A Slow Form of Governance?

Collegial Organization, Temporal Synchronization, and University Reforms in Sweden, c. 1850–1920

  • Finansiär: Vetenskapsrådet

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Questions on how to save time have constituted a recurring motif in discussions on the governance of universities, often centering on the concept of collegiality. Commonly blamed for being cumbersome and slow, and thus contrasted with for instance management models allegedly held as more “modern” and efficient, organizational theorists have consequently probed what the prospects are for such a form of governance in a society marked by haste and acceleration. In present discourse of university politics, collegiality has thus come to represent a conservative or nostalgic force – seemingly unapt to change. But does this depiction really hold sway if the longer history of universities is taken into account? In this project, the shifting state of collegiality is approached through a survey of an intense period of reforms in Sweden c. 1850–1920 that saw higher education going through a process of alleged “modernization”.

Drawing from recent work in historical theory and STS, this paper revisits collegial contests and debates (for instance prompted by subsequent governmental commissions) from the perspective of “temporal synchronization”. Focusing on the co-existence (and collisions) of multiple temporalities, I stress how heterogeneous rhythms required an active work of synchronization for universities to operate in a timely fashion. A slow form of governance or not, the study highlights how collegiality was put in the balance in past attempts to make universities more homogenous and efficient.

This specific project is part of a wider project on international collegiality led by Kerstin Sahlin and funded by the Swedish Research Council.

Lewis Carroll’s white rabbit was a nod to so-called “Oxford time” and academics in constant hurry. Illustration by John Tenniel (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865).

Om projektet