The Enlightenment-era concerns that gave rise to the modern research university can illuminate contemporary debates about knowledge in the digital age.
Since its inception, the research university has been the central institution of knowledge in the West. Today its intellectual authority is being challenged on many fronts, above all by radical technological change. Organizing Enlightenment tells the story of how the university emerged in the early nineteenth century at a similarly fraught moment of cultural anxiety about revolutionary technologies and their disruptive effects on established institutions of knowledge.
Drawing on the histories of science, the university, and print, as well as media theory and philosophy, Chad Wellmon explains how the research university and the ethic of disciplinarity it created emerged as the final and most lasting technology of the Enlightenment. Organizing Enlightenment reveals higher education’s story as one not only of the production of knowledge but also of the formation of a particular type of person: the disciplinary self. In order to survive, the university would have to institutionalize a new order of knowledge, one that was self-organizing, internally coherent, and embodied in the very character of the modern, critical scholar.
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