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Sick of study : student mental 'illness' and neoliberal higher education policy.

Priestley, Michael (2019) 'Sick of study : student mental 'illness' and neoliberal higher education policy.', in Imagining Better Education: Conference Proceedings 2018. Durham, England: Durham University, School of Education, pp. 183-199. Imagining Better Education.


‘The anxiety currently manifest in higher education is not an unintended consequence or malfunction, but is inherent in the design of a system driven by improving productivity and the potential for the accumulation of capital’ (Hall and Bowles, 2016, p.33). This paper applies postmodern theory to reposition the increase in certain student mental ‘illnesses’ (namely anxiety and depressive conditions) as socio-political, rather than natural and individual. It posits, in particular, that conditions of depression and anxiety are reproduced through neoliberal higher education policy discourses and structures, as an instrument of neoliberal power; that these mental ‘illnesses’ are, in part, defined by, produced by, and reproduce neoliberalism. This paper propounds a three-tier Foucaultian framework for conceptualising student mental ‘illness’ in the context of the discourse-truth-power-subject relations of neoliberal higher education policy. Tier 1 proposes that mental ‘illness’ is discursively constructed, and defined in opposition to neoliberal ethico-economic normality. Tier 2 proposes that the mentally ‘ill’ student subject is reproduced, both externally and internally, through neoliberal higher education policy. Tier 3 proposes that these mental ‘illnesses’ reproduce four core tenets of neoliberal functionality: 1.) Neoliberal Governmentality; 2.) Neoliberal Subjectivity; 3.) Neoliberal Regulation & 4.) Neoliberal Consumption.

Item Type:Book chapter
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Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:15 March 2019
Date of first online publication:2019
Date first made open access:No date available

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