“Despite These Many Challenges”: The Textual Construction of Autonomy of a Corporatised South African University

Brenden Leam Gray


The paper critically discusses how the notion of autonomy is textually constructed in the neo-liberal discourses of a corporatised public South African higher education system. By employing the methods of critical discourse analysis (CDA), I analyse two selected texts written by various leaders connected to the University of Johannesburg between 2013 and 2014. This includes a newspaper article written by the vice chancellor and a strategic document produced by the University of Johannesburg in 2014. The strategic document, the focus of this article, is a governance text that operationalises neo-liberal ideas and encourages academics, through its understanding of autonomy, to conform to the values of global competition, entrepreneurship and performance as ends in themselves. The operationalisation of these values leads to a denial of the social which I argue renders the the problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality as rhetorical tropes in these texts. The paper implicitly argues that the concept of autonomy is highly problematic. 


autonomy; autonomy and legitimacy; corporatisation; critical discourse analysis; governmentality; language; legitimation; neo-liberalism; South African public higher education; University of Johannesburg’s Global Excellence and Stature Strategy

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17159/1947-9417/2017/2481

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