Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics

Globalization's University and the Challenge of Difference

Globalization's effect is hard to miss on the web, where universities' embrace of that compression of time and space can appropriately be found. University presidents celebrate the variety and cumulation of international academic engagements across the university. Universities experiment with international associations, like Universitas 21. [5] Books and conferences on the subject abound. [6] During the end of the last century, at least, they were generally organized around what Sir Graeme Davies, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, called concisely the "global imperative": the need to systematize internationalization in order to keep one's place in the increasingly intense competition for national and international resources. [7] In this sense, higher education's globalization looked very much like other parts of the globalization business, the globalization race.

Unlike the Cold War, which globalization's principal publicist Tom Friedman likens to a sumo match, globalization is like the100 meter dash run over and over again. [8] In order to be successful, Friedman writes, one must acquire many American qualities, including the wish to constantly reinvent oneself in order not to be left behind. [9] This race certainly functions in the academy, too, evident when the search for academic markets or position in rankings drives academic missions. Academic internationalism might also be found in such a race, in the drive to increase numbers of exchanges, students going abroad, and students and faculty enrolling from abroad as goals in themselves rather than as the means to extend capacities to learn. But even when we focus on the latter, we hardly address the tension between two principal types of learning about/with the world in U.S. higher education.

For some, the point of comprehensive internationalization is to recruit thePage  159 best students and to facilitate collaboration with the best scholarly colleagues, regardless of national origins. That assumes a more or less coherent global field of expertise, one that can be enhanced but not fundamentally challenged by diversifying the field of scholarship. For others, internationalization means extending American capacities to engage a world recognized to be consequentially different. It is likely to be connected to that enduring liberal mission of deparochialization embodied in every study abroad program. It may be associated with national security, as in the renewed quest to extend American learning about world regions poorly understood but newly associated with terrorism's threat. It might be associated with globalizing feminisms, in which the challenge of difference is recognized and incorporated into a project associated with the elaboration of standpoint and the challenge of recognition, with a goal of empowerment. [10]

With Merkx's stage theory implicit in the new mission to globalize universities, area studies is often portrayed as an anachronism. Its scholars, in turn, typically issue rebuttals organized around charges of superficiality and cultural ignorance. A great deal of work has gone into marking differences between these two generic forms associated with globalization and area studies, but that contest has much more to do with the organization of higher education than about finding new and more effective ways to engage the world. Thus, rather than rehearse the contest, replete with stereotypical renditions of the other more useful for reallocating resources than for improving scholarship, I find it more productive to consider the value of extending ridge-riding capacities between them. [11]

The general case is relatively simple. The contextual expertise associated with area studies can help us recognize the validity of any general ambition, for comparative and global studies become empirically more adequate when they engage historiographical contests and hermeneutic dilemmas. Comparative perspectives help us recognize the generality of any regional finding. Some questions require focus on global flows and circuits even to be imagined. To be explained and meaningfully engaged, however, requires location in both time and place. These arguments are familiar, but as this volume illustrates, one of the most powerful effects in combining these competencies emerges when the grounding, and presumption, of starting questions can be identified and discussed.

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Given (the perception of?) American centrality and power in the world, especially in knowledge production, marking the problem and consequence of American presumption may be the key underlying contribution of international studies in the constitution of (U.S.) universities of the world. But the function and method for this approach does not translate simply across knowledge systems. Too, its articulation with American and other publics and powers varies consequentially with the eventfulness of world history. [12] With that in mind, appeals to global awareness hardly suffice even while they are overwhelmingly common.

Most ambitions shaping U.S. universities of the world are associated with just that vision to extend some kind of "global awareness" for students, faculty and scholarship in general. Global awareness is typically about making connections—recognizing the relationship between problems in the United States and abroad, identifying patterns among cognitive and social processes in different places, or finding new ways to establish collaborative scholarship. This drive to recognize connections also can be viewed as a university-wide enterprise, especially when agreements require presidential signatures or centrally allocated resources. With global and interdisciplinary figuring as common adjectives, differences can appear transient and relatively trivial, especially in comparison to the allure of new connections and the power to be found in innovative intellectual fusions. Differences of course don't disappear, but emerge and function in new ways, in ways that remain typically overlooked and unelaborated in the discovery of new associations. In that light, I consider several forms of difference in the definition of academic internationalism.

Each discipline and profession within the U.S. university engages the world within frameworks reflecting their scholarly and organizational presumptions. Most professions claim an increasing concern for global awareness in their educational priorities, but whether that extends to biophysical environment, cultural diversity, or global standards and protocols varies widely. [13] Simply put, internationalism is itself not homogeneous, and varies consequentially across disciplinary knowledge cultures.

These different knowledge cultures are variably open to the challenge of grounding orienting questions. The Internet internationalism characteristic of schools of information, for example, is less likely to consider the historical and cultural specificities of place than are schools of architecture and urban planningPage  161 whose concern for contextual expertise more closely approximates area studies concerns on a thematic level. [14] Nevertheless, with sufficient collaboration across disciplinary cultures, the information revolution's focus on global connectivity can be grounded, for example, by considering the presumptions involved in defining that global information infrastructure, and how that reflects certain political and economic interests associated with different locations within America, and across the world. [15]

It is thus important to consider how different fields of scholarship are themselves organized around the value and challenge of difference in their scholarly work. Historians, anthropologists, literary scholars and others, attuned to recognizing hermeneutic dilemmas, are relatively at home in the development of an internationalism that favors grounding knowledge. Psychologists may be increasingly interested in cross-cultural questions, notably around the relationship between cognition and culture, but can remain distant from those focused more on the cultural constitution of knowledge claims. [16] For example, how does one interpret the arguments of Asian students in America who argue that there are consequential differences between Asian and American cognitive worlds? Does that reinforce the validity of experimental tests, or does it invite further questions about the historical formation of these beliefs among Asian students? [17]

Engineers, physicists, and others concerned with a scholarship that defies the significance of cultural or political boundaries in the development of scientific knowledge are less likely to validate this elevation of cultural difference to the heart of an internationalism defined much more by extending global networks of collaboration than by problematizing their associations. In these circumstances, the challenge of difference is more likely to be found in considering whose problems one addresses. One of the most productive questions for these audiences emerges when we focus on "the bottom of the pyramid": What happens to the production of knowledge if the concerns of the rural poor become the principal inspiration for engineering design rather than the interests of corporations focused on the upper middle class? [18]

Within the American academy, however, the more familiar reference around the challenge of difference is to race, class and gender within America. For example, when diversity's value is articulated in arguments about affirmative action, the question focuses on building diversity by extending the range ofPage  162 American citizens within the academy, and less, if at all, with reference to students from abroad. [19] Of course the argument can be extended, but rarely simply. What, for example, is the relationship between ethnic studies and area studies focused on particular world regions? That relationship is easier to recognize in some regions than others.

The relationship between African and African American studies varies widely across U.S. universities, with the two foci sometimes organizationally distinct and sometimes embedded in common institutional homes. European studies is not so explicitly associated with racial politics but some national foci are explicitly tied to the concerns of diasporas to assure the representation of their nation's culture in American higher education. Latin American studies developed in ways quite distant from Latino/Latina studies, but the prospects for hemispheric imaginations in the organization of this field are growing. In similar fashion, Asian studies may be the most dynamic and changing in this field, not only in light of the dynamics of Asian American politics, but also given the problem of recognizing borders between America and Asia itself, illustrated most powerfully by the question of Pacific Islanders in stories of the Pacific Rim. [20] In each of these cases, no simple generalization suffices apart from the challenge of recognizing United States multiculturalism in the story of globalization and internationalism. Multiculturalism's variety should not be limited to race and ethnicity because globalization and internationalism vary consequentially in terms of regional difference, too.

Regional articulations of scholarship influence the perspectives and problems that shape university priorities. Postcommunist, post-colonial, and European Union concerns vary, but what determines which regions realize prominence within any university's profile? University expertise matters; land grant universities, with schools of agriculture in particular, were regular partners with the U.S. Agency for International Development and were thereby more likely to develop extensive ties to the "third world" and studies of development.

One should understand variations in these regional foci historically, too. During the Vietnam War, Southeast Asian studies developed extensively across another range of universities. Over the longer course of the Cold War, Russia occupied a centrality befitting its principal enemy status in U.S. universities. To the extent Russian studies was organized around the communist threat, thePage  163 region's area studies suffered with the end of the Cold War even as the wider post-communist region itself became much more widely studied in terms of its status as a "natural laboratory" in making markets and democracy.

The 1990s' simultaneous focus on globalization drew other scholars to Asia, especially China but also India, given growth rate patterns and anticipated markets for all sorts of goods, including education. South Africa's end to apartheid drew another set of academic engagements, especially those organized around race, increasingly AIDS, but also others, notably those focused on memory and justice.

A university's own location within the United States also matters, of course. Southern and southwestern U.S. universities retained a particular distinction in Latin American studies, the Pacific Rim sought an edge in globalization's Asian side and the East Coast its traditional European focus. Region, both within the United States and abroad, thus matters profoundly in the constitution of any U.S. university of the world, shaping not only geographical but also thematic emphasis and perspective.

Although U.S. academic internationalism therefore varies consequentially over time and by knowledge culture, region and its articulation with traditional American notions of diversity, globalization's university overlooked most challenges of difference in its interest to connect and to follow globalization's currents to opportunity and the extension of existing knowledge cultures. September 11, 2001 rocked that easy assumption about the evolutionary nature of global transformations, and suggested the value of a new internationalism.

It is conceivable that this new academic internationalism could build on the experience of the Cold War and its end. Indeed, some make direct comparisons between the vision, and ignorance, surrounding presumptions about Russia in area studies, suggesting that Iraq's future could be as good, if not better, than what Russia has found. [21] One could constitute a similar area studies infrastructure in anticipation of terrorism's extension and grounding in a disproportionately Muslim set of countries, if immigration warnings are any indicator of American government assignments of danger in the world. One might expect a new and more extensive interest in Islam. One could also expect, in that assignment, a new series of debates about the "political responsibility" of faculty expert in the Middle East. That is, however, only the tip of a much larger intellectual iceberg: [22] to which publics, peoples or powers are universitiesPage  164 and their faculty responsible?

Given the delicacy of such a question in times of war, the length of which engagement with terrorism is hard to imagine in this moment, one might be better suited in these times to avoid such questions of accountability to whom, and rather focus on process. Indeed, instead of asking about allegiances, one might query the unacknowledged conditions of action and their unintended consequences. And what better way to realize that than to embrace the search for those contradictions and contentions to be found in dialogues across unfamiliar positions? I recognize the contributions of this volume to be examples of what might be found, and quite unlike many contributions that repress the uncomfortable or inconvenient in pursuit of politically safer if academically myopic prospects.

I don't find Peter Berger's critique of "faculty club cultures" [23] entirely satisfying, but I do find the security of academic niches one limitation in producing a university of the world that recognizes more clearly the value of, and limitations to, its American starting points. Under these conditions, one might seek new methods with which to explore the limits of national biographies and narratives for posing the politics of intellectual and institutional responsibility. Much as this volume suggests, one could work toward constructing conditions for intellectual engagement that oblige us to move beyond familiar scripts in representing not only ourselves, but in articulating others in our stories. To rearticulate intellectual accomplishment and public responsibility in terms where we must define publics anew, and frame collaborations without familiar national anchors, we must go well beyond familiar reference points.

In different performances from Ann Arbor to Istanbul of Glenda Dickerson's Page  165Kitchen Prayers: Dialogues on Global Loss, the challenges of recognizing, articulating and understanding not only one's own pain but also those with whom one seeks to realize dialogue are not to be underestimated. They must be pursued with a humility, sympathy and openness that almost defy human possibilities, even as they become ever more necessary for the human prospect to be realized. Indeed, it's sometimes important to move beyond the performance to recognize the challenge of dialogue backstage.