Students Making Complaints: Performative or Passionate Utterance?

Amanda Fulford, Claire Skea

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    In 2013, economics undergraduates from the University of Manchester made a high profile complaint that their university course was doing little to explain why economists had failed to warn about the global financial crisis, and that it had too heavy a focus on training students for City jobs. In protest, they formed the Post-Crash Economics Society, which they hoped would be copied by universities across the country, and lead to curricular change. In another case from late 2016, Oxford University graduate, Faiz Siddiqui, sued his alma mater, claiming that the ‘appallingly bad tuition’ he received cost him the first class degree that he felt he should have received. He argued that the upper second class degree he was awarded prevented him from pursuing a successful career as an international commercial lawyer, and claimed one million pounds for loss of earnings. The University appealed to the High Court, but it was found that there was a case to answer, and a landmark trial will be held.

    We look at what these 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
    Publication statusUnpublished - Jul 2017
    EventPhilosophy as Lived Experience Annual Conference: Tilos Conference 2017 - Tilos, Livadhia, Greece
    Duration: 1 Jul 20175 Jul 2017

    Academic conference

    Academic conferencePhilosophy as Lived Experience Annual Conference
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