Compromising positions: relations of power and freedom in the Australian university.

Andrews, S 2007, Compromising positions: relations of power and freedom in the Australian university., Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global Studies, Social Science and Planning, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Compromising positions: relations of power and freedom in the Australian university.
Author(s) Andrews, S
Year 2007
Abstract The Australian higher education landscape has changed markedly over the past twenty years with the emergence of the so-called ‘enterprise university’. Within this model, achieving ‘competitive advantage’ has become the primary goal of the university. In effect, the emergence of the so-called enterprise university has narrowed the definition of utility and reconstructed the normative regulatory frameworks at work in Australian higher education institutions.

Although, these changes have impacted significantly on the working lives of Australian academics, research into academic freedom is relatively scarce. More concerning, much of the literature on the changing conditions of academic work is founded on very narrow definitions of freedom and power. In this thesis I use the work of Michel Foucault to elucidate the limitations embedded in conventional approaches to ‘academic freedom’ and the conceptions of power that underpin them. I contend that the conventional approach to academic freedom does not capture all the ways in which the activities of academics are shaped by regimes of power. Relying on more expansive definitions of both power and freedom, I explore the perceptions and lived experiences of academics working in Schools of Social Work or academic units that teach social/community studies.

The findings of this research suggest that academic activity is increasingly being hedged in by market demands, party-political agendas and institutional priorities. Increasingly, the value of academic activity is judged according to its attractiveness to ‘cashed-up’ stakeholders. In this regard a consumerist ethic displaces a broader public ethic in the delivery of courses and the formulation of research. In effect, commercial and competitive concerns underpin both the national policy framework in which universities operate and the value judgements made in relation to academic disciplines, academic work and individual performance. These concerns also underpin academic decision-making in terms of how they spend their time and where they direct their efforts. All of the universities examined in this study can be said to encourage and reward a thorough-going careerism. Although the intensity of this discourse varies between universities, as does the degree to which academics embrace an entrepreneurial identity, it is quite clear that academics are unlikely to achieve promotion on the basis of their political engagements, community service or teaching prowess.

Rather than institutionalizing freedom, universities are fostering conformism. Economic instrumentalism in scholarly activity is engendering a form of pragmatic closure that is stripping the university of its’ potential to challenge and confront social relations and knowledge production practices that disenfranchise people and/or reproduce disadvantage and oppression. This situation is exacerbated by the academic professions’ lack of solidarity and by a style of academic professionalism that 1) is self interested and 2) creates numerous alibis for passivity and inaction in the face of institutional practices and social arrangements that reproduce exclusion, inequality and injustice. Most of the resistance that academics engage in is limited in so far as its acts to ameliorate the worst excesses of the current arrangements rather than challenging the dominant logic and norms that underpin them
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global Studies, Social Science and Planning
Keyword(s) Academic freedom
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Created: Tue, 27 Sep 2016, 12:11:24 EST by Denise Paciocco
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