The Long March Through The Institutions

Two recent posts– one on the Progressive Historian blog and one on Iterating Towards Openness— reminded me of Gramsci. (It’s interesting to do a search on the phrase, “The Long March Through the Institutions.” It seems to have become a key phrase in right wing Christianity’s paranoid fantasies.) What’s so striking is the lack of a discussion of democracy in either the historian’s blog or the open source advocate’s post.

In all fairness both posts are brief summaries of conferences, not fully developed critiques, so I don’t want to stretch my point too far. But it’s interesting that discussions of technology (as the writer on the Progressive Historian suggests) are so rarely focused on progressive goals. More typical, in his phrase, are “wide-eyed cheerleading for things that are not there.” Facebook, for example, is supposed to encourage civic engagement, for example, yet in practice it rarely seems to widen social networks.

We look for technological fixes to promoting democratization but democracy is dependent on institutions. It’s easy to see how Web 2.0 (or 3.0) might assist in that process but technology is no substitute for it. The technology is what David Wiley (on “Iterating Towards Openness”) calls “easy innovations.” What more difficult is Grasmci’s idea of trying to create a broader progressive change from within existing institutions.

I think the real problem is that the academic left– perhaps progressives more generally– doesn’t have a coherent, over-arching agenda. We have ideals, but we don’t like to think about the sorts of institutions we want. We equate specific goals– and especially institutional reform– with limitation. Our question is or should be simple: how do we create a university run by the people who work there? How can these new technologies help us democratize schools?

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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