The Kafkaesque Pursuit of ‘World Class’: Audit Culture and the Reputational Arms Race in Academia

Shore, Cris and Wright, Susan. 2021. The Kafkaesque Pursuit of ‘World Class’: Audit Culture and the Reputational Arms Race in Academia. In: Sharon Rider; Michael A. Peters; Mats Hyvönen and Tina Besley, eds. World Class Universities: A Contested Concept. Singapore: Springer, pp. 59-76. ISBN 9789811575976 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Since the 1980s universities have been subjected to a seemingly continuous process of policy reforms designed to make them more economical, efficient and effective, according to yardsticks defined by governments and university managers. The pursuit of ‘excellence’, ‘international standing’ and ‘world class’ status have become key drivers of what Hazelkorn (High Educ Pol 21(2):193–215, 2008) has termed the ‘rankings arms race’ that now dominates the world of academia. These policies are changing the mission and meaning of the public university and, more profoundly, the culture of academia itself. While some authors have sought to capture and analyse these trends in terms of ‘academic capitalism’ and the ‘enterprise university model’, we suggest they might also be usefully understood theoretically as illustrations of the rise of audit culture in higher education and its effects. Drawing on ethnographic examples from the UK, Denmark and New Zealand, we ask: how are higher education institutions being reconfigured by these new disciplinary regimes of audit? How are ranking and performance indicators changing institutional behaviour and transforming academic subjectivities? What possibilities are there for alternative university futures? And what insights can anthropology offer to address these questions?

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1 January 2021Published

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09 Feb 2022 09:40

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09 Feb 2022 09:40


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