Introduction: Politics by default and choice

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript


Universities, like other social institutions, have default settings which are both reflective and constitutive of power relations within the institution and the larger society. While scholars have made great strides in identifying and deconstructing these settings in other social institutions, insufficient attention has been paid to the practices, repercussions, and challenges associated with universities’ own default settings. The contributions to this section interrogate and broaden default geographical, ethical, occupational, and educational settings within and between academic institutions in different national, regional, and global contexts, while opening new avenues for thinking about the default terms of the debates surrounding these settings, including the relationship between “the West and the rest, " between academic labor and structural inequalities, and between legal education and human rights. Underlying each of these discussions are the political structures and policies that shape these settings, which in turn raises the complex question regarding the roles and responsibilities of academics in relation to political realities. In considering the intricate and always precarious relationship between politics and the academy, we can distinguish between two major realms of debate, each with its own default assumptions. In one set of debates, which is based on a relatively narrow definition of politics and various liberal-democratic ideals, politics is viewed as a separate domain that is or is not, should or should not be part of academic institutions and practices. It is here that we find the common accusations of partisanship, political bias, and political indoctrination in teaching and research, alongside the argument that, if anything, universities are becoming increasingly disengaged from politics, with professors shying away from political debate, refraining from political involvement, and thereby failing in their mission to educate students for democratic citizenship.1 The compatibility between academic and political processes is also debated within this framework. Should scholars be actively involved in policy development, or do such efforts inescapably result in what former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel defined as “the art of the possible measured against the ideal”?2.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaking the University Matter
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages3
ISBN (Electronic)9781136696930
ISBN (Print)9780415782395
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2011 Barbie Zelizer, editorial and selection matter; individual chapters, the contributors.


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