Dissertation, KU Leuven (2018)

Lavinia Marin
Delft University of Technology
Starting from the current trend to digitise the university, this thesis aims to clarify the specific relation between university thinking and its use of media. This thesis is an investigation concerning the sensorial and medial conditions which enable the event of thinking to emerge at the university, i.e. conditions which do not make thinking necessary, but possible. Thinking is approached as an event which can happen while studying at the university, not as an outcome, nor a disposition or skill. The ambition of this thesis is theory development and of making a contribution in the field of philosophy of education. The theoretical framework discussed in chapters one and two will allow first, an analysis of the university sensorium inspired by the work of Ivan Illich who, through a history of the senses, pioneered this kind of research applied to medieval reading practices. Secondly, the work of media philosopher Vilém Flusser is used to operationalize the analysis of media at the university; this thesis will use the Flusserian concepts of code, modes of consciousness, transcoding, gestures, intellectual field, dialogue and apparatus. The methodology consists of a novel approach inspired by Flusser’s phenomenology of gestures: in order to find traces of thinking, this investigation looks for gestures (with media) occurring in university practices, gestures which seem to imply some form of coding or transcoding. The first chapter critically discusses Ivan Illich’s historical hypothesis of the mediatic specificity of the university thinking. Illich works with a particular conception of the history of the senses through which he shows how the invention of the optical text and its way of reading gave rise to a new way of thinking which was later fostered by the university. The text emerges as an instrumental way of using the book for studying and thinking, a profanation and suspension of the book. This move is taken to be the signature move of the university which enables a particular way of thinking: abstract and non-visual thinking, which is made present through the event of reading. The second chapter introduces the media-theoretical framework of Flusser by discussing his particular take on codes and the modes of consciousness enabled by the dominant codes. Provisionally, transcoding is taken to be an indication of the event of thinking. The threshold introduces the approach of a phenomenology of gestures which will be used in the following two chapters. The third chapter examines the practice of university lecturing from a sensorial and gestural perspective by using several direct observations of lectures and historical reports of lectures. It was found that the lecture does not promote any particular sense, hence no particular mode of consciousness, and that the media in the lecture suffers a continuous transcoding. Thinking in the lecture was described as a thinking which suddenly makes itself present for all those attending the lecture. The fourth chapter examines MOOCs which are taken to be the digital counterpart of the university course. The specific media usage enabled by MOOCs is described starting from two case studies: an xMOOC and the bMOOC (designed by KU Leuven and LUCA researchers). Using interviews and an autoethnographic account, this chapter finds indications of what could be digital gestures in the MOOC and concludes that thinking in the MOOC occurs as a collective construction of a techno-image. The fifth and final chapter outlines the theoretical contributions of this thesis. The kind of thinking made possible by university practices is described as a form of collective thinking, non-productive and anti-apparatus. The ways in which this thinking is made possible are theorised by introducing the notion of mediatic displacement, a specific event in which the particular logic of media is suspended in such a way as to make room for a thinking which is not determined by any mediality. The notion of intellectual askesis is proposed for the collective enactment of attention, as the sensorial condition which makes possible the mediatic displacement. In light of these findings, the thesis proposes to understand the promise of the digital university as still a utopian project to come, because it cannot yet enable the sensorial and collective attention techniques which the classical university managed to enact through its study practices.
Keywords university  digital university  higher education  sensorium
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References found in this work BETA

Philosophical investigations.Ludwig Wittgenstein & G. E. M. Anscombe - 1953 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 161:124-124.

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