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Though A Glass Darkly

Though A Glass Darkly: The Social Sciences Look at the Neoliberal University

Edited by Margaret Thornton
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Though A Glass Darkly
    Book Description:

    This collection of essays arose from a workshop held in Canberra in 2013 under the auspices of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia to consider the impact of the encroachment of the market on public universities. While the UK tripled fees in 2013 and determined that the teaching of the social sciences and the humanities would no longer be publicly funded, it was feared that Australia would go further and deregulate fees altogether.

    eISBN: 978-1-925022-14-8
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Margaret Thornton
  4. Contributors
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. Acronyms and Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  6. Introduction: The Retreat from the Critical
    (pp. 1-16)
    Margaret Thornton

    This collection of essays, representing a range of social science perspectives, arose from a concern about the way Australian universities are being affected by a single-minded focus on economic rationality. This has involved the transformation of higher education from a predominantly public to a predominantly private good, which has profound ramifications not only for the future of the public university, but also for the working of democracy. While numerous studies have focused on the deleterious impact of the neoliberal turn on the humanities (e.g. Small 2013; Nussbaum 2010; Donoghue 2008), the social sciences have attracted comparatively little attention, although the...

  7. Part I: Theorising the Modern University

    • 1. Disinterested Scholars or Interested Parties? The Public’s Investment in Self-interested Universities
      (pp. 19-36)
      Hannah Forsyth

      The university’s authority over knowledge is more tenuous than we think. The basis of university authority has been grounded, over the long history of higher education, in nothing more than ideas and values. Such ideas, however have taken institutions quite a long way. Other institutions – religious and political authorities, for example – have vied for a say over knowledge and yet the university has prevailed as the institution, arguably, that we trust the most. In the 20th century the university grew to enormous proportions and has gained significant influence. And yet it has arguably also faced more threats to...

    • 2. Critical Theory and the New University: Reflections on Time and Technology
      (pp. 37-48)
      Peter Beilharz

      What does critical theory bring to the discussion about universities, the institutions to which many of us have given our lives? Perhaps not a great deal, directly: we shall see. But at a broader societal level, I suspect that one of our collective shortcomings as university workers has been to fail to look for possible dots to connect between our everyday lives, our institutions, and our theoretical traditions. So this series of reflections is, in a sense, an attempt to bring critical theory back home, to connect up the personal and the societal in our lives as university workers, all...

    • 3. Gendered Hierarchies of Knowledge and the Prestige Factor: How Philosophy Survives Market Rationality
      (pp. 49-62)
      Fiona Jenkins

      Neoliberalism – a term now used only by critics – evokes the absorption of the erstwhile social state into a corporate culture. The purported minimisation of the scope of political power corresponds to the ascendency of economic man, characterised by entrepreneurial spirit, individualism, flexibility, and adaptability. Appeals to economic rationality and practical constraints, and the use of words like ‘performance’, ‘efficiency’, ‘mobility’, ‘competitiveness’ and ‘evaluation’, cast mockery at institutions modelled on solidarity, social security, justice or the substantive values of democracy. What lacks market value also lacks the right to exist. The university, to survive, must engage in benchmarking, marketing;...

  8. Part II: Markets, Managers and Mandarins

    • 4. What’s to be Explained? And is it so Bad?
      (pp. 65-78)
      Geoffrey Brennan

      The point of departure for the conference ‘Markets and the Modern University, from which this chapter arose, is a concern – ‘a concern about the way knowledge is being shaped by the commodification of higher education’. And the title of the conference indicates a first-round diagnosis: the intrusion of the ‘market’ and the re-conceptualisation of knowledge from being a ‘public good’ to being a ‘private good’. The ambition of our collective reflections is to examine all this ‘with particular regard for the impact on the social sciences’.

      In what follows, I want to address, head on, both this particular concern...

    • 5. Higher Education ‘Markets’ and University Governance
      (pp. 79-88)
      Tony Aspromourgos

      It was one theme of my recent critical essay on managerialism in the universities that much loose policy talk about the market and universities has a superficial plausibility only because the conditions required for a genuinelycompetitivemarket are not explicitly acknowledged (Aspromourgos 2012). It is only some notion of the applicability of the benefits of competition to higher education and university research that can favour a market model for universities. To the extent that standard economic theory justifies ‘the market’ as a superior way of allocating resources relative to other modes of allocation, it is not the marketas...

    • 6. Transforming the Public University: Market Citizenship and Higher Education Regulatory Projects
      (pp. 89-102)
      Kanishka Jayasuriya

      This chapter explores the shifts within mass higher education and its governance over the last three decades. Mass higher education has changed substantially in tandem with the broader changes associated with the social and political compromises over that time. The crisis and transformation of the public university needs to be understood in this context. To this end, this chapter analyses the transformation of the public university as it relates to broader state and governance projects focusing on the crucial shift from the 1980s onwards with the emergence of new notions of market citizenship, bringing with it what has been referred...

    • 7. The State of the Universities
      (pp. 103-118)
      Glenn Withers

      Historically the public–private divide matters a lot. Much of the 20th century was devoted to a global battle between public and private ownership philosophies. The difference brought us to the brink of nuclear war.

      The so-called end of history said that the democratic liberal market societies were finally ascendant, as evidenced by the fall of the Berlin Wall (Fukuyama 1992). There are all sorts of growing challenges and qualifications to such a generalisation (e.g. Huntington 1996) but, at least in the Anglo-American countries, while political parties do still distinguish themselves a little by greater or lesser dirigisme, a broad...

  9. Part III: Education for the ‘Real World’

    • 8. The Modern University and its Transaction with Students
      (pp. 121-140)
      Nigel Palmer

      This chapter is about the marketisation of the modern university and its transaction with students. It identifies opportunities for responding to the challenges associated with marketisation. While appealing to the idea of knowledge for its own sake as a public good is an important part of preserving the idea of a university, more needs to be done if there is to be an adequate response. Responding to the challenges of marketisation requires active and constructive engagement in means as well as ends while resisting their excesses. While the idea of the university is typically constructed as an end worth advocating...

    • 9. Markets, Discipline, Students: Governing Student Conduct and Performance in the University
      (pp. 141-156)
      Bruce Lindsay

      The university has developed as a substantial and complex regulatory space in contemporary Australian society. Well over one million students are enrolled in the university system, in an environment that has assumed an increasingly commercialised character since the late 1980s. Market principles and norms have become prominent elements of higher education, under the influence of public policy, and hence, as a regulatory phenomenon, the market functions as a juridical and normative order. In this sense, the market is a governmental mechanism, having disciplinary effects.

      This chapter takes a socio-legal view of the university system in the contemporary ‘market order’, and,...

    • 10. ‘Selling the dream’: Law School Branding and the Illusion of Choice
      (pp. 157-176)
      Margaret Thornton and Lucinda Shannon

      In a little over 20 years, the number of law schools in Australia has tripled – from 12 to 36. The catalyst for this revolutionary change occurred in 1988 when by a stroke of the pen the then Minister for Employment, Education and Training, John Dawkins, declared all Colleges of Advanced Education (CAEs) to be universities (Dawkins 1988). The intention was to increase school retention rates and enhance the calibre of the Australian workforce so that Australia might be more competitive on the world stage. Despite the transformation of the tertiary sector, which resulted in 16 new universities in four...

  10. Part IV: Conditions of Knowledge Production

    • 11. Disciplining Academic Women: Gender Restructuring and the Labour of Research in Entrepreneurial Universities
      (pp. 179-194)
      Jill Blackmore

      This chapter examines the ‘gendered nature of the social organisation of research and scientific knowledge production’ and in particular the gendered nature of the corporatisation of higher education (Knorr-Cetina 1999, 9). It argues that the conditions of labour of the entrepreneurial university and underlying market-oriented instrumentalism has changed the nature of the relationship of higher education with the public, with the individual student and the academic, in ways that are gendered. ‘Markets do not make social distinctions disappear, they regulate interaction between institutions e.g. families and education, and “instrumentalist” status distinctions, bending pre-existing cultural value to capitalist purposes’ (Fraser and...

    • 12. Functional Dystopia: Diversity, Contestability and New Media in the Academy
      (pp. 195-208)
      Jenny Corbett, Andrew MacIntyre and Inger Mewburn

      Many scholars in the Social Sciences today are concerned that growing pressures for applied or policy-relevant research, and the importance placed on external research funding, are having systemically negative influences upon academic life. Academics generally are expressing concern that reduced public funding, more reliance on student fees as the mainstay of revenue and a rise in ‘managerialism’ in response to closer regulatory scrutiny, divert universities from their core business and traditional values. Our view is more positive. We make three arguments to this effect. First, we believe implicit comparisons with a notional happier past are themselves problematic. Secondly, the multiplicity...

  11. Part V: Telling It How It Is

    • 13. A Design for Learning? A Case Study of the Hidden Costs of Curriculum and Organisational Change
      (pp. 211-228)
      Diane Kirkby and Kerreen Reiger

      Like the sector itself, the study of higher education has expanded exponentially in recent decades. There are now many scholarly accounts of the impact of neoliberal and post-neoliberal policies on teaching and learning practices in universities internationally, and of the managerialist forms of governance accompanying them (e.g. Blackmore and Candiko 2012; Lorenz 2012; Blackmore et al. 2010; Olssen and Peters 2005; Slaughter and Rhoades 2004; Marginson and Considine 2000). There has, however, been relatively little theoretical and empirical work which builds on critical scholarship in comparable fields and, other than identifiably feminist scholars (e.g. Thornton 2011; Blackmore 2005; Evans 2004;...

    • 14. ‘Smoking Guns’: Reflections on Truth and Politics in the University
      (pp. 229-256)
      Judith Bessant

      This chapter offers an insight into the contemporary management practices and neoliberal culture found in many of our universities, and it raises questions about academic authority and how it secures its legitimacy by way of a participant’s case study or auto-ethnographic account. I tell how after making complaints about the style of management of the primary protagonist I was ‘sacked’ by the university, which misused the redundancy provisions of the enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA). After nearly four years the matter ended up in the Federal Court which in May 2013 saw Justice Gray issue a damning judgment, order my immediate...

  12. Part VI: University Futures?

    • 15. Seeking the Necessary ‘Resources of Hope’ in the Neoliberal University
      (pp. 259-282)
      Jane Kenway, Rebecca Boden and Johannah Fahey

      At the 2008 American Association for Geography conference in Boston, Jane and Rebecca gave papers at a symposium on global knowledge nodes and networks in higher education and research. Later, at dinner, they discussed the emergence, normalisation and changing inflections of the neoliberal university over the last two or three decades in Australia and the UK. Rebecca explained that writing about contemporary universities had a profound emotional impact on her and others she knew because it meant that they exposed themselves critically to the causes of personal discontent and distress. She proposed a multinational research project designed to explore systematically...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-332)