The concept Neoliberal Compliance needs to be understood as a set of individual strategies of Migra*BPoC students and teachers to reduce negative effects on their well-being within a hostile and exclusivist environment. In a workshop with Migra*BPOC students, doctoral students and Postdocs, five main exclusion mechanisms at HEI were identified:

  1. fatigue
  2. fear of not passing and overvisibilization
  3. insecurity towards expectations
  4. dissatisfaction regarding double standards at university
  5. disillusionment regarding the lack of change of the institution to improve inclusion, and personal interactions that increased a feeling of being excluded.

Neoliberal compliance thus resulted as a way of committing to the institutional rules and expectations in order to prevent or diminish the negative effects of discrimination. It implies to individualize, minimize, and/or “laugh off” discriminatory experiences and to attempt to adjust to the normative expectations.

However, neoliberal compliance does not mean to “obey”, rather it is an active decision to emotionally disengage with everyday discrimination directed at oneself, both as a way of self-protection and as a result of the fatigue due to intersectional discriminations based on race, class, gender, religion, amongst others and the lack of trust in institutional change.

Although this view complicates a liberatory and emancipatory praxis against intersectional and multiple discrimination in HEI that relies on political organizing (see Migra*BPoC Resistance), the visibilization of neoliberal compliance does also uncover the agency of Migra*BPoC at HEI in seeking to survive the institutional constraints and strive in academia.

JLU and an.gekommen e.V. organized two participatory and interactive place-based workshops in January and February 2020, engaging with local pathways to education. The participants were Migra*/BPOC students (B.A. and M.A.), doctoral students and post-docs, as well as persons in the process of applying for asylum and international exchange students.

The first workshop was held on January 30th, under the title How do you feel about your academic experience in Germany?”. Here, the group was invited to make a collage with the question “How do I feel about my university/my academic experience in Germany?”. The second workshop, on February 27th, aimed at fostering empowering dynamics that deindividualize discrimination experiences and rather identify possibilities for institutional change. This workshop had the title “What gives you energy?”

Both workshops addressed two dimensions: first, creating awareness (concientizar) about the interplay of everyday individual experiences of discrimination; second, sharing strategies of self- and collective care as well as support structures of empowerment, on the other.

After each of the workshops, a smaller group met in order to reflect on the main observations, analysis and assumptions made in the workshop. A mind-map connecting the different examples was elaborated and final theoretical elaborations were made.

The relevance of including Eurocentrism in the toolkit emerged from two group dialogues with Migra*/BPoC students, PhDs and postdocs in Giessen, Germany. In both workshops, participants quickly started recounting specific stories of their studying experiences in Germany as well as everyday experiences.

Although all of the participants had different biographies and migration histories, they could relate to and often share the stories told by others in the groups, and connect these stories to their own lives. They also identified and explained the differences in experiencing discriminatory behavior due to ascribed group memberships e.g. along with gender and religion.

After these workshops, a smaller group (Migra*/BPOC students and doctoral students) worked with the material and shared their impressions and reflections, and identified three central dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in HEI along Eurocentrism in Giessen, Germany: 1), everyday practices of othering, often build on racist imaginaries. 2), ethnocentric mechanisms shaping the potential of success or failure in HEI. 3), HEI reproduce silently a nexus between education and whiteness. This mind-map was then again discussed in the smaller group and embedded in a theoretical framework.

Compliance in the context of education is shaped by power relations and their everyday practices. Higher Education Institution (HEI) are sites of interlocking systems of oppression (Combahee River Collective 1977) and configured by social inequalities such as sexism, racism, ableism, classism, trans- and homophobia. Further, in HEI in Europe a Eurocentric (see tool Eurocentrims) perspective and neoliberal forms of governing, in the sense of Neoliberal Governmentality predominate. Coupled to racialized, gendered and economic inequalities and an institutional praxis and culture of self-profiling, HEI becomes a site, where (a) competition and individualization over cooperation; (b) cost-effectiveness (reflected by term of bulimic learning or educational bulimia in Germany and other countries) over transitional and qualitative learning, and (c) quantitative oriented learning over emotional and physical well-being is prioritized.

Set within this context, individuals and social groups encounter multiple forms of discrimination in HEI, resulting in individual and collective experiences of HEI as an unhealthy and often hostile environment. As a consequence, many Migra*BPoC students and teachers avoid open resistance and instead engage in neoliberal compliance, employing a double consciousness about what is expected from them and how to increase their acceptance and academic recognition. It is in this situation, that many Migra*BPoC students feel the need to make pragmatic decisions about how they spend their time and energy during their life as students.



290 kb
Reading Time
9 min

The following exercise is a board game that aims at making visible challenges and difficulties of everyday life – academic-related and otherwise – connected to Neoliberal Compliance, Eurocentrism, and Migra*BPoC Resistance, as well as enforcing strategies of mutual cooperation and support. The activity methodology is inspired by Paulo Freire’s ideas on exercises of codification and de-codification, which entails a three phases activity.

Firstly, a common issue within the student group is identified in a quasi-ethnographic approach; i.e., through carefully listening to the group, educators/researchers identify topics that afflict the students.

Following, these topics are codified in one observable support – a board game in this case – in order to present and represent the issue in an observable manner. Lastly, the situations observed during the game should be discussed with the students under an organized moderation (the de-codification), connecting the circumstances observed during the game with the students’ everyday life.

The text is divided into three main parts:

  1. Background
  2. Objectives of the exercise
  3. Academic Carousel – The game


Giessen - TKWS - Academic Carousel
N° of activities
Activity Times
1 h - 1.5 h