Just published: Raaper, R. (2015). Academic perceptions of higher education assessment processes in neoliberal academia. Critical Studies in Education.
This is the first paper published from my doctoral research on assessment policies and technologies in a neoliberal higher education context. I have been interested in student assessment for some time now. It all started with my Master’s dissertation in Tallinn University which step by step has brought me closer to a Foucauldian lens in terms of power and subjectification. My PhD research involves analysis of assessment policies, interviews and focus groups with academics, experts and students in two universities: one in the UK and the other in Estonia. Hopefully, there will be many papers to follow that will make it possible to present the various angles of my study.
As like probably many others, I came across Foucault’s ideas through his work on discipline and domination, work that tends to be highly relevant to assessment. It is also the case that assessment is one of the few educational themes Foucault directly addressed. According to Foucault (1984, p. 299), assessment could be understood as an attempt to subject students to ‘the arbitrary and unnecessary authority of a teacher’. Furthermore, in his Discipline and Punish, he provides us with a definition of exams:
The examination combines the techniques of an observing hierarchy and those of a normalizing judgement. It is a normalizing gaze, a surveillance that makes it possible to qualify, to classify and to punish. It establishes over individuals a visibility through which one differentiates them and judges them. That is why, in all the mechanisms of discipline, the examination is highly ritualized. (Foucault, 1975, p. 182)
While acknowledging the fundamental involvement of discipline and domination in assessment relations – that is between assessors and assessed – I have tried to go a step further and explore the ways assessment technologies operate in neoliberal academia in particular. This is especially the case as contemporary universities appear to be highly focused on their market positions but also on increasing scrutiny over academic work. Therefore, the idea of academics being highly powerful and dominating over students tends to perhaps fade in neoliberal contexts. My own research but also that of others (Evans, 2011; Jankowski & Provezis, 2012 etc.) have demonstrated how educational processes such as teaching and assessment are increasingly controlled and prescribed through detailed policies. This focus on prescriptive and bureaucratic assessment regimes might be related to an overall move towards customer culture, institutional reputation, casualisation of academic work along with other processes I have drawn attention to in the paper. These changes in academia but also in assessment policy have brought me closer to Foucault’s work on governmentality and the techniques of the self. In this paper and in my wider study, I am questioning how assessment policies and technologies act on academics in neoliberal settings; and how academics negotiate and cope with assessment policies and technologies.
Overall, this paper argues that assessment as a technology of government includes much more diffused and complex power relations that just the relationship of domination over students. Highly detailed and bureaucratic assessment policies control and shape the work and subjectivities of academics. The ways academics experience and cope with these power relations, however, is the main focus of the article.
I very much look forward to your comments on the article.
Evans, A. M. (2011). Governing student assessment: Administrative rules, silenced academics and performing students. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(2), 213–223.
Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and punish. The birth of the prison. London: Penguin Group.
Foucault, M. (1984). The ethics of the concern of the self as a practice of freedom. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), Ethics. Essential works of Foucault 1954–1984 (Vol. 1, pp. 281–301). London: Penguin Group.
Jankowski, N., & Provezis, S. (2012). Neoliberal Ideologies, governmentality and the academy: Anexamination of accountability through assessment and transparency. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 46(5), 475–487.