Mobility and dwelling in higher education
Yesterday, the globalization and education special interest group hosted a keynote address at the comparative and international education society’s annual conference, which was held this year in Vancouver. I’m going to play the audio of the hour long keynote address, which was given by André Mazawi. Professor Mazawi works in the department of educational studies at the University of British Columbia. His talk is entitled “The location of globalization: on building dwelling thinking higher education.
Citation: Mazawi, André, Keynote Address, FreshEd, podcast audio, March 11, 2016. https://freshedpodcast.com/andremazawi/
André Mazawi 0:44
Thank you very much, Will, and everyone for attending. I’m grateful for the kind words of introduction. Had I known that this was going to be said I would have perhaps come a little bit later. I’m usually late for all kinds of things. So, I could have used that anyway. Anyway, thank you so much. First of all, congratulations to the winners, and to those who have received the awards, and the nominations, and the citations. And I think I would like to say in many ways, since the abstract was written and that Will and the SIG leadership have received my abstract, things have a little bit shifted over the last six, seven months or so. So, I will try. But I think I would like to actually carry on the conversation that Professor Mota has just talked about, in terms of the situatedness of our knowledges and the situatedness of our projects in relation to wider skills. Basically, in a way, my presentation today goes that line. And so, I hope that through it, I will be able to offer a few reflections on that. And secondly, I would like also, to say that my approach to the term globalization is not really to offer any kind of systematic overview of the concept itself. That’s beyond what I can do in whatever time I have. Rather, I want to just interrogate the term, and to delve on the absences and silences where I think there has been silences on the term globalization. And to use that in order to interrogate even at the price of doing unorthodox connections between things.
And so, in many ways, my talk today offers a set of very personal reflections on the literature that I have been working with, and I think Will kindly mentioned that I’ve done most of my research on these areas in the Mediterranean Basin countries and across the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula, the GCC (Gulf Corporate Council) states, and so forth. So, these are very personal reflections. Secondly, I would like to focus even more my discussion of the globalization stuff, by actually focusing on one of the main elements that often shows up in the literature on globalization, which has to do with cross border and transnational dynamics. And that aspect I wanted to take in relation particularly to higher education. How higher education institutions engage that kind of cross border and transnational dynamic. My aim is to discuss, therefore, the involvement of higher education institutions within the wider context, actually, as Professor Mota was talking about, within the wider context of global migratory flows and transnational initiatives in which universities and higher education in general is involved. I would like to interrogate the different aspects associated with the involvement of higher education institutions with border crossing as a form of deterritorialization. And in the recruitment of international students as a form of reterritorialization. So, by repositioning higher education over the field of the global migratory flows, my hope is to capture dynamics that have remained neglected in globalization studies.
And I think the point that the first slide that I showed here captures is one of two observations, both related to border crossing and transnational dynamics that I want to start with. And I saw these two pictures. Actually, there are two depictions. The first one, the upper side, is taken from a recent article from The Economist. And it shows over the backdrop of what has been happening in Syria, and the forced migration of hundreds of 1,000s and millions of people out of that country. It’s put as a kind of drawing that is quite dramatic and interesting in terms of the people who are trying to cross over to another side on a very, very kind of tightrope of sorts. And below it is a picture that figures out on the first pages of the report prepared, a survey on internationalization that was prepared by the AUCC, the Canadian Association of Universities and Colleges. And the contrast is absolutely striking. Both are referencing transnational trans-border crossing, international processes but the contrast is quite marking in terms both of the diversity exposed, the serenity of the lower picture, and the tense and very dramatic effect that is achieved in the first one. So, these two pictures started to a little bit trigger my own kind of thinking about what is happening. Are these phenomena totally disconnected? Or in some way can we rethink from within higher education, some form of situatedness in relation to them.
So, the first observation emerged, as I was viewing this. And then also, as I was reviewing some of the statistics elaborated with regard to international students. The international students -who today constitute quite an important group in terms of a target market to be recruited into universities all around- come from virtually every country around the world. And tend to be affiliated, on the average, with economically more established and urban milieu in their societies of origin. As I will show shortly, the majority head to higher education institutions located in North America, West Europe, Australia and New Zealand. They travel more often on their own, while refugees and asylum seekers will travel usually with families, sometimes even entire communities. They travel more often on their own and fall within younger age brackets. Most importantly, for my purpose here, they are actively recruited. They are actively recruited, and I’ll show some data about that if I have done that, whereas the first category is not really recruited in any way. Actually, if possible, it’s pushed out through the denial of asylum or sequestration in all kinds of camps for refugees and asylum seekers. So, in relation to these international student recruits, no global statistics are readily available regarding the economic returns and the economic impact they have on the hosting economies. But for the exclusive sake of illustration, I found some data about this referring to Canada, in which the expenditure of international students studying in Canada in different provinces and territories stood at almost $7 billion dollars in 2010, of which $4 billion that means 57% of that expenditure was exclusively that of international students studying in universities. So, it’s quite a significant economy. In contradiction, not only refugees and asylum seekers, not only they don’t generate usually they are accused actually of draining the national resources of the countries and the host societies in which they are.
So, I think it is very interesting to contrast these two groups. And the first ones not only are they not recruited, at best, they are relegated to the attention of NGOs, humanitarian assistance, and so forth and so forth. Given these wider contexts -and I have not even mentioned the kind of more conventional kinds of migration that happens- I was particularly intrigued, if not puzzled, by what I was perceiving here. Perhaps an unintentional structural institutional division of labor between established higher education institutions and humanitarian agencies and NGOs, in terms of catering to different categories of human migratory groups. I could not avoid wondering whether these are two distinct phenomena, each rounded with its own context of flow, or whether we are witnessing in fact, stratified dynamics that pertain to the same field of power -and I’m using field of power in the sense that Bourdieu uses it. That is that NGOs, international agencies, institutions of higher education, and even if one stretches the argument, Mafia and people smugglers are differentially located over a field associated with a political economy revolving around the management and regulation of human migration to its clients. Such a conceptual hypothesis -and it’s just hypothesis- challenges established distinctions prevalent in the literature on migration and higher education. Existing definitions of migratory phenomena construct different migratory groups, among others, on the basis of the motivation that led people to migrate or to go out. Whether it was forced, voluntary, whether it is a choice, and so forth and so forth. Yet in my daily work in this and in other countries and contexts that I have worked in, over the 27 years, I have often encountered potential and actual applicants or students who explained that they have applied to a higher education institution, or would like to apply to a higher education institution, as part of a longer-term plan to resettle in a new country. That is to migrate.
I have also encountered immigration consultants who advise their clients to boost their viability in terms of the points they get under immigration by actually applying to certain institutions and getting certain degrees. If that is so, then our conceptualization regarding migration, the recruitment of international students, and wider processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, and transnational dynamics must be reformulated. This applies particularly with regard to what does the specific recruitment of students from different countries across the world stand for? And what underpins it within the global order of things? The second observation that I would like to build on is that in relation to these dynamics I’m talking about, there are other issues. Issues to do with the literature in higher education as a field of study. And particularly in the way it is equipped to deal and to conceptualize and to unpack the underpinnings of these kinds of processes. There is little in that literature that would help shed light on the complexities and multifaceted aspects associated with the actual role higher education institutions play in relation, not just to the recruitment of international students, but in relation to human migratory and displacement dynamics more generally. This realization was well captured by Simon Marginson and Gary Rhodes, who pointed out that globalization processes remain I quote, “understudied and undertheorized when it comes to explaining transnational activities and forces in higher education”. They further added that, quote, “global forces” end quote that shaped higher education are not so much analyzed or theorized as they are identified. So, basically, okay. This stands for this. This stands for that. But we really don’t have a notion of what precisely is the global dimension of things. What underpins it as a structural concept. In a more recent chapter entitled, Imagining the Global Marginson -that’s 2011, so quite recent- pointed out that, quote, “the main theorizations of higher education evolved prior to the communicative globalization in the 1990’s and are mostly locked in national frameworks”. In sum, a review of these approaches in the field of Higher Education Studies are quite inadequate for us to try and deal with these issues.
So, my point of departure in this discussion is that globalization and border crossing dynamics are co-constitutive in articulating a monotopia vision of the world. First of all, let me explain what I mean by border. By invoking the term border, I am not referring only to territorial borders that demarcate countries and world regions. I expand the term together with other people who have worked in this field to include non-territorial borders. Such borders are enacted through feverish and always fluid, mobile, and changing bordering and re-bordering practices associated with powerfully intersecting juridical, administrative, social, cultural, and economic practices. Borders eventually become, in the words of Chris Rumford, diffused throughout society. What does it mean? Now I’ll state it in my words, I would argue that borders are to the state -capital S- what othering is to the state of mind. Both are intertwined and feed into each other. Borders represent political quasi-artistic installations and enacted social performances, respectively, or both constantly mutating. One of the ingrained globalization tropes has it that borders have all but disappeared, yet mediate as event across the world, and not least across the Mediterranean Basin lend credence to the view that borders represent ambivalent institutions subject to the plasticity of policy politics, borders and their fluidity reflect the turns and counter turns of culturalized, racialized, and politicized geographies. The current forced migration of refugees out of Syria and its geopolitical and global ramifications represents one reminder among many that borders have all but lost the relevance in our times. Within these realities, passports, visas, and yes, education degrees, higher education degrees, have become life defining objects related to the capacity to move, have become life defining objects of demarcation that underpin different regimes of spatial mobility opportunities.
Hence the question: How do individuals, groups, entire communities, and not least, people smugglers -and I think in higher education studies, we have not really at all started even to figure out the symbiosis that might exist in this other way between smugglers of people and entire educational institutions. But that’s a discussion for another day. So, how individuals, groups, entire communities and not least people smugglers negotiate and straddle borders, and how they reposition themselves in relation to life opportunities are indicative of what Giorgio Agamben refers to as the politicization of life.
It is worth invoking here, the September 2, 2015, hyper-mediatized representations -and I’m dealing here just with the representation of the body of Aylan Kurdi, a five-year old child from Syria, who according to The Guardian, was washed dead to the shore, not far from the Turkish fashionable resort town of Bodrum. One picture among many that caught my attention is the one that depicts a Turkish border police officer carrying Aylan Kurdi’s body in his arms in a posture reminiscent of almost a kind of cushion pietra of sorts, moving over the crossing point between water and land, between there and here, between the hopes and aspiration of the Kurdi family, apparently to join relatives already settled in our beloved city of Vancouver. And here, of failing to reach a safe haven and its concomitant realities of death and loss. At this point, I cannot avoid contrasting this tragedy with my own brother’s very orderly and seamless immigration to this country and city. Equally, I cannot avoid thinking how is it that and why is it that we -that means you and I- are able to assemble here today, able to sojourn as tourists, settlers, and or conference participants in Vancouver, while Aylan Kurdi and many others among us could not? Yet, with all due diligence and fully recognizing significant differences that impose themselves as to context and circumstances, I would claim that higher education has their versions of Aylan Kurdi. Some luckier than others to cross over. The stories of those who did not make it, or who do not make it, are most often relegated to oblivion, discounted from higher education statistics and possibly added to those of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and of national and international aid agencies.
Consider the following Kafka-like letter dispatched by one anonymized graduate student who lives in a country outside of North America, Europe, to one admissions office of a university in North America concerning delays experienced in the issuing of a study visa. I’ll read it:
I’m writing -says that student- I’m writing to provide you all with a quick update about my study permit application. The result of my medical re-exam is negative, meaning that I don’t have any health complications. This was cleared since September and the result was then mailed to the embassy in capital city A which is responsible for the medical clearance. However, since I haven’t heard anything from the Embassy in capital city B -who is responsible for the file- about the status of my study permit application, I emailed the embassy in capital city A this last week, and was told that the embassy in capital city B hasn’t yet received the final medical clearance from the embassy in capital city A. The embassy in capital city B will follow up with the embassy in capital city A if they don’t hear anything from them by November. They cannot follow up now as we are still within the processing times, and I am not allowed, nor have I any means -that I emphasize nor have I any means. It’s a trip of several 1000’s of kilometers with a plane in countries where the income is probably what you would get in a couple or three days work here. Nor do I have the means to follow up with the medical office in capital city A directly. This has worried me tremendously. I may not get updates about the status of my application permit until late November or early December. And I may then be required to travel to capital city B for an interview before a study permit is issued. If this is the case, I don’t see a possibility of my arriving on time to start the second term.
And so that’s one example of border crossing and the complications. Consider too the case of Palestinians suffocating under an all-encompassing Israeli colonial architecture of power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and whose right to self-determination is trampled. Barred from crossing over their respective territories, students and faculty cannot access higher education institutions located within or beyond their localities. Reduced to a security concern, subject to infinite restrictions, totalized surveillance, curfews, and institutionalized isolations, Palestinian institutions of higher education find it virtually impossible to exit the confines of their territories in order to engage learning opportunities, fellowships, and professional opportunities and work. The construction of a wall, literally, called the separation wall, accompanied by systematic land grabs, evictions, dispossession has spatially dismembered whatever land remains for Palestinians to build a meaningful communal life. To crown it all, so symbolically stands the construction of an Israeli University in the occupied West Bank by virtue of a military order by a military commander. Issued by no other than a military commander acting in a self-claimed capacity as the sovereign. That a higher education institution is erected by military orders over occupied West Bank lands as part of a wider scheme of dispossession of indigenous inhabitants begs globalization theorists, and those interested in internationalization, to clarify how their views and their analysis can be reconciled with what seems to be localized articulations of nationalism and parochial political pursuits. Clearly then, borders, that Aylan Kurdi, the anonymized graduate student I read the letter, and Palestinians and so many other contexts I don’t go into engage in different ways represent more than just borders in the conventional sense of the word despite differences of contexts and circumstances, and perhaps because of those differences. Rather, in Agamben’s words, they represent potent, what Agamben calls bio-political borders. That is borders that have the ultimate power to suspend life, to delineate life from death, or to reduce life to bear life. In that sense, everyone’s experiences are not captured, obviously, by globalization as monotopia. A so-called globalized world, or small village of sorts, either does not apply to everyone, or perhaps we live on distant planets, galaxies and constellations, each under their own spatial and temporal regimen of its own. In that sense, Aylan Kurdi’s, and the other examples I invoked, are indicative of the biopower that regulates movements by bordering and rebordering institutional spaces in manifold ways. In his book, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Agamben writes:
If there is a line, in every modern state, marking the point at which the decision on life becomes a decision on death, bio-politics can turn into Thanatos politics that means the politics of death. Thanatos was the demonic representation of death in the old Greek myths. And bio politics can turn into Thanatos politics, this line no longer appears today as a stable border dividing two clearly distinct zones. This line is now in motion and gradually moving into areas other than of political life. Areas in which the sovereign is entering into an ever more intimate symbiosis. Not only with the jurist, but also with the doctor, the scientists, the experts, and the priest.
And I would add here, if we are priests of sorts, historically speaking, then we are in that category too. “It is as if”, he continues, “every valorization and every politicization of life necessarily implies a new decision concerning that threshold beyond which life ceases to be politically relevant, becomes only sacred life -that’s the minimum- and can be as such be eliminated without punishment.” “Every society”, says Agamben, “every society sets this limit. Every society, even the most modern, decides who its sacred men are, or will be. Bare life is no longer confined to a particular place or a definite category, it now dwells in the biological body of every living being.”
So, I want to build on that. If the politicization of life has become trapped, among other things, within bio political borders, then we are bound to ask how are higher education institutions positioning themselves in relation to these borders as spaces of politics, but also as spaces of economic extraction? What role do higher education institutions play, directly or indirectly, in the Thanatos politics that separate the good life from bare life so distinctly? Within the wider context of transnational dynamics, within which higher education institutions are increasingly engaging themselves, important questions need to be addressed regarding the ways in which the space of geopolitics shapes the viability of border crossing initiatives in higher education. Equally, critical questions arise as to the ethical regimes higher education operates under, supports and consolidates either by omission, or by active involvement in transnational and cross border initiatives. Who is allowed to border cross and who is not? Within which wider space of geopolitics does the higher education recruitment of international students unfolds? How do higher education institutions privilege particular forms of international recruitment while negating or avoiding others in relation to state policies? What generative role, if any, are higher education institutions able to play in geopolitical terms in promoting forms of ethical collaboration, internationalization and engagement in ways that transcend and perhaps even challenge and transform the power dynamics in which they are operating?
Judging from the literature on globalization, international and higher education, it seems quite safe to argue, though it may sound shocking to some, that higher education institutions have adopted global and internationalization policies that are rather parasitic on state geopolitics. Dependent on international aid programs and soft power engagement policies more than they are preoccupied in exerting the full power of their capabilities to transform the inequitable political geographies and the histories of colonialism and economies of subservience associated with the caring for our common home. If we admit Agamben’s analysis, then it is inevitable that we critically deconstruct how higher education institutions stand in relation to border crossing and border straddling as a new horizon of opportunities in which they are so vigorously launching themselves. In many ways I could -I’m saying I could- argue, higher education institutions have emerged into one of the more complex and multifaceted border crossing vehicles. While the recruitment of international students is the normalized conceptual lens through which we approach the area known as international recruitment, how are the prevalent kinds of policies located in relation to the larger biopolitics of border that I have referenced before? Such as involvement of higher education institutions in cross border war-related or potentially war-facilitating industries in military occupation, in supporting environmentally destructive projects and so forth and so forth? Can we conceive of higher education institutions as occupying different positions over the same field of power on which people smugglers are also active, reflecting a division of labor concerned with the massive flows of human movement that are attributed to globalization? And that’s the mess, because when you read about globalization, it is treated almost as an autonomous phenomenon. It does things. It does all kinds of things. But what is this agency about? What is the global in globalization? Very few people would be able to tell you. But when you nail it down, or boil it down, to certain things, then you start unraveling new realities that you consider outside the realm of the term. It’s very important to be aware of it. Within this wider context, then, what relative share do higher education institutions come to play by enacting or by helping to directly or indirectly enact what Agamben refers to as the threshold beyond which life ceases to be politically relevant, becomes only sacred life, and can be as such eliminated without punishment.
The involvement of higher education institutions in border crossing is remarkable to say the least. One could for instance, start by reviewing the prevalent nomenclature -that is the body of names in a particular area- in official and scholarly discourses around and in relation to the border politics of higher education institutions. Here are some examples. It’s a cursory review: international houses, global education, global citizenship education, study abroad programs, overseas education, mobility schemes, and more interestingly, for our purpose, offshore campuses, education cities, knowledge villages, borderless education, virtual higher education, and international hubs to the source. If one adds to this nomenclature the terminologies prevalent in state policies, and the kinds of visas and funding schemes available to applicants of different world regions and citizenships, then the panoply of instruments is quite impressive. Clearly, higher education institutions have shown great dexterity and the remarkable pragmatism to not only align themselves with the flows and ebbs of global economy, but also to carve for themselves new horizons in relation to border crossing. To paraphrase and extend a term coined by my colleague Judith (Jude) Walker, border crossing, I would say, has become an extraction economy on its own right. The matter gets further complicated. In his book, The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government, Agamben points out that tracing borders or transgressing borders is a mark of the sovereign -with a capital S- or a mark of sovereignty over the economy of the kingdom and government that has traditionally been associated with empires. Thus, articulated lines of demarcation that structurally and economically tie access capacities of individuals and groups across the world to higher education institutions capture inevitably new attributes of sovereignty. They enact new potentialities of immigration and citizenship that shaped the organization and management of the civic, political, and economic and academic household. And you can see examples of that all over the place. Even in this province, there have been all kinds of schemes I wrote about if somebody is interested in a chapter in 2013 that tie, for example, the obtention of certain certificates to facilitate and ease out immigration processes and to speed up the process.
The capacity to trace borders, or establish borders and border lines of different kinds, while transgressing others has been captured in a study conducted by Susan Robertson and Ruth Keeling. Robertson and Keeling examined the impact of border crossing initiatives on horizontal collaboration among higher education institutions. They point out that the increasing competition among higher education institutions in different parts of the world results in the forging of, “a more highly stratified global market of higher education across regional spaces”. They further observed that while some universities -to which they refer to as global Ivy League or super league institutions- developed into autonomous. It’s interesting that they use the term autonomous -I use the term sovereign. Autonomous, highly stable players with their own agenda. The real fight for global dominance may, in fact, be taking place they say, between the second tier of US institutions, European universities, and Australian higher education institutions.” The implications of these processes is that horizontal collaboration among higher education institution emerges, in fact, as vertically stratified and bounded. I’ll explain. It plays out mainly within collaborative networks among conglomerates of institutions, not an open network. Often, we use the term network. But it’s not an open network. It’s very important to nuance that thing. It plays out, this collaboration between institutions, mainly within collaborative networks among conglomerates of institutions, leaving less space for equitable horizontal collaboration. For instance, the Coimbra group, Universitas 21, The idea League are all kinds of illustrations of this dynamic of established university networks that trace more or less porous or more or less rigid borders by pooling their resources and capacities to create bounded markets of collaborative opportunities and a culture of higher education that is distinctive. At the same time, as Gerard Postiglione and David Chapman point out, quote, “many lower tier universities that wants to enter this market -and you can imagine where they are located in which countries- many lower tier universities that want to enter this market may not have the resources or experience needed to establish a partnership with a Western institution”. For these, and for other reasons I don’t have time to elaborate, I’m inclined to think that perhaps counterintuitively, higher education institutions may have weakened the role in social reproduction in the conventional sense of the word as articulated, for instance, by sociological theories of Pierre Bourdieu, in his book, The State Nobility or by Randall Collins in his Credential Society.
Emphatically I’m not saying that higher education institutions have ceased to fulfill reproductive role. I’m not saying that not at all. I don’t uphold that view. But what I wish to argue, however, is that in a competitive global market economy, in an economic form of globalization, of the type captured by Robertson and Keeling, which pushes towards constant expansion, recruitment, and growth, including expansion and recruitment of students, it may well be that higher education institutions increasingly operate in relation to borderline geography by mediating local, geopolitical, national, cross border dynamics in such a way that they are emerging as a pillar that underpins a new spatial order of differential mobility. So, there is still the inequality dimension, but it has shifted in terms of its meaning. Everybody can get into our education, that’s not the issue. But not everybody can have the same outcomes of it, and the market and all the whole economic system has become more stratified. Such an order represents, I argue, a new horizon of spatial inequity and inequality in terms of one spatial mobility opportunities. That is in terms of being or not being above the threshold that Agamben talks about -the threshold of bare life.
This is where I can see a major challenge for those of us who are interested in comparative and international education and higher education. If we pursue our interest in international recruitment uncritically, stuck in normative and conceptual visions that reproduce myopias of a bygone age uncritically and, I may say, obsessively pursuing our imagined conceptual and methodological habits, we would miss a meaningful understanding of the crucial processes that are reshaping our lives and the lives of societies around the world.
We need to ask, what is the thing, that internationalization stuff? What is it? Because the internationalization term is a term produced in particular institutional platforms. So, what is it that we see from our standpoint as researchers? We need to ask, what is the thing that we are observing when we compare or study higher education institutions across geographic and geopolitical configurations? What are we comparing when we contrast internationalization policies in isolation from other border crossing dynamics that unfold at the same time? Whether in zones of conflict and instability, or in zones stricken by sanctions -political sanctions, UN sanctions, bans, poverty, and marginalization. Can we still say that it’s internationalization when not everybody can move? Even states or universities can move the same thing. There are countries that have been -whose universities- as a result of larger UN sanctions- could not do anything for 20 years. So, what chance do they stand? They didn’t have even textbooks for their students, chalks for the professors, as simple as that. So, I’m trying to locate, where is the globalization in all of that stuff? So, we need to ask this question, can we compare and contrast internationalization dynamics across countries in isolation from other border crossing dynamics that unfold contemporaneously? Whether in zones of conflict and instability or in zones stricken by sanctions, bans, poverty, and marginalization. What is that science we are practicing? And what does it do when we study border crossing dynamics without problematizing the wider flows of massive human movement unfolding all around? What should be our unit of analysis? And how do we capture, in our work, dynamics that span multiple sites and locations, social, cultural, political and spatial?
Can we persist in thinking of higher education in terms of its own institutionalized logics? Those grounded in the economies of neoliberal knowledge economy and knowledge mobilization. As researchers and practitioners -some of us are this some of us are that or the two- can we disregard the involvement of higher education institutions in the bio politics of the day in relation to human forced migration, immigration refugeedom, de-skilling and the exactions of economic return through retraining and recertification programs for professional immigrants? That’s another kind of economic flier so to speak, for those who are aware of it. In brief, what higher education institutions and what scholarships and practices do we want to claim as a home to dwell in? The last rhetorical question is significant for the argument I’m trying to make. One important challenge facing a viable articulation of globalization in relation to higher education is an epistemic one. Following the work of Andrea Brighenti, I wonder how can we transcend the normalized, what she calls the fields of visibility, in which we continue to partake by naming the things that have been named for us like internationalization, globalization, etc. The things that have been named for us represent, in fact, fields of visibility that determine the forms of political labor in which we are implicated whether we recognize this or not. Leaving unproblematized these fields of visibility ultimately determines what would and what would not be seen within a particular social space that we study. What would be recognized as such, and what would be misrecognized within and across locations and sites of practice. Operating as visual orders, these visibility fields establish what Jacques Ranciere calls a political aesthetics of the sensible. That is, they enact a system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience. These visual orders are not just textual or discursive, but they also assume tactile forms, either through websites and media channels, or still through public relations materials. In the most recently published book, Global University Rankings and the Mediatization of Higher Education, Michelle Stack shows how the universities she studied draw on image banks and mediatized databases, such as the Getty database, in building institutionalized, visual online representations that brand institutions as an idealized spectacle that purports to represent the real university. Yet, such representation of the real -and I use here real with a capital R. Yet the real with a capital R, is so sublime, that in the words of Slavoj Žižek, the real capital R, is on the side of fantasy. Clearly then, fields of visibility, whether conceptual, discursive, or tactile shape not only the perception and the meanings of things -in this case, border crossing and higher education- but also how and which people, persons, and things appear and manifest themselves to us as phenomenal over a particular landscape.
These fields also determine as Nancy Fraser points out how and what one recognizes or misrecognizes as such, including one’s relations to oneself, and what counts as an injury to one’s identity. Accordingly, I argue that border delimitation and border crossing have become ubiquitous characteristics of higher education institutions, and increasingly so for school district jurisdictions as well. So, for example, in many countries, including in our province, you can go to a public school and in the same class, you would have public school students, and then you would have international students who pay the full fees of that seat under a different regime. Nothing bad about it in principle, of course, but the question that one begs is what is this new political economy doing to the classroom? Doing to education more general? So, border delimitation and border crossing have become ubiquitous characteristics, even for school district jurisdictions as well. How higher education institutions to their kinds and types position and reposition themselves in relation to these borders and in relation to other actors positioned over the field of migratory flows, calls for a shift in the gears of our tools to capture what is at stake. That is, if comparative higher education is to make the world and its exactions, wounds, pains and sufferings legible in meaningful and empowering ways.
I would like to conclude by making a short detour and go back to the notion of dwelling that I invoked before a few minutes ago. In two essays written by Martin Heidegger -Martin Heidegger lived in 1889 to 1976. So, the first essay is, Building, Dwelling and Thinking and it was captured by my title, and poetically, man dwells. Heidegger points out that dwelling is not necessarily the outcome of the act of building a shelter or a house. One does not dwell just because one builds. One can build without dwelling. For Heidegger, dwelling is a learned process, and as such, it is experiential. It commits and engages one’s consciousness and sense making capacities. It is part and parcel of the act of appropriating and making sense of a space of opportunities, of a place and of a location where one roams and lives and as such, it is interrelation. Dwelling therefore, references a process that is constantly in flux, linked to the emergence of ideas about things, and their material actualization as events and as alternative, what he calls, horizons of possibility. Heidegger, in fact, inverses the relationship between building and dwelling. He posits, he says, “Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build”. It’s very important to think about. Only if we are capable of dwelling, that means imagining the purpose of things, can we then dwell somewhere and make it a home. For him, dwelling and building are embedded in each other. They reference a generative capacity to imagine, name, colonize, appropriate, claim, and reclaim the materiality of things, but also the meanings. Dwelling represents, for him, a force of active engagement, and involves both thought and action. It seeks to make sense of yet also transform the spaces of one’s experienced realities.
In relation to that, I ask what higher education spaces and what articulations of comparative education are we capable of dwelling in, of imagining and reclaiming, so to speak, so that our work offers critical and legible analysis of a world marked by abysmal disparities of wealth, displacement and human injustices? How can the act of dwelling, as a fostered sense of belonging, represent a foundational pillar that opens up new horizons of possibility for the emergence of grounded and contextualized bodies of knowledge in comparative and higher education? How can the act of dwelling also help us unpack the patriarchal, genderred, social class, racialized and ableism-related epistemic lenses that undermine the articulation of what a home stands for? And that’s another critique I didn’t have time to go into because if you read much of the globalization literature, you will find -and there is a lot of literature on this one- how much it is basically colorblind to all kinds of distinctions, intersections, gender, sexuality, and so forth and so forth. So, I think that if you want to build a home it is important to articulate these intersections. It is important to include them not as addenda but as an integral part of the conceptualization of things. That’s an aspect I didn’t have time to go into. In that sense, considering the implications of Heidegger’s notion of dwelling would allow us to break free from both economic determinism and models of neo institutional isomorphic emulation -that’s a term from neo institutional theory- and pursue questions that transcend what Lee calls the immediate returns on neoliberal pursuits by refocusing attention on the social actors and denizens of higher education institutions, and how such institutions and the imaginaries that underpin them are built from within. I argue that lacking this sense of dwelling and belonging, the potential for indigenized knowledge and I use the term indigenize not in the sense of indigeneity, indigenize is generatively locally produced -this is what I mean.
I argue that lacking this sense of dwelling and belonging, the potential for indigenized knowledge, and hence of a meaningful contribution to comparative higher education is not only considerably weakened, it is further subverted by the very regulatory articulations of the policies we seek to study, and which end up naming things for us. I further argue that under such circumstances, uncritical globalization narratives under uncritical application to our understanding of the current transnational and cross border policies in higher education themselves become instantiations of hegemonic articulation of circuitous and marginalizing explanations. Daniel Trudeau reminds us of the daunting nature of the task lying ahead of us and the responsibilities that go with it. He warns us that if we fail, or forget to adopt that epistemic critical stance, then he says I quote, “The alleged description of the object turns out to be in the end, the construction of the object”. “If this were to happen”, he further says, “this would homogenize the researcher with the topic.” In other words, meld the construction of the object with the research itself. The result would be what he calls a “whiggish history”. A whiggish history is kind of one that sees the linearity of time and space, and everything is evolutionary and progress [inaudible]. In our case, this would mean constructing a violent and colonizing science of comparative education grounded in uncritical notions of progress and development. Such a science would have forsaken any hope to contribute to the construction of a just and equitable world and society, thus condemning us not to recall, in the words of Derrick Gregory, the power that we continue to play in the performance of what he calls the colonial present. Gregory’s work, and with which I sum up, are relevant to comparative education and higher education research on cross border and transnational engagement of higher education institutions. They beg the question; how could we conceive of borders and cross borders in relation to higher education institutions in ways that redeem our science from the specters of the colonial past and its present articulations? Thank you.