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Moving beyond education

Publikation: Bidrag til bog/antologi/rapport/proceedingBidrag til bog/antologiForskningpeer review

In recent years higher education has increasingly been seen as critical to social and economic competitiveness and societal health. Higher education is linked to the promotion of social stability and peace, a heightening of standards of living, and an increase in physical and mental health. Being used as a means for policy entrepreneurialism has resulted in that universities themselves experience being pressed financially, and existentially too, by neoliberal regimes behind the knowledge econ- omy agendas. Universities have been so successful in appealing to the political and wider societal arenas that, today, it is almost impossible to ima- gine universities as being more and otherwise than promoters of higher education for the local job market domains, national and regional policy strategies, and global rankings and benchmarking agendas. The university as a form of being has arguably been emptied of an identity beyond sole educational production mechanisms, and few today explore the university’s noninstrumental and “darker” (Bengtsen and Barnett 2017; Bengtsen 2014) levels of being. This paper, as a contrast, aims to explore the being of the univer- sity anew and with a focus on the dimensions of
the university that are not linked to higher educa- tion and, therefore, only occasionally have over- laps with teachers, students, and a formalized curriculum.
I am here occupied with an ontological analy- sis of the dimensions of the university that hold its inner lifeworld together without discussing such dimensions in terms of higher education. As a tool for the analysis, I apply the metaphor of the circus and in the widest and deepest sense of this term. Etymologically the term “circus” is a Latin deri- vation of the Greek word “Kirkos” meaning circle or ring, and it has been applied since ancient times to demarcate a certain form of geographical and ontological place, like the Circus Maximus that was determined for specific activities and events, social norms and behavior, and moral codex. Where the term “universitas” originally meant any form of guild or corporation, eventually connected exclusively to a specific institution, the term “circus” does not so much convey struc- tural, legal, and political dimensions (as the term “universitas”) but conveys a stronger sense of the enactment of place and a noninstrumental drive and aspiration for exceptional understanding and skill and transgressive performance and norm- challenging expression.
As the researcher into circus history, Helen Stoddart describes the circus is, above all, “a vehicle for the demonstration and taunting of dan- ger [which] remains its most telling and defining feature” (Stoddart 2000, p. 4). Stoddart fore- grounds the “fundamental secularity of the circus (. . .) as an arena in which wonder, awe and faith are fostered and exercised, yet their focus is invariably exceptional human physical achieve- ment, skill, and bravery” (Stoddart 2000, p. 5). It is important for Stoddart to underline that the circus is far from being a carnivalesque space in which disorder, illegitimacy, and inversion reign and “rather one in which there is an incorporation but also a hierarchical ordering of both the forces of chaos and inversion and those of order, ascendancy and power in which the latter invariably maintain the upper hand” (ibid.). This ambivalence between forces of order and chaos within the nature of the circus has let another circus scholar, Peta Tait (2010), to describe circus per- formance as a “gothic science” (Tait 2010, p. 25), as some of the best artists have been recognized for their scientific approach to aerial work but have coupled the fine-tuned mechanics and preci- sion work in aerial performances with “comic pantomimes about macabre deaths” (ibid.). Tait underlines that the most celebrated circus per- formers master this “darkly disturbing psychic underside to what is outwardly cheerful and reassuring” (ibid.). I shall aim to show that these defining features of the circus can be used as an ontological framework too for the defining fea- tures of university thinking and being
TitelEncyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory
RedaktørerMichael Peters
Antal sider6
ISBN (trykt)978-981-287-532-7
StatusUdgivet - 2018


  • Educational philosophy, Philosophy of Education, Philosophy of Higher Education, Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Graham Harman, Martin Heidegger, Circus

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