One of the means by which such neoliberal academic subjectivation occurs is metricisation. As a result of the increasing marketisation and managerialisation of higher education, those of us who work or study in the university are being exposed to various forms of auditing, various quantification practices, various techniques and pressures to do with self-presentation, self-promotion and self-marketing, many of which have their origins in the cultures of management consultancy and Silicon Valley. This in turn has led large numbers of us to join for-profit academic social networks (e.g., Academia.edu, ResearchGate), and act like micro-celebrities. We blog, tweet and post about our work and about even our lives – about what we like, about what’s happening with us – in order to establish ourselves and our individual authorial personalities as brands. Now a number of media, communication and cultural studies scholars have written very powerfully about the stress, the depression, the exhaustion, the anxiety all the monitoring and measuring of our teaching loads, research outputs, grant income, citations, page view counts, download counts and so on is creating. And I’m interested in that too. But I’m also interested in what often gets left out of this picture: the subject position that is being adopted when we write and speak about the neoliberal transformation of higher education. It’s a subject position that is, in effect, held up as some kind of solution, or at least preferable option, to the shift toward the entrepreneurial culture and quantified academic of neoliberalism almost by default.
To come at it from a slightly different angle: as critical media theorists many of us are only too aware that new media technologies – software, code, data and the related means of algorithmic measurement and classification and so on – are involved in shaping our subjectivities and consciousness, our sense of self. Not enough attention is currently being paid, however, to the ways in which those media technologies that still play an extremely large role in structuring and arranging how we work as theorists, namely print-on-paper books and journal articles, are also involved in the formation of our subjectivities. So, yes, in my research I’m concerned with the new, voluntarily self-governing, self-disciplining and self-exploitative neoliberal subjects we are becoming. But I'm also concerned with the particular configuration of academic subjectivity and the related media technologies we are moving and transforming from on this account.
This is why I began my lecture at the MeCCSA-PGN 2015 Conference in Coventry by referring to Michel Foucault’s 1980 interview with Le Monde, ‘The Masked Philosopher’. In particular I wanted to draw attention to Foucault’s remark in this interview that ‘books, universities, learned journals are also information media’. The reason I wanted to do so was to emphasise it’s not just radio, cinema, television, newspapers, magazines and the internet that are media technologies: so are the books and journal articles we write, and the institutions we work and study in. They are instances of media every bit as much as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, and they also help to configure us as subjects. For me, this is something that’s too often overlooked by media scholars when we think about neoliberalism, marketisation, or how we’re being constantly monitored, measured, audited and assessed.
Why is it so important to pay attention to the configuration of academic subjectivity we are transforming from? It’s important because it’s often very much a liberal humanist subjectivity; one that has occupied (at least until recently, and still does in many respects) a position of hegemonic dominance within the profession. It is this liberal humanist model of academic selfhood – especially as it is enacted in our inherited ideas of individual proprietorial authorship, originality, copyright, the fixed and finished object, the proper noun or name – that continues to shape our work as media, communication and cultural studies students and scholars, and that many of us still adopt as a basis for engaging critically with the forces of neoliberalism. Hence we continue to write long-form, sequential books and journal articles that we insist are treated as our individually authored intellectual property, and that we then proceed to publish in uniform, multiple-copy editions, under an all rights reserved or, at best, Creative Commons, copyright licence. Moreover, it is a model of academic subjectivity that comes with a related privileging of the values of academic freedom, of fundamental as opposed to applied research, of individualised rather than mass teaching (detectable behind a lot of the concern over the development of xMOOCs), and of the relatively autonomous public university whose primary function is education rather than the generation of financial profit.
I’m moving very quickly, but for me there’s a real danger in this of us of going along too readily with liberalism’s own belief that, with its notions of individual liberty, citizenship and human rights, it can speak on behalf of humanity. What is the danger here? Well, to paint it in the broadest possible strokes, it is this belief that has given ‘liberalism’ the right, the duty in fact, to impose its philosophy onto the rest of the world, leading to the ‘civilising’ missions of colonialism, economic imperialism, and capitalist neoliberal globalisation, whereby liberal norms and values are universalized and extended to the sphere of international relations, to the concealment of the mechanisms by which those who do not adhere to such ideas are excluded. From this point of view, to oppose liberal humanism is not to oppose a particular philosophy; it’s to oppose human rights and liberty, indeed humanity and the human, per se.