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Care, contingency and capability: Ecological perspectives on higher education

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Original languageEnglish
JournalArs Educandi
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 8 Jan 2020


This contribution to Ars Educandi builds upon previous work conducted in the spirit of creative-relational inquiry (Pirrie and Fang, 2019). That article addressed the complex ecology of contemporary higher education, and gestured towards ‘study practices’ (Schildermans, 2019) that might prove ameliorative in the long run. These were encapsulated by the relational ethics that were the hallmark of our collaboration, in our way of being of and for the university, and in the manner in which we ‘[enacted] a relation between the university and the world by convoking matters of study’ (Schildermans, 2019, p. 138). It is not our intention here to present ‘practical hints or solutions’ (extract from the Call for Papers for this issue) that might facilitate more fruitful and rewarding collaboration between academics. Rather, we believe that collaboration between colleagues across lines of difference transcends instrumental considerations and can only flourish in the ever-diminishing fallow spaces in an institutional environment marred by over-regulation. In the article referred to above we focused on the damaging effects of the ‘student satisfaction’ agenda, particularly its impact on teachers’ subjectivity (see also Pirrie and Day, 2019; Day and Pirrie, 2019; see Pirrie, 2019 for a broader account of the malaise in contemporary higher education written from the perspective of one who navigates through it, attentive to wind and tide). As is so often the case in academic work in the humanities and social sciences, the article by Pirrie and Fang (2019) raised more questions about our understanding of our role and place in the university than we were able to address within its modest scope. Yet this is also a salutary reminder, lest one were needed, that ‘knowledge knocks against the cold scope of ignorance, like sunbeams on the mirroring sea, dumfounded by its depth’ (Jabès, 1996). So we take to the waters again, three brave women in a leaking boat. This time we are rowing determinedly away from a sinking ship.

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