Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wissenschaft als Betrieb

I'm in Constance (hence the late posting), and trying to think as much as possible in German. Yesterday's post has been on my mind and the subject has come up in conversation with an old friend from my days as a philosophy undergraduate. As we both get older we realize that so-called "existential" problems are perhaps not so much something we're supposed to suffer as something we're supposed to discipline. What is called "self-help" is also what Foucault called "care of the self". Indeed, many years ago another friend, another philosopher, proposed, very controversially at the time, that perhaps our problems are not really metaphysical. Maybe we just have to grow up. Like I say, that caused something of a stir among us as undergraduates. But I think he was onto something quite profound.

We also have to remember that academia is changing. And this requires people, as Heidegger puts it, "of a different stamp". Already back in 1939 he was writing things like:

The decisive development of the modern character of science as ongoing activity [Betrieb, hustle] also forms men of a different stamp. The scholar disappears. He is succeeded by the research man who is engaged in research projects. These, rather than the cultivating of erudition, lend to his work its atmosphere of incisiveness. The research man no longer needs a library at home. Moreover, he is constantly on the move. He negotiates at meetings and collects information at congresses. He contracts for commissions with publishers. The latter now determine along with him which books must be written. ("The Age of the World Picture")

This transition from "scholarship" to "research" is being felt in many different ways throughout the university system. We are even witnessing a counter-trend to embrace the humanities, which I'm following with great interest. Part of my expertise (and therefore the value proposition of my coaching and consulting activities) lies in negotiating this tension between the inquisitive attitude of the scholar and the "incisive atmosphere" of the researcher. It is not the case that one is right and one is wrong, that one is human and one is monstrous. But, as Heidegger, might say (quoting Hölderlin), here both a "danger" and a "saving power" grows ("Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst/Das Rettende auch").

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