Carpe the academy: Dismantling higher education and prefiguring critical utopias through action research

Patricia Gayá*, Mary Brydon-Miller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
620 Downloads (Pure)


This paper engages with the challenge of re-imagining higher education. We start from the position that the ascent of the increasingly corporatized university is deeply problematic precisely because of the neoliberal realist position on ‘the future’ that it assumes and perpetuates: the view that there is no alternative to neoliberal capitalist market principles, that present and future realities can diverge only to the extent permitted by existing market forces and rationales (Amsler, 2011). In this context, ‘education’ takes the form of preparing and socializing the next generation of workers: a future focus severely limited in the possibilities it considers. Thus we are faced with a mutually-constitutive relationship where constrained visions of future needs and demands serve to constrain present educational offerings; a dynamic which becomes self-reinforcing and which admits little disruption. In this paper, we draw on the concrete body of practice known as action research to consider how we might prize open spaces for thinking much more expansively about what ‘the future’ might entail, and what forms of education are necessary in the present to keep open, rather than shut down, diverse possibilities and democratic debate around this. We focus on Critical Utopian Action Research (and to a lesser extent Systemic Action Research) as illustrative of key qualities of prefigurative and critical utopian engagement with educational presents and futures. We conclude that the capture of the university by neoliberal logics can be resisted and challenged through radical methodologies, like action research, which explicitly set out to be ongoingly anti-hegemonic, necessarily critical, self-reflexive, pluralistic, and non-recuperative (Firth, 2013; Garforth, 2009).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-44
Number of pages11
Early online date19 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • Action research
  • Critical utopianism
  • Higher education futures
  • Neoliberal university
  • Organizing resistance
  • Prefigurative politics


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