About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Inside the Teaching Machine
Rhetoric and the Globalization of the U.S. Public Research University
By Catherine Chaput
The University of Alabama PressCopyright © 2008 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
Historicizing the U.S. Public Research University
Industrial Capitalism and the Professional Ideal
The socioeconomic category of "professional" emerged along with an expanding network of U.S. public research universities in the late nineteenth century. Together this national system of universities and its credentialed professionals solidified a largely dispersed middle class, helping to transform the United States from a nation of isolated rural communities into a sophisticated participant in the modern world. Various local universities existed within this network, trained a new professional-managerial class, and contributed significantly to the role of the United States in world politics. I explore this university system using the rhetorical hermeneutic of historical materialism by marking the valuation of the professional-managerial class within cultural, political, and economic spheres. Tracking the movement among the spheres simultaneously traces the rhetorical boundaries such valuations help construct and provides an opportunity to view the dialectic between this larger boundary and its local instantiations. With an eye toward history, this method attempts to understand how, as Gayatri Spivak says, "we are effects within a much larger text/tissue/weave of which the ends are not accessible to us" ("The Post-modern Condition" 25). The map I draw of the U.S. public research university should be seen as a small section of this pattern of social relations, one stitched in the late nineteenth century with the politics of nation-building, the economics of emergent capitalism, and the cultures of professionalism.
There are several excellent histories of the U.S. public research university. This chapter does not attempt to be one of them. I do provide an interpretation structured through different historical materialist stages of capitalism. This history is intended to help frame the evolution of the university in relationship to changes in the social, political, and economic modes necessary to different moments in the political economy of capitalism. This model is fashioned off of Hayden White, an historian John Bender and David Wellbery endorse for his consciousness of narrative's rhetoricality. White claims, in his "Interpretation in History," that all history is "necessarily a mixture of adequately and inadequately explained events" (51). He further argues that all histories are ideologically informed and that there are as many historical accounts as there are ideological positions. Limited both by the oversights in my interpretation and the biases of my own positionality, I will not present a definitive picture of the U.S. public research university. Instead, I add new insight into old accounts by reorganizing historical narratives according to a rhetorical hermeneutic of valuation. Although I offer only one viable account among others, I hope to provide a corrective to the myriad nostalgic calls for a return to the democratic mission of higher education.
Opposing uncritical nostalgia for the university's more democratic past, I argue that the notion of a previously democratic and noncorporate stage in the U.S. public research university never existed. Indeed, this university system has always functioned in collaboration with an evolving corporate system, and attempting a description of it in isolation from political economic processes is both culturally and politically naive. A more sound analysis of the system of U.S. public research universities explains the discursive and material boundaries historically constituted by different cultural, political, and economic valuations and exchanges. Colin Burke's American Collegiate Populations advocates such an inquiry. Specifically, Burke claims that one's analysis needs to account for the fact that "the emergence of the university depended upon alterations in the nature and orientation of students, a restructuring of the professions, and changes in the American economy" (7). These changes, he suggests, "did not mean an increase in either democracy or equality" (7). As Burke clearly articulates, the university grew out of changes in the social and political economic landscape. Any analysis of the university, then, is necessarily insufficient without attention to the rhetorical hermeneutic of valuation operating within and among different influential spheres. Following such logic, this chapter refocuses the source of historical analysis away from an exclusive emphasis on a cultural, political, or economic interpretation and onto an interpretation defined by the values produced, exchanged, and consumed as a consequence of various imbrications and interdependencies among these three realms. Shifting perspective onto this rhetoric of historical materialism brings into focus an outline of the rhetorical enclosure that these exchanges construct.
To do this, I turn to an explanation of the rhetoric of historical materialism as a hermeneutic and historiographic method connected to the fields of both rhetoric and political economy. Then I examine the U.S. public research university in relationship to the historical material exigencies of the market economy by focusing on the valuation and revaluation of "professional." This historical reading is organized according to the industrial, monopoly, and global stages of capitalism, which even as rough markers of the key movements in the university help maintain an emphasis on its historical dynamism. Because this historical account includes three major movements in the university's relationship to the U.S. political economy, it requires two full chapters. The remainder of this chapter deals with the relationship between the industrial stage of U.S. capitalism and the formation of the U.S. research university. The chapter ends with a brief examination of how English departments forged themselves in an effort to humanize and to nationalize this industrializing economy. Chapter 2 picks up this historical narrative with an analysis of how the monopoly and global stages of the capitalist political economy contributed to critical reforms in the U.S. public research university. Before I engage either this history or its implications for the global political economy, I briefly survey the history of political economic studies and explain why I use the rhetoric of historical materialism, rather than political economy, to grapple with cultural, political, and economic questions.
Historical Materialism: A Rhetorical Hermeneutic Approach to Political Economy
The term "economy," used up to the sixteenth century to denote the management of a household budget, merged with the term "political" in the late eighteenth century to signify "the art or practical science of managing the resources of a nation so as to increase its material prosperity" (Oxford English Dictionary). Soon afterward, "political economy" gave way to the shorthand, "economics," which continues to dominate even as various camps attempt to revive the original terminology. Most of those who prefer "political economy" to economics do so as a corrective to the narrow apolitical and asocial version of economics. According to economic and social historian A. W. Coats, "those who employ the term 'political economy' nowadays favor a broader conception of economics that explicitly recognizes the interrelationships between the economy, the polity, and society" (347). Dividing the term into three conceptions (liberal, nationalist, and Marxist), Coats adds that the use of "political economy" generally denotes a consciousness of power relations within economic discourse. The liberal view, one derived from Adam Smith, disconnects economics from politics through the notion of an all-powerful market force directing supply and demand. The nationalist position prioritizes power within the nation-state. From the Marxist perspective, economics remains most powerful. The prevalence of the liberal notion, which separates economics from both politics and culture while attributing power to the invisible hand of the market, does not seem to be challenged significantly by Marxist or nationalist attempts to forefront political economic power. On the contrary, these different attempts to rearticulate "political economy" lead to terminological confusion and provide one justification for avoiding the term in favor of historical materialism rhetoric.
Rather than entering into definitional arguments about "political economy," this study uses a rhetorical methodology — the rhetoric of historical materialism — to put forward what might be called a Marxist political economy of the U.S. public research university. Marxist political economists counter the liberal tendency to separate economics from other sociopolitical spheres and to displace power from institutions and individuals onto the illusive marketplace. They study the intersections of economics, politics, and culture situated within a specific spatio-temporal context and the meaning encoded onto value forms operating within a political economic enclosure. The problem with these studies, however, is that readers too often reduce their insights to arguments about the base-superstructure relationship. Given the circular and recursive nature of these social spheres, I doubt any resolution will result from questions about the ultimate origins and exact relationship of valuation and exchange. Avoiding these apparently endless debates, I focus instead on the rhetorical boundary constructed from exchanges about the U.S. public research university. I am convinced that the cultural, political, and economic realms operate through inextricable linkages, which can be traced by following the valuations and exchanges among these spheres. The resulting map indicates the rhetorically constructed boundary that, in turn, enforces rhetorical possibilities. In short, such a boundary both enables and confines rhetorical agency. Noting how this rhetorical boundary changes over time provides insight into institutional change as well as individual subjectivity.
Political economy as a field of study surfaced alongside discussions of rhetoric, as both were topics central to debates on moral philosophy. In the eighteenth century, for instance, scholars argued that political economy worked on behalf of the common good while rhetoric often worked against it. Not surprisingly, the study of political economy emerged as a discrete discipline of its own as universities, curricula, and professions underwent drastic changes. During this unstable formative period, those advocating the study of political economy legitimated the field by distinguishing it from professional work and by calling it a scientific branch of knowledge. Richard Whately's 1831 Introductory Lectures on Political Economy, primarily concerned with justifying political economic study, takes this approach. He argues that "it has been [his] first object, to combat the prevailing prejudices against the study" (vi). Among the most influential Enlightenment rhetoricians, Whately was also an endowed professor of political economy at Oxford University. Declaring the importance of political economic study, he further contends that "while due encouragement shall still be afforded to those more strictly professional studies which conduce to the professional advancement in life of each individual, Political-Economy will, ere long, be enrolled in the list of those branches of knowledge which more peculiarly demand the attention of an endowed University" (x). Whately goes on to specify that because the political economy serves national interests, it belongs within the "endowed" university. Various professional studies, on the other hand, serve individual interests and are therefore less well positioned in a university equipped and funded for national well-being.
In the course of his argument Whately makes a double move that facilitates the project of defining disciplinary boundaries and including political economy as a specialized field of its own. First, he distinguishes between individual economic self-interest, characterized by the pursuit of a practical profession, and national economic self-interest marked by the scientific pursuit of political economic knowledge. Whately argues that while an individual may become arrogant or prideful because of excessive wealth, a wealthy nation undergoes "superiority in valor, or in mental cultivation" (51–52). Further, unlike a rich individual who often becomes lazy, a rich nation "is always an industrious nation; and almost always more industrious than a poor one" (56). In this framework, individuals are morally discouraged from aspiring toward wealth at the same time that nations are encouraged to prosper economically — universities serve the nation and not the individual. As part of this early disciplinary formation, Whately also separates the practical arts as the study of eloquence, beauty, and taste from science as the study of facts, numbers, and truth. He suggests that "a capacity of improvement seems to be characteristic of the Human Species, both as individuals, and as existing in a community" (101). Limiting individual improvement to the realm of the commonsensical and the aesthetic, he places national improvement in the realm of science. A person who exercises individual judgment may be said to use common sense, but national judgment requires the precision of science. In this way, Whately represents a hierarchy of knowledge such that science is primary and common sense secondary; accordingly, political economy supersedes rhetoric and the belles lettres. Ironically, Whately's efforts (among others) to solidify political economic study relied so heavily on the notion of science that it soon fossilized into the science of economics and operated in isolation from the ethical, moral, cultural, and political concerns that became more associated with rhetoric and the belles lettres tradition. After the eighteenth century, this separation normalized so that the study of economics, as an independent phenomenon devoid of significant cultural and political components, simply replaced the study of political economy.
The characterization of economics in moral terms, a hallmark of early political economic treatises, fell out of fashion as political economic inquiry formed into a scientific discipline commensurate with new directions in intellectual, social, and political life. The mid-to late nineteenth century witnessed sweeping historical changes: the rise of capitalism as a challenge to aristocracy, the shift from religious to secular beliefs, and the transition from philosophical to scientific thought. This changing historical moment placed demands on intellectuals to revalorize their disciplinary inquiry within these new sociopolitical parameters. Moral philosophy split off from political economy, in part, because without a unifying belief in religious and aristocratic values it became difficult to justify — as political economists like Whately so clearly did — that political economy served the social good (Skidelsky 40–42). After the shift to secularism, moral philosophy equivocated about ethics while economics created its own internal logic. The early connections between moral philosophy and political economy revolved around questions about the ethics of pricing or the justice of interest rates, but the new discipline of political economy sought a "scientific" explanation for its methods in the work of Adam Smith. Ignoring Smith's own concern with moral questions, nineteenth-century economists clung to his notion of an indirect and natural force regulating economic activity. Just as the laws of physics regulated the natural world, the laws of economics, they believed, regulated the monetary world. Within this schema, there was no need for either moralizing or regulating.
Comparative cultural historians George Marcus and Michael Fischer explain the emergence of Adam Smith as the "father" of modern political economy. They argue that political economy's broadly defined "subject declined during the nineteenth century as the popularity of the theory of the self-regulating market, derived from Adam Smith, grew" (79). According to Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, the market is regulated by its own internal logic, the "invisible hand," that naturally responds to the changes of local culture. Because the invisible hand alters the economy according to specific local needs, interference from state government is superfluous or even dangerously counterproductive. Smith's idea that the market self-regulates precludes interventionist politics of any kind. As a result of this market theory, claim Marcus and Fischer, "the study of economics became isolated from the study of politics" (79). At the same time that knowledge became divided into compartmentalized disciplines and those disciplines became codified within professional and scientific discourses, Smith's theory of self-regulating markets further contributed to the isolation of economics from culture and politics. Emphases on the positivist methods of scientific inquiry, quantitative analysis, and divisions among intellectual fields as well as the logic of an independent market all played a part in the view that the inclusion of such things as culture and politics contaminated the natural workings of economics.
Excerpted from Inside the Teaching Machine by Catherine Chaput. Copyright © 2008 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.