Looking for cracks in the neoliberal university: the politics of micro resistance

Year: 2017

Author: Manathunga, Catherine, Bottrell, Dorothy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Entrenched regimes of corporate managerialism have driven internal change programs in universities (Deem 1998; Davies & Bansel 2010). Defining features of managerial regimes include an obsession with academic performance, productivity and their measurement and surveillance through numerous forms of accountability (Blackmore 2009; Connell 2013; Larner & Le Heron, 2005; Shore 2008). The managerial culture of efficiencies centres on including churning out research, teaching and service and exhorts academics to be more innovative, agile and entrepreneurial. The expectation is that we will be more productive and compliant by better managing ourselves and our time.
To 'inhabit' the neoliberal space of the university and assert different purposes and ways of being is an ongoing struggle. Recent research has pointed to the intensification of managerialism through punitive and brutal processes (Ball 2015a; Zipin 2010) that have undermined trust and academic democracy (Connell 2013) and are divisive and silencing (Davies 2005; Barcan 2013). Detrimental impacts on personal-professional wellbeing and agency are manifest in academics' survivalism (Delhi 2010), anxieties, ambivalent and fraught emotional labour (Burrows 2012; Kirkby & Reiger 2015; Saltmarsh & Randell-Moon 2014) and diminishing intellectual pleasures (Nash & Owens 2015). We believe it is important to develop understanding of resistances to avert the naturalisation of managerialism and the "institutional depression" (Bochner, 1997) it engenders. Yet this is not to suggest that power is embedded only in top-down regulatory governance. Working with Foucault's formulations of the ubiquity of power and its inextricability from resistance, Thomas and Davies' challenge us to articulate resistances "as a constant process of adaptation, subversion and re-inscription of dominant discourses" (2005, p. 687).
This paper explores some ways in which academics are resisting neoliberal changes and working the spaces of managed life in universities. In our presentation, we will discuss examples of micro resistances within our research and teaching that still holds to social justice aims, the necessity of debate and dialogue, and developing shared agenda with collaborators. We take as a first premise the feminist principle of the personal as political. The "ordinary" and "everyday" micro-aggressions of managerialism have to be called out or risk being reinscribed as personal deficits, or simply emotionalism. As Rosalind Gill (2010) has argued, personal experiences of managerialism should be recognised as a political call for change. Resistance mobilises critical hope (Barcan 2013; Kenway, Boden & Fahey 2013) to speak back to the powerful controllers of workloads, policies, procedures and branded strategies.