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Wesley Shumar

This summary article situates the articles in this collection within the historical unfolding of the commodification and neoliberalisation of higher education. From the 1970s to the present, the article suggests that commodification and neoliberalisation are two social forces that in many nations are difficult to disentangle. It is important to see these forces as analytically distinct as they set up contradictions whilst transforming higher education in many nations in the world. While commodification begins the process of turning university programmes and degrees into commodities that a consuming public buys, neoliberalism puts pressure on universities to document that people are getting value for the money they spend. Neoliberalism also questions how we measure the quality of a product. Together these forces create an increasingly contradictory space where faculty work becomes very conflicted. The article then goes on to situate each of the articles in this contradictory university space. Finally the article discusses some ways faculty can move beyond resistance and collusion and find ways to reclaim higher education.

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Wesley Shumar

This article focuses on the ways that modern American universities are engaged in the process of articulating new producing and consuming subjects. It argues that the image of the engaged ‘media celebrity’ intellectual, as presented in the TED Talk model, has become a cultural ideal that reconciles a deeper contradiction in the academy. Through a complex process, university faculty and students are assimilated into the globalised lifestyle and the identity of cosmopolitans by participating in a social space that is at once an upscale shopping mall and at the same time a high tech corporate research park. This global elite is forged first out of individuals who make it through the university and then secondly out of those university students who successfully excel under the twin pressures of elite production and consumption. Most student, faculty and universities fall short of this ideal. But by watching TED talks they can aspire to this fantasy ideal through the image of the media celebrity intellectual.

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Wesley Shumar and Susan Wright

This special issue focuses on new social media in higher education and the dialectical tension they generate between knowledge as information and knowledge as a creative, social process. There is a long history of using new media in higher education, and their introduction has often been associated with a renewed social purpose for the sector. Now that new social media such as Facebook, streamed lectures, TED Talks, MOOCs, Moodle and other Content Management Systems are becoming widespread, this special issue questions their potential impact on teaching and learning in higher education. Do these media fulfil some administrators’ dream of reorganising higher education in terms of economic rationality and inexpensive reusable learning modules? Or do they open up new spaces for creativity, critical thinking and social change?