Future-forming interdisciplinary research

Debate: “A renewed neoliberalism as positive future for the university?”


A Curate’s Egg? Could a renewed neoliberalism be a positive future for the University?
Liberal interventionism against corporate, digital takeover and knowledge rent-seeking in academia.

Tuesday 24th July 2018
6-8pm, Lecture Theatre 4, Lancaster University Management School

The university as a core institution of modern society and still the pre-eminent institution of knowledge production and education is currently beset by multiple profound problems. The deepening intrusion of market logics has profoundly transformed relations amongst faculty, students and administrators to the point now that the idea of the ‘public university’ has been all but dismantled. Students are increasingly saddled with enormous debts, while also being turned into consumers of education purely with a view to advantage in a shrinking job market. Faculty face increasingly tight and precarious remuneration alongside rising pressures for teaching, research, publication and impact. Meanwhile, the very processes of knowledge production itself are undergoing a messy disruption, if not revolution. Digital innovation and the knowledge economy undermine the established protocols, rhythms and sites of scientific research and higher education, with multiple nefarious side effects, such as the rise of predatory publishing, fraudulent for-profit colleges or simple shrinking in time for productive and original scholarship. The broader cultural crisis of ‘post-truth’ that is contesting the epistemic authority of expertise and science more generally exacerbates these challenges.

A large, still-growing literature lays many of these ills at the feet of the political economic regime that has dominated globally over the past few decades, when this transformation of the university has taken place, i.e. neoliberalism. Indeed, rigorous and compelling research has shown that the university is not ‘just another’ sector of society affected by neoliberalism, but amongst its principal targets. Amidst the cultural crisis of the present, however, it seems that neoliberalism is itself hardly in fine fettle. Moreover, at least as originally formulated, neoliberalism (and cognate positions of ordo-liberalism and public choice theory) can be understood as forms of a liberal interventionism, turning the state into an anti-rent trust-buster. Such a perspective, however, would arguably be just as appalled by the corporate capture of academia as are sworn critics of neoliberalism.

Searching around for alternatives to the dysfunctional dominant political economic narratives of the present, then, could a revived form of this original neoliberalism, with its foundational hostility to rent-seeking in the economy renewed and extended to knowledge production, be a viable candidate, offering a positive future for the university? And, hence, could neoliberalism yet prove to be a proverbial ‘curate’s egg’ for knowledge politics?

On the occasion of Lancaster University hosting both the annual workshop on the Changing Political Economy of Research & Innovation (CPERI) and the EASST conference 2018, Lancaster University’s Institute for Social Futures and Centre for Higher Education Research and Evaluation (HERE) are delighted to be pulling together two of the world’s leading scholars on issues of knowledge politics, the university and neoliberalism to debate this key issue: Professor Steve Fuller (Warwick) (proposing the motion) and Professor Philip Mirowski (Notre Dame) (opposing).

The event is open to all members of the public, including participants at both conferences, but with seats strictly on a first-come-first-served basis. Please book your ticket in advance through Eventbrite. We look forward to seeing you there.

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