16 August 2020

Bureaucratisation and boredom

'The Corporatisation of Education: Bureaucracy, Boredom, and Transformative Possibilities' by Millicent Churcher and Debra Talbot in (2020) 100-101 new formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics 28-42 comments 

 In school and tertiary education sectors, the rise of accountability regimes parallels the growth in bureaucracy and marketisation of knowledge work. Increasing student numbers have not been matched by an increase in teaching staff, whilst new administrative positions in accounting, marketing, and legal services have ballooned. In this paper we are concerned to examine the impact of these institutional changes on the lived experiences of education professionals. In this context we are particularly interested in the potential rise of boredom among staff, and how boredom may work alongside other affects to generate both compliance and resistance to hyper-bureaucratic trends. Empirical studies on the intensification of ‘administrivia’ and ‘busy work’ in educational settings reveal among staff a perceived loss of intellectual integrity, longer work hours and impaired productivity, as well as diminished opportunities for interpersonal engagement. The collective feelings of anger, resentment, anxiety, and frustration that have accompanied these conditions have real potential to bottom out in feelings of disengagement and boredom among educators. Noting boredom’s role in sustaining hyper-bureaucratic structures within the education sector, we critically examine whether and to what extent it might also form part of shifting affective dynamics that can drive resistance to the proliferation of these structures.

Nekpen Euodia Okhawere's 'Colonisation of academic: a critical examination of academics' response to neoliberal practices in universities' (PhD dissertation, University of Newcastle) states 

The advancement of neoliberalism across the world, particularly in social institutions, brings value conflicts manifested in changes to professional practice and control of work. These conflicts are especially stark in universities where traditional values of academic freedom and collegiately are subsumed by institutional financial and reputational imperatives requiring greater centralised control of academics and their work. Although, much has been written about these conflicts and the disquiet they bring to academics, the question of why academics seemingly comply with neoliberal policies and practices remains a mystery. Studies on academic resistance to neoliberalist practices tend to conclude resistance is more individual, ideological and symbolic than collective and actual. Most academics grudgingly conform to the dictates of neoliberalism knowing it is not in their own interests nor the interests of academe generally. They justify compliance on the grounds of simply ‘playing the game’, however, this begs the question of when does the game become the reality. The aim of this thesis is to understand which university practices most affect academics, how these practices are experienced by academics, the tensions they create for academics, and how academics respond to these tensions. The research is based on a critical narrative analysis of 37 interview transcripts from academics across disciplines and employment levels in a single university. The analysis is underpinned by the Theory of Advanced Liberal Governance to explore the governance mechanisms through which academics experience and respond to neoliberal changes. The four governance mechanisms most affecting academics are decision-making; resource allocation; work allocation and work assessment. Although, most academics report negative experiences of these mechanisms, a small group welcome the change away from traditional university governance. The three main tensions arising from academics’ experience of these mechanisms are tensions between: academics as economic or social contributors; knowledge as a public good or a commodity and performance management or academic freedom. A collective narrative approach is employed to demonstrate four responses to the tensions through four fictional academic narratives. The responses are classified as: the Believer; Survivor; Victim and Resistor. In common with related studies, the Believer and the Resistor are the minorities. Unlike previous research, this research looks further into why the Survivor and Victim represent most academics and finds the omnipresence of governance processes supplemented by technology make it difficult to escape and thus resist. Additionally, the pressures on academics to perform and to a lesser extent fear, allow little time for academics to reflect on what is happening around them and/or being able to react so it becomes easier to comply in the short term. The research brings us back to the big questions around the future of academics and their universities; will we eventually be the Believer or Victim, or remain in a state of survival? Given the power of neoliberal governance practices, the future for resistance is not optimistic. The research is not without its limitations, including being a qualitative study in a single university, however, it does point to important areas for further investigation. One potentially intriguing question for further research relates to the Believer and what it is that allows the believer to embrace and prosper under neoliberal practices. Overall, the thesis contributes to further understanding the effects of neoliberalism on social institutions and their employees generally and universities specifically.