Monday, 23 February 2009

For Us or Against Us?

A report on Mary Evans’ paper, ‘For Us or Against Us: Coercion and Consensus in Higher Education’, delivered at the University of Birmingham, 20th February 2009. By Liz Morrish.

Mary Evans produced a well-researched and structured argument in support of her thesis that neoliberal discourse and institutions (especially elite institutions) have produced a new kind of compliant and conformist female academic who completely accepts the new values of the university. Universities have embraced the values of the marketplace and models of social action based on enterprise. While embracing these new ideas, elite institutions have resisted moves towards greater diversity in student admissions.

The demands that the academic engages with the economic forces visited upon the university have in turn produced a new labouring self, perhaps a formulaic over-socialised persona, who is unrelentingly positive and engaged in academic entrepreneurship. This demands a negotiation with the institution which is gendered. Women analyse difficulties as failings of the self, rather than deficiencies in the institution. These latter become inadmissible, just as anger with institutional values becomes pathologized. Advancement through the hierarchy of the university is available only to compliant ‘good girls’. In this way, gender discrimination is no longer overt and categorical, but covert and is seen in pressure to conform to the ideal. For men, greater toleration of individuality is permitted, but women have to do more work to conform, squeezing out any possibility for ‘the person’ to emerge.

In terms of admission to elite institutions, the ideal remains the confident student with recognisable aspirations. Difference, if identifiable, must be articulated and accounted for. The person of promise and enthusiasm is the neoliberal ideal and privilege bestowed on that person will be seen as earned and legitimate. Perhaps this is the ultimate ‘confidence trick’ ?

No comments:

Post a Comment