Student complaints: performative or passionate utterances?

Amanda Fulford, Claire Skea

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    We look at what these litigation cases tell us about a culture of higher education in which students are resorting to the use of formal complaints procedures against their universities, and their staff. In tracing how the rise in such complaints seems ineluctably linked to the increasing commodification of the sector, we ask what it means for student to express her voice within the university. In doing this, we draw a contrast between the (safety of the) formal procedures to which many students resort when making a complaint (ones where the complainant is largely removed from the process), and the possibilities of addressing issues in a face-to-face encounter, (where the complainant is present in the process, and voices her concerns directly). To understand the differences in these two approaches, we make an unusual move to consider the work of J.L Austin, and his felicity conditions for performative utterances. We then outline Stanley Cavell’s criticisms of the formal procedures that underlie such utterances. We consider how Cavell’s idea of passionate utterance - ‘an invitation to improvisation in the disorders of desire’ - is an invitation to a form of exchange, one in which a speaker invokes, or provokes the words of another. Cavell says that: ‘once issued, each [passionate utterance] appears as deeply characteristic and revelatory of both the utterer and his or her addressee’ (2005: 180). It is in the laying bare of motivations, of commitments, and of thoughts that passionate utterance is most readily exemplified. We suggest that a commitment to passionate utterance along Cavellian lines, highlights not only the place of emotion in a complaint, but also the responsibility, and answerability, of each party to the other.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalPhilosophy and Theory in Higher Education
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


    • strudent complaints
    • performative
    • passionate utterance
    • Cavell
    • dialogue
    • opera
    • Austin


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