Morten Levin and Davydd Greenwood, in their book “Creating a New Public University,” put a lot of emphasis on what they call Neo-Taylorism. This is their general term for the corporate organizational form that dominates most contemporary universities. While everyone reading this has likely heard the expression “neoliberalism,” most people won’t have heard of “Neo-Taylorism.” So I wrote up a little primer in Q & A form.
I’ve been reading some of the academic capitalism literature lately, since I’m writing about French images of capitalism in higher education. It turns out that, a few years ago, George Marcus offered an intriguing auto-ethnographic anecdote about the way that academic capitalism becomes standard even in seemingly very “critical” corners of the American humanities.
In their 2016 “Neoliberalisation and the ‘Death of the Public University,’” Cris Shore and Susan Wright give a handy summary of how one might think about the sometimes overused term “neoliberalism”:
Neoliberalism is a problematic concept. Excessive use of the term as a portmanteau for explaining everything that is wrong with contemporary capitalist societies has rendered it an empty signifier devoid of analytical value. As a noun, it suggests something universal and ascribes uniformity and coherence to an assemblage of processes and practices that are far from uniform, consistent or coherent. Like Peck and Tickell (2002: 463), therefore, we prefer to use the term “neoliberalisation” as it highlights the multi-faceted and continually changing set of process associated with neoliberal reform agendas, which assume different forms in different countries. That said, these reforms usually bear close “family resemblances”, to paraphrase Wittgenstein. These include an emphasis on creating an institutional framework that promotes competition, entrepreneurship, commercialisation, profit making and “private good” research and the prevalence of a metanarrative about the importance of markets for promoting the virtues of freedom, choice and prosperity.