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Competitive Accountability in Academic Life

The Struggle for Social Impact and Public Legitimacy

Richard Watermeyer

This book considers how a culture of ‘competitive accountability’ in UK higher education produces multiple tensions, contradictions and paradoxes that are destabilizing and deleterious to the work and identities of academics as research scientists. It suggests the potential of a new discourse of scientific accountability, that frees scientists and their public communities from the absurdities and profligacy of ‘performativity’ and ‘managerial governmentality’ encountered in the REF and an impact agenda – the noose of competitive accountability – and a more honest and meaningful public contract.
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Chapter 5: Evaluating competitive accountability

Richard Watermeyer


This chapter explores the perspectives of evaluators populating social science and arts and humanities REF disciplinary sub-panels and their experiences of judging the economic and societal impact of research. Their accounts reflect the multiple challenges presented by REF impact and concerns regarding the seductions of ‘stylistic virtuosity’ orchestrated by impact case study (ICS) authors and their neglect of any theorization of change, in addition to the bypassing by evaluators of the evidence provided by ICS authors in making judgements of impact excellence. The chapter suggests that, through competitive accountability, new modalities of scholarly distinction emerge.

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