Page 99 of my dissertation contains three paragraphs. The first one closes an argument started on the previous page, while the third opens a new subsection. The paragraph that connects the two announces the research question around which Chapter 4 revolves:
In stark opposition to the continuity displayed by the public examination stands the transformation of the Finnish doctoral landscape. Within the same two and a half decades that were marked by the turbulent changes to the higher education system in Finland, a quieter but just as radical transformation of the PhD process has been underway. The model for the transformation of Finnish doctoral education, I argue, has been the same as for the university in general: that of a scalable enterprise. In this chapter, I investigate the way in which changing university relations have (re)shaped the doctoral education landscape.
My doctoral dissertation, which draws on several years of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Helsinki, examines the effects that Finnish higher education reforms have on university sociality. These reforms, as the quoted paragraph on page 99 indicates, are based on an ideological model that combines the neoliberal emphasis on the “enterprise form” with the older principles of the “scalability design” that lies at the heart of capitalism. Fusing the two, the enterprise-cum-scalability model attempts to reduce the totality of university social life to the processes of knowledge asset enhancement (cf. Gershon 2011).
Turning higher education institutions into enhanceable collections of knowledge assets entails an approach I called “gutting and reconstructing.” Following anthropologist Anna Tsing (2012, 2015, 2017), I came to understand it as a three-step process. First, university landscapes are cleared of prior relationships. Next, newly emptied landscapes are prepared for knowledge exploitation and expropriation. Finally, university landscapes are repopulated with entities cut off from their formative ties and transplanted into the cleared and prepared new university landscapes.
Unsurprisingly, the attempts to cancel pre-existing social relationships created disturbance among university communities. Old forms of sociality have clearly been institutionally weakened. Nonetheless, they were not completely eradicated. Moreover, novel social formations started to emerge from the ruins of higher education reforms, which I followed through the mobilization endeavors of doctoral candidates. In accordance with Tsing, I conceptualize these instantiations of sociality as weeds.
To make sense of the “weeds of sociality,” I primarily drew on the seminal work of Vered Amit (2002a, 2002b). That led me to focus on the interactions between the idea and actualization of sociation, which then helped me explain why some efforts to mobilize social relations among doctoral candidates in Helsinki had been successful and others not. Moreover, Amit (2012, 2015) pointed me to look not only at exceptional but also mundane disjunctures as triggers for social mobilization. This becomes particularly conspicuous in the example of international doctoral candidates at the University of Helsinki, whose experiences bring my thesis to an end.
Amit, Vered. 2002a. “Reconceptualizing Community.” In Realizing Community: Concepts, Social Relationships and Sentiments, edited by Vered Amit, 1-20. London and New York: Routledge.
Amit, Vered. 2002b. “An Anthropology Without Community?”. In The Trouble with Community: Anthropological Reflections on Movement, Identity and Collectivity, edited by A. Vered and N. Rapport, 13- 70. London: Pluto Press.
Amit, Vered. 2012. “Part I Community and Disjuncture: The Creativity and Uncertainty of Everyday Engagement.” In Community, Cosmopolitanism and the Problem of Human Commonality, edited by V. Amit and N. Rapport, 1-73. London: Pluto Press.
Amit, Vered. 2015. “Disjuncture: The Creativity of, and Breaks in, Everyday Associations and Routines.” In Thinking through Sociality: An Anthropological Interrogation of Key Concepts, edited by Vered Amit, 21- 46. New York: Berghahn Books.
Gershon, Ilana. 2011. “Neoliberal agency.” Current Anthropology 52 (4): 537-555.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2012. “On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales.” Common Knowledge 18 (3): 505-524.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2017. “The Buck, the Bull, and the Dream of the Stag: Some Unexpected Weeds of the Anthropocene.” Suomen Antropologi 42 (1): 3-21