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Universities and the 'new society'

Muller, Johan

Chapter 2 focuses on a few key Castellian concepts to show how, when brought together, they might shine some light on how universities function in the present time, particularly in relation to development. The chapter brings into relief what Castells augured globalisation would mean for higher education (and development) – trends to which most policy-makers, analysts and researchers simply did not pay sufficient attention.

"The implications of the Castellian schema are thus not undilutedly optimistic, though Castells has more often than not been taken for a techno-optimist. The reasons lie in the architecture of his theoretical apparatus. This apparatus contains structural conditions as well as agents, powers to produce and powers to dominate, contradictions that have to be managed, and this can be done with wisdom or with folly. As against the rather smug narrative of universities being, next to the Church, the most durable of institutions, he tells a different story that includes at least the following: first and foremost, do universities have faculty capacity to attract good students and to do globally recognisable research? Have they produced a recognisable track record and reputation? Can the faculty, and the university as an institution, plug into global networks? Above all, can the university balance the historically specific form of the contradictory functions and adapt to its historical place and role and thrive? It is by no means a foregone conclusion.

This seems a rather large message to extract from Castells, whose main contribution to the sociology of universities in development can fairly be said to lie in the three pieces printed here. There is only one index entry to ‘universities’ in the famous trilogy, for example. This should not be taken to mean that his work does not speak to universities, and powerfully so. To get beneath the skin of Castells will require a little digging."

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