“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”SiddHARThA Gautama Buddha
Science and Academia
I will analyze and critically reflect on science and academia, namely on the production of knowledge. In doing so, I will examine theory about theory, but also relevant social concepts that are likewise found in the academic world: cultural capital, network society, fetishism and commodification, power and hierarchy, social exclusion, regimes of truth, habitus, agency and structure. Regarding the complexity of these concepts and the length of this essay, I might not be able to illustrate the linkage I am trying to reveal in its fullness. However, I want to emphasize that the purpose of this section is to connect theory to the process of producing theory by encouraging a stance of reflexivity. Thus, the concept under analysis is the process of conceptualizing, which ultimately establishes regimes of truth – in brief, I am reversing the perspective by contrasting concepts on the academic world.
The academic world and its concepts
In Positioning Theory (2016) Glick-Schiller and other contributors critically reflect on the power of analysis, advocating a theory from everybody for everybody and a moving away from a monopoly of intellectual framing. Why is it important to reflect on the position of theory in anthropology? David Mosse (2011) explores the relationship of policy making and anthropological knowledge looking at the connection between the power of ideas, right theory and good policy in international development. Obviously, those who fund research and those who publish research have interests in doing so. Therefore, research interests on society are informed by society itself. As science, I will further refer to this as the academic world, is a powerful part of society, concepts that emerge out of research studies on society may likewise be found in the field of science.
When Castells (2000) introduces his theory on the society as network society, he explains social structure is created around the relationships of production-consumption, power-experience and actors-structure. Hage (2016) illustrates the production and consumption layer of theory in the academic world. He (2016) introduces the concept of cultural capital on theory and its production. He continues to argue that this cultural capital in the academic world is then shown off, which ultimately results in, using Marx’ term, ´theoretical fetishism´. Hence, theory becomes a commodity that is produced and consumed, evaluated and judged in the world of academia (cf. Hage, 2016:223). In particular, the last part is reflected when Hage refers to ´symbolic violence´ in the academic world, which corresponds to the layer of power as presented in Castells (2000). Castells (2000) adds one more layer, that is decisive (if not even the marker) for a network society, which is technology. Castells frames this phenomenon as the ´new technological paradigm´, which enters and influences all layers of society. Referring to the example of the Internet, Media and Television he argues:
“What is also characteristic of this technological paradigm is the use of knowledge based, information technologies to enhance and accelerate the production of knowledge and information”
The advance in technology leads to a new economy that is informational, global and networked, and of course capitalistic (cf. Castells, 2000:10-11). This and the two components of timeless time and space of flows define the network society according to Castells (2000). The network society might be regarded as a network of nodes, all pursuing the same goal working on a binary logic of in- and exclusion, meaning that who is not contributing to the network´s existence will cease to be part of it (cf. Castells, 2000). In a network of various cultures and codes that transcendent space and time, systematic misunderstanding occurs, and meaning is at risk:
“The networking of production, the differentiation of consumption, the decentring of power, and the individualization of experience, are reflected, amplified, and codified by the fragmentation of meaning in the broken mirror of the electronic hypertext – where the only shared meaning is the meaning of sharing the network.”
In an era where the academic world is embedded in technological processes of production (at the computer), distribution (technological platforms) and consumption (purchasing ebooks or downloading articles) and operates globally transcending time and space, we might well speak of an academic world in terms of network society. The academic world might be regarded as a network society in which the consumption and production of knowledge is mediated through nodes embedded in a global, flexible, interactive, electronic hypertext. Likewise, the academic world is based on a decentered power. Power is shared among universities, scientific associations, academic journals and publishers, professors, researchers, students and of course those who fund universities and the state. As Castells (2000) argues nodes gain importance in the network by their ability to absorb and process more information efficiently. In the same way universities with a higher amount on research output gain more importance in the network, will probably be able to acquire more students and funds through an enhanced accumulation of cultural capital in form of sophisticated theories. In the same way, who is not part of the academic world and is not contributing to it has no say and will experience a social exclusion on the discourse of science. This might happen through limited access to knowledge produced in academia or through the production of knowledge in scientific language that is intended for scientific audience and thus not understandable for outsiders or through the fact that the voice of those outside of academia receive little attention in academia. Even though social actors constitute the network, the alteration of the network can only be challenged from the outside, as the code on which the network works is already set (cf. Castells, 2000). Hence, one of the ways to bring about social change is in building an alternative network, that operates on a different language, goals, values and beliefs (cf. Castells, 2000).
In that sense Positioning Theory (2016) is the call for an alternative network in the academic world and anthropology. For a network that takes a post-colonial approach, writes and addresses a broader audience, moves away from binary understanding of self/other by looking at commonalities without overlooking inequalities, advocates a world of multiple realities but sees an objective knowledge as fundamental for theorizing and that sees theory as an encounter based on ethics of critical respect establishing fruitful conversations (cf. Glick-Schiller, 2016; Hage, 2016). Hage (2016) refers to the possibility of a Bourdieu-ian analysis in the field of theory. Indeed, the world of academia operates on its habitus:
“The habitus is the principle of a perception of the indices tending to confirm and reinforce it rather than transform it, a matrix generating responses adapted in advance to all objective conditions identical to or homologous with the (past) conditions of its production ; it adjusts itself to a probable future which it anticipates and helps to bring about because it reads it directly in the present of the presumed world, the only one it can ever know.”
This relates to Giddens‘ (1998) duality of structure in which the actor is the one acting upon a structure which in return is the necessary condition for action and conditionalizes the same action. According to Giddens (1998:92) practical consciousness is necessary in order to reveal the connection between knowledge and the structural nature of social systems. Thus, in order to open new worlds on the one that we already know critical reflection on theory and theory making (including one´s own) is crucial and allows for constant improvement of thoughts, ideas, and concepts which will hopefully lead to or at least inspire for a better society and open worlds to us that are still unknown. I hope to contribute to a scientific world that is theorizing with the critical reflections put forward in Positioning Theory (2016).
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. “The logic of practice”, translated by Richard Nice, French original 1980. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Castells, Manuel. 2000. “Materials for an explanatory theory of the Network Society.” British Journal of Sociology 51: 5-25.
Giddens, Anthony and Christopher Pierson. 1998. Conversations with Anthony Giddens. Cambridge: Polity.
Glick Schiller, Nina. 2016. “Positioning theory: An introduction.” Anthropological Theory 16: 133-145. doi: 10.1177/1463499616663792.
Hage, Ghassan. 2016. “Towards an ethics of the theoretical encounter.” Anthropological Theory 16: 221-226. doi: 10.1177/1463499616652515.