The Knowledge Based Economy University: Between a Frictionless Tale and Conflictual Experiences

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 4:15 PM-5:45 PM
235 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Adria Alcoverro, Sodertorn's University, Stockholm, Sweden
Higher Education Institutions (HEI) have been transformed worldwide in the last decades to have a pivotal role in the Knowledge based Economy (KBE). This transformation is generally explained by the need of advanced capitalist economies to secure a prosperous future. HEI are foreseen contributing in the realisation of long periods of economic growth in a near future by becoming spaces in which knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship will be creatively combined to produce higher added value innovations. Along these lines, Aalto University in Helsinki was founded in 2010 as the flagship of 2009’s national university reform. A centre of excellence to attract brains and business to produce the knowledge and innovations to critically contribute and guide Finland's future prosperity. A transition with no conflicts, with no losers, a frictionless, hence post-political, future sustained by the creative use of knowledge and technology.

This is consensual narrative articulates a temporality of change from an undefined present to a near and irreversible future; the present is presented as a hollowed and dysfunctional instant that can only be fulfilled by the solutions promised by innovation-based capitalism. This narrative is not merely informative but it is internalised within all the levels of the institution. This is a process in which some discursive nodes such as autonomy, freedom, self-realisation or teamwork are constantly employed to evoke an optimistic change followed by the implementation of the necessary measures (multidisciplinary work, business partnerships, etc.) at the departments to work towards the commitment of "useful knowledge".

Nonetheless, certain concealed tensions remain latent and these become palpable when this prevailing post-political nodes encounter the really existing work life in the university. This tension is constituted around concrete struggles defined as “concealed dialectics” originating in the daily work life at the departments. These are the relation between autonomy and domination, between individual and collective or between immaterialism and materialism. All of them reflect the contradictory essence of the KBE: a project defined by the extension of market-rule that erodes, behind the façade of a new frictionless order, the balanced existence at the workplace based on teamwork, safety and creativity that once had been promised.