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Stevens preserving knowledge

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  • 1. Preserving Knowledge Mitchell Stevens at Aalto University School of Science and Technology, 26 May 2010 [email_address]
  • 2. Stevens, Armstrong, Arum, “Sieve, Incubator, Temple, Hub: Recent Empirical and Theoretical Advances in the Sociology of Higher Education,” Annual Review of Sociology 34(2008):127-51.
  • 3. Higher education is…
    • … a sieve for the stratification and differentiation of populations
    • … an incubator that changes individuals, relationships, and social networks
    • … a temple for the sacralization of knowledge and secular inquiry
    • … a hub: Organizational system through which major institutional sectors intersect
  • 4. But is it not also…
    • … a factory for the production of knowledge?
    • … a vault for its preservation?
  • 5. Why does this matter?
    • Higher education is the preeminent organizational expression of modern faith in reason and progress, i.e., it is intrinsically meaningful ( Meyer et al. 2007)
    • It is costly
    • It is changing
    • It faces new competitors
    • Knowledge preservation is essential to organizational flourishing generally (Agote 1999; Winter 1987)
  • 6. What is “knowledge”?
    • My working definition:
    • Knowledge = Authoritative accounts
    • Accounts: Meaningfully integrated information (narrative, math, practice…)
    • Authoritative: Legitimate and influential (Starr 1982)
  • 7. Four aspects of knowledge preservation
    • Archival
    • Instructional
    • Network
    • Status
  • 8. ARCHIVAL
    • Higher education as repository of embodied knowledge
    • “ The library” and it various manifestations
    • Faculty – as knowledge specimens
    • The preservation of knowledge as artifacts
  • 9. INSTRUCTIONAL
    • Higher education as a site of learning and training
    • “ The classroom” in its various manifestations, but also the research team, the apprenticeship…
    • Faculty – as teachers/mentors
    • The preservation of knowledge in practice, across generations
  • 10. NETWORK
    • Higher education as a distributed knowledge order (Hutchins 1996; Heimer 1985)
    • “ The collegium” of approximately equally empowered scholars who consult, confer, collaborate, and defer
    • Faculty – as components of a messy system
    • The preservation of knowledge in discussion
  • 11. STATUS
    • Higher education as a prestige system
    • “ The [school name] brand”
    • Faculty, students, graduates as arbiters, defenders, promulgators of the brand
    • The preservation of knowledge as a cartel on authoritative legitimacy
  • 12. Four aspects of knowledge preservation
    • Archival
      • “ the library”; knowledge as artifact
    • Instructional
      • “ the classroom”; knowledge in practice
    • Network
      • “ the collegium”; knowledge in discussion
    • Status
      • “ the brand”; knowledge as cartel
  • 13. IMPLICATIONS
    • Further explains the anarchic – even schizophrenic – character of university life
    • Helps specify key axes of competition to the university by other sectors: competition high on archival and instructional aspects, lower on network and status aspects
    • Suggests that knowledge production may be epiphenomenal – a symptom of successful knowledge preservation
  • 14. Preserving Knowledge Mitchell Stevens [email_address]