to the creation of a decent world culture capable of constructively addressing the world’s most pressing problems” (7). And these fields do have key roles to play in creating thoughtful, well-rounded citizens capable of responding with care to difficult and, today, often dangerous issues that we face together. But those abilities alone cannot be enough; the study of philosophy, history, and literature (or music, or art, or theater) may expose students to the possibility of empathetic connection but they cannot in and of themselves instill the value of connection in ways that can genuinely transform a community or a culture. Part of the problem in making that transfer may stem from our mistaken understanding of what it is to build a strong, functioning democracy. As I mentioned earlier, the university’s focus has long been on preparing “tomorrow’s leaders,” and so we often conflate preparation for democracy with preparation for leadership, for decision-making. But the key element of a working democracy may not be strong leaders at the top, but a strong demos—ordinary citizens—who can organize at the grass-roots level around their own concerns, and who are willing both to ensure that their concerns are heard and to care for the often quite different concerns of others. What this suggests is that the university should focus less energy on educating for leadership and more on educating for community.

Page 25

Source: https://hcommons.org/5-the-university/community/

Skip to toolbar