This paper takes up issues raised in two articles by Nick Zepke and portrayed here as "the Zepke thesis". This thesis argues that the literature on, interest in and practices around student engagement in higher education have an elective affinity with neo-liberal ideology. At one level this paper counters many of the assertions that underpin the Zepke thesis, challenging them as being based on a selective and tendentious interpretation of that literature. It also points out the misuse of the concept of "elective affinity" within the thesis. However, more significantly the paper argues that an understanding of how ideas are taken up and used requires a more sophisticated ontological understanding than the Zepke thesis exhibits. That thesis has strayed into the territory of the sociology of knowledge while ignoring the accounts and debates in that area developed over more than a century.