The quantified self of neoliberal academia

Dr. Rosalind Gill

This paper examines the rise of audit culture and worker-surveillance within Universities. Despite the much-vaunted ‘autonomy’ of the figure of the individual scholar, as the British sociologist Roger Burrows (2012) has argued, the average UK academic is now routinely graded, ranked and measured on more than one hundred scales and indices – making us amongst the most minutely surveilled occupational group. These metrics assess academics’ grant income, citation scores, esteem indicators, student evaluations, impact factors, PhD completions – to name but a few. This ‘metrification’ of “quality”’ (Lorenz, 2015) is a potent example of ‘power at a distance’ or ‘ruling by numbers’. The resulting scores can then be used to do things- to generate funding, to close down courses, to single out individuals for disciplinary procedures, etc – enactments that can be presented as independent and impersonal consequences of ‘neutral’ techniques of measurement in a manner that marks out contemporary neoliberal forms of governmentality.

In this paper, I want to examine the proliferation and intensification of modes of measuring and ranking University staff through a focus on their affective nature, and through consideration of the way in which they instantiate new modes of subjectivity and new kinds of relations within the Academy. The paper is part of a wider project trying to think about the ‘psychic life of neoliberalism’ not simply as a political or economic rationality but as a venture of subjectification.