higher ed

It’s not just a story

F(ine) ARTS @ The Fake - June 12, 2013

Since the BAD day in the US I have set up three direct debits. I didn’t plan to, they just arose (and to be frank, they’re for small amounts). They are to Hack Education (sorry Audrey, should have done it ages ago), The New York Times and Stand Up to Racism. As I said, it wasn’t part of a plan, they were individual responses to prompts, but now I look at them they all have something in common, which is that they offer a counter narrative: to the Silicon Valley technodeterminism; to Trump’s post-truth approach; to the dominant anti-migrant story in the UK.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about education’s response to all this. Bonnie Stewart argues we need to start being proactive, in a way, creating a digital literacy narrative. This is true of education itself I think. When we have populist MPs like Jacob Rees Mogg declaring that experts are similar to astrologers, there is an urgent case for education to have a strong narrative about its purpose.

This falls on all of us in education, but particularly those in positions of authority. For many years now we have seen Vice-Chancellors appointed on their ability to make universities behave like businesses, to develop radical new models of higher education. What we need now from Vice Chancellors (and Chancellors, Pro Vice Chancellors, eminent Profs, public intellectuals, etc) is an ability to articulate clearly, and with passion, the importance of higher education to society and to individuals. And not just in a return on investment, monetised manner but in terms of preserving democracy, cultural values and social cohesion. Because narrative, more than facts, is important – it used to be said that the victor writes history, but now more than ever it seems the one who writes the version of history they want, becomes the victor.


  • Maha Bali

    I’m mulling over that last part “the one who writes the version of history they want, becomes the victor”. It’s missing something. Everyone can “write” any version of anything. Not everyone gets “heard”. So basically, the one who markets/sells/yells their version of history best/loudest wins. What do you think?

  • Steve Bamlett

    Hi Maha

    I think the issue is as complex as you suggest. Even Carlyle in ‘The French Revolution (writing welll after the events)’ needed to differentiate between history as retrospect and history as process. In the end both involve semiotic manipulations, where even the relationship beween what is retrospective, current or prospective is up for grabs and part of the struggle.

    So right you are too that not everyone gets heard! Some of the radical excitement around the net lies in the belief that it is an engine for diversity of voices and a levelling of the plane on which discourses operates. Astra Taylor writes movingly about it in The People’s Platform (2014) with the usual necessary caveats about the perils of overt ownership by the powers that currently be – shaping all history into an apparently naturalistic continuum that goes its own way apparently on its own, unless we see through that appearance.

    I think the issue lies in the value judgements in ‘best/loudest’, although I’m still too much of a Chomskian to think that ‘loudest’ is the most fearsome enemy of ‘best’. Silent and effective are the forces that trump Trump but which enjoy the show he manifests to hide them!

    Versions of history are still up for grabs in short.

    All the best

    • Maha Bali

      Hi Steve, thanks for this. Not sure i understand ur last part “Silent and effective are the forces that trump Trump but which enjoy the show he manifests to hide them!”

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