Perverse Relationships: The Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Neoliberal University

Rowan Jaines


The ambiguous nature of the role of the Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) has been the focus of much of the – albeit limited – research regarding these higher education labourers. Previous analyses of the GTA have made use of Foucault’s theories of subject formation within the neoliberal university. Walter Benjamin’s metaphysics of transcendence offer a complementary theoretical framing: a space to glimpse the possibility of radical alterity within the GTA role. It is in phenomena such as the GTA role – rendered ambiguous by its synonymous importance and invisibility – that hope for change resides. The disconnections between these phenomena materialise in the perverse site of the neoliberal university: a site where relationships are twisted beyond recognition. The GTA role, when read against the myth of a progressive academic career, contains the possibility of change. This possibility is to be found within labour relationships within the neoliberal academy. GTAs’ liminal status presents the opportunity to reimagine the contracts of reciprocity upon which pedagogy and research depend.

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