Dementors Circling Higher Education: Countering the Administrative Mood (Stimmung) of Empirical Science

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Administrative Theory & Praxis


Maurice Merleau-Ponty was concerned with our tendency to place greater value on numbers than they ought to have, and in response called for science to return to the “soil” (Merleau-Ponty, 1964) . Other thinkers like Follett, Arendt, and Hummel have hinted that our desire for objectivity might have led us to believe that numbers can not only bring us closer to reality, but that numbers, in fact, provide us with reality. This article explores the overall mood created by the application of limited measures in higher education and uses the image of a dementor, a figure from Harry Potter that pulls or teases at the soul of an individual, to analyze the implications of the current practices of academic administration. It argues that the academic administration’s contextualized “managerial processing and efficiency” response to current political pressures questioning the value of higher education has altered the mood in higher education by pulling at both employees and students by using ideas from empirical science. This response has affected education in a serious way. This manuscript examines things like “bean-counting”—for example, the preoccupation with teaching evaluations, grants, graduation rates, or grades—and asks why they are with us as technologies, the mood they create, and what they could mean for how we understand the meaning of higher education. We write not in believing that we can necessarily escape the powerful mood of empirical science as a political response to waning belief in the value of higher education, but in an effort to develop a counter mood.

Original Citation

Justin T. Piccorelli & Nicholas C. Zingale (2018) Dementors Circling Higher Education: Countering the Administrative Mood (Stimmung) of Empirical Science, Administrative Theory & Praxis, DOI: 10.1080/10841806.2018.1485453