The Two Sides of the Imperial University: Victor Bascara’s “New Empire, Same Old University? Education in the American Tropics after 1898.”

Bascara, Victor. (2014). “New Empire, Same Old University? Education in the American Tropics after 1898.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 53-77). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Victor Bascara’s chapter “New Empire, Same Old University? Education in the American Tropics after 1898” addresses some of the issues and questions that were voiced during the first ANTH 630 seminar meeting, such as how the intersectional relationship between the academy and U.S. imperialism function across and within university systems (p.54). By concentrating on the institutional histories of the University of Hawai’i, the University of the Philippines and the University of Puerto Rico, Bascara investigates the official discourse and material culture of these academic institutions and demonstrates that U.S. imperialism functions spatially, as well as developmentally through the establishment and maintenance of universities (p.54-63). Through Bascara’s case studies and methodology, the theorist illustrates that the spatial and developmental links between the empire and the academy make the university a potential site that “can both legitimate and challenge the terms and conditions of contact” between empire, university and colony (p.55). This chapter provides readers, as it did with the ANTH 630 seminar participants, with the occasion to critically assess how “the classroom is a microcosm of empire” and a possible space to provide the ideology and devices for scholarly dissent and the processes of decolonization (p.61).

Bascara’s work is the opening chapter for the book’s section on imperial cartographies, a concept that helps demonstrate that the research methods and scholarly forms of knowledge, which are upheld by universities, aid in the settlement and maintenance of the empire (p.13-14). Through the University of Hawai’i, the University of the Philippines and the University of Puerto Rico, and their respective connection to U.S. imperialism, Bascara approaches the framework of imperial cartographies through a spatial and developmental outline.

Bascara argues that through the dissemination of colonially sanctioned knowledge the empire becomes a spatial reality. By educating students through the aforementioned colonially sanctioned knowledge, the empire ensures that education reinforces its hegemony (p.59-63). In addition to the empire’s spatial reality, it is upheld through concepts of development. By conceiving of the empire as the developed core and colonies as the periphery, Bascara demonstrates that within this developmental framework colonies are always “on the receiving end” of imperial knowledge and concepts of progress (p. 63). However, the flow of knowledge can be reversed. If knowledge is disseminated from the periphery to the core, it is always received through the preconceived notion that the colony is a “laboratory” for the empire to be inspired by (p.64). Bascara’s spatial and developmental breakdown of the intersections between the empire and the academy reveal how the empire, or U.S. imperialism, is extraterritorial and maintained through the flows of colonially sanctioned forms of knowledge, which are upheld by the imperial university (p.57-61).

Bascara demonstrates how universities are implicated in colonial or imperial projects, as the forms of knowledge they endorse “serve the empire that established them” (p.67). However, imperial cartographies, as introduced by Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira, have the potential to produce “alternative cartographies”, which constitute forms of knowledge that do not serve the empire and potentially form the basis for scholarly dissent (p.18). Despite being colonial institutions, Bascara’s case studies reveal that imperial universities were established and informed under the liberal and modern ideologies purported to be upheld by the empire (p.65-66). Access to these ideas provides scholars with the ideology and language to reveal the contradictions that exist within the empire and the imperial university (p.57). To illustrate his point, Bascara references the University of Hawai’i, which in the 1930s was characterized by a diverse and integrated student population, unlike the segregated United States. In this instance, the periphery was able to expose the inconsistencies that existed within the alleged developed core (p.66-71).

Bascara’s approach reveals that universities can be complicit with their relationship to the empire and that they can remain imperial institutions. The content of this chapter, however, also demonstrates that universities, due to their relationship and access to the ideologies and language of the empire, are ideal sites to scrutinize the spatial and developmental frameworks of the empire. However, as the imperial and alternative cartographies of this chapter were further discussed, along with the excerpt “if you think education is imperial, then try decolonizing without it” the graduate students of ANTH 630 began to question how forms of knowledge and practice, which exist outside the domains of universities, factor into Bascara’s outline (p.61). By approaching alternative cartographies solely through the forms of knowledge that are supported within imperial universities, other valid forms of knowledge, which could potentially contribute to the processes of decolonization, are overlooked. In addition, by viewing alternative cartographies as arising from the forms of knowledge that are upheld by imperial universities, it was found that these alternative cartographies risk reproducing the conditions of the empire, or possibly being appropriated by it. By overlooking the forms of knowledge that exist outside universities and utilizing colonially sanctioned forms of knowledge to critique the empire and engage in scholarly dissent, scholars are in danger of reproducing the spatial and developmental model that sustains the empire and the imperial university.

It is important to note however, that the goal of Bascara’s work is to understand the intersectional dynamics between the empire and the imperial university (p.54). Due to the theorist’s intent, forms of knowledge that exist outside the university were omitted in order to identify and address the relationship that exists between the empire and the imperial universities, which influence the forms of knowledge being produced and transmitted among scholars. Bascara’s focus also limits the theorist’s ability to provide readers with the tools to avoid reproducing the empire and from having the means and language of scholarly dissent being appropriated by the empire. Bascara’s case studies and method, however, reveal how the dynamic relationship between the empire and the academy function. It is only when this reality is revealed, that the processes of divorcing the empire from the academy can occur. Bascara provides readers with the critical knowledge of the relationship that exists between the empire and imperial universities. Together, the seminar concluded that the expectation of Bascara’s work is to have scholars build awareness and constantly engage with the spatial and developmental intersections that maintain the empire and the imperial nature of universities. With awareness, it is possible for scholars to identify how their academic institution is tied to the empire and how they can efficiently contest this connection. The real challenge for scholars, however, who are imbedded in this imperial relationship, is to use Bascara’s information and act upon it.

References:

Chatterjee, Piya, and, Maira, Sunaina. (2014). “The Imperial University: Race, War and the Nation-State.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 1-50). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s