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Rikke Toft Nørgård

The Worldhood university: things, places, designs, and thinking in dialogue

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Universities and higher education today are sites for entanglement of multiple forms of agency and lifeworlds. Enhanced focus is given to higher education strategies and frameworks that integrate more traditional forms of higher education curriculum with moral and political awareness, social agency, and economic consciousness. As Ronald Barnett (2004), Finn T. Hansen (2010), and others have argued we have left the mode 1 university behind, where the institution steadfastly manages and imposes the right forms of knowledge, ideas and values on the world for it to follow. Also, we are now moving beyond the mode 2 university, where the university is ‘for sale’ (Shumar, 1997) and where higher education curricula are being defined and shaped by the needs and current drivers of the job market and the shifting neoliberalist company strategies. As Ronald Barnett underlines “the contemporary vocabulary of the university [is] terribly thin - relying as it does on the terminology of performance indicators, worldclass-ness, knowledge transfer, ‘third space professionals’, ‘the student experience’, students-as-consumers, league tables, outcomes, impact, [and] internationalisation” (Barnett, 2013, p.43-44). Indeed, we now approach the mode 3 university, which is a university for, in, and of the world. However, new difficulties and challenges also become visible when moving into the mode 3 worldhood university. As we have argued elsewhere making the university belong to the world, and vice-versa, is a challenge politically, socially, ethically, and philosophically. It requires, among other things, new conceptions of academic citizenship, belonging in higher education, and what we have called ‘placeful universities’ where “academic citizenship emerges through dialogical integration and ‘Mitsein’ in the critically open bond between university and society as they are in and for each other […] That entails designing universities that allows for openness, dialogue, mutual integration, joint responsibility and care” (Nørgård & Bengtsen, 2016, p. 14). Following this, a university for, in, and of the world needs to be open for inhabitation – to become a world – for the people dwelling within and around it. The worldhood of the university comes forward through the integration of society, people, and institution where they carry each other as worlds nested inside worlds – a togetherness of worlds. Paul Temple (2014) has argued for the university as a potential place as “[t]he creation of a community and its culture turns, I suggest, the university space into a place. As a result, locational capital becomes transformed, through the mediation of an institutional culture, into social capital.” (Temple, 2014, p.11). A place that for better or worse is shaped by people’s interactions and experiences through its design, given that “[p]hysical design features, large and small, seem to be important in ensuring that the interaction [between students and teachers] is educationally positive” (Temple, 2014, p.12). If this transformation from locational to social and educational capital does not occur successfully, the physical dimension of the university – the university as a thing - becomes a monolith - turning the campus into a monologue of exclusion and power. As Peter Scott (2015) has argued the dialogue between institution and society risks breaking down, when the purpose of the university is no longer clear to the public, and indeed this becomes further complicated when the notion of the public itself becomes confused. Hereby we risk that the dialogue between the university and the public – their thinking together – breaks down and regress to the monologue of either the mode 1 (the university positions the public) or mode 2 (the public positions the university) university. As argued by Nixon “[t]he loss of all values other than the values of the marketplace further erodes public trust in the universities by restricting the notion of public concern to narrow self-interests of the commercial sector.” (Nixon, 2008, p.22). The fusion of the university and the public into what could be termed a shared worldhood is mandatory to ensure the continued dialogue between the university and society. Nixon argues that universities must become ‘civic spaces’, as “[c]ivic spaces are spaces within which isolated subjects become citizens and in which citizens have an opportunity and indeed obligation to express their citizenship in terms of mutual recognition.” (Nixon, 2008, p.8). The real risk with a ‘monological’ university as an enclosed world is, as Barnett points out, that it may become ideological as well, where “[t]he university is unable to think imaginatively about itself, beyond its contemporary self-understandings.”, whereby our reflections on the future university needs to include a “counter-ideology thinking.” (Barnett, 2013, p.22-23). Such counter-ideology thinking within an imaginative university, we shall argue in the following, is dependent on the coming into being of a worldhood university. The worldhood university could be seen as a moving away from the discourse about the globalised university, being nowhere and everywhere, for everyone and no one. Contrary, the worldhood university is a re-entry and re-grounding of the university in the world of worlds. This is not a nostalgic argument for a return to pre-modern times and the sealed off universities and the dichotomy between town and gown campuses. On the contrary, the worldhood university thinks and educates not only in the world, but from dialogues with the world. On this ground, we provide an analytical model for worldhood thinking by way of the philosophies of thing, place, design, and thinking. This presented ‘worldhood model’ should not be seen as a normative ideal, but an analytical tool for further analysis and discussion of the role of universities within contemporary societies and cultures.
Original languageEnglish
Publication yearOct 2017
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017
EventThe Purpose of the Future University: Philosophy of Higher Education Conference - Aarhus University , Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 6 Nov 20178 Nov 2017


ConferenceThe Purpose of the Future University
LocationAarhus University
Internet address

    Research areas

  • Higher education, Worldhood, Educational philosophy, Things, Places, Design, Thinking , Ontology

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