Federico IIErasmus

Lecture 7 – The Changing Epistemic Governance of European Education

Romuald Normand (University of Strasbourg, FR)

Romuald Normand is Professor of Sociology at the University of Strasbourg, Faculty of Social Sciences, France. (Research Unit SAGE: Societies, Actors and Government of Europe). He works on comparative education policies and politics, Europeanization and Lifelong Learning, Higher Education and Research. Romuald Normand is convenor of the network 28 "Sociologies of European Education" at the European Educational Research Association. He is a member of the editorial board of the British Journal of Sociology of Education and co-editor of the Routledge series "Studies in European Education". 2014, with Martin Lawn, Shaping of European education. Interdisciplinary Approaches, London: Routledge, 2016, with Jean-Louis Derouet, A European Politics of Education. Perspectives from Sociology, Policy Studies and Politics. Routledge, 2016, The Epistemic Governance of European Education. Towards Homo Academicus Europeanus? , Dordrecht, Springer.

The lecture situates the transformations of epistemic governance in European education and the way in which some actors are shaping new knowledge which is in turn impacting on other actors in charge of implementing this knowledge in the context of the decision-making process and practice. It describes knowledge-based and evidence-based technologies producing new modes of representation, cognitive categories and value-based judgements determining and guiding actions and interactions between researchers, experts and policy-makers. It presents some major social theories and concepts to analyse this transformation of the relationship between educational and social sciences and politics. Epistemic governance is concerned by transformations of academic capitalism and the ways in which academics, engaged in heterogeneous networks, are capable of developing new interactions as well as facing new trials imposed by the changing conditions of producing knowledge in their scientific community and within their institutions.

Epistemic Governance of European Education

The lecture will be on a book published in a Springer series on educational governance research. The book is theoretical: I am just now developing some empirical work, by interviewing some academics. The book is a reflection on the changing conditions of the academic work, and on the environment of the production of knowledge. The title of the book is the Changing Epistemic Governance of European Education. I would say provocatively; it is a sort of self-reflection on my disappearance as a sociologist of education, or of some sociologists of education (I am joking !). I will try to explain that.

What is ‘epistemic governance’? European policies and politics of education are characterized by a new regime of knowledge production which is destabilizing conventional academic work in education. I am interested in the challenge academic communities are facing in entering in this new epistemic governance, and this new order of academic production. This issue has not been too much investigated in the sociology of education. This issue here is taken seriously and has been considered as an object of inquiry to understand what agency, what academic self is emerging in this new order. It relates to what we have talked in this seminar about what is the role of critique in sociology of education, what is the new reflexivity is expected from this academic self, how academics are engaged in interdisciplinary research.

My theoretical framework is inspired by three theories:

1) Michael Foucault has been important in my work, and I have borrowed some of his concepts, like governmentality, regime of truth, dispositifs, etc., it was important from my previous work when I studied the political arithmetic of inequality, the genealogy, and the role of tools in education policy in Europe

2) I used Actor Network Theory to study networks of experts building the tools of the Open Method of Coordination. I tried to mapping these networks of experts, looking at the co-publications, that is how they sign together. Writing texts is important and when you sign a text you show a proximity with the people you are signing. Scientific signature is not neutral, it implies a collective work, a belonging to the research community. It shows a proximity with experts and policy makers. This methodology, however, presented an external view, then I decided to become an expert. I participated in several powerful networks of experts working for the European Commission, some of them designing by EC, and some of them built by themselves for influencing the European policy of lifelong learning .

3) My last influence was Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiappello. Luc Boltanski is a well know social theorist in France. It has developed a particular theory of agency and the self in reaction to Bourdieu’s theory of habitus and dispositions, by explaining that actors have a sort of reflexivity, are capable of critique and not only sociologists can develop critique, and to make judgments on the situation they experience. From this critique actors can claim their argument in public space, to express different senses of justice. These arguments put people in conflict together, and they try to reach some agreements, some compromises which shape the political order. Whether sociology is very focused on the struggles of people, on the conflicts, here sociology tries to theorize at the same time violence, conflict but also the way people are capable of finding some compromises, some agreements which frame social order, named conventions.

The new epistemic of governance proposes to reflect on new conventions of the academic work in which some academics recognize their work, and from which some academics criticize this new order.

The New Regime of Knowledge

My question is: What is the Homo Academicus becoming in this new order? I used this word from Pierre Bourdieu. This new order is made of numbers, indicators that are the normalization of the knowledge-based economy. It is not only a question of marketization and privatization of research at the least at the European level. I am quite against this unilateral reading of higher education and research, because of the influence of the state in Europe. Therefore if you want to understand the new order, you also have to understand the transformation of the state, and more in particularly, the implementation of New Public Management which has an effect on the academic work. What is then the consequences on the academic work of this new order and what are the consequences on the criticism which is being held by social sciences, and by the sociology of education for years?

The new regime of production has been theorized by Gibbons and Nowotny. Nowotny has been trained as a sociologist, and she has become the President of European Research Council (ERC). These new tools for the production of knowledge are becoming, in my opinion, the new politics of knowledge in Europe. It is quite easy to observe, by reading the new calls in Horizon 2020. The production of knowledge has not to be made only by academics, but also by other producers of knowledge. It means by networks of experts, agencies, think tanks, etc. Knowledge has to be presented to a large number of stakeholders that are interested in the mediation of knowledge. It means that the control of knowledge is no more the ownership of the academic groups themselves, but they have to be opened to the redefinition of many other stakeholders. Moreover, the production of knowledge has to be useful; it has to have an impact on policy making, on the practice. It has to take into account the modality of transfer, of dissemination of knowledge. These are then new expectations related to this new epistemic governance.

This politics of knowledge is largely based on a conception of evaluation of knowledge. In the book, I have tried to trace the circulation of evidence-based policy research which has been largely conceptualized in New Zealand. It has circulated from New Zealand to the USA. It has been taken over by the OECD, and it has been finally adopted by European Commission. The idea is that the quality of educational research has to be improved, and it has to be improved by an alignment to experimental methods, taken from medicine, by using techniques like control randomized trials, meta-analysis, systematic reviews. All these quantitative techniques are intended to improve educational research. It means that case studies, interviews produced by sociologists of education have a very low rank in the hierarchy of evidence. At the top you have randomized trials control that are considered as a sort of gold standard in the evaluation of education policies; at the bottom, you have interviews that are the opinions and are considered very subjective, very superficial and not useful for guiding educational policies and programs.

According to this changing conditions of educational knowledge, there is even the idea of open up and challenge the expertise. Experts and networks of expertise have become very influential nearby European policy-makers. Why European Commission is using expertise? It uses experts in situation of uncertainty about knowledge. It depends on the visibility of the knowledge producer. You have situation when there is a weak visibility of the expertise, expertise is endogenous in the institutions, then EC creates its networks of experts working directly with policy makers or policy officers like for example in DG education and culture; when you have a strong uncertainty, but a strong visibility of knowledge producers, then EC tries to call some networks of expertise in order to produce some relevant knowledge. What I am interested in the book, is to try to explain the diversity of the commitment of the experts, and the diversity of the network experts which produces knowledge for EC. You can have a sort of epistemic community with a very coherent epistemology for policy makers, but you can also have think-tanks with a lot of competition between the knowledge producers, inside a working group, inside a think tank, and competition also with external advisers which try to influence policy makers. You can also have networks of experts acting as a sort of political entrepreneurs with close relationships with policy makers in the DG who are capable of mobilizing and promoting their expertise in a very short relationship through very small seminars directly with policy makers. I also got another category of expertise, I used largely the work of Claudio Radaelli here, expertise in the shadow of technocracy: experts who are not visible, but are producing expertise directly for the DG Culture and Education. They are producing reports; it is very difficult to look at that because it is a shadow work. It is very influential in advancing the new agenda for the European policy of lifelong learning. It is very important since expertise contrary to research is made to produce the future. Sometimes when you are looking at reports, when you are looking at recommendations, it has been largely prepared years before.

Critiques to Homo Academicus

The changing conditions of academic work can be explained by the changing conditions of the external environment of the production of knowledge, but there are some other reasons to explain this for educational researchers, and for sociologists that have more difficult to voice nearby European policy-makers. There are some other explanations I tried to summarize in the book what I called the weakening of the academic defense. My assumption here resumes some Boltanski’s ideas and the Slaughter and Rhoades’ book on Academic Capitalism. It means that there are some critiques toward the academic work which have been adressed. It is not only instruments, standards; it is also some performative discourses and reformist proposals that have been accepted by policy-makers against the academic community. The first criticism comes from sociology itself, as an example from Pierre Bourdieu. In Homo Academicus (1984), he developed some criticisms against the academia; he explained its struggles, power relationships: he wrote that academics are bosses, followers are clients. These critiques have been translated in a sort of vulgate resumed by academics themselves and policy-makers. This criticism has been developed regarding corporatism of academics, trade-unionism, esprit de corps. The second criticism concerns academics as prisoners of thier ivory tower and discarding the needs of society or economy, embedded in epistemology and disciplinary quarrels, indifferent to transdisciplinary objects, indifferent to creativity and innovation. The third criticism has been drawn from pedagogy and cognitivism planning for a better relationship in teaching and learning for better students, the development of new skills, and new digital technologies in faculties. This criticism has delegitimized the academic profession and has undermined its social recognition.

Beyond these criticisms, there are new discourses of truth subverting academic ethics. Intellectuality has been converted in calls for creativity and innovation, for performance and competitiveness. Authority which is at the foundation of the hierarchical relationships has been denounced on behalf of leadership and of managerial behaviors. Opportunism and risk taking has been valued against eloquence and virtuosity, the extension of the media and the emergence of doxa in the public space has diminished the interest of critical sociology and blurred the criteria of evidence and truth. If you are in a bookshop and if you are searching for books in sociology you will find books from journalism mixed with other books on societal issues, and it is very difficult to recognize sociology among them. You have got also new experiments in positive sciences which are legitimized in psychology and economy and undermine the legitimacy of sociology, social sciences, and in particular, sociology of education.

The New Worlds of Expertise

What I have tried to figure out are new conventions of work which positions these expectations from policy makers regarding what academics have to do. I try to figure out some ideal types. I considered these conventions at work as sort of threads of academic activities regarding some standards of expectations. They can be distributed from tradition to performance, and from reputation, i.e. recognition in a community or network, to competition in the way academics access to resources. You can have the “Mandarin” that has been largely criticized by Bourdieu in 1984; the ‘Peer’, that is the primus inter pares identifiying the academic belonging to a scientific community and a group representing his or her interest, in the regulation by peers, we find solidarity, collegiality, representation, or delegation to representatives that are the constituents of the academic work. Through the epistemic governance, two figures emerge through the figures of the expert and the entrepreneur. The expert believes in the Mode 2 of knowledge production. He/she believes in the effectiveness of his/her recommendations. The expert is equipped with technologies of measurement and evidence. The expert is very close to policy makers and stakeholders. On the other side, the entrepreneur is creative and opportunistic, she/he is embedded, like the expert, in international networks, entrepreneurs have a strong mobility, they search to capitalise world wide resources to be connected, and we see how entrepreneurs are involved in business, innovation, philanthropy, social entrepreneurship.

In these new epistemic cultures, academics are facing different trials: a) trials of strength in the sense that they are subjected to managerial control, they have to conform to standards, to assessments imposed by management, quality assurance, etc. they have to comply, to apply new regulations; b) trials of reality, in the sense that they experience gaps between discourses of truth which are held by evidence or policy-makers and practices, paradoxes in terms of performativity, competition, repetition, and mobility. They face existential trials because some of them are suffering from this new order some injustices and humiliations whereas they are marginalized and lack of recognition, they feel isolated. They have lost their autonomy, some of them adopt passive resistance. It is only some of them! The others can adjust to this new order!

I try to figure out the position of the expert and the entrepreneur in this new order, in this new connectionist order to resume Boltanski. It means that academics have to be connected. The idea to develop a network is important. It is not new. Academics need to be connected to get resources, to be involved in international projects, to get international recognition, to be able to publish in English. These connections are very different from traditional networks. In these new network you find different roles which are progressively designed: you have the network maker who seeks to associate individuals and to extend the links to conform his/her authority and power; you have the network broker, he.she is an intermediary of several networks, he.she facilitates the exchanges between experts, policy-makers, academics, practitioners; the spokesman acts on behalf of the emerging social space, presenting social interests, the gatekeeper controls the access to the network, or the connector develops links in a very opportunistic way. Regarding agency, academics become more and more mobile in a transnational way. You can have mobile academics that get benefits from their involvement in international networks from one institution to another institution. At the same time you have immobile academics who are victims of the sedentariness that have no access to the same resources. It creates asymmetries between academics, between those that can be mobile and those who are not able to be mobile and who are working in less known academic institutions. It is a question of mobility in time, not only in space. You have to be very reactive, you have to be able to publish or perish, to take the right opportunity to write things when the network is calling for a journal, for a chapter in a book, and then you are overwhelmed by writings, because the best you are known, the best you have to write and in terms of visibility, you can be also in social media, you are on Facebook, Academia, Research Gate. Everybody is watching you; you are under the observance of the academic community. It is a mode of exposure of the self. You do not have much time to reflect on what you are. You have to intervene in English which is not your language in front of a larger public who are capable of listening what you are saying. Your concepts can circulate and can be taken over by the web, and particularly by those who at the top of the hierarchy that can take concepts you are developing in your Ph.D., putting in some journals, or you can find these paper published not only in English but also in other languages very fast because of the circulation of ideas worldwide. In sociology, Bauman has advanced the concept of liquid modernity. We become liquid in the sense that we have multiple selves and we live in different social worlds. There is a sort of fragmentation of the self: some are capable of master all of that, but this can be difficult for other academics.

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