No 'touchy-feely'? How macho...

Pair say idolisation of 'unfettered male reason' drives critics of 'therapy culture'. Melanie Newman reports

August 6, 2009

Critics of the growing "therapy culture" in higher education are guilty of a "suspicious" desire for an emotion-free academy, two academics have claimed.

A book published last year, The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education, by Dennis Hayes of the University of Derby and Kathryn Ecclestone of Oxford Brookes University, both professors of education, set out the authors' argument that universities infantilised their students and staff by presuming they were at emotional risk.

In a new paper, Carole Leathwood of London Metropolitan University and Valerie Hey of the University of Sussex, agree that increased focus on emotion in education could be problematic.

But the two professors of education also say the intellectual effort to put "messy feelings back into the quarantine zone" is "suspicious," suggesting it is "as much about the politics of masculinity" as about the purposes of higher education.

Professor Hayes, they say, wants an "emotion-free academy" of "unfettered male reason".

He and Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent - who also believes that therapy culture has come to permeate many aspects of contemporary life - are attempting to "reinstall and reinforce a firm distinction between the public and the private, with emotions construed as private and/or pathological".

They portray "support" as the opposite of "challenge" and critical thinking, according to Professor Leathwood and Professor Hey.

The paper, "Gender/ed Discourses and Emotional Sub-texts: Theorising Emotion in UK Higher Education", argues that it is wrong to see learning and teaching as "purely cognitive, rational and detached" and as separate from emotional "touchy-feely stuff".

It suggests that moves to reject emotion in higher education stem from a "conventional class-based disdain about the intrusion of the masses" and, in particular, increased female participation.

The authors also celebrate the research assessment exercise "rejects group" that was set up on a social networking site in 2007.

"By outing themselves as rejects these academics have opened up a new space from which to challenge and resist," the paper in the journal Teaching in Higher Education says.

Professor Hayes rejected the pair's arguments, accusing Professor Leathwood and Professor Hey of talking "meaninglessly" about male rationality.

"Most women would be insulted by the Victorian assumption that reason is too macho for them," he said.

Nor did he agree with their assessment of the RAE rejects group.

"Academics who, in the name of 'emotion', celebrate their victimhood will never change the academy, never mind the world."

He added: "No doubt they will be selling 'I'm an RAE reject' T-shirts next."

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