Saturday, 15 July 2017

Privatisation of Knowledge Production Limits Critical Enquiry

Fiona Greenland  (assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia) discusses 'Hobby Lobby’s parallel universe of antiquity studies' on Dan Hirschman's 'scatterplot' blog, July 13, 2017
The Museum of the Bible’s Scholars Initiative invites academics to research and write about [the] extraordinary artifacts in its collection. As Baden and Moss have pointed out, however, before undertaking the research scholars are carefully screened. They must sign a non-disclosure agreement. Researchers who have refused to join the Scholars Initiative have been denied access to the collection. Researchers who did join have found themselves embroiled in controversy for appearing to toe the party line for Hobby Lobby.
It’s easy to conclude that squeamish academics should simply stay away. Nobody is forcing anyone to collaborate with the Museum. But to say that is to ignore the underlying problem of turning cultural objects that belong to “all people” into private interests. Here I like the concept of academic sovereignty as formulated by Charlie Eaton and Mitchell Stevens (2017). The concept gets us thinking about an organization’s power over scholarly inquiry and academic instruction. Academic sovereigns straddle multiple institutional domains, are autonomous, ubiquitous, and durable, and contribute to several discourses. While Eaton and Stevens focused on universities, I can’t help but see that kind of power in Hobby Lobby, which has annual revenues on par with several major US universities.
You don’t have to be a Near Eastern specialist to be concerned about the broader outcomes of a private group, with a pronounced political and religious agenda, having the power to control the empirical underpinnings of a discipline. What the Hobby Lobby-Museum of the Bible case means for all of us is that when the basis of knowledge production is privatized the grounds for critical inquiry are also vulnerable to delimitation.
Prof. Greenland is 'currently completing a book titled Ruling Culture: Art police, tomb robbers, and the rise of cultural power in Italy', which sounds as if it could al;so offer some interesting insights..

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