Solidarity, Now! Care, Collegiality and Comprehending the Power Relations of “Academic Kindness” in the Neoliberal Academy

Sarah Burton* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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Alongside scholarship on the distressing and damaging effects of the neoliberal academy there is now also increasing attention paid to the concept of “academic kindness”. This article examines ideas of un/kindness and their operation within the frameworks of the neoliberal university and theorises these in relation to already recognised structures of power and ideas of solidarity and care in the neoliberal academy. Rather than allowing kindness to remain a flat concept or simple salve to the problems of academic life, the article suggests that kindness operates in multiple forms – sometimes as a technology of dominant, hierarchical power and sometimes as resistance and solidarity. Looking at these varied forms of kindness in relation to central features of the contemporary neoliberal university, the article reveals the intimate ways that certain performances of kindness can function to uphold paradigms of neoliberalism and block solidarity. The article closes by questioning if the specific focus on “kindness” is useful when it comes to comprehending the harmful effects of neoliberal policies and work cultures and outlining how we might productively move away from “kindness talk” and towards modes of care which more radically resist and destabilise the unequal power hierarchies of the neoliberal university.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-39
Number of pages20
JournalPerformance Paradigm
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

The short pieces which prompted this article were co-authored with Dr Vikki Turbine, to whom I am immensely grateful. Separating our ideas is impossible, and Vikki’s intellectual contribution can be felt throughout. Thanks also to Ros Gill and Jo Littler for productive conversations on this topic and their continued close engagement with my work. I’d like to acknowledge the holistic role of the Drag Them to Hell collective in providing both support and joy, and especially Phoenix Andrews for allowing me to quote their wisdom in this article. Finally, I’m grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier draft, and to the special issue editors – particularly Emma Willis – for feedback and encouragement throughout.
The research in this article was supported both by the Economic and Social Research Council grant number B106424E and by a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship.


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