22 SES 11 A, The Agency Game in Academic Development: Compliance or Resistance?
This symposium aims to both start and nuance the debates around the notions of compliance, resistance and agency as heuristic devices for understanding the deep dynamics of the work of academic developers in higher education systems.
Current discourses about higher education happen at different levels (institutional, national and international). While appearing to be pedagogically informed at their face value (notions of learner-centredness and reflectivity are, for instance, central to current educational policies and strategies), they may, in reality, in market-driven environments, produce practices that are shot through with ill-founded normative notions about what ‘good’ learning and teaching are Rowland (in Satterthwaite et al., 2003; Barnett, 1997).
In this process, some academic developers may often feel doubly ensnared. On the one hand, management expects them to be the ‘facilitators’ of reforms whose ‘effects’ should be immediately visible and whose impact is directly measurable. On the other hand, they may well be mistrusted by academics who see them as the ‘nice’ arm of quality regimes, the soft allies of management and institutional power agents of management and bureaucracy. Academic developers, on their part, rather perceive themselves as professional academics within their field and in their own right, with their own professional knowledge, values and responsibility. Over time, this may create professional and moral dilemmas.
The basic conundrum that commonly faces academic developers today may well be encapsulated in the following set of questions: is it possible to comply with systems and processes with whose modus operandi and cogitandi one may disagree? How does one resist these? Do academic developers feel they have a sense of critical agency towards educational reforms and discourses? And, if a sense of agency does exist, how does it manifest itself in different contexts?
This symposium attempts to open a debate among academic developers and higher education practitioners, more generally, about how these questions are answered in two different national contexts: the Belgian and the Polish. The symposium aims to start an overt debate about the political dimension of academic development by which we mean the ways in which academic developers’ sets of values, beliefs and epistemologies are or can be enacted (or not) in current higher education systems conceived as agonistic spaces (Mouffe, 2005) for the definition of the meaning(s) and practice(s) of higher education itself.
The symposium aims to develop a richer understanding of the political game and sense of agency in academic development that may, in practice, help academic developers navigate what sometimes are complex environments. Ultimately, the project is concerned with the political ontology (Hay, 2008) of academic developers, in terms of the relationship between structure and agency, context and conduct in academic development.
In this sense, the symposium aims to contribute to wider debates about the democratic foundations of higher education today in terms of its recognition of all the voices that contribute to its existence, and not through top-down actions and initiatives that vitiate the foundations that are at the heart of a vision of higher education as an open and dialogic system (Clement & al).
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