Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


This thesis is concerned with making sense of the discursive complexity of the learning advisor in Australian higher education. It considers how learning advising, rather than the sensible and unitary field of practice it is often taken to be, constitutes a professional complex that is the effect of the saturation of historical, political, theoretical and institutional layers of meaning that continue to have salience in the academy today. In this thesis, learning advising is shown to be a contested space crossed with multiple truths, whose practitioners are both enabled and derailed by the contingent discourses that frame their intelligibility and ethical agency in the academy.

Written in the spirit of a Foucauldian 'history of the present' (Foucault, 1977), the thesis takes the form of an historical ontology (Foucault 1997a, 1997b) that examines the learning advisor as an effect of the dynamic interaction between power, knowledge and ethics in the academy. Conceptually, it uses the lens of governmentality to consider how the learning advisor can be understood as deeply embedded in the social regulation of conduct in the academy. Through this lens, the constitution of the learning advising subject is examined as an effect of the constellation of historical circumstance, political reasoning and social and institutional exigencies. These factors combine to reconfigure the university as an apparatus of government in a liberal society; problematise specific aspects of higher education; and (re)present the subject of higher education – the student – as the object of government. It is argued that these constellations also create the discursive space for historically different versions of the learning advisor to appear, and that these different versions are present in the layers of truth found in the professional narrative today.

Methodologically, the thesis combines genealogical design with archaeological method to isolate, trace and juxtapose four historical constitutions of the subject of learning advising that can be shown to have continued salience in the academy today. This is achieved by drawing together the analysis of the historical archive - comprising international reports on higher education, government policy, educational research, and learning advising publications - with the voices of learning advisors in the present. Data obtained through semi-structured interviews with learning advisors is used to demonstrate how key aspects of each historical constitution can be found in the way learning advisors make sense of themselves in the present. This thesis highlights how these various constitutions can be seen to be discontinuous and, as such, create a complex of contradictory truths – a discursive complexity and an ontological stammering – for the learning advisor in the present.

Importantly, this thesis engages with the normalising tendencies in the field‘s political and professional 'will to truth' that corresponds directly with its recent professionalisation in Australia. The thesis is founded on the idea that while professionalisation might be regarded as an important political step to professional autonomy and growth, this thesis suggests that learning advising, as an emerging field of practice in the academy, be wary of too readily grounding its politics in truth and the desire to secure identity. Truth and identity in this thesis are shown to be contingent, shifting and always worthy of critique. Rather, I propose the need for a politics that does not pursue the search for a foundational subject or an attachment to fixed ideals, but engages in intellectual work that renders visible the fractures in our contingencies and histories, and troubles not only the stories we receive, but those we tell. This thesis is one attempt to do this kind of work.