Thursday, 14 May 2009

Exploring a Neoliberal Moment in Higher Education Today - Joyce Canaan

Joyce Canaan (Birmingham City University) 8th May 2009

This was the last in the Spring/Summer 2009 Seminar Series at the University of Birmingham: Gender and Sexuality: The Discursive Limits of ‘Equality’ in Higher Education.

Joyce Canaan’s paper posed the question: “Are we in a post-neoliberal moment?” Given that it was a late arrival on the capitalist scene in the 1990s, the neoliberal dictum that There Is No Alternative seems exaggerated. And if that is so, then the current fashion by UK Vice Chancellors for “shock-doctrine” in universities offers a moment of vulnerability in which a resistance to its discursive regulation can be mounted.

The situation as perceived by government and Vice Chancellors is that HEIs must engage in market-led competition in order to ‘deliver’ maximally efficient courses for the knowledge economy. This efficiency has only been achieved by a 30 year decline in the public subsidy for universities to the point that the UK ranks lowest in this regard in the OECD.

Canaan’s next question was “why do we keep going along with it”. Answer: because of the carrot of self-actualization dangled before academics to ensure their compliance with the stick of regulation – QAA, RAE, benchmarking etc. These all render academics auditable, and allow the imposition of a neoliberal governmentality which works through a destabilization of established academic practices. And it never stands still, since we are impelled to go through permanent revolution, so that no practices ever fully establish themselves or achieve legitimacy. The ‘second order’ activities of audit take over and construct our very beings as academics. Our professional lives are dominated by the need to discursively provide evidence that we are compliant with the regime.

Canaan offered two thinkers who allow for possibilities outside of the crisis of economic rationalism and regulation: Raymond Williams and Judith Butler. Both question the fixity of the dominant and the supposed natural. Butler recognises that norms are only legitimated by constant citation, and we can choose to stop the repetition. Raymond Williams shows us that the hegemonic provides the basis for the counter-hegemonic, and that the residual can still be reactivated. There is also the emergent – that which a dominant social order represses or fails to recognize. This is the most crucial tool for dealing with the dominant and for allowing subversion, as the emergent seeks new forms or reworks old practices. Bourdieu argues for a scholarship with commitment, and in striving for that, we may create the social conditions for realizing utopias.

No comments:

Post a Comment