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Journal Article

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

Cris Shore and Susan Wright
The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Vol. 5, No. 4 (Dec., 1999), pp. 557-575
DOI: 10.2307/2661148
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2661148
Page Count: 19
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Audit Culture and Anthropology: Neo-Liberalism in British Higher Education
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Abstract

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' have 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'.

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