The tyranny of student satisfaction: Cruel optimistic fantasies in education

Dion Rüsselbæk Hansen*, Karsten Mellon Hansen

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    In this theoretical paper, we reflect on the optimistic neoliberal fantasies that are played out in today’s education, even though that they rarely live up to their promises. Inspired by Lauren Berlant’s concept of cruel optimism, and psychoanalytical thinkers as Slavoj Žižek and Ilan Kapoor, and their focus on concepts such as fantasy, desire, enjoyment, and the unconscious, we argue that there is a contemporary tendency for critical thinking and complicated conversations to be neglected or avoided in education, especially these forms of thinking and conversations that can question the neoliberal fantasmatic order and the cruelness as well as the enjoyment that come with it. Instead, educational institutions and educators must live up to the demands of the big (neoliberal market) Other and its desire for positive student evaluations that mirror satisfaction and quality regarding the educational “product” that students are promised. How it looks will be illustrated by means of examples that derive from a Danish educational context. On that basis, we claim that we are witnessing a form of satisfaction tyranny in education and discuss what it means if educational institutions and educators cannot release themselves from their neoliberal involvement.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalPower and Education
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)172-185
    Publication statusPublished - 2022


    • Educational quality
    • complicated conversations
    • critical thinking
    • enjoyment/pain
    • intellectual flourishing


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