Universities as places

The third session of the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES) season on slow academia focussed on theorising place. You can access the slides below.

When this session ran, I was isolating with covid along with my family (we all tested positive in quick succession). Being unable to leave the house changed my sense of place, so I started by locating myself in my neighbourhood with a virtual dog walk.

Our discussion looked at various theorisings of place: Augé’s (1995) non-places (transient, interchangeable, without distinctiveness, where people are anonymised) and Nørgård and Bengtsen’s (2016) call for the ‘placeful’ university:

“Rather than considering the university as physical architectural spatiality (concrete) or imagined articulated space (concept), it might be fruitful to approach the university as place, considering the ways people may dwell within institutional settings, bringing values, concerns and forms of engagement of a broader societal character into the academic context, and vice versa. The university space/place is a particular form of invitation that supports and promotes particular beings and becomings in education while stifling and preventing others.”

We discussed Foucault’s (1984) heterotopias (counter-sites that are special or transformative in some way, that mirror the university but challenge its conventions). I have previously posted in my experience of heterotopias in higher education. We finished the session with a discussion of sensory noticings and minglings, in which Barbara Grant (who is chairing the discussions) shared her research experience:

“When I think of myself as a human sensorium, a picture of Star Wars’ R2D2 snaps into my mind’s eye … [As an academic woman interviewing academic women, researching with mingled bodies] is so much more relevant … Taking account of familiarities and minglings speaks to me of the difficulties I have had with being anything like that ever-vigilant, noticing, sensing, critical research machine of my fantasies. Instead I have struggled with feelings of sleep-walking: the sounds, the smells, the colours, the shapes of the rooms, the layout of departments, the taste of coffee and scrambled eggs – the echo and imitate and ghost one another.”

A highlight of this session was the further reading suggested by participants:

This week, I am looking forward to celebrating National Reconciliation Week (‘Be brave, make change’) at my university on Dharug Country with a Smoking Ceremony, truth telling discussion and art and performance.

One thought on “Universities as places

  1. Pingback: Thinking together | The Slow Academic

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