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Kamila Bialy

Changes in Europea Changes in European Higher Education -
- is it really a Revolution or a New Face of Neoliberal Status Quo?
Empirical Illustration of Marketing Practices of Academic Institutions in Poland


The modern concept of Humboldtian university is claimed to become increasingly obsolete for a knowledge society. The academic values, cultivated from the Ancient Greek times, have throughout ages subordinated technical skills to the pure science. Whereas in today’s world the applied science is considered indispensable for the socio-economic progress.

The shift from the Humboldtian notion of the university to one that operates under market pressures seems to many scholars to be conveying revolutionary ideas, beneficial realizations of which in terms of socio-economic betterment of Europe we shall not waste. Such approach is based on the assumption of a coexistence between ethical and intellectual values, such as truth, ethics, authority, autonomy, the freedom of research, the freedom of teaching and economic and technological values, such as utility, efficiency, calculation, accountability. In addition, almost all academic praxis is based on the tacit consent of the reconciliation between these values and the irreversible course of the global revolution.

In the shift I see, contrary to supporters of the coincidentia oppositorum, a disproportion between ethical and intellectual values and economic and technological values (Ossowski 1967). The disproportion may throw up major problems for building up a knowledge society and its knowledge class converting the apparent revolution into its opposite, that is a devolution. The processes of marketization and commodification of organizations in general and of higher education institutions in particular have in my opinion no revolutionary qualities as they are a mere institutional extension of a dominating neoliberal ideology. By this ideology I mean the emancipation project of all human beings based on the unlimited capacities of science and technology and the corresponding rules of free market global economy, which are supposed to facilitate their unrestricted development. All that considered, the marketization of higher eduation might be seen as a mimetic not revolutionary process that plays an ideological function in maintaining status quo by submitting all academic activity for calculation and accountability. Analysis of the processes of marketization and commodification of academic institutions can illuminate that the realization of certain values may be made impossible although it is publically declared as possible. The colonization of discourse by promotion in these organizations, considered as one dimension of the institutional transformations in higher education, may in particular, given the very nature of promotion and advertising, weaken the Humboldtian university values leading to shifting authority relations and shifts in self-identity within higher education institutions. These processes may in turn have detrimental effects on the revolution and its gains.

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) explores the theoretical question of what sort of relationships there are between language and ideology and the methodological question of how such relationships are shown in analysis. This attempt suggests that a more diverse range of linguistic features and levels may be ideologically invested than is usually assumed, including aspects of form and style as well as content. In Norman Fairclough writings the relationship between language and ideology ought to figure in the wider framework of theories and analyses of power, for which the Gramscian concept of hegemony is fruitful (Fairclough 1995). This implies a focus upon change in discoursal practice and structures, seen as a dimension of change in the balance os social forces.

The relationship between discourse and other facets of the social is not a transhistorical constant but a historical variable. I will refer below to some distinctive features of postmodern society that constitute the cultural dominant and have thus impact on the discursive practices.

In his genealogical phase Michel Foucault deals with changes in discourse and institutions. Power relationships admittedly change and influence differently in a particular epoch, but power continues to exist. The two most important techniques which Foucault distinguishes investigating the shift between pre-modern and modern societies are discipline and confession (Foucault 1981). Discipline is intended to produce conforming people, docile bodies. Discipline isolates the individual from the masses and subjects him or her to procedures of normalization. Thus the modern individual comes into being. Examination, the most important technique of discipline, is not exclusively linguistic but it is substantially defined by discursive practices – genres – such as those of medical consultation/examination and various other varieties of interview (Fairclough 1992). Confession on the other hand serves to subjectify human beings. One talks about oneself and one’s own needs, under the illusion that one is thereby liberating oneself. In reality, however, argues Foucault, one only submits even more to a power, an authority, to whom one is confessing. Consultations, therapies and interview techniques are all forms of confession (Wodak 1996).

Fairclough takes up Foucault’s theoretical reflections to support his own arguments on the technologization and marketization of discourse. He speaks about three sets of developments in contemporary discursive practice. I consider them all as a realization of a neoliberal ideology, more precisely, its economic and technological logic that progressively colonizes the lifeworld by strategic practices emoboding a purely instrumental rationality (Habermas 1984).

- The post-traditional nature of contemporary society (Giddens 1991) and the corresponding informalization of society which is partly constitued through a conversationalization of discursive practices. This set of developments is associated with an apparent democratization of discourse which involves the reduction of overt markers of power asymmetry between people of unequal insitutional power. The discoursal democratization is of course linked to political democratization of the post-traditional society, and to the broad shift from coercion to consent, incorporation and pluralism in the exercise of power

- The elevation and generalization of the promotional function in discursive practices and its consequences in terms of the hybrydyzation of discourse practice and the subordination of meaning to effect. This shift is called by Fairclough synthetic personalisation – the simulation of private, face-to-face, person-to-person discourse in public mass-audience discourse. Synthetic personalization is a facet of a concomitant with discoursal democratization process of the breaking down of divisions between public and private, political society and civil society as the state and its mechanism (especially ideological) of generating consent expand into private domains.

- The increased reflexivity of contemporary life, in the sense of the systematic use of knowledge about social life for organizing and transforming it (Giddens 1991) and Fairclough concept of technologization of discourse. The concept can be understood in Giddens’ terms as the constitution of expert system whose domain is the discursive practices of, particularly, public institutions. In other words, there is much increased emphasis on training, counselling, interviewing and other contxt-free techniques which contributes to a widespread effect of colonization of local institutions by a few culturally-salient discourse types - advertising and managerial and marketing discourse, and of course counselling.

In my presentation I will refer to a few examples that are highly selectively representative of the order of discourse (Foucault 1993) of the Polish higher education institutions. I will investigate in particular the following interconnected questions: what is happening to the authority of academic institutions and academics and to authority relations between academics and students, academic institutions and the public? What is happening to the professional identities of academics and to the collective identities of institutions? The more general question that my study will also address is whether these developments in higher education amount to the maintaing of an emerging neoliberal hegemony, in the domain of the order of discourse in particular?


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