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The cynical university: Gamified subjectivity in Norwegian academia

New article in the DIGIWORK project by Tereza Østbø Kuldova

Norwegian academia is increasingly subject to governance by numbers. A mixture of New Public Management, corporate governance and the power wielded by management-consultant firms underpins this ‘triumph of numbers’ intended to stimulate competition, productivity and excellence. Disillusionment, individualization, insecurity, anxiety and envy, have, however, become its products. Few believe that metrics are neutral, unbiased or objective. On the contrary, individual and institutional practices of gaming statistics and manipulating ratings and indicators are widespread, together known as micro-fraud. Predatory publishers, predatory journals and fake metrics markets are growing, considered a ‘global threat’ to science. Gaming in response to quantified control is symptomatic of the neoliberal moral economy of fraud and the criminogenic marketization of academia (Whyte and Wiegratz, 2016). While there may be ‘true believers’ in governance by numbers, this article focuses on what appears as the more common figure of the academic cynic, arguing that the triumph of numbers and the reproduction of governance by numbers despite mounting critique and critical awareness has to be understood through the notions of ideological fantasy, disavowal and pleasureand through a particular mode of subjectivation – namely, gamified subjectivity. Reflecting on (auto-)ethnographic observations and interviews with academics and trade unionists in Norwegian academia, this article offers a theoretical contribution to the function of cynical ideology and gamified subjectivity for organizational reproduction and its consequences for the possibility of resistance. Resistance, it is argued, would involve externalization of disbelief and degaming of the academic, and putting measure back into its proper place. Can politics proper emerge despite organizational cynicism?


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