An entreprenenurial ecology for higher education: A new approach to student formation

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstract for conference

The meaning of economy as creating societal value deeply embedded within the lifeworlds of individual citizens has been lost in the economic development that started in the 19th century. Since then, we have had a historical movement where the economy becomes separated from other arenas of life in advanced societies. Karl Polyani (2001 [1944]) partly accepts this, but partly suggests it is a false separation, perhaps a reification itself. While modern economies have created something of a separate sector of society called the economy, he argued that the formal economy was colonizing other arenas of social life, like education. This way economy comes to obscure our thinking to see all economic activity as engaged in self maximization and self-maximizing thinking on the part of individuals and groups. In similar phrases, Gert Biesta (2011) critiques this notion of education as a product and he sees the accountability movement as furthering the reifying process. He says, “We value what we can measure, rather than measure what we value”. In contemporary philosophy of higher education, alternatives have been suggested. Such work include Jon Nixon’s (2008) focus on virtures in the higher education curriculum, together with Bruce Macfarlane’s (2016) focus on academic citizenship and student freedom in future higher education programmes. However, such approaches tend to maintain a focus on how higher education may contribute to society, and in what ways society may benefit from students’ virtues and critical being. As an altarnative approach, we shall apply an underlying Heideggerian angle, where students are not seen as contributors to society, but as catalysts of a process of ‘releasement’ (Gelassenheit) (Heidegger, 2010) of powers and values already deeply embedded within the heart of societal initiatives and activities. Paraphrasing Heidegger, we argue that students should be seen as ‘shepherds of being’, a notion Heidegger presents in his Letter on Humanism (2011). This can be understood as a particularly philosophical approach to enpreneurialism (Shumar & Robinson, forthcoming). We shall present the outlines of four new approaches to thinking about and understanding societal value of academic work and activity. They all draw from a Heideggerian ontology, but each latches on to contemporary philosophers of value and higher education. We call this, with inspiration from Ronald Barnett (2018), an ‘entrepreneurial ecology for higher education’: Crafting value Drawing on the work of the anthropologist David Graeber (2002), we argue that the notion of craftsmanship may be linked to the generation of value creation and student formation. This approach critiques the commodification of the university where people are busy stripping other human values out of a university education so they can focus on knowledge/information as a product to be packaged and sold in a marketplace. As crafters of value, students work from within society (a certain form of production), from within a an ecological mindset of the small breweries (or crafting enterprises), and with a form of knowledge creation that is deeply embedded into the professional practices. Disclosing new worlds As good Heideggerians, Spinosa, Flores, and Dreyfus (1997) imagine how people bring new worlds into being (and becoming) by moving from disharmonies in the current world, to a future set of arrangements (that may mean new things are created) to bring about a better world. In this perspective, becoming is about bringing about a world where the things we value can flourish. In fact it is kind of the enlightenment ideal of the university calling the self and the nation upward. The question of what is upward today is a question of what kind of world do we want to inhabit. While it is true that the university needs to point us toward a sustainable and flourishing economy, it also needs to face many social problems. Poverty, climate change, conflict, these issues are all ones that produce disharmonies for many people. The university should be the place where a vision of a better world becomes actual and not just imagined. The value of the absent Influenced by the American philosopher Alphonso Lingis (1998), we argue that creating value is also about eliciting what has been lost, forgotten, and repressed. Academic knowledge creation, this way, becomes a form of societal and cultural conjuring – summoning the voices of citizens and people who are long dead and forgotten, who left for exile because of persecuation, or who have been buried in mass graves. Lingis argues that academics must speak for those have no longer the ability to speak, or who have been silenced by others. Students must learn to draw forth voices of the silent, the silenced, and the absent. This is not just an ethical responsibility, but the creation of deep knowledge – to build understandings from what does not (no longer) exist. The value we yet cannot value Finally, inspired by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (2006), we discuss the need for students in higher education to grapple with and create values who cannot yet be valued as contemporary society does not yet have any means of measuring it either in thought, practices, or economic terms. For Nietzsche, such values, which emerge from the future and from a higher culture, can only grow from within the society itself. Here, to be an entrepreneur means to work in, what Nietzsche calls (1968) a ‘hothouse’ for strange, rare and choice lifeforms and values. Doing so, students may experience being met with incomprehension, confusion, and even fear. This is, indeed, a form of madness embedded within the higher education curriculum. We are aware that this approach generates important questions, which we shall look forward to discuss with the audience. For example, how can such societal activities be said to be distinctively academic, and not ‘merely’ professional? How do we build a higher education curriculum around this ideal of entrepreneurial ecologies? And how does this pan out into specific forms of learning, teaching, and formation trajectories for students of higher education? These questions and implications shall be addressed and critically discussed at the end of our presentation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication yearMay 2018
Number of pages3
StateAccepted/In press - May 2018
EventPhilosophy of higher education conference - Middlesex University , London, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Sep 201812 Sep 2018


ConferencePhilosophy of higher education conference
LocationMiddlesex University
CountryUnited Kingdom

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