The Globalizing of the University

Some Thoughts on the Environment of Literary Studies
  • David Roberts


The guiding theme of the present collection of papers in honour of S. J. Schmidt is indicated by the title, Festschrift für die Wirklichkeit. What is reality, what is really real in a world composed of the world pictures of the media? How does this media reality, which appears to have suspended the old, first order distinction between reality and fiction (see Schmidt 1996), impact on communication science, on art and literature and literary studies on the threshold of the new millennium? These are big questions which reality addresses to theory and theory to reality. If we speak with Niklas Luhmann of the »reality of the mass media«, then we must include its theoretical, in this case systems-theoretical analysis as itself a part of the reality of the self-observing system of mass media. Equally we could speak of the reality of theory as the reality constructed by the autonomous, self-referential system of science, with particular reference here to that subsystem which specializes in the analysis of media realities as the paramount site of society’s self-observation. The theory of media reality provides in turn the theoretical redescription of society’s self-description. From this we can conclude that »reality» is a function of the observing system, that it is both system-specific and an amalgam of different system perspectives, both anchored and free-floating and thus the very medium which registers the perturbations and crises of society’s autopoiesis. If theory thereby asserts its autonomy in relation to reality, is this reality »out there« or is it »really« the reality of theory? Luhmann’s answer is that of constructivism: »Die primäre Realität liegt [...] nicht in >der Welt draußen<, sondern in den kognitiven Operationen selbst [...]. Und deshalb bleibt keine andere Möglichkeit als: Realität zu konstruieren« (Luhmann 1996: 17f.). This does not mean the reduction of reality to self-reference, since self-reference presupposes the difference between the observer (the observing system) and the environment. And here we should remember that Luhmann’s systems theory is global in two respects. It not only claims to encompass modern functionally differentiated society (of which it itself forms a part), it also understands society to be world society, underlined by the global flow of communications and capital. The globalization of theory also has its institutional counterpart. Just as communication science is adapting to a global media reality, so the university is redefining itself as an institution operating in a global environment. These are parallel but also intersecting processes, which both enter into the »reality of theory«. In the following I would like to sketch briefly some of the effects of the globalization of the university (2) with reference to literary studies (1).


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  1. Luhmann, N. (21996): Die Realität der Massenmedien. Opladen.Google Scholar
  2. Schmidt, S. J. (1996): Beyond Reality and Fiction? The Fate of Dualism in the Age of (Mass) Media. In: Mihailescu, C.-A.; Harmarneh, W. (Eds.): Fiction Updated: Theories of Fictionality, Narratology, and Poetics. Toronto, 91–104.Google Scholar

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© Westdeutscher Verlag GmbH, Wiesbaden und VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2000

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  • David Roberts

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