The myth of academic autonomy

Neoliberalism found fertile ground in academics whose predispositions to ‘work hard’ and ‘do well’ meshed perfectly with it’s demands for autonomous, self motivating, responsibilised subjects. This is gendered, racialised and classed, too, to be sure, in ways that merit urgent attention that I have been unable to give in this short piece. The lack of resistance to the neoliberalisation of universities is partly a result of these divisive, individualizing practices, of the silences around them, of the fact also that people are too exhausted to resist and furthermore do not know what to resist or how to do so. But it is also understandable, I suggest, in terms of the inherent pleasures and fulfilment that many people derive from their work (when they find time to do it) or at least the promise of/idea of it, as well as to the seductions of relatively autonomous working lives — though this autonomy is eroding fast, as universities import business models which require for example that all e-mails be answered within 24 hours, or that academics are present in the office five days a week. In reality, the much vaunted autonomy often simply means that universities end up extracting even more labour from us for free, as we participate in working lives in which there is often no boundary between work and anything else (if indeed there is anything else).

Gill, R (2009) Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia in Flood,R. & Gill,R. (Eds.) Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections. London: Routledge

And now I’m off to catch up on my e-mail for an hour before I feel able to go to bed…………

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