23 SES 09 A, Resisting Neoliberalism in an Era of Risk: Local, national and transnational perspectives: Part 1
Symposium to be continued in 23 SES 12 A
This presentation takes up the issue of how contemporary institutions are perceived as unrepresentative by those living and working within them, using the example of Higher Education. Major changes are taking place in the UK university sector as HE is transformed into a high value commodity on the international market (Deem et al 2007). These changes impact strongly on the day-to-day experience, relationships and identities of academic staff. I report on an interview study of academics in three UK Universities and three disciplines, Maths, History and Marketing (Tusting et al, 2019). The study explored academics’ life histories, institutional and disciplinary contexts, and the tools and resources they draw on in their day to day writing work. We covered not only research writing, but teaching, administrative and service-related writing tasks. Much of this writing is done to satisfy institutional demands including external impact, generating publicity and resources and – of course – collecting and recording data for accountability purposes. We took a sociomaterial approach to our study (see Edwards et al, 2015) looking at both physical and discursive aspects of academics’ experience and the networks that sustain these. Our thesis is that writing work is at the heart of knowledge production in higher education. Thus, writing practices can offer a window through which the changing institutional environment, values and strategies that constitute academic work can be explored Our study offers ample and vivid evidence of the resultant stress, acceleration of work, loss of autonomy and deteriorating working conditions but we found little trace in our data of organized, collective resistance. There were, however, many examples of tactical and symbolic workarounds and of staff holding on to core disciplinary values and vocational commitments even when these conflict with the priorities of neoliberalism. I suggest that a framework of "everyday resistance" as proposed and documented in many contexts (by, for example, Scott ,1992; Johansson, A., & Vinthagen, 2016) can help us understand these reactions and how they reflect high levels of discomfort and wider frustration with the directions in which universities are moving. As Fleming (2016) points out, while everyday, mundane acts may appear to be insignificant or “weak” forms of resistance, a growing body of international literature shows that it is important to document them in order to reveal the genesis and dynamics of collective, organized movements and resistant events.
Deem, R., Hillyard, S., Reed, M. and Reed, M., 2007. Knowledge, higher education, and the new managerialism: The changing management of UK universities. Oxford University Press. Edwards, R., Fenwick, T. and Sawchuk, P., 2015. Emerging approaches to educational research: Tracing the socio-material. Routledge. Fleming, P. (2016). Resistance and the “post-recognition” turn in organizations.Journal of Management Inquiry,25(1), 106-110. Johansson, A., & Vinthagen, S., 2016. Dimensions of everyday resistance: An analytical framework. Critical Sociology, 42(3), pp. 417-435. Scott, J. C., 1992. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven and London, Yale University Press. Tusting, K., McCulloch, S., Bhatt, I., Hamilton, M. and Barton, D., (2019) Academics writing: The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation. Routledge
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