“You’ve Got the Skin”: Entrepreneurial Universities, Study Abroad, and the Construction of Global Citizenship

  • Sam SchulzEmail author
Living reference work entry


This chapter locates an Australian university study abroad venture in India within the contours of the worldwide transformation of higher education. This framing provides space to discursively analyze how “white” Australian participants contribute to the construction of global citizenship through beliefs and dispositions mobilized to make sense of lived experience. All study abroad ventures are nowadays enmeshed in international circuits of capital and neoliberal discourses that present as “race neutral,” natural and necessary such that those involved are positioned and influenced by dynamics that obscure the inequities on which these ventures are often grounded. Pre- and posttravel interviews and in situ photo diaries form the basis for analyzing participants’ experiences. These materials are read against a historically constituted field to shed light on the cultural, institutional, and geopolitical dynamics shaping and framing participant accounts. The chapter demonstrates how a majority of participants in the study at the heart of this chapter remain “innocently” implicated in reproducing hegemony. It links these findings to the way in which global citizenship and study abroad ventures alike are being shaped by the neoliberalization of higher education.


Global citizenship Study abroad Visual discourse analysis Whiteness Entrepreneurial universities Neoliberalism 

Introduction: Contextualizing Study Abroad

Study abroad (also known as international service, international experiential learning, outbound mobility, global work-integrated-learning, or global education) has flourished in the West in recent years (Grantham 2018). This has occurred in tandem with at least two related phenomena; that is, the rise of voluntourism (or “volunteer tourism”) as an endeavor similarly geared toward enriching the lives of Westerners by creating opportunities for them to travel to (mostly) “less white” global regions for charity work and adventure (Mostafanezhad 2014). And secondly, study abroad has grown simultaneously to young people in the West being pressured to comport themselves entrepreneurially (Spohrer 2011).

Charles (2017) argues, young people are now enculturated to think like “shape shifting portfolio people” whose understandings of success and failure are not informed by socio-cultural or structural critique, but viewed as products of the hard-working, agile, or “deviant” Self. Fueling these dynamics is the rise of neoliberalism as a worldwide, monolithic force (Smyth 2017). Wilkins explains (2020), neoliberalism has emerged as one of the most cited concepts of the last 30 years. Neoliberalism – or “neoliberalization” to flag its processual (Canaan 2013) – has been invaluable for explaining the organized retraction of government spending on vital social services in Western democracies for several decades. But more than this, “neoliberalization” denotes an ideological shift, and hence form of governmentality by which our view of our own and others’ agentic capacities are systematically reduced to a decontextualized understanding of “individual will” (Davies and Bansel 2007). Canaan (2013) says, neoliberalism contracts the “horizons of the thinkable,” leading us to perceive critical public issues in de-historicized personal terms.

For a complexity of reasons – including neoliberalism’s support of the notions that individuals be responsible for themselves, and that any intensification of existing social inequalities along race, class or gender lines be blamed on irresponsible individuals who are spoiling a traditional (read: patriarchal, “white”) way of life – writers like Bauman (2016) draw explicit correlations between the rise of neoliberalism and whitelash populism, Brexit, xenophobia, economic nationalism, and the election of Donald Trump. These phenomena are all shaped by the increased flow of bodies, capital and commodities that globalization and neoliberal restructuring have ushered, as well as the synchronous firming of national borders to halt the flow of “Others” as necessary “safety precaution” (Patel 2017). Amidst these tensions, race is invoked “to silently reference those who threaten the fiscal wellbeing […] or the social security of the nation” (Goldberg as cited in Cameron 2018, p. 94). This occurs, paradoxically, under ostensibly “race-free,” state-sanctioned rhetoric that vindicates the overtly racialized policies and populism to follow.

Furthermore, these and other writers have illuminated parallels between the growth of neoliberalism, the rise of the global super-rich, and the divide fast growing between global rich and poor (see Oxfam 2018). Discourses of neoliberalism would have us believe that we are all individuals whose achievements are the product of unfettered entrepreneurial spirit. For example, “successful” billionaires are not viewed as individuals whose wealth and achievements are built on unearned raced, classed, or gendered privileges (see, e.g., Schulz and Hay 2016); rather, they are positioned as role models to which all should aspire. Indeed, as Monbiot (2016) argues, neoliberalism has created a heroic narrative of extreme wealth, while conversely, individuals or collectives in need of sustained welfare support are framed as “living within a culture of dependency, with implicit suggestions of their persistent deviance” (Stanford and Taylor 2013, p. 477). In short, discourses of neoliberalism create a “victim blaming” culture that brackets existing privileges and disadvantages from view. Consequently, “good” neoliberal citizens are expected to think “individualistically” and this way of thinking is framed as “commonsense,” while neoliberal forces simultaneously reduce what is “thinkable.”

Higher education institutions were once seen as victims of these neoliberal processes. However, universities across the West are now increasingly “adopting, if not embracing, neoliberal values, goals, and processes” (Fraser and Taylor 2016, p. 4) by, among other means, defining the relationship between students and their institution in primarily economic terms: i.e., the student as “entrepreneurial individual” and “consumer” (Giroux 2005). As universities (in Australia, for example) continue to endure inequitable Federal funding cuts, public universities for public “good” are quickly transforming into corporations ruled by a mode of aggressive managerialism to guard against “risk” and promote economic growth. This is changing the way we think about education: from social good to private investment. Within what might be termed “entrepreneurial” universities, academic subjects are increasingly valued to the extent that they hold exchange value on the market. Those less amenable to outside funding are increasingly devalued, especially those of a critical nature that question power and expand our critical-contextual awareness. The citizen at the heart of these relations is thus essentially molded to be autonomous; no longer required to think and act in social terms but as an individual and “rational economic actor whose behaviors, both economic and noneconomic, are determined by a cost/benefit analysis” (Lemke as cited in Saunders 2011, p. 23).

Within this formulation that is heavily focused on free-market logic, some study abroad ventures have found fertile ground. Increasingly, universities “advertise international mobility programs as opportunities for students to develop marketable skills and to access real world job training for the globalized economy of the 21st Century” (Grantham 2018, p. 61). Study abroad programs can be used to generate “good news” stories about the institution while enhancing domestic enrolments (Jorgenson and Shultz 2012, p. 6). University advertising of this nature will typically promise “a whole world of opportunities” and “life changing experiences” that will enable students to “help where needed” while “boosting their brand” (Schulz 2019). And while university strategic plans will often frame study abroad ventures as vehicles by which they produce graduates “equipped to make a difference in the world as respectful and ethical global citizens” (Flinders University 2019, p. 12), what are called the public and private transcripts (in other words, the front and backstage “rhetoric”) of neoliberal universities tend to be worlds apart.

As Greenhouse (2005) explains, domination dramatizes itself with public transcripts as the open performance of power; however, “the hidden transcript is the other side of that power, reworked as its negation” (as cited in Smyth 2017, p. 47). What strategic plans of entrepreneurial universities “dramatize” with respect to global citizenship is an orientation that appears akin to “thick” global citizenship (Andreotti 2006). In other words, an orientation grounded in critical, contextual awareness and self-reflexivity. Ethical orientations to global citizenship of the kind prefigured in these public transcripts stress the need for collective, informed political action rather than individual responses to complex structural issues, in which the West is deeply implicated. Ethical orientations thus demand that we move beyond a logic of individualism to permit structural, interconnected understandings of social life (Jorgenson and Shultz 2012, p. 3).

However, given the way in which neoliberal universities are systematically closing down spaces for critical thinking and devaluing critical education topics while demanding that academics demonstrate increased levels of productivity in compressed timeframes, in practice they are creating the conditions for “neoliberal citizenship.” According to Wilkins (2020), neoliberal citizenship conceptually signals the relationship between neoliberalism and citizenship in the field of education. At the heart of this construct, “is a narrow, rational, utilitarian view of citizens as consumers” (p. 2). Moreover, neoliberal rationalities bracket socio-historical and contextual relations from view; thus, a “neoliberal” orientation to global citizenship is unlikely to broaden students’ field of vision to take in present-day impacts of past and ongoing modes of global coloniality, racism, or the West’s implications in poverty, pollution and transnational environmental issues. Put simply, neoliberal citizenship undermines the capacity for reflexive global citizenship.

To prepare students to apprehend the world reflexively takes time. It requires supporting them, not only to cross the physical borders of international travel but to negotiate “invisible” borders of culture and race (Gómez-Peña as cited in Townsin and Walsh 2016, p. 218). Education of this nature essentially demands a long-term, strategic commitment from all levels of the institution; however, this orientation to global citizenship is unlikely to be embraced by entrepreneurial universities when their remit is to develop globally competitive, work-ready graduates in limited time. Those involved can effectively be caught at the crossroads between discourses of global neoliberalism and ethical global citizenship. The study at the heart of this chapter is caught in this bind.

“Capturing” Global Citizenship Via the Camera

The study on which this chapter reports explores the experiences of 18 Australian undergraduate students taking part in a 4-week study abroad experience in India delivering sport development programs to school-aged students. The design and particulars of the study have been published elsewhere (see Schulz and Agnew forthcoming). Of interest to this chapter is that the majority of participants were studying a double degree in “teaching” and “sport, health and physical activity” (SHAPA), all but one were in their mid-twenties and all were “white” – in other words, drawn from Australia’s middle-class, Anglo-dominated mainstream. Notwithstanding that the category “white” is complex and mutable, here it is used in a general sense to signal members of the most privilege group in a race-structured society.

Most Australian teachers are in fact white; this is a product of the nation’s colonial heritage. Indeed, Australia has historically assumed an imperial role in the Indo-Pacific (Rizvi 2011). Consequently, a portion of funding for students’ trips was derived from the Australian Government New Colombo Plan, which aims to enhance Australia’s geopolitical standing by, among other means, supporting Australian undergraduates to experience “transformational” people-to-people encounters in Indo-Pacific countries (DFAT n.d.) – effectively, participants in New Colombo ventures are placed at the frontline of efforts to reconcile the nation’s regional belonging. The present study has endeavored to understand how participants make sense of their experiences, how these experiences are transformational and, more broadly, to illuminate dynamics at play in the making of Western global citizens via short-term, university-led study abroad ventures like this one.

Pre- and posttravel interviews and in situ “photo-diaries” were used to capture participants’ experiences. Modes of “visual” and “critical” discourse analysis were then applied to these materials hence grounding the study in the poststructuralist notion that discourse is about more than language; “discourses are articulated through all sorts of visual and verbal images and texts” (Rose 2012, p. 136). Photographs, in this sense, are not viewed as passive objects capturing empirical Truth, they “act” in the world by engaging viewers in processes of representation and interpretation that provide producers and consumers of visual media with multiple means of constructing reality.

Analyzing photographs from a critical standpoint is therefore about illuminating ways in which power runs through them. Historical archives show countless examples of the photographic classification of raced bodies in Australia and India, which highlights how racialized power has historically functioned in this contact zone. This signals aspects of the legacy of white citizenship that participants in the study have inherited and underscores ways in which Westerners’ experience of citizenship in their home countries shapes their orientations to global citizenship (Clost 2015). For example, if participants have grown up as members of the dominant group in a settler society like Australia that is resistant to reconciling with its colonial roots, this can limit students’ ability to be “race cognizant” (in other words, to be mindful of colonization and its ongoing impacts) within the scope of their own lives. Put differently, reflexivity as a global citizen first requires reflexive awareness of one’s positionality “at home.”

Students contribute to these relations in multiple ways. According to Clost (2015), their contributions are linked to the “authoritative knowledge” gathered about the host destination prior to departure, but they are also linked (in this case) to whiteness as a structure of authority that is ascribed to “white” subjects. In this sense, relations between Self and Other are constantly negotiated, resisted and transformed through raced, classed and gendered processes of representation, imagination and interpretation that occur before, during, and after an overseas placement – students can thus reproduce or resist racial hegemony, but their impulses are always influenced by the social, historical, and institutional environments in which they are immersed. The following analysis explores how the study abroad participants “made sense of” their overseas experiences and the orientations to global citizenship that were forged along the way.

“You’ve Got the Skin”: Constructing Global Citizenship

In pretrip interviews, one of the first questions asked of participants was why they had chosen to take part. Tiessen (2012, p. 3) notes, understanding participants’ expectations and motivations is an under-theorized yet vital area of inquiry for improving the management, satisfaction, and impacts of participants on study abroad placements. Participants’ expectations, whether realized or unmet, play a significant role in shaping their perceptions and any knowledge that is carried forward. When exploring participants’ motivations from a poststructuralist perspective, this enables movement beyond a logic of individualism to apprehend desire as a discursive construct in which subjects choose to invest. Participants’ desires thus serve as resources for analyzing society by indicating the discourses on which they draw to re-construct lived experience.

Similar to Tiessen’s (2012) findings, students’ overarching reasons for taking part in the study abroad venture to India included frequent recourse to three broad themes: “career” (i.e., boosting their CVs and testing their teaching or coaching skills); “travel” (i.e., experiencing “culture” or appeasing boredom); and “helping” (being a role model, nurturing children or improving the lives of those in need). With respect to helping, “Eve” noted:

… I have a real passion for making a difference and helping people and I guess that sort of drives me.

Charlie reflected:

I am keen to get out and explore new opportunities; get outside my comfort zone; keen to travel; see the world; make a difference – like I thought India would be a really good opportunity to you know […] make a difference.

When asked why he thought India, specifically, would provide scope for making a difference, Charlie explained that being a “Third World” country, India would be “unbelievable”:

… I want to expose myself to those conditions that will really put me outside my comfort zone. I think the main thing is just the challenge and the comfort zone and just probably personal development.

Although blatant in this excerpt, the oft-cited and frequently critiqued helping imperative (see, e.g., Tiessen and Huish 2013) is usually framed by Western participants in terms of what they will “do for others,” hence imbuing them with a selfless pretense. However, as Heron (2007) contends, and Charlie illustrates, the desire to help can be as much about “Self” as the more patently “self-interested” motivations linked to career and travel. Binding the participants’ desires was thus their grounding in a neoliberal “self-enterprising” discourse centered on enhancing individual capital, which was expressed in the interviews in the absence of any reference to social justice, collaboration, long-term commitment, or activism.

In place of the latter, self-serving impulses featured far more prominently meaning that the focus was “nearly exclusively centered on the students’ desires rather than the needs or requests from host communities” (McDonald and Tiessen 2018, p. 6). Tim remarked, travelling to India would be “another thing that I can put on my resume to […] differ me from the next person that’s applying for a job.” Floyd said, study abroad would be “a potential CV stocking filler.” Simon described it as “something that just popped up [… that I can] put on the resume.” While Stewart, Laura, Nate, and indeed the far majority of remaining participants cited “travel to India” to experience culture or escape the boredom of everyday life in Australia as a primary motivating force. In Lucas’ view, “to go over there and experience Indian culture [… is] something that everyone needs to tick off their bucket list,” thus positioning the marginalized situation of many people in India as a novelty worth going to see. Not dissimilarly, Ben explained, “Australia doesn’t really have much culture,” which piqued his desire to experience culture “over there.”

As suggested earlier, to be reflexive as a global citizen requires reflexive appreciation of one’s positionality “at home.” Despite that more than half the participants had undertaken at least one critical education topic as part of their degrees – (in this case, an Indigenous pedagogies topic that asks students to reflect on their privileges along various axes of oppression while appreciating that Australia is a race structured nation) – none advanced a nuanced understanding of Australian national identity in their interviews or photo diaries. Instead, references to “Australian culture” were articulated via benign stereotypes such as “summer, soft drinks, sunscreen and beach cricket” (Charlie, preinterview); in other words, normative images of “Australian-ness” that naturalize the nation as a White possession (Hage 2000). References to Australian national identity typically mirrored comments like Ben’s, which frame White Australia as “cultureless,” and as a corollary, the white Self as “just ordinary.”

To discursively link “Australia” with “no culture” and white subjectivity with ordinariness equates whiteness with the power of normalcy, while denying Indigenous sovereignty. When white identity is understood this way, whiteness is negated as a system of historical, cultural, and social mechanisms that repeatedly return unearned material and psychological benefits to those positioned as “white.” Although merely signaled in the examples included in this analysis, the far majority of participants in the study exhibited cultural lenses with this lacuna: i.e., blind spots relating to their privilege, which colored their experiences overseas. For instance, when asked in postinterviews to describe what “being white” meant in India, participants frequently marveled at being “stared at,” “targeted for money” or “asked for autographs,” but rarely did they acknowledge whiteness as a system of benefits that sustains their lives. Articulating one of the most common themes, Ben, Tim, and Lucas remarked:

Probably the most memorable [part of the trip] was yeah just getting flocked by people to sign autographs and take photos. […] It was pretty crazy to think just because we are white people that these guys want our autographs. (Ben)

Everyone was wanting autographs […] a million autographs and selfies and it’s like we were famous, but we were just white. (Tim)

They thought we were superstars, rock stars, sort of thing, and they would literally line up just to get our autograph when we’re just ordinary Australians. (Lucas)

In each of these excerpts (where emphasis is added), whiteness is articulated as innocence. There is little recognition that their capacity to travel overseas is a product of their whiteness, an option that is unlikely to be a two-way street for those living in poverty in India. Australia’s historical role as an imperial presence in India, and the ongoing impacts of this past, is thus erased from view when whiteness as a source of unearned privileges that still accrues to white subjects is overlooked. Instead, whiteness assumes a naturally elevated status, which was in turn reflected in students’ photo diaries, particularly when those in the host destination were positioned as a homogenous group in relation to a single white subject whose status was consequently elevated (Clost 2015, p. 241). Common examples of the latter included: “fielding autographs amidst a crowd,” “coaching a mass of students,” “hugging primary schoolers,” or, as pictured, “leading the class”:

In an unusually sophisticated analysis, Joe nevertheless indicated movement toward reflexivity when describing an encounter that deepened his appreciation of what it means to be white:

I went to a club, a nightclub with somebody I met from Mumbai […] and I’d recently taken off a button-up shirt and given it to a friend because they were leaving, I just had a t-shirt. We started entering this club and I realized everyone was wearing button-up shirts and I said to this local Mumbai friend, “I should’ve kept my button-up shirt.” And he said, “it’s okay, you’ve got the skin.”

McKinney (2005, p. 24) suggests, turning points are important junctures in white peoples’ lives that signify moments of consciousness of whiteness when white subjects gain insights into the racialized nature of their existence. Turning points usually result from interactions with others who McKinney calls agents of epiphany; people who prompt a radically new way of thinking about aspects of our lives in a reflexive or self-analytic manner. Joe used this turning point experience at the nightclub to rationalize that his ostensibly elevated status as a “white” person in India, far from proving individual qualities of character, was a product of colonial relations that he’d, realistically, done nothing to earn. Applying this awareness to his teaching, Joe then reflected; “I suppose it’s pretty easy for me to sit back and expect the rest of the world to learn English but … if I don’t try and learn something from their language I’ll be limited to my understanding of my own language.” In this sense, Joe exhibited awareness of the need to decenter whiteness and his capacity (to a small extent) to do so pedagogically.

The development of reflexivity is, nevertheless, a complex and ongoing task and “how to be” reflexive is not always clear-cut. Notwithstanding Joe’s realization that whiteness is more than skin deep, when subsequently asked how he negotiated encounters with poverty in India, the rationalities on which Joe drew restored his complicity with hegemonic whiteness and hence, neoliberal citizenship:

If someone came up and asked me for money, towards the end it was a no. I justified that within myself by saying that this will be for the betterment of them in the long run. [… But] how do you still show kindness […] How do you support the person at the same time? That is a good question and I don’t know the answer to that yet. But in terms of dealing with poverty, the behavior I’m not going to reinforce just by giving them money.

Despite permitting a structural understanding of social life when recounting the nightclub story, in this excerpt Joe secures the relational basis of whiteness through projecting fantasies of an Other who is caught in a self-induced cycle of dependency – in keeping with neoliberal rhetoric, poverty is viewed as a product of individual “poor” behavior. From this perspective, “that some of us are better off because others are and historically have been poor, and that this is structured by the intersections of race, class, and gender, is almost unrecognized” (Heron 2007, pp. 41–42). Instead of acknowledging these dimensions in the way that a “critical” global citizen might do, Joe drew on discourses that positioned him as a benevolent white man while reproducing the moral rationalization of the civilizing mission: an entitlement and obligation to intervene (Spurr 1993, p. 113), where intervention was limited to “showing kindness.”

When detailing their encounters with poverty, some of the respondents articulated more patently racist dispositions. For instance, in a remarkably frank disclosure, Lucas explained that when approached by extremely poor people seeking money, he would “start looking on my phone hoping they’d go away [until eventually I’d say], ‘driver, can you just tell them to piss off’.” In comments like these, albeit that they were rare, the student’s complicity with domination is obvious insofar as positioning those who are structurally disadvantaged as “deviant” and disdainful. In contrast, Joe’s deployment of a helping narrative was arguably more insidious and was far more common across the interviews, given the way in which “helping” secures innocence and the story of the moral subject (Heron 2007, p. 121). This standpoint is particularly problematic for moving Western subjects towards “critical” orientations to global citizenship given that doing so would in fact require “relinquishing moral narratives of Self” (p. 143).

Innocent, brave, benevolent, worldly, or otherwise affirmative self-constructions were commonplace across the photo diaries, illustrating how immersion in a developing context can enable Western subjects to “discover” themselves through encounters with an Other (Mathers as cited in McDonald and Tiessen 2018, p. 7). For many of the participants, this inflated sense of Self that traveling to a developing context granted them piqued further desire for travel. For example, Stewart explained, having travelled to India he was ready for the next step:

I definitely want to travel solo next time because [… now that I’ve been to India] I can go by myself [because] a lot of people have said India’s really up there on the scale.

By describing India as “up there on the scale,” Stewart references the carnivalesque, and indeed, India was often constituted in students’ accounts in carnivalesque terms: a dangerous or exotic world that excites the appetite of cultural tourists by allowing them to eagerly realize their desires beneath the sign of the Other (Del Cooke 2006). Many of the photo diaries included pictures of Western students alongside Indian crowds or in relation to (what they perceived to be) outlandish sights in ways that accentuated their “intrepid traveler,” “caring teacher,” or “rock star” status. At other times, however, the host culture was erased altogether. The latter was noticeable, for instance, in travel shots sanitized for display on social media, as in the following example which Tim captions, “Boy meets world”:

By framing these trips as, in part, about holiday-making – as in voluntourism – this too can allow an “innocent gaze” (Heron and Tiessen 2012). The term “boy” in Tim’s caption is therefore significant. Boys, opposed to men, are innocent and it is not the work of boys to advance a decolonizing agenda. An innocent stance on the part of Western participants can consequently reproduce rather than challenge superficial orientations to global citizenship while, nonetheless, enhancing their employability, framing their trips a “success” and imparting a “worldly” demeanor that can be “cashed in” back at home in return for social and professional kudos.

The global citizen who emerges from these analyses might therefore be described as “white,” largely non-reflexive and chiefly concerned with self-enhancement. This raises questions about the capacity of study abroad ventures to live up to the public transcripts of university strategic plans and produce graduates equipped to make a difference in the world as respectful and ethical global citizens, given the many challenges to this goal.

Discussion and Conclusion

In reality, study abroad ventures are diverse and multiple and so too are the students who take part in them. This chapter has particularized its focus to one venture administered by an Australian university undergoing significant neoliberal change. Although aspects of this program are unique, other details speak to dynamics that are shaping higher education and university-led study abroad programs more generally. For example, myriad details from the participants’ stories indicated ways in which students can remain implicated in reproducing center-periphery relations borne of colonization. In this sense, the analysis illuminated how residues of the colonial era remain at work in postcolonial contexts like India, such that white subjects of colonial heritage remain unfairly if “naturally” privileged. However, Indo-Pacific hosts are not passive in these relations. Moreover, it would be short-sighted to reify the locus of whiteness to individual students themselves.

To be fair, a complex “ensemble” (Foucault 1991, p. 102) of providers, departments, authorities, policies, and personnel make up the governmentality of “study abroad.” An overarching impact on these programs, one that shapes the dispositions and choices of all involved, is the contemporary neoliberalization of both higher and pretertiary education. For example, at the university where this study was carried out, undergraduate degrees in areas like Education are no longer staffed by a critical mass of critical educators. Students’ exposure to topics that allow them to apprehend their reality as social beings with social consciousness is, therefore, curtailed. Yet, developing critical awareness of this kind requires time, students need ongoing exposure to sociocultural discourses, and they also require scaffolded engagement with reflexive ways of thinking. Consequently, when questions of race or whiteness or critical global citizenship are relegated to topics such as Indigenous Education or one-off modules on cultural awareness, this can have the adverse effect of entrenching the covertly racist belief that such issues be ignored elsewhere (Schulz and Fane 2015).

Although participants in the present study were required to complete a “cultural awareness training” module in preparation for their trips; moreover, although most had undertaken a critical Indigenous Education topic as part of their degree, the analyses indicate that knowledge of this kind can be abandoned in favor of more hegemonic logics and practices that present as “commonsense.” In place of demonstrating hallmarks of what might be termed “critical intercultural competence” – in other words, “dispositions and skills that are cultivated over time, which then become the critical knowledge and understanding needed to cultivate creative solutions to complex challenges collectively with citizens across the world” (Townsin and Walsh 2016, p. 218) – participants reverted to shallow understandings their study abroad ventures, with the upshot being “shallow” articulations of global citizenship characterized chiefly by “white innocence.”

Compounding the issue was that to satisfy funding and program imperatives inside a university whose central remit is to produce “agile global competitors,” participants were also led to undertake units on “career development” and “entrepreneurism” – factors that circumscribed the efforts of the small number of academics designing and delivering the program, academics who were themselves working under compressed timeframes with little support. That the students were collectively wedded to discourses of “self-enterprise” and “personal growth” is therefore unsurprising – these are dominant discourses within and beyond their university.

Tiessen and Huish (2013) argue that the rapid growth of study abroad programs across the West has “far outpaced our ability to evaluate and understand [their] impacts” (p. 4). But more than this, entrepreneurial universities are co-opting study abroad ventures as marketing tools. As such, universities are far more likely to favor “good news” stories about study abroad than to allow critical research into these programs, which might tarnish the university’s brand. Indeed, neoliberal governance mechanisms are actively undermining, underfunding, and negating critical research in favor of that which is quantifiable and marketable (Cowden and Singh 2013), and this managerialist logic has worldwide reach.

For example, the Indian schooling system where the Australian students in this study were variously placed is deeply enmeshed in “doing neoliberalism” to survive, which means scaling national school rankings systems and actively engaging in image-maintenance practices like universities in the West. In this respect, Indian schools advertising that they are hosting “visiting Australian teachers and sports coaches” can have the (arguably) problematic effect of reinforcing Australian students’ elevated self-perceptions, which reduces the need for reflexive self-critique. Thus, Western students not only feed into and off these dynamics when unintentionally using study abroad primarily as a vehicle for self-benefit, they are also written into these relations by their hosts, by their institutions of higher learning, by the overarching corporate machinery that is fast turning study abroad into an extension of global capitalism, and by preparation programs that favor modules on “career development” and “entrepreneurship.”

Throughout the participants’ interviews and photo diaries, dysconsciousness of social relations thus had the effect of legitimating their voices “as individuals,” while negating structural or reflexive critique. If Western subjects of colonial heritage are nonetheless to adopt a reflexive orientation to global citizenship, and in so doing live up to the “public transcripts” of neoliberal universities, greater levels of socio-political awareness and reflexivity must be developed. Western students need to have more than “white skin” to be critical global citizens; they require genuine “skin in the game” that underpins a long-term commitment to global equity. Neoliberal universities are arguably undermining this project; this should give all involved in study abroad serious pause for concern.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Education, Psychology and Social WorkFlinders University of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia

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