From Bad Apples to Zombies? Walking Dead Leadership in the Contemporary University

Tara Brabazon


Leadership remains an open sewer of assumptions, ego, platitudes and potential.  When contextualized within an international university sector struggling and grasping to find a purpose, leadership becomes toxic and dangerous.  This article reactivates, challenges and then transforms Ulrich Beck’s zombie concept and applies it to university leadership, management and administration. I probe the renegotiation of power and identity, with particular attention to recent scandals and appointments of university ‘leaders.’ This article also signals a movement from cosmopolitan sociology to claustropolitan cultural studies, repositioning leadership in universities at the end of the world.


Higher education studies; zombie university; neoliberalism; zombie concept; zombie category; zombie studies; leadership; management; administration, cosmopolitanism, claustropolitanism

Full Text:



These are currently formatted as Chicago footnotes. I will change the referencing style upon the completion of refereeing, if the piece is accepted :)

R. Higgott, “Nothing corrupt in selection processes,” The Australian, July 6, 10`6,

G. Sykes and D. Matza, “Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 22, No. 6, 1957, pp. 664-670

“Former Murdoch VC hits back at CCC report,” Campus Watch, July 6, 2016,

C. Mitchell, “Continuous improvement in higher education,” Australian Universities Review, Vol. 61, No. 2, 2019, pp. 57-58

“Managing Director,” Atlas Iron,

J. Sprague and K. Ingram, “Atlas Iron slashes pay but managing director David Flanagan comes out on top,” Sydney Morning Herald, August 17, 2015,


M. Stephens, “Flanagan to leave Murdoch Role,” Business News Western Australia, November 20, 2018,

S. Mehta and G.C. Maheshwari, “Consequences of toxic leadership on employee job satisfaction and organizational commitment,” Journal of Contemporary Management Research, Vol. 8, No. 2, September 2013, pp. 1-23

Report on a matter of governance at Murdoch University, op. cit., p. 2

A remarkable analysis and deployment of Ulrich Beck’s zombie categories is Ajay Sharma’s “STEM-fication of Education: the Zombie Reform Strikes Again,” JASTE, May 2015, url

E. Worthington and K. Taylor, “Four Corners whistleblower sued by Murdoch University after raising concerns about international students,” ABC, October 11, 2019,

E. Worthington, “Professor quits Murdoch University over legal action toward Four Corners international whistleblower, ABC, December 4, 2019,

E. Worthington, “Murdoch University drops financial claim against whistleblower,” ABC, January 13, 2020,

S. Hacker, “Zombies in the workplace,” The Journal for Quality and Participation, Vol. 32, No. 4, January 2010, pp. 25-28

J. Smyth, The Toxic University, (London: Palgrave, 2017)

W. Brown, Undoing Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, (New York: Zone Books, 2015)

F. Vostal, “Review of The Toxic University, Theory, Culture Society, February 15, 2019, httpw://

The theoretical scaffolding work to reach this argument is found is S. Redhead, We have never been postmodern, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011) and S. Redhead, Theoretical Times, (Bingley: Emerald, 2017). In We have never been postmodern, Redhead stated, “cosmopolitanism, long the dominant characteristic in sociology, has it appears become claustropolitanism, or is certainly in the process of ’becoming claustropolitan,”

To review my earlier discussion of the zombie concept and its application in higher education, please refer to T. Brabazon, “Don’t fear the reaper? The Zombie University and eating braaaaains,” KOME, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2016, pp. 1-16,

This article is the first publication from a larger project currently being written as a scholarly monograph. This monograph is titled, The Claustropolitan University: Higher education at the end of the world.

Please refer to T. Brabazon and S. Redhead, “Theoretical Times: Claustropolitanism,” Libsyn, December 30, 2014,

S. McIntosh, “The evolution of the zombie: the monster that keeps coming back,” from S. McIntosh and M. Leverette, Zombie Culture: Autopsies of the living dead, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, 2008), p. 1

S. Orpana, “Spooks on Biopower: the uncanny carnivalesque of zombie walks,” Topia, Vol. 25, pp. 153-156

ibid., p. 153

L. Sorensen, “Against the post-apocalyptic: narrative closure in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One,” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 55, No. 3, Fall 2014, pp. 559-592

T. Negri and F. Guattari, Communists like us, (New York: Semiotext(e), 1990), p. 30

S. Sheppard, “Realistically, nice guys finish last,” ibid., p. 128 now has a Zombie Studies category:

J. Rutherford, The art of life: on living, love and death, (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2000

J. Rutherford, “Zombie categories,” ibid., p. 37


U. Beck, ibid., p. 37

Rutherford and Beck, ibid., p. 38

U. Beck, “The cosmopolitan society and its enemies,” Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 19, No. 1-2, 2002, p. 18

ibid., p. 17

This theorization was also built by the other cosmopolitan sociologists, John Urry. He stated that, “if the concept of society does make sense then such societies have to be embedded with the analysis of the system of nation-state-societies,” Sociology beyond societies: mobilities for the twenty-first century, (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 11

U. Beck, “Interview with Ulrich Beck, “Journal of Consumer Culture, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2001, p. 261

ibid., p. 262

ibid., p. 262

T. Raymen and O. Smith, “Deviant Leisure: A Critical Criminological Perspective for the Twenty-First Century,” Critical Criminology, Vol. 27, No. 1, 2019, 115-130

A strong theorization of ambiguity in extreme contexts for leadership is found in B. Baran and C. Scott, “Organizing ambiguity: a grounded theory of leadership and sensemaking within dangerous contexts,” Military Psychology, Vol. 22, Suppl. 1, S42-S69.

G. Standing, The precariat: the new dangerous class, (London: Bloomsbury, 2013)

S. Aronowitz, The knowledge factory, (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000)

J. Smyth, B. Down, P. McInerney and R. Hattam, Doing Critical Educational Research: A conversation with the research of John Smyth, (New York: Peter Lang, 2014, p 111

W. Streeck, Buying time: the delayed crisis of democratic capitalism, (London: Verso, 2014)

T. Fitzgerald, Women leaders in higher education: Shattering the myths, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014)

D. Buchanan and M. Hallgren, “Surviving a zombie apocalypse: leadership configurations in extreme contexts,” Management Learning, Vol. 50, No. 2, 2020, pp. 152-170

R. Deem, “Gender, organizational cultures and the practices of manager academics in UK universities,” Gender, work and organization, Vol. 10, No. 2, 20013, pp. 239-259.

T. Fitzgerald, Women leaders in higher education, op., cit., p. 32.

G. Krucken, A. Blumel and K. Kloke, “The managerial turn in higher education? On the interplay of organizational and occupational change in German Academia,” Minerva, Vol. 51, 2013, pp. 417-442.

J. Hearn, “Academia, management and men: making the connections, exploring the implications,” In Brooks, A. and Mackinnon, A. (eds.), Gender and the restructured university: Changing management and culture in higher education, (Buckingham Society for Research in Higher Education and Open University Press, 2001), p. 71

E. Bennett, Gender in Post-9/11 American Apocalyptic TV: Representation of Masculinity and Femininity at the End of the World, (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), p. 116

A. Whelan, R. Walker and C. Moore, Zombies in the academy: living death in higher education, (Bristol: Intellect, 2013)

M. Sims, “Bullying is not tolerated here: we have policies and procedures which protect staff. An autoethnography of frustration,” Sociology Insights, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2019.

S. Mehta and G.C. Maheshwari, “Toxic leadership: tracing the destructive trail,” International Journal of Management, Vol. 5, No. 10, October 2014, pp. 18-24

Stephen Hacker particularly probed the consequences of rapid change in, “Is the workplace a zombie breeding ground?” The Journal for Quality and Participation, Vol. 39, No. 1, April 2016, pp. 4-8

ibid., p. 8

G. Standing, The Precariat, (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), p. 159

D. McNally, Monsters of the market: zombies, vampires and global capitalism. Chicago: Haymarket, 2012

C. Parr, Imperial College professor Stefan Grimm ‘was given grant income target,’” Times Higher Education, December 3, 2014,

A. McKie, “UK academia ‘increasingly unsafe’ working environment, Times Higher Education, January 9, 2020,

I particularly want to note what Virilio and Lotringer described as the movement from “cosmopolis to claustropolis,” from P. Virilio and S. Lotringer, Pure War, (Los Angeles: Semiotexte, 2008), p. 211

S. Redhead, “Towards a theory of claustropolitanism: jacking into the trajectories of the catastrophic,” Left Curve, Vol. 33, 2009, pp. 126-133



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2020 Tara Brabazon

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ISSN: 1930-014X