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13 B e yo n d Ma r k e ta b i l i t y DOI: 10.7330/9781607324454.c013 Locating Teacher Agency in the Neoliberal University Shari Stenberg In my interactions with TAs teaching in our writing program, I’m aware of a pervasive, almost tangible, anxiety that seems to increase as job prospects in English decline. There is fear about current job security—in this case, a teaching assistantship; there is angst about the inevitable “messiness ” of pedagogy, especially as it relates to their evaluations (by students and administrators). TAs know that their doctoral degrees will not guarantee tenure-line employment, an uncertainty that heightens the pressure to view every seminar, every course taught, every award or grant applied for, as a test of future success. They know they must compete and win in a game that may not be winnable. Indeed, with the decline of state and federal aid to public universities and the growing replacement of tenure-line faculty with contingent labor, the economic consequences of austerity measures in university life are undeniable. But there are other, less visible, ideological effects of these measures, which shape what Aimee Carrillo Rowe calls “conditions of belonging,” a set of relations, values, and assumptions that determine one’s inclusion , sense of value, and agency within a particular context (Rowe 2005, 20). In this age of austerity, the value of higher education, instructional activity, and instructors, themselves, face intense scrutiny. Austerity’s ideological consequences determine who and what is deemed valuable, who and what counts as a “good investment” (Amsler 2014; Davies and O’Callaghan 2014). This pressure to perform the self as a “good investment” inevitably narrows choices about self-representation in (and beyond) the classroom. Within increasingly privatized universities, argue Michelle Comstock, Mary Ann Cain, and Lil Brannon, the available space for “representing who we are and what we do” is “constrained in ways that make it difficult for teachers to re-present their identities, and thus their fullest range of 192   Shari Stenberg perspectives” (Comstock, Cain, and Brannon 2010, 6). This narrowing of available “appropriate” identities is gendered and value-laden, marking anything other than “neutral” as a detriment. Within the context of austerity and neoliberalism, a “good investment” is equated with a “neutral,” competitive, masculine subject who can acclimate, compete, and win within established power structures. On the other hand, Sarah Amsler observes, “certain forms of femininity and non-hegemonic masculinity are suppressed or treated as professional problems and investment risks” (Amsler 2014; my emphasis). This is reflected in the concerns I hear from TAs, who express fear that they will be read as too political, too female, too queer, etc., with “too” marking an excessive subjectivity in need of discipline. Indeed, feminist scholars Miriam David and Sue Clegg observe that neoliberal values replace embodied actors with “individualized, decontextualized , competitive neoliberal subjects” (David and Clegg 2008, 488). This decontextualized individual is assumed to compete on a level playing field, which occludes attention to particular embodied subjects and the complex contexts in which they work—not to mention the student subjects whom they teach. And the notion that anybody can compete and win reifies an “ungendered but masculinist” culture—one that covers its masculinist values with neutrality (494). Consequently, the gendered effects of austerity and neoliberalism are at once experienced as constraining and yet inevitable: “just the way things are.” And if the ideological effects of neoliberalism and austerity are not examined as systemic, social and economic, it is all too easy for the teacher to deny, or be pressured to deny, aspects of the self as a mere “personal problem.” In this chapter I focus on how we might support teacher development and agency even as belonging is increasingly constrained by austerity and neoliberalism. To offer an alternative to neoliberal values and effects, I draw upon feminist scholarship that views marginalized locations and practices as rich and vital resources for knowing and being. I then forward a concept of located agency, a practice that includes examining, valuing, and taking responsibility for our locations. Because enacting authority is such an important, and often fraught, part of teacher learning, I focus in particular on highlighting located agency with new teachers of composition. My aim is to counter neoliberalism’s coercive and repressive effects on teaching subjectivities by helping new TAs discover the possibilities that emerge from the nexus of their subjectivities , locations, and relations. Beyond Marketability   193 B elonging an d L o cati n g...


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