Welcome to your world

September 16, 2005

The story is set in "a world peopled by individuals displaced from an earlier time, who are confused by a sudden and dramatic change in their environment".

This may sound like science fiction. In fact it is an academic analysis of everyday life in a university, based on four months' editions of The Times Higher , writes Anna Fazackerley.

Jacky Brine, research director at the University of West of England's faculty of education, will present the paper, Banal Academia , at the British Educational Research Association conference this week. She argues that The Times Higher "presents an opportunity to study the everyday of our academic lives" - and that it is "not something remote, but is present in our words, in the discourses we take for granted".

An analysis of the paper, from October 2004 to January 2005, suggests that working conditions and the status of institutions are top of the list of academics' daily concerns.

Professor Brine said that her reading left her with an image of the academic as someone who "struggles to operate, in an educational values system that (grates) against the managerial, competitive, finance-driven, managerially and administratively controlled, 'new' university".

But she stressed that the term "new university" encompassed a whole new breed of institution, and not just post-1992 institutions.

She explained: "(It is) a university for the new global knowledge economy, one in which the academic is the production worker."

METAPHORS OF EVERYDAY LIFE

* Violent or restrictive metaphors - these included mass revolt and staff waiting for cavalry to arrive. There were also violent images of academics and departments being killed off, culled, trapped, axed and hijacked.

* Sea or river metaphors - women "flood into universities", research professors need to "surface from their own research", academics are swamped or drowned. There are watertight vessels and leaky ships.

* Medical metaphors - staff are in shock, "the lifeblood" is drained, new blood is brought in and viruses infect.

Jacky Brine says: "These three categories of metaphor suggest an environment of struggle and injury, in which attempts at survival are further suggested by the additional metaphors of game-playing and parallel universes."

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