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Globalization and Higher Education: Working Toward Cognitive Justice


Yesterday’s discussion of the internationalizing priorities of higher education managers reinforced my belief that university teacher/researchers need to push to move curricular and pedagogical reform higher up on the priorities agenda of our institutions.  

Here is a chapter I wrote that is currently under external review for publication in Valences of Interdisciplinarity: Theory, Practice, Pedagogy Edited by Raphael Foshay Athabaska University Press

This paper intervenes in current knowledge politics debates to advocate goal-oriented forms of interdisciplinarity structured around contextualized, collaborative problem-solving within ethically-self-conscious frameworks. Drawing on postcolonial and feminist contributions to rethinking education, I argue that disciplinary practices need to be rethought employing  decolonizing international and global perspectives if interdisciplinarity is to achieve its promise of renewal and relevance. Two obstacles to productive interdisciplinary practice, methodological nationalism and culturalism, are examined for the blockages in innovative thinking that they produce within and beyond the academy. These constitute some aspects of the “sanctioned ignorance” Gayatri Spivak identifies within current knowledge structures. They need to be dismantled if “cognitive justice” (Santos) is to be achieved and the quests for what is true and what is good are to be put in open dialogue with each other. The paper argues that both institutional and epistemological changes are needed if university knowledge production is to meet the changed needs of today.

The Scope of Interdisciplinarity symposium brought together leading interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners to debate the nature and scope of interdisciplinary and integrated studies Nov 7-9 2008 Athabaska University Centre for Integrated Studies.

“…there is no global social justice without global cognitive justice…” (Santos et al. 2007, ix)

This paper works within the context of three major challenges facing higher education today.[i]  I phrase them as questions:

1.How can educators in the global north and global south devise better ways of sharing our knowledge and our sense of the obstacles that stand in the way of solving global problems?

 2. How can humanists and social scientists communicate across our divisions and learn to benefit from the strengths of our differently focused research?

 3. How can those of us situated within universities learn to share our research and teaching functions with the increasing number of private and public civil society organizations that also claim knowledge production and research rights?

In asking these questions, this paper intervenes in current knowledge politics debates to advocate goal-oriented forms of interdisciplinarity structured around contextualized problem-solving within ethically-self-conscious frameworks.[ii]  My argument here is that interdisciplinarity, internationalization, globalization and cognitive justice need to be thought—and addressed—together. Exactly how these will be addressed is one of the major issues facing higher education today. This volume presents a range of approaches to what Ian Angus, in his essay, calls “The ‘what’ and ‘for whom’ of knowledge.”  I come to these questions from the contentious interdiscipline of postcolonial studies as it seeks to ask what David Slater terms “postcolonial questions for global times” (1998).[iii] In seeking to negotiate between what Santos et al term “knowledge-as-regulation” and “knowledge-as-emancipation” (2007, li. Italics in original),[iv] I  begin with the premise that universities  are not well designed to address global problems nor to respond to the changing conditions brought about by globalization. As Fred Riggs argues in his “Global Studies Manifesto,” “Far-reaching transformations in the contemporary world system make a new paradigm for academic teaching and research necessary, but deeply entrenched traditional ways of thinking block the needed changes” (2004, 344). At this high level of generality, such an argument for transformation may be used to remodel the university according to market values or to critique those models from a position that queries both market values and traditional defenses of the liberal university.  This paper aligns itself with the latter approach. Universities need a new form of globally-involved interdisciplinarity advocating for the university as a forum where values may be debated and where previously excluded modes of knowing may enter the discussions. In that respect, this paper aligns itself with arguments made by Ian Angus, Lorraine Code, Len Findlay, Harvey Graff and Morny Joy in other chapters in this volume. 

The full paper (pdf) may be consulted.

[i] The thinking behind this paper derives from work undertaken between 2001-2008 on the SSHRC-funded MCRI, “Globalization and Autonomy,” led by W. D. Coleman, which has led me to continuing work with political scientists W.D. Coleman on “Building South-North Dialogue on Globalization Research” (2007-09) and Jan Aart Scholte and his team working on the Ford-Foundation funded project, “Building Global Democracy” (2008-2012). This paper was in part inspired by the work on cognitive justice presented by William D. Coleman and Nancy Johnson at these workshops, and in revision has benefited from the paper by Coleman and Dionisio published in the special issue of Globalizations on the Globalization and Autonomy project. I am grateful to the conference organizers, Raphael Foshay and Derek Briton, at Athabasca University, for the opportunity to share and develop this research with other participants in the SSHRC-funded workshop on “The Scope of Interdisciplinarity” that they organized in the fall of 2008. My work with these projects, and the research for this paper, was also funded, in part, through the Canada Research Chairs program. I am grateful to doctoral student Sandy Annett for her invaluable research assistance.

[ii] For an argument about the different kinds of knowledge politics and the interdisciplinarity they require, see Jan C. Schmidt (2007).

[iii] The project David Darby calls “postcolonizing the international” (2006), might more appropriately be thought of as decolonizing the international. Part of that process, as Couze Venn (2006) notes, involves challenging various forms of violence at the symbolic heart of colonialism: “epistemic violence, that is, the denial of the authority and validity of the knowledge of the colonized; ontological violence, namely, the refusal to recognize the (non-assimilated) colonized subject as a fellow human being; and symbolic and psychic violence, the silencing of the voice of the colonized, the denial of the latter’s ability to tell his or her story” (11).

[iv] See also Mario Novelli (2006) for an elaboration of this distinction.

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