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Metric Power and the Academic Self: Neoliberalism, knowledge and resistance in the British university

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Zeena Feldman, Marisol Sandoval

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-233
JournaltripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique
Volume16
Issue number1
Early online date26 Jan 2018
DOIs
Accepted/In press7 Dec 2017
E-pub ahead of print26 Jan 2018
Published26 Jan 2018

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Abstract

This article discusses the experience of being an academic in the UK in the contemporary climate of neoliberal capitalism and ‘metric power’ (Beer 2016). Drawing on existing literature and our own practice, the first portion of the paper explores the relationship between neoliberalism, metrics and knowledge. We then examine how neoliberal mantras and instruments impact the university’s structures and processes, and reflect on consequences for the academic self. We take as a starting point the context of increasing workloads and the pressure on academics to excel in multiple roles, from ‘world-leading’ researchers to ‘excellent’ teachers and ‘service providers’ to professional administrators performing recruitment
and (self)marketing tasks. Neoliberal academia, we suggest, promotes a meritocratic ideology
of individual achievement that frames success and failure as purely personal ‘achievements’, which encourages a competitive ethos and chronic self-criticism. This article insists
that these problems need to be understood in the context of neoliberal policy-making and the corporatisation of knowledge, including funding cuts and grant imperatives, the low status of teaching, the cynical instrumentation of university league tables, and increased institutional reliance on precarious academic labour. The article goes on to focus on responses that resist,
challenge or, in some cases, compound, the problems identified in part one. Responses by dissatisfied academics range in style and approach – some decide against an academic
career; others adopt a strategy of individual withdrawal within the system by trying to create and protect spaces of independence – for example, by refusing to engage beyond officially
required minimums. This article argues that opportunities for positive systemic change can be found in collective efforts to oppose the status quo and to create alternatives for how academic labour is organised. Therein, solidarity can act as an instrument of opposition to the individualisation of the neoliberal academic self.

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