Towards the placeful university

Online roundtable discussion – Recording available here

November 15, 2022, at 15.00-17.00 Central European Time (CET) (UTC+1)

The event is co-hosted by East European University and PaTHES.

Convenor and event chair: Professor Giorgi Tavadze, East European University

Places are centers of meaning, they are meaningful places. We dwell in places, interact with other humans at various places and constantly move between them. Places and spaces are dynamically interlinked: sometimes a place is perceived as more bounded and local (favourite cafe in the park), but sometimes they can “stretch out” (the whole park can be considered as a place of importance). Because of this feature place researchers speak about “nesting” nature of places. And what about academic places, what about the university as a place/space?  Is it a gathering place? (Heidegger) And if so, then what is being gathered around? What kind of place/space is the university? Is it possible to consider it as a circus where dangerous and risky leaps are performed, or are we being drawn towards other metaphors like the ‘factory’ or industrial site? In what sense can we speak about a placeful university?

In this online roundtable, Professor Giorgi Tavadze will set the scene for discussion and link to the overall theme of the event. He will also discuss the ongoing research project “Places and spaces in and outside of the university” at East European University (Tbilisi, Georgia). The project aims to understand place-worlds of international students from India studying in Georgia.

Professor Davydd Greenwood will emphasise the importance of built environment. The built environment both embodies cultural principles, preferences, and worldviews and, once built, exercises influence on the interactions and quality of life of those who use it. Fully intentional built environments for universities are rare. More often, they are sedimentary accretions from different periods and different architectural traditions. In contemporary university the Tayloristic structure of disciplines and administration is highly visible. Professor Greenwood will speak how an intentionally designed transdisciplinary university would be laid out.

Professor Paul Gibbs will discuss how ‘academic’ is derived from place since Plato’s Academy whilst ‘scholar’ is an intrinsic disposition and concerns the open spaces of the intellectual. He will also offer considerations of other education ideas such as student, public intellectuals, managers, common, public and private goods.  These concepts will be explored through a transdisciplinary lens.

Associate Professor Søren S. E. Bengtsen will link above-mentioned issues to discussions of a dark ontology of the university – and the metaphor of the circus, which opens up an associative field in which thick philosophical concepts loom large, such as “clearing of Being”, “gathering” (Heidegger), “the leap of thought” (Kirkegaard), “tightrope walk” (Nietzsche) etc. In addition to this, the perspective of placeful university (Nørgård and Bengtsen, 2018) links the concept of the university to the concepts of “academic citizenship” and “Being-with-Others”, thereby adding an ethical layer to ontological dimension.

Professor Ronald Barnett will discuss the notion of the universityin the context of four planes: 1. The university as an institution – as a set of ideas of the university; 2. The university as an institution now and with a history – the university in its future possibilities; 3. A university in its particulars (which distinguish this university from that) – the university as understood in its universals (truth, knowledge, learning and so forth); 4. The university as understood through the dominant ideologies, concepts and sheer words of the age – the university as interpreted through contending discourses and alternative vocabularies.

This is a multiplicity of places in which the university has its being, moving in many directions simultaneously and yet with infinite possibilities to be discerned and created – and decided upon.  The university finds itself in multiplying places, therefore.  So, the question arises: how is it to live with this multiplication of its own places?

The replies will be followed by a online group work, during which participants will brainstorm ideas about each thread discussed previously. This will be followed by a roundtable discussion at which participants will discuss the importance and practical implications of place-based thinking for the university.

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