Universities traditionally are thought to play a unique role in the circulation of knowledge in a democracy. On the local level, they can offer research support to community groups as part of a collective effort to understand and solve civic problems. On a macroscopic level, some argue that universities help create a system of epistemic checks-and-balances, generating knowledge that is not directly responsive to market demand or majority opinion. Unfortunately, in recent decades, shifts in funding mechanisms have pushed universities towards an increasingly privatized logic, limiting community engagement and information sharing. What change would be necessary, then, to incentivize universities to contribute to a healthy epistemic ecosystem?
Here’s the problem: we’re not entirely sure what that epistemic ecosystem should be anymore. How information is generated, shared, and isolated in a democratic community is far different than it was in the 1980s, when funding structures began to shift. Even before then, universities often fell far short of these professed democratic responsibilities, but it is reasonable to assume that these democratic responsibilities in this new ecosystem might have changed, even expanded, in recent decades. This project then seeks to construct a new framework then for what a democracy’s epistemic ecosystem should look like and, with that, to reimagine and incentivize universities to contribute in a healthy way.
Megan Bogia is a doctoral student studying political philosophy at Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Her research examines the variation in higher education’s role in a democracy and an epistemic ecosystem. In her spare time, she likes to try new knitting patterns.