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‘Being TED’: The university intellectual as globalised neoliberal consumer self

Wesley Shumar

Keywords: academic identity; commodification of universities; elite academics; global capitalism; TED Talks

Abstract

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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