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Lawrence Grossberg: Publicly engaged social science

What kind of publicly engaged social science work is needed to meet the demands of the contemporary world? This was the question Professor Lawrence Grossberg addressed.

What kind of publicly engaged social science work is needed to meet the demands of the contemporary world? This was the question Professor Lawrence Grossberg addressed in the keynote lecture he delivered at the public launch of the Creating Publics project on March 26th at The Open University in Milton Keynes.

To address this question, Professor Grossberg’s compelling and wide-ranging lecture made the case for far-reaching institutional, disciplinary and methodological reform. Such reform is urgently needed, Grossberg claimed, if universities are to take a more active and impactful role in the process of addressing the multiple and highly complex challenges of the contemporary moment.

Such challenges cannot and will not be addressed, Grossberg contended, without a far greater emphasis on collaborative knowledge generation; whether this collaboration is across disciplines, with those outside of the academy, or with those with perspectives that are very different from our own. He stressed that more sophisticated understandings of successful collaborations are needed, including more nuanced perspectives on the relations between different kinds of knowledge production, communication and participation processes.

The lecture highlighted how the turn to collaboration raises a set of complex methodological, political and institutional dilemmas – dilemmas that are likely to come into clearer focus both through a more determined analytical and theoretical engagement with this agenda. Also important is more intensive investment in experimentation and a greater recognition of other historical attempts to pilot new approaches to practice.

Universities have been sites of continual transformation and they need to be transformed once again if their place in society is to be re-invented and their legitimacy in diverse contexts of public practice renewed. Despite the obstacles to such a project that undoubtedly exist in practice, imagination and collaborative working can, Grossberg concluded, allow us to hold onto optimism of the will.

News and discussion about Creating Publics, social science and the politics of public mediation here, on the Creating Publics blog.

Outline of the presentation: While there are many conversations about the university under attack, I want to begin with the uncertainties of knowledge itself—the result in part of attacks from both the left and the right, but more importantly, from the very practices that worked so well for the past century.  Cultural studies, as I understand it, begins with a responsibility to its context, a responsibility expressed in its effort to produce the best knowledge possible.  But that means transforming the material practices and social relations of intellectual labor, experimenting in new collaborations, imagining new conversations and rearticulating the university as an institution.

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