The reminder that crisis is a permanent feature of the humanities is a useful corrective to arguments that treat the problems we face as intellectual and internal in kind (the rise and fall of theory, disciplines versus studies, the decline of a public vocation, etc). However, if a sense of crisis "in" the humanities is generated by the critical mission itself, it does not follow that the challenges posed "to" the humanities in universities world-wide today are of this kind. Since the early 1980s, the global mainstream of nationally regulated, state-funded higher education has progressively been transformed by a neo-liberal policy movement that not only redistributes funding away from the humanities but seeks to alter the material context and framework of values in which all research is produced. Inducing a managerial version of permanent revolution, the new order conjoins global competition with a promise of community benefit or (in countries where the notion is relevant), "taxpayer" accountability; in the process, the ideal of academic independence is explicitly overthrown. Examining experiences of this process in Australia and Hong Kong, this article asks what happens when humanities scholars have no choice but to conceptualize their work from perspectives of interest to industry on the one hand, and the public or the community on the other.