Beyond the consolations of professionalism: resisting alienation at the neoliberal university




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Peer reviewed



The British university system is in a deep crisis, born of a two-pronged assault. The crisis is born firstly from decades of neoliberal marketisation and the rise of a remote and authoritarian executive elite presiding over a downwardly mobile and culturally deprivileged academic profession. We call this process neoliberal managerialism. It is born secondly from the ideological and political assault on universities, currently led by the Tories, reflecting the resurgence of anti-intellectualism since the millennium. The paper argues that although these currents embody ostensibly conflicting values, they combine and reinforce each other. We illustrate this argument by discussing lacunae in the decolonisation of British universities, notably the colonial ideologies and practices inscribed in neoliberal university governance and management. The final section reflects on how to resist and overcome the crises engulfing UK higher education. Framed by reflections on the positionalities of the authors, it argues that no consolations can be found in old-style academic professionalism, which historically was no less regressive than neoliberal managerialism and often complicit in its rollout. We conclude that academics could instead embrace the ineluctable dynamics of de-professionalisation and work towards an authentic and solidaristic public intellectuality.


Free access article


University, neoliberal, managerialism, anti-intellectualism, decolonisation, professional


Davies J S and Standring A (2023) Beyond the consolations of professionalism: resisting alienation at the neoliberal university. Soundings 84-5, pp. 27-42


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Research Institute

Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA)