The University as Engine for Anticipation: Stewardship, Modelling, Experimentation, and Critique in Public

Living reference work entry


This chapter explores the historical orientation of universities to the future, arguing that Western research universities are characterized by four distinctive orientations to the future: stewardship (the preservation and care for knowledge, ways of being and diversity), experimentation and discovery (the use of experiment to produce new knowledge about and new realities within the world), modelling (the exploration of alternative potential future worlds through mathematical and imaginative means), and critique (the critical analysis of claims to the future, both internal and external). These orientations to the future have the potential to provide a powerful anticipatory resource for society. Historically, however, they have been allied to colonial and state-building projects, and today they risk capture by commercial interests. In the contemporary university, these future orientations are still present, distributed across disciplines. Three problems prevent their being harnessed as a powerful societal resource: the difficulties of building interdisciplinary collaborations within contemporary universities, the confusion over accountability and in whose service these resources should be used, and the tension over the forms of personhood that universities should be developing and for what ends. The chapter goes on to explore, through a study of over 300 collaborative projects, whether an emerging form of research practice – researching in public, through participatory and collaborative traditions – might offer a means of addressing these difficulties and opening up new opportunities for dialogue between the practices of stewardship, discovery, critique, and modelling within the university.


University (Universities) Stewardship Experimentation Critique Reflexivity Modelling Anticipation Higher education History Enlightenment Personhood Future orientation Neoliberalism Debt Public (Publics) Participation Collaboration Interdisciplinarity Meta-reflexivity 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of BristolBristolUK

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