Knowledge (and the university), a project built together. Towards the first USI "town hall"
Institutional Communication Service
22 February 2021
Knowledge that "like a flame is kindled" by dialogue. We borrow a quote from Plato's Letter VII to carry on our journey among the "sparks" of USI's knowledge laboratory on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the University. After our Rector's considerations on "Valentine's Day of knowledge", we reflect on the concept of knowledge as a "project" and as an essentially collaborative one with Prof. Sonja Hildebrand, Pro-Rector for Research in the Humanities and Equal Opportunities and promoter of USI's first "Town hall", scheduled for Wednesday, 24 February: a meeting to keep our University as close and people-friendly as possible, and to discuss how to continue to produce knowledge together despite the difficulties imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prof. Hildebrand, the concept of knowledge as a "project" brings us back – among others – to the field of architecture, which by definition a domain of knowledge in which various disciplines and perspectives engage in dialogue and collaborate.
Yes, that is right. Architecture is a prime example of the production of knowledge (and architectural works) in a dialogic and collaborative process. Vitruvius already pointed out that architecture is involved in a multitude of disciplines, inferring that an architect must develop skills in different subjects. Vitruvius describes the architect in particular as a "generalist", who combines his (partial) knowledge of various disciplines and applies them to design and construction.
The concept of the architect as a generalist figure is still a guiding principle that determines teaching methods in many faculties of architecture. As a result, the curricula are multidisciplinary around the core discipline of design.
Fundamentally, this multidisciplinary approach applies in one way or another to all the sciences. It is an essential element of the richness of thought and creative potential in the sciences. Dialogue and collaboration, drawing together various disciplines and different perspectives and approaches, are the key.
And the collaboration between people comes before the collaboration between perspectives and disciplines.
One thing is clear: people carry out a dialogue. It can certainly be done through books, journals, or other mediated forms. But personal and direct contact is always particularly stimulating. It is the only way to reach dynamic interaction, which also unfolds when a lecture is given ex-cathedra in the classroom. The weeks of distance learning are living proof of this.
The concept of exchange can be applied to different settings, and interdisciplinary dialogue is just one of many aspects. An exchange always arises when different perspectives can be expressed. Thus, diversity is a fundamental prerequisite of dialogic interaction and cooperation. This concerns the university as well as the mixed teams on which various business and enterprises are based. The university also offers the opportunity to apply the dialogical concept to the relationship between teachers and students. Most teachers have probably experienced that their knowledge is also shaped during the transfer and dialogue with students.
A plurality of perspectives and exchange between people. This brings us to the first "Townhall" at USI. What is it all about?
A "Town hall" is essentially an open meeting where a community ideally gathers in its entirety to share information and discuss issues that affect all members. The term derives from some small U.S. cities' practice to organise plenary meetings, in which everyone has the right to voice their opinion in the town hall building. To make an example closer to us, it is a kind of Landsgemeinde. We will be online on Wednesday, 24 February, and the topic will be "USI and the third Covid-19 semester: the challenges and how to face them", with a focus on students' needs and problems.
The first USI "Town hall" is held in the year of the University's 25th anniversary, and this is no coincidence - if there had been no pandemic, it would have been held in attendance and on a different topic. The initiative well conveys the two main themes of the 25th, "Facciamo conoscenza" and "USI is U", and how they are interconnected.
To make (produce) knowledge, it is essential to get to known each other. "Facciamo conoscenza" is an expression declined in the first person plural, to underline the dimension of "we" that characterises the development of knowledge in an institution such as a university, where not only professors and researchers contribute to "producing" knowledge but also students and staff.
The "Town hall" wants to be at the same time a moment to get to know each other, to underline that we are a community and that as such we make (produce) knowledge together, and to remind us that "USI is U", that USI is each one of us, and that at this moment it is imperative to find new ways not only to carry on education and research but also to stay close, to converse as a community, maintaining and indeed strengthening the ties that unite us. Like knowledge, the University is, in fact, a project that is built together.
Save the date: "Town hall" meeting, Wednesday, 24 February 2021 at 6:30 pm. Click here for more information.
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