Antonino Palumbo
The market as statecraft: how to reform higher education and commodify knowledge in the process


Following the introduction of the new public management in the British civil service, a sustained attempt to reform the English university system by using the same template has been carried out since the late 1980s by governments of diverse complexion. The paper reconstructs the whole reform process across three full decades in order to detect the rationale behind this attempt and evaluate the plausibility of the readings proposed to date. Against cultural explanations which attributes causal power to neoliberal ideas and functional-types of explanations which view the reform process as driven by an efficientist logic, the paper supports the thesis that the aim of the reform is eminently political and that its real objective has been to centralise decision making power while shifting managerial and administrative responsibilities down along hierarchical lines. Thus, central government uses financial instruments and complex systems of performance management to reduce the autonomy of university and impose upon them a corporate business model. At the same time, universities' boards and vice-chancellors try to employ a similar approach to undermine traditional forms of collegiality and micromanage research and teaching activities which were previously beyond their reach, restricting academic freedom in the process. An identical logic of political control explains the diffusion of the new public management template across Europe at community and state levels in what is a joint effort to establish a common European educational area and make the EU a leading knowledge economy. By using a revised version of Polanyi's double movement, the paper tries to show that the changes that are affecting European higher education systems are the outcome of longer trends concerned with the commodification of intellectual labour and the turning of knowledge into a new fictitious commodity.

Antonino Palumbo (Ma, PhD) is a political theorist who works on globalization, the transformation of governance and the implications of changes in state steering for modern representative democracies. He holds an Ma in PPE and a PhD in Politics from East Anglia University (UK). Since 2002 he has been teaching at Palermo University (Italy), where is an associate professor in political philosophy. His research interests are in analytical theories of the state, human rights and social justice; state, identity and democratic theory; neo-liberalism, governance and applied ethics. His most recent work in English is: Situating Governance: context, content, critique (ECPR, 2015). At present he is co-writing a book on Social Theory and Political Economy with Alan Scott to be published by Routledge. He also is co-editor of the Ashgate Library of Contemporary Essays in Political Theory and Public Policy, the second series of which is already in press. Email: