Attending to Neoliberalism in the Classroom: A Feminist Political Ecology of Anxiety in Higher Education

Authors: Jessica Hayes-Conroy*, Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Gender, Social Theory
Keywords: neoliberal, pedagogy, mental health, feminist political ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Wilson A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders on college campuses, and concerns about the growing rates of anxiety-related disorders among college students have prompted numerous reports, studies, and conferences in recent years. Although the noted rise in mental illness diagnoses among colleges students may be due partly to an increase in health-seeking behavior among teenagers and young adults (and a willingness to openly discuss mental illness), there is some evidence that both the amount and severity of mental health disorders on college campuses is on the rise. A feminist political ecology (FPE) approach to understanding anxiety as the outcome of chronic, embodied stress can help us to contextualize and politicize this mental health problem in important ways. Specifically, through attending to the body as an always relational and contextual production, an FPE approach can directly counter the impulse to view (mental) health problems as individual in scope and origin, and can help faculty and students to collectively make sense of their bodily experiences in the academy as situated within uneven structures of power within neoliberal capitalism. Part of this sense-making work can and should involve attending to the ways in which neoliberal practices of time have come to structure our expectations of each other in the classroom—from attendance, lateness, and grading policies to longer time frames of academic learning and the imagined futurity of “success” in the job market.

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