failure failure failure failure failure failure: six types of failure within the neoliberal academy

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I am not a failure…but I feel like one and expect to fail every day of my working life within the neoliberal academy. This somewhat autoethnographic essay reflects upon six distinct, though related, feelings of failure which are everyday, axiomatic, but often-unspoken experiences of contemporary academic life. It considers failure in terms of: (i) things not going to plan; (ii) pervasive anxieties about performance within the neoliberal academy; (iii) regret, or wanting to do more; (iv) embodied senses of personal inadequacy and (not)belonging; (v) assessment criteria and procedures; and (vi) a vast, lucrative infrastructure of consultants, training organisations, entrepreneurial/leadership discourses and performative strategies which claim (triumph-over-)adversity as a kind of currency or capital to be deployed, monetised and enclosed. In so doing, this intervention opens a space to both acknowledge personal, embodied senses of failure and critically reflect on the Special Issue’s aims of reclaiming failure within the contemporary neoliberal academy. The intervention ends with a series of questions which might serve as prompts for thinking-with failure and fostering more collegiate, critical ideas of success in the neoliberal academy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100672
Number of pages6
JournalEmotion, Space and Society
Early online date20 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • Autoethnography
  • Failure
  • Neoliberal academy


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