In order to understand compliance in the context of education, it is important to understand the space that education produces and where educational practice takes place. Higher Education Institutions (HEI) are shaped by multiple systems of oppression and inequality. These systems are interlocked and set in relation to dominant perceptions such as Eurocentrism (see concept) or ways of governing such as Neoliberal Governmentality. 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. The repetitious nature of everyday violence produces intersectional fatigue – an exhaustion triggered by the daily struggle with organizational and interpersonal barriers in HEI. Some students feel that compliance is the best strategy to overcome these barriers and the most protective against harm. Consequently, we call this strategy of dealing with and navigating ambivalent demands and rewards in the context of institutional racism in HEI neoliberal compliance. It implies to individualize, minimize, and/or “laugh off” discriminatory experiences and to attempt to adjust to the normative expectations. Neoliberal compliance relies on the conviction that individual copying can reduce racist violence. This view complicates a liberatory and emancipatory praxis that relies on political organizing, see Migra*BPoC Resistance (see tool), and collective responses as well as actions against racism in HEI.

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 concept of neoliberal compliance emerged from two group dialogues with Migra*BPoC students, PhDs and postdocs in Giessen, Germany.

Based on the enunciations of the participants in the two workshops, they identified the most crucial aspects for migrant students in Giessen by relating them to each other and grasping their conceptual implication through a mind-map exercise. Five topics were identified:
(a) fatigue;
(b) fear of not passing;
(c) insecurity towards expectations;
(d) dissatisfaction regarding double standards at university; and
(e) disillusionment regarding the lack of change of the institution and its personal interactions.

Migra*BPoC students situated themselves at the interplay of these elements and developed strategies of copying, challenging, contesting and resisting accordingly. In particular, the strategy of neoliberal compliance resulted as a way of navigating these different levels by focusing on self-care.

Thus, neoliberal compliance emerges as a term that defines individual strategies of Migra*BPoC students and teachers of confirming to the given structures and dynamics in place. As such they are not directed at changing or denouncing discriminatory practices. Rather, they are prescribed by a commitment to the institutional rules and expectations in order to prevent or diminish the negative effects of discrimination on the personal well-being level. In this sense, the focus on neoliberal compliance uncovers the agency of Migra*BPoC at HEI as active agents seeking to survive on an individual level the institutional constraints. As such neoliberal compliance can be understood as a psychosocial mechanism of protection of personal well-being.

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


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