Title: Sites of a Grand Societal Experiment

Date: 25 May, 12.30-13.45
Venue: Ravelijn, RA 1247
Speakers: Prof.dr. Arie Rip


In the ongoing discussion and underlying tensions about the mission of universities, one sees the contrasts between excellence and relevance, between orientation to global economic competition and orientation to social and community relevance. Positions are taken, and their relative merits are debated. There are attempts at integration, or at least mutual accommodation.

Now turn the tables: similar debates and tensions, evolving practices and arrangements also occur elsewhere, for example in innovation (global competition versus inclusive innovation and ‘collective experimentation’), so the issue of the mission of universities is just one site where such tensions are being played out.

One can interpret this as an heroic struggle between neo-liberal narratives and practices on the one hand, and local and bottom-up activities and experiments, often community-based, on the other hand. It can be framed as ‘contested modernisation’ (the project on the History of Technology in the Netherlands in the 20th century offered an interesting twist on this notion) or alternatively, as a story of capitalist domination undermined by labour and environmental action. I recognize the possibility of a clash between two opposed movements, but don’t want to reify them upfront. Instead, I suggest the notion of an ongoing Societal Experiment, in which elements of these movements are visible, but in an open-ended societal transformation including partial settlements.

What happens in the various sites then is more than a predictable play between puppets of the two contesting movements. Learning will occur, and what happens in the sites will shape the ongoing struggles and partial settlements.

Phrased in this way, it constitutes a program of empirical research, studying various sites, informed by the notion of a Grand Societal Experiment.

[This presentation builds on the abstract of my paper for the SPRU 50-year Anniversary Conference in September 2016, and is a try-out of one of the threads in the full paper I have to submit in August 2016.]