RASCHKE, Carl A. The Digital Revolution and the Coming of the Postmodern University. London: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003. 129. Resenha de: GRIFFITH, Bryant. Canadian Social Studies, v.39, n.2, p., 2005.
There is a definite disadvantage to writing an academic book concerning the future and a double disadvantage if it concerns the internet. It is almost always wrong. Such is the case with Carl Raschke’s The Digital Revolution and the Coming of the Postmodern University. When I first read the text I kept looking at the publication date wondering if Raschke had written it before the 2001 crash of hopes and dreams for a wired world; but he did not, or at least it was not published until 2003.
Despite these rather serious drawbacks the book deserves to be reviewed to draw attention to what can happen when we choose to dream about possible futures without remembering where we are and how we got here. That past, as R.G. Collingwood reminded us, is a reenactment of both the insides and the outsides of ideas, or to put it into ordinary language, the fusion of how my mind makes sense of minds in the past. This understanding is a way of knowing one’s self so it is not a minimum ontological claim. We make sense of the past by constructing analogies based on the way that we make rational decisions about our own actions, so one could argue that the past and present are fused in a continuous process of self understanding. Knowing who we are right now and what we think is tied to that process.
I believe that Raschke needs to be reminded of this. Far too often his ideas are much like Collier’s magazine, which presented fantastically utopian ideas about space travel and the colonization of distant galaxies. By that I mean these ideas, like most futurism, seem destined to the bin of what might or might not happen rather than a reasoned argument based upon the presuppositions of our present.
Let me examine some of Raschke’s thoughts and comment upon them. He states the architecture of digital communications necessitates a new understanding of the structures and ‘space’ of knowledge itself. This new knowledge space is consonant with the philosophical slant on the theory of representation, language, and symbolic exchange that has come to be called ‘postmodernist'(p. viii). I think Raschke is right about some of this. To understand digital communications it helps to see the world in the way that some postmodernists describe, that is a non-linear, fragmented narrative. Modernists, as a group, have tended to view history as the unfolding of a grand narrative with definite causes and effects. This has led to the critique of exclusionary voices as Other and to the attack on concepts such as ‘progress’. But this is hardly news. I cannot think of a school district, even in the state of Texas where I presently live, that has not abandoned the Eurocentric school of thought and which does not acknowledge, even implicitly, the concept of difference. Also, even though I think Raschke is right here, I am not sure there is the necessary connection to which he alludes. It might be the case, for instance, that a breakdown in modernism, or a paradigm shift, has occurred allowing us to perceive a different set of presuppositions to make sense of the world.
Raschke claims that such knowledge may be called ‘hyper’ knowledge, because like hyperspace in post-Newtonian cosmology [it] extends the directions and dimensions of knowledge per se in ways unanticipated even a generation ago (p. viii). The matrix for these new extensions of knowledge is what we call the ‘hyper’ university, which in no way resembles the ‘physical’ university (p. viii). The necessity to accept these two points escapes me completely. I would suggest that Raschke’s use of Wittgenstein’s category mistake, of thinking that a university is comprised of grounds and buildings rather than a term to describe the relationship between entities, really applies to Raschke himself (p. ix). Let me explain. For most of us the university is, like the word ‘curriculum’, the totality of experiences which occur both on and off campus. Ask anyone who has been to Oxford about the Friday pub sessions where serious academic conversations occur over much beer. I believe that most graduates from there would tell you that these have been some of the best learning moments of their university experience. In short, I am not sure that there are many universities which define themselves by their grounds and buildings.
Raschke claims that the new university is no longer a school. It is a place of distributed leaning, wherein communication takes place over content, inquiry is prior to instruction, results rule over rules (p. 11). He argues that both the postmodern economy and the postmodern university are built on mobile capital, mobile work forces, and mobile or ‘just-in-time’ inventory and distribution systems (p. 11). I believe I am correct in understanding this to be an argument for a post-fordist educational system where critical thinking is replaced by just-in-time adaptability. If I am correct then I completely disagree with Raschke. My understanding of a wired university is one with infinite possibilities to extend what Robert Putnam has characterized as the growth of social capital. In Bowling Alone Putnam (2000) expresses his concern with the digital revolution’s ability to foster truly open conversation. He feels that Information Technology might make us more private, passive and possibly exclusionary instead of open, conversational and community based. Putnam describes the breakdown of social capital through an analysis of civic engagement in a range of activities in the twentieth century. The fact that we bowl alone, learn alone and spend far less time in human interaction has led to a growing sense of distrust in contemporary society. Surely what our universities need to do is to remember that they have historically been the repositories of social capital, or the ways in which we have interacted to build an intellectual community. Most of us probably went to university to make friends, learn content and get a job in that order. In the process we became the embodiment of the presuppositions that define who we are as a society.
In the past 900 years, the approximate age of the university in western society, the institution has served as the birthing place of several revolutions and paradigm shifts. I see this process continuing in a form quite distinct but not separate from the present. The future, although new and unseen by us, is an ongoing process based upon understanding ourselves and the ideas upon which we have constructed our sense of what we call ‘real’. When one looks back over the shattered IT dreams of the last four or five years one might think that Raschke would have done better here to skip his ‘big picture’ claims and concentrate on the smaller but more significant bits that fit in between them, such as how the neo-modern university can retain its independence from business and government, or how IT enhances problem-based constructive learning. One hopes that Raschke will take his interesting and challenging ideas and apply them to more concrete and historical contexts. Perhaps those are topics for another book.
Collingwood, R.G. (1946). The Idea of History. London: Oxford University Press.
Putnam, R.D. (2000). Bowling Alone. New York: Simon Schuster.
Bryant Griffith – College of Education. Texas A University, Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi, Texas, USA.