Centre for Educational Development

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Jonas Andreasen Lysgaard

Universities and Higher Education Futures in the Anthro/Capitalocene

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  • Søren Smedegaard Ernst Bengtsen
  • ,
  • Susan Wright
  • David Mills, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Jonas Andreasen Lysgaard
  • Keri Facer, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Ronald Barnett, Institute of Education , London, United Kingdom
In the age of the Anthropocene, human societies re-discover their deep- rooted entanglement with their natural and cultural surroundings. More pointedly, the rampant material production and social inequalities of the ‘Capitolocene’ (Moore 2016) make visible severe biological and climate implications, and North-South tensions. In the Anthropocene lies an inbuilt irony: human beings, of slight significance as a species in the vast geobiological perspective, not so much threaten their natural surroundings as they threaten their very own existence. When human beings realise their existence as a ‘geologic force’ (Gildersleeve & Kleinhesselink, 2019) it is not only individuals but also key institutions that have to take responsibility for their effect on the earth, and their place within it. In the symposium, we discuss how awareness of the Anthropocene calls for a reassessment of the role and purpose of universities and higher education. If university research has enabled the development of many negative aspects of the Anthro/Capitalocene, universities can also bring people, societies, and cultures together around a shared common, global concern and issue of care (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017). Will higher education, in the wake of the Anthropocene, make it possible to move from agendas of higher education as an economy to higher education as an ecology (Barnett, 2018; Wright, 2016)? Alien ontologies: A philosophical perspective Søren Bengtsen, Aarhus University, Denmark The discussions of the Antrhopocene and Capitalocene rest on the idea that universities and institutions for higher education may solve geo- political climate and cultural challenges by assuming a rational, controlled, strategic, and competent academic approach (Lysgaard et al, 2019). The epistemic and ontological beliefs and theories applied to overcome the inherent natural and cultural imperialism, often form a theoretical totalitarianism that aims to explain, define, and ultimately assimilate what is other into what is familiar and already known (Levinas, 2003). We see little discussion of the conceptual frameworks and their underlying ontological assumptions that we use to cast the very challenges in (Barnett & Bengtsen, 2019). In this paper, I argue, with the help from the philosophy of otherness by Emmanuel Levinas (2000; 2003) that to truly move beyond the Anthropocene and Capitaloscene and understand the natural and cultural environements that are other to ourselves, we need a philosophical platform, which allows for thinking about absolute otherness. I draw out the implications for our academic identities by suggesting that the notion of academics, and even universities, has to been understood radically different and must, in the process, reveal our own academic fatique, boredom, and insomnia. Prefiguring a post-carbon academy: From frequent flying to nearly- carbon-neutral David Mills, University of Oxford, United Kingdom Mobility is deeply sedimented within scholarly identity and academic practice. Colonial conquest and travel practices helped forged European ‘empires of scholars’ (Pietsch 2013). The exponential growth of academic air travel intensified the globalisation of the world science system. Today huge international conferences play a pivotal role in research networking and knowledge production, making science ever more ecologically unsustainable. Far from acting as role models, senior researchers are the most frequent flyers. Even climate scientists are little better. This presentation seeks to trouble our disciplinary (and affective) attachments to aeromobility. It explores new models of nearly-carbon-neutral conferencing and networking across a range of fields that also help to open up and democratise scholarly debate. They prefigure a vision for a more equitable global flow of ideas: one less dependent on carbon-intensive scholarship. Dark pedagogies of a sustainable university Jonas Lysgaard, Aarhus University, Denmark At the end of the second decade of the new millennia, we face a strange world that is no longer the stable background for human history as it has seemingly turned against us, running amok. Previously recognized climatological standards are shattered, records are set, in a most alarming way, all over the world and we scramble in order to understand how to navigate in this extraordinary new normal. While notions of climate change have been with us for decades recent events have underlined that we no longer are in negotiation and planning mode, but unwillingly find ourselves in the midst of an environmental and climate crisis. A crisis whose causes are now being recognized on a hitherto unforeseen scale, and universities – leaders, staff, researchers and students - mobilize in order to protest against the political status quo and business-as-usual approach to decision-making and to demand a new ecologically and environmentally oriented and respectful way of re-configuring universities in order to address the massive challenges that we face. Dark pedagogy (Lysgaard et al, 2019) is a response to how our world is changing and an effort to think the consequences and potential new practices as pedagogical and educational key issues. Dark pedagogy is an experimental effort provide a pedagogy for an age of mass extinction. Intergenerational relations in the University of the Capitalocene Keri Facer, University of Bristol, UK, and Uppsala University, Sweden The contemporary climate debate is increasingly oriented around a narrative of intergenerational conflict. Older adults are framed, by young climate activists and climate scientists alike, as having caused the climate problem and of doing little to address it. This talk will explore the implications of this narrative for the intergenerational contract in the university, for the relations between lecturers and students, and for the responsibilities of educators in a university setting. Underpinning these tensions are a set of assumptions about how futures are made, the role of education in the making of such futures and the respective responsibilities of students and teachers in these processes. The talk will attempt to unpick these assumptions, by drawing on Kessel and Burke’s framing of teaching as a ‘terror management project’, by exploring Arendt’s concept of education as a distinctive site of intergenerational encounter in preparation for ‘renewing a common world’, and by building on Osberg’s generative metaphor of education as a practice of symbiotic anticipation, in which the challenge is to build encounters that are capable of generating novelty. The paper will explore, in particular, how a worldview that assumes an as-yet-finished world (Unger/Bloch), an infinitely generative world in the making (Bruno), a world as plenum (Ingold) may provide a new basis for negotiating the tensions between generations in relation to the climate crisis today. Rising from the ruins – new values at the end of the world Susan Wright, Aarhus University, Denmark This paper discusses ways of disembedding universities from what Polanyi called a formal economy, where they are dislocated from their social, political and cultural context. It tries to relocate them in an ecology by building on insights from Anna Tsing’s Mushroom at the end of the world. Tsing treats the ruins of Californian pine forests resulting from operating according to an economic rationale as sites where unpredictable new relationships can occur, some of which are predatory, but others synergetic. The paper draws on recent research in Preston, UK, to explore how universities can have an economic value that is embedded in local politics and society, by participating in the development of a cooperative economy. It draws on other recent work to develop a cooperative pedagogy by using the analogy of permaculture to think about how new growth based on a set of ecological values can develop out of the ruins of the university.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2021
Number of pages4
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021
EventThe Meaningful University: Exploring Contemporary Complexities and Challenges - and working towards what matters - Roskilde University (RUC), Roskilde, Denmark
Duration: 22 Jun 202024 Jun 2020
Conference number: 7


ConferenceThe Meaningful University
LocationRoskilde University (RUC)
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