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Academic activism in UK Higher Education: A critical pedagogy perspective

SYSON, LINDY (2020) Academic activism in UK Higher Education: A critical pedagogy perspective. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This research investigated academic activism in UK higher education, a marginalised and under-researched area. Universities are subject to increasing privatisation and intensive marketisation, bringing challenges and contradictions for those academics with a social justice agenda who wish to defend the university as a public good and a site for an activist and transformative pedagogy and practice. This work was guided by two questions posed by Blomley (1994) ‘Can I be an academic and an activist at the same time? If so, how?’ Its general research aim therefore was to investigate the practice and theory of critical pedagogy and academic activism research in UK higher education.
The conceptual framework of the research drew from critical pedagogy literature, particularly the relational ontology of Paulo Freire (1970) which is underpinned by a dialectical materialist analysis which does not separate theory from practice. The research was also informed by theories of contradiction (Ollman, 2015) and of crisis (Harvey, 2014).
Empirical data were collected using semi-structured in-depth interviews with 17 lecturers from a range of UK universities who self-identified as academic activists. Thematic analysis was used to identify themes along with the use of Freire’s limit situations as both analytical tool and conceptual framework.
Findings revealed that despite increasingly adverse conditions in the university the participants were committed to enacting an activist and transformative pedagogy and practice. Indeed, their practice often emerged from, and was a challenge, to the contradictions and limitations that they encountered. There was no reductive contrast between theory and practice and the participants were engaged academics (Freedman, 2017) who saw activism, in different forms, as central to their work.
The originality of this research lies in first, its focus on the convergence, and dialectical interplay, of three areas: the neoliberal university, academic activism and critical pedagogy. Second, its use of the concept of the social individual as a method of analysis and to challenge the prevailing discourse of the entrepreneurial individual in higher education. Its findings have relevance for those in higher education attempting an academic activist approach.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Sociology, Department of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:10 Nov 2021 08:44

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