Liz Morrish and Helen Sauntson, Academic Irregularities: Language and Neoliberalism in Higher Education – forthcoming from Routledge

Liz Morrish and Helen Sauntson, Academic Irregularities: Language and Neoliberalism in Higher Education – forthcoming from Routledge. Announcement on the Academic Irregularities blog, from which I’ve taken the following description:

We all know that universities in the UK and elsewhere are very different places than they were 20 years ago. There has been a massive reorientation of universities away from their previous mission as serving the public good, as repositories of knowledge, as a refuge from the discipline of the market and capitalism, and governed by the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. The purpose of universities is routinely assumed to be to serve the economic needs of the country, or even of individuals who graduate from them. Cultural and political changes such as consumerism, marketization, New Public Management with its focus on metrics, audit and performance management, have left their imprint on the very language we use to talk about universities – and indeed on the language the university uses to talk about its staff and students. Neoliberalism is a contested term but we use it to designate a broad agreement that universities have reorganised their priorities – and perhaps been coerced by successive governments to do so –  to align with ‘the market’. We uncover the power relations and contradictions experienced by those working and studying in UK and other (largely) western universities. We  make connections between economic and political developments in society, and the changes to conditions of labour and values operating in universities. We find that the nature of academic identities has been resignified so that lecturers and professors feel less autonomous and more ‘managed’. Some academics try and resist the new discoursde, but it is becoming rather difficult to do so in a context when its use is compulsory. Some of these changes have left academics feeling alienated and deprofessionalised. 

This is an original critique of the neoliberal university and it sits within an emerging discipline of Critical University Studies. We build our case from firm evidence of discourse which echoes the concerns of neoliberal ideology: competition, the market, personal responsibility and benefit, value for money, return on investment and efficiency. Over the three or four years of the project, we amassed a large collection of  documents from university management training courses, performance reviews, university and student union marketing materials, mission statements, REF and TEF policies. Then we got to work with the tools of applied linguistics, such as corpus linguistics, critical discourse analysis and appraisal analysis, to analyse them. We have unearthed metaphors which seek to normalize the discourse of the market, the student as consumer and the academic as corporate subject. We take a look at some of the adjectives and nouns which seem to shift their meanings to the extent they are meaningless: excellence, quality, innovation, vision etc. The discourse analysed throughout the book is more than just a reflection of neoliberal ideology –it is arguably constitutive of ideological change, and of a new kind of neoliberal, self-managing, subordinate subject.

The book brings the tools of applied linguistics to bear on some central questions for critical university studies:

  1. What does a critical linguistic analysis of managerial discourse reveal about academic values and identities?
  2. How can the tools of applied linguistics be used to enhance knowledge and understanding about critical university studies?
  3. What can critical linguistic analysis reveal about the role of discourse in formulating resistance to the managerial project?

It sounds great, but why publish such a book with Routledge, of all publishers?

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One Response to Liz Morrish and Helen Sauntson, Academic Irregularities: Language and Neoliberalism in Higher Education – forthcoming from Routledge

  1. dmf says:

    heh, “critical” has become a brand, obviously in some quarters at least intentional irony is indeed dead…

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