- Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal University: Feminist Flights, Fights, and Failures ed. by Yvette Taylor, Kinneret Lahad
Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal University: Feminist Flights, Fights and Failures edited by Yvette Taylor and Kinneret Lahad takes on the experience of academia as its object of critical study. Through a series of fifteen essays, the anthology invites a conversation about what it means to experience academia in light of its [End Page 161] neoliberalization, which has resulted in systems of higher education model themselves on corporate and commercialized standards. Taylor and Lahad launch an important conversation about what it means to enact strategies of resistance in a context constrained by neoliberal economic practices that produce precarity and vulnerability for both the academy and academics. More specifically, the book generates an intertextual dialogue that centers the experience of feeling academic and critically questions how one becomes academic under conditions where the legitimation of arrival is absent (3).
The editors take seriously the way academic life materializes over the course of time through technologies of mobility that celebrate meritocratic promises of career enhancement (4). Given such a framework, what it means to feel academic also implies questions about strategies of resistance that intervene on the normalizing impulse of academic spaces. The book asks, “What does it mean to be a feminist academic in the neoliberal university at this particular juncture in time?” (4). Reflecting on the conceptualization of the “feminist academic” pushes readers to consider the ways in which diversity is assembled in spaces of higher education through mechanisms that have deep impact on the experiential dimensions of academia. The anthology critically questions what it means to feel both a success and a failure in the academy. In this review, I offer reflections on what I take to be the conceptual strengths of the anthology. I then turn attention toward moments of critical reflection by offering points of critique that I hope will continue the conversation initiated by the book on the role of feminist practices in a corporatized system of higher education and the creation of spaces of resistance therein.
Some of the most important and strongest features of Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal University are the questions the book invites its readers to consider. The anthology invites readers to ponder how the university as a system impacts the possibilities of articulating an academic way of being grounded in feminist practices. Rather than unilaterally providing an answer, the project of the book is framed through the positing of important and pressing questions that need to be explored in their complexity. The contributors do not necessarily provide answers to the questions, but rather complicate the very notions of being and feeling academic in a system built around and through exploitation. As Taylor and Lahad note in their introduction, the chapters reflect a broad range of experiences, but simultaneously disclose the multidimensional experiences that the neoliberal university system produces (6). The questions they pose for the project are worth quoting at length:
Can feminist spaces offer freedom or flight from the corporatized and commercialized neoliberal university? How are feminist voices felt, heard, received, silenced, and masked? What is it to be a feminist academic in the neoliberal university? How are expectations, entitlements, and burdens felt in inhabiting feminist positions and what of “bad feeling” or “unhappiness” among [End Page 162] feminists? How are emotions structured by particular academic temporalities (included job insecurity, “early career” status, “senior” status, temporariness, permanence)? How are indicators of success/failure measured and felt?
What are the material, affective, and embodied performativities of being a feminist academic in the neoliberal university? What are the expectations, entitlements, and burdens in inhabiting feminist positionalities?
How are feminist academics negotiating and resisting neoliberal managerialist practices? How might they be complicit in these processes, and how are different feminists unequally placed in particular times and places?(6)
By framing the anthology through these sets of the questions, the editors invite fruitful conversation about the material...