The Alien University

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Higher education in the period after postmodernism is haunted by darkness. Not a dystopian or apocalyptic darkness, but the darkness of the unknown (Bengtsen & Barnett, 2017a). Despite its projects of deconstruction and democracy, postmodernist agendas within higher education have been very much preoccupied with the present and its socio-political agendas and projections. In contrast, the darkness of higher education haunts us with a lust for and obsession with the future; what lies ahead in future societies and universities that do not yet exist. In contrast to the immanent political ontologies of postmodernism, the darkness of higher education signals the coming of the metaphysics of learning and institutional transcendence. Universities and higher education institutions face a time where their role is uncertain. With Levinas it could even be argued that universities are on the brink of becoming “uprooted” and being “without a country” (Levinas, 2000, p.91). Universities today feel they are no longer inhabitants of the society they are part of, and they are faced with a “homelessness and strangeness” (ibid.) in their endeavours. The times ahead for universities are not merely troubled - they are alien. The conditions of universities today is not one of crisis and upheaval, as with the postmodern universities, it is one of night travel and exile. The alien university leaves behind the epistemological skirmishes of the postmodern university with all its rhetoric and knowledge activism. Thinking in the alien university is a move into a whirlpool of nothingness, a “nocturnal space”, where “[d]arkness fills it like a content; it is full, but full of the nothingness of everything.” (Levinas, 2001, p.53). In the alien university thinking is not situated, and instead of rhizomes, and assemblages of thought, there is merely an imposing and nightly “swarming of points.” (ibid.). There is no place for the alien university, and exactly this exile of thought makes possible the move beyond postmodernism and the mentality of political crisis. The alien university is not in the future as such, but it is not entirely in the present either. The alien university educates in anomalous and incomprehensible situations. As Waldenfels (2011) argues the character of the alien is hybrid and strange. The alien designates a stranger force that we cannot fully see or comprehend, and it is “an in-between sphere” full of disruptive spaces and situations that “constitute a no-man’s land, a liminal landscape which simultaneously connects and separates.” (Waldenfels, 2011, p.71). The alien university educates for and from what is strange in our personal, national, and global lifeworlds. The alien university holds within itself emancipatory possibilities from ontological layers not yet activated by present state discourses (Bengtsen & Barnett, 2017b). The alien university is not a distant and surreal societal institution, but one that shows itself to be able to engage with society and its futures in ways unfathomable in a postmodern perspective. Indeed, the alien university is already leading us on our way, into the unknown societal and political spaces - and into the alien spaces of thought.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEducational Philosophy and Theory
Issue number14
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2018

    Research areas

  • Higher Education, Educational Philosophy, Philosophy of Higher Education, Emmanuel Levinas, Alien University, Ontology

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