Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Quality, Control and Complicity: The Effortless Conquest of the Academy by Bureaucrats

Dr Michael Loughlin.

The purpose of ‘the quality revolution’ in management theory was explicitly Orwellian. Its goal: to produce a language to facilitate the control of working populations by making meaningful opposition to the policy decisions of senior management within organisations strictly impossible. The success of the revolution depended upon management claiming ‘ownership’ of the vocabulary necessary to articulate legitimate objections to or concerns about the nature and direction of organisational change.
The ‘quality reforms’ in higher education are explicitly linked to the quality revolution in management theory. Their purpose is the same: to wrestle control of education from the primary workforce – academics. The effects of the revolution are being seen in educational systems throughout the world. As in other areas of the public sector, management has redefined of the parameters of rational debate, such that ‘rational’ dialogue is restricted to the discussion of the implementation of major policy decisions, not their underlying rationale or purpose. Dissent is rendered absurd by definition and the ‘quality revolutionaries’ do not hesitate to employ the language of mental impairment to characterise the ‘opponents of quality’.
One reason for the project’s success has been the absence of any sustained intellectual resistance to management’s appropriation of the language of quality and the whole vocabulary of evaluation. Although the mechanisms of persuasive definition and ‘opinion management’ are well understood in many academic circles, academics have (perversely) been reticent in articulating intellectual criticisms of these mechanisms in the context of their own organisational practices. Consequently a dichotomy between the ‘academic’ and the ‘pragmatic’ that few serious intellectuals would defend has nonetheless been manifested within the structure of academics’ professional lives.
If the academy is to survive, academics must rediscover their role as social critics, and have the courage to insist that further changes in their practices are unacceptable in the absence of a sound intellectual rationale. We have a particular duty to foster critical intelligence, and to denounce nonsense. Those of us supposedly dedicated to the promotion of critical thinking have allowed the science of opinion management to develop unchecked. With no argument we have allowed certain interest groups to claim exclusive ownership of persuasive terminology that used to be common property. If we don’t shout about this who will – who can?. This is necessary (though not sufficient) if the ideals of integrity and professionalism are to be salvaged, such that the workforce may regain some control of their own practices and mount a meaningful challenge to the Orwellian project of government and management.


Dr Michael Loughlin  (United Kingdom)
Senior Lecturer
Department of Humanities and Applied Social Studies
Manchester Metropolitan University

  • Managerialism
  • Quality
  • Higher education
  • Manipulation
  • Opinion management
  • Academic complicity

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)