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2.10.12

Neoliberal tweeting

I find it interesting the way "neoliberal" has become a term of disparagement in much of academia. It is true that "neoliberal" can be a useful term in organizing our understanding of the economic trends underway in higher education and the wider world. And I agree that many of the changes driven by neoliberalism are worrisome at best. But once we have made this clear identification of neoliberalism with bad stuff, it becomes easy to trash other behaviors or ideas by labeling them neoliberal.

Consider the issue of live-tweeting academic conferences. Tamara Nopper, a critic of conference tweeting, is quoted in the above-linked story as saying "we need to consider how live-tweeting at conferences is a form of neoliberalism, with scholars employing social media to increase name recognition in and outside of the academy in hopes of getting more paid opportunities."

Certainly live-tweeting can be done in a self-promotional way, which is a useful strategy for success in a neoliberal environment. But we could just as easily flip it around and show how restricting live-tweeting has parallels in neoliberalism. After all, one of the notable features of neoliberalism is how a variety of things -- resources, genes, skills, etc -- are taken out of the "commons" and turned into exclusive, patented property so that they can be controlled and commodified. Conference tweeting is a technologically mediated version of the discussion of ideas that has long been a sort of "commons" that academics could draw on. Restricting such discussion serves to keep a presenter's ideas more completely under their own control (for example, so as not to get "scooped" and thus deprived of the professional profit from them). This comes to resemble the heavy-handed use of copyright and patents by multinational companies in a neoliberal environment, squashing such things as traditional use of now-patented species, or fanfic and other sorts of media that work with copyrighted characters.

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