Academic work in the neoliberal University: Labour process theory revisited

Year: 2012

Author: Raduntz, Helen, Banfield, Grant

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


As part of a larger international collaborative program of research entitled: Intellectual Labour and the neoliberalisation of the University, specifically this paper addresses the question of the changing nature of intellectual work performed by academics in the neoliberalised university.

In approaching this task the authors draw on and further develop labour process theory as originally formulated by Marx and later updated by Harry Braverman. This theory proves to be highly  relevant in demonstrating the close connection between the inner dynamics of the capitalist mode of production and the changing face of the university and academic work in conformity with the logic of the capitalist economic imperative to accumulate and expand capital.

On this basis, the paper is divided into three parts: one, a historical materialist account of the rise of the university; two, an outline of the essential features of labour process theory; and finally, a demonstration of how these features have been imposed on the university and its academic workers.

The conclusion to be drawn is that the university is being groomed to confine its services to the needs of a capitalist economy increasingly dependent on what the university has to offer in terms of scientific knowledge generation, technological innovation and social capital; that the impact for the majority of academic workers is likely to be a deterioration of their working conditions and a lowering of their status as professionals; and that the most likely outcome will be to compromise the ability of the university and its academics to provide without fear or favour a service that is primarily in the wider interests of society.