Universities as Sites of Legitimised Knowledge Production and Dissemination that Perpetuate Ruling Class Hegemony
There can be no change in the status quo under the leadership of the academia. Academia is the universal solvent of dissent, differences of opinions, resistance and struggle from the below. It is a universal sink. Everything that becomes a part of the academic discourse is bound to go down that sink and be flushed into the drain, dissipating into free energy which is of no use.
Marek Kwiek, a professor at Poznan University of Poland writes, “The upper echelons of highly productive academics (the upper 10 percent of academics who are ranked highest in terms of their publishing performance in 11 European countries) provide, on average, almost half of all academic knowledge production.” This points to the fact that there is a monopoly on knowledge production of certain academics from certain specific universities. Universities act as middlemen of knowledge production and there are limitations to bypass the universities, if one is to produce knowledge that is widely recognised and legitimised.
Historically, it has been seen that knowledge production, when it was not institutionalised or centralised, there were lesser chances of human societies being socially stratified or unequal. Knowledge was being produced by everyone and it was an evolutionary necessity. It’s highly probable that fire was discovered individually by different groups of Homo sapiens living in geographically different locations throughout the world. And as such civilization was not born yet.
As civilization was born, the number of humans living in proximity increased considerably, cities emerged and the human population soared considerably with the advances in innovation like use of fire, agriculture, metallurgy etc. With this, the social cohesion increased and with this increased the urge in certain sections of humans to control the resources which are scarce and difficult to obtain and sustain.
The animosity among different sections to have ownership over the resources must have been a direct result of living in such proximity as was made possible with the rise of cities, towns and industrial centres. This was probably the beginning of the idea of private ownership of resources in human societies.
Now, it was known to them that in order to rule the material realm it was imperative to rule in the realm of ideas. Thus the shift in human involvement from material production to production of ideas, which were de-linked from any material manifestations. This marked the first distinction between material knowledge that was practical and knowledge of ideas which was theoretical and abstract.
It was now easier to control the means of production and this control and ownership of means of production by the ruling class was justified and legitimised through control over the production of knowledge and ideas.
Although ideas are not anyone’s prerogative, which ideas gain legitimacy and which don’t is decided by the ruling class. So it was important for the ruling class to control knowledge production to sustain its hegemony.
A classic example of this is the system of castes which was developed by Brahmins of the Indian subcontinent. They justified their control over means of production through religious scriptures, a realm of ideas. Nobody but the Brahmins were the sole proprietors of legitimised knowledge and there were severe restrictions on the masses to have access to this legitimised form of knowledge of ideas.
What perpetuates the hegemony of the ruling class is not concerned with whether the knowledge produced is faulty or not but the fact that it is legitimized and credentialed. An example here could make it more interesting and clear. Brahmins have had control over knowledge production, and we can say it could have been largely faulty too, but what made them become the ruling class is not the fact they produced faulty knowledge but they were the sole proprietors of legitimised knowledge.
The idea of universal education is a very recent phenomenon. Historically, there has never been a universal education seen in any society. The ruling class has always controlled the centres of knowledge production and centres of excellence where legitimised knowledge is imparted and the access to these centres was limited and exclusive.
Centres of excellence are in fact centres of power. Excellence is decentralised and needs no central authority to flourish. The existence of centres of excellence is a ruling class exigency to contain knowledge production within the niche of ruling ideas.
If knowledge production is not centralised, then it becomes very difficult for the ruling class to hold sway over public opinions and create public opinions that are in consonance with the status quo.
A centralised institution of excellence filters the thoughts of individuals and makes their thoughts align with the thoughts and opinions which the ruling class wants in order to maintain the hegemony over the servile class.
Universities are such centralised institutions that produce and impart legitimised and credentialed knowledge. And thus act as middlemen of the legitimised knowledge production and dissemination.
No knowledge can be made legitimate and imparted by bypassing the universities. They act as brokers of legitimised knowledge production and even dissemination.
To break this monopoly, we either need to have complete decentralisation of both the production of legitimised knowledge and its dissemination or achieve universal education. Only then we can hope that the ideas coming from the bottom rungs of society will gain legitimacy and the ruling class’ ideas will disintegrate. The legitimacy of control of means of production by the ruling class will be questioned more and more and the men sitting on the pinnacle of the palace will be brought down. Until then universities will keep acting as vehicles which perpetuate ruling class hegemony and even justify that.
Anshul Kumar is currently pursuing MA in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, JNU.