Lecture by Marnie Holborow, October 5, 2012

‘Enhancing human capital’? Language and the Neoliberal University

by Marnie Holborow, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies, Dublin City University, Ireland

Why has the language of the market and economic utilitarianism so thoroughly penetrated the language of higher education? How has such language uniformity come about and why have applied linguists, and others in the humanities, acquiesced in this?  Does this matter for education and research? This talk looks at the spread of this neoliberal language through the prism of certain ideologically saturated linguistic forms – keywords – whose connections with the social world fall within the political project of neoliberalism. It examines neoliberal keywords in the context of Ireland where the aftermath of the economic crisis has speeded up neoliberal reforms in the universities; however, neoliberal keywords are common in the official language across many English speaking contexts.
Approaches in Critical Discourse Studies have highlighted the marketization of institutional discourse but, starting from discourse-bound premises, have not focussed on the unstable, dynamic dimension of ideology in language. This paper aims to address this by looking at how the ideology of neoliberalism, for all its apparent influence in society, is not guaranteed full consent when it appears in official texts. It argues that the question of agency is crucial to understanding the social dynamic of language, both in terms of who produces neoliberal keywords and how they are received and understood. The role international think tanks, such as the OECD, in standardising this language in official documents across local contexts is also highlighted and illustrated through examples from Ireland. Those involved in the teaching and research of language are uniquely placed to both critique and challenge neoliberal keywords in educational settings and in the university, a challenge which may find wider political resonance as the effect of neoliberal policies become more sharply felt.
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Friday, October 5, 2012
3:00 – 5:00 pm, B-4 Dwinelle Hall