Thesis (Ed.D)

Spellbound...?: A hermeneutic response to disillusionment in the contemporary university


Universities occupy an important place in the world’s economies, and the idea and purpose of the university is a question that has historically received considerable attention. In recent years, a state of disillusionment among UK academics has been observed, and attributed in part to a belief that the economic mandate of the contemporary university has become alienated from its academic mission. This thesis aims to further explore and understand this disillusionment in context, through eliciting the experiences and conceptions of teachers, students, and managers—groups that are also, in a sense, alienated from one another—and ‘bringing them into conversation’. The thesis presents a framework of ideas pertaining to disillusionment as a state of mind, including disenchantment as a corresponding state of world and its opposite, enchantment. It uses these concepts to build a theory of disillusionment in the university, drawing on a novel methodology that is informed by philosophical hermeneutics and justified in ethical terms as a responsive vacillation between the modes of understanding and explanation. At the heart of the thesis is a semi-fictional conversation that has been created by weaving together excerpts from transcripts of individual interviews. It is fictional in the sense that the interaction between the individuals is imagined, and truthful in its intention to represent faithfully the histories and experiences of the teachers, students, and senior managers who participated. The aim of this creative act is to present a fusion of real perspectives on the university. Presented alongside the conversation is a commentary that documents the author’s encounter with it as a reader. The commentary highlights tensions, contradictions, and inconsistencies as the author perceives them to emerge from the conversation, and links these with the theoretical and methodological issues discussed in previous chapters. The thesis concludes by advancing a theory of (dis)illusionment in the university. Having shown that the idea of the university is replete with contradiction, and as such constitutes an ‘impossible object’, illusionment is proposed as an alternative state of mind (to disillusionment) in which one is able to hold contradictory and/or inconsistent ideas. The specific context of the specialist arts university in which the conversations take place is proposed to be significant, with reference to the tolerance of contradiction demonstrated by the characters in the conversation and the participants whose voices they represent. The thesis offers an original contribution to knowledge that has both methodological and disciplinary aspects. While its methodological approach and framing of findings may not be considered experimental by those undertaking scholarly activity in the type of specialist arts institution in which this research is situated, the playful and imaginative approach to data analysis documented here has not previously been applied to the study of higher education itself. In terms of higher education philosophy and theory, the thesis also makes a novel contribution to an understanding of disillusionment in the university, and some of the practical implications of this.

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Jordan, Lindsay Ellen

Oxford Brookes departments

School of Education
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Year: 2020

© Jordan, Lindsay Ellen
Published by Oxford Brookes University
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