The University as Troublemaker

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This paper begins by considering the claims that in many ways, the university sector is in trouble, and that there are a variety of potential reasons for this state of affairs. Drawing on the etymological insights of the word ‘trouble’, the paper suggests that we can situate the university very differently: we can see it not as an institution in trouble, but rather as a place that troubles and that agitates the mind. It is a troublemaker. It argues that the university is – ipso facto – a place for the agitation and troubling of minds in three distinct ways. First, drawing on the American philosopher, Stanley Cavell’s, idea of passionate utterance, it considers the place of the lecture, and explores how in the encounter of this pedagogical form, the university is a troublemaker. Second, in drawing on Cavell’s ideas of invitation to dialogue, the paper offers a thick account of the civic university, and by doing this, shows how the university is a political troublemaker. Third, it draws on John Williams’ evocative (1965) novel, Stoner, to demonstrate how – through the relationships between lecturer and student – the university can be seen as personal troublemaker. The paper concludes by outlining two influential accounts of the way that academics and students can survive and flourish in the university given the pressures that are increasingly evident in the sector. It shows how these are both problematic, and that hope for the university – and for re-imagining its purpose as troublemaker – can be found in the very ordinariness of the ways in which we talk together.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalTeoria de la Educacion
Issue number2
Early online date3 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2022


  • agitation
  • crisis
  • engagement
  • hope
  • transformation
  • trouble
  • troublemaker
  • university


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