Shannon Burton, Theory & Philosophy of Advising Commission Chair
In 1990, geographer David Harvey assessed the conditions of postmodernity which emerged as part of the evolution of the globalized political and economic order. Essentially, Harvey stated that postmodernism centered on:
the indeterminacy of language, the primacy of discourse, the de-centering and fragmentation of the concept of self, the significance of the “other”, a recognition of the tight, unbreakable power/knowledge nexus, the attenuation of a belief in meta-narratives, and the decline of dependence upon rationalism (Bloland, 1995, p. 526).
Furthermore, it maintains an “emphasis on discontinuity and difference in history… a rejection of ‘meta-narratives (Harvey, 9).”
The postmodern condition has generated a significant shift in the nature of institutions, whether they are regions, municipalities, corporations, or educational entities. It accounts for our move from a production to a consumption society and from national to international politics. In the United States, there has been a significant focus on how well the economy has adapted to the era of postmodernity. It can be stated that the United States has not fared well thus far.
Essentially, before the world started getting flattened, the United States was an island – an island of innovation and safety and growing incomes. And therefore it became a magnet for the world’s capital and the world’s talent. When your currency is the world’s currency and every brain wants to come over and work in your backyard, you start to take things for granted (Friedman, 2006, 343).
When institutions become known for their innovation and development of a new field, it is natural that those outside their cultural context be drawn to the ideas created. However, once those seeking the innovation adopt those ideas and concepts, so too do they adopt the means to create their own innovations.
In 2007, NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising began to accommodate and change in response to the number of members from institutions located in both the developed and developing world. Given that academic advising as a field maintains a relatively new place within higher education, the increased numbers of international members may indicate a greater need to provide advising-related services on college and university campuses throughout the world. Additionally, the call for greater attention to student retention, success, and persistence is heard from external constituents who ask for increased accountability for the learning outcomes of students and these students’ subsequent contributions to the international community and the development of the world as a whole.
Today, societies across the globe are working to develop their human capital in an effort to produce leaders from their own cultures. These initiatives appear to stem from a variety of sources ranging from politics to the media. However, the greatest promoter of these initiatives lies within the private sector with its calls for more employees possessing the skills needed to thrive in the new global economy. These skills address a number of issues: economic and cultural globalization, global political relationships, information technology, immigration, outsourcing, and global, environmental, and social concerns. In an effort to develop their human capital, institutional administrators abroad, including those in charge of academic advising, often look to academic and student affairs models in the West.
NACADA leaders are focused on globalization issues within the organization in a coordinated effort to assist colleagues overseas and to promote the development of a solid body of research to inform practice. Unfortunately, the majority of research on academic advising has been done within a Western context (the United States, the United Kingdom, or Canada). Borrowing research based upon Western higher education traditions offers challenges to those seeking to improve academic advising at institutions with non-Western cultural and historical contexts.
Frost (2000) indicated that the field of academic advising has progressed through three eras: higher education before academic advising was defined, academic advising as a defined and unexamined activity, and academic advising as a defined and examined activity. I assert that academic advising is now facing a fourth era due the societal changes emerging from the globalization process. This new era, “academic advising as a global initiative,” began in 2007. This era has been defined by the refocus of NACADA as an organization seeking to expand the field as a result of internationalization and by the even further expansion of higher education due to globalization. As the premier organization for the field of academic advising, this shift within NACADA is most readily noted through the changes to its membership, mission, goals, and strategic plan.
As the field of academic advising reaches beyond Western borders and into other cultural traditions, the theories applied to advising must reflect the values, philosophies, and societal norms of each culture. In planning for academic advising and detailing the theories to be used in a particular place and time, all who seek to improve advising at their institutions should be cognizant of the cultural norms that have contributed to the development of current theories.
It is abundantly clear that there can be no science of education planning… Planning may have developed a few general principles, such as the need for an institution to pay attention both to its traditions and to the most consequential environmental factors pressing on it, or the necessity of knowing about competitors and competing distinctively between them. But to be successful, planning must also adapt to local, specific conditions and to the temper of the times. What this means… is that we must all be amateur anthropologists and historians of the present and the near-term future, as well as technicians of institutional change (Keller, 2007, 61).
Hence, if academic advising is to be a comprehensive and transformational process, not only for colleges and universities, but for the students themselves, then advising must reflect the cultural norms of the society and culture where it is delivered. For each cultural context a new set of theories should be examined. Noting how one interacts with the “other,” how language meaning varies from culture to culture, and how no one overarching concept (meta-narrative) applies to all contexts in all times, will help us maintain the relevance of academic advising in our institutions and around the world.
Shannon Lynn Burton
School of Criminal Justice
Michigan State University
Editor’s Note: Congratulations to Shannon, who will receive a NACADA Outstanding Advising Award at our Annual Conference in October.
Bloland, H.G. (1995). Postmodernism and higher education. Journal of Higher Education, 66(5), 521-560.
Friedman, T.L. (2006). The world is flat: A brief history of the 21st century. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Frost, S.H. (2000). Historical and philosophical foundations for academic advising. In V.N. Gordon & W.R. Habley (Eds.) Academic advising; A comprehensive handbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Harvey, D. (1990). The condition of postmodernity. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Keller, G. (2007). The emerging third stage in higher education planning. Planning for Higher Education, 35(4), 60-64.
Cite this article using APA style as: Burton, S. (2010, September). Academic advising in a globalized postmodern era. Academic Advising Today, 33(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]