Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics


Contested meanings are critical to this entire project, from the concluding essays' ambitions to the organization of the original position paper's presentation. We even wish to represent in the form of this volume how we envision that articulation of national university responsibilities and intellectual challenges.

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One cannot presume that any national, regional, or historical experience represents sufficient grounds for viewing the world. Of course, this is obvious to those who see such universal claims or ambitions as cloaks for the interest of the powerful, wealthy, and privileged, and thus as "other people's goods". This limitation is not so easy to grasp from within the North American research university's "sacred space". The university's professions of universalism and claims to global reach are themselves outgrowths of the economic wealth, national history, and international power of the United States, all of which paradoxically limit the university's universal potential.

At the same time, there is no easy symmetry. Narratives challenging imperial or corporate power—alongside critiques of "globalization"—likewise cannot achieve analytical and representational transcendence, given the complexities and particularities of the workings of power and capital in the world. The contradictions inhering within claims to universality and the complexities of particular experience conspire against general claims; at the very least, they combine to raise the value of recognizing difference—in historical experience and historical narrative, in grammars of explanation of change and circumstance, in political economy, and in philosophical and religious tradition. The value of difference should be apparent, and elevated, within this sacred space.

We are not only marking the challenge in the politics of recognition—an underlining of the mix that constitutes the world. We are also addressing the university's engagement of that world. If we simply appropriate newfound data within familiar frames of analysis, and if we just assimilate different points of view within ready and accessible frames of reference, we will only underline our own limited intellectual imagination, our own self-fulfilling internationalism. If we aspire to engage less familiar formulae, to take note of questions formed elsewhere, and to open to view and reflection less familiar ranges of data, we may approach the constitution of an internationalism that is located beyond a home, or national, nexus.

And with that aspiration, we reflect our location, to be found in a question: what would constitute a broader, and deeper, intellectual and institutional responsibility of learning in conditions of crisis? Whether that space is sacred, or its questions heretical, is not so important. We find it more important to recognize the vexed conjuncture of American power andPage  17 philosophical universalism in which we work, and to press forward the broader objectives of the original "Sacred Spaces and Heretical Knowledge" position paper: to provoke reflection and debate on the challenges facing the North American university in its address to the broader world and "to contribute to the making of global public cultures that extend and value the principles for which universities stand in their highest ideals."