Controlling academics: Power and resistance in the archipelago of post-COVID-19 audit regimes

John Welsh
2021 Anthropological Theory  
Government response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic promises to entrench austerity politics deeper into the organization of academic life, and audit regimes are the likely means of achieving this. Redoubled efforts to understand the operation of audit as a strategic technology of control are therefore clearly a priority. A distinctly anthropological literature has emerged over recent years to analyse and understand audit culture in academia, but what seems to be missing are analyses capable of
more » ... bringing the disparate techniques experienced in academic audit together into coherent technologies, and identifying how these technologies thereby constitute a distinct audit regime within the broader audit culture. While the anthropological literature implicitly calls for further historical and conceptual exploration of the rationality to these techniques, what is required is the translation of our understanding of audit rationality into a presentation of the concrete techniques of control as they are experienced, so that more effective counter-conducts and resistances can be conceived. This article indicates how an excursion into the Soviet Gulag, and the political technology of the 'camp' that is its principal apparatus, can reveal not merely how the techniques of audit operate, but also indicate how those techniques might be engaged tactically in the academic setting. This kind of analogic analysis can allow us to understand audit in ways more promising for resistance to its idiomatic power, replacing demoralized and helpless resignation with inspirational exempla. Politically, the article argues that 'techniques of the self' are not only necessary to engage audit techniques through particular kinds of counter-conduct, but how these counter-conducts are contributory to the organized and concerted kind of resistance that we so desperately desire. The practice of tukhta is singled out and introduced as an illustrative means for combining survival strategies with the development of critical rationality in praxis.
doi:10.1177/14634996211010508 fatcat:6a3mh3pulzh3hpp4fwo3jvtsti