The American Campus Novel, 1985 – 2020: Neoliberalism, Higher Education and the Student Experience

Campbell, Philippa. 2022. The American Campus Novel, 1985 – 2020: Neoliberalism, Higher Education and the Student Experience. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis situates the contemporary campus novel within an established literary tradition and analyses the genre’s engagement with the contemporary American higher education sector, particularly the defining features which can be attributed to the marketization of higher education. Following Wendy Brown’s definition of neoliberalism, these features are: the simultaneous exertion and erosion of institutional authority; individuals’ embodiment of an entrepreneurial subject and social fragmentation which impedes democratic critique. These three defining features structure the analyses of campus novels presented in each chapter of this thesis. This framework enables consideration of the continued engagement of contemporary novels with the higher education sector, a concern which is further highlighted through the foci of each chapter. Prevalent literary genres, narrative devices, and the three diverse traditions of white, male elites, white women, and African American students are delineated in these chapters, further contextualising the contemporary novel within distinct literary traditions. These chapters discuss the engagement of contemporary novels with the role of the university in contemporary America though diverse literary techniques, as well as engaging with broader political and sociological frameworks which illuminate the experiences of white, male elites, women and African American students in the modern university. The conclusion of each of these chapters contextualises the contemporary campus novel within broader literary movements, further establishing the genre’s significance in literary studies. One of the fundamental arguments of this thesis is that the campus novel is a significant resource through which to engage with current debates in the higher education sector. The conclusion situates themes from the novels within broader conversations surrounding the university institution, students, and their role in a democratic society.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


education; American literature; campus fiction; contemporary literature; neoliberalism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


31 May 2022

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

17 Jun 2022 11:06

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:19


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