Thursday 27 October 2011

Universities, Cities and Conviviality

Going to a big city (Manchester) away from home was one of the most significant parts of my university education. Finding ways of adapting to a new environment, getting to know new people all of whom were similarly disorientated.. all this had a profound psychological effect. I took ownership of my new environment, I identified with my new home (perhaps more than with my University): it was an opportunity to redefine myself - to consciously take control of those aspects of my environment which I wanted to be associated with.

But, of course, although I didn't pay, it was expensive. And it was hard to leave - those aspects of my identity including my environment and friends seemed to evaporate after graduation: the 'real world' presented itself as a bit of a shock, and another process of adaptation had to take place (this one rather less pleasant!).

These are the moments that sociologists talk of as "transition": the redefinition of objects of attachment, and the consequent transformation of identity. Divorce, bereavement, new jobs and new houses all present similar challenges: fundamentally, the challenge is one of transformed identity and the renewal of attachments.

Universities facilitate the formation of attachments to cities - and often it is the city that matters because it is the city that presents new opportunities after university. But the city without the university can be a lonely place. University counteracts this. In an era of 'super cities' the relationship between universities and cities is likely to become more integrated. And this is not just a relationship with learners seeking to make attachments; it also carries economic implications for the viability of cities themselves. The flexibility and adaptability of attachment formation and the freedom to move from one attachment to another is facilitated by learning and (to some extent) by qualifications. But might we in education have got it the wrong way round?

All intellectual development involves some change in attachments of individuals - it is through these that communications are shaped (leading to the change in positioning that Harre talks about). But when the city works well, it nurtures attachment too. To what extent is the nurturing of attachment by the city related to the nurturing of attachment in the university? What is the economic relationship between the benefits afforded by the university to the creation of new city-attachments versus the cost of facilitating those city-attachments by Universities? Finally, how can this be measured?

I think this is related to finding an index of 'conviviality'. Nobody wants to live in a city with no conviviality (there are certainly some cities in the US like this). And some cities are booming (like Istanbul) partly through generating high degrees of conviviality. The same goes for Universities. The trick is to understand the relationship between the two, the measures that are effective in increasing conviviality, and the dangers of economic policies which might irreparably damage it both in cities and in Universities.

1 comment:

viji said...
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