What are your views on the current state of academia? You’ve seen it evolve over a number of years.

Most people I know in academia want to get out. Which is a pretty new situation. I’ve never encountered that before. When I arrived in Oxbridge, at the tender age of 18, it was massively upper class and very patrician and I had a very hard time there. As a tutor in Oxford over the years, I saw all that—superficially at least—modulate. You know, Etonians with bones through their noses, and Wykehamists carefully dropping their vowels, distressing their jeans and their accents. But at least in those years, the neo-managerial ethos hadn’t exerted its clammy grip, so much, over universities. [Neo-managerialism] is absolutely hideous. I mean, it has effectively brought to an end hundreds of years—at least a two hundred-year-old tradition—of the university as a centre of critique, in a society where critique otherwise is pretty hard to come by. That is a momentous and historic development, and I’m really rather glad, personally speaking, that it coincides with my exit. Everywhere I go, from Peru to Australia, people are very unhappy in what perhaps were once, you know, “the best days of one’s life”.

The Oxonian Review: “An Interview with Terry Eagleton” by Alexander Barker and Alex Niven, issue 19.4, June 4, 2012.

On this particular theme, see also “Le Naufrage de l’université” by Michel Freitag (1995, available online) as well as Le pacte faustien de l’université by Aline Girous (Montreal: Édition Liber, 2006).

This argument is not completely unrelated to the vigorous and ongoing debate within academic circles between two polarized tradition: on one hand the “administrative” research tradition and on the other hand the “critical” research tradition. To my knowledge the roots of this debate were first exposed by Paul F. Lazarsfeld in his 1941 article “Administrative and Critical Communication Research” (Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, Vol. 9, pp. 2-16, PDF). Here’s an excerpt where Lazarsfeld describe the critical research tradition:

One cannot pursue a single purpose and study the means of its realization isolated from the total historical situation in which such planning and studying goes on. Modern media of communication have become such complex instruments that wherever they are used they do much more to people than those who administer them mean them to do, and they may have a momentum of their own which leaves the administrative agencies much less choice than they believe they have. The idea of critical research is posed against the practice of administrative research, requiring that, prior and in addition to whatever special purpose is to be served, the general role of our media of communication in the present social system should be studied. (p. 9)

• • •

Previously: The end of the belief in education (Peter Sloterdijk, 1983)

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