Politics of the University in the Global North Syllabus

A note from an Australian colleague just reminded me that we still need to flesh out our collection of teaching materials in Critical University Studies and critical ethnography of higher education. I do have a few things I can contribute from my own teaching practice. I’ll start here with a reading list that I wrote in 2013 for a class on the politics of universities in the Global North. It is mainly about the United States, with a bit of comparative work from other places, particularly France.

A self-critical note is in order as I post this. If I were writing this list again now, it would probably center feminist and race theory and politics quite a bit more, and honestly, I didn’t have much teaching experience when I put this together in graduate school. It would probably need some revisions for a classroom — it looks too much like a graduate seminar, with too many readings, and not enough space for other kinds of work. But in any case, it does have pointers to a wide range of contemporary critical literature, and I thought it might be a starting place for someone. Maybe even for me, one day.

Politics of the University in the Global North
Draft Reading List


Just what is a university, understood anthropologically? How should we understand its many subcultures, its organizational forms, its economies and its ideological functions? The primary empirical focus of this course will be France and the United States. We will talk a lot about methodology, about multiple sources of data, about different forms of intervention. And you’ll be asked to keep observational journals throughout the quarter, in which you analyze your own university life. You’ll have your choice of writing a research paper or conducting a short ethnographic project about a nearby institution of higher education.

Week 1: The “mass university” in turmoil

Tuesday: The U.S. in the 1960s

  • Kerr, Clark. 2001. The Idea of a Multiversity. In The Uses of the University. 5th Edition. ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Pp. 1-34.
  • Kahn, Roger. 1970. The battle for Morningside Heights: why students rebel. New York: W. Morrow. Selections.

Thursday: The view from white radicalism

See also: McMillian, John, and Paul Buhle, eds. 2003. The New Left Revisited. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Week 2: Race, class, and social reproduction

Tuesday: Minoritization and national culture

  • Mir, Shabana. 2014. Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity. Chapel Hill: UNC Press. (Selection.)
  • Abelmann, Nancy. 2009. The Intimate University: Korean Americans and the Problem of Segregation. Durham: Duke University Press. (Selection.)

Thursday: Class and masculine elitism

  • Bourdieu, Pierre, and Jean-Claude Passeron. 1979. The Inheritors: French students and their relation to culture. Translated by R. Nice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Selection.)
  • Karabel, Jerome. 2005. The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (Selection.)

Week 3: The increasingly post-national university

Tuesday: Neoliberalism and audit technologies

  • Brenneis, Donald. 1999. New Lexicon, Old Language: Negotiating the “Global” at the National Science Foundation. In Critical Anthropology Today, edited by G. E. Marcus. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press. Pp. 123-146.
  • Shore, Cris, and Susan Wright. 1999. Audit culture and anthropology: Neo-liberalism in British higher education. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 5 (4):557-575.

Thursday: Globalizing the university 

  • Ross, Andrew. 2000. The mental labor problem. Social Text 18 (2):1-32.
  • Ong, Aihwa. 2005. Ecologies of expertise: Assembling flows, managing citizenship. In Global Assemblages, edited by S. J. Collier and A. Ong. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Pp. 337-353.

Week 4: Evolving disciplinary conflicts

Tuesday: The system of disciplines

  • Abbott, Andrew. 2001. Chaos of Disciplines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ch. 1 (pp. 3-33).
  • Le Gall, Brice, and Charles Soulié. 2009. Administrative reform and the new conflict of the faculties at French universities. Laboratorium 1:83-97.

Thursday: Case studies in disciplinary conflict

  • Jennings, Bruce H. 1997. The killing fields: Science and politics at Berkeley, California, USA. Agriculture and Human Values 14:259-271.
  • Rojas, Fabio. 2007. From Black Power to Black Studies: How a radical social movement became an academic discipline. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. (Selection.)

See also: Graff, Gerald. 1987. Professing Literature: An Institutional History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ch. 9

Week 5: The classroom scene

Tuesday: Classroom language and power

  • Mertz, Elizabeth. 2007. “Law, Language, and the Law School Classroom.” In The language of law school: learning to “think like a lawyer.” 12-30. New York: Oxford University Press.

Thursday: Smartness, debt and friendship

  • Martínez-Alemán, Ana M. 1997. Understanding and Investigating Female Friendship’s Educative Value. Journal of Higher Education 68 (2):119-159.
  • Williams, Jeffrey J. 2004. Smart. Minnesota Review 61-62:171-190.

Week 7: The scholarly gaze


  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. The Scholastic Point of View. Cultural Anthropology 5 (4):380-391.
  • Haraway, Donna. 1988. Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. Feminist Studies 14 (3):575-599.

Thursday: Standpoint epistemology and critique

  • Adorno, Theodor, and Max Horkheimer. 2002. The Concept of Enlightenment. In Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Pp. 1-34.
  • Messer-Davidow, Ellen. 2002. Disciplining Feminism: From Social Activism to Academic Discourse. Durham: Duke University Press. (Selection.)

Week 8: Campus space and political economy


  • Eichhorn, Kate. 2006. Breach of copy/rights: The university copy district as abject zone. Public Culture 18 (3):551-571.
  • Lafer, Gordon. 2003. Land and labor in the post-industrial university town: remaking social geography. Political Geography 22:89-117.


  • Konings, Piet. 2002. University Students’ Revolt, Ethnic Militia, and Violence during Political Liberalization in Cameroon. African Studies Review 45 (2):179-204.
  • Abu-Radia-Queder, Sara. 2008. Does Education Necessarily Mean Enlightenment? The Case of Higher Education among Palestinians—Bedouin Women in Israel. Anthropology & Education Quarterly 39 (4):381-400.

Week 9: Affect and relationships

Tuesday: Student experience

  • Sabin, Portia. 2007. On Sentimental Education among American College Students. Teachers College Record 109 (7):1682-1704.
  • Stephens, Sara, and Amelia Fay. 2010. ‘This Masters is Going to Kill Me’: E- Narratives of Stress and Support Between Anthropology Graduate Students. Michigan Discussions in Anthropology 18:70-111.

Thursday: Precarity and debt

  • Sharff, Jagna Wojcicka, and Johanna Lessinger. 1994. The Academic Sweatshop: Changes in the Capitalist Infrastructure and the Part-Time Academic. Anthropology Today 10 (5):12-15.
  • Adamson, Morgan. 2009. The Financialization of Student Life: Five Propositions on Student Debt. Polygraph 21:97-110.

Week 10: The metanarrative industries

Tuesday: The ideology of excellence

  • Readings, Bill. 1996. The University In Ruins. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Ch. 2 (pp. 21-43).
  • Urciuoli, Bonnie. 2003. Excellence, leadership, skills, diversity: marketing liberal arts education. Language & Communication 23:385-408.

Thursday: The politics of critical research

Contemporary writing on the politics of what has been polemically called “Grievance Studies” will be distributed.

Published by

Eli Thorkelson

Eli Thorkelson edits Academography and also keeps a research blog at decasia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *