Cardinal Newman in the Crystal Palace - The Idea of the University Today

Sean Sturm, Stephen Turner


The university can no longer be defended on the basis of a two-culture model, that is, on the separation of the ‘good’ humanist arts and the ‘bad’ technical sciences (see Snow, 1959). In fact, it is the mediated ‘humanity’ of our technologised lives that suggests other grounds of community: in the idle use of contemporary technology, both in- and outside the workplace, we find the idea of the university at its best.

What we mean by being idle or idling is a kind of work and thinking that goes beyond the preset terms of ‘work-programming and work-controlling apparatuses’, a phrase that we take from media theorist Vilém Flusser (2000, p. 25) and that includes any corporate apparatus, including the university. The remapping of our lives according to the possibilities enabled by new technologies must indeed be the object of our teaching and research in the university—but this remapping cannot exclude the university in which that teaching and research takes place.

Our brief, then, is to consider the history of the idea of the university, the means by which the value of education can be assessed, and the design drive of neoliberal technocapitalism as enacted in the 'idea' of university today. This means recasting the obsolete humanities/science divide in the light of emerging knowledge-practices, in particular, the networks of distributed intelligence that constitute the new neural academy.


neoliberal university, digital humanities, precarity

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ISSN 1715-0094  Workplace