Last Anniversary of the Institute for Advanced Social Research, IASR: Mahmut Mutman on Academic Freedom in the IASR

The universities are in crisis all over the world due to several factors. Unfortunately, we do not have a sufficient level of public and academic discussion to overcome the challenges the higher education and scientific research face today. But this crisis affects academic freedom in our campuses, and the most affacted are the social sciences and humanities. As the present crisis is predominantly perceived in economic and financial terms, social sciences and humanities often turn out to be the most vulnerable fields. The reason is obvious to everyone, even though it is rarely uttered explicitly: the kind of research these fields produce is not immediately transferable into economic value, especially when compared with techno-scientific fields. This is indeed the case. However, the value of these fields is somewhere else: in discussing all kinds of social problems, in being to open all kinds of views, in making people sensitive to the social, the human and the ethical, social sciences and humanities are an essential aspect of a genuinely democratic social fabric. I offer a thought experiment. Although I certainly do not expect, lest wish, this to happen, but imagine for a moment that we no longer have social science or humanities teaching or research, or perhaps very little of it, left on our campuses. In such a dystopic world, we may continue to have elections but it remains highly debatable if we can be called a democratic society, for it is not unlikely that we will then be wild open to the unexpected consequences of our best technological advancement, which is constant manipulation of individual behavior by whoever the powerful are. I sometimes wonder if we do not already have a few signs of such a nightmarish future, as the recent electoral competition in some of the advanced democracies show.

I am someone, I must admit, who has been very fortunate in this respect. I have been working as a senior researcher at the IASR since 2016. IASR is impressive in combining two features that a research institution must have. First of all, it makes academic freedom possible by providing an extremely comfortable research environment which has naturalized the famous saying “nothing human is alien to me.” Secondly, whatever subject you study, you are never simply left on your own, for IASR invented organizational forms such as article seminars and speaker series, not to mention the friendly as well as professional everyday environment, in which your ongoing as well as finished work is engaged by all your colleagues at the best desirable level. I have been productive above my expectations. In the last four years, I have published four articles—I believe a good number for social sciences in which publication rhythm is different than other sciences, though we have much better than me at IASR—and have been involved in preparing two different book proposals. I owe the geratest motivation for this to the select colleagues who have been here in the last four years, but most importantly to the institutional environment provided by the IASR. I can only hope that this exemplary way of practicing social science research, holding fast on academic freedom as well as social responsibility, will continue to be the tradition of our new university. For social sciences and humanities are the most sensitive indicators of academic freedom and the health clinic of our social institutions. I firmly believe that universities do not simply “serve” society, but as part of society, as part of its way of organizing and engaging itself, they show what kind of society we are.