Paul Sutton, Lost souls? The demoralization of academic labour in the measured university, Higher Education Research & Development Vol. 36 , Iss. 3,2017
In this conceptual paper, I contend that the soul of academic labour is becoming lost in performativity. Performativity, I explain, is a form of regulation and control that deploys technical rationality and judgements to incentivize and punish academics. Indeed, performativity is central to the culture of measurement within contemporary universities. This, I contend, is demoralizing academic labour as performativity only measures and values those dimensions of academic labour that can be captured by quantitative performance indicators. To critique this process, I firstly locate performativity within a moral economy perspective. I argue that the university economy is no longer structured by the moral norm of education as a public good. It has been restructured, commodified and marketized by neo-liberal capitalism. Secondly, I explore how the reorganization of institutional practices and academic identity within the university by performativity wreaks terror in the academic’s soul. Thirdly, I critique the unsatisfying post-structural reduction of the soul to a synonym for subjectivity and offer a sociological conception of the soul as the spiritual dimension of academic labour emerging from deep, rich social relations of production. My conjecture is that the soul is the moral energy and purpose central to species-being: the peculiarly human ability to transform the socio-human world for the good of all. Finally, I suggest that within the soulless technical measure of academic labour that now dominates the university lies the possibility for developing a more soulful normative measure. My aim then is to articulate a dialectical humanist conception of the soul of academic labour in order to critique the reductive positivism of the measured university.
KEYWORDS: Academic labour, dialectical humanism, performativity, soul, species-being