It is quite common to hear all sorts of sayings about the obsolescence of the Academia, about its old ways of teaching and its decreasing role in society. The ivory tower is the most dominant image of this detachment, where “The seekers of truth” works and produce knowledge that is often not relevant to the world.
It is interesting to see what scholars has to say on this issue themselves. Well most debates revolve around the existence of the gap between academia and society. Some say that this gap exists and some say it’s not. But inside these “camps” we can see differences. In my opinion the most popular stance toward this Gap, between academia and society, exists. Most scholars believe (in my opinion) that it is the role of academia to try and close it. When I searched for articles about this issue from an International Relations perspectives, I found some interesting articles. First by Bruce W. Jentleson, which is quite active in this regard. He co-founded the “Bridging the Gap project”, which its job you can understand from its name. He says that IR needs to deal with more actual events, and try to produce knowledge that can be helpful for governments and society.
Of course, he is not the only one out there that points out to this problem. I came across an article by Kevin C. Dunn. He spoke about his experience when he realized this gap. When he participated in an IR (international relations) convention, he went to clear his head in a near punk rock club. He listened to the music, and how through the music these young teenagers expressed their feelings toward the current state of international relations (eve of Iraq war). Then he realized that the top researches on world politics sit just a few hundred meters from these teenagers, but these groups couldn’t communicate.
Others say that the gap exists and it is too small, and its academia’s role is to expand it. This way “the seekers of knowledge” could be detached from the “holders of power”, and produce more accurate non-biased research. I came across this agenda in an article quoting Christopher Hill claim this. But what does it mean? That scholars should sit from afar and watch what is going on without getting involved? I think it is not possible. If a scholar produced a text, which in it he or she analyzed some cases, after he publish this knowledge, it has a “life on its own”. It might affect society years later as we would see later.
Some say that there isn’t a gap at all. trine Villumsen and Christian Buger in their article take the ideas of the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu and expand them. To make it short, they claim that scholars are not detached from society, they are part of it. They effect politicians and in turn, politicians’ effects scholars. They operate in the same social space thus it’s hard to distinguish between science and non-science.
I think that the truth relays somewhere in the middle. We do have experts who appear in TV and try to share their understandings on current affairs. We do have popular science books which are aimed to the general public. I guess some experts participate in think-tanks and try to steer policy into different directions as they see fit. But there is a problem, it’s not that the gap doesn’t allow anything to pass through, and it’s not entirely correct to say that scholars and politicians\society affect each other directly. If this was correct, we could have seen scholars play a much bigger social role than they do. Some knowledge pass, but it’s getting dangerously distorted or twisted.
I’ll continue this issue next time.