With the new responsibility to account for impact, UK universities and the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) are territorializing social and political practices, which were once beyond the bounds of scholarly labour. In Hannah Arendt's terms, an academic's vita activa, their active life beyond university, is now part of the professional work for which they are contracted. Through the professionalization of making impact for university workers, everyday political action and social change, which were exterior to the academy, have become colonized by production and need to be demonstrated. This is both closely in line with Paolo Virno's (2004) argument around the dissolving of boundaries between poiesis and praxis, and with what Stephano Harney and Fred Moten suggest about 'the spread of the university beyond the university' (2013).
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) measures lecturers' performance in the public sphere against criteria for excellence, commodifying our social acts and their affects. No longer common, felt impacts and community change are claimed as outputs belonging to the university, institutional property or assets, which can be capitalized upon and attract future funding. Just as 'public space has been privatized to such an extent' – as Hardt & Negri argue (2001) – that the 'dialectic between private and public space' no longer makes sense as a way to 'understand social organization', it now makes little sense to speak of an inside or outside of the university.
The job of producing impact case studies for the 2014 REF fell to practitioner-researchers in many institutions, whose professional practices already engaged publics beyond the academy. As a practitioner working within the university, this essay explores my role in the discursive enclosure of embodied know-how within the institution's resource of knowledge, the appropriation and professionalization of performance as practice-as-research, along with my complicity in the capture, measurement and commodification of sociocultural impact.
- Impact assessment
- practice as research
- political philosophy