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Geographies of Academia for a Time of Crisis

Wolf Feuerhahn et Olivier Orain
Cet article est une traduction de :
Géographies académiques pour temps de crise [fr]

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1Scholarly journals publish at a rhythm that is unrelated to political events or public health emergencies. However, these very different temporalities sometimes collide head-on. This is what we seem to have been living since December 2019, with a giddying sense of repetition.

  • 1 The Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines signed the petition “Higher education and research call (...)

2The Editorial of our last issue (Women's Careers, 35 | 2019) was a rallying cry: we wanted to add our voice to the mobilisation against the planned reforms in higher education and research, which threaten job security and put undue emphasis on “individual performance” as against collective advances. Shortly after the publication of that issue, the COVID-19 pandemic forced most of humankind into lockdown, as best they could for the poorest and most vulnerable. Yet the government continued implementing reforms during the lockdown and immediately after it, in advance of the vote on the Law on Long-Term Research Planning (LPPR).1 Then, when the lockdown came to an end, the Minister for Higher Education, Research and Innovation, Frédérique Vidal, immediately made it abundantly clear that the law would be pushed through regardless of the many protests that had marked the beginning of 2020. And since the General Review of Public Policies (RGPP), which has guided all transformations of the civil service over the last 20 years, remains uncontested, it is highly likely that the impending budget cuts accompanying the economic crisis emerging from the coronavirus emergency will not spare a sector perceived as a big spender, unprofitable and, ultimately, low down on the list of priorities.

3Before the COVID-19 crisis, we gave a lot of thought to how we were going to continue our fight against these public policies that undermine academic work in the broadest sense. Many teams of social scientists, from economics, sociology, political science, geography, among other fields, were also harnessing their analytic skills to this struggle. The Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines, for its part, must remain true to its vocation of historicising, contextualising, comparing, serialising, and varying the scales of analysis. We considered that the greatest service we could render the collective endeavour was to give greater historical depth to these contemporary struggles, and above all a broader scope. The French situation tends to be treated as exceptional, whereas precedents, analogies, and counter-examples exist. Besides, all the political leaders committed to “normalising” French universities and research over the last 15 years have foreign models in mind. These are presented as paragons of virtue by concealing, through ignorance or intentionally, everything these models show to be very far from exemplary. Our approach will thus, for once, be geographical, in order to explore a range of—generally national—academic configurations.

4We commissioned a set of texts from specialists in universities across the academic world, in Germany, Holland, Algeria, Russia, the USA, China—and the list goes on. We did not prescribe any fixed formula, so that our authors could freely propose what they thought fit. For, in this “around the world of academia”, we precisely wished to avoid applying the same interpretative frameworks and perspectives to different national situations. The articles will appear in a new section of the journal, which we have decided to call “Geographies of Academia”. The plural points to the range of configurations present, as well as to the diverse situations within each one. The articles will be published as they come in, such as to make the section self-sustaining, if it finds an enthusiastic echo. The section also welcomes interested geographers of science, if it speaks to their core research concerns.

5To head this section, we conducted an interview with Christian Topalov in February 2020, which the reader will find in this issue. We wanted to benefit from his critical and very well-informed perspective on recent developments in French public policy concerning research and the university. Another form of—this time historical—critical distancing is provided by Pierre-Yves Lacour's article on Frederick the Great of Prussia and the research of his time, which will be published in issue no. 37. Our new editorial venture hopes to attract a varied public, and we shall do our best to make the section attractive and engaging. In these trying times, curiosity for what is taking place elsewhere, as well as at home, seems to us more vital than ever.

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Note de fin

1 The Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines signed the petition “Higher education and research call on the government to stop introducing measures other than emergency ones during the lockdown” (17 576 signatories by 11 June 2020).

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Référence électronique

Wolf Feuerhahn et Olivier Orain, « Geographies of Academia for a Time of Crisis »Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines [En ligne], 36 | 2020, mis en ligne le 23 septembre 2020, consulté le 14 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Wolf Feuerhahn

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