SS10. Post-growth Academia – Towards the revival of academics as intellectuals of consequence

Academia has been, and has the potential to be, a source of radical thinking and of contributions to a degrowth future. However, currently it is being pressed from all sides to do exactly the opposite, and resistance is ever harder to maintain. Many are being forced to use neoliberal and growth-oriented methods (e. g. building curricula through quantity of publications and grant acquisitions) even when their aim is to contribute to degrowth. It becomes a question of privilege who can do this, and the process severely narrows the sphere of action, making it dependent on charismatic engagement with the status-quo and quantity over quality. This session aims to proactively seek ways out of this alarming tendency, encouraging presenters and the audience to describe the problem in their context, but also to share geographical, social, political, organizational, economic, cultural, linguistic, technological or psychological means by which their field could help “rescue” academia.

  • Expected proposals format: conventional panel contributions
  • Keywords: Post-growth Academia, Intellectuals, Universities, Quality over Quantity
  • Related track(s): 1. Imagining post-growth Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) futures / 2. Theoretical perspectives and debates around STI and degrowth / postgrowth
  • Organizers: Ferreira, António (CITTA - Centre for Research on Territory, Transports and Environment, University of Porto, Portugal); von Schonfeld, Kim (Høgskolen på Vestlandet, Bergen, Norway); Verlinghieri, Ersilia (University of Westminster, UK; University of Oxford, UK)

Full description

In a critical moment where intellectuals should be responding to their calling to provide transformational understandings and ideas, the supporters of the neoliberal university are summoning their powers and influence to reduce university-based intellectuals to (preferably precarious and poorly paid) ‘knowledge workers’ (Collini, 2012; Tomusk, 2007). While irremediable climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss, abject poverty, social exclusion and military conflicts are pressing humanity against a dark corner, university-based knowledge workers are encouraged or even forced to sell their research as a market commodity through hyperbolic language and self-aggrandizing statements to remain academically employable (Hyland and Jiang, 2021). Universities are risking to render themselves (and their employees) irrelevant stakeholders to the search for alternative futures as they focus on the mission of competing with each other for better positions in rankings and to attract the attention and sponsorship of funders whose primary goal is to guarantee the maintenance of the status quo through ever-increasing competitiveness, economic growth, and returns on investment (Boulton and Lucas, 2011; von Schönfeld and Ferreira, 2021). Academic work is experiencing a process that makes it increasingly fragmented, deskilled and intensified while surveillance mechanisms, supposedly ‘meritocratic’ hierarchies and precarity are accepted as the new normal for universities (Markovits, 2019; Ross and Savage, 2021; Sandel, 2020). In short, academia is contributing to its own demise through the very same growth-orientation that some of its members are working to challenge. This must stop. The proposed session aims at identifying pathways out of this problematic situation.

This will be a standard parallel session, though we will encourage presenters to keep the presentations short to allow for as much debate as possible, encouraging the audience to become engaged with the questions we ask the presenters to answer as well.

Presenters and the audience will be asked to reflect on the following questions: 

  • In which unique and specific ways is my field of expertise encouraging the demise of intellectuals through knowledge work? 
  • What are the geographical, social, political, organizational, economic, cultural, linguistic, technological or psychological consequences of the demise of intellectuals through knowledge work that my field of expertise is responsible for? 
  • And what are the geographical, social, political, organizational, economic, cultural, linguistic, technological or psychological means to rescue my field from the demise of intellectuals through knowledge work?

Maximum number of participants (presenters): 6.


  • Boulton, G., & Lucas, C. (2011). What are Universities For? Chinese Science Bulletin, 56, pp. 2506-2517. 
  • Collini, S. (2012). What are universities for? London: Penguin.
  • Hyland, K., & Jiang, F. (2021). ‘Our striking results demonstrate…’: Persuasion and the growth of academic hype. Journal of Pragmatics, 182, pp. 189-202. 
  • Markovits, D. (2019). The Meritocracy Trap: How America´s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite New York: Penguin Press.
  • Ross, S., & Savage, L. (2021). Work reorganization in the neoliberal university: A labour process perspective. The Economic and Labour Relations Review, pp. 1-18. 
  • Sandel, M. (2020). The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good? New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Tomusk, V. (2007). The End of Europe and the Last Intellectual: Fine-Tuning of Knowledge Work in the Panopticon of Bologna. In V. Tomusk (Ed.), Creating the European Area of Higher Education: Voices from the Periphery. Dordrecht: Springer.
  • von Schönfeld, K., & Ferreira, A. (2021). Urban Planning and European Innovation Policy: Achieving Sustainability, Social Inclusion, and Economic Growth? Sustainability, 13(3), p 1137.