The competition fetish in higher education: Shamans, mind snares and consequences

Rajani Naidoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (SciVal)
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Contemporary education reform worldwide appears to be locked in a competition fetish. This article explores the varieties of competition, including traditional academic forms, contests sponsored by governments and international organisations, market competition and status wars intensified by rankings. Resisting interpretations of competition as naturally occurring, it presents various macro and micro actors, referred to as ‘shamans’, that breathe life into the phenomenon and that are responsible for its generation, constitution and reproduction. These include structural drivers associated with political and regulatory regimes; and symbolic drivers constituted by normative and affective pressures. The article focuses on the extent to which the varieties of competition reinforce, displace, mediate or counteract one another and reveals how powerful policy and symbolic drivers interact to power competition, and how competition forecloses alternative means of educational reform. The unintended consequences of competition on social equity, on academic work and on global well-being are highlighted, and suggestions are offered on ways to escape the competition trap.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)605-620
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Educational Research Journal
Issue number5
Early online date28 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • Competition
  • excellence contests
  • fetish
  • neoliberal higher education
  • ranking
  • world-class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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