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The highly imagined and contested space of higher education is invested with an affectively loaded ‘knowledge economy optimism’. Drawing on recent work in affect and critical geography, this paper considers the e/affects of the promises of the knowledge economy on its knowledge workers. We extend previous analyses of the discursive constitution of academic subjectivity through the figuration of ‘emotional knots’ as we explore three stories of the constitution of academic subjectivities in institutional spaces. These stories were composed in a collective biography workshop, where participants constructed accounts of the physical, social, material and imaginative dimensions of subjectivities in the ‘academic-city’ of higher education spaces. Identifying moments of ‘perturbation’ in these stories, this paper considers the micro-contexts of ‘becoming academic’: how bodies, affects and relations become knotted in precise times and places. The figuration of ‘knots’ provides an analytical strategy for unravelling how subjects affectively invest in the promises of spaces saturated with knowledge economy discourses, and moments of impasse where these promises ring hollow. We examine the affective bargains made in order to flourish in the corporate university and identify spaces of possibility where optimistic projections of alternative futures might be formed. These stories and their analysis complicate the metanarrative of ‘knowledge economy optimism’ that is currently driving higher education reform in Australia.

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Journal Article

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