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Higher education, Neo-liberalism and the Market Citizen

Dudley, Janice (2009) Higher education, Neo-liberalism and the Market Citizen. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Competition and success in the neo-liberal, globalised world both require and are contingent upon a new kind of citizen - a citizen for whom economic rather than political participation is privileged. The ‘imperative’ of neo-liberal globalisation demands that all domains of social and human activity become oriented towards maximising international economic competitiveness to ensure economic security and prosperity- and hence success. As the new globalised economy is increasingly argued to be a ‘knowledge economy’, it is education and skills - or human capital - which are important for maximising competitive advantage. Thus higher education has very particular roles in ensuring the nation’s international economic competitiveness – in developing the higher order skills necessary to workers in the knowledge economy, and in producing the innovation that a successful knowledge economy requires. Also, because of the role of higher education in the development of character – that is, the development of the subjectivities of citizenship - a study foregrounding the relationship between higher education and economic citizenship is particularly relevant.

This thesis makes a contribution to this issue both empirically and theoretically. Empirically, it considers the manner in which higher education policy – both internationally and in Australia – has become focussed upon maximising the nation’s international competitiveness in global capitalist markets through the development of human capital, and through research for innovation. It also considers the impact on staff and students. For, as a means of augmenting national competiveness, higher education institutions have been reformed and restructured so as to govern individuals and institutions into more entrepreneurial practice. Institutions and staff are required to exhibit entrepreneurial practice in the interests of competitive advantage in the knowledge economy - through innovation, through the commercialisation of research, and through promoting and expanding the sale of education services.

Theoretically, it reflects on the complex interactions between higher education and its associated policy changes over recent decades, and the changing conditions and subjectivities of citizenship. It draws upon a number of disciplinary terrains – higher education policy studies, citizenship theory, political economy, and post-structuralism (particularly the governmentality literature) - to contribute to the critical analysis of the relationship between citizenship and higher education at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Citizenship is essentially about belonging - about membership of a community organised around national, political, social, and ethical axes. It is therefore constituted by “rules and norms of inclusion and exclusion” (Isin and Turner, 2000: 2). These rules and norms extend beyond the formal legal status of citizenship and include not only the political and social dimensions of citizenship, but also its ethical dimensions. The thesis argues that rather than inclusion in the ethical community of citizenship being a matter of the status of the rights bearing individual – as has traditionally been the case for liberal citizenship – ethical inclusion has become performative, with active economic participation a condition of inclusion in the ethical community of citizenship. This constitutes a new normative practice of citizenship – neo-liberal citizenship. The analysis makes use of the governmentality literature to illuminate the manner in which individuals are governed to adopt particular politico-ethical norms of conduct – that is, particular subjectivities of citizenship - to constitute them as active economic agents, that is, as neo-liberal citizens. Citizenship is reconfigured around the axis of the economy and the citizen becomes an economic, rather than a political, subject.

The thesis concludes with reflections on the relationship between higher education – the university - citizenship and democracy, arguing that neither neo-liberal citizenship nor an economically rational future for higher education is assured; rather, that the virtuous circle of higher education and democratic citizenship remains immanent in pluralist politics.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Harris, Patricia, Smart, Don and Collins, Cherry
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