Reclaiming failure in geography: academic honesty in a neoliberal world

Thom Davies, Tom Disney, Elly Harrowell

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    24 Citations (Scopus)
    102 Downloads (Pure)


    Failure is a pervasive yet rarely articulated reality of being an academic. From grant rejections to fieldwork mistakes, this editorial introduces a special issue that engages with the notion of ‘failure’ within the neoliberal university. Highlighting the uncomfortable impacts of ‘failure’ across contrasting spaces and career stages, the authors explore its politics, power, and emotional resonance, as well as raising crucial questions of resistance, hope, and refusal within geography and its allied disciplines. Three key themes emerged from these 16 papers: (i) failure is embedded in the structures of the academy; (ii) failure is an inherent part of academic knowledge production; and (iii) failure is an experience that is not equally felt, but is contingent upon uneven power relations and positionalities. We situate the special issue within the context of the coronavirus pandemic and suggest that the failure of the university sector to cope with this existential threat has exposed the very worst characteristics of market-driven education. Ultimately, this special issue aims to push back against the fear and loneliness that ‘failure’ can create, in order to confront the neoliberal university. In troubling conventional models of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in academia, we conclude that refusing to accept the unrealistic expectations, impositions, and demands of the University-Industrial Complex is not a failure at all.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number100769
    Pages (from-to)1-6
    Number of pages6
    JournalEmotion, Space and Society
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2021

    Bibliographical note

    © 2021, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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    This document is the author’s post-print version, incorporating any revisions agreed during the peer-review process. Some differences between the published version and this version may remain and you are advised to consult the published version if you wish to cite from it.


    We would like to thank all 28 of the authors in this special issue, who have - with such honesty and openness ? shared their failures. We would also like to thank the army of academics who have peer reviewed and further strengthened each of these articles and interventions. Many thanks to Danielle Drozdzewski, Kate Swanson, Kye Askins and the rest of the editorial team at Emotion, Space and Society for supporting this project, and making it possible. We would also like to thank Nick Clare, Arshad Isakjee, and Colin Lorne for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. All mistakes, shortcomings, and failures remain our own (to an extent). Thanks for reading. Publisher Copyright: © 2021 Elsevier Ltd


    • Covid-19
    • Failure
    • Geography
    • Neoliberalism
    • Refusal
    • University-Industrial complex

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Social Psychology
    • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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