What can be done? Fortunately, a growing literature points towards civic revival in higher education. Two broad streams of thinking are establishing new platforms for exchange, experiment, and social change. One is an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary field that has emerged under the broad rubric of "civic studies".
This encourages research and real-world projects that integrate empirical, cultural and political knowledge as resources for community agency, societal co-creation and human flourishing.
One of the key elements of civic studies is public work, a framework of social action developed in partnership with organisations such as the Institute for Democracy in SA.
Cultural evolution is the other stream. This provides resources for civic reconstruction of higher education.
Civic studies and cultural evolution show human societies can succeed through co-operative efforts. But this is only possible when members understand and pursue their interests with regard for the wellbeing of all.
Higher education needs to take on this insight as it's indispensable for revitalising human agency, flourishing communities, and active democracy. It will also re-frame scholarship, teaching and public engagements.
This needs to be in pursuit of ensuring scholarship becomes an integral part of democratic life, not simply as a partner with society.
- Vale is a senior research fellow at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship at the University of Pretoria, and Boyte is a senior scholar in public work philosophy at Augsburg University in the US