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Biting the league table that feeds: reflections on managerialism at work within UK university sustainability agendas.

Jones, David R.


David R. Jones


Most proponents of ecological sustainability within universities seem to have found a space where they feel they can more or less shrug off the need for such meaningful critical reflection. There has been a preoccupation with the instrumental and pragmatic task of embedding sustainability in institutions and systems through developing and establishing benchmarks, indicators and checklists; devising skills taxonomies; refining auditing and monitoring tools; drawing up performance league tables. The aim of this paper is to explore the institutional impact of the latter sustainability performance league tables on current university agendas. It focuses on a narrative critique of one such league table, the UKs Green League Table compiled and reported by the student campaigning NGO, People & Planet annually between 2007 and 2013 through the popular and academic press. This paper offers the proposition that such league tables could be acting as an institutional hegemonic mechanism for social legitimacy through the desire by universities to show that environmental issues are effectively under control. It is proposed that these legitimizing, espoused eco-narratives of the carbon targets imperative, engagement, can serve as a form of deception to mislead critics of a university's environmental record by merely embracing the narrative as a rhetorical device, rather than as a reflection of or an impetus to proactive, reflexive action. These narratives may also cloak university managers' ambivalence and uncertainty about how to cope with what they perceive as an increasingly important but highly complex issue. In the context of this CMS theme, it is argued that this managerial overarching focus on sustainability league table position, contributes to the broader ethical, social and political tensions and inequities of universities, whilst satisfying the exclusive self-interests of a growing legion of carbon managers, sustainability managers and environmental managers, in satisfying the neo-liberal institutional drive from their Vice-Chancellors.


JONES, D.R. 2013. Biting the league table that feeds: reflections on managerialism at work within UK university sustainability agendas. Presented at the 8th International critical management studies conference, 10-13 July 2013, Manchester, UK.

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name 8th International critical management studies conference
Conference Location Manchester, UK
Start Date Jul 10, 2013
End Date Jul 13, 2013
Deposit Date Sep 2, 2015
Publicly Available Date Sep 2, 2015
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