Friday, 24 May 2013

Neoliberal Discourses in British University Mission Statements

Liz Morrish's latest work with Helen Sauntson (University of Birmingham) analyzes neoliberal discourses in British university mission statements. The paper produces a critical analysis of a corpus of British university mission statements as a means of examining how text producers within higher education (HE) institutions use appraisal features to engage in public-sector marketing.

The paper focuses upon one specific marketing practice which has emerged in British universities over the past decade – the production of ‘mission statements’ or ‘university visions’. This is a standard practice used in businesses, particularly multinational corporations, which has been more recently adopted by the HE sector, arguably as part of the wider emergence of a neoliberal governmentality in university management. It has been argued that the values upheld by universities now centre around the marketisation, financialisation and commodification of enterprises which used to offer a public service but which are now much more driven by a neoliberal market economy (Canaan & Shumar 2008, Duggan 2003, Harvey 2005, Lynch, 2006). Mission statements serve the primary function of marketing the university in an environment of increasing competitiveness and commodification within British HE. Mission statements tend to be characterised by a discourse which realises and reinforces the competitive, market-driven values of the university. Appraisal (Martin 2000, 2003) is particularly helpful for uncovering these discourses which, as we argue in this paper, permeate and typify university mission statements.

 Preliminary findings suggest that the university mission statements make extensive use of Judgement and Appreciation markers, particularly around activities such as research and learning. Judgement markers tend to fall mainly into the sub-category of Social Esteem (especially tenacity and capacity). Appreciation markers are, predictably, positive and seem to cluster around particular 'products' which the universities are seen to be marketing. The authors have previously examined the ‘products’ marketed by universities via their mission statements (2010). This study complements the corpus linguistic approach of this study with the application of APPRAISAL analysis. 

Liz Morrish & Helen Sauntson (2013): ‘Business-facing motors for economic development’: an appraisal analysis of visions and values in the marketised UK university, Critical Discourse Studies, 10 1, 1-20. DOI:10.1080/17405904.2012.736698


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