Audit Culture and Anthropology: Neo-Liberalism in British Higher Education

By Shore, Cris; Wright, Susan | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Audit Culture and Anthropology: Neo-Liberalism in British Higher Education


Shore, Cris, Wright, Susan, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


Anthropology as a profession is particularly dependent on universities, institutions that throughout the industrialized world have been undergoing major structural readjustments over the past two decades. Central to these reforms has been the introduction of mechanisms for measuring 'teaching performance', 'research quality' and 'institutional effectiveness' Taking British higher education as a case study, this article analyses the history and consequences of government attempts to promote an 'audit culture' in universities. It tracks the spread of the idea of audit from its original associations with financial accounting into other cultural domains, particularly education. These new audit technologies are typically framed in terms of 'quality', 'accountability' and 'empowerment', as though they were emancipatory and 'self-actualizing'. We critique these assumptions by illustrating some of the negative effects that auditing processes such as 'Research Assessment Exercises' and 'Teaching Quality Assessments' h ave had on higher education. We suggest that these processes beckon a new form of coercive and authoritarian governmentality. The article concludes by considering ways that anthropologists might respond to the more damaging aspects of this neo-liberal agenda through 'political reflexivity'.

Over the past two decades higher education in Britain and in other industrialized states has undergone a process of radical reform or structural readjustment. A key element of these reforms has been the introduction of mechanisms for measuring 'teaching performance', judging 'research quality' and assessing 'institutional effectiveness'. These mechanisms are intended to ensure 'accountability', a principle justified on the rational and democratic grounds that those who spend taxpayers' money should be accountable to the public. Measuring performance is characteristically framed in terms of 'improving quality' and 'empowerment', as though these mechanisms were emancipatory and enabling. However, in Britain at least, accountability is not always as democratic or empowering as it appears. On the contrary, as we shall argue, a peculiarly coercive and disabling model of accountability has emerged. There are three main reasons for this: first, because accountability is elided with policing (Power 1994; 1997); secon d, because it reduces professional relations to crude, quantifiable and, above all, 'inspectable' templates (Strathern 1997); and, third, because it is introducing disciplinary mechanisms that mark a new form of coercive neo-liberal governmentality (Foucault 1991; Rose 1992).

Universities are just one site where neo-liberal ideas and practices are displacing the norms and models of good government established by the postwar, welfare state. The ways in which neo-liberal governance has been introduced in other policy areas in the 1980s and 1990s has become a subject of increasing interest to anthropologists (Shore & Wright 1997). Some have explored this by analysing how new forms of power are embedded within changing patterns of language (Seidel 1988), shifting notions of 'culture' and 'community' (Mackey 1997) and the construction of new subjectivities (Martin 1997). Others have analysed the aetiology and consequences of neo-liberalism from the perspectives of economic anthropology (Gudeman 1998) or by using ideas of consumerism and 'abstraction' (Miller 1998). This article provides a further contribution to these debates by developing four themes of inquiry. First, it explores how modern audit systems and techniques function as 'political technologies' for introducing neo-liberal systems of power. Second, it traces the rise of these managerial technologies since the 1980s, particularly the way they were introduced into the university sector. Third, it examines the effects of this 'audit culture' on higher education and on British society more generally. Finally, it poses the question of how anthropologists should respond to these neo-liberal reforms. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Audit Culture and Anthropology: Neo-Liberalism in British Higher Education
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.