Last Anniversary Celebration of the Institute for Advanced Social Research, IASR: Zsuzsa Millei on Academic Freedom

When invited by Professor Risto Heiskala to write a short text on academic freedom to celebrate the last reunion of the Institute for Advanced Social Research at Tampere University, I turned to Isabelle Stengers’ book titled ‘Another Science is Possible: A Manifesto for Slow Sciences’. This book addresses our contemporary academic context and the growing expectation for researchers to produce societally relevant research, in our university’s words, to have “social impact with concrete, constantly improving and multi-dimensional metrics” .

Stengers refers to ‘matters of concern’ by using Latour’s phrase to argue against a particular type of science which operates today as a “knowledge economy”. In her view, this type of science allows no time for hesitation and produces ‘knowledge’ for public understanding – policy, stakeholders, and general public – by simply constructing authoritative ‘matters of fact’ leaving no space for hesitation. She explains that ‘matters of concern’ has little to do with ‘matters of fact’. A ‘matter of concern’ “insists that researchers think, hesitate, imagine and take sides” (p. 3) that scientists place phenomena under ‘attentive scrutiny’ and ethical considerations even though it takes time. However, she contends, it seems today public money is given to produce ‘matters of fact’, so called ‘excellence’ which is measured by entrepreneurs against a pseudo-market of objective evaluations, which, in her view, is hardly the best use of public money.

‘Slow  science’  for Stengers is a  challenge  to  fast and mobilised science. She promotes ‘slow science’ and encourages “scientific  thought  collectives  to  enter  into new symbiotic relations with other collectives that have different matters of concern.”  ‘Slow science’ offers an escape from efficiency to “rediscover relations [that] have been cut or destroyed, to be replaced by divisions and oppositions between contradictory interests.” (pp. 103-4).

There have been critiques against ‘slow science’ arguing that it is elitist and only allows those to ‘opt out’ from the fast paced knowledge economy who have secure positions. In IASR, fellows enjoy/ed the space of slow science and felt a sense of liberation as Stengers’ students did. After her lectures students realized how much they have been compromised between “facts and values, between their scientific loyalty and (the remains of) their social conscience” (p. 13) and finally regained and had a chance to nourish their curiosity.

As Stengers recounts, “for Deleuze himself, the academic prosperity of the ‘fast philosophers’ was coterminous with the assassination of philosophy” (p. 56). I keep wondering whether with the slow dissipation of the IASR and the complete enclosure of science for ‘pseudo-scientific’ and social impact, will science as ‘matters of concern’ be killed at Tampere University as well.