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New media, the academic field and university reform

February 21, 2010

The February 2010 (Vol 18, No. 1) special issue of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) journal, Social Anthropology, is devoted to the ‘anthropologies of university reform’. A rare case of a tightly integrated journal issue that approaches the same theme through three different – and complementary – genres: a collection of articles, a debate section, and a review article.

This superb issue has got me thinking about one dimension of contemporary changes to scholarly life that’s only touched upon by its contributors: the rise of internet-mediated spaces for collegiate work that cut across institutional and geographical boundaries, e.g. the anthropological blog collective Savage Minds, the Association of Internet Researchers’ (AoIR) mailing list, the EASA’s Media Anthropology Network’s mailing list, or the Peer-to-Peer University (p2pu). What part can such collegial spaces, and others like them that are yet to come into existence, play in conceptualising and pursuing alternative futures for our universities?

On reading the special issue, the sense was one of claustrophobia – the fear that there may be no escaping the neo-liberal grip on our universities. But I think it’s important to remember that in addition to operating within organisations, many of us are also part of a number of fields, networks and associations where critical scholarship and collegiality are still practised on a regular basis. How and when can these diverse sets of relations be mobilised – or at least drawn upon – to further alternative models of the 21st century university?

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