Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics

The Volume

We intended to revise the original position paper to complement the more fully elaborated briefs in a volume to emerge after the seminar. However, as conversation within the seminar proceeded, we came to believe that a paper smoothed over to represent some kind of consensus or key points of agreement/disagreement would not reflect the remarkable disarticulations produced in our original encounter. We therefore suggested that we experiment with a different kind of text, treating the original position paper as "frozen," and inviting scholars to contribute interventions which would themselves reframe the text as they would prefer. The original position paper and seminar participant interventions follow this introduction. We also invited seminar participants to prepare individual papers that could highlight particular dimensions of our search to elaborate the connection between knowledge politics and global publics, especially around our quest to define the meanings of sacred spaces and the productivities of heretical knowledge.

Those nine days in which we worked together were precious, for we realized an intensity of discussion and engagement with one another, across unfamiliar intellectual positions and personal biographies, which are rarely available for a world sped up and tracked in familiar networks. After our seminar's conclusion, we realized even more clearly how remarkable those days were, especially as we faced the challenge of keeping the project moving despite multiple individual obligations. Between the seminar's conclusion and April 2003, we collected interventions and chapters, as well as organized one final symposium focusing on the seminar's results. Commentaries by Meredith Woo-Cumings and Fernando Coronil, located here immediately following the position paper and interventions, represent that discussion. [3]

Page  6

Meredith Woo-Cumings recognizes threats to the university's sacred space, offering quite particular examples, but in the end is comparatively optimistic about the university's enduring openness and freedom in this age of belligerence. After all, she notes, this openness is rooted in the very tradition of the U.S. university, admired throughout the world despite growing anti-Americanism. For her, this anti-Americanism is rooted less in American power or privilege but in the unilateralism and problematic neoliberalism of its government policy, which is itself an artifact of those who rule. As an exercise in responsibility, universities could help articulate different U.S. policies not only grounded in different visions of the world, but of the various locations from which they are articulated. To be Midwestern, for example, may offer opportunities for globalism unbound by the imaginations generated by ocean rims of reference.

The University of Michigan's proximity to Canada should kindle a greater awareness as to the meaning of North American research universities, but that regional and political elaboration awaits others with greater expertise and awareness than those who contribute to this volume. Fernando Coronil's contribution moves in another direction, both analytically and regionally.

Coronil questions the very U.S. presumption he finds embedded in the position paper. First, rather than being apart from society, the university's sacred space has to be understood in the context of the societal transformations in which it is located. To remain sacred, he argues, the university works to conceal those connections; to understand how this sacred works, we must look more closely at the ways in which the university is embedded in the mundane, and in history. After all, September 11 has a very different resonance in Chile, and the North American university's worldliness has a very different association with globalizing knowledge politics since 1973 in the South. The very global ambition of the North American university is associated with the increasing concentration of knowledge production to its advantage; this inequality in fact is magnified by the presumption found in the position paper's title. Invoking the paper's invitation of heresy, he asks whether the way in which the North American university might globalize could reflect a democratization of knowledge production itself, apparent by undermining its own worldly privilege.

The final five papers represent more substantial arguments on specific Page  7themes suggested within the original position paper and were elaborated with other worldly contexts in mind. These five papers reflect work begun, and first presented, within the August 2002 seminar itself.

Veena Das's paper, "Universities, States of Emergency, and Censorship," emphasizes the provisional nature of our collective intervention. She agrees that the university's location within the state and market needs constant address, but she wonders whether we overstate the significance of 9/11, and whether "sacred space" is the right way to defend it. We emphasized both the sacred and 9/11's significance, in part, in order to anticipate and forestall the worst challenges to academic integrity. But Das has some doubts about our formulation. She writes,

If the idea of sacredness refers to a separation from the profane interests of the world or a promise of limitless freedom to pursue any kind of truth, then it is not only idealist and utopian—it fails to consider the importance of limits as the very condition for the pursuit of knowledge. These limits may be internal to the process of rational inquiry as for instance, when I limit my claims to that which is knowable through reason; or these may be external as when inquiry is limited by considerations of ethics. Thus, the idea of the university as the site from which a critique of the present could be mounted cannot be made to rest on some utopian idea of freedom. The debate then must center on how we are to define the limits within which a university must operate and what the legitimate demands are that the state can place on the university.

Does 9/11 shift those demands in consequential ways? More properly, of course, it is not 9/11 that marks the shift, but the ways in which different actors respond to that day's attacks that shape the function of the university, and the conditions for the integrity, openness and universality of knowledge production within the academy and beyond. Certainly the debate about the use of intelligence in the justification for Iraq's invasion in winter/spring 2003 demonstrates that the autonomy of analysis and expertise before the use of power of all sorts is a common concern across institutional sites. Thus, and here we agree very much with Das's recommendation that we examine more specifically,Page  8 and concretely, how reason and intellectual integrity are violated. Consider, for example, the constraints university leaders themselves face. While they may have objected to certain surveillance policies, dependency for other resources could prevent that forthright stand. Das suggests that possibility:

I assumed that the major universities would simply refuse to comply. If indeed, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, California, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Columbia, or Michigan (among many others) would jointly refuse to obey the administrative directives that take away their own jurisdiction over their students, surely there would be some impact on the policies of the administration on these issues? It took me some time to realize that the weak and sporadic dissent perhaps represented that universities were so dependent on funding from federal grants and their prestige as research universities was so tied up with funding that opposition was not a simple matter of withdrawing consent.

To be sure, as a single organization with its integrated budgets, the university must find ways to assure that policies undertaken in one sphere don't undermine practices necessary for the existence in others. But this is not only an economic relationship. It might be, just as Das's Kantian reference implies, that universities need the engineers in order to provide the evidence of accomplishment so that the poets can wax appropriately. But this is more than live and let live in diversity. She argues appropriately in conclusion:

It would appear to me that, after all, there is work to be done. I am reminded in my moments of despair (seeing how ordinary people can begin to take pleasure in such obscenities as the "mother of all bombs")—of the figure of Gandhi and his homespun technology of satyagraha or the insistence on truth. It was in the work of the everyday—spinning, cleaning, writing, fasting—that Gandhi found the resources for his struggle against the British rule. I suggest that we will have to invent our own forms of insistence on truth from within the everyday life of universities if the urge to fanaticism, superstition, delusion, and exorcism is to be overcome in the Page  9darkness of these times.

Das's invitation requires a measure of discussion of purpose, debate, and elaboration that is very difficult to have in the political economy of university life. By this we don't mean only the drive for patents or licensing, or dependency on the good will of legislatures near and far. By this we also refer to the preferences and resources of the arts, humanities, and social sciences. People may not have the time or the interest for taking up Das's challenge. She asks us to do more than demonstrate disciplinary accomplishment—that we find new ways to bring those competencies to the purpose of public life. She asks us not only to exercise individual intellectual integrity, but also to find a politics of institutional compromise and efficacy. She invites us to develop some cultural sense of obligation to one another, in order to use the institution more effectively not only in defense of the sacred space, but in the production of heretical knowledge that is consequential and transformative. That is why, much as 9/11 justified a new logic of American warfare, we might anticipate that it could inspire a new level of intellectuality in public engagement.

Michael Kennedy's paper, "Transforming Globalization's University around the Challenge of Difference in an Age of Belligerence," explores one such direction. Finding the focus on connectivity in globalization's university poorly prepared to recognize the challenge of difference in disciplinary, regional, and religious terms, as well as in other more conventional markers of diversity in American academic discussion, he suggests that we attend more to the conditions of transformative engagement. Constituting cross-cultural and interdisciplinary engagements that both respect the anchors of difference and transform them in their encounters, universities might generate new kinds of knowledge production that find no other home. By considering one such project—the globalization of one performance of global loss, motivated by 9/11—he discusses the challenge to easy extensions of common concern, even when the politics would suggest transparent recognitions. Rather than consider this difficulty of dialogues a loss, however, he suggests this encounter might exemplify the kind of learning possible when scripts assigned by familiar identifications and issues are transformed by unfamiliar collaborations.

Kennedy's paper suggests that the university's sacred space may not only be a place to identify injustice and mourn losses, or to explore the unsettledPage  10 nature of identity and challenge of recognition in the world. It is also about cultivating competencies in cross-cultural and interdisciplinary engagements, which in turn depends on having a space where heresies can be considered, transformative dialogues nurtured, and their implications considered and refined. How can the university develop its potential, he asks, to experiment with new modes of communication that reach across working divisions of culture, language, religion, and discipline?

Konstanty Gebert's paper, "Forgetting Amalek," redirects our concern beyond the university, toward the sites of evil's production. Drawing on the insights afforded by the story of Amalek in the Torah, he asks us to consider "radical evil," as something defined by "an intentional group attack on a collectivity of individuals, selected necessarily to be defenseless, but possibly also on the basis of other characteristics, with the aim of exterminating them." This is a critical complement to the concerns addressed in the preceding chapters, for it raises not only the question about preserving the university's intellectual vitality, but also its moral responsibilities:

For there are values, which are not relative, but absolute, such as the right to life, and in freedom and dignity at that. Criticism of these values does not just introduce another, equally worthy perspective into the debate. It contains the threat of liquidating the entire debate, concepts, discussants and all.

Above all, Gebert argues, it is irresponsible and wrong to defend radical evil by elevating the justifications for its exercise:

It is important to note that this definition does not take into consideration the justifications that the perpetrators might give for their act. It is assumed that, on the basis of the natural right of humans to life, such justifications are to be considered irrelevant.

The challenge, of course, is not to resurrect Amalek, but to consider to whom the Israel/Amalek analogy might be applied. For Americans, the most provocative is the analogy between Americans and Arabs after 9/11.

Gebert puts the greatest responsibility for radical evil's address on thePage  11 people from whose community that attack has come: "it is incumbent on that community to show the Amalek perception is mistaken: by dissociating itself from the perpetrators, condemning them and bringing them to justice, expressing sympathy for the victims, offering moral and material compensation—and foremost making sure this does not happen again." At the same time, much of what he argues focuses on America's own response, finding more discretion, and less inclination, to indict all Arabs and Muslims for this attack than what could have been expected of this nation, or of other nations. But why would Americans work as hard as they do to distinguish (however adequate one might find that distinction) between terrorists and their ethnic or religious compatriots? Gebert suggests that it could reflect America's inability to recognize evil, for the fact that America has not experienced that kind of evil on its soil until 9/11.

But is it really true that Americans have not experienced radical evil on their soil? Or is it that that radical evil is so delicately/dangerously/desperately mixed up in their goodness? Consider, after all, the deep implication of slavery and genocide against Native Americans and racism more generally in the making of American power and manifest destiny. Americans struggle mightily with the simultaneous sense of being another chosen people, on the one hand, and on the other, a people made great on evil foundations. Perhaps it is America's experience with its own deep and abiding racism, not its innocence, that makes it so careful not to indict whole peoples for the actions of their ethnic kin. Of course it was the experience of interning Japanese Americans during World War II that most powerfully informed American restraint after 9/11.

This, then, ties Gebert's chapter back to Das's. Once again, Gebert raises the challenge to consider how the victim responds to evil. When can one discover Amalek within, and not only beyond, one's community? And can we assume, especially in an era of globalization, that the boundaries of the community are obviously drawn? To be sure, one should not legitimate radical evil, but is it also so obvious who has the greatest opportunity for ending evil? Who, beyond the perpetrator him or herself, has actual responsibility for that evil? Especially when actions are not taken by "finished nations," but by networks organized beyond accountability to publics, who is finally responsible?

Although one could get tied up into profound philosophical disagreements, some of which Gebert considers to be illegitimate, he neverthelessPage  12 offers a compelling mission for the U.S. university in his conclusion: to work to identify the individuality of radical evil, by helping communities associated with that exercise to dissociate from its practice, and put responsibility on those individuals who commit it. Universities can work to eliminate those gross glosses that enable radical evil to be unfairly generalized by seeking out (and helping to constitute?) the very assumptions of responsibility for evil's practice that make individuals, and not nations, the bearers of radical evil.

Lamin Sanneh's paper, "Sacred Truth and Secular Agency: Separate Immunity or Double Jeopardy? Shari'ah and National Politics in Nigeria: Lessons for the National University," works powerfully to bring the challenges of communities of identification, and positive morality, more directly to the center of our imagination. Indeed, what moral code should be at work? Are moral codes, especially their "basic variety," so obvious?

Through an examination of debates within West Africa Sanneh helps us to appreciate a transcendent point that:

general warrants cannot alone uphold sacred truth, nor can specific political enforcement avoid the risk of jeopardizing the moral intent of the religious code. The jurists have recognized in their methodology, for example, that theocracy and ideological secularism pose a common threat to religious truth claims as well as to political legitimacy.

This point is more difficult to make within the United States, given the delicate balance between a nation whose currency states trust in God, but whose constitutional amendment assures separation of church and state. The challenge of moral codes in public action can be more clearly seen in places where no singular religious tradition holds such obvious dominance, as in Nigeria with its original hybrid legal formation.

Sanneh helps us consider this religious/secular relationship by introducing an important distinction embedded in Nigerian debates. By considering the distinction between the islamization of society and of the state, one can

shift the focus from the role of the state exclusively to the role of civil society in dealing with issues of tolerance, diversity, and pluralism. Page  13The distinction does not deny the challenge of secularism, but instead mitigates it by restructuring it as a matter of the civil order.

With this, of course, Sanneh introduces a powerful shift in our sense of community. Rather than assume religious affiliation to be the marker of one's identification, he asks us to consider how different communities use the religious/state relationship in the pursuit of their own secular interests, and how that sits with the pursuit of religion in its own, spiritual, terms.

The spiritual integrity of religious claims has, of course, a difficult space within a public university whose constructed distance from organized religion works in ways similar to that of the state itself. [4] However, Sanneh's questions about forcing religion's distance from public life raise an important question for the university itself: are there ways to envision religion's practice that have more, and less, compatible forms with the exercise of university responsibility? Gebert advocated, quite forcefully, that this can be seen in avoiding certain practices, like justifying radical evil. But are there more positive ways that the university's normative grounding, and the normative grounding afforded by certain religious practices, might find common cause? Or is that a heretical question that the sacred space of the university cannot itself entertain? And if we can't ask it, does that silence implicitly elevate one religion over another, much as ideological secularism elevates Christianity within Nigeria?

The answer to that question certainly cannot be offered simply, but it could be a question worth considering. Indeed, one might take Sanneh's own invocation of the university's responsibility as just such a guide:

The national University should not be the designated metronome, the public register, of adopted national mandates, but a dynamic environment for shaping humane, cosmopolitan ideas and values that bear directly on the national agenda in a critical way. Theprophylacticbelt of black-and-white moralizations with which a breached nation girds its loins in defense of its innocence conflicts with the open borders, with the "heretical" intrusions, that define the work and mission of the academic community.

Importantly, Sanneh's analysis provides a substantial instance ofPage  14 how American presentments regarding religion, governance, and nation—foundational to the country—can be better understood through engagement with a larger, more global, consideration of the fates of religious and political ideals and institutions as they come together in other settings.

Universities should engage the questions that not only animate the academy, but define the agonies of a nation and world, whether or not they are in focus. David William Cohen's paper, "The Uncertainty of Africa in an Age of Certainty," makes that very clear.

Cohen argues that no simple location or heritage explains the problem of Africa's awkward location in the world. At the same time, race, and its essence, appears to construct the problem, but race also offers "restricted and confounded epistemic grounds for rendering the complexities of Africa into knowledge and into the world."

Cohen identifies problems not only with race, but also with other metanarratives used to construct useful knowledge about Africa. Those enduring narratives about continuity/change, strong/weak states, and internal/external sources of change shape knowledge production about Africa in coherent, but also enormously problematic ways. And universities are deeply implicated in that counterproductive exercise.

Metanarratives are variously problematic, and variously apparent, of course. Crude racialisms are easily marked and typically easier to challenge than those that implicated in tales of tragedy reanimated by worries over national security. In cases of the latter, expertise that challenges the assumptions of anxieties could be identified as a threat, and to be eliminated, or at least defunded. Expertise that sails with that current of concern might be newly vaunted, and put in front of all the rest to legitimate a university's responsibility. But is there a way, more generally, to avoid having to make such crude political choices?

Probabilistic reasoning about middle range issues is one method for avoiding those problems, but may be insufficient, especially when that work helps to reinforce, by not challenging, the metanarratives that themselves continue to shape policies and practices that redefine the world. Cohen invokes one particular project to elaborate one such alternative.

By focusing on the protocols of investigation used by former Minister of International Affairs Robert Ouko to challenge individuals with nationalPage  15 and/or global power, the protocols used to investigate his assassination, and the interpretations of those protocols within official and broader public realms, Cohen not only offers a different method for doing history, but challenges the certainties with which larger bodies of scholarship organize their questions. Should, he asks, we do more to sustain and elevate the quest for meaning? Certainly he realizes that ambition in his particular case study, but this inquiry also should be viewed in relation to what Africa is about, in relation to how methods reflect variable grounding in spaces and times, and in relation to how method, metanarrative, and location cannot be assumed. That might just be one powerful invocation to consider what a university of the world means.

Cohen's arguments regarding the values of uncertainty attach themselves to the research university's support for the values of relativity in reasoning and representation, which might be said to lie at the epistemic core of area studies—and of the anchorages of grounding, expertise, and translation. In an implicit way, Cohen's arguments here are in tension with Gebert's position regarding the importance of absolute values that make unconscionable certain attendance to "the justifications that the perpetrators (of radical evil) might give for their act." For Cohen, this attendance would seem to be a responsibility of scholarship, supporting the very possibility of scholars to know, represent, and act upon the world in productive and intelligible ways, rather than to extend evil itself.

In the end, however, Cohen's recommendation that "contested meanings"—the stuff of relativity, the essential ground of area studies—be elevated does not sit easily with Das's observations on the implication of the university in larger webs of state power and commercial interest, especially in times of belligerence. This cannot be only a matter of university discussion, of course. It must also be a larger question of whether resources are devoted to assure that the best questions are raised, guided by a normative strength that makes crude interference into the affairs of the university difficult.