Regional Universities of the State and State-Centrism

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By Sergio González, Professor of the Department of Historical Sciences and Geography of the University of Tarapacá. Recipient of the 2014 National Award in History.

Translated by Anthony Rauld

It is undeniable that Chile is a follower of the Peace of Westphalia (1648) tradition; imbued with a state centrism linked to national security, border enforcement, sovereignty and territory.  Paradoxically, its most spatially distant regions feel they are most relevant when it comes to these aspects, and their citizens are required to be more committed to the “reason of state”.  During the 19th and 20th centuries, state agencies have played an essential role in the reproduction of national institutions, identity, and character in the peripheral zones.  Among these agencies, regional universities have had a crucial importance since they were founded during the second half of the 20th century.  This was understood by all of these higher education institutions, and with the needs of the country in mind they reproduced the national university model.  By the 21st century, however, the nation-state changed, and so did the university model.  Obviously, intellectual circles, and especially the field of sociology, began to question the symmetry between the national state and society.  Among other authors, the sociologist Ulrich Beck stands out in his criticism of methodological nationalism (Nacionalismo y cosmopolitismo: ensayos sociológicos by Daniel Cherlino, 2010).  This methodological nationalism was notoriously articulated within the humanities and the social sciences, where there was a clear “national” bias with respect to knowledge, as if the frontiers of knowledge were also the borders of the national territory.

When the mission statements of the regional universities of the state are analyzed, there is clearly a concern with satisfying the requirements of the nation state; but there is also the understanding that these universities respond to issues that are more local and which, at the same time, transcend the state.  For example, the University of Magallanes, which is the southernmost of all the universities, differentiates itself by “striving to be a national and international leader in the production of knowledge about Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, the Sub-Antarctic territory and Antarctica.” Meanwhile, the University of Tarapacá, the northernmost university of the country, states that it “functions academically in the Arica and Parinacota region, as well as the Tarapacá region, and also projects its work in the context of the south-central Andean Region.  As part of its unique vision and its strategic institutional role, the university prioritizes academic excellence, is committed to generating social mobility and preserving/cultivating our millenary patrimony, and strives to achieve academic integration with Peru and Bolivia.”  It is very clear that both universities understand quite well their geostrategic role, and that they are committed to the nation state; but they have also incorporated a vision that transcends these, so as to engage first with local and regional issues, and then with challenges that are trans-border, international, and global.  The University of Magallanes exemplifies this with its focus on Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, which subsequently incorporates the Sub-Antarctic territory and Antarctica, which will no doubt become preferential sites globally in the not so distant future.  The University of Tarapacá, meanwhile, focuses on the border regions of Arica-Parinacota and Tarapacá, but is very aware of the importance of the south-central Andean region (which includes Peru, Bolivia, the northeast of Argentina, and the Norte Grande of Chile), which is not only well known for its cultural patrimony, but also as a sub-continental region with significant comparative advantages.

The geostrategic position of the peripheral zones and, by extension, their universities, has not always been appreciated by central states.  Practically since they were incorporated into the sovereign national territory, the citizens of Magallanes and Arica Parinacota/Tarapacá have had to struggle for recognition and for public policies conducive to development.  These regions have often been treated as resource-rich zones, like the gold fever and sheep of Patagonia, or the guano and nitrate of Arica-Parinacota and Tarapacá.  In both extreme regions there was also the same repeated historical negation of indigenous peoples, and it was up to these universities to recognize and value their humanity and culture.  Similarly, the establishment of the borders between Argentina and Magallanes, and between Peru, Bolivia and Arica-Parinacota/Tarapacá, has marked the regions’ histories.  In spite of this, and since the 19th century, they have defined themselves by promoting trans-border projects of cultural and physical integration, understood as the only path to complementary development between trans-border regions (“Globalización, Geografía política, y fronteras” by Sergio Boisier).  One can only wait for the central state to begin to value the geostrategic work and mission of the regional universities of the state, especially those in the peripheral and border zones.

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