Economic freedom and the harm of adaptation: on Gadamer, authoritarian technocracy and the re-engineering of English higher education

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Colleges, School and Institutes


The social democratic state pursued interventionism for positive political freedom, making markets adapt to the needs of a fair democratic society, with the provision of social rights. The Robbins Report, which inaugurated the expansion of state-funded higher education in the 1960s, held that access to higher education was a social right and that the ‘cultivation’ produced by higher education was a good in itself and the epistemic basis for a social democratic society. Despite rhetorical appeals to negative political freedom, the neoliberal state is interventionist, but with interventionism to promote the economic freedom of corporations. The state adapts the market to corporate needs and seeks to force individuals to adapt to this market. The current Conservative Government is seeking to re-engineer English higher education to make it adapt more fully to enhancing the economic freedom of corporations, using audit culture and changes to the Research Councils, with the former being presented as neutral-technocratic proxies for market signals. Using Gadamer, and his Humboldtian conception of higher education, which is similar to that argued for in the Robbins Report, it is argued that such changes cause objective harm to our ‘Being’, with this inaugurating an authoritarian technocratic approach to English higher education.

Bibliographic note

Justin Cruickshank is a senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Birmingham.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-354
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Epistemology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2019


  • Audit Culture, Authoritarianism, Gadamer, Technocracy