Higher education shapes identity on many levels. We can readily identify three:
- the individual student/academic;
- the institutional characteristics of the higher education sector;
- and wider transnational cultural-historical activity.
This slicing into comprehensible tranches is characteristic of my pragmatic approach to knowing, characterised by a logic of effectiveness in the present: sure, it is a continuum, but clumping into useful groups helps if you want to do something.
The empiricist might gather observational data and seek patterns by which to describe and explain observed phenomena from the past.
The rationalist normalises a desired arrangement of tranches and posits steps towards hypothesised (predicted, anticipated) outcomes.
Again we see the pragmatist slicing into parts: rational, empirical and pragmatic. These and other ways of discovering, synthesising, applying and curating knowledge form orientations to scholarship and academic practice. That is, our orientation to knowledge itself is part of our identity.
Knowledge has two foundational questions underpinning it: identity and agency.
- Who is it that knows? The question of mind-body dualism, multiplicity or unity underpins approaches to education. Any theory predicated on the nature of the learner must have variants of this question at heart. Do we have “souls”? Can our consciousness be abstracted: uploaded to a sufficiently powerful computer? Can we “insert” knowledge into others?
- How does the knower shape their knowledge (free will v. determinism?). Are we a behavioural bundle of conditioned responses? Are our acts determined by our cultural-historical performance roles: gender, colour, cohort, ability, religion, status, etc? Are we, or to what extent are we, agents of our world?
These two questions shape our approach to education policy.