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O N E Theoretical Framework M OST PHILOSOPHIES OF EDUCATION appeal to philosophy in general, and to ethics in particular, to argue for (or against) a particular perspective. Of particular importance is the argument that a given ethical perspective is valid across all institutions, places, and times. This unitary view is commonly found in a variety of philosophies, including utilitarian , Aristotelian, and Kantian perspectives. However, as we interviewed faculty, staff, administrators, and various stakeholders involved in the dispute over the University of California, Berkeley– Novartis agreement, and in our review of a multitude of documents generated by it, we encountered many apologists for the agreement. Not surprisingly, we also found a wide range of critics. Both sides tried to justify their positions. We soon realized that no unitary position would suffice for our inquiry. In contrast , conventions theory, perhaps best described as situated at the junction of philosophy and sociology, appeared to serve as an excellent starting point for our analysis. Conventions theory (CT) originated in the mid-1980s in the work of Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot, two researchers at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris (Boltanski and Thévenot 1991, 1999; Thévenot 2001). It developed in part in response to regulation theory (Aglietta 2000 [1979]; Boyer and Saillard 2002), a structuralist approach to understanding the role of the state in shaping economies, and was also instrumental in shaping actor-network theory (Latour 1987, 1993). Proponents of CT reject O N E 2 both structural and normative approaches in favor of an interpretive approach. Put differently, CT posits neither a fixed world in which structural forces (e.g., the state, corporations, classes) more or less inexorably interact in certain ways, nor a world in which there are more or less fixed norms to which persons are socialized to adhere under penalty of sanction. Instead, proponents of CT argue that the organization of society is best understood by focusing on the conventions—shared sets of practices—that simultaneously construct, shape, and reshape social relations. To date, CT has been applied mostly in the domain of economics, as an alternative to the methodological individualism of neoclassical models and as a supplement to institutional approaches (for an overview, see Biggart and Beamish 2003).We believe that CT can be applied equally well to the issues facing higher education addressed in this volume. That said, it is important to note that we attempt here simultaneously to do both more and less than Boltanski and Thévenot have done. Central to the methodology of their project is the construction of an empirically grounded theory of justifications—an explanation for why actors use the justifications they use. Moreover, their empirical data are largely taken from how-to manuals—books and pamphlets that claim to provide guides to achievement in various domains.While we will appeal to some institutional documents that take normative positions that justify specific kinds of policies in higher education , our project here makes no claims to extending conventions theory. At the same time, however, it brings to bear a much wider range of empirical materials with which to examine the justifications and other claims made by various persons and organizations. With this in mind, we begin by examining some of the key insights and claims of conventions theory. First, conventions theorists, much like interactionists (Clarke 1997; Fujimura 1988; Star 1991; Strauss 1978), note the existence of multiple worlds within any given social setting. These social worlds have no existence apart from the shared practices that order and justify them. Convention theorists argue that such shared practices can themselves be a subject of study since each “world” has its own “orders of worth.” These are used in everyday interaction to rank, and are the justifications for ranking of, persons and things. Thus, in the domestic world, a great mother would be someone who cared greatly for her family. She would be ranked higher than would a mother whose care for her family had lapsed. Furthermore, each world contains its own set of more or less accepted “common higher principles.” These principles are often appealed to in efforts to settle disputes. Rejecting an idealist and modernist view that insists that all members of an institution follow a common set of abstract principles, proponents of CT insist that the determination of institutional principles be grounded in the analysis of texts, discourse, and other T H E O R E T I C A...


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