In memoriam Bill Readings
It is generally agreed that the modern university originated in early 19th-century Prussia, under the inspiration of Wilhelm von Humboldt. Thus it was stamped with the seal of idealism and of German Romanticism. Today the entrepreneurial model that seems to be imposing itself on universities around the globe confounds this former ideal, particularly by requiring academia to report on its economically quantifiable “impact.” But an impact on what, exactly? On knowledge in general? On society at large? On industry? Is it a question of developing the critical acumen of each person in a democratic universe in which the citizen must be formed as well as informed? Or is it a question of favoring industrial innovation and producing workers for the job market? One often has the impression that the term “impact” belongs to some magical incantation: one has only to use it to align the university on the side of an economically viable 21st century. Thus it appears useful, in our highly utilitarian times, to examine the notion more closely and to grasp the very impact it can have on discourses and individuals.