Team 4 Synthesis

Winyard Synthesis:

During the April 22 session, the class considered the dual questions of what is/should be the role of the university in knowledge production?

As a first step, we listened to an excerpt from a Steve Fuller lecture [Ref. 1] on social epistemology and interdisciplinarity. This ten-minute clip introduced Fuller’s interest in social epistemology, defense of the university, and the “end of knowledge.” His use of the word “end” includes its definitions as purposes and termination. Class discussion focused on both of these meanings, especially as they relate to the role(s) of the university in knowledge production. Is/should the university be engaged in pure research? What is pure research?

Next, Fuller’s definitions of social epistemology and science (Phil. of STS, 61–62) were introduced, together with their connections to the class keywords: acceptance, evidence, and fraud (plus the opposite concept of purity introduced in class). The class moved on to a 30-minute excerpt from the same lecture that dealt with Modespeak: Mode 1 and Mode 2 research [Ref. 2] as analyzed by Fuller in our reading (Phil. of STS, 67–72). The audio clip focused on 16 aspects of the changing place of the university in society, which Fuller views as diminishing its power in society and compromising its mission to humanize its students.

The general discussion following the audio material covered the validity of university humanization, other cultures’ humanizing rituals (versus American college attendance), and the ability of students and employees to engage in pure or Mode 1 pursuits given the necessities of life. Of particular interest is the ability of researchers to affect research sponsors’ business practice. Can the pressures of paid research be resisted by investigators? Further, several participants offered accounts of grants or legislation written to emphasize the practical significance of research, even in cases where proposed work was already done or of marginal utility.

My sense of the discussion is that the class left with a better comprehension of Fuller’s social epistemology work and the nature of today’s research universities. I wonder how this understanding will affect students’ academic and employment efforts.


1. Steve Fuller Audio Lectures, Lecture 21/File 2, Two hour lecture and discussion on social epistemology and interdisciplinarity, delivered at the EDAMBA (European Doctoral Programmes Association in Management and Business Administration) Winter Academy in Grenoble, France, 23 March 2009.

2. Michael Gibbons, The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies (London: SAGE Publications Ltd., 1994).

Smith Synthesis

This entry may seem a bit redundant compared my keyword entry of purity, but given that my synthesis is responding to that which has not already been covered by my colleague, David, there is bound to be some level of overlap. The later portion of the seminar discussion on the 22nd, in my mind, focused on three elements: Mode-1 and 2 knowledge production; purity (of inquiry/knowledge); and the economics of knowledge production at the university. Steve Fuller’s 2005 work, The Philosophy of Science and Technology Studies, as the primary text drawing the aforementioned concepts together, provides increasingly prescient insight into the state and challenges on the horizon for universities.

As discussed in class, Mode-1 can be characterized as a ‘classic’ (pre-1950’s) approach to research and the knowledge production. In this model it is the university (or individual academics) who determine the road of inquiry they wish to embark on, bounded by traditional disciplinary hierarchies and subject scopes. This approach to research, especially at large research universities (like Virginia Tech), has been supplanted by Mode-2. The second research model is concerned with resolving particular problems, rather than pursuing open-ended inquiry. Furthermore, such research is encourage to disregard traditional disciplinary boundaries in order to tap into relevant knowledge and skillsets from multiple fields. However, based on our class discussion, it seems that perhaps we have moved to a revised version of Mode-2, to a Mode-2.1. Under this revised model, problems are no longer set by the institution, field, or discipline, instead they are set by the ‘client’ i.e., the one providing the funding. Here ‘we’ must wrestle with the question of purity in knowledge production at the university: Is there a qualitative difference in the knowledge produced between these various modes? Is quality affected when the university has its agenda set by an outside party i.e., a client?

Introducing multiple interests to the academic knowledge production equation added a palpable level of uncertainty to the course discussion. Under Mode-1 and 2, STS argues that researchers ought to be disinterested in their efforts and outcomes to maintain objectivity and reduce bias. Now, Mode-2.1 requires that the same researchers consider the interest of the client, as they control the flow of funding. Furthermore, client based research may narrow the scope and value (to society as a whole) of knowledge produced going forward. Ostensibly, the original modes of production allow for the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Nicole, our designated representative for all of Science, responded to this by asking: What is pursuing knowledge for its own sake? What does that really mean…

Is the notion of purity misguided and/or outdated? Is there really a difference in the value of knowledge gained from researching theoretical physics compared to finding an eco-friendly polymer for waterproofing iPhones? Our discussion indicates that client based research, for the foreseeable future, will be fiscal necessity for many academic institutions, as the economics of higher-education continue to shift and constrict. The pragmatists in the room seem to accept (some begrudgingly) that holding fast to high-minded notions of purity would result in starvation, while others continue to argue for more ‘radical’ approaches to resolving such issues.

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