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Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities: Teaching and learning anthropology in an insecure environment



This article is based on our own experiences and that of several of our colleagues teaching social and cultural anthropology in different Dutch institutions for higher learning. We focus in particular on teaching and learning in two small liberal arts and science (LAS) colleges, where anthropology makes up part of the social science curriculum and/or is part of the core curriculum. The data collected from our own critical reflections developed during informal discussion and from formal interviews with colleagues, together with literature on recent changes in academia, leads us to argue that neoliberal individualism, shaped by management tactics that constantly measure individual performance and output, is making academia an increasingly insecure place in which to work and study. The consequences of this insecurity include increasing mental health problems among both students and staff, intensifying competition at the expense of collegiality and collaboration and an overall decrease in the quality of academic jobs and teaching. Although the discipline of anthropology can help us better understand our own conditions, the personalisation of problems and the focus on success obscure the anthropological lens, which looks at social and cultural structures of power and depends on critical reflexivity.
Learning and Teaching Volume 7, Issue 3, Winter 2014: 46-72 © Berghahn Journals
doi: 10.3167/latiss.2014.070303 ISSN 1755-2273 (Print), ISSN 1755-2281 (Online)
Neoliberal individualism in
Dutch universities
Teaching and learning anthropology in an
insecure environment
This article is based on our own experiences and that of several of
our colleagues teaching social and cultural anthropology in differ-
ent Dutch institutions for higher learning. We focus in particular on
teaching and learning in two small liberal arts and science (LAS) col-
leges, where anthropology makes up part of the social science cur-
riculum and/or is part of the core curriculum. The data collected from
our own critical refl ections developed during informal discussion and
from formal interviews with colleagues, together with literature on
recent changes in academia, leads us to argue that neoliberal indi-
vidualism, shaped by management tactics that constantly measure
individual performance and output, is making academia an increas-
ingly insecure place in which to work and study. The consequences
of this insecurity include increasing mental health problems among
both students and staff, intensifying competition at the expense of
collegiality and collaboration and an overall decrease in the quality of
academic jobs and teaching. Although the discipline of anthropology
can help us better understand our own conditions, the personalisa-
tion of problems and the focus on success obscure the anthropologi-
cal lens, which looks at social and cultural structures of power and
depends on critical refl exivity.
anthropology, Dutch higher education, individualism, liberal arts and
science, neoliberalism, student evaluations, teaching
The test of the mature ethnologist is the extent to which he can extend the
axioms of his professional creed to cover cases in which he is emotionally
involved. The pitfalls are innumerable, and hardly anyone will succeed
47 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
in avoiding all of them. But the ethnologist worthy of his salt will make a
determined effort to rise above the partisan level, to project himself into
the mind of others even if they are his fellow-citizensand to view his
own culture from within (Lowie 1960: 159).
In this article, we argue that new forms of neoliberal management, with
a focus on individual performativity and output (Waring 2013), have in-
creased individualisation in academia; academics and students are held per-
sonally responsible for their individual successes and failures and they must
constantly choose between seemingly confl icting interests such as personal
performances versus collegiality and research versus teaching. The entrepre-
neurial ethos of a neoliberal age, which values individual freedom to make
choices that shape one’s own destiny above all else, leads many to focus
on their personal ambitions at the expense of professional solidarity and
of ‘commitment, judgement, and authenticity within practice’ (Ball 2003:
219, 221). The neglect of social and individual security in such deliberations
means that:
Whenever one has success, the range of options and the scope of personal
freedom feel fantastic, but the moment one hits the wall, freedom is rein-
terpreted as insecurity and the choices as a kind of coercive compulsion.
The entrepreneur becomes an anomaly the moment he fails to succeed
(Eriksen 2010: 13).
Neoliberal freedom and marketisation in academia make it an insecure
place for many. Although there is little hard data on the impact of these
changes on university students and staff, one study in the United Kingdom
conducted among 14,000 university employees suggests that perceived
stress is higher and reported well-being lower for academics than for those
working in other sectors (Kinman and Wray 2013: 3). While students’ men-
tal health issues seem to be gaining attention within a system that has in-
creasingly conceptualised them as customers, staff problems are, as one
colleague put it, ‘the elephant in the room’. Moreover, many teachers are
only allocated short-term contracts that do not cover the number of hours
required to teach their courses. The acceptance of such conditions may stem
from the internalised ideal that academics should be happy with what they
Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk
/ 48
have, because they are ‘doing what they love’ (Shaw and Ward 2014). This
ideal, along with the overwork it may stimulate, and a lack of membership
in institutionalised labour collectives, means that the rights and health of
many academics are neither respected by management nor by academics
themselves. Although there is resistance, the precarious position of many
academics makes them hesitant to make demands, or, in the words of one
non-tenured colleague: ‘I don’t want to talk too much shit because I need
my contract to be renewed.
Anthropology has much to contribute to our understandings of our own
condition within the neoliberal university and the broader world outside the
ivory tower. At the same time, however, the nature of this new academic set-
ting undermines the discipline’s potential and the wellbeing of both teachers
and students. Together with anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen, we
believe that one of the basic values of anthropology is humanism: the idea
that human life, in all its diversity, has value.
In a state of extreme indi-
vidualism ‘successful’ human life is granted greater value. In the academic
context, success is primarily marked by publications for professionals and
grades for students. The competitive struggle for these markers of success
means that one must argue ‘the rightness’ of one’s ideas (Schulz 2010). This
obsession with being successful and therefore with ‘being right’ inhibits the
anthropological power of refl exivity inherent in its interpretive epistemol-
ogy. Moreover, an individual frame of reference along with post-modernist
nihilism obscures the existence of cultural and social power structures infl u-
encing our own condition.
This article was conceived during the teaching of a mandatory course on
‘Identity and Diversity’ at a liberal arts college (LAS) in the Netherlands.
This experience stimulated us to refl ect critically on the kinds of changes
that are taking place in contemporary universities, and on how they impact
the environment in which we teach and learn. While we were very enthusi-
astic about the course, we were taken aback by the types of critique that we
received from the majority of students; many seemed unwilling or unable to
refl ect on their own identities, to consider the value of qualitative data, or
to move beyond grade-based incentives for learning. This attitude seemed to
stem from the expectation and organisation of the liberal arts education in
the institution at large. This encounter also made us aware of how changes
in the ideological foundations of higher education have a profound impact
on what we do and who we are as students and teachers of anthropology
(Ball 2003: 215). Hence the article is a refl exive piece on being engaged
49 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
as professional academics in the context of a neoliberal Dutch university
system. It draws on the anthropological method of critical refl exivity. The
personal contemplations that we have used to illustrate our argument were
developed during informal conversations between ourselves and with other
colleagues, and refer to teaching and other work-related experiences span-
ning the last fi ve years in four different institutions for higher learning in
the Netherlands. These institutions include two university departments of
anthropology and two liberal arts and science colleges, in which anthropol-
ogy is taught as part of social sciences, or as part of the core curriculum.
Over the past fi ve years, we have taught over a thousand students in various
settings. In order to provide a comparative framework for our own experi-
ences, we have also interviewed fi ve colleagues who have been involved
in the course that inspired this article. This article also includes refl ection
on comments from anonymous student evaluations. In order to protect our
own positions and to safeguard the position of our students and colleagues,
we refl ect on our own experiences in a depersonalised way and make use of
pseudonyms when referring to others.
We will begin this article by situating our refl ections theoretically and
sketching the institutional context in which we work. Next, we will discuss
the rise of liberal arts and science (LAS) colleges in the Netherlands as both
a reaction to processes of massifi cation in general universities, but also as
the embodiment of other dimensions of the neoliberal university. Next, we
discuss the devaluation of teaching that we believe is part and parcel of the
neoliberal environment in universities. We will focus on the role and status
of teaching within this environment, but also critically investigate our own
contribution to it. In the last section of the article we will discuss our experi-
ences with teaching students, who are increasingly pushed to be ‘excellent’
individual performers and gain good grades to produce successful futures,
while at the same time being framed as customers who must be satisfi ed by
teachers. We will discuss the power of evaluation, and by taking our experi-
ences from teaching in LAS colleges, we will show that the resulting insecu-
rities and commodifi cation of knowledge undermine the great potential of
anthropology as a liberal discipline.
Neoliberalism: theoretical and institutional context
Defi ning neoliberalism
Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk
/ 50
Transformations in our work environment are part of a neoliberal turn,
marked by the use of interrelated policy technologies: marketisation, per-
formativity and managerialism (Ball 2003: 215). Neoliberal ideology holds
that socio-economic development can only be optimised through market
forces, operating according to immutable laws free from government inter-
vention and the actions of social collectives (Peck, Theodore and Brenner
2009: 50). As the term suggests, neoliberalism prescribes freedom. A free-
dom, however, that comes in a form of entrepreneurial performance, which
paradoxically, requires a great deal of control (auditing) by managers. Both
individual and institutional success is measured by an ‘audit culture’ within
which performance can be made ‘auditable’ in terms of quantitative output
(for example, Strathern 2000; Shore 2008, 2010). It goes without saying that
local manifestations of the global phenomenon of neoliberalism are not the
same everywhere; it is impossible to speak of a ‘coherently bounded “ism”,
system or end state’ (Peck, Theodore and Brenner 2009: 50). The concept of
neoliberalism as we use it here therefore refers to an ‘uneven, contradictory
and on-going process’ (Peck, Theodore and Brenner 2009: 50).
Dutch universities
In the Netherlands, there are thirteen universities, all of which are govern-
ment funded. ‘The main aims of the universities are the provision of teach-
ing, research and community services’ (De Boer, Enders and Leisyte 2007:
28). However, contemporary Dutch Universities are also understood to be
‘corporate actors’ (De Boer, Enders and Leisyte 2007) or ‘knowledge com-
panies’. They must not only aim to spread knowledge but also to make
profi t (Verhaeghe 2011). This new role of universities as economic actors was
solidifi ed and elucidated by the 1999 Bologna Accords in which European
ministers of education agreed to form a standardised European system for
higher education. The Accords were justifi ed as a means to create a strong
competitive position for European universities and a standard measure on
which to judge ‘quality’ (Lorenz 2008: 44).
The second half of the twentieth century was marked by an increasing
scale of Dutch universities because higher education became attainable for
women and working-class students (De Jong 2012: 32). However, by the
1980s, the government began to cut funding while student numbers contin-
ued to rise. In the period from 1980–1995, government funding per student
was halved (De Jong 2012: 32). Corporate funding could not compensate for
51 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
the reduction in government funding. Increased demand and pressure to be
profi table have led Dutch universities to do more teaching with less money.
Most universities have responded to these changes by increasing class sizes
without increasing the number of hours allocated to teachers. This, along
with the pressure on academic staff to prioritise research and publication
over teaching, has created a situation in which the quality of education suf-
fers and academic staff are overworked (De Jong 2012: 32).
In Dutch universities, like in many other universities around the world,
teachers and researchers fi nd themselves in increasingly precarious situa-
tions. Research in the United Kingdom found that academics and teachers
were more likely than any other occupational group to do unpaid overtime
(Gill 2009: 235). These eager workerssuch as PhD students or new post-
docsare ‘charged with delivering mass undergraduate programs, with
little training, inadequate support and rates of pay that when preparation
and marking are taken into account – frequently fall (de facto) below the
minimum wage’ (Gill 2009: 232–3). In the Netherlands, similar practices
have contributed to a de-professionalisation of academic teaching and in-
creasing work stress for the young academics who must accept short-term
contracts without long-term prospects. For teachers and researchers who
hold a tenured position, precarity takes a different form; increasing output
demands (article publications, acquisition of research funds) cause feelings
of insecurity and anxiety in a context of an increasingly heavy teaching load.
For those who teach in small departments, output funding (based on the
number of student diplomas awarded), budget cuts, the standardisation of
education, mergers of departments and the recent government demand on
universities to profi le themselves vis-à-vis other Dutch universities, lead to a
fear of losing their departments, study programmes and, possibly, their jobs.
While teachers and researchers struggle in precarious working conditions,
the business of running the university moves full steam ahead. In some
cases, entrepreneurial aspirations of managers are achieved at the expense
of the traditional functions of academic institutions. In 2000, for example,
top managers at a Dutch university approved of a plan for the fusion of the
medical faculty and the university hospital. The plan did not include any
mention of either research or teaching responsibilities. The Dutch historian
Chris Lorenz argued that this mistake is symptomatic of the entrepreneurial
ambitions of the neoliberal university.
The education reforms responsible
for ‘mistakes’ such as this one are not unique to the Netherlands but part of
a global ‘policy epidemic’ (Ball 2003: 215).
Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk
/ 52
Several studies (for example, Ball 2003; Wright and Williams Ørberg 2008;
Shore 2008, 2010) have demonstrated how recent reforms in various so-called
developed countries have had a profound impact on academics. Academic
life is increasingly being reduced to economics; both policy and individual
action are judged according to their profi tability and ‘rationality’ (Lentin and
Titley 2011: 163). Teachers and researchers now fi nd themselves ‘re-worked
as producers/providers’ (Ball 2003: 218) and are ‘routinely judged not only
on their academic credentials and skills but on their customer service skills
and ability to satisfy the student consumer’ (Waring 2013: 2). The underly-
ing notion is that the university must function as a market actor and that
individual academic entrepreneurism must be managed by seemingly objec-
tive and hyper-rational performance indicators (Ball 2003: 217). In this way,
academic knowledge becomes an externalised and de-socialised commodity
(Lyotard 1984: 4, cited in Ball 2003: 226).
The rise of liberal arts education in the Netherlands
Liberal arts and science (LAS) colleges or University Colleges, as they are
generally called in the Netherlands, were established as a reaction to the
‘massifi cation’ in education and the pre-eminence of research over educa-
tion (De Jong 2012: 31). Dutch University Colleges, of which there are now
several, are government funded and seen as a faculty or department within
the mainstream universities.
Although their small size tends to limit some
aspects of managerialism, such as bureaucratisation, they are nevertheless
susceptible to university-wide trends marked by the dominance of market
thinking. As selective elite teaching colleges, their establishment, prolifera-
tion and respective cultures are typically characterised by a focus on so-
called ‘academic excellence’.
Programmes offered at these colleges differ from mainstream university
undergraduate programmes in fi ve important ways. First, LAS students can
be selected on the basis of an application and interview. This allows univer-
sity management to choose students with an impressive track record and to
control the balance of the student population (in terms of gender, national
and ethnic background, and academic discipline). With the exception of a
limited number of courses such as medicine, general universities have to
accept all applicants who have completed the highest level of secondary
education. Furthermore, since 2011, LAS colleges along with other forms
of intensive small-scale education may charge a tuition fee up to fi ve times
53 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
higher than in a regular university (NVAO 2011). Hence, with the exception
of those students who have a scholarship, many students tend to come from
relatively affl uent families. Several of the LAS programmes require students
to live together in college dorms, also adding to their costs of living, com-
pared to, for instance, costs for students who continue to live with their
Second, in contrast to students from general universities, university col-
lege students are said to be highly motivated to perform to the best of their
capacity (the ‘A+ culture’). Their motivation is encouraged through a sys-
tem of continuous feedback and the monitoring of individual performances.
The image of motivation and exceptional intelligence seems to be stimulated
by the process of selection. While many students are clever and motivated,
this image can also fuel a culture of student expectation of high grades and
grade infl ation.
Third, all the colleges are characterised by a small classroom size (25–28
students maximum), facilitating personal attention from teachers. Fourth,
university colleges offer multidisciplinary programmes in English, while
many university bachelor programmes in the Netherlands continue to be
focused on one fi eld of study and are primarily taught in Dutch. The value
of interdisciplinary education is understood by some to create well-rounded,
creative thinkers who can be at the service of a neoliberal fl exible labour
market that requires workers to reinvent themselves as the demands of the
market require.
Fifth, the fi rst priority of most academic staff in the colleges is student
related (teaching and tutoring) although career growth remains largely con-
tingent on research (for which most staff are allowed little or no paid time).
Similar to the mainstream universities, most early-career positions provide
only precarious short-term contracts.
The different colleges have various interpretations of LAS. However, all
seem to hold (or at least pay lip service to) the idea that the goal of liberal
education is to produce free thinking individuals who are both critical and
refl ective about themselves and the societies in which they live (Nussbaum
2006: 267). Unfortunately, this ideal does not mesh well with the current
neoliberal zeitgeist that ‘values only an individualist, economic rationality
and not only rejects contestation, but denies the validity of the normative
basis of such contestations’ (Lentin and Titley 2011: 162). Thus, many of the
colleges market themselves as institutions of ‘excellence’ that place students
on the path to (economic/social) ‘success’. A poster in one of the colleges
Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk
/ 54
claims that ‘our students will be the CEOs of the future’; liberal arts has
become synonymous with being successful and thus does not always attract
students who are interested in liberal education per se, but also students
who are drawn to the idea of ‘excellence’ with which the institutions market
themselves. This kind of prescription about what is successful is symptom-
atic of neoliberalism, a form of ‘comprehensive liberalism’ that seeks to
dictate how people should live their lives. Liberal education however – in
the classical sense – should avoid such doctrines in the interest of respecting
plurality (Nussbaum 2006: 303).
Teaching: academic work in the neoliberal university
The devaluation of teaching (anthropology)
He felt himself at last beginning to be a teacher, which was simply a man
to whom his book is true, to whom is given a dignity of art that has little
to do with his foolishness or weakness or inadequacy as a man (Williams
2012 [1965]: 113).
One of the most popular books in the Netherlands last year was a reprint
of the novel Stoner by John Williams, fi rst published in 1965 (Oomen 2013:
16). In its essence, it is about the unspectacular life of a man, who, despite
countless professional and personal disappointments, found meaning and
joy as a college professor. It seems that the Dutch are charmed by the person
of a college professor, yet in Dutch universities today to focus on teaching is
synonymous with career suicide (Oomen 2013: 16).
When I started working at the university as Assistant Professor, I took my
task as teacher very seriously. I still feel committed to my role as teacher,
but have to admit that something has changed. At one point my boss told
me to ‘work on my research profi le’ because it would be good for my aca-
demic career. Under pressure of output criteria, competition, perfectionism
and ambition, and with my boss’s advice in the back of my head, teach-
ing has slowly transformed from a core duty into one of the many tasks I
perform. I would not mind taking a break from research and writing for a
while, but I know it will harm my academic reputation, position and career
perspectives (personal refl ection of an academic with tenure, female).
55 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
While academic careers are primarily contingent upon individual research
and research-related performances, the overall income of Dutch colleges and
universities is primarily based on the number of bachelor and master diplo-
mas issued. Nevertheless, the increasing pressure and the ‘hyperinfl ation of
demands of academics’ (Gill 2009) often makes teaching the task we do ‘on
the side’.
Why has teaching become such a low priority both institutionally and
personally? We believe this is another outcome of the prevailing idea that
output matters more than input in the university today. Within the neo-
liberal university system, the number of articles published is more impor-
tant for academic careers than the quality of the teaching; we try to escape
teaching because we need time to do research and to generate output (Cole-
man 2011). As such, teaching is devalued by both institutions and teachers
themselves; teaching becomes a de-professionalised task and knowledge a
depersonalised commodity (Ball 2003: 226).
One of the colleagues we in-
terviewed mentioned a conversation with one of her managers in which she
was told that the manager would have preferred to have ‘workplace sensitiv-
ity’ trainers from the corporate world to give the class that our colleague was
teaching. The manager lamented that she had had to settle on the ‘cheap
labour’ of beginning career academics because the high-fl ying consultants
she had wished to hire were too expensive. Our colleague reported losing all
motivation to improve or change her course after hearing that her own boss
devalued her teaching to such an extent that she would rather outsource the
knowledge she already had in-house.
The sociologist Robert van Krieken observes the emergence of three broad
categories amongst the academic staff: (1) ‘elite’ or ‘celebrity’ researchers,
with little or no teaching or administrative responsibilities; (2) ‘middle class’
teaching-and-research staff who have increasing problems meeting the stan-
dards of research set by the elite; and (3) ‘proletariat’ temporary teachers
and researchers (Van Krieken 2012: 1).
As part of the ‘proletariat’ category, I asked one of my bosses for advice on
improving my career. He pointed to a colleague who published widely and
often went on lecture tours abroad during the summers as an example to
follow. The ‘middle-class’ colleague in question often seems to be under
considerable stress and has little grip on how to deal with his adminis-
trative duties. My boss made no mention of competent and emotionally
balanced colleagues, who had given up research by choice or necessity,
Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk
/ 56
yet nevertheless seemed to be the backbone of the organisation (personal
refl ection of a university teacher with tenure, female).
Institutional respect and reward in terms of career perspectives seem to
be reserved for researchers, and we, academic professionals ourselves, have
of course internalised this to a certain extent.
I was selected, despite steep competition, for a teaching appointment in
a well-known anthropology department, but I felt like a ‘loser’ until I got
actual research time. The teaching appointment was a tenure track, but the
research is for fi ve years. Should I risk losing my chance at a permanent
contract? But what about my academic career? And I also want to combine
teaching with research (personal refl ection of a university teacher, non-
tenured, female).
Tenure-track teaching positions such as those available at LAS colleges
and increasingly found in other university departments were developed to
improve the quality of education in universities. Although students may
benefi t from this idea, it is doubtful whether the quality of teaching in the
university more generally does. As academic care work, teaching-only po-
sitions offer limited career prospects and teaching alone rarely opens the
doors to the upper echelons of the university. This is particularly alarming
because many teaching-only positions are held by women; gender equity
and the valuing of care work are very closely intertwined (Daly 2002: 263).
One of the colleagues we interviewed was told by her manager that ‘we [the
LAS management] don’t want you here till you are 65’, emphasising the
expectation that teachers will leave after some time in order to hire younger
and cheaper staff members.
In the Netherlands, only 15% of university professors are women, while
44% of successful PhD candidates in 2010/11 were women (Merens, Hart-
gers and Van den Brakel 2012: 132). One explanation of why so many quali-
ed women never become professors is the prevalence of part-time jobs
for women. Part-time work is often framed as a choice for women seeking
a balance between paid work and domestic responsibilities, but its institu-
tionalisation means that many university positions, especially in teaching,
are only available part-time (Portegijs et al. 2008: 9). If a woman has young
children, the high costs of childcare, coupled with cultural norms emphasis-
ing the role of a mother at home, can also be detrimental to an (academic)
career (Portegijs et al. 2008: 128). Although in the Netherlands the situation
57 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
faced by women academics is particularly dire, it seems that the position of
women, and particularly those with children, is also weak in other coun-
tries like the U.S. Research at Berkeley University has shown that ‘[a]mong
tenured professors, only 44 per cent of women are married with children,
compared with 77 per cent of men’ (Mason 2011). Through the language
of individual achievement, neoliberalism hides gender and other forms of
inequality. Thus, the overrepresentation of women in the lower ranks of
academic staff (or their underrepresentation in the highest echelons) can be
easily attributed to talent, motivation and choice while structural constraints
are ignored.
Being anthropology teachers does not make this situation easier. Forbes
magazine has ranked anthropology together with archaeology as one of the
‘worst’ college majors on the basis of unemployment and starting salary
rates of recent college graduates in the United States (Goudreau 2012). The
pervasive message is that the value of a college degree can only be measured
in earning potential, and the value of a department can be calculated solely
in terms of profi tability. This may signal to some the demise of our disci-
pline, but it can also offer a new opportunity. For example, through com-
parison, ethnographic knowledge gives voice to a sense of the contingency
and existential arbitrariness of Western lives and preoccupations and can
provide alternative scenarios (Gay y Blasco and Wardle 2007: 192). Never-
theless, reactions against the neoliberal turn in the university even within
anthropology are often labelled as conservative, reactive and unrealistic. The
‘realist discourse’ of neoliberalism claims that times are changing and that
we need to respond to those changes. As academic staff, it seems we are
almost forced to retreat into individualism; we need to compete with our
colleagues for research funds and try to minimalise our teaching time in
order to produce more publications, often at the cost of others, and even of
our own passion.
Refl ection and resistance
The increasing workloads and lower quality jobs cause one to wonder why
there is so little resistance. The answer might, fi rst of all, lie in the fact
that academics are ideal neoliberal subjects themselves. Neoliberal forms of
management require individuals characterised by ‘loyalty, belonging and ac-
ceptance compensated by the rewards of self-interest and marked by promo-
tion of effi ciency in the service of the inevitable’ (Saul 2005: 13). If success is
Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk
/ 58
achievable through rational action and hard work, failure can be considered
an individual problem, resulting from choices made by free subjects (Dean
2010) or mere personal inadequacy. Combined with the idea that scholarship
is a ‘noble’ calling, it may also contribute to the tendency to overwork and
to the reluctance to demand monetary compensation for it (Gill 2009: 233).
Within this context, collegiality, collaboration and dialogue seem to play sec-
ond fi ddle to individual ambitions. Moreover, worries and discontent among
teaching staff are often framed as ‘privatized anxieties that are understood
to refl ect on the value and worth of the individual, rather than the values of
the institutions’ (Gill 2009). This makes it even harder to resist taking part
in the system.
The emphasis on individual performance, measured primarily in terms of
peer reviewed articles and the acquisition of research funding, also fosters
competition amongst colleagues and invites evasive behaviour. In a con-
tribution to a Norwegian daily newspaper, Thomas Hylland Eriksen distin-
guishes two types of colleagues in the contemporary universities. The fi rst
concentrates on his or her personal aspirations, successfully so, and stays
away from university business as much as he can.
Colleague B, on the other hand, is a sociable man, interested in what his
colleagues are up to; he enjoys discussing the latest journal articles with
colleagues, mentions relevant new books to doctoral students he happens
to meet in the corridor, responds indiscriminately to any email that comes
his way, encourages people and makes them feel signifi cant, and gener-
ously shares his ideas with anyone who cares to listen (Eriksen 2006b).
Combining the two, he states, is becoming increasingly diffi cult and fewer
people are ready or able to ‘give for free’. Eriksen warns against the demise
of the ‘academic gift economy’ and argues that any critique against contem-
porary academia is incomplete, ‘unless it takes into account the profound
disappointment experienced by many academics when they discover that
the present regime does not encourage immeasurable contributions to the
knowledge community (Eriksen 2006b).
Another explanation for the absence of protest is not related to increasing
pressure, but rather to the reluctance of anthropologists to step out of their
‘comfort zone’ (Dominguez 2013) and to refl ect on their own situation. This
results in a situation in which anthropologists, many of whom are personally
and professionally concerned with social inequality, and who approach peo-
59 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
ple as subjects who are co-responsible for creating their life worlds and not
just responsive to larger structures, do not resist their own situation. Former
president of the American Anthropological Association Virginia Dominguez
warns us not to sit back in this ‘comfort zone’ of knowing we are ‘pro-
gressive (or liberal or left-of-center)’ and ‘committed to equality and social
justice’ (2013: 395) while often ignoring injustices that are under our own
noses. Many anthropologists have failed to examine the plight of their peers
with the same concern. American anthropologist Sarah Kendzior refl ected
on this anomaly saying, ‘When I expressed doubt about the job market to a
colleague, she advised me, with total seriousness, to “re-evaluate what work
means and to consider ‘post-work imaginaries’”’ (Kendzior 2012).
This lack of refl ection within the anthropological community on its own
condition within neoliberal universities may, as James Carrier has argued,
be attributed to the close relationship between neoliberal theory and the
culturalist turn:
Economists were told that there is no economic system of the sort that
the Keynesians were used to; there is only a mass of individual economic
transactions and transactors. Anthropologists were told that there is no
society or culture; there is only what increasingly came to look like a mass
of individual human acts and actors (Carrier 2012: 125).
Limiting anthropology to a taxonomy of subjective experiences does not
allow the discipline to consider the broader causes and consequences of
social and cultural systems. Thus, as such anthropology is not in a posi-
tion to question the individualist logics of neoliberalism (Carrier 2012: 125).
Instead, it plays into the individualisation of ‘success’ or ‘failure’ without
questioning the subjective basis and structural discursive power of such la-
bels. Anthropology’s potential and viability are being stifl ed and anthropo-
logical resistance has been paralysed by its own dominant paradigms, which
draw on neoliberal logics.
Students as customers: evaluations
Neoliberal education is geared to produce graduates for a competitive global
economy while anthropology as a liberal science trains students to think criti-
cally and to empathise with social and cultural others. Time and again it has
been argued that neoliberal universities turn professionals into ‘purveyors of
commodities within a knowledge supermarket’ (Winter 1999: 190) and stu-
Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk
/ 60
dents into consumers, customers or clients. This approach of students as cus-
tomers has resulted in an ever-increasing emphasis on student evaluations. In
one such evaluation of a course that one colleague taught, a student literally
wrote that the classes were not intellectually inspiring and thus were ‘a waste
of his/her tuition money’. This can lead to an environment where already
underpaid and overworked teachers go beyond the call of duty to please their
student customers. One of the colleagues we interviewed said that it had be-
come standard practice in her institution for teachers to bring snacks to class
for the students. She went on to tell us about students’ complaints that she did
not answer her email or give feedback on essays during the weekends.
In some colleges and universities in which we have taught, the manage-
ment had a particularly strong, positivistic take on quality control. In one
college, fi gures and percentages shown in presentations during faculty meet-
ings conveyed a fervent conviction in the value of quantifi cation as a means
to safeguard quality. Even though students often felt they were not taken
seriously by the management (resulting in a near all-college strike that was
prevented at the very last moment), their course evaluations and panel dis-
cussions were still used as the prime instrument to assess teachers and their
courses. Some results of the course evaluations, such as ‘overall teacher
quality’ were circulated publicly as part of the College Quality Report. The
college management defended the circulation of individual teaching results
on the basis that their ambition was to ‘make all (teaching) results as trans-
parent as possible’ (personal correspondence).
In the Netherlands the importance of students’ opinions about their uni-
versity and disciplines becomes very clear through the National Student Sur-
vey, which is published in a Dutch conservative weekly. Students are asked
to fi ll out questionnaires about their bachelor and master programmes, and
although these students are in no position to compare their own education
with that at other universities, their evaluations result in powerful ranking
lists, which give direction to university management plans. Universities have
become increasingly worried about the results published in these rankings
and we know of at least one university where the improvement of their NSE
results has become one of the management’s offi cial targets.
Besides giving negative feedback about courses, it seems that students
often used the course evaluations to ventilate serious frustration, which re-
sulted in, at times, painful and unanimous teacher bashing. Apparently stu-
dents felt unable, unwilling or too insecure to discuss their criticism openly
with their teachers. Paradoxically, a top-down management style combined
61 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
with a strong belief in positivist methods of quality control and so-called
transparency has resulted in an insecure environment for both students and
Learning: excellence and diversity in an insecure environment
The emphasis on individual performance and excellence has not only trans-
formed the work conditions and self-refl ections of academic workers, it has
also impacted on the (self-) evaluations and ambitions of students. These
days, an increasing number of students ask us how they can get higher
grades in our classes. In the Netherlands, this is understood to be a positive
development. A culture of mediocrity (zesjescultuur) is being replaced by a
meritocracy based on grades. We, however, shudder every time students ask
us about how to get a certain grade, be it merely a pass or the highest pos-
sible. Grades and eventually diplomas seem to have become a goal in and of
themselves and not simply a refl ection of the learning done, just as academic
publications have become the primary objective of academic research and
not simply a means to communicate with other scholars. Sometimes we
feel like we have become alienated day labourers churning out grades and
Just as celebrity researchers with long publication lists, millions in grant
money and television appearances command respect, so do ‘top students’
with ‘good’ grades. As such, academia has become a ‘machine for the pro-
duction and distribution of attention … and it is attention that is very often
the resource at issue, not the scholarly value of what’s being produced’ (Van
Krieken 2012: 2).
After completing my grading one semester, I was contacted by a colleague
who suggested that a group of my students had submitted a fabricated
research report. Upon further inquiry I determined that the accusations
were true. When I confronted the students, they were very sorry they had
betrayed my trust and assured me it was ‘nothing personal’; they had ‘just
been worried about their grade’. Concern about a grade had triumphed
over ethics, their professional relationship with me, and the process of
learning itself (personal refl ection by tenured university teacher, female).
This emphasis on the importance of grades is particularly prevalent in
LAS colleges, which advertise themselves as ‘excellent’. Excellence, a new
buzzword in Dutch educational policy, highlights the exceptional nature of
Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk
/ 62
students. In an attempt to move away from the so-called culture of medioc-
rity, special programmes for talented students (honour’s programmes), and
university colleges put emphasis on the fact that they provide education
for top performers. Excellence is primarily defi ned in terms of high grades.
This may invite cheating, like the experience above demonstrates, and more
generally it can lead to a great deal of insecurity. Even very capable students
often express doubts about their own intelligence and ability.
In one class I was teaching, a student who had been waiting to follow this
class since she enrolled in the college said that she considered dropping
it because ‘everyone else was so much smarter than her’ and ‘she needed
good grades for her fi nal Grade Point Average’ (personal refl ection by uni-
versity teacher, non-tenured, female).
The pressure to perform seems to have the power to triumph over intel-
lectual interests and professional passions for both students and teachers. A
colleague refl ected on her institution’s practice of publishing the best Grade
Point Averages (GPAs), saying that some of her colleagues and the institu-
tion as a whole seem to believe that ‘everyone can excel’. She disputed this
idea of a level playing fi eld by mentioning a student who has to work sixteen
hours a week to pay her tuition; ‘not everyone can win the race, but that is
what the board of studies and management seem to think’. The neoliberal
ideal of free and responsible individuals creates a competitive environment
without regard for circumstantial or structural differences between students.
Teaching ‘Identity and Diversity’ at a LAS college
LAS colleges advertise themselves as ‘diverse’ in terms of both the disci-
plines offered and the international student and staff population.
education has the potential to create self-aware, self-governing students ca-
pable of recognising and respecting other people regardless of class, race,
gender or ethnic origin; as such students become fully human (Nussbaum
2003: 267). Social and cultural anthropology promises to be a liberal dis-
cipline par excellence; to study cultural and social anthropology is also to
enter into a conversation about what it is to be human. It is ‘about making
sense of other people’s worlds, translating their experiences and explaining
what they are up to, how their societies work and why they believe in what-
ever it is that they believe in – including their whispered doubts and shouted
heresies’ (Eriksen 2006a: ix).
63 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
Ethnographic knowledge is both provocative and liberating; it undercuts
‘common sense’ assumptions about human nature and, as a sympathetic
thought experiment, has the potential to emancipate us from mental habits
(Gay y Blasco and Wardle 2007: 195). This ‘great promise’ of anthropology
as a liberal discipline is being stifl ed by the comprehensive liberalism of the
neoliberal university in which individual training for ‘success’ in the mar-
ket economy triumphs over learning and the cultivation of critical refl ective
With our faith in the potential of anthropology we, together with several
other teachers, enthusiastically signed on to teach an intensive one month
mandatory course about identity and diversity issues for all fi rst-year stu-
dents at a LAS college. At the time we taught the course it included 100
students per intensive period. These students were then divided into four
groups of twenty-fi ve each with their own instructor. Together we taught ap-
proximately 300 students. According to one long-term teacher of the course,
college management has made the course compulsory for all students be-
cause: ‘We believe students should be responsible citizens with the capabil-
ity to be refl exive and challenge ideas’. Nevertheless, despite institutional
dedication to the course, students were generally very negative about having
to take it. One of our colleagues teaching the course explained this by saying
that many students come to LAS colleges with the idea that that they will
be free to choose the course they wish to take. The inability to choose goes
against the neoliberal logic which turns students into ‘customers’ expected
to make (free) choices just as they do in the rest of their lives in a consumer
society (Clarke and Newman 2005). Another colleague observed that the
students are often exhausted during the intensive course periods of January
and June, after they have just completed a full semester of course work;
one eighteen-year-old student we taught actually complained of ‘burn-out’.
This teacher also experienced students resisting ‘talking about identity’ by
saying ‘we just are diverse, isn’t that enough?’ A third colleague felt that the
qualitative nature of the course met strong resistance, as the ‘politics of sci-
ence’ in which quantitative methods are given more respect than qualitative
methods weighs heavily on the students’ evaluation of what they learn.
Technically speaking, the course was not purely ‘anthropological’ and
our students came from various academic backgrounds. However, in prac-
tice, much of the content and approach was inspired by anthropological
knowledge on diversity, refl exivity, knowledge production and qualitative
research methodology. Our goals went beyond teaching our students about
Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk
/ 64
identity and diversity; the general idea was to prepare them ‘for citizenship
in a complex world’ (Nussbaum 2003: 265). We formulated different capaci-
ties that we believed to be necessary: our students would need to become
acquainted with relevant theories and concepts that deal with identity and
diversity; they would need to develop a capacity for ‘critical examination of
oneself and one’s traditions’ (Nussbaum 2003: 269), and they would need
the ability to empathise with, and to learn from the so called ‘other’. This
capacity, which is referred to as ‘narrative imagination’ by Nussbaum, also
requires the understanding that:
we always bring ourselves and our own judgments to the encounter with
another, and when we identify with a character in a novel, or a distant
person whose life story we imagine, we inevitably will not merely iden-
tify, but also judge that story in the light of our own goals and aspirations
(Nussbaum 2003: 270).
At the outset, the course was divided into a theoretical component and
a methodological one. Due in part to students’ feedback after our fi rst ex-
periences, we reduced the theory and attempted to make the course more
experience-based. We paid more attention to the process of interaction, re-
ection, the relevance of context (the city, the college) and of doing qualita-
tive research. We also switched slowly but increasingly to an approach that
included fewer lectures and more ‘play’, allowing our students to ‘experi-
ence’ theory rather than to learn it from books. We designed ‘games’ (card
games, role games, etc.) that challenged them to refl ect on their own place in
the group/college/society, and to experience processes that occur on a large
scale in the ‘real world’. Although some students really seemed to enjoy the
qualitative research group projects that were included in the course, no mat-
ter how hard we tried, we continued to meet indifference, resistance and in
some cases (passive) aggression.
We believed we had prepared an interesting, challenging and fun course
but time and again, and no matter what changes we incorporated into our
curriculum, we faced a great amount of defi ance and critique from our stu-
dents, including very emotional reactions and feedback on evaluation forms,
which took us by surprise. We perceive the resistance from our students as
having different characteristics. The fi rst was related to a resistance to talk
about diversity. We intended to make the students aware of cultural differ-
ences between people around the world, and how (social) identities are
constructed vis-à-vis many ‘others’ around us and thus to challenge them
65 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
to think about their own position and way of looking at those others. Many
of our students referred to the fact that the student body consisted of young
people from different parts of the world, who had lived and travelled a lot,
and who therefore had already developed into ‘world citizens’ and ‘knew
all about identity’. They interpreted our approach as ‘condescending’ or ‘pa-
tronising’ as if they did not know how to deal with ‘otherness’. One student
for example wrote on his course evaluation form that:
Especially, the way how the identity teachers treat the students defi nitely
has to be improved because we are studying at a university, the vast major-
ity can be called ‘adult’ and it does not lead to a better atmosphere if adults
are treated like kindergarten children who have never thought about issues
concerning identity or diversity. Many … students come from very diverse
backgrounds, have been attending diverse schools and they have been in
contact with those ideas for a long time which does not make the course
useless for them, but the way it is taught at the moment cannot be called
a benefi t for the curriculum (student evaluation).
Although we tried to engage with the students and discuss their experiences
with diversity, we also encouraged them to be more refl exive than many
seemed comfortable with. Our challenges to their preconceptions were taken
to be patronising, although this was by no means our intention. For instance
some students conveyed a strong belief in ‘self made’ people and argued
that ‘if you work hard enough you can do whatever you want’, thus prin-
cipally believing in individual strength and the power of achievement. This
made it diffi cult to talk to them about power differences between groups of
people and different opportunities that come with different backgrounds. For
example one student, who, when discussing different opportunities for men
and women to take leave and/or care for children, stated that there was no
inequality. As proof she related that she had been a nanny for two university
professors who both worked fulltime. This student ignored our argument
that not everyone is as privileged as her former employers. The internalisa-
tion of neoliberal understandings of society seemed to have closed off some
students to many of the ideas we had hoped to discuss with them. Hence our
attempts carefully to deconstruct fi xed categories (such as gender, ethnicity,
nationalism) often instigated fi erce debates about the primacy of nature over
nurture, the emphasis on individual responsibility for success and a fi erce
defence of national identities.
Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk
/ 66
A second form of resistance we encountered was linked to dominant no-
tions of what ‘real science’ and ‘real knowledge’ were all about. Unlike our
expectations that our science students would be most critical, social science
students shared the same ideas. The positivist take on science and on how
research should be done seemed to be dominant in the institution as a whole
despite its liberal arts philosophy. One colleague explained that the methods
courses taught at the college are primarily based on methods used in the
natural sciences and in quantitative social sciences.
Consequently the students labelled the ethnographic approach we fol-
lowed and the knowledge it generated as ‘vague’, ‘not scientifi c’ and
‘common knowledge’. Used to being accused of pseudo-science by other
disciplines, it still surprised us how deeply these notions were ingrained in
the minds of students. Some described the course as ‘not academic enough’.
As one student put it, ‘It sometimes felt like I was in the introduction week
of high school’. Numbers seemed to provide some kind of security for our
students (as we have also experienced during other teaching in other uni-
versities). As another teacher of the course told us, many of her students
just cannot seem to understand the relevance of qualitative data. Despite
detailed methodological instructions about, for instance, thick description,
some still tried to base their research projects on quantitative data collected
through, for example, counting the number of people interviewed with a
certain perspective: ‘Some of them still count all sorts of things’. This percep-
tion was not limited to students from the ‘hard sciences’ such as chemistry
and mathematics, but it was also shared by the social science and arts stu-
dents. One colleague from the institution commented that all students seem
to hold the belief that someone’s abilities in maths is a measure of intelli-
gence. In such an environment anthropological knowledge is not considered
‘real’ knowledge. This refl ects an institutional struggle to teach liberal arts
and sciences within a scientifi c and social climate in which only one kind of
knowledge is considered real or valuable.
Luckily, not all students resented our course. Some did indeed express
their appreciation and admitted that the course had opened their eyes to pro-
cesses they had been unaware of earlier. Colleagues currently teaching the
course report that although resistance remains high, more and more students
seem to express appreciation for what they have learned. This appreciation
is often expressed months or even years after having taken the course, which
can perhaps lead us to the argument that the complexity of what is being
taught just needs time and the short intensive one-month course does not
67 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
lend itself to this requirement. Furthermore, research on adolescence and
maturity suggests that until the age of twenty-fi ve, young people’s brains are
still developing, making complex issues such as refl ecting upon one’s own
opinions and position a diffi cult issue (Strauch 2004). Most of our students
were eighteen or nineteen years old, some even seventeen. However, during
the course one of our students wrote that:
I fi nally managed to open myself to the differences of other ethnicity and
nally left the ignorance and prejudice I had (…) my biggest mistake is
that I did not connect [to ‘the other’].
Reading such a comment gave us all a glimmer of hope that our efforts were
not all in vain.
In this article we have argued that anthropology in the neoliberal university
is facing hard times for several reasons. By using our own experiences in the
Dutch system, we explored the ways in which neoliberal ideas shape our
students and ourselves as individualistic actors, responsible for our own fail-
ures and successes. The overvaluation of research output and devaluation of
teaching, force academics to make diffi cult choices that often go against our
own best interests and those of our students. Furthermore, the emphasis on
excellence and the notion that universities produce knowledge and courses
to be consumed by paying students, have transformed many students into
calculating customers, who focus on grades and diplomas rather than on the
process of learning as such.
Through a critical refl ection on our own experiences, we have also tried
to show that the increasing emphasis on audits, student evaluations and the
devaluation of teaching have created an insecure environment for many;
they have produced a form of insecurity that hampers a focus on sharing and
exchange, but rather pushes people to work harder, to market themselves
better and to engage in competition rather than collaboration and conversa-
tion. This is particularly the case amongst young colleagues who are work-
ing on temporary contracts, and among those students in institutions that
market themselves and their students as excellent. This form of excellence
is almost entirely understood in terms of quantitative criteria such as course
evaluation scores, fi nal grades and grade point averages.
Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk
/ 68
Such individualism stands in stark contrast to what we believe anthropol-
ogy should be; a discipline that shows empathy for ‘the other’, that looks
at the complex relationship between abstract systems and individual ex-
perience, and that encourages self-refl ection on the world as an integrated
system, including our own life worlds. However, we have also described
why anthropology, more than many other disciplines, is fi nding it hard to
be taken as a serious academic discipline. The premise of positivism over
subjectivism, and of numbers over qualitative data, renders our knowledge
as pseudo-scientifi c and self-evident. Perhaps of greater concern however is
the lack of anthropological critique on the system that is changing our work
on so many levels. We too have incorporated the entrepreneurial ethos of
a neoliberal age, which values individual freedom (ability to make choices)
over professional solidarity and of commitment to and critical refl exion on
our own professional practice. The personalisation of problems and the fo-
cus on individual success obscure the anthropological lens, which looks at
social and cultural structures of power and depends on critical refl exivity.
Institutional changes are needed to create a more secure learning and
teaching environment. These changes may be facilitated by a healthy dose
of self-refl ection. We hope that by keeping alive a discussion of the processes
and circumstances described above, we will fi nd other ways to rethink and
reshape our position critically as anthropologists within this neoliberal en-
Ellen Bal is Associate Professor in the Department of Social and
Cultural Anthropology at the VU University Amsterdam. She holds
a Ph.D. degree in History from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam
and has taught in a number of different universities. She has special-
ised in South Asia studies, with a particular focus on identity, diver-
sity and (transnational) migration.
Erella Grassiani is a lecturer at the Department of Sociology and An-
thropology and a Post-doc fellow at the Department of Human Geog-
raphy, Planning and International Development at the University of
Amsterdam. She holds a Ph.D in Anthropology from the VU Univer-
sity Amsterdam and specialises in (private) security, (Israeli) military
and the anthropology of confl ict and violence.
Kate Kirk is an Assistant Professor in the department of Social and
Cultural Anthropology at the VU University Amsterdam. She com-
69 \
Neoliberal individualism in Dutch universities
pleted her PhD in Political Science at Queens University Belfast in
June 2010. Her research focuses on the nexus between transnational
migrant experiences and national migration, integration and citizen-
ship policies.
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... Anthropology's disciplinary focus on critical analysis of systems makes it an obvious participant in discussions of the pervasiveness and efficacy of neoliberalism in universities but, unfortunately this critical reflection is not always engaged in (Bal et al. 2014). Anthropology is a bridge discipline between the humanities and social sciences, hard and soft sciences, and neoliberal and liberal arts values (Feinberg 2009;Melomo 2014). ...
... We are now finding a pervasive neoliberal thinking in our students and ourselves (Bal et al. 2014;Melmo 2014). Anthropology departments need to critique neoliberalism when necessary as a potentially dehumanizing force (Richland 2009; see also Durkheim 1984Durkheim [1893), which can take some time, but must also continue to embrace traditional liberal arts values that enhance, blend with, and transcend neoliberal educational trends. ...
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Neoliberal values are dramatically affecting higher education in the United States, with a focus on running these institutions as businesses and molding students into productive workers. This shift toward training and away from traditional liberal arts education at U.S. universities and colleges has occurred even as studies demonstrate that the ability to adapt in a rapidly evolving marketplace promotes long-term professional success. While neoliberalism and traditional liberal arts education are often seen as antithetical, we show how one anthropology program has combined these values into pedagogical practice through a select subset of high impact practices to improve academic outcomes for low achieving students. Student feedback shows that they value our approach as a positive feature of our major. This study finds that neoliberal skills-based training and academically rigorous liberal arts education are not mutually exclusive and, in conjunction, can lead to improved student outcomes.
... După cum semnala pe un ton caustic Michael Marinetto, în rândul cohortelor demografice formate pe parcursul reformelor neoliberale, au apărut și "staruri" academice care au asimilat organic noile reguli, chiar dacă "succesul lor a rezultat nu numai din virtuozitatea intelectuală, ci și din strategii carieriste" în care "individualismul competițional și egoismul profesional au devenit virtuți strategice" (Marinetto, 2019). În ciuda climatului general deprimant, campionii noului etos, care gratifică competiția mai mult decât cooperarea și succesul individual mai mult decât succesul colectiv, își descriu activitatea în termenii grandilocvenți ai excelenței, chiar dacă aceasta se reduce la o sumă de măsuri statistice într-un sistem contingent de convenții recente (Bal, Grassiani & Kirk 2014). ...
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„Astfel se instituie domnia absolută a flexibilității, cu salariați angajați cu contracte pe durată determinată sau temporar, cu restructurări corporative repetate și, în cadrul firmei însăși, concurența la nivel de structuri autonome, precum și la nivelul echipelor obligate să îndeplinească funcții multiple. În fine, această competiție se extinde și asupra indivizilor înșiși, prin individualizarea relației salariale: stabilirea obiectivelor individuale de performanță, evaluări individuale ale performanței, evaluare permanentă, majorări salariale individuale sau acordarea de sporuri în funcție de competențe și de merite individuale; căi de promovare individualizate; strategii de "responsabilizare" ce tind să asigure auto-exploatarea angajaților care, fiind simpli lucrători salariați prinși în relații de dependență ierarhică puternice, sunt în același timp trași la răspundere pentru vânzările lor, produsele lor, sucursala lor, magazinul lor (s.n.) etc, ca și cum ar fi contractori independenți. (…) Toate acestea sunt tehnici de dominație rațională care impun supra-implicarea în muncă (nu numai în rândul posturilor de conducere) și munca în condiții de urgență sau de stres ridicat. Ele converg pentru a slăbi sau aboli standardele sau solidaritățile colective. În acest fel, apare o lume darwiniană-lupta tuturor împotriva tuturor la toate nivelurile ierarhiei, care găsește sprijin prin toți cei care se agață de slujba și de organizația lor în condiții de nesiguranță, suferință și stres.” Bourdieu, P. (1998, decembrie 1). The essence of neoliberalism. Le Monde Diplomatique.
... Después de ello, presento que parar también incluye oponerse a publicar con el objetivo de acumular puntos y, con esto, aumentar el salario. De esta forma, al parar se quiebra el imperativo de la gubernamentalidad neoliberal que pondera la productividad sobre cualquier otra actividad académica (Bal et al., 2014;Gómez Sánchez et al., 2016). ...
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Adopting feminist standpoint epistemology, this thesis demonstrates how the gender order and the implementation of neoliberal policies in Colombian public higher education, started in 1992, intertwine to shape the practices of women full professors within the National University of Colombia, Bogotá campus. The research is based on fieldwork developed between November 2018 and December 2020, which includes conducting 45 semi-structured and in-depth interviews, as well as an ethnographic study conducted in relation to the practices of three of the interviewed women professors. The main argument of this thesis is that the interweaving between neoliberalization and gender has given rise to the emergence of the complex reflexivity. This category refers to an internal conversation that women professors have with themselves, and it accounts for the practical way in which they face this context of neoliberalization through pondering their ambiguities and contradictions. This complex reflexivity of women full professors combines adaptation, moonlighting, envies, and at the same time dealing with the administration, individualized protests, stopping and caring. With these practices, the professors navigate the shortcomings and conflicts in the university, but they also carry out modifications to these supposedly immovable conditions, thus restructuring their experiences within the institution.
... To conclude with a phrase from Bob Dylan, we could certainly say that "the times they are a-changin'" -for better and for worse. Looking at the increase in managerialism and marketisation in academia (Diefenbach, 2007) focusing on individualised excellence and increasing output demands (Bal et al., 2014), can make the future seem dim. Worldwide, including in welfare states such as The Netherlands, we observe that the reality of inclusion is far from being achieved, despite all the talk. ...
... t This article aims to share a private worry with a larger audience: the erosion of teaching qualitative social research in higher education. Our worry originates in our own experience as social scientists working and teaching at Dutch universities (see also Bal et al. 2014), but we believe that the issue concerns a wider circle of colleagues and peers. ...
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This article discusses how the teaching of qualitative research in higher education is threatened by the effects of new public management, by academic culture wars and by a growing belief in big data. The controversy over Alice Goffman’s book On the Run presents one recent example of this. In an effort to counterbalance these developments, this article stresses the importance in social science curricula of ‘naturalistic inquiry’ – the artisanal core of qualitative research. Explicitly acknowledging emic viewpoints, naturalistic inquiry upholds the emancipatory ideal of making society transparent to its members. Teaching naturalistic inquiry as a craft may be the best way to assure ‘qualitative literacy’ among graduates in their various careers as socially responsible professionals.
... Relatedly, universities have been subject to neoliberal and Taylorist reforms that were-in a nutshell-intended to make universities more competitive and were accompanied with an excessive focus on researchers' performance management, perhaps at the expense of traditional hallmarks of the academia such as teaching and collegiality [41,42]. A full review of Neoliberal and Taylorist reforms in academia is beyond the scope of this paper (the reader is referred to Lorenz' excellent paper [43] that includes specific examples of reforms in Dutch academia) but it seems feasible to reason that publication pressure is one of its consequences, although the exact relation has, to our knowledge, not been studied systematically. ...
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Publications determine to a large extent the possibility to stay in academia (“publish or perish”). While some pressure to publish may incentivise high quality research, too much publication pressure is likely to have detrimental effects on both the scientific enterprise and on individual researchers. Our research question was: What is the level of perceived publication pressure in the four academic institutions in Amsterdam and does the pressure to publish differ between academic ranks and disciplinary fields? Investigating researchers in Amsterdam with the revised Publication Pressure Questionnaire, we find that a negative attitude towards the current publication climate is present across academic ranks and disciplinary fields. Postdocs and assistant professors (M = 3.42) perceive the greatest publication stress and PhD-students (M = 2.44) perceive a significant lack of resources to relieve publication stress. Results indicate the need for a healthier publication climate where the quality and integrity of research is rewarded.
Development discourses have been widely criticized for creating hierarchical dichotomies, such as “developed” (the global North) and “developing” (the global majority), with the former being the ideal standard to which the rest must catch up. The development paradigm has infiltrated academic spaces globally, including international research collaborations, creating various categories such as (non)scientific (local) expertise. We see such hierarchies as mechanisms of legitimation to maintain the ongoing subjugation of African scholars based on the historical and contemporary asymmetries in global knowledge production. Informed by the experiences of five female African doctoral researchers in the Netherlands, this paper problematizes and disrupts the concepts of “Expert” and “local expert”. We question the relevance of these concepts in a context where global knowledge production continues to feed from coloniality and also question the old power relations that continue to enable knowledge inequalities between the global North and global South.
Drawing on qualitative data, this case study explores how the precarious employment status of college contract instructors in Canada pushes them to consider bypassing some policies and affects their well-being, both of which could negatively influence the quality of education. Since keeping abreast with internationalisation requires addressing quality assurance, it seems that demographic data on the employment status and well-being of academic staff should be incorporated in quality assurance procedures.
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In this paper we present results from an extensive survey of United Kingdom (UK) university academics investigating satisfaction with senior managers and university governance: the Senior Management Survey (SMS). 5,888 academic staff across the United Kingdom Higher Education (HE) sector completed the survey, and results were used to construct a league table of staff satisfaction with management. This table is a stark indictment of the current state of the UK HE sector, showing a mean satisfaction score of 10.54%. The SMS also collected qualitative data, and we extend the league table's insights using this data. Thematic analysis revealed seven major themes: the dominance and brutality of metrics; excessive workload; governance and accountability; perpetual change; vanity projects; the silenced academic; work and mental health. We conclude with a discussion of how this statactivist research can be used to bring about change in management and governance of UK HE.
This chapter discusses a practising educator’s experience with the theme-based model for interdisciplinary education that underpins the curriculum at Amsterdam University College (AUC), a liberal arts and sciences undergraduate college in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Drawing on the author’s contribution to the “Cities and Cultures” themed programme at this college – one of the six themed programmes which it currently runs – its concern is with how theme-based teaching may enable students’ interdisciplinary learning. More specifically, the chapter aims to show how students’ interdisciplinary skills can be honed through a critical and participatory pedagogy that promotes cross-disciplinary dialogue and interaction as well as reflective awareness of disciplinary boundaries and predilections. A programme built around a larger theme functions as a productive setting for such an approach, or so this chapter argues, to the extent that it enables “conversations” between disciplines – theoretically, methodologically, and conceptually – in which students’ various disciplinary interests and identifications are simultaneously recognized and challenged.
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This autobiographical paper, given as a conference keynote, explores the ways in which, as anthropologists, we assess and study the role of teaching in our discipline, and how to think about these questions ethnographically.
Recently anthropology has experienced an intellectual crisis of confidence, a sense that the discipline has lost its way, and an institutional crisis, a loss of resources following the financial crisis. Together, these crises provide a perspective that helps us to make sense of what preceded them. This article argues that both crises are signs of the failure of the neoliberalism that rose to prominence in the 1980s, both as a foundation for public policy and as an important, though unrecognized, influence on elements in anthropological thought. It focuses on that influence. It does so by describing some of the changes in anthropological orientation since the 1980s. Prime among these are the loss of disciplinary authority, the solidification of the focus on culture at the expense of a focus on society, and the rejection of systemic theories of social and cultural order. It is argued that, together, these changes have left anthropologists with no critical perspective on the world, just as the ascendance of neoclassical economics left economists with no such critical perspective.
This paper refers to the context of British universities and tackles the relation between macro-organisation, the institutional practices undergoing major changes and the affective embodied experiences of academics today. Based on various fragments from daily academic life collected over a period of one year, the analysis emphasizes the new forms of precariousness, the intensification and the extensification of academic work. The author reveals how the new academic labour processes imply various forms of emotions ranging from exhaustion, stress, insomnia, anxieties to toxic shame which remain largely secret and silenced in the public discourse of the academy. By focusing on experience and pointing to some of the ≫hidden injuries≪ of academic life, the author recalls us that after making them visible the next challenge is how we might begin to resist.
This Presidential Address examines contemporary U.S. anthropological rhetoric regarding the profession of anthropology and related habits of professional self-understanding that warrant a second look. It is most concerned with aspects of our widespread self-understanding that often function (esp. in conversation and in writing) to assert and reassert a truth we tell ourselves about ourselves, even in the absence of sustained research. Arguing for moving beyond comfortable zones of self-understanding and dwelling instead on "zones of discomfort" (and not just in "the field"), it specifically queries the common notions (1) that anthropologists constitute a "progressive" (or liberal or left-of-center) discipline, (2) that anthropology is in decline or on the verge of disappearing (what I call the "doom and gloom" scenario), and (3) that the AAA exists to serve anthropologists in the United States yet is open-minded enough, liberal enough, globally oriented enough, and anti-imperialistic enough to keep its "Americanness" at bay.