Introduction: The Contested Academy

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American Behavioral Scientist


The academy is contested terrain in contemporary society. Much of this conflict is over the boundaries between the academy and society and over the scope and authority of the academic disciplines themselves. We look at how these contestations are shaped, inside and outside of the academy, and how they may be surmounted. These issues can be understood rhetorically, as if the academy, like society, were a text. This approach gives a central place to human authorship at the same time that it invites analysis of the scarcities and constraints that form the broader social text and the disciplines that make up the academy. Textual analysis of the boundaries between disciplines, and of disciplinary ways of seeing and knowing, not only reveals that received forms of knowledge are shaped by structures such as language but also that these structures are invented through acts of speech. Thus, the textual metaphor sees scholars and teachers as carriers of preformed linguistic structures as well as agents who perform culture and speech (Bourdieu, Passeron, & de Saint Martin, 1994; Brown, 1989). We thus are invited to investigate the constraints and capacities of our communication and to be more reflective and responsible in our own academic practices.

Science, in this view, is practices of communication infused with power (Brown & Schubert, 2000).1 Epistemological critiques of science therefore must at least be supplemented by the social analysis of science as it is actually conducted because although the textualist approach presumes that the world is authored, this is done from positions that are socially and historically preformed. The authors of this issue examine the ways in which the academy and its disciplinarity structure and inform the lives of scholars and other publics as well as the ways in which such publics and patrons inform disciplinarity.

The authors gathered here take conditions of global capitalism and postmodernity for granted. They also are aware of the dramatic changes that academic life has undergone in the past half century. These include the global expansion of higher education and the emergence of more meritocratic systems of college admission; the development of programs in women’s studies, racial and ethnic studies, and cultural studies; the increasing convergence of academic interests with those of business and government; and the very recent efforts, at least within the United States, to reduce demographic diversity among students by limiting the ways in which admission and financial aid can be offered to members of minority groups (Aronowitz, 1998; Collins, 1999). Within this context, the authors included here present overviews, case studies, and recommendations concerning some key issues in the contested academy. All believe that we live in times and places of multiple perspectives, an absence of embracing consensus, and the deconstruction of any absolute or foundational principles of the “true” or the “good.” All seek, however, to affirm values of truth and justice. They do so not to identify or propose absolutes but to encourage open, critical, and reflexive academic practices.


Richard Harvey Brown and J. Daniel Schubert co-edited this Special Edition of American Behavioral Scientist, Volume 45 Issue 7, March 2002.

For more information on the published version, visit SAGE's Website.



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