Sociological Investigation of the University


Bard College Berlin
09:00 – 12:00 (CET) / 11:00 - 14:00 (UTC+3)
ECTS / 4 U.S. Credits
14 Weeks (1 February 2022 - 17 May 2022)


The goal of this course is to (re)think the meaning and function of the “modern university” by following its transformation from its (re)configuration in the era of Enlightenment to today, the “Information Age”, “post-modern”, “post-truth” society, characterized by fast flows of knowledge and financial capital. After a brief introduction to the conceptualization of the university by the Enlightenment philosophers such as Kant and idealists such as Fichte, we will follow how the perception and function of the university changed with the consolidation of the nation-states, enhancement of social-democracy and welfare states, and then with their demise in the era of globalization and ascendency of finance. What kind of discussions have taken place within the universities between public intellectuals and academics in each era? How did the public perception of the university change? What re(formations) and re(formulations) of policies took place at the political and policy-making level? How did the citizens of the nation-state come to see the university as the regime characterized by social democratic values left its place to neoliberal values? Through a close look at several countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Turkey, the readings and discussions in this course will try to answer these and similar questions. The US, UK and Germany are cases that stand for the conceptualization and materialization of the “modern university”, therefore investigation of the transformation in these countries is crucial. The Turkish case represents the transformation in question in a Southern country in which not only the economic developments but also the hegemonic political and economic paradigms emulate those of the Northern ones. The final session(s) of the course will be devoted to thinking and discussing what the transformations in question mean about the value of knowledge and freedom of thought.


To provide a general understanding about:

• The relationship between the transformation of the modern university since its inception in the first half of the 19th century and the broader context of the changing capitalist nation-state system.

• The changing functions and perceptions of the university in the capitalist society since the early 19th century

• The problems and the losses that we academics and students encounter as a consequence of the transformations in question

• The new management and discipline technologies employed in current universities

Upon the successful completion of the course students will be able to:

• Have informed discussions on the complex and dialectical relationship between the political economy of different capitalist accumulation strategies and the perception and role of the modern university in society in different historical periods.

• Question the role and function of the university in their individual lives and relate these with the general political and economic context we live in.

• Tell a short history of the foundation and transformation of the modern university and of the perception of the knowledge produced within the university in the broader political economic context

• Critically evaluate the new business management strategies employed in the universities, which have taken the place of traditional logic of administration and discuss its advantages and disadvantages with regard to accountability as well as knowledge production and intellectual development.


A full outline of the course syllabus can be found here

Please note that there will be a preparatory meeting that will take place during the usual class hours one day before the class starts. In this meeting, we will introduce you how the platform works and we will offer technical support so that everybody is technically ready for the first session.



Aslı Vatansever (PhD, Hamburg University, 2010) is a sociologist of work with a focus on precarious academic labor. Currently, she is a Research Fellow at Bard College Berlin. Her books include Ursprünge des Islamismus im Osmanischen Reich. Eine weltsystemanalytische Perspektive (Hamburg: Dr. Kovač, 2010) and Ne Ders Olsa Veririz. Akademisyenin Vasıfsız İşçiye Dönüşümü (Ready to Teach Anything. The Transformation of the Academic into Unskilled Worker, Istanbul: İletişim, 2015 – co-authored with Meral Gezici-Yalçın), and At the Margins of Academia. Exile, Precariousness, and Subjectivity (Leiden: Brill, 2020).

Ismet Akça was Associated Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Yıldız Technical University in İstanbul, Turkey, until his suspension in 2017 due to his signing of the Academics for Peace petition. He received his BA in Public Administration from Marmara University and completed his masters and PhD at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Boğaziçi University. His dissertation title was “Militarism, Capitalism and the State: Putting the Military in its Place in Turkey.” He has published in different journals and books, both in English and Turkish, on political sociology of Turkey, military and politics, military and economy, militarism, capitalist state and classes, neoliberalism and hegemony, Justice and Development Party.

The course is hosted by Bard College Berlin and funded by Philipp Schwartz Initiative.