Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER)

Seminar 1: Who Desires and Aims (for) Higher Education?

Date: Tuesday 24th February 2009, 10am - 4pm

This session examines how aspirations and academic identities are currently constructed, encouraged or manipulated in relation to economic drivers in discourses of widening participation and self-improvement. It asks if this rationale is adequate in accounting for how else the University may be conceived and experienced as desirable.

Professor Susan Robertson
Professor of the Sociology of Education and Coordinator, Centre for Globalisation Education and Societies
The Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, UK

Title: Market Multilateralism, the World Bank Group and the Asymmetries of Globalising Higher Education: Toward a Critical Political Economy Analysis

Abstract: This paper argues that analyses of the World Bank's move into higher education policymaking in the mid-1990s, and assessment of the likely outcomes of these initiatives, must be informed by an approach that brings into view the articulation of a crucial set of dynamics: the historic collapse of the higher education sector in low-income countries because of World Bank's conditionalities imposed on these nations over three decades (no public subsides to higher education); the global division of labour tied to global production; recent transformations in both national (denationalization) and wider global economies arising from the globalization of neo-liberalism; the emergence of a new meta-narrative around knowledge as the engine of development, and cross-border supply as a means for generating higher education capacity for low-income and developing countries; the converging agenda of market multilateralism amongst the powerful international agencies as a mechanism of global governance; together with the strategic use of governmental techniques, such as the construction of indexes and other methodologies, to produce the conditions and social relations for a new long wave of accumulation. Taken together, these structural conditions and political alignments in the world order have provided a new space for powerful actors, like the World Bank Group, to advance a radical political project-the construction of a knowledge-based economy and society. When articulated with discourses and projects concerned with higher education markets and the development of a global services economy, I argue that efforts by the Bank and other global actors to reinvigorate higher education realized through 'trade' and not 'aid' works in the interest of the developed rather than low-income developing economies. This will deepen the knowledge-gap, generate new intellectual dependencies, reinforce the footprints of old imperialisms, and widen the asymmetries between the developed, transition and developing economies.

Biography: Susan Robertson is Professor of Sociology of Education in the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. She is Coordinator for the Centre for Globalisation, Education and Societies (GES) and founding co-editor of Globalisation, Societies and Education. Susan's current research is focused on political projects, transformations in education systems and knowledge production as a result of national, regional and global restructuring, and the implications for citizenship claims. She has recently completed a 'Synthetic Review of Globalisation, Education and Development', DFID, is a Senior Researcher for the ESRC funded 'Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies' (LLAKES), and senior member of the Network of Experts on Education and Social Science advising the EC. She has published widely in these areas. Her latest book (with Roger Dale) is called Globalisation and Europeanisation in Education (2009).

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Professor Valerie Walkerdine
Research Professor, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, UK

Title: Neoliberalism, working class subjects and higher education

Abstract: The government has recently accepted the shocking fact that the expansion of higher education has overwhelmingly benefited the middle classes, with still very small numbers of working class students going on to higher education. Yet, this is a moment of post neoliberalism in which aspiration and the constant working on qualifications is seen as a central trope of current modes of governance. The Department of Children, Schools and Families claims that working class children lack aspiration, which they appear not to have gained despite everything. This paper explores these issues by thinking about a number of young people that have taken part in research with me: Australian students, young unemployed men in South Wales and young working class British women who got to university in the 1990s.

Biography: Valerie Walkerdine  is Research Professor in the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University. She is currently researching issues of neoliberalism, un/employment, gender and community in the Welsh valleys and is the Co-ordinator for the ESRC National Research Methods Network for Methodological Innovation on Researching Affect and Affective Communication. Her latest book is Children, gender, video games: towards a relational approach to multimedia, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

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Dr Claudia Lapping 
Lecturer, Dept. of Learning, Curriculum & Communication
Institute of Education, University of London, UK

Title: Loading up meanings and covering over desire: higher education as empty signifier

Abstract: 'Higher education' is a site within which individual, institutional and governmental desires are articulated through discourses that cover over or displace affectively laden aspects of professional practice. Contemporary contestations over higher education policy and curricula can be understood as processes of condensation and displacement that invest practices with the potential to fulfil, or, inversely, with the power to obstruct, the achievement of learning or policy objectives. Rosa Burgos' (1999) exploration of the position of 'theory' within educational policy and research traces discursive chains within international education policy and higher education institutions, to suggest how 'theory' is produced as a signifier loaded with negative associations. Her analysis suggests how policy discourse intertwines with institutional agendas of accountability to marginalise 'theory' within doctoral programmes in education. This paper will explore whether similar processes can be observed in instances taken from two different perspectives within the current UK context. The first instance is the proposed Masters in Teaching and Learning, which constitutes a site of contestation over the position of 'theory', 'practice' and 'professional development' within higher education. The second instance is taken from an ongoing project exploring the emotional or affective aspects of knowledge practices through unstructured interviews with academics in the humanities and social sciences. Within the paper I will explore the ways academic practices are constructed as objects of identification or resistance within participants' talk. Through the analysis of these two instances the paper will begin to explore the complex construction of academic aspirations and identities.

Burgos , R. N. B, 1999, 'The Spectre of Theory of Curriculum for Educational Research: A Mexican Example' , International Review of Education , 45(5/6): 461-478

Biography: Claudia Lapping is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Education, in the department of Languages, Curriculum and Communication. Her research combines sociological and psychoanalytic approaches, to explore knowledge practices in higher education. At the moment she is working on two interrelated projects. The first is a book exploring the recontextualisation of psychoanalytic concepts into social research. The second is an empirical research project exploring the relationship between academic authors and their practice, and, in particular, the way participants construct elements of academic practice as objects of identification or resistance. Both projects will explore intractable methodological doubts and the ethics of the relation between researcher and researched in academic practice. This work draws on Lacanian influenced social theory (e.g. Althusser, Laclau and Mouffe, Butler) and on theorists within the new sociology of knowledge (e.g. Bourdieu, Bernstein).

Her publications include: 'Recodifications of academic positions and reiterations of desire: change but continuity in gendered subjectivities, in Studies in Higher Education, 2006; 'Antagonism and Overdetermination: the production of student positions in contrasting undergraduate disciplines and institutions in the UK', British Journal of Sociology of Education, 2005; and 'Interpreting 'resistance' sociologically: a reflection on the recontextualisation of psychoanalytic concepts into sociological analysis' in Sociology ; 2008.

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Overall Discussion
At the end of the three sessions we conducted an overall discussion about the day's topics, papers, ideas, and where this discussion might lead in terms of future research.

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