The Market Economy and The Gap Between Academia and Society

During my B.A studies I quite disdained the average student. Some bragged about the “accomplishment” of finishing the degree without reading even a single article, only their summaries. Some proudly said that they didn’t even once step into the library, because “you can get everything you need online”. Every time we had to choose courses for the upcoming semester, the Facebook groups were filled with the following demands: “I’m looking for an easy course with a high average, without attendance, without homework, with an easy final house test that already has summaries and notes, which it tends to be reused by the professor. Sometimes they even summary the summary, and finish with a 70 pages manuscript which holds the “knowledge” of tens of hours of lecturing.

It is hard to condemn them because most of them have to work at almost a full-time job in order to pay the rent tuition and daily lives. Most of my friends worked at government offices which demanded at least 120 hours a month, on paper. The reality that it was more than that. So, they had to pack all the courses together in two or three days, so they can work in the “days off”. The courses they can’t fit into the tight schedule, they just skip. In most of their semesters, they have almost 7 tests, and the university doesn’t help with this issue. Students have two days between tests, maybe one, maybe two on the same day, so they have to take a late exam just to be able to study. Those who can’t afford to take late-exams have to come up with a strategy that allows them to pass. So, they have to rely on shortcuts.

For most of them, lectures come second to social life, work and hobbies. They prefer to play online games, scroll their Facebook, even buy clothes online, instead of hearing the lecture. Though some professors are just bad at lecturing, most of them are doing a fine job. It’s just that the students have too short of an attention span, or just don’t have the slightest care for those subjects. I heard a lot of complains about “boring” lectures, that for me were far from boring. Students were surprised when lectures were interesting. They tend to say “This is the only course I took that was interesting”. The rest are just deemed as not. The usual complaint is “why should I care about this theoretical issue that has little to do with the real world, the world doesn’t work like that, and those theories are dumb and have no relevance for me after graduation”.

Those lines give a clue about one possible root of the problem. This problem has to do with the way we value things in our society. So, students greatest concern is the relevance of their studies to the “real world” and their future job. When they can’t see the connection between the two, they tend to dismiss the subject and call it “boring”. For most of them, the degree itself is what matters, because this the way for a better job. They didn’t go to the university out of the sheer passion for knowledge and debates, they were forced to by the forces of the market. If it Had been possible to find a good job without a degree, I’m sure many of them wouldn’t have to bother themselves to get one.
Society value most things in terms dictated by the capitalist market. We tend to shove everything into this market in order to determine value. We measure art by its cost, a good painting costs more. We value artists by their “worth” and ranking (which is another form of currency in many ways). Salary is a way to rank “productivity” and importance within society, the more you get the more you are deemed as important. The main reason why society deems academia to be non-relevant is that in many ways, it has little to do with most jobs. But of course it’s not. if you want to work in a government office, you need to be there in order to understand the job, learning about war and peace won’t help much in this regard.

People confuse the role of academia in society and think that it’s supposed to prepare them for their jobs. They believe that academia helps to move the wheels of the economy. While there are professions that you have to have a degree, in order to be able to learn the job, for many others, it is not. So, society mistakenly also push academia into the capitalist market, and try to understand how academia contributes to it only to find that the answer is “not enough” in certain parts. So humanities and social sciences (most of them) are deemed as “a waste of time”.
But academia has a key role in society, which is transparent if you gaze at it from the perspective of the market value.

This is why the students themselves cannot form a bridge between academia and society.
Next time I’ll continue this discussion.

The Gap

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.



In The Heat of The Moment no body cares

While doing in my B.A I worked as a trainer\educator in a certain educational center. Its mission was to prepare high-schoolers for their army service and give them tools to deal with the life that awaits them after they get discharged. I did it for three years and enjoyed every single moment. I could influence and shape young teenagers lives and help them to become better people. In Israel, politics always plays a big role and it is very apparent in our daily lives. And we often engaged in political discussions.

When I was in school the teachers usually refrained from evoking political debates, and never shared with us their political views. I thought that as their trainer\educator and someone who studies history-culture-politics in university, I ought to take an active part in these debates, not in order to show them that I am right and they are wrong, but in order to give them other perspectives on those issues. By doing that I hoped to give them tools to think critically and develop their independent thought on these matters, allow them to escape the social trap that turn these discussions into a clash of vulgar and superficial arguments.

We used to talk of course, about the Palestinian problem, which is impossible to escape from in Israel. When Israelis hear politics, they immediately think about out conflict with the Arab world, and less about immigrants, social justice and economic issues. The Israeli right claims that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people” and that they “invented this in order to push us back to the sea”.

In the heat of the debate, I had to face this argument and I found it very difficult to explain why it is wrong to say that. I said to them, and others, “You know, our social world is constructed out of our inter-subjective agreements, thus we live in an Inter-subjective political reality. Money worth something only because we all agree on its worth, the moment we stop believe in it, it will become only a piece of paper. The same goes for nations. Nations are “imagined communities” (as Benedict Anderson said) thus if they (The Palestinians) decide and feel that they are the same “people” and “nation” we cannot disagree with them or tell them that they are wrong.

There is no way someone is going to listen to this “philosophical” argument while all heated up from the emotional debate, and this person will likely dismiss the whole argument and say “but a Palestinian nation didn’t exist in history, thus they can’t come and claim it now, all of a sudden”. It doesn’t matter how much I tried to explain that a state, as an imagined community, is based on myths, that serves only as glue to hold the community together. These myths don’t have to be real, or even right, it’s enough that a group of people believe in them in order to be real and have real effect on people.

This made me think about the gab between the “ivory tower” of academia to the society academia exists in. How come so many talented and bright people work in academia every day, publish papers, write books and think on these crucial political issues, but their voice is not heard. Not only that their voice barely reaches to the people, the people dismiss most of these voices as “nonsense”. It made doubts academia’s role in present society and society’s willingness to hear out what academics has to say. In the next posts I will share my answers. Is there a gap? Is it good or bad? And why it exists.