May 5, 2011

"a culture of consultancy" vs a "meaninful intellectual culture"

Today, intellectual life in universities has been reduced to bare-bones classroom activity. Extra-curricular seminars and workshops have migrated to hotels. Workshop attendance goes with transport allowances and per diem. All this is part of a larger process, the NGO-ization of the university. Academic papers have turned into corporate-style power point presentations. Academics read less and less. A chorus of buzz words have taken the place of lively debates…
University professors and intellectuals in developing countries respond to incentives [they need to make a living], and NGOs might bring good, or at least, some money. But Mamdani rises the point that a culture of research might not grow if a culture of consultancy research prevails. I wonder why countries can't have both . . .  

Mamdani argues that NGOs are changing the incentive structure and making it more difficult for a culture of research to come about [actually the Wold Bank, USAID, etc., might also be feeding this culture].
Mamdani, who is now director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research in addition to his professorship at Columbia, seeks to counter the spread of consultancy culture “through an intellectual environment strong enough to sustain a meaningful intellectual culture.”
“To my knowledge,” he said, “there is no model for this on the African continent today. It is something we will have to create.”
"A meaningful intellectual culture" (MIC) is something that African countries and Latin American countries really need to orient public policy. There are more questions than answers: What incentives can be put in place to foster the MIC? Are politicians willing to listen to intellectuals in developing countries? Does the media listen to intellectuals?

If one believes that the "objectivity" that science provides can let developing countries escape ideological polarization, then promoting research in developing countries is really a good opportunity.

[By the way, Mamdani is the author of probably the most comprehensive book on the Rwanda Genocide. See Here]

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