However, changing the psyche is a complex task and some academics may be experiencing extreme degrees of abjection, the symptoms of which might be characterised as a desire to please, workaholism, over-competitiveness and an inability to recognise one’s own agency. For such abjects we set the following tasks:

• Challenge ourselves about why/how we have enfolded ourselves in this particular system.

• Explore what we are afraid of and try to avoid by being compliant, workaholic and over-competitive.

• Visualise the hopeful university as a prelude to making it.

• Resist being governed, become unmanageable whilst committing to responsible self-governance and mutual accountability.

• The re-professionalisation of academic work, discussing and agreeing collective values and responsibilities and thus moving from the capitalist to the collective.

Boden, R. and Epstein, D. (2011) “A flat earth society? Imagining academic freedom”.The Sociological Review, 59:3

We turn now to the psychic realm. We have argued above and elsewhere (Boden and Epstein, 2006; Boden et al., 2009) that regimes of neoliberal control in universities are constitutive of governmentality – that building the neoliberal university involves putting in place structures that govern the academic soul (Rose, 1999). This is imperative given the post-Fordist nature of academic work – flexible, mobile, relatively unstructured and, with regard to research, largely self-directed.

This psychic state has to be created and held in place by a combination of intra- and inter-psychic factors. To a significant extent, academics still bear the trace (Derrida, 1976) of a previous professional and collegial status in which universities facilitated their work as independent scholars. Despite radical changes to their conditions of employment, including the increasing micro-management of their work, academics generally do not see themselves as blue-collar workers in the knowledge economy. This means that whilst universities are being translated into conventional hierarchical business organisations, academics have not necessarily yet identified themselves fully as workers in an employment situation in traditional industrial relations terms.

A spectrum of surveillance and control mechanisms encourage and facilitate correct comportment (Foucault, 1977), holding the academic psychic condition in place. These include such measures as research quality audits and, indeed, systems of human resource management which, through technologies of individual performance management, seek to align the identity of the academic worker with organizational strategic objectives (Waring, 2009). The panoptical gaze of such regimes, with their aspirational discourses of organisational and individual ‘excellence’, shapes behaviour in a number of ways. In the classic Foucauldian sense, we regulate ourselves because we know that we are being watched – all the time. Further, such regimes accord recognition and approval for correct comportment to individuals. Such ‘strokes’ (Berne, 2010 [1964]) are seductive, offering psychic rewards, a kind of quasi-parental ‘love’, which entices and induces us to perform as ‘excellent academics’. Finally, such judgmental regimes engender a spirit of competition that may be antithetical to traditional notions of collegial, collaborative academic work.

To a significant extent academics are collusive in the successful operation of such systems of psychic regulation. Some enfold themselves in them entirely, through belief, fear or even a lust for power. Others may collaborate for the best of motives; caught in a prisoner’s dilemma, many academics believe that they should participate in the management of surveillance systems because they might be able to ameliorate their worst effects and/or maximise the benefits for their own institutions.

These psychic factors of the trace, self-discipline and technologies of control combine in the constitution of academics’ identities, sense of agency and, therefore, their psychic freedom. Butler (1993) argues that gender and other identities are achieved through performativity. It is not, she suggests, that we are men or women; rather, we do man or woman and, through repeated iterations of performance, these identities come to be written on the body. Similarly, managerial technologies incite and seduce us to do academic in particular ways, constantly reiterating the performance of excellence. Academics come to embody the neoliberal discourses of the contemporary university and, thus subjectified, their freedom to imagine defiantly is inhibited.

The psychic effects of such subjectification can be extreme. Butler (1994) builds on Freud’s concept of melancholia (Freud, 2006 [1917]) – the affective result of an unconscious sense of loss. She suggests that gender and particular sexual identities are established and held in place only through the suppression of alternative forms, leading to an unconscious sense of loss that bears the trace of other possibilities. Academics, we posit, may be similarly steeped in a largely unconscious, unarticulated sense of loss of collegiality and of professional autonomy.

When the melancholic individual can no longer maintain their defences, perhaps because of some critical incident, they lose their sense of relationship between self and other. That is, their capacity to operate in a world of symbolic meaning collapses and they become abject (Kristeva, 1983).4 But the sociological imagination is all about dealing in the symbolic realm of meaning. An inability to work well with the symbolic thus stultifies the ability to imagine and thus to work defiantly.

Boden, R. and Epstein, D. (2011) “A flat earth society? Imagining academic freedom”.The Sociological Review, 59:3

University resources, including staff, now constitute a means of knowledge production and, as such, universities have become committed to their efficient allocation and utilisation to maximise returns. The university, as Woolf (1977 [1929]) noted, is a physical space that is far from costless, driving universities to efficient usage. This has a number of consequences.

First, it is becoming increasingly difficult for academics to have a room of their own as universities, whether elite or not and in the UK and across the world, increasingly adopt open plan offices. Such architecture restricts the mental space of academics, limiting their capacity to work thoughtfully and in private, whilst subjecting them to factory-like surveillance regimes characterised by significant usage of internal glass walls.

Second, central timetabling units that allocate teachers to classes and classes to rooms remove a large measure of academics’ discretion in the ordering of their work and have little regard for their need for joined-up time in which to concentrate on their research. Massification has accentuated this by transforming teaching from craftwork that could often be undertaken in the personal domain of academics’ offices to industrial scale enterprises requiring significant centrally administered dedicated space.

Third, because space and time are enmeshed in the industrial organization of the academy, time is money and therefore a resource over which universities seek control. This leads to work intensification as managerialist workload allocation models increase the amount of time explicitly directed towards visible work (such as teaching and meetings). In a further twist, the inexorable lengthening of the teaching year means that previously sacrosanct times for research are ever diminishing. Consequently, academics increasingly do research in their ‘own time’ or stop doing research at all (Court and Kinman, 2008). Indeed, this is particularly the fate of many early career academics and of women, who tend to take on higher loads of teaching and administration at the expense of their research (Fletcher et al., 2007).

Fourth, because time is money, money is the currency that academics must use to buy research time. This involves obtaining research funding to buy their time out of teaching or even to cover the research they do as part of their contracts. Thus academics increasingly only get time to do work that contractors are willing to pay for directly. Because government increasingly values only work deemed ‘economically useful’ or providing ‘policy-based evidence’ (sic, Boden and Epstein, 2006: 226), academics are driven from ‘blue skies’, theoretically driven enquiry, or that which challenges received wisdoms.

Fifth, academics need facilities and equipment to do their research – everything from computers and libraries to laboratories and telescopes. Organizational or governmental control over access to these inevitably constrained resources can be problematic for freedom, with those disciplines requiring extremely expensive equipment being particularly vulnerable. For instance, in 2006 the UK government created the Science and Technology Facilities Council to control access to major national and international research facilities in particle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics. Access to these facilities is now largely determined by a range of performance indicators which may address the state’s objectives for science rather than what scientists might feel is valuable (Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills, 2008).

Boden, R. and Epstein, D. (2011) “A flat earth society? Imagining academic freedom”.The Sociological Review, 59:3

Historically, in the West, they have been associated with the academy. Universities have a tradition of privileging certain categories of people by providing them with the place and space in which they could develop the intra- and inter-psychic freedom to exercise defiant imagination, either collectively or in isolation. This is academic freedom. Having this freedom does not, of course, mean that it will be exercised.

Academic freedom, however, has increasingly become a zombie category (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002). We note an important double transition in universities in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Historically the privilege of academic freedom was accorded primarily to a very restricted range of individuals – chiefly white, middle-class men. An accelerating process of change meant that by the end of the twentieth century the demographic profile of academics was more socially representative. But, the transformative potential of such an apparent extension of freedoms to hitherto excluded groups is, we argue in this paper, now threatened by the transformation of the overwhelming majority of universities into highly managed and controlled spaces that produce docile bodies with compliant imaginations. These threats are not blunt in the Galilean sense, but rather a nuanced governing of our souls (Rose, 1999) that limits and inhibits the imagination to such an extent that it is difficult to create socially and economically transformational knowledge.

This transformation necessitates the drawing of a careful distinction between organizational autonomy and individual academic freedom because universities have been translated from collegial collectivities, supporting intra- and inter-psychic freedom for community members, to managed power hierarchies that govern (a broader spectrum of) individuals through techniques of accounting, audit and surveillance (Boden and Epstein, 2006; Evans, 2004; Strathern, 2000).

This distinction is important because, as we argue below, universities are now direct agents of the state and of capital. In collegial systems academics could choose whether or not to align themselves with the status quo. In contrast, neoliberal governance modes endeavour to enforce the service of research and researchers to the needs of capital and the state, creating tensions between traditions of the freedom of academics and the requirements of new corporatized organizational hierarchies. A possible consequence of a failure to resolve these tensions is that academics become servants of universities rather than mistresses and masters of their own intellects, compromising their capacity to be defiant.

Boden, R. and Epstein, D. (2011) “A flat earth society? Imagining academic freedom”. The Sociological Review, 59:3, pp.478-479