Skip navigation

Moving beyond ‘Homo Economicus’ into spaces for kindness in Higher Education: The critical corridor talk of informal higher education leadership

Moving beyond ‘Homo Economicus’ into spaces for kindness in Higher Education: The critical corridor talk of informal higher education leadership

Jameson, Jill ORCID: 0000-0002-9545-8078 (2019) Moving beyond ‘Homo Economicus’ into spaces for kindness in Higher Education: The critical corridor talk of informal higher education leadership. In: Gibbs, Paul, Jameson, Jill ORCID: 0000-0002-9545-8078 and Elwick, Alex, (eds.) Values of the University in a Time of Uncertainty. Springer International Publishing, Cham, Switzerland, pp. 279-295. ISBN 978-3030159696 (doi:

[img] PDF (Publisher's PDF Proof - Final Submission)
24337 JAMESON_Moving_Beyond_‘Homo_Economicus’_into_Spaces_for_Kindness_in_Higher_Education_2019.pdf - Submitted Version
Restricted to Repository staff only

Download (724kB) | Request a copy


Dialogic spaces for kindness in higher education, located in the ‘critical corridor talk’ (CCT) of informal leaders positioned quietly in the background in many universities, are a form of moral resistance in an era excessively dominated by the values of some of the harsher exponents of economic rationalism. This is a secret language of dialogic resistance, to be found under the radar, tucked away in the blindspots of formally recognised communication. It stoically challenges an arguably unhealthy obsession with efficient management, marketisation and economic proficiency at any cost that is, in some institutions, promoted by the harder managerial taskmasters symbolically represented in the concept of ‘homo economicus’. This chapter argues that such ‘understage’ dialogic spaces for kindness are emerging slowly but with progressively firm resistance to challenge unhealthy forms of managerial instrumentalism in some low trust situations in a stratified UK higher education system. The accumulation of such spaces is occurring almost invisibly, in a subtle, persistent manner, like a soft, repetitive reminder of the need for human values, gently but relentlessly aiming to compensate for and wash away the mistakes, confusion and suffering bound up in poor management. This theoretical chapter, informed by empirical data, discusses the need to recognise this quiet form of understated kindness as a pre-eminent but under-recognised quality, currently marginalised in a higher education system more overtly focused on self-promotion, targets, outputs and league tables than on the well-being of staff and students. Drawing from leadership data and auto-ethnographic observations (2005–2017), I argue that this informal, resistant academic critique is gradually questioning economically-driven ‘command and control’ managerialism. The Critical Corridor Talk model proposed here and elsewhere (Jameson J, Higher Educ Q. 72:375-389, 2018) builds on Barnett’s concept of ‘critical being’ (Higher education: a critical business. SRHE/Open University Press, Buckingham, 1997), to theorise the ways in which academic staff find relief from hard-nosed forms of management by sharing moments of truthful dialogic communication, kindness and empathy for colleagues in the ‘critical corridor talk’ of informal distributed leadership networks. ‘Negative capability’ is a form of self-reflexive resistance against the ‘false necessity’ of performative goals demanded by neoliberalist economic management. Resistant informal leadership challenges the manufactured performativity of higher education environments where some in power overstep the acceptable roles of good management. Yet to foster trust, such resistant leadership needs to ensure it continually practises both kindness and correct moral principles itself.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: Critical corridor talk, Kindness, Leadership, Human values, Performative goals, University leadership, higher education, informal leadership, academic leadership, ethics
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
L Education > L Education (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences
Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences > Centre for Leadership & Enterprise
Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences > Department of Teacher Education
Last Modified: 01 May 2020 15:07
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: None
Selected for REF2021: REF 6

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics