Supervisor-supervisee Relationships: Humanities Professoriate’s Perspectives on the Potential and Limits of Democratic Engagement in a Neoliberal Higher Education Space


In recent times, there have been increasing calls for a review of the dominant hard science-informed, master-apprenticeship model of research supervision towards reconceptualisations that consider how issues of power might be deliberately subverted to enable democratic supervisor-supervisory relationships. Freirean-influenced post-liberal scholarship in the field draws attention to the student as embodied subject and advocates for a pedagogy and ethic of care (Bozalek et al, 2013) that is both attentive and responsible. While these aspirations are laudable, and worthy of pursuit, supervisors who inhabit higher education contexts characterised by regressive neoliberal accountability and performance regimes, might encounter some level of dissonance as they navigate attempts at the democratic supervision as pedagogy ideal, and prescriptive inflexibilities as it relates to research proposal conceptualisation (and defences), time-to-completion regiments and throughput. In this chapter, I explore the perspectives on supervisor-supervisee engagement of a sample of twenty-two research-active humanities professors at a higher education institution which has ‘deliberately’ institutionalised transformation and decolonisation as policy yet overtly subscribes to the tenets of neoliberal governance of the qualitatively rich work of the academe. Theoretically, I invoke the Spinozian power as potestas (transcendental, authoritarian) and power as potentia (dynamic and immanent) as well as Stiegler’s notion of the ‘conditioned university’ to illuminate the multiple tensions at play when the academe inhabits an inherently contradictory higher education assemblage and the multiple vectors of immanent (ethical) flight they envision.


Suriamurthee Moonsamy Maistry
Professor, Social Sciences Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Learning in Higher Education