Rational accountability and rational autonomy in academic practice : an extended case study of the communicative ethic of interdisciplinary science
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This dissertation investigates the interaction of rational accountability and rational autonomy in interdisciplinary science within the university sector. It focuses on the cultural, social, and motivational forces that condition and limit the practices of academic researchers as they constitute and regulate interdisciplinary inquiry and conduct within the everyday world of the university sector. Findings are analyzed within an applied critical social theory framework that attends to the micro-level interaction of instrumental or purposive rational action and communicative or social rational action within the public spaces that are constitutive of the lifeworld of the university as a central public sphere in society. The research raises questions of how academics practice interdisciplinary science and how these practices relate to the reproduction of the regulative ideal of the university as a community that practices public reason. Interdisciplinary science policies and practices are receiving strong endorsement as one response to demands for the increased accountability and relevance of academic practice within Canada's public university system. At the same time that the university system must respond to external demands for accountability and relevance it must reproduce itself as a public social institution that is open to the discursive redemption of contested validity claims that are both factual and normative. The study found that the medium for the discursive redemption of contested normative validity claims is participation in processes and procedures of practical argumentation within those social contexts of the lifeworld of the university that approximate the conditions of participation in an ideal public sphere. Using Burawoy's (1991) extended case study method as a strategy for operationalizing Habermas' theory of communicative action, two modes of constituting and regulating interdisciplinary inquiry and conduct within the university sector were found. Instrumental or purposive rational modes of constituting and regulating interdisciplinary inquiry and conduct were found to dominate in those social contexts where consensus on the goals and purposes of rational academic action were pre-existing and presupposed by participants in interdisciplinary inquiry and conduct. Communicative or social rational modes of constituting and regulating interdisciplinary inquiry and conduct were found to emerge to dominance in those social contexts where the goals and purposes of rational academic action were moved into a contested domain. In the contemporary historical context, questions concerning the goals and purposes of rational academic action in conditions of uncertainty and complexity have emerged as crucial issues for members of the university and society in general. Academics participate in, but also contest the instrumental or purposive rational regulation of academic practice by using their constitutional autonomy and freedom to hold others accountable and demonstrate their rational disposition to realize mutual understanding on contested validity claims that are both factual and normative. In demonstrating a rational disposition to use their rational autonomy and freedom to realize mutual understanding on contested normative validity claims, public intellectuals realize a capacity to maintain and extend the conditions and limits of the practice of public reason within the university into the constitution and regulation of public spaces for the practice of reason in the lifeworld of society.