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Table of contents :
Table of Contents
List of tables
List of contributors
1. The Language of Neoliberalism in Education
2. Politics by the Numbers
3. Playing on Two Tables: Advertising and Science in OECD’s Educational Rhetoric
4. Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire: The Retreat from Naturalism
5. Neoliberalism as Political Discourse: The Political Arithmetic of Homo Oeconomicus
6. Entrepreneurial Learning and the Merging of Progressive and Economic Ideals
7. Hard Work, Growth Mindset, Fluent English: Navigating Neoliberal Logics
8. Gauging Neoliberal Discursive Formations in the Russell Group’s Education Strategies and Long-Term Objectives
9. Resisting the Iron Cage of ‘The Student Experience’
10. Meritocracy From a Liberating and Equalising Rationality, to an Oppressive and Inequality-Promoting Rationality
11. Neoliberal Language, Outcome-Based Education, and Youth-at-risk in Rural Canada
12. From Racial Equity to Closing the Achievement Gap: The Discursive “Whiting Out” of Race in Neoliberal Education Policy
13. European Neoliberal Discourse and Slovenian Educational Space
14. The Language of Neoliberal Education: An Interview with
The Impacts of Neoliberal Discourse and Language in Education
This edited collection combines quantitative content and critical discourse analysis to reveal a shift in the rhetoric used as part of the neoliberal agenda in education. It does so by analysing, uncovering, and commenting on language as a central tool of education. Focussing on vocabulary, metaphors, and slogans used in strategy documents, advertising, policy, and public discourse, the text illustrates how concepts such as justice, opportunity, well-being, talent, and disadvantage have been hijacked by educational institutes, governments, and universities. Showing how neoliberalism has changed discourses about education and educational policy, these chapters trace issues such as anti-intellectualism, commercialization, meritocracy, and an erasure of racial difference back to a contradictory growth in egalitarian rhetoric. Given its global scope, this volume offers a timely intervention in the studies of neoliberalism and education by developing a holistic vision of how the language of neoliberalism has changed how we think about education. It will prove to be an essential resource for scholars and researchers working at the intersections of education, policymaking, and neoliberalism. Mitja Sardocˇ is Senior Research Associate at the Educational Research Institute in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Routledge Studies in Education, Neoliberalism, and Marxism
Series editor: Dave Hill, Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford and Cambridge, England
15 Film as a Radical Pedagogical Tool Deirdre O’Neill 16 Career Guidance for Social Justice Contesting Neoliberalism Edited by Tristram Hooley, Ronald Sultana, and Rie Thomsen 17 Class Consciousness and Education in Contemporary Sweden A Marxist Analysis of Revolution in a Social Democracy By Alpesh Maisuria 18 Career Guidance for Emancipation Reclaiming Justice for the Multitude Edited by Tristram Hooley, Ronald Sultana, and Rie Thomsen 19 Crisis, Austerity, and New Frameworks for Teaching and Learning A Pedagogy of Hope for Contemporary Greek Education By Maria Chalari 20 The Impacts of Neoliberalism on US Community Colleges Reclaiming Faculty Voice in Academic Governance By Greg Sethares 21 The Educational Philosophy of Luis Emilio Recabarren Pioneering Working Class Education in Latin America By María Alicia Rueda 22 Critical Reﬂections on the Language of Neoliberalism in Education Dangerous Words and Discourses of Possibility Edited by Spyros Themelis 23 The Impacts of Neoliberal Discourse and Language in Education Critical Perspectives on a Rhetoric of Equality, Well-Being, and Justice Edited by Mitja Sardocˇ
The Impacts of Neoliberal Discourse and Language in Education Critical Perspectives on a Rhetoric of Equality, Well-Being, and Justice Edited by Mitja Sardocˇ
First published 2021 by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2021 Taylor & Francis The right of Mitja Sardocˇ to be identiﬁed as the author of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identiﬁcation and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Sardocˇ , Mitja, editor. Title: The impacts of neoliberal discourse and language in education : critical perspectives on a rhetoric of equality, well-being, and justice / [Edited by] Mitja Sardocˇ . Description: New York, NY : Routledge, 2021. | Series: Routledge studies in education, neoliberalism, and Marxism | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identiﬁers: LCCN 2020044473 (print) | LCCN 2020044474 (ebook) | ISBN 9780367415471 (hardback) | ISBN 9780367815172 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Education, Humanistic. | Neoliberalism. | Education, Higher–Social aspects. | Educational equalization. | Communication in education. Classiﬁcation: LCC LC1011 .I47 2021 (print) | LCC LC1011 (ebook) | DDC 370.11/2–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020044473 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020044474 ISBN: 978-0-367-41547-1 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-367-72417-7 (pbk) ISBN: 978-0-367-81517-2 (ebk) Typeset in Galliard by Taylor & Francis Books
List of tables List of contributors 1 The Language of Neoliberalism in Education
vii viiii 1
ˇ MITJA SARDOC
2 Politics by the Numbers
THEODORE M. PORTER
3 Playing on Two Tables: Advertising and Science in OECD’s Educational Rhetoric
4 Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire: The Retreat from Naturalism
5 Neoliberalism as Political Discourse: The Political Arithmetic of Homo Oeconomicus
MICHAEL A. PETERS
6 Entrepreneurial Learning and the Merging of Progressive and Economic Ideals
JOHAN DAHLBECK AND PETER LILJA
7 Hard Work, Growth Mindset, Fluent English: Navigating Neoliberal Logics
KATY HIGHET AND ALFONSO DEL PERCIO
8 Gauging Neoliberal Discursive Formations in the Russell Group’s Education Strategies and Long-Term Objectives RODOLFO LEYVA
vi Contents 9 Resisting the Iron Cage of ‘The Student Experience’
´ SARAH HAYES AND PETAR JANDRIC
10 Meritocracy From a Liberating and Equalising Rationality, to an Oppressive and Inequality-Promoting Rationality
VERONIKA TAŠNER AND SLAVKO GABER
11 Neoliberal Language, Outcome-Based Education, and Youth-at-risk in Rural Canada
HYUNJUNG SHIN AND ANGELA CSIKI
12 From Racial Equity to Closing the Achievement Gap: The Discursive “Whiting Out” of Race in Neoliberal Education Policy
13 European Neoliberal Discourse and Slovenian Educational Space
14 The Language of Neoliberal Education: An Interview with Henry Giroux
ˇ MITJA SARDOC
8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4
Codebook For Neoliberal University Discourses Codebook For Traditional University Discourses Frequency of Coded Discourses per Russell Group University Total Frequency of Coded Neoliberal and Traditional University Discourses
127 129 131 134
Vasco d’Agnese (PhD), is full professor of Education at the Department of Psychology, University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli, with interests in educational philosophy and theory, educational policies, Heidegger, Dewey and postmodernism. His latest publications include Dewey, Heidegger and the Future of Education. Beyondness and Becoming (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019); Reclaiming Education in the Age of PISA: Challenging OECD’s Educational Order (London: Routledge, 2017); and ‘Dewey and Possibility: Challenging Neoliberalism in Education’, Educational Theory, 69.6 (2020), pp. 693–717. Angela Csiki is a high school teacher at an alternative school for students at risk of academic failure. While at Loyalist College, studying print journalism, Angela became an advocate for students with learning disabilities through a provincial government pilot project called the Learning Opportunities Task Force. This experience led Angela to pursue a career in education and she obtained her BEd in 2012 at Nipissing University. She completed her Masters in Curriculum Studies at the University of Saskatchewan in 2019 and continues her work in alternative education. Johan Dahlbeck is the author of Spinoza and Education: Freedom, Understanding and Empowerment (Routledge, 2016) and Education and Free Will: Spinoza, Causal Determinism and Moral Formation (Routledge, 2018). Dr. Slavko Gaber is Associate Professor of Sociology of Education at University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Education. His ﬁelds of expertise are equity and equality in education, comparative education, governance and management and quality assurance in education. He has extensive practice in educational policy management and expert collaboration in reﬂecting educational reforms in Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. As an author, co-author and editor, he has published several monographs, including: Fifty years of the Coleman report, Kakovost v šolstvu v Sloveniji (Quality in education in Slovenia), Prihodnost šole v družbah dela brez dela (Future of school in work-centred societies without work),
List of contributors ix Volilni sistemi (Electoral systems) and Misliti socialne inovacije (Thinking social innovations). Sarah Hayes is a research Professor in the Education Observatory, in the Faculty of Education, Health & Wellbeing, at University of Wolverhampton, UK. Previously Sarah was at Aston University, where she led programmes in education and sociology and is now an Honorary Professor. Sarah has also taught at University of Worcester, at international partner institutions and is an external examiner. Sarah’s research spans Sociology, Higher Education Policy and technological change. Her book: The Labour of Words in Higher Education: Is it Time to Reoccupy Policy? was published through Brill in 2019, and her new book: Postdigital Positionality is forthcoming. Sarah is an Associate Editor for Postdigital Science and Education (Springer). Her research publications can be found on her Orcid, Google Scholar and Aston Research Explorer web pages. Personal website: https://researchers.wlv.ac. uk/sarah.hayes Katy Highet is a PhD student in critical sociolinguistics at UCL Institute of Education. She has trained in language studies and sociolinguistics at UCL, L’Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon and the University of Montpellier, and has worked for several years as an English and French teacher in India, France and the UK. Her current project investigates social mobility, social stratiﬁcation and English in India through an ethnographic study of an educational NGO in Delhi. She has a forthcoming chapter on linguistic capital and English speakerhood in India in a Routledge edited volume on the capitalization of language (with Alfonso Del Percio), has co-edited a special issue of South Asian Cultural Studies (2018, with Tasleem Shakur), and was also awarded the Braj B. Kachru award for the best student paper at the International Association of World Englishes conference (2019). Her research interests lie in the areas of language, social mobility, neoliberalism, caste, class and inequality, speciﬁcally in India. Petar Jandric´ (PhD) is Professor at the Zagreb University of Applied Sciences, Croatia, and Visiting Professor at the University of Wolverhampton, UK. His previous academic afﬁliations include the Croatian Academic and Research Network, National e-Science Centre at the University of Edinburgh, Glasgow School of Art, and Cass School of Education at the University of East London. Petar’s research interests are situated at the post-disciplinary intersections between technologies, pedagogies and the society, and research methodologies of his choice are inter-, trans- and anti-disciplinarity. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Postdigital Science and Education journal and book series. Personal website: http://petarjandric.com/. Rodolfo Leyva has a PhD in Political Sociology from King’s College London. He is currently a fellow in media and communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His research employs experiments, quantitative and qualitative methods, and draws on sociological and cognitive
List of contributors science theories. His main area of research concerns the development and empirical veriﬁcation of a systems theory that can help describe and predict a) the cognitive-affective and social-structural mechanisms through which individuals consciously and non-consciously acquire and reproduce neoliberal ideology; and b) the distinct dispositions and behaviours that can be said to typify a neoliberal subject.
Peter Lilja is a senior lecturer at the department of Childhood, Education and Society at the Faculty of Education and Society, Malmö University. His research interests are located at the intersection of education policy studies and the philosophy of education with special focus on questions relating to the role of the teacher/teaching, intergenerational relations in the context of education and the relationship between education and politics in general. Mark Olssen, FAcSS, is Emeritus Professor of Political Theory and Education Policy in the Department of Politics at the University of Surrey. His most recent books are Liberalism, Neoliberalism, Social Democracy: Thin Communitarian Perspectives on Political Philosophy and Education (Routledge, 2010); Toward A Global Thin Community: Nietzsche, Foucault, and the Cosmopolitan Commitment (Paradigm Press, 2009). He is also co-author (with John Codd and Anne-Marie O’Neill) of Education Policy: Globalisation, Citizenship, Democracy, (Sage, London, 2004) and author of Michel Foucault: Materialism and Education (Greenwood Press, New York, 1999/ Paradigm Press, Boulder, 2006). He has also published many book chapters and articles in academic journals in Britain, America and Australasia, most recently, an interview by Rille Raaper, ‘Mark Olssen on the neoliberalisation of higher education and academic lives: an interview’, Policy Futures in Education and ‘Neoliberalism and Higher Education Today: Research, Accountability and Impact’, British Journal of Sociology of Education (2016). Dr Alfonso Del Percio is Associate Professor in Applied Linguistics. He was trained in the ﬁelds of critical sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology at the University of St. Gallen, Fribourg and Chicago. His ethnographic and discourse analytic research deals with the intersection of language and political economy and focuses on language, migration and governmentality, as well as the links between language, work and social inequality. The outputs of Alfonso’s research have appeared in books published by Routledge, Bloomsbury, and Suhrkamp as well as in peer-reviewed journals such as Pragmatics and Society, Social Semiotics, Signs and Society, Applied Linguistics Review, Language and Communication, Anthropologie et Sociétés, Language Policy and Langage et Sociétés. He is co-editor of Language, Education and Neoliberalism (with Mi-Cha Flubacher, Multilingual Matters, 2017) and of Language and Neoliberal Governmentality (with Luisa Martin Rojo, Routledge, 2019). Alfonso is currently preparing a monograph entitled “Multilingualism and State Propaganda” (Routledge, forthcoming).
List of contributors xi Michael A. Peters is Distinguished Professor of Education at Beijing Normal University Faculty of Education PRC, and Emeritus Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. He is the executive editor of the journal Educational Philosophy and Theory, and founding editor of ﬁve international journals, Policy Futures in Education, E-Learning and Digital Media (SAGE), and Knowledge Cultures (Addleton), The Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy (Brill), Open Review of Education Research (T&F). His interests are in philosophy, education and social policy and he has written over one hundred books, including most recently: Wittgenstein and Education: Pedagogical Investigations (2017) and Neoliberalism and After? Education, Social Policy and the Crisis of Capitalism (2011). He has acted as an advisor to governments and UNESCO on these and related matters in the USA, Scotland, NZ, South Africa and the EU. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of NZ in 2010 and awarded honorary doctorates by State University of New York (SUNY) in 2012 and University of Aalborg in 2015. Theodore M. Porter is distinguished professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he has taught for about three decades. His research focuses on the history of the human sciences, especially on history and social studies of data, statistics and quantiﬁcation. His most recent book, Genetics in the Madhouse: The Unknown History of Human Heredity (2018), shows how nineteenth-century mental institutions became key sites for recording and investigating biological inheritance. In 2004 he published Karl Pearson: The Scientiﬁc Life in a Statistical Age, about the social, philosophical and even feminist investigations of this pioneering statistician and mathematical scientist. Porter’s ﬁrst two books, The Rise of Statistical Thinking (1986) and Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life (1995), were both reissued in 2020 by Princeton University with new prefaces by the author. He is presently contemplating a new book with the title Funny Numbers. Pamela Rogers (PhD) is the Director of Researcher and Professional Development at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, and Adjunct Professor at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Education. Her research focuses on policy discourse formation and teachers’ lived-experiences in systems of neoliberal accountability and digital surveillance. As a former high school teacher from Nova Scotia, Pamela is interested in improving workplace conditions and building community alliances to support public school educators. Her work spans theory and practice, with attention to policy analysis, the political economy of schooling, teacher subjectivities, anti-racist and anti-oppressive pedagogies. Mitja Sardocˇ (PhD) is senior research associate at the Educational Research Institute in Ljubljana (Slovenia) where he is a member of the ‘Educational Research’ research programme. He is the author of scholarly articles and editor of a number of journal special issues on citizenship education,
xii List of contributors multiculturalism, toleration, radicalization and violent extremism, equality of opportunity and patriotism. He is Managing Editor of Theory and Research in Education [http://tre.sagepub.com/], Editor-in-chief of The Handbook of Patriotism (Springer) and Editor-in-chief of The Palgrave Handbook of Toleration to be published by Palgrave Macmillan. Personal website: https://www.researchgate.net/proﬁle/Mitja_Sardoc Hyunjung Shin is an Assistant Professor in Curriculum Studies in the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research focuses on globalization, neoliberalism and language education; sociolinguistics and language ideologies; and critical pedagogy and teacher education. She has published in multiple journals and international handbook volumes and guest edited special issues of Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development (with Joseph Park) and Education Matters. Her current work focuses on internationalization of universities and student mobility under neoliberalism, colonialism and capitalism in language education, and multilingualism and ESL policy and pedagogies. Urška Štremfel, PhD, is a research fellow at the Educational Research Institute in Ljubljana and part-time research fellow at the Centre for Political Science Research at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana. Her research interests include the European aspects of policy analysis, especially new modes of EU governance. In that framework she has devoted special attention to the role international comparative assessment studies play in development of Slovenian education policies and practices and the development of evidence-based education. Dr. Veronika Tašner is Assistant Professor of Sociology of Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Ljubljana. Her research areas are meritocracy, equity and inequality in education, gender and education, comparative education, sociology of family, violence and school, future of education and private/public education. As an author, co-author and editor, she has published several monographs, including: Brez spopada: kultur, spolov, generacij (Without conﬂict between civilizations, genders, generations), Prihodnost šole v družbah dela brez dela (Future of school in work-centered societies without work), Zasebno šolstvo v Sloveniji (Private schools in Slovenia), Misliti socialne inovacije (Thinking social innovations). In addition, she has authored numerous chapters in Slovenian and foreign monographs and a range of articles in Slovenian and foreign journals.
The Language of Neoliberalism in Education Mitja Sardocˇ
Neoliberalism in Education: Some Preliminary Considerations Writing more than a century apart, the French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville and the British historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin pointed to an interesting phenomenon that seems to dominate several of our contemporary discussions. In Book II of Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville emphasized eloquently that ‘[a]n abstract word is like a box with a false bottom: you can put in any ideas you please and take them out again without anyone being the wiser’ (de Tocqueville, 2000: 553). In a similar vein, Isaiah Berlin’s essay ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ points to a vexing problem plaguing the idea of liberty, ‘[l]ike happiness and goodness, like nature and reality, the meaning of this term is so porous that there is little interpretation that it seems able to resist’ (Berlin, 2002: 181). A number of concepts and ideas from our contemporary discussions might qualify to ﬁll the problematic position referred to by the two luminaries. Yet, one of them ﬁts this observation particularly well. Scattered throughout the social sciences and the humanities, neoliberalism has been a staple in disciplines as diverse as political philosophy (Brown, 2015), critical neoliberalism studies (Peck, 2010), applied linguistics (Block, Gray & Holborow, 2012), critical sociology (O’Connor, 2010), migration studies (Gao, 2020), anthropology (Wacquant, 2012), geography and urban studies (Brenner et al., 2010), social work (Ferguson, 2004), feminist studies (Fraser, 2013), eldercare (Andersson & Kvist, 2015), security studies (Eichler, 2013), education (d’Agnese, 2017; Giroux, 2014; Olssen, 2010; Peters, 2011). In fact, the study of neoliberalism, as John O’Connor emphasizes eloquently, has become a sort of ‘cottage industry’ (2010: 691). Yet, as Kean Birch emphasizes, ‘[n]eoliberalism means many things to many people’ (Birch, 2015: 571). Neoliberalism, as Neil Brenner et al. have accentuated, ‘has become something of a rascal concept – promiscuously pervasive, yet inconsistently deﬁned, empirically imprecise and frequently contested’ (2010: 184). Its pervasive character and the accompanying phenomenon of conceptual inﬂation ultimately results in a reduced analytic value of the notion of neoliberalism. This ‘conceptual malfunction’ associated with the (mis)use of
2 Mitja Sardocˇ the term neoliberalism (Venugopal, 2015) has actually resulted in a ‘conceptual sprawl’ (Dunn, 2017). The notion of neoliberalism is therefore ‘neither intellectually precise nor politically useful’ (Dunn, 2017: 1). Moreover, the confusing character of the notion of neoliberalism associated with the lack of a clear deﬁnition points also to an important shift in understanding neoliberalism not as a static phenomenon but primarily as a process. In fact, the phenomenon of neoliberalization (Brenner et al., 2010; Peck, 2010 [emphasis in the original]) is best characterized as a process of constant transformation, evolution, remodelling, adaptation, renewal, progression and ‘development’. This is proven by neoliberalism’s most distinctive ‘developmental stages’ represented also by its many slogans, metaphors, buzzwords and other thoughtterminating clichés [not to mention bureaucratic jargon]. In fact, the ‘ﬁrstwave’ neoliberalism associated with free-market fundamentalism evangelized by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s has been advanced under the banner of privatization and deregulation. In contrast, following the ‘end of history’ thesis propagated by Francis Fukuyama and the advent of Bill Clinton’s administration in the US and Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ in the UK, the ‘second-wave’ neoliberalism aimed to bridge the gap between social democracy on the one hand and the neoliberal rationality characterized by both divination and faith in market forces (Ramey, 2015) on the other by somehow blending the two. The ‘second-wave’ neoliberalism is best depicted as a hybrid bringing together the progressive agenda of social democracy with a neoliberal vocabulary, e.g. individual responsibility and accountability. As Steger and Roy have accentuated this ‘neoliberal turn’: ‘[i]t is a remarkable testimony to the power of Reaganomics and Thatcherism that the forces of the democratic Left started to incorporate major portions of the neoliberal agenda into their own political programmes’ (Steger & Roy, 2010: 49). Moreover, the ‘end of history’ parable representing the post-1989 ideological vacuum following the fall of the Berlin wall helped to establish the illusion of a possible cohabitation between the market mentality [at least as it is understood by neoliberalism] with progressive and emancipatory ideas associated with social democracy. Both stages of neoliberalism’s evolution have been characterized by the strategy of marketization, i.e. the ‘extension of the economic form of the market into areas of the social where it was previously illegitimate’ (Ball, 2020: 23). This has had a negative transformative inﬂuence on social spheres previously thought to be outside of its realm of application and inﬂuence, e.g. the corroding effect of neoliberalism on care and relationships in general (Costas Batlle, 2019). As Wendy Brown points out, neoliberalism transmogriﬁes every human domain and endeavor, along with humans themselves, according to a speciﬁc image of the economic. All conduct is economic conduct; all spheres of existence are framed and measured by economic terms and metrics, even when those spheres are not directly monetized. In neoliberal reason and in domains governed by it, we are only and everywhere homo oeconomicus, which itself has a historically
The Language of Neoliberalism in Education
speciﬁc form. Far from Adam Smith’s creature propelled by the natural urge to ‘truck, barter, and exchange,’ today’s homo oeconomicus is an intensely constructed and governed bit of human capital tasked with improving and leveraging its competitive positioning and with enhancing its (monetary and nonmonetary) portfolio value across all of its endeavors and venues. (2015: 10). Interestingly enough, the current phase of neoliberalism departs considerably from the previous two explicated above. The current ‘third-wave’ neoliberalism – not to be conﬂated with the ‘Third Way’ associated with the previous phase of neoliberalism –marks an important shift in the process of neoliberalization and the reinvention of neoliberalism itself. The current ‘developmental stage’ of the neoliberal ‘evolution’ represents a prima facie departure from the two previous stages as its archipelago of concepts and ideas allegedly moves away from a free-market fundamentalist rhetoric the previous two phases have been replete with. This ‘neoliberal shift’ results in a turn to ideas broadly associated with egalitarianism, e.g. equality, justice, well-being, fairness, equality of opportunity, etc. In fact, for more than a decade now major global intergovernmental [neoliberal] institutions have propagated a form of ‘progressive neoliberalism’ (Fraser & Brenner, 2017; Raschke, 2019). As Rune Møller Stahl emphasizes, ‘[t]he annual summit of the World Economic Forum in Davos is now discussing inequality and political instability every year, and even traditional bastions of neoliberal orthodoxy such as the IMF or OECD have started to warn against inequality […]’ (Stahl, 2019: 334). To an ill-informed [or naïve] reader, the adoption of the egalitarian vocabulary might sound like a [long-awaited] ‘conversion’ from free-market fundamentalism associated with the ‘mainstream’ neoliberal ethos and its ‘rationality’ to a more progressive and sustainable worldview. In contrast, anyone seriously researching the phenomenon of neoliberalism has been far less optimistic. As Nancy Fraser pointed out how a progressive project [in her case feminism] got somehow ‘hijacked’ by neoliberalism: ‘[a] movement that started out as a critique of capitalist exploitation ended up contributing key ideas to its latest neoliberal phase’ (Fraser, 2013). The constant transformation, evolution, remodelling, adaptation, renewal, progression and ‘development’ of neoliberalism is the very essence of what the process of neoliberalization is all about. One of the most important mechanisms associated with this shift of emphasis in neoliberalism’s rhetoric has been the re-semanticization of the egalitarian and progressive vocabulary which strips it of its historical legacy and emancipatory potential. The indirect indication that the neoliberal ‘semantic shift’ (Mangez & Vanden Broeck, 2020: 1) is actually underway is proven by the gravitational orbit of concepts and ideas of fairness, equality, well-being, equality of opportunity and justice echoing Firth’s principle of cooccurrence [‘You shall know a word by the company it keeps’] (Firth, 1957). The direct indication of this seismic semantic shift in the vocabulary of
4 Mitja Sardocˇ neoliberalism has had important implications also for how we come to consume, ‘digest’ and ultimately make sense of the global authoritarian pushback against democracy and human rights composed of anti-democratic and neoliberal tendencies including hate speech, fake news, populism, conﬂicting diversity [e.g. racism] and other phenomena headed under the banner of ‘uncivil society’. As Aihwa Ong emphasizes in Neoliberalism as Exception, neoliberalism ‘is reconﬁguring relationships between governing and the governed, power and knowledge, and sovereignty and territoriality’ (2006: 3). This recurrent reinvention of the neoliberal ‘order of reason’ (Brown, 2015) sketched above has actually had an important implication for the notion of neoliberalism itself: it has become a ‘sliding signiﬁer’ (Ball, 2020). Interestingly enough, two distinct interpretations can be associated with the vagueness, imprecision and conceptual confusion neoliberalism is characterized with, i.e. [i] the optimistic and [ii] the pessimistic interpretation. The ﬁrst interpretation maintains that neoliberalism is so complex a phenomenon that no genealogy, ideational analysis or conceptual cartography could fully cover many of its contours. Any undertaking aiming to make sense of this complex phenomenon is therefore most likely to fail. The second interpretation views this conceptual confusion as a calculated move to either deliberately divert the attention or to transfer the responsibility. Two examples can help to illustrate this twofold scenario. On the one hand, the strategy of diverting the attention has been an important ﬁnding arising out of critical terrorism studies. In fact, the absence of a ﬁxed deﬁnition of both radicalization, violent extremism and terrorism itself has been an integral part of the ‘War on Terror’. As Stephen Nathanson emphasizes, ‘[c]larity is not everyone’s goal, however, because confusion can be politically useful’ (Nathanson, 2010: 20). On the other hand, the strategy of transferring responsibility has been a key insight arising out of clinical governance research. As Michael Loughlin argues, ‘[t]he lack of clarity allows policy-makers to shift responsibility for the problems of the health service onto the workforce, who are required to interpret the deliberately vague and platitudinous statements of management in order to implement the policy’ (Loughlin, 2002: 229). These two strategies therefore represent a viable path to examine further the phenomenon of neoliberalism. Interestingly enough, the intersection of language and politics that enables us to track the ‘evolution’ of neoliberalism has become an important research trajectory in critical neoliberalism studies (e.g. Block et al., 2012; EagletonPierce, 2016; Holborow, 2015; Rojo & Del Percio, 2019). As Matthew Eagleton-Pierce (2016) emphasizes, [t]he language of neoliberalism both constructs and expresses a particular vision of economics, politics and everyday life. Some ﬁnd this vision to be appealing, but many others ﬁnd the contents and implications of neoliberalism to be alarming. Despite the popularity of these concepts, they often remain confusing, the product of contested histories, meanings and practices.
The Language of Neoliberalism in Education
In particular, the neoliberal ethos and its rationality has had an important impact in different disciplinary approaches who gravitate towards education.
Neoliberalism and Education For over two decades now, neoliberalism has been at the forefront of discussions not only in economy, business and ﬁnance but has gradually inﬁltrated our vocabulary in a number of areas as diverse as governance studies (Wacquant, 2009), human geography (Springer, 2014) criminology (Bell, 2011), health care (Glynos, 2014), jurisprudence (Grewal & Purdy, 2014), identity politics (Chun, 2016), urban policy (Storper, 2016), education (Grek, 2009), etc. Its economistic language associated with the promotion of effectiveness and efﬁciency combined with indicators and other empirical data claimed to have established a ‘culture of objectivity’ (Porter, 1995). As Christopher W. Chun points out, [n]eoliberal policies and practices have attempted to remake our everyday lives so that every aspect is minutely measured, assessed and evaluated as ‘outputs’, in accordance with manufacturing-based standards of production, and deﬁned as ‘best practices’, which is another term adopted from corporate culture now widely used in education. (Chun, 2016: 558) In fact, education has been at the very centre of the neoliberal public policy agenda as it allegedly represents one of the main indicators of future economic growth and individual well-being. Education, as Stephen Ball accentuates, has become ‘a crucial factor in ensuring economic productivity and competitiveness in the context of “informational capitalism”’ (Ball, 2008: 1). Its – for many scholars dystopian – ‘vision’ of education as an investment is based on a [deterministic] assumption that ‘better educational outcomes are a strong predictor of economic growth’ (OECD, 2010: 3). Pupils’ achievements are said to represent an indicator of the ‘future talent pools’ (OECD, 2012: 26) and should therefore be a valid indicator of one’s future [economic] success. This assumption of the translatability of learning achievements in economic performance – most visible in studies discussing international large-scale student assessments, e.g. PISA etc. – has brought to the forefront of both media and political attention the various aspects of teaching and learning viewed through the prism of ‘borrowing and lending’ (Steiner-Khamsi, 2004), ‘reference societies’ (Sahlberg, 2011) and ‘counter-reference societies’ (Takayama, 2018). International large-scale assessment surveys and quantitative data in general have thus become an important ‘legitimacy lending tool’ (Ringarp, 2016) associated with the process of ‘governing by numbers’ (Grek, 2009) establishing an intricate relationship between science, numbers and politics (Prutsch, 2019). The global testing culture has ultimately become some sort of a ‘new normality’ leading to both ‘dataism’ (Beer, 2016),
6 Mitja Sardocˇ ‘dataﬁcation’ (Williamson et al., 2020) or even ‘scandalisation’ (SteinerKhamsi & Waldow, 2018). While the analysis of the neoliberal agenda in education is well documented (e.g. d’Agnese, 2017; Giroux, 2014; Olssen, 2010; Peters, 2011), the examination of the language of neoliberalism in education has been at the fringes of scholarly interest (Holborow, 2015). In particular, the expansion of the neoliberal vocabulary with egalitarian ideas such as fairness (Bøyum, 2014), justice and disadvantage (Gazeley, 2018), well-being etc. has received [at best] only limited attention. For example, one of the latest additions to the neoliberal vocabulary has been the idea of talent. For much of its history, the notion of talent has been associated with the idea of ‘careers open to talent’ and other pressing issues associated with distributive justice including the ‘ownership’ of talents (Goldman, 1987), desert (Sher, 2012), brain drain (Brock & Blake, 2015), ‘war for talent’ (Michaels, Handﬁeld-Jones & Axelrod, 2001), talent management, ‘taxation’ of talents (Hasen, 2006; Roemer, 1996 [ch. 6]; Zelenak, 2006), etc. Its emancipatory promise of upward social mobility has ultimately radically transformed the distribution of advantaged social positions and has had a lasting inﬂuence on the very idea of social status itself. Nevertheless, despite its emancipatory link with equality of opportunity and social mobility, the notion of talent started to ﬁgure prominently in discussion over the corporatization of talent. As Jo Littler emphasizes, the meaning of meritocracy [where talents ﬁgure as one of its key variables] has moved from a disparaging reference to an embryonic system of state organisation creating problematic hierarchies through a dubious notion of ‘merit’, to a celebratory term connecting competitive individualism and an essentialised notion of ‘talent’ with a belief in the desirability and possibility of social mobility in a highly unequal society. (Littler, 2013: 68) At the same time, the neoliberal vocabulary in education also started to incorporate concepts previously outside its gravitational orbit, e.g. fairness, justice, equality of opportunity, gender equality, well-being, etc. This shift of emphasis in the use and application of language and ideas ﬁrmly grounded in some of the well-known slogans (and other buzzwords) has had a transformative inﬂuence on our way of thinking about public policy in general (e.g. the ‘Aspiration nation’ buzzword propagated by the former UK Prime Minister David Cameron (Littler, 2013)). Yet, this shift of emphasis from concepts and ideas that are part of neoliberalism’s ‘standard’ rhetoric, e.g. effectiveness, mobility, deregulation, privatization, efﬁciency, commodiﬁcation, ﬂexibility, competitiveness, entrepreneurship marketization, consumerism, accountability, ﬁnancialization, performance, etc. to concepts and ideas that are part of the egalitarian vocabulary, not only put large-scale assessments and quantitative data as its main product at the very centre of education policy-making but – perhaps equally important – has had a profound effect on education in general.
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This semantic shift has gone hand in hand with a more central place in global neoliberal governmentality. As Sam Sellar and Bob Lingard have emphasized, ‘[s]ince the 1990s, education work has grown as an area of importance within the OECD itself and the Organisation’s role in education globally has also increased’ (Sellar & Lingard, 2013: 711).
Contents of This Volume This book brings together a revised version of articles from a journal special issue of Šolsko polje [entitled ‘The Language of Neoliberal Education’] with a set of newly commissioned papers addressing a wide range of problems and challenges associated with the language of neoliberalism in education [with possible applications to other areas of public policy]. The introductory chapter by Theodore Porter entitled ‘Politics by the Numbers’ takes a closer look at what appears to be the ‘new normality’ in the social sciences [including educational research], i.e. quantiﬁcation. By discussing its historical legacy and ‘evolution’, he brings to the forefront some of the unintended consequences of the alleged quantitative transparency and objectivity associated with it. As he emphasizes, [t]he crucial point here is that regimes of quantiﬁcation cannot be regarded as neutral knowledge, a mere language of precision, but as programs of interventions. […] Politics by the numbers dreams of bypassing the need for skill and judgment, and even of critique. Vasco d’Agnese’s chapter ‘Playing on Two Tables: Advertising and Science in OECD’s Educational Rhetoric’ examines some of the most pressing issues associated with the neoliberal agenda in education. Interestingly enough, he traces the origins of neoliberalism in the scholarly literature and emphasizes that – in contrast with today’s discussion over this complex phenomenon – neoliberalism originally did not have a negative connotation. Moreover, his discussion of the many distorting implications of neoliberalism provides an insight into the transformative inﬂuence of its educational agenda on both educational practice as well as educational research. In particular, he focuses on the rhetorical aspect of the neoliberal ethos and its ‘rationality’. As he emphasizes, ‘it is important to note that neoliberalism’s power of penetration also lies in its rhetoric and ubiquity’. The central part of this chapter takes a closer look at two of OECD’s main rhetorical strategies in education. In his chapter ‘Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire: The Retreat from Naturalism’, Mark Olssen examines some of the core features characterizing the neoliberal conception of governmentality as well as setting out the distinctive features that characterize neoliberalism (with a brief investigation of their consequences for education). Michael Peters’s chapter is a discussion of neoliberalism as a form of political discourse – ‘the political arithmetic of Homo Oeconomicus’. In the ﬁrst half, the
8 Mitja Sardocˇ chapter begins with a genealogy of political discourse with an etymology from late Middle English and medieval Latin. The second half traces the emergence of the ﬁgure of Homo Oeconomicus and the rise of rational choice theory by focusing on its application to education as a commodity. Finally, as the author emphasizes, the chapter turns to a discussion of Foucault’s understanding of neoliberalism. In ‘Entrepreneurial Learning and the Merging of Progressive and Economic Ideals’ Johan Dahlbeck and Peter Lilja ‘critically discuss the merging of progressive ideals – such as student-centredness – and economic ideals – such as the cultivation of human capital – in the setting of entrepreneurial learning in Sweden’. In particular, they examine the implications of this alignment for the way some of the basic issues associated with education come to be understood. As the two authors emphasize, [w]hile ideologically very different from one another, the economic logic of neoliberalism (within which the economization of education is staged) and the progressive movement coincide in the ambition to utilize education as an instrument for enacting (rather than simply envisioning) a desirable social order. Katy Highet and Alfonso Del Percio’s chapter ‘Hard Work, Growth Mindset, Fluent English: Navigating Neoliberal Logics’ dissects the idea of neoliberal governmentality [with a particular emphasis on language learning] and the type of subjectivity produced by it. Its main focus is based on a case study of English learning in India. As the authors themselves emphasize, they aim to bring to the forefront the ways in which students in an NGO-led English and skills training course in Delhi makes sense of – as well as navigate, interact with and sometimes contest – the neoliberal discourses that inform the programme’s vision and that subject their bodies to practices of control and regulation. In his chapter ‘Gauging Neoliberal Discursive Formations in The Russell Group’s Education Strategies & Long-Term Objectives’, Rodolfo Levya provides a case study of the neoliberalization of higher education. He examines the latest education strategy statements of said group’s individual members to identify pedagogic and institutional trends and trajectories. As the author emphasizes, the ﬁndings of his quantitative content analysis show that these statements are predominantly rife with neoliberal discursive inﬂections which effectively and principally equate a university education with professional development and research with economic utility. At the same time, the ﬁndings make clear that the traditional role of universities is virtually absent. The concluding section of his chapter discusses what this indicates for teaching and learning in British universities. The chapter ‘Resisting the Iron Cage of “The Student Experience”’ by Petar Jandric´ and Sarah Hayes examines how the student-as-consumer approach in the
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UK HE policy has recently developed into a strong rhetoric emphasizing ‘the student experience’ as a package, including leisure, well-being, future employment and other ‘extras’. Slavko Gaber and Veronika Tašner’s chapter ‘Meritocracy from a Liberating and Equalising Rationality, to an Oppressive and Inequality-Promoting Rationality’ provides a genealogy of the meritocratic rationality and its logic that dominates contemporary discussions over equality of educational opportunity and social mobility in general. In particular, they challenge its alleged emancipatory potential and provide an alternative conception of hybrid meritocracy that could sidestep some of the main neoliberal implications of its ‘standard’ conception. In their chapter ‘Neoliberal Language, Outcome-Based Education, and Youth-at-Risk in Rural Canada’, Hyunjung Shin and Angela Csiki examine the transformative inﬂuence of neoliberalism’s educational agenda in outcomebased curriculum design in Canada. A particular focus of their research is the gravitational orbit of concepts and ideas associated with the neoliberalization of education [e.g. accountability, transparency and efﬁciency] and the elusive nature of neoliberal language and neoliberal ideologies in general. Pamela Rogers’ chapter entitled ‘From Racial Equity to Closing the Achievement Gap: The Discursive “Whiting Out” of Race in Neoliberal Education Policy’ traces the ‘discursive shifts in Nova Scotia education policy to demonstrate how policy formations both respond to, and recreate, global neoliberal trends in local contexts’. In her chapter ‘European Neoliberal Discourse and Slovenian Educational Space’, Urška Štremfel addresses some of the questions about inﬂuence of educational (neoliberal) governance in the European Union (EU) on the development of national educational policies and practice. The theoretical dispositions, as she emphasizes, are demonstrated on the case study of Slovenia, which presents an interesting case of studying the interference between traditional post-socialist values and the Western EU (neoliberal) model of education. The concluding chapter in this volume is an interview with Prof. Henry Giroux, a leading scholar on the neoliberalization of education. In this interview, Prof. Giroux discusses the centrality of education under neoliberal modes of governance as well as the role of large-scale assessments and quantitative data in educational research. In the central part of the interview Prof. Giroux examines neoliberalism’s strategy of appropriating ideas and concepts that lie outside its gravitational orbit and its transformative inﬂuence on our way of thinking about education and public policy in general.
Conclusion As the chapters published in this volume testify, the neoliberalization of education best represented by an instrumental understanding of education,
10 Mitja Sardocˇ a distorted conception of fairness, ‘adjunctiﬁcation’ in higher education, anti-intellectualism and a reductionist way of using quantitative data has been extended further with an important supplement. In fact, the neoliberalization of education has not been carried out exclusively through the logic of economization, i.e. by advancing a market-based ‘sensitivity’ to education but with the reappropriation of the egalitarian vocabulary and the resemanticization of ideas and concepts previously thought to be outside of its gravitational orbit. This reappropriation of the progressive and emancipatory rhetoric has led to the corporatization of issues previously thought to be outside of the neoliberal purview, e.g. development (Roberts & Soederberg, 2012), gender equality (Fraser, 2013), fairness (Bøyum, 2014). This ‘new neoliberalism’ (Prügl, 2016) marks a turning point in the understanding of neoliberalism as a process. However, this leads to a novel way of framing the neoliberalization of education and the process of neoliberalization in general. As Stephen Ball emphasizes in the case of the changing landscape of research on philanthropy and global education, It is tempting and somehow trite, but nonetheless true, to say that this is a complex, unstable and difﬁcult terrain of research. In many respects we have neither the language and concepts, nor the methods and techniques appropriate for researching these new landscapes and modes of policy. These developments and changes in education policy, affecting the forms and modalities of educational provision and organization and the values and meaning of education, have out run the current purview of our research agenda and that we need to adapt and adjust what it is we consider as research problems in order to catch-up. (2020: 23) This ‘diagnosis’ has important implications for research of neoliberalism as it reveals an important new characteristic of the process of neoliberalization. As Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval pointed out in the English translation of their book The New Way of the World, ‘[t]o get the character of neo-liberalism wrong, to ignore its history, and miss its profound social and subjective springs, was to condemn oneself to blindness and impotence in the face of the developments that soon ensued’ (2013: iv). Most importantly perhaps, in contrast to its negative public and academic image associated with the uncompromising free-market fundamentalism and its overall corrosive effect, neoliberalism moved in the direction of actually rebranding itself. As William Davies emphasizes, ‘[i]n the past, neoliberalism has been criticized for elevating economic judgements of “efﬁciency” or “competitiveness” above moral judgements of social justice’ (Davies, 2016: 122). In contrast, the remaking of neoliberalism might best be labelled as a ‘neoliberalism with a human face’. There is therefore ample room for further research of these [and other] issues associated with the study of neoliberalism.
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12 Mitja Sardocˇ Gao, Q. (2020). Reconstituting the neoliberal subjectivity of migrants: Christian theoethics and migrant workers in Shenzhen, China. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 1–20. Gazeley, L. (2018). Unpacking ‘disadvantage’ and ‘potential’ in the context of fair access policies in England. Educational Review. Giroux, H. (2014). Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. Chicago: Haymarket. Glynos, J. (2014). Neoliberalism, markets, fantasy: The case of health and social care. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, 19 (1), 5–12. Grek, S. (2009). Governing by numbers: The PISA ‘effect’ in Europe. Journal of Education Policy, 24 (1), 23–37. Grewal, D.S. & Purdy, J. (2014). Introduction: Law and neoliberalism. Law & Contemporary Problems, 77 (4), 1–23. Goldman, A.H. (1987). Real people (natural differences and the scope of justice). Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 17 (2), 377–394. Hasen, D.M. (2006). Liberalism and ability taxation. Texas Law Review, 85 (5), 1059–1113. Holborow, M. (2015). Language and Neoliberalism. London: Routledge. Littler, J. (2013). Meritocracy as plutocracy: The marketising of ‘equality’ within neoliberalism. New Formations: a Journal of Culture/Theory/Politics, 80–81, 52–72. Loughlin, M. (2002). On the buzzword approach to policy formation. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 8 (2), 229–242. Mangez, E. & Vanden Broeck, P. (2020). The history of the future and the shifting forms of education. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 52 (6), 676–687. Michaels, E, Handﬁeld-Jones, H. & Axelrod, B. (2001). The War for Talent. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. Nathanson, S. (2010). Terrorism and the Ethics of War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. O’Connor, J. (2010). Marxism and the three movements of neoliberalism. Critical Sociology, 36 (5), 691–715. OECD (2010). PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background (Equity in Learning Opportunities and Outcomes). Paris: OECD. OECD (2012). PISA 2012 Results: Excellence Through Equity. Paris: OECD. Olssen, M. (2010). Liberalism, Neoliberalism, Social Democracy: Thin Communitarian Perspectives on Political Philosophy and Education. London: Routledge. Ong, A. (2006). Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty. Durham: Duke University Press. Peck, J. (2010). Constructions of Neoliberal Reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Peters, M.A. (2011). Neoliberalism and After?: Education, Social Policy, and the Crisis of Western Capitalism. New York: Peter Lang. Porter, T.M. (1995). Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Prügl, E. (2016). Neoliberalism with a feminist face: Crafting a new hegemony at the World Bank, Feminist Economics, doi:10.1080/13545701.2016.1198043. Prutsch, M.J. (ed.) (2019). Science, Numbers and Politics. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Ramey, J. (2015). Neoliberalism as a political theology of chance: The politics of divination. Palgrave Communications, 1 (1), 1–9. Raschke, C. (2019). Neoliberalism and Political Theology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
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Ringarp, J. (2016). PISA lends legitimacy: A study of education policy changes in Germany and Sweden after 2000. European Educational Research Journal, 15 (4), 447–461. Roberts, A. & Soederberg, S. (2012). Gender equality as smart economics? A critique of the 2012 World Development Report, Third World Quarterly, 33 (5), 949–968. Roemer, J. (1996). Egalitarian Perspectives: Essays in Philosophical Economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rojo, L.M., & Del Percio, A. (eds) (2019). Language and Neoliberal Governmentality. London: Routledge. Sahlberg, P. (2011). Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland. New York: Teachers College Press. Sellar, S. & Lingard, B. (2013). The OECD and global governance in education. Journal of Education Policy, 28 (5), 710–725. Sher, G. (2012). Equality for Inegalitarians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Springer, S. (2014). Neoliberalism in denial. Dialogues in Human Geography, 4 (2), 154–160. Stahl, R.M. (2019). Ruling the interregnum: Politics and ideology in nonhegemonic times. Politics & Society, 47 (3), 333–360. Steger, M.B. & Roy, R.K. (2010). Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Steiner-Khamsi, G. (ed.) (2004). The Global Politics of Educational Borrowing and Lending. New York: Teachers College Press. Steiner-Khamsi, G. & Waldow, F. (2018). PISA for scandalisation, PISA for projection: The use of international large-scale assessments in education policy making – an introduction. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 16 (5), 557–565. Storper, M. (2016). The neo-liberal city as idea and reality. Territory, Politics, Governance, 4 (2), 241–263. Takayama, K. (2018). The constitution of East Asia as a counter reference society through PISA: A postcolonial/de-colonial intervention. Globalisation, Societies and Education. doi:10.1080/14767724.2018.1532282. de Tocqueville, A. (2000). Democracy in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Venugopal, R. (2015). Neoliberalism as concept. Economy and Society, 44 (2), 165–187. Wacquant, L. (2009). Punishing the poor: The neoliberal government of social insecurity. Durham: Duke University Press. Wacquant, L. (2012). Three steps to a historical anthropology of actually existing neoliberalism. Social anthropology, 20 (1), 66–79. Williamson, B., Bayne, S. & Shay, S. (2020). The dataﬁcation of teaching in higher education: Critical issues and perspectives. Teaching in Higher Education, 25 (4), 351–365. Zelenak, L. (2006) Taxing endowment. Duke Law Review, 55 (6), 1145–1181.
Politics by the Numbers1 Theodore M. Porter
Numbers these days are brought to bear on practically every subject matter and for a multitude of purposes. The forms of quantiﬁcation that appear most scientiﬁc are not necessarily the most important, and may not be the most truthful for every purpose. The urge to set up rigorous criteria of validity is irrepressible, yet they remain out of reach. The power of statistical tests in science as in administrative matters arose as a beacon of objectivity, resting on the supposition that measurement and calculation stand above self-interested manipulation. Are these therefore free of politics? The pursuit of apolitical neutrality is itself a political ideal, one that is in some way admirable but can lead to disturbing unintended consequences. There are good reasons for investing trust in science, but to pretend that it can rise above ordinary human foibles and provide easy, formulaic answers to complex questions is to turn it into a vehicle of politics for other ends. While numbers are not synonymous with science, much science can be summed up in numerical or mathematical terms, and this is not less true for science that has been decked out as a tool of power. We may think of economic measures of unemployment or GDP (Gross Domestic Product), measures of medical effectiveness, risk factors, or educational measures of student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Tools of precise measurement, including statistical ones, generally include a technical dimension, even when the concepts seem simple. The ascent in human sciences of statistical reasoning has brought with it a focus on instruments of precision. Complex issues may be reduced to a comparison of a few numbers, perhaps with signiﬁcance levels or error bars lurking in the margins. The suppression of complexity is often irresistible, and can be highly impermeable to challenge. Few disciplines have generated such persistent criticism as statistics, just as few are so often bound up with questionable or misleading practices as accounting. Yet objections are commonly shunted aside not just as technical problems for specialists, but problems that scarcely connect with ordinary experience. The beguiling goal of quantitative transparency rising out of incontrovertible rigor seems to trump the more human alternatives. In many ﬁelds that bring together data, research, and policy, such as education and therapeutic medicine, the processing of observations is now subject
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to a well-developed set of statistical methodologies. The most basic tools of data reduction arose in sciences of the observatory, especially in astronomy, where they achieved a mostly standardized form in the early nineteenth century. More complex tools to deﬁne relationships between variables in biology, psychology, and social science took off near the end of the nineteenth century. These techniques have continued to develop, and the discipline of statistics is now understood as an applied mathematical ﬁeld. Whether to regard the deployment of these tools as a triumph of mathematics is another question. The physicist Eugene Wigner spoke famously of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics. Although his title limits this “unreasonable effectiveness” to the natural sciences, he interpreted the thought in a sweeping way. It is, he said, stunning that mathematics, a product of human thought, applies at all to objects and events in the world. His essay returns several times to Galileo’s law of falling bodies, which Wigner treated as almost miraculous even in its application to stones falling from towers on Earth, and still more so when Newton extended it to the circulation of planets in the heavens. And yet he added that these relationships have also a circular aspect. We are in a position similar to that of a man who was provided with a bunch of keys and who, having to open several doors in succession, always hit on the right key on the ﬁrst or second trial. He became skeptical concerning the uniqueness of the coordination between keys and doors. (Wigner 1959, p. 1) A statistician might enter some other reservations, for any correspondence between measurement and mathematics depends on an abundance of complex data work to put everything in a proper form. If, to a Platonist like Galileo, mathematical regularities in the world appear miraculous or possibly mysterious, a craftsman or calculator might point to the modeling tools and techniques of approximation, worked out over centuries, that are required to bring any decent level of precision to the comparison. Presently a recognized mathematical ﬁeld, “statistics” came into the world as a social science, or more precisely as a state science, since that word “state” is part of its name. It was also a human science, crafted to manage and understand politics, administration, law, medicine, agriculture, and industry. In its eighteenth-century form, it was a descriptive science, with no pretentions to the mystical possession of transcendental truth. Informed descriptions of what was happening out beyond those places that a duke, king, or emperor could inspect with his own eyes should contribute to effective government. Such issues are still important objects of statistics, especially of ofﬁcial agencies such as census bureaus, to contribute to good government. The tools of state and social statistics have evolved considerably since 1800 (Stigler 1986; Desrosières 1993), and we may note that, despite his insistence on natural science, Wigner began his essay with an example from human science. He imagined a
16 Theodore M. Porter conversation between a statistical demographer and an arts graduate. To the humanist’s request for an explanation of a formula he is using, the statistician remarks that the symbol there is just π, the ratio of the circumference to the radius of a circle. The humanist now scoffs. His friend must be playing a joke on him. “Surely a population has nothing to do with the circumference of the circle.” Indeed, the population as such does not, but this constant is ubiquitous, appearing for example in the most common formula for a distribution of error (Wigner 1959). If you had to pick just one formula as suggestive of mathematical mysticism, the Gaussian normal distribution—the bell curve—would be an excellent candidate. The appearance together of those great irrational constants, e and π, in a formula so basic seems uncanny, and it appears in many guises that do not seem to be about error. This formula has become fundamental to pharmaceutical evaluations, school testing, engineering, demography, and almost every kind of measurement. The physicist Joseph Fourier was already impressed by its amazing range in 1819, from errors of observations to heat diffusion to insurance. The Belgian astronomer and statistician Adolphe Quetelet, who labored to make statistics the basis for social science (“social physics”), viewed this “law of error” with great reverence, and the British physicist James Clerk Maxwell was no less impressed by its application to distributions of molecular velocities in gas physics. Francis Galton, a Victorian polymath with a particular devotion to statistics as a basis for the study of human heredity and eugenics, called it “the supreme law of Unreason.” These scientists wrote mathematically, but with a keen sense of the things in the world to which this curve applied. Nineteenth-century statistical mathematics stressed the order that appeared in mass phenomena, including stable mean values and distributions of traits within populations. At its core, statistical thinking referred to something more basic still, the natural and social order that is made visible in the presence of large numbers, even when, at the individual level, these events elude our understanding. A favorite example from the social sciences was suicide, whose regularity in the mass became famous in the 1830s, and could not well be understood as the reﬂection of a providential order. The numbers for suicide, according to Quetelet, had to be understood in terms of the order of society, while no really satisfactory explanation could be given for the decision of particular individuals to take their own lives. In Maxwell’s time, the very existence of molecules was still in doubt, and there certainly was no prospect of following the motions of individual molecules. Yet laws of gases involving relations of pressure, volume, and temperature, were as exact as any other physical principle. For the kinetic gas theory, this was a statistical relationship (Porter 1986). Historian of science Charles Gillispie noticed already by about 1960 that statistical reasoning came out of the social sciences, from which it was appropriated by physics, geology, biogeography, evolutionary biology, and population genetics (Gillispie 1963). Quetelet regarded social science as allied to astronomy and meteorology, a science of the observatory, and Steven Stigler
Politics by the Numbers
has noted that his social science was scarcely a social physics, more nearly a social meteorology (Stigler 1999). It is necessary to emphasize that the compilation and sorting of social numbers was no mere spinoff of physical science, with its traditions of mathematical reasoning going back beyond Galileo to the ancients. Quetelet, a trained mathematician and astronomer, was astonished in the late 1820s to discover that disorderly, decentralized human acts such as marriages or murders were highly stable in the mass. He regarded it as a wonderful and yet disturbing demonstration of mathematical order in social relations. It created problems for the moral doctrine of human free will while showing that society could be subject to science. Society, he announced, is an entity unto itself, and no mere sum of autonomous individuals. We see that there is some sense to the word statistics for this science of state and policy, even in relation to a mathematical ﬁeld whose business is to specify sampling procedures and to establish the bounds of random error. Natural science was not accustomed to explaining exact laws, such as those of thermodynamics, in terms of averages of disorderly individuals. The new statistical thermodynamics of the second half of the nineteenth century may now appear as the entirely reasonable effectiveness of mathematics (Porter 1986). The statistical model of social order was mainly liberal in its implications. A recent book on historical sociology of censuses criticizes the familiar view associated with Michel Foucault that statistics has served primarily as a way of projecting the power of the state over populations. Many counts have been initiated by non-state actors as a challenge to ofﬁcial declarations or a strategy for organizing activity apart from political authority (Emigh, Riley, and Ahmed 2016). It is true that during the period of industrialization, workers and farm laborers who lacked effective political standing were key objects of statistical study. Local ofﬁcials, landholders, and factory owners used data to keep them under observation, and in this way to regulate their behavior. But workers, too, took a great interest in numbers, and even learned to deploy them to deﬁne and defend their interests (Porter 2003). Political reformers favored numbers as a means to evaluate and to challenge the state. Jean-Jacques Rousseau made it very simple in 1762 in his Social Contract: “The government under which … the citizens do most increase and multiply is infallibly the best.” (Quoted in Porter 1986, p. 20) He had in mind that population growth, good in itself, must follow as a consequence of prosperity, and that governments unable to achieve this were ineffective. After Malthus, people were more nervous about exploding populations and more conscious of the potential for long-term industrial expansion arising from technology and enterprise. Political economists of the nineteenth century looked speciﬁcally to increased prosperity as a mark of a well-functioning political order. Such ﬁgures as crime rates, death rates, and levels of literacy also sometimes came into the picture. In 1892, Alfred de Foville in France offered
18 Theodore M. Porter statistics as the infallible judge of good government. Rest assured, he declared, “that whenever the struggle resurfaces between the champions of the general interest and that of private interests, you will ﬁnd us at our post, armed and ready to march” (Foville in Porter 1995, p. 80). In modern times, this role is assigned above all to GDP. In relation to political forms, statistics has a rather complex legacy. The census grew up in most states as a form of public information or collective selfknowledge and a democratic ritual. The census resembles in a way a ballot box, providing assurance that the state will take the views and needs of its citizens into account. The old fear that a census or survey will be followed by new taxes or the conscription of our children to ﬁght vainglorious wars is mostly forgotten. State access to such information about its citizens is assured now by registration processes, and no longer depends on the census. With the growth of neoliberal opposition to state-directed economic activity, there has been a resurgence of opposition to certain economic statistics of trade, income, and environmental health. But in the nineteenth century, and for much of the twentieth, census ﬁgures advertised demographic and industrial growth in successful countries, and especially in settler societies like the United States, while provoking alarm in nations whose birth rates sagged, most famously France. The preoccupation with gross numbers reﬂected an era of imagined homogeneity of the citizens. The census has more recently become a site of contestation over ethnic composition. With the nineteenth-century rise of the nation states, ethnicity—they called it “race”—became a concern almost everywhere. The United States was perhaps the ﬁrst country in which minority groups began campaigning effectively to redeﬁne the terms in which they would be represented. Paul Schor, a French historian of the US census, documents these struggles over how race and ethnicity should be classiﬁed. The racialized divisions that grew up around slavery seemed a most undesirable model of human difference to immigrants from Asia and Latin America. They certainly did not want to be subject to all the restrictions that came with a classiﬁcation as “colored.” A new politics of race and ethnicity, growing up in the twentieth century and mainly after World War II, regarded disparities as undesirable and looked for policies that might lessen them. In the context of this new ethno-racial management, minorities of all kinds began making new demands about how they should be represented on the census. Statistics has become a fundamental instrument for creating and shaping public visibility (Schor 2009). The use of statistics to assess policies and to judge elected ofﬁcials has become almost routine, even if these judgments rarely achieve consensus. It is not easy, however, to know how people balance the ofﬁcial numbers against their own experience. Immigration is one of the great issues of the present moment. European news presents abundant images of migrants crossing from Lesbos or Lampedusa, or lining up to board trains in Vienna to reach a suitable country in which to apply for refugee status. In the United States, undocumented immigrants are less visible as they quietly travel, rarely confronting
Politics by the Numbers
state ofﬁcials unless they are found and deported or reach the point of applying for work permits or seeking refugee status. We may encounter on the streets, or in gardens, construction sites, and restaurants, people we suppose may be illegal. They are not at all eager to conﬁrm such suspicions. In political discussion, we hear numbers on the order of 11 million. Would the politics be different if this number were 5 million or 20 million? Similar uncertainties apply to measures of the economy. A weak economy is experienced at the personal level with lost jobs or reduced hours, lower wages, and canceled beneﬁts, or, on the employer’s side, abundant, cheap labor but lowered demand. In any case, the industrial nations put out a barrage of data pertaining to growth and prosperity. On these questions there is now much meta-discussion. It has become normal in the respectable press as well as in more politicized outlets to question the reliability of new economic numbers. There are even challenges to the validity and appropriateness of the most familiar measures: not just objections in detail, but critiques of fundamental concepts. An important recent object of this critique has been GDP. A report commissioned by Nicholas Sarkozy, then French president, and involving an impressive roster of economists and other social scientists, has, as its principal authors, economists who have become almost famous: Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi. I have on my shelves three recent books on the history of GDP. One of them purports to be an “affectionate” history, yet agrees with the least affectionate author that GDP was shaped by the urgency of ﬁghting the Great Depression and then mobilizing for a world war, and that it was never suited to be a measure or even to give a reliable indicator of economic value. GDP incorporates a host of contradictions, most famously, if a man married his housekeeper, the salary he once paid her disappears from GDP, whose atomic unit is the nuclear family (Lepenies 2013; Coyle 2014). The most critical of these books emphasizes the high values assigned by GDP to things like armies, prisons, and security systems while home-cooked food or clean air and water along with most other public goods practically are ignored. This objection applies also to public health measures, while cosmetic surgery is valued at whatever sum can be extracted from the customer. In its traditional form, GDP discounts the future very steeply. If we set off on a track that would suddenly end life on Earth in two centuries, the initial effect on the GDP measure would barely amount to a rounding error. How far will people follow the logic of such numbers? And do we apply them to the things that are closest to us? Americans, at least, are famous for despising the Congress but approving their Congressman, and bemoaning the crisis of education while defending their own local school (Philipsen 2015). Until perhaps a century ago, it was common even for statistical experts to make light of pretended measures of vital but subtle things like health and education. They said that such numbers functioned merely to satisfy expectations of a credulous and ill-trained public. Here is a comment in a book on the difﬁculties, procedures, and results of statistics by a French author, written in 1904, which reached its ﬁfth edition in 1927:
20 Theodore M. Porter To make a comparison so complex as this demands sustained attention, and a mind accustomed to the relativity of things. For purposes of inﬂuencing the general public, an argument loses force in proportion as it takes more terms and comprehends a wider ﬁeld. Statistical problems are not questions of elementary arithmetic for the common crowd. (Liesse quoted in Porter 1995, p. 81) We ﬁnd such sentiments repeatedly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This author envisioned statistical measures as a loose guide for experts, to be applied with discretion, and as useful propaganda for the public. I don’t think it was ever so easy, and it certainly is not now. Experts in statistics and social science cannot dominate discourses of number any more than linguists can control words and sentences. The public may not have the opportunity to vote down new deﬁnitions of unemployment, medical effectiveness, or educational achievement, but they can ﬁle lawsuits, challenge budgets, change political parties, or vote down a European agreement. Measurement for policy is powerful, and it can be dangerous. A quarter century ago, when I published my book Trust in Numbers (Porter 1995), it seemed clear to me that the United States relied on what we can call technologies of quantitative objectivity to a degree that was unknown in Europe. This is no longer true. The European project, as Roser Cussó argues, has been in various ways a technocratic one, and some key policy initiatives at the level of Europe have relied heavily on the power of accounts and statistics (Cussó 2006). Much of this involves the imposition of uniform standards. EU ambitions for free movement of labor, including professional labor, depend on enforceable deﬁnitions of educational qualiﬁcations to allow evenhanded comparisons. Academic exchange within and beyond Europe has helped to create a class of impressively cosmopolitan scholars and scientists with a wonderful command of languages. One crucial and, for some, highly burdensome aspect of the new standards is the insistence on communication and publication in English. An international system of monoglot publication opened up new opportunities for international comparison of scholars and scientists, of research institutions, and of universities. Even the divorce of the UK from the EU seems unlikely to undermine the European condition as a linguistically heterogeneous continent, divided by a common language. The World is Flat according to the triumphant title of a technology-infatuated American journalist. Difference of location and geography no longer matter. This may be doubted. In any case, ﬂatness is a project, it implies, anchored in no small measure in numbers, and does not happen by itself. How should we evaluate it? The crucial point here is that regimes of quantiﬁcation cannot be regarded as neutral knowledge, a mere language of precision, but as programs of interventions. Perhaps the most fundamental limit to rule by numbers is precisely the inseparability or quantiﬁcation and action. Politics by the numbers dreams of bypassing the need for skill and judgment, and even of critique. However, once we take on the task of making numbers uniform and cosmopolitan, and
Politics by the Numbers
especially if we think of using them as algorithms of evaluation, their descriptive adequacy begins to erode away. Numerical projects cannot escape the burden of responsibility for changing the world, even when they propose ﬁrst to know, and only afterwards to act, now on the basis of tested schemes of measurement. They ﬁnd, however, that their policy machine starts up and shoots off before it can even begin to draw a map to guide it. They may think of their measurements as indicators, but once they are taken as the basis for choices, the indicators are magically transformed into the very thing in question. If schools or hospitals know they will be judged by their performance in regard to some examination, there is every incentive to labor to optimize this measure. The agencies that preside over this testing may be fully aware of the limits of the measures, including what I call their Spaces of Exploitable Ambiguity (SEA). This means, for example, achieving a desired measure in a simple or cheap way without being bound to achieve what the measure was designed to create. In institutions such as schools and hospitals, it is extremely difﬁcult to deﬁne measures that are neutral with respect to what is outside their control: family backgrounds, prior conditions of health, wealth, or poverty, and so on. The sagacious statistician may imagine quietly accommodating such discrepancies. But that requires trust in the expertise and good will of the sage. The ideal of assessment based on impartial measurement cannot accommodate expert decisions to override the verdict of the numbers with ad hoc adjustments. We are very far, then from the French statisticians’ idea that an implicit faith in numbers is really only for simple people. Here, the preference for quantitative rules over (claimed) depth of understanding is backed up by state power, or perhaps by the authority of international organizations. Such issues loom large in the Program for International Student Assessment, whose acronym PISA instantly recalls the tower in a historic city, famous above all for leaning. Like the American educational reforms under the “No Child Left Behind” Act, these efforts rely on statistical comparisons. I do not have the knowledge or standing to sit in judgment, except to say that these initiatives display the extreme difﬁculty of producing valid comparability between systems with different goals, different histories, and different forms of institutional embeddedness. Should different schools, perhaps with legitimately different objects, be held to a single standard? Can uniform testing really capture cultural or economic analysis, historical comprehension, or clear or literary expression? Is it even the right measure for mathematical or scientiﬁc competence? The ideal of rule by numbers raises fascinating issues on the moral as well as epistemic character of rules. Labor organizations are noted for their insistence on inﬂexible and inappropriate rules. The justiﬁcation, or excuse, is that workers with little negotiating power are otherwise subject to the whims of their employers. Even a generous patron may use charity, which transcends rules, in part to reafﬁrm their authority and discretion. Bosses, too, may ﬁnd it convenient to rely on strict rules, but rules of work and pay are not all the same. Trade unions demand job requirements that are within the power of the workers to fulﬁll without undue strain. Are such rules speciﬁcally adapted to
22 Theodore M. Porter repetitive, and hence (often) unskilled, labor? We reasonably suppose that what can be measured reliably is not unique or intuitive, and does not embody any distinctive craft. Expert professionals are protected less by union rules than by the possession of skills for which there are no ready substitutes. Each new task, if it is unique, requires adaptability and judgment. It may be supposed that professional labor resists measurement. Physicians, in particular, have long insisted on this point. The recent push to standardize measures of professional work suggests a process of deskilling and a sacriﬁce of professional dignity, associated with the power of hospital managers, insurance institutions, and state regulators (Matthews 1995; Marks 1997). Academic life in recent decades has become a key site of assessment and regulation by measurement, still more so in much of Europe than in America. The modern way is to judge researchers by some combined measure of productivity and impact. It has become common to let measured journal quality, for example impact factors, stand in as a proxy for that of particular works and particular persons. This facilitates evaluation without understanding, often without even reading, and by administrators rather than by researchers. Such practices have grown up partly in the context of the Bologna process, which aspires to make university programs in different nations interchangeable. International rankings of universities are of course also key to the process. Universities as well as primary and secondary schools may live or die according to their performance in relation to such standards. To be sure, professional selfregulation persists to some degree, since peer evaluation retains its ritual role in publication decisions and awards of research grants. Perhaps we should be less disturbed by the loss of professional self-regulation than by the enhanced opportunities for gaming, the exploitation of ambiguity, that accompany any system of routinized measurement. It is no accident that the new power of science indicators and metrics has coincided with proliferating scandals involving doctored or invented data, plagiarism, and other forms of research fraud. Such outcomes are to be expected in circumstances like these, as the economist Charles Goodhart and the social psychologist Donald Campbell proposed independently about 1975. When good numbers are automatically rewarded, there will almost certainly be cheating. I ﬁnd it curious and damning that researchers in many ﬁelds, especially the social sciences, have often been complicit in simplistic measures of research success. Should we sacriﬁce genuinely creative research for the sake of a convenient system of evaluation? As my examples here suggest, the function of numbers in schooling has much in common with their role in medicine. The application of quantitative technologies to medical care and public health is one of the great themes of contemporary medicine, and is widely recognized as such. I would pick out three principal dimensions of this story. First is the effort to regulate the practice of medicine in the face of traditions that grant extraordinary discretion to doctors. Here, the key quantitative technology is the controlled clinical trial as the basis for a statistical assessment of pharmaceuticals, and in general for medical evidence. Next is the need or desire to impose on medicine a more
Politics by the Numbers
uniform and perhaps centralized systems of planning and regulation. This is interwoven with attempts to control costs. Third is increasing attention to the behavioral dimension of public health, including attempts to alter patient health by prescribing long-term prophylactic drugs and pushing for lifestyle changes. We think immediately of smoking and of drugs to control blood pressure and cholesterol. Some of these policies come out of insurance investigations—in the ﬁrst instance, life insurance—though by now the net of behavioral medicine extends much more widely. Insurers have long treasured their access to numbers. The numerical aspect of topics like health and education is expressed in highly technical tools of analysis, and also in iconic numbers that often enlighten but may also conceal or mislead. While there is no alternative to technical competence, it is never sufﬁcient. Good numbers depend on scrupulous social and historical analysis. We need critiques of analytical tools and even of data, critiques that take account of the power behind numbers. Numbers, properly designed and presented, can help to reveal the play of power and even to provide a basis for challenging it. There is no easy reconciliation of technical inaccessibility and false transparency. Clear, scrupulous interpretation, including effective visual tools, have to be part of the mix. Numbers certainly have an important and constructive role in politics and public administration, as well as in the private economy. Yet it is not enough for them to be placed at the service of power. It is equally important to generate numbers that can be used to challenge power. The nineteenth-century ambition to cultivate statistics as a basis of public information and criticism remains vital. A recent French initiative presents good statistics as a moral and political cause, under the banner of Statactivisme (Bruno et al. 2014). I laughed when I ﬁrst encountered this fusion of statistics and activism, but it is not merely funny. Numbers matter. They can be brought to bear on inequality in its many dimensions, on public services, on land, transportation, schooling, nutrition, policing, health, and environment. A critical perspective on the claims of numbers has a vital role, but the purpose is not to expunge numbers from public life, which would certainly be harmful even if it were possible. We might, however, want to reconsider the notion that numbers should replace, rather than inform, moral and political debate. It is true that letting political leaders and privileged experts modify or adjust the message of numbers can do more harm than good, perhaps by opening up new spaces for gaming them. But insisting on inﬂexibility will never sufﬁce to close them, and we are unlikely to improve our lives by standing in the way of skill and judgment.
Note 1 This chapter is adapted with some modiﬁcations from my essay “Politics by the Numbers” in Sverker Lindblad, Daniel Pettersen, and Thomas Popkewitz, Education by the Numbers and the Making of Society: The Experiment of International Assessments (New York: Routledge, 2018), 23–34.
24 Theodore M. Porter
References Bruno, Isabelle, Emmanuel Didier, and Julien Prévieux, eds. 2014. Statactivisme: Comment lutter avec chiffres. Paris: Editions La Découverte. Coyle, Diane. 2014. GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Cussó, Roser. 2006. La Commission européenne et l’enseignement supérieur: une réforme au-delà de Bologne, Cahiers de la recherche sur l’éducation et les savoirs, 5 (2006), 193–214. Desrosières, Alain. 1993 . The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of Statistical Reasoning (Camille Naish, trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Emigh, Rebecca, Dylan Riley, and Patricia Ahmed. 2016. Antecedents of Censuses from Medieval to Nation States (vol. 1) and Changes in Censuses from Imperialist to Welfare States (vol. 2). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Gillispie, Charles C. 1963. Intellectual Factors in the Background of Analysis by Probabilities, in A. C. Crombie, ed., Scientiﬁc Change. New York: Basic Books, 431–453. Lepenies, Philip. 2013. Die Macht der einen Zahl: Eine politische Geschichte des Bruttoinlandsprodukts. Berlin: Suhrkamp. English trans. 2016 by Columbia University Press as The Power of a Single Number. Marks, Harry, 1997. The Progress of Experiment: Science and Therapeutic Reform in the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Matthews, J. Rosser. 1995. Quantiﬁcation and the Quest for Medical Certainty. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Philipsen, Dirk. 2015. The Little Big Number: How GDP Came to Rule the World and What to Do About It. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Porter, Theodore M. 1986. The Rise of Statistical. Thinking, 1820–1900. Princeton: Princeton University Press (2nd edition with new preface 2020). Porter, Theodore M. 1995. Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press (2nd edition with new preface 2020). Porter, Theodore M. 2000. How Science Became Technical. Isis, 100 (2009), 292–309. Porter, Theodore M. 2003. The Social Sciences, in David Cahan, ed., From Natural Philosophy to the Sciences: Writing the History of Nineteenth-Century Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 254–290. Porter, Theodore M. 2012. Thin Description: Surface and Depth in Science and Science Studies, Osiris, 27, 209–226 Schor, Paul. 2009. Compter et classer: Histoire des recensements américains. Paris: Éditions EHESS. English trans. 2017 by Oxford University Press as Counting Americans. Stigler, Stephen M. 1986. The History of Statistics: The Measurement of Uncertainty before 1900. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Stigler, Stephen 1999. The Average Man Is 168 Years Old, in Statistics on the Table. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 51–65. Wigner, Eugene P.1959. The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences, Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics, 1–14.
Playing on Two Tables Advertising and Science in OECD’s Educational Rhetoric Vasco d’Agnese
Introduction1 In their 2009 article “Neoliberalism: From New Liberal Philosophy to AntiLiberal Slogan,” Boas and Gans-Morse write that “Neoliberalism has rapidly become an academic catchphrase. From only a handful of mentions in the 1980s, use of the term has exploded during the past two decades, appearing in nearly 1,000 academic articles annually between 2002 and 2005” (Boas and Gans-Morse, 2009: 138). Interestingly enough, when tracing the history of the term, Boas and Gans-Morse note that when the term ﬁrst appeared it did not have the negative normative connotation it has nowadays: [T]he term neoliberalism was ﬁrst coined by the Freiberg School of German economists to denote a philosophy that was explicitly moderate in comparison to classical liberalism, both in its rejection of laissez-faire policies and its emphasis on humanistic values. […] Only once the term had migrated to Latin America, and Chilean intellectuals starting using it to refer to radical economic reforms under the Pinochet dictatorship, did neoliberalism acquire negative normative connotations and cease to be used by market proponents. (Boas and Gans-Morse, 2009: 139) Therefore, at present, “no one self-identiﬁes as a neoliberal even though scholars frequently associate others […] with this term” (Boas and Gans-Morse, 2009: 140). While Boas and Gans-Morse’s analysis primarily referred to political and economic ﬁelds, their claims are also applicable to educational studies. Starting in the 1990s, in fact, a large number of scholars began to focus on what may be loosely called the neoliberal educational agenda, highlighting, in various guises and degrees, its dangers and educational fallacies. Given the purposes of this chapter, I cannot summarize the whole range of criticisms against neoliberalism in education or scrutinize the documents and publications through which the neoliberal agenda is delivered worldwide. However, in order to consistently develop my argument a hint of such critiques and a kind of stipulative
26 Vasco d’Agnese deﬁnition of neoliberalism has to be given. Thus far, neoliberalism has been mainly understood as: a
A political and developmental model spanning diverse ﬁelds, including education and schooling. This model places a strong emphasis on economy as a natural force producing unpredictable changes and constant renewal.2 Within this framework, both “individuals” and “training systems”—as the European Council states—“must adapt to change” (European Council, 2000). Education and learning are thus positioned as needing to constantly chase new developments in the market economy (Apple, 1995, 2000; Brown, 2015; Connell, 2013; Hill, 2004). An ideology permeating the social and educational space by which a peculiar vision of individuals, students, and learning and educational institutions is delivered (Clarke, 2012; Hursh and Henderson, 2011; Mahiri, 2005; Masschelein and Simons, 2008, 2013; Power and Whitty, 2010). This ideology places a strong emphasis on ongoing competition at all levels of education and society while weakening a vision of education as a site for sharing, togetherness and the emergence of newness. A set of educational policies delivered both at a supra-national and national level that establishes what, when, how and even why one should learn. Such a control over schooling is accomplished through the allocation of substantial ﬁnancial resources, which steer both the macro and the micromanagement of schooling and education (Apple, 2000; Ball, 2009; Ball and Olmedo, 2013; Biesta, 2004; Marginson, 2006). A widespread rhetoric that guides the representations of education and schooling we address. Neoliberalism acts not only through economic penetration but through a fascinating rhetoric and language, one in which “better jobs for better lives” (OECD, 2018a) are promised, and a “new vocabulary of performance” (Ball, 2003: 218) reshapes teachers’ and students’ aims and purposes. A strong emphasis is placed on “what is required to succeed” (Schleicher, 2016a) in today’s complex world. Ongoing competition governs the social and educational space (Clarke, 2012; Connell, 2013) and little room is left for alternative values and meanings. Of course, some words are also devoted to advocating for equity, but the spotlight is ever on the same terms and concepts.
With regard to the critique raised toward neoliberal agenda within the ﬁeld of educational philosophy and theory, seminal works are those of Gert Biesta, Jan Masschelein and Maartens Simons. Biesta, since his 2004 article “Education, accountability and the ethical demand,” unravels the deep distortions of conceiving educational landscape through the lens of an “economic relationship” and “the logic of the market.” When such logic becomes the terrain upon which educational relationships are framed, we lose sight of the proper features of education. Economic relationship is, according to Biesta, “itself apolitical in that it positions citizens as consumers […] who do not have a
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democratic say in the overall direction or content of what is being delivered” (Biesta, 2004: 238–239). The eclipse of the political and democratic sphere of education is the focus of Biesta’s strong critique of learning discourse, a critique articulated at its best in his trilogy: Beyond Learning (2006), Good Education in an Age of Measurement (2010), and The Beautiful Risk of Education (2013). In these books, the “learniﬁcation” of educational discourse is fully displayed as the means by which essential educational features, such as newness and the discourse about the purposes of education, disappear, and a new logic—that of students as consumers and educational spaces as learning environments—establishes itself as the one and only logic framing educational practices. The rise of the “learning apparatus” and the consequent disappearance of the authentic meaning of education and schooling are the arguments of Masschelein and Simons’ writings. In “The governmentalization of learning and the assemblage of learning apparatus” (2008), and In Defence of the School: A Public Issue (2013), Masschelein and Simons worn us that neoliberal learning logic has, in a sense, colonized the time and space of schooling and society. Through such a colonization we forget “what the school is really about: a society that provides time and space to renew itself, thus offering itself up in all its vulnerability” (Masschelein and Simons, 2013: 10). Education, through neoliberal logic, “is objectiﬁed” (Masschelein and Simons, 2008: 398) and all that remains of it is the “value” produced by the continuous activity of learning. Human beings are deﬁned as permanent learners, namely, as subjects that are exclusively concerned with accumulating competences, knowledge and skills of all kinds in order to strengthen their position in life. While Biesta, Masschelein and Simons have unraveled the narrowing effects and the lack of democracy of neoliberal educational logic, effects of such a logic on curriculum and teaching ﬁnd in Michael Apple’s writings a founding reference. In his books Education and Power (1995) and Ofﬁcial Knowledge: Democratic Education in a Conservative Age (2000), Apple highlights that a neoliberal logic transforms teachers in “alienated executors of someone else’s plans” (Apple, 2000: 118). The whole educational process shifts “outside the classroom,” controlled by “those elements of social studies, reading, science … that can be easily measured on standardized tests […] Anything else is increasingly considered inconsequential” (Apple, 2000: 130). Education, on Apple’s understanding, is thus colonized by economics needs and aims.3 The metaphor of coloniality is explicitly called into question by Shahjahan in his “Decolonizing the evidence‐based education and policy movement” (2011). In this article, Shahjahan highlights the effects neoliberal logic has over students’ and teachers’ feelings, desires and agency: The desires and agencies of many teachers, students, and educational leaders are being stripped away, while at the same time they are turned into “an object in the midst of other objects” through the neoliberal logic […]
28 Vasco d’Agnese In summary, the neoliberal agenda […] reproduces colonial educational policies. (Shahjahan, 2011: 196–197) And neoliberalism and its effect on educational landscape has been widely analyzed within research on educational policies. A ﬁrst reference in this sense are Ball’s writings. Particularly, Ball highlights that understanding neoliberal educational agenda just as a matter of de-regulation is misleading. Its nature lies in being a process of “re-regulation” by which “What it means to teach and what it means to be a teacher (a researcher, an academic) are subtly but decisively changed in the processes of reform” (Ball, 2003, 215–228). That means that a new kind of subjectivity is produced and put at work through “neoliberal governmentalities” (Ball and Olmedo, 2013: 85). Teachers—and students as well—are thus “represented and encouraged to think about themselves as individuals who calculate about themselves […] improve their productivity […] and live an existence of calculation” (Ball, 2003: 218).4 Such a concern toward productivity and the privatization of education is clearly expressed in Fielding and Moss’ book Radical Education and the Common School: A Democratic Alternative. Here, the authors highlight that through neoliberalism, “any idea of education as a public responsibility and site of democratic and ethical practice is replaced by education as a production process, a site of technical practice and a private commodity governed by a means/end logic” (Fielding and Moss, 2011: 45) Such a criticism resonates with both Biesta’s arguments about the lack of democracy learning regime entails, and with recent studies about the problematicity of neoliberal “edubusiness” (Ball, 2009: 83). While these critiques and analyses go deep into the ethical and educational signiﬁcance of neoliberalism, little attention has been paid to the rhetorical aspect of neoliberalism. With regard to this, it is my argument that neoliberalism doesn’t only act at a political level, and by means of economic penetration. It is my contention that, when analyzing the neoliberal framework for education, we have to also analyze its linguistic level, and the widespread rhetoric that guides the representations of education and schooling we address (Alexander, 2011). Without such an analysis we run the risk to not capture the power of fascination and the pull neoliberalism exerts. Neoliberalism, in fact, also acts by means of a fascinating rhetoric and language, one in which “better jobs for better lives” (OECD, 2018a) are promised, and a “new vocabulary of performance” (Ball, 2003: 218) reshapes teachers’ and students’ aims and purposes. When reading publications or documents delivered by some of the major educational agencies worldwide, we may note that a strong emphasis is placed on concepts such as “student achievement and competitiveness” (US Department of Education, 2018), and on “what is required to succeed” (Schleicher, 2016a) in today’s complex world. Then, it is important to note that neoliberalism’s power of penetration also lies in its rhetoric and ubiquity. Neoliberal language spans from the normative
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frameworks through which ﬁnancial resources are delivered to brochures presenting speciﬁc assessment tools; it informs both the political acts delivered by nation states and videos aimed at promoting educational equipment. We ﬁnd neoliberal logic and language in a number of documents from some major educational institutions and agencies worldwide—e.g., US Department of Education, European Commission, Australian Department for Education and Training—as well as in private schools’ advertisements. Given these premises, in my chapter I wish to unravel such a rhetorical aspect of neoliberal educational agenda, which is at the heart of the success and dissemination of educational neoliberalism. Given the diffusion and ubiquity of neoliberal rhetoric, in my chapter I shall restrict my analysis to one such example, thus focusing my attention on one of the educational agencies involved in such a protean movement, namely, OECD. Speciﬁcally, through close scrutiny of OECD’s language, I go deep into the educational and ethical gesture underpinning OECD’s rhetorical apparatus. I shall make my point conceptually, by analyzing OECD’s public documents— publications, videos, webpages, and brochures—thus unraveling OECD’s educational gesture, and its underlying ethical framework. My attempt, then, is a theoretical one and its focus is, in a sense, narrow: I limit my analysis to OECD’s own words about PISA, teaching and education. Additionally, given that OECD’s language is direct and clear one could well argue that OECD’s documents do not need extensive analysis to be understood and interpreted; in a sense, they speak for themselves. However, despite such limitations, it is my contention that such an attempt is required. This is so for, despite a huge number of publications about both the speciﬁc role played by OECD in the educational arena and the PISA Programme, we lack a thorough understanding of OECD’s overall ethical gesture and, moreover, of the consequences such a gesture may have over the very idea of schooling and teaching. More speciﬁcally, a careful analysis of OECD’s documents, spanning from 2012 to 2018, will show that the Organization, while concealing its role as one shaping educational policies worldwide, shows a remarkable prowess in communicating its ideas and mastering diverse communicative registers, such as a scientiﬁc register, on the one hand, and a language more in line with advertising style, on the other hand—thus making, as I wish to argue, a problematic mix. The chapter is framed into two sections and a conclusion: in the ﬁrst section, I analyze a major feature of OECD’s rhetorical strategy, namely, that of concealing its normative and performative role of steering educational policies worldwide, thus presenting its products as—just—responses to pressing needs already present in schooling and society. To be very clear, OECD creates the needs to which its products—PISA, TALIS, PIAAC—are supposed to respond. In the second section, I unravel the second feature of OECD’s rhetorical strategy, namely, that of mixing two diverse logics and languages, such as a scientiﬁc logic and language, on the one hand, and a logic and language more akin to advertisement leanings, on the other. In the conclusions, I summarize and conclude my attempt.
30 Vasco d’Agnese
One Test, One Vision, One School In this section, I analyze a major feature of OECD’s rhetorical strategy, namely, that of concealing its normative and performative role of steering educational policies worldwide, thus presenting its products as simple responses to needs already expressed by schools, teachers, policy makers and society at large. To be very clear, OECD, consistently with its own goals, builds a peculiar vision of education and society, ascribing such a vision not to its own interests and aims; rather, such a vision is ascribed to a widespread and unavoidable movement involving all countries around the world, and pressing needs stemming from society independently of OECD’s power of persuasion and penetration. In this way, one is pushed to feel and perceive OECD’s purposes and interests as one’s own, while OECD comes to be seen as—just—an agency which helps us to meet the goals we already have in mind. To introduce my analysis, I consider the OECD publication PISA 2012 Results: What Makes Schools Successful? Resources, Policies and Practices (OECD, 2013). In the Foreword we ﬁnd the following: [M]ore and more countries are looking beyond their own borders for evidence of the most successful and efﬁcient policies and practices. Indeed, in a global economy, success is no longer measured against national standards alone, but against the best-performing and most rapidly improving education systems. Over the past decade, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA, has become the world’s premier yardstick for evaluating the quality, equity and efﬁciency of school systems. But the evidence base that PISA has produced goes well beyond statistical benchmarking. By identifying the characteristics of high-performing education systems PISA allows governments and educators to identify effective policies that they can then adapt to their local contexts. (OECD, 2013: 3) This statement, I argue, is a signiﬁcant example of OECD’s rhetoric. Several assumptions are included in this passage, and the statement itself, despite its plain and reassuring language, is anything but neutral and innocent. A powerful direction situates education in a well-deﬁned value square of money, success, evidence and competition—notice, the hallmarks of neoliberalism. Moreover: as stated above, such a well-deﬁned square is not presented as a peculiar—and legitimate—perspective of the Organization. Rather, it is presented as a neutral, unique and unavoidable reality embracing educational systems worldwide. The question of evidence and evidence-based education is introduced in the ﬁrst statement of the passage. Here, we may note that evidence itself is not questioned: it is a given. It is a given in two ways: on the one hand, it is implicitly assumed that only evidence-based data may provide meaningful information about educational systems—hardly, in fact, in OECD’s educational framework may we ﬁnd trace of diverse assessment models.5 On the other hand, it is
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assumed that, within the range of evidence-based tools for assessing skills and competencies, PISA is the best one. Thus, as we may note, both questionable assumptions are taken for granted without arguing further. Moreover: as stated above, the need for evidence is not a speciﬁc purpose of the Organization. Rather, it arises from “more and more countries” around the world independently of OECD. In the second statement of the passage, OECD introduces the two guidelines through which education must be conceived of: an economics and performance-based vision of education, and a strong commitment to “success” and measurement, or, better said, to a—problematic—measurement of success. We are told that, “in a global economy, success is no longer measured against national standards alone, but against the best-performing and most rapidly improving education systems.” Here, again, a concealing strategy is at work. By such a strategy the reader is pushed to believe the following: a) a “global economy” is an all-encompassing concept, one that can and must ground any and every educational framework; additionally, in OECD’s language and ideology the concept of “global economy” is a totalizing one, namely, it stands for the world in all of its features—I will return to this in the second section. In this way both the reduction of living to economy and of education to neoliberal dictate is silently accomplished; b) success is the driven value of such a world. With respect to this, it should be noted that not just success is a problematic educational category, for in the end one could ask success in and for what; success, additionally, is also an indeterminate concept, one that, in a sense, may be ﬁlled up with anything. Otherwise stated, OECD should specify what success means in its educational perspective; and c) despite such an indeterminateness of what success means and entails, we are pushed to believe that the factors conducive to success can be clearly measured and evaluated. In this way PISA, as the best tool for measuring educational success, becomes an indispensable product at any level of education and schooling. Policy makers around the world just have to apply OECD’s insights and recommendations. And indeed the role policy makers should have in OECD’s vision is clearly explicated by the Organization: “[PISA’s] ﬁndings allow policy makers around the world to gauge the knowledge and skills of students in their own countries in comparison with those in other countries, set policy targets against measurable goals achieved by other education systems, and learn from policies and practices applied elsewhere.” That is, policy makers—just—have to look a PISA results, thus ﬁne-tuning educational policies against OECD’s data. PISA is, in fact, “a powerful tool that countries and economies can use to ﬁne-tune their education policies” (OECD, 2014a: 4). The problems with such an understanding are not just that data, as we all know, are anything but innocent. The very problem is that there is a great difference between data about educational systems, on the one hand, and the measurable—and not measurable—goals such systems aim to achieve. This is so for the former entity—namely, data—refers to the attempt to capture what one has already made, while the latter—the goals—refers to what one aims to
32 Vasco d’Agnese achieve in the future. Otherwise stated, OECD implicitly equates the educational status quo as it is measured by PISA and the general aims and purposes of education as a society may wish to realize. In this way, OECD fails to recognize teachers’, policy makers’, students’ and even people’s capacity to autonomously set which goals to pursue, measurable and not measurable, too, thus reducing schooling to a perpetual training activity. OECD, otherwise stated, displays a conception in which “the register of possible human action is already ﬁxed ” (Vlieghe, 2010: 161). This, of course, is not to say that any and every teacher or policy maker should have the power to establish their own aims and goals detached from national curriculum, school guidelines and social context or that international assessment tools should not have a place in educational research. Rather, this is to say that establishing the aims and goals of schooling and education is something which pertains to ongoing democratic discussion, one involving experts, researchers teachers, policy makers, students and civil society at large (Biesta, 2004). Otherwise stated, international assessment tools such as PISA are just one option within manifold possibilities. Related to this is the fact that along with “data” and “measurable goals” OECD furnishes a whole ideology of learning, being that set of ethical and theoretical assumptions which necessarily ground methods and means—and, in turn, data. Otherwise stated, a whole educational framework is implicitly delivered along with OECD analysis. OECD, then, puts in place a rhetorical mechanism in which too much is taken for granted. This leads to a situation in which PISA is neither only an international survey nor an assessment tool amongst other assessment tools. Through OECD’s words, we are pushed to believe that PISA mirrors an indisputable reality: the whole argument is presented as evidence. Here, it should be noted that the term “evidence” has a twofold meaning: on the one hand, the term refers to the evidence-based paradigm as the alleged gold standard for both educational assessment and scientiﬁc research; on the other hand, evidence is understood as the—grounded—reason for believing that something is true. Then, we may see that the technical and the common meaning of the term evidence reinforce one another, thus creating a kind of loop by which the reader is pushed to believe that the afﬁrmations being made cannot be questioned—as Angel Gurrìa, the OECD Secretary General, would say, they are a kind of “mirror” of reality (Gurrìa, 2016). OECD’s rhetorical strategy equates its own vision to the vision stemming from all countries committed to educating their girls and boys. To close the loop, in the ﬁnal sentence of the passage we encounter PISA’s colonialist stance (d’Agnese, 2015, 2017). Here, in fact, we read that, “PISA allows governments and educators to identify effective policies that they can then adapt to their local contexts.” In other words, PISA identiﬁes what must be done in the educational arena worldwide, with no room for uncertainty or mistake, and local countries and schools—just—have to follow, thus adapting OECD’s strategies, aims and criteria to their context. That is why OECD
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enhances a vision of schooling in terms of adaptation and execution—a gesture that is both theoretically weak and ethically problematic. The passage quoted, then, is a signiﬁcant example of OECD’s rhetorical strategy, one in which OECD presents its own vision of education as an unavoidable necessity, and its work as a response to needs ﬁrmly located in schooling, educational policies and society at large. In this way OECD hinders its performative positions, transforming its aims in educational necessities arising from society, thus creating the premises, the market, if you wish, in which its own products may be sold. In this case, rhetorical strategy prepares and grounds economic penetration. With respect to the issues raised thus far, it should be highlighted that we are not facing an occasional passage. In several places OECD and its authoritative members emphasize the power of PISA of being “a mirror” of education thus “demonstrating to all countries what is possible” (Gurrìa, 2016). Moreover: in Gurrìa’s authoritative words, “PISA tests the readiness for an active role in today’s society; it tests how [… students] think and how they work […]. But ﬁrst of all PISA shows what achievements are possible in education” (Gurrìa, 2016). Left apart that, technically speaking, thinking of having a mirror of something is, scientiﬁcally, a medieval epistemological stance, what is remarkable is that according to OECD’s own words, we are led to believe that the present and the future of education are envisioned through a politics based on a two-hour test. However, this is not the only example of such a strategy. To provide further evidence of OECD’s stance, I shall analyze two passages from two of OECD’s publication: Education Today 2013: The OECD Perspective (OECD, 2012a) and PISA 2012 Results: What Students Know and Can Do (OECD, 2014b). In the former publication we read the following: The OECD Skills Strategy provides an integrated, cross-government strategic framework aimed to help countries understand more about how to invest in skills to help transform better skills into better jobs, economic growth and social inclusion. To this end, the ﬁrst main policy lever to address is to develop relevant skills […]. The second main lever is to activate skills supply, encouraging people to offer their skills and to retain skilled people on the labour market […] The third lever is to put skills to effective use, creating a better match between people’s skills and job requirements. (OECD, 2012a: 51–53) Here, once again, we may see that OECD’s rhetorical apparatus works through two related passages: a) in the ﬁrst one, OECD presents its own vision of education as a request emerging from countries around the world, rather than its own vision of education; and b) in the second passage, to close the loop, such a vision is transformed in an unavoidable necessity. We may notice such a rhetorical mechanism in the ﬁrst statement of the passage
34 Vasco d’Agnese quoted above: OECD’s role is merely one of helping countries “[to] understand more about how to invest in skills to help transform better skills into better jobs, economic growth and social inclusion.” As a corollary, I wish to add that, if at the individual level, it is reasonable to suppose that “better jobs” depend on “better skills”—although a question can be made about the fact that which jobs are better depends on one’s aims and aspirations—it is difﬁcult to understand how OECD makes such an automatic passage from economic growth to social inclusion. That economic growth automatically produces social inclusion is not a given—again, such a position seems to be consistent to neoliberal ideology (Brown, 2015; Hill, 2004). The second rhetorical passage OECD makes, namely, that of turning its vision of education into the one and only vision possible, is accomplished in the second part of the passage. Here, we may notice that “activat[ing] skills supply, encouraging people to offer their skills and to retain skilled people on the labour market […], creating a better match between people’s skills and job requirements” are well-known neoliberal rules. Schooling, otherwise stated, does no exhaust its mandate with furnishing the “right skills.” Schools also have a much broader ethical, affective and social role. However, even when limiting schools’ role to such “right skills,” it should be highlighted that schools should have a role in determining which the “right skills” are, and which the method for teaching and assessing them should be. Otherwise, we run the risk of transforming schools in mere executors of OECD’s politics. In other words, too much of what schooling is about is being left behind by OECD’s picture. OECD’s rhetorical strategy becomes even more evident in a 2014 publication, PISA 2012 Results: What Students Know and Can Do, where the twofold hindering of its own position as a performative one, and of its own view as the only view in town, is clearly at work. Given the relevance of the issue, it is worth quoting the passage at length: Equipping citizens with the skills necessary to achieve their full potential, participate in an increasingly interconnected global economy, and ultimately convert better jobs into better lives is a central preoccupation of policy makers around the world. Results from the OECD’s recent Survey of Adult Skills show that highly skilled adults are twice as likely to be employed and almost three times more likely to earn an above-median salary than poorly skilled adults. In other words, poor skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more rewarding jobs. Highly skilled people are also more likely to volunteer, see themselves as actors rather than as objects of political processes, and are more likely to trust others. Fairness, integrity and inclusiveness in public policy thus all hinge on the skills of citizens. (OECD, 2014b: 3) For the sake of clarity, it will be useful schematizing my point. At least four elements are signiﬁcant in OECD’s reasoning: a) the exchange between
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OECD’s and policy makers’ “preoccupation”; b) the linear relationship OECD stages between “necessary skills,” “better jobs” and “better lives”; c) the equivalence OECD makes between what one is expected to learn, do and be as a citizen and what one is expected to learn, do and be as a—particular kind— of worker; and, as a result of such an equivalence d) the link being made between the propensity “to trust others,” the “[f]airness, integrity and inclusiveness” we may ﬁnd in public policy, and the necessity to produce “[h]ighly skilled people.” The ﬁrst element, that is, the exchange between OECD’s and policy makers’ “preoccupation,” is evident in the ﬁrst statement of the passage. Here we learn that “[e]quipping citizens with the skills necessary to achieve their full potential, participate in an increasingly interconnected global economy, and ultimately convert better jobs into better lives is a central preoccupation of policy makers around the world.” To be very clear, I do not wish to deny that “[e]quipping citizens with the skills necessary to […] participate in an increasingly interconnected global economy” is one of the preoccupations of some or many policy makers around the world, nor I wish to deny that this is an aim worth to pursue—although the question remains as to what such skills are and which the conception of an “interconnected global economy” precisely is. The problem, again, is that this is not the whole picture. To put it clearly, why does OECD speak for all policy makers? And why does OECD speak just in terms of “global economy”? Again, such a preoccupation is the output of a peculiar, neoliberal vision of education, not the whole picture. Following OECD’s statement, we come to the second point, namely, that of transforming “better jobs into better lives.” Here, one may ask when and how the conversion of “better jobs into better lives” does occur. To be very clear: at which point, and within which system of reduction, does the translation from life to a two-hours test occur? Here, I do not wish to be naïve: a job is a relevant part of living, and life may hardly be good when making a bad job. However, the problem with equating “better jobs” to “better lives” is that not only—as argued above—what is good depends on who you are and what you wish to achieve; moreover, a good job is part of good life, for it is common sense that one’s life depends on several factors, such as love, health, social and familiar relationships and so on. In this way, OECD enhances a vision in which a “good job” is the only commitment one should have, in that happiness strictly depends on which a job one obtains. Such a gesture comes to enhance a narrow and misguided vision of life, society, relationships and education. Once again, it should be noted that the use of the term “interconnected global economy,” in which the term “economy” stands for the term world, is signiﬁcant of such a narrowing down of living to its economic features. In OECD’s picture of education students are not required to participate in the world; rather, they are “required to […] participate in an increasingly interconnected global economy” —an argument OECD recalls in its PISA trifold brochure (OECD, 2017). The difference is pivotal, in that being in the world and with the world means seeing oneself and others as active part of such a
36 Vasco d’Agnese world; it means exercising criticism, while listening to others’ reasons and debating. It means, also, questioning the very structure of our questioning. Then, we may note that OECD, with its taken-for-grantedness strategy, by which a particular view of society is presented as the world in all of its features, erases the very conditions for sharing and debating, conditions without which schooling makes little sense. For schooling to be inclusive, one has to provide a framework in which students may also question the very order in which they ﬁnd themselves. This is not the case with PISA, in which a conception of economy comes to frame education in all of its features, thus silencing from the very beginning even the need and the desire for questioning and thinking otherwise. The third point I wish to raise is that of leveling what one is expected to learn, do and be as a citizen and what one is expected to learn, do and be as a worker. This is clear in OECD’s statement that “[h]ighly skilled people are also more likely to volunteer, see themselves as actors rather than as objects of political processes, and are more likely to trust others.” Here, the following question arises: how does OECD draw the conclusion that political participation and active citizenship linearly derives from high-skills qualiﬁcation? Which studies offer evidence for such a conclusion? Again, OECD draws sharp conclusions and boldly makes claims about slippery and controversial arguments, without further qualiﬁcation. The fourth point I wish to discuss is strictly connected to the one discussed above, and it is that of the link OECD makes between “[f]airness, integrity and inclusiveness in public policy” and “the skills of citizens.” Here, it is difﬁcult to see why “[f]airness, integrity and inclusiveness in public policy” should depend on “the skills of citizens.” To put the point directly: what have skills to do with fairness and integrity? It is common sense that one may be both unskilled and fair, or, alternatively, skilled and unfair. The point is even more paradoxical when we come to inclusiveness, in that one would expect that such a founding value should be enacted regardless which skills one has. Moreover, society should be more inclusive exactly towards those who are less skilled, in that it is expected that highly skilled people are either already included, or have strong means to be included. It is also worth noting that such an understanding of education and schooling passes through what we may call a kind of rewarding logic. As OECD states, “modern societies reward individuals not for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know” (OECD, 2014a: 3–4). Here, I wish to highlight that the aim of schooling is not just that of furnishing students with such rewarding skills. The aim of schooling should also be that of furnishing a time and space where a discussion about aims and means of society is possible. Again, my concern is not so much with the rewarding logic in itself; my concern is that of taking one logic as the logic. Then, through the analysis of OECD’s own words, I hope to have argued that in OECD’s model students—and society as well—are conceived as a kind of container for the right skills and competencies. By rendering education
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subservient to learning and learning subservient to a predetermined set of skills, OECD makes dealing with education a question of mere functionality, a matter of put and remove. The only possible option for education, in OECD’s vision, is to follow and adapt to the existing—neoliberal—regime. Moreover: the supposed leap OECD claims to perform from the given contents of national curriculum to skills and competencies apt to manage real-life situations is only an ostensible one. This is true for OECD repeats the mistake of the “traditional schooling model” (OECD, 2016) OECD itself criticizes, namely, that of rendering students subservient to a framework lowered from above. We should note that both the model OECD criticizes and OECD’s own framework come to schools from above, as already settled and deﬁned. The whole set of skills and learning outcomes which students are expected to perform comes as a package from OECD to nation states to schools, and OECD seems to know in advance which the aims and purposes of girls and boys worldwide are. In other words, both the “traditional schooling model” and OECD conceive of schooling as just a matter of reproduction and adaptation. The only difference between them lies in what is to be reproduced— predeﬁned contents, on the one hand, and predeﬁned skills, on the other. The uncritical adherence to the social and economic model OECD pursues in force ends in betraying education. It should be highlighted that such a model affects and limits both students and society. On the one hand, students are forced to meet preconceived standards and values; as a matter of fact, students are implicitly asked to renounce enacting their own projects and subjectivities—and this is another way in which PISA exerts its colonialist stance upon educational subjects. On the other hand, society loses the possibility to be challenged and modiﬁed by students. Such a model affects even teachers: they are called to enact a preconceived framework, whether they relate to students, whether to curriculum. By such a framework what a student must achieve, what the subject matter of discipline entails, and even what effects teaching should produce, is established in advance. Of course, teachers have to project their actions in classrooms, being aware and competent about all this. They also should meet some teaching standards, those standards being the national curriculum, or indications emerging from the school in which they teach. Here, to be very clear, I am not arguing for a romantic or naïve interpretation of teachers as ﬁgures that stage unmediated relationships with students, thereby coming to a deep understanding of educational situations. Teachers, of course, must be capable and competent, but the discussion should not be limited to the kinds of “capability” and “knowledge” that they need and use. It is also relevant to discuss a) what such performative concepts leave behind and b) the position that the rationale of teaching has in such educational situations, for everything constituting the rational and procedural apparatus of teaching, including professional development, is framed by teachers’ intentionality, namely, by teachers’ being involved in leaving teaching situations (English, 2013; Todd, 2001).
38 Vasco d’Agnese
Learning from Schleicher’s Words. Mixing Diverse Languages and Logics Thus far, I have attempted to highlight the ﬁrst feature of OECD’s rhetorical strategy, namely, that of concealing its performative and normative educational role. In this section, I unravel the second feature of OECD’s rhetorical strategy, namely, that of mixing two diverse logics and languages, such as a scientiﬁc logic and language, on the one hand, and a logic and language more akin to advertisement, on the other. Along the way, other features of OECD’s stance will emerge, such as a problematic uniformity of language within the Organization, and a likewise problematic narrowing down of the purposes and aims of education. To make my point, I focus on four of Schleicher’s videos. The reasons for my choice are grounded, on the one hand, in the authority of the person, being Andrea Schleicher the Director of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills; on the other hand, such videos, in being exemplary of OECD’s stance and gesture, allow us to come to full circle about the vision of ethics and education OECD enacts. The ﬁrst passage is taken from a video presenting the PISA-based Test for Schools, a tool aimed at measuring and benchmarking schools’ competitiveness and efﬁciency. I quote two signiﬁcant passages from the video and then provide my commentary: For more than ten years now PISA, the world’s premier students assessment, has evaluated and compared students’ systems all around the world. […] [PISA-based Test for Schools tasks] provide tangible insights on how to leverage improvements. And that is exactly what PISA-based Test for Schools is about. They [policy makers, teachers, educators] know how important it is for their students to enter a global economy where they will be competing for the best jobs with young people from all over the world. And in a global economy the benchmark for educational success is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best-performing education systems internationally. (Schleicher, 2016a) Above all, we may note a clear similarity – if not uniformity – with both Gurrìa’s words and several OECD’s documents (see Gurrìa 2016; OECD, 2014b, 2016). The language being spoken, the terms used, the syntax emerging from comparison and even the “mood” which permeates Schleicher’s, Gurrìa’s and OECD’s words seem to come from the same source. Of course, consistency and concord within organizations are expected. However, here a different mechanism seems at work: OECD and its authoritative members speak in unison, with one voice, so to speak. Such a stance reveals a problematic gesture toward society and education, for one would expect more nuanced and even diverse positions within such a complex and articulated organization as
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OECD, especially on a matter such as education that is, by deﬁnition, complex, uncertain and multifaceted. Education, in fact, is related to societies, which are, by deﬁnition, complex and variegated. The argument I raise is related to the overall politics enacted by OECD: in narrowing down education, living and society, in uniforming them to one’s vision one must use a well-deﬁned and standardized language, a language in which diversity and differences are not allowed. Then, such uniformity is but another example of the severe reduction of education enacted by OECD. Returning to Schleicher’s statements, we ﬁnd a clear expression of the features education must have in OECD’s framework: a) success and money as the measure for a good education; b) competition as the basic educational engine; and c) a performance-based conception of education. Such elements are clearly expressed in the last four lines: They [policy makers, teachers, educators] know how important it is for their students to enter a global economy where they will be competing for the best jobs with young people from all over the world. And in a global economy the benchmark for educational success is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best-performing education systems internationally. (Schleicher, 2016a) Students, once again, enter a “global economy,” not a global world. The difference is not a philosophical one. Rather, it has important political, ethical and pragmatic bearings. Entering a global world, in fact, is a global process, in that all of one’s and others’ personalities are involved in such an encounter: new relationships emerge, and new encounters are being made. On the contrary, when entering “a global economy” individual features come to be subservient and reduced to the economic features of life. Living, then, comes to be reduced to competition “for the best jobs,” meaning that other human beings come to be seen as your competitors—and that is why education is a performance-based system and PISA dangerously narrows down education to a zerosum game, one in which one wins if one’s opponents lose. However, as previously argued, benchmarking educational success is the key means by which OECD’s politics is accomplished—and, in fact, “Measuring student success around the world,” as the PISA homepage recites (OECD, 2016), appears the key-objective of PISA’s politics. The same concepts are expressed in another video, titled Use Data to Build Better Schools. I quote three signiﬁcant passages and then provide my commentary: So this tells us that, in a global economy, it is no improvement that is the benchmark for success, but the education systems internationally. The trouble is that much time people spend in school or what degree they
longer national best-performing measuring how have got is not
40 Vasco d’Agnese always a good way of seeing what they can actually do. Look at the toxic mix of unemployed graduates on our streets, while employers say they cannot ﬁnd the people with the skills they need. And that tells you that better degrees don’t automatically translate into better skills and better jobs and better lives. […] High-performing systems also share clear and ambitious standards across the entire spectrum. Every student knows what matters. Every student knows what’s required to be successful. […] If we can help every child, every teacher, every school, every principal, every parent see what improvement is possible, that only the sky is the limit to education improvement, we have laid the foundations for better policies and better lives. (Schleicher, 2016b) Here, let me say that I acknowledge that, as Schleicher states, “better degrees don’t automatically translate into better skills and better jobs and better lives.” But I believe that the reason for this mismatching Schleicher has in mind is dramatically erroneous. It is not so much that better degrees do not automatically guarantee better skills, as if better skills could automatically lead to better jobs and, in turn, better lives—as OECD states (OECD, 2014b: 3). It is that the whole string, which should conduct from “better skills” to a “better life” is both scientiﬁcally unfounded, and ethically problematic. This is so for scientiﬁcally, the last passage—that converting better jobs into better lives—is a leap between incommensurable entities. Ethically, through such a leap a severe reduction and impoverishment of what living may be is enacted. Students, in fact, are pushed to believe that education is just a matter of acquiring the right skills set, one that, in turn, should conduct to a fulﬁlling life. Schleicher, in fact, states that “[e]very student knows what matters. Every student knows what’s required to be successful.” I believe that this ostensibly simple statement has to be carefully scrutinized. By such a statement the equivalence between “what matters” and success is enacted. In other words, what matters in education, and living as well, is reaching success. Again, we are pushed to ask about the opportunity to use an ambiguous concept like success as the key aim for a delicate matter such as education. Here, let me make an additional remark about the concluding claim. When reading that “we have laid the foundations for better policies and better lives,” one cannot help to think how much such a statement is vague and, in a sense, presumptuous. Thinking that one, whether that one is an individual or an organization, has “laid the foundations for better policies and better lives,” is an afﬁrmation that is more in line with advertisement language than with scientiﬁc language—and here, I wish to recall that what is problematic is not advertisement language in itself, but the mixture of scientiﬁc authority and advertisement fascination, which OECD enacts. Speciﬁcally, we cannot help to ask what such foundations for better lives are, if such a better life is to be evaluated through a two-hour test. To be very clear: what kind of evidence
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does OECD have in mind for assessing such a betterment of living? Otherwise stated, when hearing that “employers say they cannot ﬁnd the people with the skills they need. And that tells you that better degrees don’t automatically translate into better skills,” we are within what, from a scientiﬁc and political perspective, may well be argued and sustained. However, when we come to living as a whole, things change, and we enter an undeﬁned—and perhaps undeﬁnable—matter. We ﬁnd a further instance of such a gesture in the webpage devoted to explain aims and structure of the PISA-based Test for Schools: “It is expected that the PISA-based Test for Schools will provide […] the opportunity […] to improve learning and build better skills for better lives” (OECD, 2018b). Such a statement is not an isolated case. In several places OECD afﬁrms its capacity to identify which the way for a “better life” is. In a sense, such a call for “a better life” is an OECD’s brand. We ﬁnd such a gesture in OECD’s 2012 publication with the meaningful title Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Lives (2012b). We ﬁnd it, again, in a 2014 publication, where OECD, again, speaks about “convert[ing] better jobs into better lives” (OECD, 2014a: 3). By combining scientiﬁc authority and advertisement fascination OECD produces a kind of mix of superﬁcial optimism and scientiﬁc evidence that is highly ambiguous and difﬁcult to debunk. However, it is my contention that such a problematic approach does not derive from lack of conceptual knowledge or awareness. Rather, it is the consequence of a precise choice and communicative approach. OECD, in its claims and ﬁndings, mixes two diverse logics and languages: a) a scientiﬁc logic and language, with OECD being a center for data collection and elaboration in diverse ﬁelds; and b) an advertising logic and language, through which OECD may spread its ideas in all levels of population. Such a question is not a merely linguistic or theoretical one. Analyzing OECD’s language, in fact, we may note that, on the one hand, OECD strongly reclaims a scientiﬁc role while, on the other hand, in its communications through webpages, videos and brochures, OECD’s language and overall gesture mirrors advertisement’s language—see, for instance claims such as “convert better jobs into better lives” (OECD, 2014a) or “PISA results reveal what is possible in education” (OECD, 2016a: 2) which hardly could ﬁnd space in a scientiﬁc publication. Such a twofold gesture is highly problematic, in that, when listening to an advertisement, one is aware that languages and images are intended and prepared in order to capture listeners’ attention, thus persuading people to buy the product advertised rather than the concurrent one; features and beneﬁts of products are, then, intentionally overestimated. The question is that people are well aware about the amount of pretense contained in advertisement and, in turn, such a pretense, due to the nature of the message and people’s awareness, does not work as a deceit; rather, it is an explicit rule of the commercial game. However, this is not the case when listening to institutions claiming scientiﬁc authority—as in the case of OECD. When playing the game of research, as it were, we have to abide by quite a different rule. Here, one would expect a kind
42 Vasco d’Agnese of inclusive approach, and the possibility to fairly take into account different and even opposite opinions, gestures and options—a gesture that in advertisement would be senseless and, as it were, masochistic. So, OECD, through such a twofold gesture and language, one that speaks at the very same time and with respect to the same contents through scientiﬁc publications and brochures, enacts a politic that is, in my opinion, highly ambiguous. If one would stress the question, one could say that OECD misuses its reputation as a scientiﬁc authority, thus making claims that hardly may be found in a scientiﬁc publication, but that, due to their captivating nature, aim to convince people about the goodness of its own products—PISA, in this case. This is clearly expressed in the third video I analyze, namely, Pisa for School. What and Why? PISA, the world’s premier students’ assessment has evaluated and compared school systems all around the world. The modern world no longer pays people for just what they know […] but for what they do with what they know […]. Even the best performing High School in the United States have room for improvement in order to reach the performance level of the highest performing systems internationally […] They [teachers and policy makers] know how important it is for their students to be prepared to enter a global economy where they will be competing for the best jobs with young people from all over the world. And in a global economy the benchmark for education success is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best performing education systems internationally. (Schleicher, 2018a) The ﬁrst thing to be noted is that, once again, Schleicher expresses the same questionable concepts: PISA is the “world’s premier students’ assessment,” PISA-based Test for School is necessary for students to succeed, a “global economy” as an all-encompassing concept which comes to erase the complexity and diversity of world and societies. Once again, these questionable concepts are taken for granted without further argument or reasoning. However, this is not the only thing worth analyzing in this passage. While Schleicher’s discourse is focused on schooling at large, the attention is just on competing “for the best jobs.” The “education success” and “the best performing education systems internationally” are—just—committed to prepare girls and boys to strive in the market arena. Education, then, is narrowed down to supplying young people with the skills needed in order to compete for such “best jobs.” Related to this is the fourth video I present, which is extrapolated from the London Conference on Employer Engagement in Education and Training. In this video we learn that Our role is really to develop better policies for better lives … Developing for example the right skills for people […] and making sure that children from early ages all over the world […] may get the kind of skills they need.
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PISA works to make sure children have this kind of perspective of what they could be […] so they can look out at in all […] successful professions. (Schleicher, 2018b) When reading this passage, a number of questions arise: which is the concept of “better lives” Schleicher has in mind? Is it possible to establish a unique set of skills needed by people in order to accomplish such a better life? Which is the model for children’s development Schleicher has in mind? Once again, a totalizing logic is at work, and such a gesture is even more problematic when addressing subjects at earlier and earlier age. This is true for when people, since childhood, are conceived of as a kind of recipient for the “right skills,” education—and society as well—are no longer the space where diverse perspectives, desires, aspirations, feelings and ideas meet and confront one another, joining, connecting, colliding, melting and giving rise to diverse feelings, ideas, perspectives and aspirations. Education, schooling and society alike are narrowed down to a perpetual arena, where girls and boys are trained to compete since their childhood for “successful professions.”
Conclusions In my chapter, I have argued that in order to understand neoliberal educational agenda and its power of persuasion and penetration, a thorough analysis of its rhetoric and language is required. In order to accomplish this task, I have focused my attention on OECD’s language and rhetoric, analyzing its public documents from 2012 to 2018. I have argued that, along with a severe standardization of education and language, and the concealment of its normative and performative role, we ﬁnd in OECD’s educational documents a mix of diverse logics and languages, namely, scientiﬁc and advertisement language. Such a mix confers OECD an undue advantage, namely, that of captivating people’s attention while reassuring them about the truthfulness, impartiality and objectivity of its own assertions. I have also argued that OECD presents a narrow vision of what education is and should be. OECD, in a sense, accomplishes a fourfold reduction of education. OECD, in fact, narrows down education to learning, learning to assessment, assessment to a performance-based accountability measure system and this performance-based accountability measure system is ﬁnally turned into PISA. OECD, in this way, ossiﬁes the register of human actions and ways of being—a gesture, I would highlight, that is even inconsistent with OECD’s commitment to innovation. To be very clear, OECD does not invite another interpretation of education than that of competition amongst countries, students, teachers and schools. As a result, schooling comes to be seen as just a means through which boys and girls acquire the necessary skills to strive and compete for “successful professions” (Schleicher, 2018b). In this way, OECD fails to recognize teachers’, policy makers’, students’ and even people’s capacity to autonomously share, discuss and set which goals to
44 Vasco d’Agnese pursue, thus reducing schooling to a perpetual training activity aimed at producing one set of skills, namely, those assessed by PISA and provided by OECD’s and connected agencies’ educational programs. We see that the purpose of enhancing, creating, making room for opposition or critique to society as it stands is wholly outside OECD’s view. In perpetuating the educational status quo OECD comes to full circle: it defuses the potential of the new, narrows down teachers’ and students’ agency and, importantly, renders it difﬁcult even to conceive of an alternative to its own model. That is why OECD’s model for schooling ends in producing ethical disengagement in educationalists. Being ethically involved, in fact, entails being concerned with the aims and purposes of education. When discourse about educational ends is all resolved in advance, we are within what may well been called an authoritarian model of teaching, authoritarianism being understood as any and every way of educating in which educational goals and overall vision of schooling are pre-established in advance. For authoritarian teaching to be enacted you do not necessarily need students repeating sentences, ideas and ways of behaving over and over again. For authoritarian teaching to be enacted it is sufﬁcient to cut the cord which binds values, aims and purposes to the concrete practice of education. OECD, despite its commitment to an education for life, tends to construe an artiﬁcial model of education, one in which the uncertainties, ﬁssures and vagaries of living are neither considered nor addressed. If we believe that schooling is not just a matter of accomplishing aims lowered from above, but an ethical space in which both students and society renew and rethink themselves, in which the “startling unexpectedness” (Arendt, 1998/1958: 177–178) characterizing human condition may arise, OECD’s penetration and inﬂuence on education and schooling has to be unmasked for what it is: an unduly attempt to totalize and ﬁx the register of human experience.6
Notes 1 In this Introduction I am using excerpts from a previously published article (d’Agnese, 2019). 2 Emphasis on the overwhelming importance of economy is widespread within critiques of the neoliberal educational agenda. In this regard, Olssen and Peters argue that under a neoliberal regime, “education is represented as an input-output system that can be reduced to an economic production function” (Olssen and Peters, 2005: 324). Along similar lines, David Harvey highlights that neoliberalism “seeks to bring all human action into the domain of the market” (Harvey, 2005: 3). For a thoughtful discussion of how and why standardization works in the neoliberal educational agenda, see Mahiri (2005: 72–88). 3 For more on this, see also Alexander (2011), Au (2011), Hursh (2008), and Power and Whitty (2010). 4 For more on this, see also Clarke (2012), Connell (2013) and Hill (2004). 5 For more on the relationship between evidence-based epractice and neoliberal educational agenda see Au (2011); Biesta (2010); Hursh (2008); Shahjahan (2011). 6 I am grateful to Mitja Sardocˇ for his invitation to contribute to this book. Portions of this chapter have been published in the articles “Concealment and advertising. Unraveling OECD’s educational rhetoric,” Šolsko polje. The Language of Neoliberal
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Education (2018), XXIX: 1–2 and “Dewey and Possibility: Challenging Neoliberalism in Education”, Educational Theory (2020), 69 (6): 693–717.
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Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire1 The Retreat from Naturalism Mark Olssen
The Problem of Laissez-Faire in Neoliberal Thought Foucault’s (2008) analysis of the ordo liberals in Germany focused on the discrepancy between their advocacy of laissez-faire and the polarity between their views on the role of government. On the one hand, the German ordo liberals distrusted large concentrations of power and opposed action to ‘interfere’ in markets, through wages and price ﬁxing, or administrative or bureaucratic involvement, but on the other hand, they favoured and supported the actions of government to reinforce and strengthen the institutional infrastructures, to arrange and enable the ‘conditions’ necessary for the market to operate. This was supported, for instance, by ordo liberals such as Walter Eücken, who took the view that the economy required an ‘economic constitution’, which must be created and protected by the state. The possible conﬂict with free market principles is evident in the following statement: A solution of this task of which much depends (not only men’s economic existence), requires the elaboration of a practicable economic constitution which satisﬁes certain basic principles. The problem will not solve itself simply by our letting economic systems grow up spontaneously. The history of the last century has shown this plainly enough. The economic system has to be consciously shaped. (Eücken, 1992: p. 314) Eücken sought to chart the basic principles of ‘economic politics’ [Wirtschaftspolitik] in order to establish the ‘conditions’ for a competitive market order to arise and continue. Establishing competition as the cornerstone of the economy became the key principle of a neoliberal order. It was concerned not with ‘interfering’ with the day-to-day processes of the economy, but seeking to establish and protect the ‘conditions’ that were favourable to an effective and efﬁcient economic system. As Eücken put it, ‘[t]he answer is that the state should inﬂuence the forms of economy, but not itself direct the economic process’ (1992: p. 95).
Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire 49 It was also supported amongst the US free market advocates, such as Henry Calvert Simons. As ‘father’ of the Chicago School of free market economics, Simons was expected to champion a consistently traditional approach accepting the classical postulates of laissez-faire. This was as a natural equilibrium between supply and demand which ensured the ‘self-regulation’ of the economy, as if directed, in Adam Smith’s phrase, by an ‘invisible hand’, i.e., laws of nature. Yet, in his pamphlet, A Positive Program for Laissez-Faire, ﬁrst published in 1934, Simons seems ambivalent over laissez-faire: The representation of laissez-faire as a merely do nothing policy is unfortunate and misleading. It is an obvious responsibility of the state under this policy to maintain the kind of legal and institutional framework within which competition can function effectively as an agency of control. The policy should therefore be deﬁned positively, as one under which the state seeks to establish and maintain such conditions that it may avoid the necessity of regulating ‘the heart of the contract’ – that is to say, the necessity of regulating relative prices. Thus, the state is charged, under this ‘division of labor’, with heavy responsibilities and large ‘control’ functions: the maintenance of competitive conditions in industry, the control of the currency … the deﬁnition of the institution of property … not to mention the many social welfare functions. (Simons, 1947: p. 42) Indeed, Ronald Coase was so shocked at Simons’ pamphlet that he questioned Simon’s credentials as a classical liberal and free market advocate: I would like to raise a question about Henry Simons … [His] Positive Program for Laissez-Faire … strikes me as highly interventionist pamphlet … [I]n antitust, [Simons] wanted to … restructure American industry … In regulation … he proposed to reform things by nationalization … I would be interested if someone could explain … (cited, Kitch, 1983: pp. 178–179) Coase maintains that Simons’ Positive Program constitutes a blueprint for intrusive state interventions in the market of the sort advocated by social democrats and socialists who Simons most vehemently opposed and who advocated forms of state regulation of economic processes because they distrusted unregulated marketplace interactions. According to J. Bradford De Long of Harvard University, who also cites the quotation above (1990: p. 601), Coase’s question (above) raised some interesting responses: Simons former Chicago pupils, his successors as upholders of classical liberalism in economics, did not rise to his defense. Instead, they responded as follows: First, they acknowledged that Simons was not a pure liberal but at best a mixed breed. ‘You can paint him with different colors …,’ said
50 Mark Olssen Harold Demsetz. ‘It’s quite a mixed picture,’ said George Stigler. Second, they admitted that Simons was an ‘interventionist,’ that he did not believe that in general economic activity should be organized through free markets. ‘[H]e was the man who said that the Federal Trade Commission should be the most important agency in government, a phrase that surely should be on no one’s tombstone,’ joked Stigler. ‘Everything Ronald Coase says is right.’ And Milton Friedman joined in: ‘I’ve gone back and re-read the Positive Program and been astounded … To think that I thought at the time that it was strongly pro-free market in orientation!’ (cited, De Long, 1990: pp. 601–2.) Not only did Simons advocate regulation, but he even advocated nationalization. As Simons states in his pamphlet: Political control of utility charges is imperative … for competition simply cannot function effectively as an agency of control … In general … the state should face the necessity of actually taking over, owning, and managing directly, both railroads and utilities, and all other industries to which it is impossible to maintain effectively competitive conditions. (Simons, 1947: p. 57) De Long defends Simons as a classical liberal on the grounds that ‘[Simons] thought that a primary function of government in a free society is to manage competition’ (1990: p. 610). Simons represented a strain of thinking in liberal economics that had been prominent in Europe in the work of the German ordo liberals, foremost amongst them economists such as Eücken and Röpke, who distinguished the ‘conditions’ necessary to sustain a free market economy from the intervention of the government in the processes or actual functioning of the economy itself. State intervention is necessary for the ordo liberals in order to establish the conditions under which laissez-faire can effectively operate. Indeed, Eücken appears to be quite dismissive of what is central to laissez-faire: The solution to the problem of control was seen by [the advocates of laissez-faire] to be in the ‘natural’ order, in which competitive prices automatically control the whole process. They thought that this natural order would materialise spontaneously and that society did not need to be fed a ‘speciﬁc diet’, that is, have an economic system imposed on it, in order to thrive. Hence, they arrived at a policy of laissez-faire; this form of economic control left much to be desired. Conﬁdence in the spontaneous emergence of the natural order was too great. (Eücken, 1989: p. 38) This interventionist current in liberal thought was alive and well in America amongst other liberals than Henry Simons. James Buchanan, the founder of
Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire 51 Public Choice theory, shares with the ordo liberals this more directive orientation to state action. Although the classical liberal tradition had stressed the role of markets as ‘self-regulating’, representing a strong commitment to liberalism as a naturalistic doctrine, and as supported by arguments based on the freedom of the individual from the state, Buchanan so distrusted that the required efﬁciency gains would emerge through automatic mechanisms of the market that, in a way similar to writers like Röpke and Eücken, he supported efﬁciency achievements through a the deliberate tightening of state control. As he says in his criticism of Hayek: My basic criticism of F. A. Hayek’s profound interpretation of modern history and his diagnosis for improvement is directed at his apparent belief or faith that social evolution will, in fact, ensure the survival of efﬁcient institutional forms. Hayek is so distrustful of man’s explicit attempts of reforming institutions that he accepts uncritically the evolutionary alternative. (Buchanan 1975: p. 194n) It was on this ground that he opposed Hayek’s naturalist faith in markets as spontaneous self-ordering systems which had been the hallmark of the classical liberal view since its inception. In Buchanan’s view, the state should actively construct the competitive market economy and utilize supply-side monitoring in the interests of promoting efﬁciency in market terms.
Foucault, Röpke and Neoliberalism Michel Foucault studied neoliberalism in his 1978 course at the Collège de France, The Birth of Biopolitics. For Foucault, neoliberalism signals ‘a shift from exchange to competition in the principle of the market’ (2008: p. 118). Competition assumes the role of a fundamental principle that subtends democracy, which is to say, that the basic ordering of society as an enterprise culture structured by competition is to be enforced by government across all domains of the society. It becomes, as it were, the organizing framework guaranteed by the state rather than as a function of the market. Foucault marshals evidence by citing Eücken who tells us that the government must be ‘perpetually vigilant and active’ (p. 138), and must intervene to establish this context through both regulatory actions (actions régulatrices) and organizing actions (actions ordonnatrices) (p. 138). Although during the ﬁrst half of the twentieth century western welfare states were constituted through democratic determination, the accomplishment of neoliberalism, for the ordo liberals at least, was to attempt to establish the principle of competition as prior to and outside of democratic decision-making; as determining the ‘framework’ through which the market would rule. The framework must attend to both the population, the order of justice and opportunity, as well as the techniques, such as the availability of implements
52 Mark Olssen concerning such things as population, technology, training and education, the legal system, the availability of land, the climate, all seen by Eücken as the ‘conditions’ for the market. Foucault refers to this active, top-down, positive role of the state as constituting a ‘sociological liberalism’ (2008: p. 146, footnote 51), or a ‘policy of society’ (p. 146) which permits a new ‘art of government’ which differs radically from Keynesian-type systems. What is crucial is that for neoliberalism the object of government action becomes ‘the social environment’ (p. 146) acting on behalf of capital, or those the create wealth. The aim is to engineer competition: It is the mechanisms [of competition] that should have the greatest possible surface and depth and should also occupy the greatest possible volume in society. This means that what is sought is not a society subject to the commodity effect, but a society subject to the dynamic of competition. (p. 147) Competition becomes the new ‘eidos’ (p. 147), the new dynamic of this new form of society: Not a supermarket society, but an enterprise society. The homo oeconomicus sought after is not the man of exchange, or man the consumer; he is the man of enterprise and production. (p. 147) Wilhelm Röpke fundamentally sets out the neoliberal social policy in his text ‘The Orientation of German Economic Policy’ where he says that social policy must aim at: the multiplication of the enterprise form within the social body … It is a matter of making the market, competition, and so the enterprise, into what could be called the formative power of society. (cited by Foucault, 2008: p. 148) In his book A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market (1971), Röpke’s new form of liberalism becomes even more readily apparent. The book aims to establish the appropriate foundations of the market economy by outlining the conditions necessary for the free market beyond the previously accepted context of supply and demand. For such a market order cannot function, he says, ‘in a social system which is the exact opposite in all respects’ (p. 94). The cultural context of the social structure is a part of this and must support this: We start from competition … Competition may have two meanings: it may be an institution for stimulating effort, or it may be a device for regulating and ordering the economic process. In the market economy
Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire 53 competition … constitutes therefore an unrivalled solution of the two cardinal problems of any economic system: the problem of the continual inducement to maximum performance and the problem of continuous harmonious ordering and guidance of the economic process. (p. 95) The foundation for this is not laissez-faire; Röpke, like Eücken, and like Simons, is not describing a naturalistic but has succumbed to advocating an historical thesis. Laissez-faire was the naïve thesis of early liberalism. For Röpke it was a ﬁction. In all honesty, we have to admit that the market economy has a bourgeois foundation … The market economy, and with it social and political freedom, can thrive only as a part and under the protection of a bourgeois system. This implies the existence of a society in which certain fundamentals are respected and color the whole network of social relationships … (p. 98) Röpke’s conception of liberalism is clearly more authoritarian in the sense that it seems to represent an imposed order. Such a view seems reinforced when he acknowledges that: In a sound society, leadership, responsibility, and exemplary defense of society’s guiding norms and values must be the exalted duty and unchallengeable right of a minority that forms and is willingly and respectfully recognized as the apex of the social pyramid hierarchically structured by performance … What we need is true nobilitas naturalis … We need a natural nobility whose authority is, fortunately, readily accepted by all men, an elite deriving its title solely from supreme performance and peerless moral example and invested with the moral dignity of such a life …. No free society … which threatens to degenerate into mass society, can subsist without such a class of censors … (p. 131) Röpke adds that ‘the task of leadership falls to the natural aristocracy by virtue of an unwritten but therefore no less valid right which is indistinguishable from duty’ (p. 133). Only such persons can save us from the ‘slowly spreading cancers of our western economy and society’ (p. 151), which include the ‘irresistible advance of the welfare state …’ (p 151).
Hayek and Neoliberalism Did Friedrich Hayek also accept this new view of ‘economic politics’? My answer is not in the same sort of way, although he shared the pro-free market
54 Mark Olssen values that they supported. Hayek was too steeped in the classical liberal tradition to easily give up its naturalistic assumptions concerning laissez-faire and the conception of the subject who should be trusted as a rational, autonomous citizen and who should remain unconditioned or uncoerced by the state. Yet the theoretical difﬁculties that afﬂicted Simons, Buchanan, Eücken and Röpke also weighed heavily on Hayek. He not only struggled with the notion of laissez-faire, but also appreciated that over time the democratic will of citizens tends to favour restrictions on the free market and supports an expanded role for government as respects to both welfare and redistribution.2 Although I have written several articles and chapters on Hayek, one is always learning new things. In a PhD doctoral viva voce examination on Foucault and neoliberalism that I had the honour to examine at the University of Brighton in 2018, Lars Cornelissen, the disputant, alerted me to several works of Hayek that I had been unaware of. One was an article by Hayek, titled ‘Marktwirtschaft und Wirtschaftspolitik’,3 published in the journal ORDO in 1954 where Hayek laments the fact that classical economists had not adequately deﬁned ‘intervention’ because, as Cornelissen summarizes Hayek’s view, ‘many of them held “economic politics”, of the sort advocated by Eücken and Röpke, to be antithetical to “the fundamental principles of liberalism”’ (Cornelissen, 2017: p. 206; citing Hayek, 1954: p. 4). Being aware of the controversy between classical liberalism and the ‘economic politics’ of Eücken and Röpke, Hayek is more careful to limit the active role of the state to establishing the juridical structure of society. For Hayek, the creation and maintenance of a competitive order is primarily a legal affair. The only type of intervention for an ‘economic politics’ is in the ‘permanent juridical framework’ as opposed to ‘constant intervention of state force [Staatsgewalt]’ (Cornelissen, 2017: p. 206; Hayek, 1954: p. 5). Hayek thus restricts intervention of the state to the legal order and thus has a much narrower view of active state intervention to establish the ‘conditions’ of economic activity than does either Röpke or Eücken.
Planning and the Rule of Law Throughout his career Hayek remained steadfastly committed to the idea that markets best guaranteed the freedom of citizens, and on this ground remained staunchly opposed to all forms of state planning and control. What essentially undermines state planning in Hayek’s view is that real knowledge is gained and true economic progress made as a consequence of locally generated knowledge derived from ‘particular circumstances of time and place’ and the state is not privy to such knowledge (Hayek, 1949b: 79). Planning ignores this localistic character of knowledge and thus interferes with the self-regulating mechanism of the market. It is on these grounds that Hayek argues that the state should only be concerned with the protection of individuals by ‘general rules’, such as the ‘rule of law’, but not with what he refers to as ‘central planning’. If we look to Hayek,
Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire 55 both to The Road to Serfdom (1944) and The Constitution of Liberty (1960) where Hayek discusses planning and the rule of law, in contrast to the rule of law’s formal, and a priori character, the plan’s approach to decision-making is ad hoc and arbitrary. A plan also embodies, says Hayek (1944: p. 91), ‘substantive’ commitments on ends and values, whereas the rules constitutive of the rule of law are ‘general’, ‘formal’, ‘impartial’ and ‘systematic’ (pp. 90–92). Formal rules operate ‘without reference to time and place or particular people’ (p. 92). They refer to ‘typical situations … Formal rules are thus merely instrumental in the sense they are expected to be useful to yet unknown people’ (p. 92). On the other hand, planning involves ‘a conscious direction towards a single aim’ (1944: p. 72), and ‘refuses to recognize various autonomous spheres in which the ends of individuals are supreme’ (p. 72). As such the plan embodies general substantive goals linked to the ‘“the general welfare”, or the “common good”, or the “general interest”’ (p. 72). Yet, it is Hayek’s view that the welfare of people ‘cannot be adequately expressed as a single end’ (p. 73) for to have such a conception of the general welfare requires a ‘complete ethical code’, which would require knowledge of everything. The difference between the two kinds of approach, says Hayek, is like the difference between the ‘“Rules of the Road”, as in the Highway Code, and ordering people where to go’ (1944: p. 91).
A Critique of Hayek’s Concept of Planning Hayek acknowledges that while his distinction between formal rules, and planning ‘is very important … at the same time [it is] most difﬁcult to draw precisely in practice’ (1944: p. 91). This, it seems to me, understates what is problematic about his argument. While his points about the need for general rules that are formal, and apply to all, are highly important, his characterization of planning is largely a caricature, and his arguments against it do not stand serious scrutiny. Indeed, it would seem, as many economists in his own department at the LSE believed, that any serious analysis of Hayek’s arguments leads us straight to Keynesian conclusions.4 Hayek’s arguments against central planning have been seriously challenged.5 What is conﬂated in his treatment is a failure to distinguish ‘central planning’, as exempliﬁed by the model of the Soviet Union, and aspects of planning in general, as adopted routinely in western democracies.6 While his arguments may be persuasive against the idea of highly centralized decision-making for the entire economy, beyond this the assessment of his legitimate empirical arguments are difﬁcult to untangle from what is the deeply ingrained ideological nature of his opposition to social democracy or socialism. Certainly the emergence of highly centralized economies of Eastern Europe from the 1920s could be seen to inhibit the emergence of Schumpeter-styled entrepreneurs, and to erode possibilities for enterprise and initiative. As developed in the Soviet Union after the Revolution of 1917, the model of state capitalism (capitalisme de parti) which was based on the attempts by a single political
56 Mark Olssen party to manage the operations of the economy through the direct transmission of orders from the centre, including the establishment of centralized socialist trusts, involving the direct control of recruitment, production schedules and wages met with severe problems of the sort Hayek describes. Beyond this, however, it can be claimed that the problem is not so much with planning, but with the broader political model in operation. That Hayek extends his objections from a concern with Soviet-styled central planning to forms of state planning in western societies, and speciﬁcally against those forms of general planning being developed in countries like Britain at the onset of the welfare state, constitutes a major problem. For what can be claimed is that there is no objection to planning as such, nor even to central planning, but only against types of planning that are ad hoc and arbitrary, and not subject to democratic controls of auditing, accountability, contestation, debate and revision. Planning, in fact, is amenable to the same types of assessment as Hayek maintains for the rule of law, and like the rule of law, it should comprise codiﬁed procedures which are formal, systematic, a priori (written in advance) and general or impartial. Planning also must be democratically accountable. Planning, in this sense is compatible with open economies, individual initiative, local autonomy in decision-making and decentralization.7 One important issue that Hayek never considers is whether markets and planning could (or should) co-exist. That is, whether there is not some middle ground position between the ‘serfdom’ associated with state planning, and the ‘freedom’ associated with markets. As Jim Tomlinson (1990: 49 fn. 3) notes: [I]n his 1945 article, [‘The Use of Knowledge in Society’] Hayek typically dismisses any mid-way point between centralised and decentralised planning except ‘the delegation of planning to organised industries, or, in other words, monopoly’ (p. 521). Plainly this does not exhaust the possibilities of levels of planning, nor does it provide a helpful starting point for discussing mechanisms of planning.8
Knowledge and Planning Markets are also preferred to planning on grounds of efﬁciency and because of the local nature of knowledge. When planning takes the place of markets, mistakes and errors become ‘entrenched’ because only the price mechanism can coordinate the diverse activities of individuals, says Hayek. Partly, this is due to the absence of local or contextual knowledge which actors in the marketplace have and state bureaucrats don’t have. But, although Hayek distinguishes important characteristics of local knowledge, he fails to consider whether other sorts of knowledge might not be important; or perhaps whether or not knowledge might not work differently at the macro, meso and micro orders of society. To use Hayek’s language, from ‘The Use of Knowledge in
Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire 57 Society’, while he celebrates knowledge of ‘time and place’ which is not accessible to planners, he gives no value to the beneﬁts of ‘aggregated’ or ‘statistical-type’ knowledge, which enables perspective, and which could be held to constitute an equally important type of knowledge which ‘planners’ do have, and which is denied to agents in local contexts. This later type of knowledge might be claimed to be concerned with general guidelines, limits or contexts, and coordination, rather than speciﬁcally with day-to-day operations. It therefore maintains a different relation to time and place, and hence, the practical problem which Hayek notes about transmitting information about events which are situationally local need not arise.9 Certainly, if planning sought to replace or override market mechanisms, or disregard, interfere with or over-ride local knowledge, one could see that would constitute a serious problem, but this does not mean that markets and planning cannot compliment and assist each other in turn.10 Various distinctions could be made which Hayek also does not make, between ‘normal’ versus ‘exceptional’ operations of markets, between the ‘macro’, ‘meso’ or ‘micro’ levels of the economy, or the distinction made above, concerning the context effectively regulated by supply and demand and the price mechanism (where a rough equilibrium may persist for a certain time) versus the context of coordination (requiring macro-management, planning, agenda setting and steering). While it may well be so that local knowledge and the fragility of the price mechanism means that normal day-to-day operations of markets should be relatively autonomous from the arbitrary interference of the state, there will be exceptional circumstances where ‘communicating knowledge to a board’ for urgent or non-urgent action is highly appropriate. Within normal markets, behaviour which signals exceptional development (‘a run on the pound’) or behaviour which signals unusual development (‘a contaminated product’; ‘a suspicious behaviour’) are cases in point. Just as the doctor–patient relation for the most part is a private contract, evidence of certain types of symptoms must be immediately reported. In addition, there will be routine situations where guiding the economy within established limits require speciﬁc actions in line with established policies. Introducing policies to counter economic inequalities in capital accumulation, or to assist in creating fair opportunities, also constitute legitimate activities that can be planned for. Hence, there are different sorts of functions which require different types of coordination, and different types of knowledge. ‘In a democratic society’, wrote Karl Mannheim, ‘state sovereignty can be boundlessly strengthened by plenary [planning] powers without renouncing democratic control’ (1940: p. 340). Yet, Hayek maintains that democratic assemblies have problems producing a plan. Either they cannot manage the whole view, or obtain adequate knowledge, or, if delegated, they cannot integrate it (Hayek, 1944: pp. 82–84). Such a claim is highly dubious, especially given the sophisticated planning instruments and communication technologies available today. But regardless of that, government has responsibility to oversee and steer the whole. The delegation of particular powers to
58 Mark Olssen separate boards and authorities is a part of that responsibility. Yet the parliamentary system renders the state as democratically accountable, and is as necessary to the formal legitimacy of the rule of law as it is to the formal legitimacy of planning. Amongst existing democratic mechanisms, parliament is one mechanism of accountability; the ofﬁcial opposition are charged with discussion and debate, and with highlighting abuses, identifying shortcomings, as well as criticizing delegated or contracted groups whose performance is not up to the mark. In addition, the free mass media, as well as institutions of judicial review, make existing democratic assemblies and procedures crucial underwriters to both the formality and generality of policy, whether through law or planning, and they legitimate both law and planning. It is the democratic assemblies which both enable and legitimate the formality of the rule of law, and are accountable for good as opposed to bad legislation.11 What Hayek doesn’t seem to realize is that they are similarly able to perform this function in relation to planning. Through various codiﬁed and formal rules of procedure and process, planning can be legitimate or illegitimate. Hence, I would reject Hayek’s thesis that ‘planning leads to dictatorship’ (p. 88) or that ‘dictatorship is essential if planning on a large scale is to be possible’ (p. 88), just as I would reject the thesis that planning is necessarily arbitrary. Another factor makes planning important here. At the start of the twentyﬁrst century, collective action and sophisticated planning operations have become increasingly necessary on all manner of issues ranging from matters relating to general security and the response to crisis and urgency, to arranging social insurance, and the provision of opportunities, structures and capabilities on a fair and equitable basis. While Hayek’s opposition to all forms of state planning might be seen as viable if he can argue that the economic system is naturally self-regulating, should this later thesis founder, so the former will also be in difﬁcult straights. Yet, just as we found for Simons, Buchanen, Eücken and Röpke, Hayek’s views on the self-regulating capacity of the system, implying laissez-faire, do not inspire conﬁdence. Although he had substituted his ‘empirical conception’ (of laissez-faire) for what he considered to be the inadequate neoclassical conception, his ‘knowledge papers’ of the 1930s and 1940s revealed increasing doubts about both its theoretical and practical viability. In his paper ‘Economics and Knowledge’, ﬁrst presented in 1937, he notes that although traditional experience has more or less conﬁrmed equilibrium theory ‘since the empirical observation that prices do tend to correspond to costs was the beginning of our science’ (1949a: p. 51), his own conﬁdence in the idea was waning. The following statement is not exactly brimming with conﬁdence: I am afraid that I am now getting to a stage where it becomes exceedingly difﬁcult to say what exactly are the assumptions on the basis of which we assert that there will be a tendency toward equilibrium and to claim that
Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire 59 our analysis has an application to the real world. I cannot pretend that I have as yet got much further on this point. Consequently all I can do is to ask a number of questions to which we will have to ﬁnd an answer if we want to be clear about the signiﬁcance of our argument. (1949a: p. 48) In the same article, Hayek observes that both Smith and Ricardo had noted that the stability of community structures were essential preconditions for any equilibrium to operate (1949a: 48, note 13).12 By 1945 in ‘The Use of Knowledge in Society’, he recognizes that the concept of equilibrium was irrelevant for practical purposes, had ‘mislead […] leading thinkers’ [in economics], and he represents it as ‘no more than a useful preliminary to the study of the main problem’ (1949b: p. 91). In ‘The Meaning of Competition’ of 1946, also, he notes how ‘the modern theory of competitive equilibrium assumes the situation to exist’ (1949c: 94). In his doubts, expressed across all of these papers, Hayek was also to observe that even if it can be recast as an empirical proposition, subject to veriﬁcation, equilibrium theory then becomes only a possibility rather than an actuality. More to the point, Hayek was by no means certain what sorts of empirical tests could validate it, and he very much doubted ‘whether [any] such investigations would tell us anything new’ (1949a: p. 55). He also notes how simply to assume equilibrium overlooks the negative externalities and global disparities associated with markets, including increasing inequalities of wealth and resources, and increasingly monopolistic behaviour of large companies and multinationals. His conﬁdence did not improve in later years. It was related to these doubts that many economists from Hayek’s own department – Hicks, Kaldor, Lerner, Scitovsky and Shackle – retreated to Keynesianism under the inﬂuence of the Cambridge Model in the 1930s. Shackle reasoned that given Hayek’s conception of history emphasizing as it did the limits to reason, uncertainty, spontaneous unpredictable choices, as well as the unpredictability of unintended effects at any single point in time, we can have little faith in the logical coherence of market equilibrium over time to ‘self-regulate’ unless we believe in a metaphysic of nature as functionally optimal at the economic and social levels, or as tending towards the functionally optimal. If the market cannot be relied upon, then what mechanism can guarantee socially optimal consequences for distribution and for the continuance of the market mechanism as a predictable framework in terms of which economic interactions between humans can be guided? Further, what mechanism can guarantee that the effects of the market are not dysfunctional in relation to the social and physical environment? In Shackle’s view, these ideas suggest a coordinative mechanism is required, not to substitute for the rational decisions for individuals, but to ensure distribution, security and liberty and to undertake collection action in areas where individuals are unable to address. For Shackle, and his fellow Keynesians at least, planning was clearly back on the agenda.
60 Mark Olssen Keynes had argued something similar to this in his theoretical justiﬁcations for the welfare state. In Keynes’ view, as a general consequence of our ignorance of the future, planning was an essential feature of the welfare state. In a letter he wrote to Hayek while on the ocean liner en route to Bretton Woods Conference in June 1944, after reading Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom, in what could possibly be seen as a case of classic understatement, Keynes (1980: pp. 385–388) raises the issue that he regards Hayek as not addressing or resolving: I come ﬁnally to what is really my only serious criticism of the book. You admit here and there that it is a question of knowing where to draw the line. You agree that the line has to be drawn somewhere [between free markets and planning], but that the logical extreme is not possible. But you give us no guidance whatever as to where to draw it. In a sense this is shirking the practical issue. It is true that you and I would probably draw it in different places. I should guess that according to my ideas you greatly under-estimate the practicality of the middle course. But as soon as you admit that the extreme is not possible, and that a line has to be drawn, you are, on your own argument, done for since you are trying to persuade us that as soon as one moves an inch in the planned direction you are necessarily launched on the slippery path which will lead you in due course over the precipice. I should therefore conclude your theme rather differently. I should say that what we want is not no planning, or even less planning, indeed I should say that we almost certainly want more.
Lars Cornelissen on Hayek and Democracy One question remains for Hayek is how, if the state can intervene only in the legal structures of society, through formal processes, is Hayek able to protect free market economics from the possibility of democratic rejection. This is, after all, why Eücken and Röpke wanted state intervention to establish the ‘conditions’ of an enterprise culture in a much broader sense; not only legal, but political, cultural, and educational as well. This is an important question for Hayek especially given his own doubts about the efﬁcacy of laissez-faire. The answer is, as Cornelissen argues, Hayek has a vastly attenuated conception of democracy which: must give way to a form of constitutionalism that explicitly seeks to eliminate popular sovereignty. This … does not entail a principled rejection of democracy. Rather, it comprises a far reaching restriction of the democratic mechanism, such that democratic citizens may exert an inﬂuence on the governmental apparatus but are simultaneously prevented from changing the overarching legal framework. (2017: p. 222)
Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire 61 Hence, Cornelissen argues that ‘the primary aim of Hayek’s democratic theory is to banish popular sovereignty from political thought’ (p. 223). Noting that Hayek’s democratic theory constitutes the ‘privileged object of analysis for a critical account of the place occupied by democracy in neoliberal thought’ (p. 226), Cornelissen starts by noting Hayek’s ‘ambivalence towards democracy’ (p. 244), and his decision to limit it to ‘describe a method of government – namely majority rule’ (p. 244). Democracy then constitutes a ‘method of deciding but emphatically not “an authority for what the decision ought to be”’ (p. 244). In general terms Hayek claims to support democracy as the best method of change; as the best mechanism compatible with liberty; and as the best method for educating the majority, because it has better results overall. At the same time, Hayek makes frequent negative comments about democracy, or aspects of democracy. Cornelissen notes Hayek’s antipathy to what he refers to as ‘the doctrinaire democrat’ (cited from Cornelissen, 2017: p. 245). In a previous article of my own (Olssen, 2010: Ch. 2), I also noted Hayek’s disparaging reference to forms of ‘plebiscitarian dictatorship’ (1944: p. 86), which may suggest a rather disrespectful slur on citizens in general. Various negative comments can be found, such as in The Constitution of Liberty (1960) where Hayek says: ‘[t]hose who profess that democracy is allcompetent and support all that the majority wants at any given moment are working for its fall’ (1960: p. 183). Cornelissen concedes however that as he aged, ‘Hayek became inclined to mount a principled defense of democratic government’ (p. 245). Where he falters, in Cornelissen’s view, is in the model democratic constitution he develops in volume 3 of Law, Legislation and Liberty. Here, Hayek favours the establishment of both a representative government as well as an upper house legislature, the latter which would ‘completely be insulated from popular control’ (p. 253). As Cornelissen continues: In Hayek’s model constitution, then, the average citizen can exert some inﬂuence on the direction of government, thus modestly guiding the allocation of public resources, but has virtually no control over the law, which is articulated by a council, consisting of ‘wise and fair’ legislators, that can neither be recalled nor corrected by the people. In Hayekian democracy, concisely put, each individual citizen is equal before the law over which they can exert no signiﬁcant control. (2017: pp. 253–254) It is perhaps unfair to suggest that Hayek’s model constitution invokes ‘echoes’ of Plato’s Guardian Rulers.13 Yet, Cornelissen notes that Pierre Rosanvallon also observes that Hayek has ‘“abandoned” the “democratic idea,” in radically severing the concept of democracy from legislation’ and thereby in insulating legislation from popular sovereignty (Cornelissen, 2017: p. 254, citing Rosanvallon (2011), p. 153).14
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Education For Foucault, the fear of power does not in his case give rise to an unbridled love of markets. Foucault makes it clear in ‘The Risks of Security’ that the he is no supporter of those who denigrate the state: In fact, the idea of an opposition between civil society and the state was formulated in a given context in response to a precise intention: some liberal economists proposed it at the end of the eighteenth century to limit the sphere of action of the state, civil society being conceived of as the locus of an autonomous economic process. This was a quasi-polemical concept, opposed to administrative options of states of that era, so that a certain liberalism could ﬂourish. (2000: p. 372). Foucault’s writings on neoliberalism represent it as a dis-equalizing and antidemocratic force.15 What is more important, however, is that while liberalism represented man as free and uncoerced, who obeyed market laws because they were natural laws, as if ruled by an ‘invisible hand’, in Smith’s words, neoliberalism is authoritarian in important respects. This is in the sense that the faltering conﬁdence in laissez-faire and naturalism by liberals led those we can dub as neoliberals to advocate the necessity of the state constructing the ‘framework’ and the ‘conditions’ by which the free market could be assured. What we have seen is that for the German ordo liberals, their distrust in laissez-faire has meant that rather than see the market as natural they see it as historical and in need of conditioning by the state. There is the danger, of course, that this function will be progressively ‘immunized’ from genuine democratic contestation or control. Amongst the public sector institutions who constitute part of the ‘conditions’ for a competitive market economy are the various educational institutions, from pre-school to higher education, including universities. In higher education, for instance, neoliberal governmentality has subverted what I have called elsewhere a ‘collegial-democratic’ model and replaced it with a new model based upon external audits and performance appraisals, premised upon performance incentive targets and increased monitoring and managerialism.16 You can see the top-down, authoritarian aspect of neoliberalism in the new forms of governmentality implemented from the 1980s in universities. It gives a new signiﬁcance to the notion of ‘rule by managers’ when one understands that the neoliberal theorists advocated the interpellation of a new strata of managers to counter the classical liberal conception of professionalism, based as it was upon an autonomy of spheres, and to counter it as a form of what Buchanan refers to as ‘rent-seeking’ behaviour. In Britain, four years after Margaret Thatcher was elected, for instance, the Grifﬁth Report of 1983 premised reforms for the health sector, which included the creation of new senior management roles in the NHS, in order to replace the traditional management functions in health as
Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire 63 carried out by professional medical staff. This emergence of a stratum of dedicated professional managers quickly became embedded in legislation and transferred laterally from health to higher education and then across the entire public sector. Ideas of ‘internal markets’ were also current in relation to health in the 1980s, and received expression in the 1989 White Paper ‘Working for Patients’. New models of ‘student-led’ funding and new corporate managerial models of governance and line-management were also implemented at this time, feeding off theoretical ideas developed in supply-side economics, public choice theory, agency theory and transaction-cost economics. Ideas of linemanagement, based upon ‘principal-agent’ hierarchies of command and compliance, replaced ‘collegial-democratic’ patterns of governance based upon classical liberal models of professionalism premised upon autonomy and selfgovernance, exercised through Senates. Suggestions that universities should increase the appointments of lay and business personnel on councils and boards of governors, as advocated in America by McCormick and Meiners (1988), was intended to reduce academic internal inﬂuence and increase the responsiveness of universities to the outside business community. Further governance ideas and techniques saw the downgrading of the inﬂuence of Senates, the rise of closed ‘executive boards’, to augment the implementation of line-management systems. In Britain, the major responsibility for all of these developments emanates directly from the state through the funding councils. The major levers are all imposed by the state, which itself responds to global interests. The revolution in the way universities were run was worldwide. Collegial models of self-governance premised upon autonomous institutional spheres are replaced by ‘top-down’ managerial models, directed from the centre – the state and global capital. This also undermines universities’ semi-autonomous power within civil society, which is itself historically important in terms of understanding liberalism as a natural autonomous system of the different spheres of society and of the free expression of rational individuals. Universities, as once-upon-a-time, a ﬁfth estate, a critical bulwark for the safeguarding of democracy, are now in this new age of neoliberalism compromised in relation to the powers of business, superbly administered by the state. The neoliberals’ analysis seems particularly apt as a form of market rationality. The abolition of tenure and the enforcement of new norms with regards to research, research funding and teaching, means that most academics are too intent on watching their backs to speak of opposition or serious critique. The assessment of ‘impact’ in Britain escalates this process, and seeks now to control and monitor the ‘content’ of what universities produce, to render knowledge production as ‘useful’ for the society. In this sense, it constitutes a very worrying ‘sign’ especially given the epistemic difﬁculties with the way impact is capable of being assessed. The implications for democracy here are in a number of senses: in relation to the end of self-governance through collegial models of academic participation, as well as externally through the erosion of the independent critical authority of universities, relatively free of dependence on ﬁnance, in relation to business and the state.
64 Mark Olssen In higher education, state conditioning or engineering has substantially undercut the university as a traditional liberal institution. For the difference between liberal and neoliberal is important here. The liberal university was premised upon the freedom of the subject and the dispersal of power across different domains. The parallel at the institutional level was what I have called elsewhere the ‘collegial-democratic’ model administered and managed by academics themselves institutionally provided for by democratic forum of senates.17 The neoliberal university is top-down, run from the centre. While neoliberals typically heralded their policies with catch-cries of freedom and liberty, neoliberalism is in fact a highly centrist, authoritarian, form of liberalism. Distrusting lasissez-faire naturalism, they came to share the same perspective on the economy as writers like Karl Mannheim18 and Karl Polanyi19 who saw the market order as a historical rather than a natural construct. Whereas Mannheim and Polanyi argued that the government should control and condition the market in order to redistribute wealth in the interests of greater equality, and protect freedom, the neoliberals argued that it should work in the interests of capital by creating the conditions for the market to operate as efﬁciently as possible. The state conditions the market in order that subjects conform. Perhaps we could conclude this chapter by asking a number of questions designed to highlight the possible problems with neoliberal governance: Why did the neoliberals feel uneasy with naturalistic explanations of the market and start seeing it as an historical phenomenon that must be conditioned? Is there a problem with naturalistic explanations? Does intervention by the state to establish and maintain the conditions for the market run the risk of frustrating the democratic aspirations and rights of citizens? Could such action by the state be seen to contradict the core principles upon which classical liberalism was founded upon? In whose interests ought the government to act in legislating laws for society? In creating the conditions for competitive market behaviour, is the state reﬂecting the interests of the whole society or of particular groups in the society? Is it appropriate to subject higher education institutions, such as universities, to market norms of competition as a general strategy of administration and governance? In what ways is education not like other consumer commodities? What are the costs and beneﬁts of such policies in relation to education? The neoliberals said that academics, teachers and educators were not subject to reliable standards of accountability, but could accountability be organized that didn’t involve the competitive restructuring of the entire system of education? Do competitive norms conﬂict with those norms that are deemed to be important in education? What is the difference between treating education as a market commodity, as opposed to treating it as a public good? Do supply-side funding policies, such as student fees, exercise conservative pressures on curriculum planners? If so, in what ways? What other effects might they have? Given the relatively modest salaries that are paid to academics and educators, to what extent are academic change-management strategies, such as restructuring, which were initially introduced for those in
Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire 65 management on very high incomes, acceptable to use in education institutions? To what extent are managers any less biased or subject to ‘provider-capture’ than academics? Have managers or educators and academics become more or less professionalized over the last thirty years? Is there a conﬂict of interest between professional managers on the one hand and educators on the other?
Notes 1 Some paragraphs in this chapter draw from my previous writings on neoliberalism, speciﬁcally Olssen (2010, 2016, 2018) and Olssen, Codd and O’Neill (2004). The publishers of those articles and books are thanked for any replication in this chapter. 2 Hayek blames this on the fact that the prevailing conception of democracy, is as Cornelissen puts it, ‘rooted in the collectivist tradition, and that as a result, “the particular set of institutions which today prevails in all Western democracies” is inherently inclined towards unlimited government’ (2017: p. 246). Cornelissen cites Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty (2013: p. 345); New Studies (1978, pp. 92, 107, 155). 3 ‘Market Economy and Economic Politics’ (translation). 4 Hicks, Kaldor, Lerner, Scitovsky and Shackle all deserted Hayek, and became Keynesians in the 1930s. 5 See, for instance, Gray (1984), Hindess (1990), Tomlinson (1990), Gamble (1996). 6 It can be claimed as a bold conjecture at the outset that empirical research has not revealed any signiﬁcant erosion of democracy in a country like Britain during the period after the inception of the welfare state. Leaders like Asquith claimed that the state was in fact necessary to safeguard freedom. 7 There is no evidence that the development of the welfare state, either in Britain from 1945, or New Zealand from 1933, resulted in an erosion of democracy, or human rights under the law, which, if corroborated, would offer an empirical refutation of Hayek’s thesis in The Road to Serfdom (1944). 8 Hayek (1945). 9 Hayek makes this point repeatedly in ‘The Use of Knowledge in Society’ (1945: p. 525, 526). My point is that a different type of knowledge, concerned with guidelines, or limits, or ‘steering’, may not be so sensitive to issues of time and place, but may have a longer term frame of reference. An additional point might be that advances in communications technology may make the transmission of what knowledge is relevant to the centre, easier and faster to transmit. 10 Hayek’s argument against early communist regimes which sought to replace markets with state planning are indeed valid, but these were based on the idea that markets were not important, and sought, amongst other things, to override the price mechanism as a routine matter of policy. I am accepting Hayek’s argument that markets convey an important form of knowledge through the price mechanism which determines that the context of operations should be semi-autonomous from the state. This also applies, I would argue, to the family, the educational system, the health system and personal life, although clearly there is no such thing as the price mechanism as an indicator of quality. But I am suggesting that the knowledge generated by markets, or in other local contexts, is not the only form of knowledge necessary to a healthy social structure, and that planning can (and must) compliment markets in this quest. 11 Hayek of course sees legislation as emerging in the spontaneous order of society and formed solely out of natural rights. His faltering commitment to laissez-faire and naturalism would make this assumption problematic even on his own terms. But that negative and positive liberty, or state action on such a ground, could be
66 Mark Olssen
15 16 17 18 19
used to justify law vis-a-vis planning is disingenuous. The law even it is claimed only to codify natural rights needs interpreting and being acted upon, and these functions imply a positive dimension to all state action, whether law or planning. He quotes Smith (The Wealth of Nations, Bk. I, 116): ‘In order, however, that this equality [of wages] may take place in the whole of their advantages or disadvantages, three things are required even when there is perfect freedom. First, the employment must be well known and long established in the neighbourhood …’; and David Ricardo (Letters to Malthus, October 22, 1811: p. 18): ‘It would be no answer to me to say that men were ignorant of the best and cheapest mode of conducting their business and paying their debts, because that is a question of fact, not of science, and might be argued against almost every proposition in Political Economy.’ Unfair, of course, in that Plato was not a democrat, and opposed democracy. Yet, many of the details of Hayek’s constitution seem to be excessively protective of the legislators with respect to immunizing them from economic hardship once they have served their time. He speciﬁes for instance elaborate conditions and ‘safeguards’ such as that members of the legislature should be elected for reasonably long periods, of ﬁfteen years so that they would not be subject to insecurity. Only people ‘who have proved themselves in the ordinary business of life’ should be eligible for election; they should only be removable for ‘gross misconduct’; after serving their term ‘they should not be re-eligible nor forced to return to earning a living in the market but be assured of continual public employment’. See Volume III of Law, Legislation and Liberty, 2013, pp. 95–96, 448–450. Cornelissen argues that the separation of legislation from democracy became increasingly pronounced in Hayek’s thought over time, reaching its ultimate status as part of the spontaneous order of society in Volume 3 of Law, Legislation and Liberty. There is, it seems more scope for study of Hayek’s conception of democracy. But see Zamora and Behrent (2016) who maintain a contrary thesis. See Raaper and Olssen (2016). See Raaper and Olssen (2016). See Mannheim (1940, 1977). See Polanyi (2001).
References Buchanan, J. (1975) The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Cornelissen, L.S. (2017) The Market and the People: On the Incompatibility of Neoliberalism and Democracy. A thesis submitted in partial fulﬁllment of the requirements of the University of Brighton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, December 2017. De Long, J. B. (1990) In Defense of Henry Simon’s Standing as a Classical Liberal. Cato Journal, 9 (3), 601–618. Eücken, W. (1989) What Kind of Economic and Social System? In A. Peacock & H. Willgerodt [eds], Germany’s Social Market Economy: Origins and Evolution. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Eücken, W. (1992 ) Foundations of Economics: History and Theory in the Analysis of Economic Reality [trans. T. W. Hutchinson]. Berlin: Springer Verlag. Foucault, M. (2000) The Risks of Security. In J. Faubion [ed.], The Essential Works of Michel Foucault, 1954–1984: Vol. 3: Power, pp. 365–381. London: Allen Lane/The Penguin Press.
Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire 67 Foucault, M. (2008) The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978–1979 [ed. M. Senellart, trans. G. Burchell]. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Gamble, A. (1996) Hayek: The Iron Cage of Liberty. New York: Avalon Publishing. Gray, J. (1984) Hayek on Liberty. Oxford: Blackwell. Hayek, F.A. (1944) The Road to Serfdom. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Hayek, F.A. (1945) The Use of Knowledge in Society. American Economic Review, 35 (4), 519–530. Hayek, F.A. (1949a) Economics and Knowledge. In: F.A. Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order, pp. 33–56. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Hayek, F.A. (1949b) The Use of Knowledge in Society. In: F.A. Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order, pp. 77–91. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Hayek, F.A. (1949c) The Meaning of Competition. In: F.A. Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order, pp. 92–106. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Hayek, F.A. (1954) Marktwirtschaft und Wirtschaftspolitik. ORDO: Jahrbuch für die Ordnung von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, 6 (4), 3–17. Hayek, F.A. (1960) The Constitution of Liberty. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Hayek, F.A. (2013) Law, Legislation & Liberty: A New Statement of Liberal Principles of Justice and Political Economy. London: Routledge Classics. Hayek, F.A. (1978) New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas, London: Routledge. Hindess, B. (1990) Liberty and Equality. In: B. Hindess [ed.], Reactions to the Right, pp. 7–31. London: Routledge. Keynes, J.M. (1980) Keynes letter to Hayek, 28th June 1944. In: D. Moggridge [ed.], Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, Vol. 27, (Activities 1940–1946), pp. 385–388. London: Macmillan/Cambridge University Press. Kitch, E. W. (ed.) (1983) The Fire of Truth: A Remembrance of Law and Economics at Chicago, 1932–1970. Journal of Law and Economics, 26 (1), 163–234. Mannheim, K. (1940 ). Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction, trans. E. Shils, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Mannheim, K. (1977 ). Freedom, Power and Democratic Planning, Arbington: Routledge. McCormack, R. & Meiners, R. (1988). University Governance: A Property-Rights Perspective. Journal of Law and Economics, 31 (2), 423–442. Olssen, M. (2010) Liberalism, Neoliberalism, Social Democracy: Thin Communitarian Perspectives on Political Philosophy and Education. New York: Routledge. Olssen, M. (2016) Neoliberalism and Higher Education Today: Research, Accountability and Impact. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37 (1), 129–148. Olssen, M. (2018) Neoliberalism & Democracy: A Foucauldian Perspective on Public Choice Theory, Ordo Liberalism and the Concept of the Public Good. In: D. Cahill, M. Konings, M. Cooper & D. Primrose [eds.], Sage Handbook on Neoliberalism, pp. 384–396. London: Sage Publications. Olssen, M., Codd. J. & O’Neill, A-M. (2004) Education Policy: Citizenship, Globalization, Democracy. London: Sage. Polanyi, K. (2001 ). The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 2nd edition, Boston: Beacon Press. Raaper, R. & Olssen, M. (2016) Mark Olssen on the Neoliberalisation of Higher Education and Academic Lives: An Interview. Policy Futures in Education, 14 (2), 147–163. Röpke, W. (1971 ). A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Market Economy. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc.
68 Mark Olssen Rosanvallon, P. (2011 ) Democratic Legitimacy: Impartiality, Reﬂexivity, Proximity trans. A. Goldhammer. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Simons, H. (1934) A Positive Program for Laissez-Faire: Some Proposals for a Liberal Economic Policy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Simons, H. (1947) Economic Policy for a Free Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Tomlinson, J. (1990) Market Socialism: A Basis for Socialist Renewal? In: B. Hindess [ed.], Reactions to the Right, pp. 32–49. London: Routledge. Zamora, D. & Behrent, M.C. (eds) (2016) Foucault and Neoliberalism. London: Polity.
Neoliberalism as Political Discourse The Political Arithmetic of Homo Oeconomicus Michael A. Peters
Introduction: Genealogy of Political Discourse The Middle English discours comes from the Medieval Latin discursus, meaning argument, or conversation, although it does also have the connotation in Latin of the act of running about, from discurrere (dis- + currere to run). The late Middle English denotes the process of reasoning and adds the sense of a verbal exchange of ideas, or, more precisely, a formal and orderly and usually extended expression of thought on a subject as a means of organising knowledge and experience rooted both in language and history. Critical discourse thus refers to the capacity of discourse to order our thoughts on a topic or institution in a rational way. This is exempliﬁed in Hobbes’ (1996) use of the concept where he suggests: ‘Of all Discourse, governed by desire of Knowledge, there is at last an End, either by attaining, or by giving over. And in the chain of Discourse, wheresoever it be interrupted, there is an End for that time.’ It was also commonplace to use such language in the late seventeenth century when ‘political discourse’ became an established branch of discourse that dealt with and theorised civil society in relation to its principles and prime elements. The conception of political discourse and its analysis was revived in the twentieth century especially in the work of Michael Foucault and those following him (such as Fairclough, and Ball) turning political discourse into a speciﬁc mode of theoretical analysis for understanding politics and policy more speciﬁcally. Political discourse analysis has also been put to good use in Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s (1985) blended Marxist, poststructuralist and psychoanalytic theory (Torﬁng, 1999; Smith, 1998). In particular, there was an explosion of interest in discourse theory with the production of leading texts by the critical historian Hayden White (1978) who wrote Tropics of Discourse a book strongly inﬂuenced by Foucault, and van Dijk (1985) who edited an early handbook from the perspective of social linguistics. At the beginning of the 1990s there was a spate of new texts including Burman and Parker (1993); Dijk (1997); Potter and Wetherell (1987) as well as new journals such as Discourse and Society, Discourse Studies, and Discourse Processes and new textbooks (Macdonnell, 1986; Mills, 1997; Williams,
70 Michael A. Peters 1999).1 This disciplinary formation indicated that the early interests of Foucault and Barthes in the 1970s, themselves a product of developments in structural linguistics, literary analytics and the ‘linguistic turn’ more generally, were developed as standard methodologies in the late 1980s and 1990s and became the new common-sense procedures in the social sciences in opposition to empiricist and positivist research. Discourse analysis and political discourse analysis had truly arrived and become academically institutionalised as a, perhaps the, major theoretical and methodological approach of the late twentieth century. Part of the appeal and promise of these new discourse approaches and methodologies is that they provided relatively easy access to policy as discourse and to new theoretical understandings of the old Marxist question of ideology and power. Certainly, one of the major questions facing us as social scientists is how the ideology of the market ﬁnds its way into ordinary language in advanced liberal democracies that were once welfare states, to become so much public common-sense and part of our everyday reality. Today discourse theory and approaches are routinely adopted as methodologies to explain the behaviour of people and events as well as the formation of public policy. How does discourse analysis become second nature? How does discourse become the preferred form of political conversation and analysis in a fundamental movement from a moral vocabulary of social democracy to a language of rational choice and marketspeak? We can be certain that this is not just a shift of discourse but rather a more profound shift in the underlying philosophy of language and political reality that guides the historical transition from liberalism to neoliberalism – let’s say the shift of governmentalities reﬂected in the emergence of neoliberal discourses (in the plural): philosophical discourses in the form of doctrines, treatises and scholarly works in related disciplines of political philosophy and political economy; statements, party manifestoes and political advertising; conferences presentations and the development methodologies, academic articles and books; and not least policies that aim at implementing and giving concrete expression and application to a range of related ideas to reconstruct society as economy. One of the most enduring revolutionary make-overs of the humanities and the social sciences came with the turn to language. In the early twentieth century under the inﬂuence of a variety of formalisms, language entered into a structuralist mode of understanding that quickly became a scientiﬁc and systematic orientation to poetics and to language, considered as a system through semiotic means. This was not one tendency and was open to various technical developments: Russian, Czech and Polish formalisms (Shklovsky, Jacobson, Levý) in literary theory that became the basis for Prague and French structuralism (e.g., Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Foucault), aided by Saussurian insights from structuralist linguistics that became the predominant approach to cultural phenomena such as myths, rituals and kinship relations. This movement in language philosophy and linguistics was also supported by different moments in analytical philosophy that took the form of veriﬁcationism and, later, ordinary
Neoliberalism as Political Discourse
language analysis, after Wittgenstein and Austin. Nor should we forget the growing inﬂuence of powerful paradigm in semiotics developed by Peirce as the philosophical study of signs, based on the triadic relations of sign, its object and its interpretant; or, Bakhtin’s dialogism that maintains that all language and thought is dialogical, meaning that all language is dynamic, relational and engaged in a process of endless redescriptions of the world. Ideal language philosophy promised to develop a language based on symbolic logic free from all ambiguity to create a picture of reality. Ordinary language philosophy saw language as the key to both the content and method proper to philosophy fostering the view that philosophical problems are linguistic problems that can be resolve through linguistic analysis. Continental structuralism is a method of interpretation and analysis of aspects of culture, cognition and behaviour analysable through the relational aspects of language as a system. Poststructuralism deﬁned itself by opposition to the critique of structuralism, decentring the centrality of structures in culture, consciousness and language with an approach to the text and textual analysis that focused less on the author and more on the reader, a ﬁctional view of the self as a unitary autonomous subject, and the text as a result of multi-faceted interpretations interrupted by power and social relations. If there is one word that emerged from this divergent conﬁguration it was the concept of discourse, now so commonplace and taken for granted that it is barely ever mentioned except in a methodological sense. Discourse modelled on coded conversation became the window to the social world of practices and policies directed to the analysis of statements. Discourse as the monster concept of the twentieth century, along with ‘discursive formation’, was applied to disciplines like political economy and public policy, and across the social sciences. Discourse related to a formal way of thinking through language deﬁning different genres, and identifying theoretical statements, that led to questions of power and questions about the state. The concept soon gave way to ‘discourse analysis’ especially in a political sense during the 1970s that served as the means for analysing public policy in a post-positivistic approach that was sensitive to institutions, bodies of knowledge and questions of power. In the ﬁrst instance, it drew methodological lessons and analytical tools from literary structuralism, textual exegesis and hermeneutics. ‘Critical discourse analysis’ (CDA) developed in the 1970s as a methodology for analysing political speech acts by relating them to the wider socio-political context. Michel Foucault was one of the ﬁrst to theorise discourse as social practices that organise knowledge in relation to larger historical epistemes. The discourses are seen to be produced by the effects of power which legitimate knowledge and truth, and construct meaning and certain kinds of subjects. By the time neoliberalism ﬁrst came on the scene in the ﬁrst phase of the shift from political philosophy to policy in the 1980s, well after Hayek’s formation of the Mt Perelin Society, with the elections of Thatcher and Reagan, the apparatus for the social anatomy of policy through ‘critical discourse analysis’ was well established. The political evolution of neoliberalism as a
72 Michael A. Peters Discourse (with a big D, as opposed to a small d, standing for discourses) can be traced through the emergence of the ﬁgure of homo oeconomicus as a construction of human beings as economic agents who operate consistently in markets as rational and self-interested ‘utility maxmisers’. The term historically appeared in early works of political economy such as Mill’s (1836) ‘On the Deﬁnition of Political Economy, and on the Method of Investigation Proper to It’. Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776) spelt out the notion of self-interest. Economists of the nineteenth and twentieth century built mathematical models based on these assumptions. The inherited philosophical concepts and assumptions of rational choice actually go back to the beginnings of political economy that experienced various revivals through to the development of the main schools of economic liberalism in the twentieth century that Foucault (2008) identiﬁes in The Birth of Biopolitics.
Discursus Politicus In ‘The History of Discourse as Literary History’, Fee-Alexandra Haase (2007) traces ‘discourse’ to dialectics in the Greek philosophical tradition where discourse was practised and learned by the public speakers in Athenian democracy according to logical principles. While its origins goes back to antiquity and speciﬁcally to the problem of truth and rhetoric in democracy the concept emerges in the medieval era as type and genre with early works by Ockham, Godefroy and Causanus and in Latin writings in Europe, for example, Discursus Politicus de Societatis Civilis Primis Elementis by Johannes Gotthard von Böckel (1677), who provides the following typology: Discursus Politicus – Political Discourse – Deliberation Discursus Academicus – Academic Discourse – Education Discursus -Panegyricus – Panegyrical Discourse – Entertainment Discursus Iudicialis – Legal Discourse – Law (from Haase, 2007: p. 6) Haase (2007) provides a potted history of discourse – ‘European Reception of the Concept “Discourse” and the Literature on Discourse in the 15th to 19th Century’ – starting with Hobbes and working through to Hume, and Locke. Descartes, he suggests, was the ﬁrst to write about reason and discourse in his Discourse On the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason (2009 ). In the nineteenth century discourse was rendered as rhetoric by the likes of Theodore W. Hunt who wrote The Principles of Written Discourse (1884). Haase’s (2007) brief history mentions Wittgenstein on the limits of discourse as well as the dominant theorists of Saussure and Foucault. Haase’s (2007) paper is insightful but inconsistent and risks losing its focus – the link between Saussure (misspelt) and Foucault is tenuous and left unexplained. One of the problems is that he uses secondary texts to explain different theorists including Foucault.
Neoliberalism as Political Discourse
There is no doubt of Foucault’s importance as one of the thinkers who encouraged the development of discourse theory and in particular political discourse theory. One has to go no further than Foucault’s inaugural lecture at the Collège de France when he was elected to the college in 1970. ‘The Order of Discourse’, a classic text by Foucault in every sense – bold, complex, historically detailed, shadowing the early concept of power/knowledge – was an inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, given on 2 December 1970, and published in French as L’Ordre du Discours. He begins self-referentially by commenting on the context of his own lecture and commenting: that in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organised and redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to gain mastery over its chance events, to evade its ponderous, formidable materiality. (1970: p. 52) He mentions the ‘procedures of exclusion’: prohibition; division of discourses (based on madness and reason); the opposition between truth and falsity; and internal procedures, including the principles of order within discourse: commentary (canonical texts and their commentary); the author, as an organising principle (the author-function); disciplinarity and how discourse constitute autonomous knowledge systems. Foucault also approaches the conditions to the access of discourse: how and who enters the discourse; societies of discourse; doctrines; appropriations, in particular its social appropriation. He comes at last to philosophical themes and the notion of ideal truth as the law of discourse, a kind of immanent rationality as the principle for the development of discourse and what he calls the founding subject, the rational autonomous self that is the agent of liberalism, the holder of rights and the foundation of Kantian morality.
Homo Oeconomicus and The Rise of Rational Choice Some wag in a student blog had written: ‘My neoliberal university made me a rational utility maximiser!’ Another had written underneath it: ‘Ok for economists but not good for me doing classics’. Someone else had typed: ‘If I send him the language, will he make me one too?’ Someone else again wrote: ‘I’m doing economics, but utility maximization is too narrow as a model of rationality.’ And another wrote: ‘Where’s emotion? I’m a passionate guy!’ To which someone responded: ‘I’m a leeming: buy, buy, buy.’ And yet another student wrote: ‘Ebullient losers!’ Another: ‘You really know how to hurt a guy. I’m studying behavioural ﬁnance!’ Other responses were hurriedly written: ‘Nudge, nudge – welcome to the architecture of choice’; ‘Oh rational choice – what of The Theory of Moral Sentiments?’; ‘I am risk averse’; ‘Can anyone tell me the difference between “expected utility” and “dependent utility” theory?’ Immediately below some smart fellow: ‘Has anyone heard of cumulative irrationality? I’m in a sinking boat in the ecosphere!’ ‘Hey, human judgement and decision
74 Michael A. Peters making under uncertainty is not perfect’; ‘I am into “reciprocal altruism” and “inequity aversion” – anyone want to play?’2
The theme of the knowing and founding subject is particularly apt here because it is a substantial philosophical motif animating political discourse as it is invested by the concepts of liberalism as a political ideology. The liberal self – the rational autonomous actor of liberalism developed in the prior two hundred years – becomes the ‘rational utility maxmiser’, the rational choice maker of neoliberalism as it is embedded in the revival of neoclassical homo economicus. The transition from Kantian moral theory to neoliberal economic theory via rational choice theory is complete. The discourse has generated a transformation, a mutation that springs to life as an abstract genderless creature that is radically individualist impervious to context, to culture, and to desire – nothing more than a rational calculus. Could anything be less human? At the same time this abstract ﬁgure of moral discourse and economic discourse represents gains and losses. It harbours old moral categories buried deep in its formulations yet it provides an easy calculus, a means of measurement that the discourse demands. And yet homo economicus also is constituted through three assumptions: (1) the assumption of individualism – all choice makers are individuals and even ﬁrms are modelled on this; (2) the assumption of rationality, a rather old-fashioned out-of-date concept that suffers from its Cartesian heritage of a disembodied calculating mind; and, last but not least, (3) the assumption of selfinterest. The critique of neoliberalism, to my mind, revolves around the criticism of each of these three assumptions: their abstract economic imperialism against other behavioural models in anthropology, philosophy and psychology; the essentialist construction based on foundationalist epistemology and ethics; the gendered nature of homo economicus and its culturalist abstraction of a single white male; the individualist bias against all forms of collectivist decision-making based on the family, the group and class; the profound critique of rationality by reference to the psychology of preference formation and the psychoanalytic demonstration of various forms of unconscious irrationality; the attack on the underlying concept of the self in ‘self-interest’ as a rational utility maximiser. Of course, these are all the mark of the beginnings of political economy as a discourse emerging from ‘natural philosophy’, especially in Scottish and French Enlightenment thought before the disciplinary formation of economics, politics and philosophy proper. These features or characteristics of the discourse of political economy have passed into political and economic theory mostly without revisions or reﬂection. The inﬂuence of social context as recognised in concepts of ‘bounded rationality’ or ‘social rationality’ only recently lead us to talk of ‘situated rationality’, or even ‘exuberant irrationality’ in behavioural ﬁnance and accounting. The old discourse of political economy of the liberal economist at the time of Marx (including Smith and Ricardo) live on in seventeenth century abstract ﬁgures that reﬂect the categories of Cartesian science. Deconstructing neoliberal discourse in general terms we can say that a commitment to the free market involves two sets of claims: (i) claims for the efﬁciency
Neoliberalism as Political Discourse
of the market as a superior allocative mechanism for the distribution of scarce public resources; and (ii) claims for the market as a morally superior form of political economy. This simple historical naive and unreﬂective revival of homo oeconomicus involves a return to a crude form of individualism which is competitive, ‘possessive’ and often construed in terms of ‘consumer sovereignty’ (‘consumer is king’). The argument of public choice is then to set about redesigning public services by making them consumer-driven, and, for example, creating the student as a consumer of education, or citizen as a consumer of health which also means that these services can be easily privatised and marketised. In terms of political economy, the market-driven ideology puts an emphasis on freedom over equality where ‘freedom’ is construed as the capacity to exercise a rational choice in the marketplace based on one’s self-interest. This underlying concept of freedom is both negative and strictly individualistic. Negative freedom is freedom from state interference which implies an acceptance of inequalities generated by the market. The discourse of the neoliberal market thus changes the emphasis and priority of values of freedom and equality reversing these values in the transformation of welfare state discourse to neoliberal market discourse. Neoliberalism as pure theory adopts an anti-state, anti-bureaucracy stance, with attacks on ‘big government’ and ‘big bureaucracy’. It tries to replace state paternalism, big mummy state, arguing that the individual is better placed than the state to purchase their own education and health arrangements. The attack on ‘big’ government is made on the basis of both economic and moral arguments, and tends to lead corporatisation and privatisation strategies to limit the state. Foucault draws our attention to the fact that liberalism is a doctrine of the selflimiting state – it is of course against all forms of totalitarianism and Fascism (that by contrast holds there is nothing outside the state). The doctrine of the selflimiting state has blind faith in the market as a mechanism of distribution of resources that in the long-term results in a trickled-down equality. It ignores the way that markets can be controlled by huge utilities and oligarchies that care little for the rights of consumers or for the inequalities generated by the market as Thomas Pickerty has demonstrated so well. Often this discourse framed up as theory or doctrine is written up as a protection of the individual’s rights against the state. In the digital age, such protection means protection of personal data and privacy but little protection for the way capitalism relies on advertising and psychological digital proﬁling that is active in preference formation especially for the pre-verbal very young that it schools as consumers. It is also the case in practice that neoliberalism, a pure market doctrine, has achieved power through a marriage with conservativism touting a moral conservativism that is anti-socialist, antifeminist and anti-immigrant.
Education as a Commodity In terms of education the discourse of neoliberalism became a discourse aimed at changing the prevailing discourse of public policy that developed after WWII as one derived from social welfare, state redistributive policies and social
76 Michael A. Peters democracy. It aimed to convince voters that education shares the main characteristics of other commodities traded in the marketplace, and that it is not a ‘public good’. The beneﬁts of education accrue to individuals, it is argued. Often neoliberals have argued that we have been too optimistic about the ability of education to contribute to economic growth and equality of opportunity. Furthermore, they argue increased expenditure in education does not necessarily improve educational standards or equality of opportunity, or, indeed, lead to improved economic performance. The standard argument is that the education system has performed badly despite absorbing increased state expenditure. Sometimes, this argument has been supported by a manufactured discourse of ‘crisis’ – the crisis of educational standards, the crisis of teacher education, the crisis of literacy. The neoliberal discourse suggest that the reason education has performed badly is because teachers and the educational establishment have pursued their own self-interest rather than those of pupils and parents; that is, they are not responsive enough to the market and consumer interests. The discourse frames this by arguing, speciﬁcally, the educational system lacks a rigorous system of accountability. There is not enough information for consumers to make intelligent choices and a lack of national monitoring so that consumers cannot compare the effectiveness of schools. The main problem under the welfare state according to the neoliberal discourse is that government intervention and control has interrupted the ‘natural’ free-market contract between producer and consumer causing bureaucratic inﬂexibility, credential inﬂation and, hence, educational inequality. The policy solutions are prescribed by the logic of the market discourse. They fall out of the history of liberal political economy and the recent revival of homo economicus as the main theoretical motivation for neoliberal discourse. Break-up and disestablish large state education bureaucracies, introduce school governance with autonomous boards and competitive funding; re-evaluate the role of the State in the provision, management and funding of education; introduce the merits of market or quasi-market models relating to issues such as consumer choice in relation to participation and access in education. The discourse intervenes by disputing the nature of education as a public or private good and reassesses the respective merits of public versus private provision in education and whether the beneﬁts accrue to the community or to individuals. Public Choice theory, a variant of rational choice theory developed by James Buchanan and Gordon Tulloch (1962) in The Calculus of Consent, became the theoretical discourse that functioned as a political meta-discourse comprised of the following principles that have been used to restructure the public sector: 1 An emphasis on management rather than policy; 2 A shift from input controls to quantiﬁable output measures and performance targets; 3 The devolution of management control coupled with new accountability structures;
Neoliberalism as Political Discourse
4 Breaking up large bureaucracies into autonomous agencies; 5 Separation of commercial and non-commercial functions, and policy advice from policy implementation; 6 A preference for private ownership (e.g., contracting out); 7 Contestability of public service provision; 8 Emulation of private sector management styles; 9 An emphasis on short-term performance contracts; 10 Replacement of public service ethos of impartiality with monetary sanctions and incentives; 11 A preference for litigation model for redressing personal grievance; 12 An emphasis on efﬁciency, proﬁt, and cost-cutting. Public Choice quickly established itself as the very essence of new management theory and managerialism. In a few short years after Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were elected to power in 1979 and 1980 respectively, the discourse of neoliberalism with its market prescriptions was developed as public policy. The contest of discourses has taken place much earlier. Certainly, the Keynesian employment state seemed the answer and become the entrenched view during the Great Depression. An enlarged central welfare state carried through reforms that provided ‘free education’ provision at primary, secondary and tertiary levels through until the oil shocks of the 1970s when populations began to increase rapidly and the demand for state services seem to outpace expected revenue. The notion of public good was systematically challenged. The big state, the nanny state, was also questioned, shifting the balance and responsibility back to individual citizens. The state shed its load and responsibility and began to embark on massive state asset sales and privatisation strategies to alleviate the state of its ﬁnancial and welfare responsibilities. The neoliberal discourse of individual responsibility and market choice gained traction in endless debates where these ideas contested the prevailing paradigm of social democracy. The classical model of social democracy emphasised its pervasiveness in economic life where the state predominates over both civil society and the market with a collectivist welfare orientation based on Keynesian demand management and the mixed economy with a narrow role for markets and an emphasis on full employment. The comprehensive welfare state, protecting citizens ‘from cradle to grave’, reﬂected a philosophy of egalitarianism based on an inherited value of equality. By comparison, neoliberals stressed minimal government and autonomous civil society with a philosophy of market fundamentalism based on economic individualism that accepted inequalities and provided a welfare state as a safety net. Except for a brief episode of the so-called Third Way, a new democratic state based on active civil society and social investment where equality is deﬁned in terms on inclusion, neoliberalism has been the only game in town. The economic discourse of neoliberalism has presided over the social sciences and humanities as the mega-paradigm for all social behaviour. It has exported
78 Michael A. Peters its methodologies to all the social disciplines and policies and the rational autonomous chooser – ‘the rational utility maximiser’ – has been the modern derivation of homo oeconomicus. The origins of the discourse go back historically to the development of forms of economic liberalism as Foucault so expertly points out. Indeed, the meta-values of freedom and equality that sustain philosophical discourses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries get transcribed and re-theorised through the introduction of the discipline of political economy beginning with Callon and Adam Smith among others. The history of equality from antiquity onward reveals that the notion of equality has been considered a constitutive feature of justice whether in its formal, proportional or moral sense. Until the eighteenth century human beings were considered unequal by nature. The principle of natural equality only became recognised in the modern period beginning in the seventeenth century in the tradition of natural law as deﬁned by Hobbes and Locke, and in social contract theory ﬁrst postulated by Rousseau. The equality postulate of universal human worth and the idea is taken up formally in declarations and modern constitutions, notably the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) (Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen), the American Declaration of Independence (1776), the US Constitution (1787) and the Universal Declaration of Human Right (1948).
Individualism/Community – Freedom/Equality Neoliberalism, then, represents a struggle between two forms of social policy discourse based on opposing and highly charged ideological metaphors of ‘individualism’ and ‘community’ together with their operating philosophical values of freedom and equality. One form posits the sovereign individual emphasising the primacy over community and State; the other, what might be called a rejuvenated social democratic model, inverts the hierarchy of value to emphasise community or ‘the social’ over the individual. As such it is an intellectual struggle that runs through twentieth century thought and traverses a range of subjects, with roots going back at least to the Enlightenment in different native traditions. It is therefore a complex, subtle and dynamic discourse, changing its historical and disciplinary forms as it matured as a political doctrine, international movement and set of political and policy practices (Peters, 2011). Since the early 1980s the terms ‘individual’ and ‘community’ – and their associated discourses of individualism and communitarianism together with their guiding values of freedom and equality – have deﬁned the ideological space within which competing conceptions of the state, welfare, market and education have been articulated. During the last forty years in countries around the world, the reform of the core public sector, the massive privatisation programme involving state assets sales, the restructuring of health and education, the welfare beneﬁt cuts bear witness to the triumph of a discourse of individualism over one of community. Indeed, since the mid-1980s many countries
Neoliberalism as Political Discourse
have experienced the effects of an experiment modelled on a neoliberal view of community: broadly speaking, that of a society in which free individuals pursue their own interests in the marketplace. This view of community as ‘the free society’ implies a restricted role for government with clear limitations in providing certain common goods by way of taxation – the ‘night-watchman’ state. In short, this neoliberal view rests on a discourse of individualism as the most fundamental and unifying premise which emphasises individual responsibility within a free-market economy and, thereby, defends the notion of the minimal state on moral as well as efﬁciency grounds.
Foucault on Neoliberalism Michel Foucault was one of the very ﬁrst philosophers to explore the conceptual genealogy of neoliberalism as one of the four main forms of economic liberalism emerging in the early 20th century with links back to the late sixteenth century. Foucault’s account of neoliberalism linked to forms of governmentality provides an understanding of its inherent longevity, its tenacity and resistance to all counter-evidence, and its dynamic ever-changing character as a discourse that is both expansive in the social ﬁeld and modiﬁable in the face of world events. One of the four main forms of economic liberalism analysed by Michel Foucault (2008) in his historical treatment of the birth of neoliberalism in The Birth of Biopolitics was American neoliberalism represented by the late Gary Becker. It was Becker (1962) who on the basis of Theo Schultz’ work and others introduced the concept and theory of human capital into political economy, privileging education in his analysis. This section traces the inception of human capital theory and analyses it in terms of Foucault’s analysis of how Becker developed an approach that is not a conception of labour power so much as a ‘capital-ability’. Foucault captures this point in the following comment: ‘the replacement every time of homo oeconomicus as partner of exchange with a homo oeconomicus as entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of his earnings’ (Foucault, 2008: 226). The responsibilisation of the self – turning individuals into moral agents and the promotion of new relations between government and self-government – has served to promote and rationalise programmes of individualised ‘social insurance’ and risk management. By deﬁning Foucault as part of the critical tradition we can get some purchase on his theoretical innovations – particularly his impulse to historicise questions of ontology and subjectivity by inserting them into systems or structures of thought/discourse (an approach that contrasts with the abstract category of the Cartesian-Kantian subject). His notion of governmentality was developed and played out against these tendencies. Foucault’s account of classical liberalism is related to a set of discourses about government embedded in the ‘reason of state’ (ragione di stato) literature of the later Italian renaissance beginning with Giovanni Botera and
80 Michael A. Peters Machiavelli, and later in the emergence of the ‘science of police’ (polizeiwissenschaft) in eighteenth century Germany where it was considered a science of internal order of the community. Reason of state reinforces the state by basing the art of government on reason rather than God’s wisdom or the Prince’s strategy. It is essentially a set of techniques that conform to rational principles that are based on new forms of expert knowledges about the state – its measurement and so-called ‘political arithmetic’ – and issues in a kind of pastoral care that teaches social virtues and civil prudence. This new art of government represents a break with Christian doctrine as it progressively becomes concerned with the emergence of civil society based on rights. Foucault’s genealogy of the emerging political rationality grafts reason of state on to ‘science of police’ (polizeiwissenschaft) which come to prominence with the rise of market towns. The police are a condition of existence of the new towns and co-extensive with the rise of mercantilism, in particular regulating and protecting the market mechanism. They are a correlate of the rise of capitalism and the new science of political economy. Neoliberalism can be seen as an intensiﬁcation of moral regulation resulting from the radical withdrawal of government and the responsibilisation of individuals through economics. It emerges as an actuarial form of governance that promotes an actuarial rationality through encouraging a political regime of ethical self-constitution as consumer-citizens. Responsibilisation refers to modern forms of self-government that require individuals to make choices about lifestyles, their bodies, their education and their health at critical points in the life cycle, such as giving birth, starting school, going to university, taking a ﬁrst job, getting married and retiring. Choice assumes a much wider role under neoliberalism: it is not simply ‘consumer sovereignty’ but rather a moralisation and responsibilisation, a regulated transfer of choice-making responsibility from the state to the individual in the social market. Speciﬁcally, neoliberalism has led to the dismantling of labour laws that were an important component of the welfare state and to increased reliance on privatised forms of welfare that often involve tougher accountability mechanisms and security/video surveillance. A genealogy of the entrepreneurial self reveals that it is a relation that one establishes with oneself through forms of personal investment (including education, viewed as an investment) and insurance that becomes the central ethical and political components of a new individualised, customised and privatised consumer welfare economy. In this novel form of governance, responsibilised individuals are called upon to apply certain managerial, economic and actuarial techniques to themselves as citizen-consumer subjects – calculating the risks and returns on investment in such areas as education, health, employment and retirement. This process is both self-constituting and self-consuming. It is self-constituting in the Foucauldian sense that the choices we make shape us as moral, economic and political agents. It is self-consuming in the sense that the entrepreneurial self creates and constructs him- or herself through acts of consumption (Peters, 2017).
Neoliberalism as Political Discourse
In The Birth of Biopolitics Foucault (2008) provides an account of how American neoliberalism is a form of governmentality based on the production of subjectivity, and in particular how individuals are constituted as subjects of ‘human capital’. Seven of the twelve lectures are devoted to German and American neoliberalism. In the ninth lecture he turns explicitly to American neoliberalism to focus on its differences with the German versions and its claim to global status, turning immediately to human capital theory as both an extension of economic analysis including the classical analysis of labour and its imperial extension to all forms of behaviour (those areas previously considered to belong to the noneconomic realm). In this context Foucault examines the epistemological transformation that American neoliberalism effects in the shift from an analysis of economic processes to one that focuses on the production of human subjectivity through the redeﬁnition of homo oeconomicus as ‘entrepreneur of himself’. In this same context, he examines the constitutive elements of human capital in terms of its innate elements and genetic improvements and the problem of the formation of human capital in education and health that together represent a new model of growth and economic innovation. In the tenth lecture, again he discusses American neoliberalism including the application of the human capital model to the realm of the social and the generalizability of the enterprise form to the social ﬁeld. In this lecture, he also discusses aspects of American neoliberalism in relation to delinquency and penal reform, homo oeconomicus as the criminal subject and the consequences of this analysis for displacing the criminal subject and ‘disciplinary society’. In the eleventh lecture, he returns to the question of how homo economicus in American become generalisable to every form of behaviour. This is the genealogy of homo economicus that begins as the basic element of the new governmental reason that appeared in the eighteenth century before Walras and Pareto. In Hume and British empiricism we witness ‘the subject of interest’ that is differentiated from the legal subject and juridical will, representing contrasting logics of the market and the contract. He also charts and discusses the economic subject’s relationship with political power in Condorcet and Adam Smith, the link between the individual’s pursuit of proﬁt and the growth of collective wealth. In this environment political economy emerges as a critique of governmental reason. In the course of discussion Foucault mentions Gary Becker twelve times, as the Vice-President of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1989, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1992 and author of ‘Investment in human capital: a theoretical analysis’, published in the Journal of Political Economy in 1962, and considerably expanded into Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education in 1964. He regards Becker as ‘the most radical of the American neo-liberals’ and writes: Becker says: Basically, economic analysis can perfectly well ﬁnd its points of anchorage and effectiveness if an individual’s conduct answers to the
82 Michael A. Peters single clause that the conduct in question reacts to reality in a nonrandom way. That is to say, any conduct which responds systematically to modiﬁcations in the variables of the environment, in other words, any conduct, as Becker says, which ‘accepts reality’, must be susceptible to economic analysis. Homo economicus is someone who accepts reality. Rational conduct is any conduct which is sensitive to modiﬁcations in the variables of the environment and which responds to this in a non-random way, in a systematic way, and economics can therefore be deﬁned as the science of the systematic nature of responses to environmental variables. (Foucault, 2008: p. 269) The importance of this ‘colossal deﬁnition’ is to make economic analysis amenable to behavioural techniques deﬁned in its purest form by B.F. Skinner where conduct can be understood ‘simply in seeing how, through mechanisms of reinforcement, a given play of stimuli entail responses whose systematic nature can be observed and on the basis of which other variables of behaviour can be introduced’ (p. 270). This speaks to Becker’s analysis which inherently points to manipulation and control of the subject. But there is another more important aspect in which Foucault is interested. In the eighteenth century homo oeconomcus is someone who pursues his own interest (historically a male subject), and whose interest is such that it converges spontaneously with the interest of others. ‘From the point of view of a theory of government, homo oeconomcus is the person who must be let alone’ (Foucault, 2008: p. 270). Yet in Becker’s deﬁnition homo oeconomicus, that is to say, the person who accepts reality or who responds systematically to modiﬁcations in the variables of the environment, appears precisely as someone manageable, someone who responds systematically to systematic modiﬁcations artiﬁcially introduced into the environment. Homo oeconomicus is someone who is eminently governable. (Foucault, 2008: p. 270) Thus Foucault argues, ‘From being the intangible partner of laissez-faire, homo oeconomicus now becomes the correlate of a governmentality which will act on the environment and systematically modify its variables’ (Foucault, 2008: pp. 270–271). This is Becker’s major innovation and Foucault leaves us in no doubt that the grim methodology of human capital leaves little room for human freedom except as a form of consent assumed by market agents or consumers who operate by making choices in the marketplace. Foucault is quite clear about the production of subjectivity that issues from an abstract conception of human nature as ﬁxed, essential, rational, selfinterested and universal and the method by which in liberal cultures human beings have been made subjects through political discourse and regimes of power/knowledge that operates as a form of political economy, a manner of
Neoliberalism as Political Discourse
governing liberal states through the economy that depends on the government of individuals in era dominated by global markets. Some critics point out that Foucault was the ﬁrst political thinker to take Nietzsche seriously. He says in a biographical fragment that he started reading Nietzsche in 1953 and immediately understood Nietzsche’s basic ethos that questions of power stand at the centre of philosophy, a condition exercised by all living beings determining who they are in terms of their beliefs and values. Foucault’s early understanding of Nietzsche enabled him to understand power as distributed, positive and constitutive of the subjects operating though their subjectivities – to understand power outside both liberal and Marxist political discourses that hypothesize power metaphysically as an entity with essential characteristics possessed by the State. As is now well known, Foucault utilising Nietzsche’s fundamental insight of power in relation to ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ begins to develop the institutional and discursive formation of human subjects – they do not exhibit an essence but rather are made through discourse and the networks of power that deﬁne normativity – what is proper, what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’, what is ‘rational’, what is ‘criminal’, indeed, what is ‘human’: ‘Power produces knowledge … knowledge and power directly imply one another’ (Foucault, 1977: p. 27). One of the strongest inﬂuences on Foucault’s (1970/1987) ‘The Order of Discourse’ is to be found in Nietzsche’s (1887) Genealogy. A year later after the inaugural lecture on discourse Foucault (1971/2000) publishes ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, and History’ where he makes his debt obvious and traces Nietzsche’s use of the term Herkunft to question the origin of moral preconceptions. In the Genealogy Nietzsche begins with ‘My thoughts on the descent of our moral prejudices’ (p. 4) which is hidden from us – as he says ‘We are unknown to ourselves, we knowers: and with good reason’ (p. 3); and he describes his ‘characteristic scepticism’ formed when he was just a boy about morality and the origin of moral categories ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Thereupon he puts the questions: under what conditions did man invent the value judgments good and evil? and what value do they themselves have? Have they up to now obstructed or promoted human ﬂourishing? Are they a sign of distress, poverty and the degeneration of life? Or, on the contrary, do they reveal the fullness, strength and will of life, its courage, its conﬁdence, its future? (p. 4) These are the questions that Nietzsche addresses to the discourse of morality – not to the origin of morality but to the value of morality: ‘we need a critique of moral values, the value of these values should itself, for once, be examined’ (p. 7). Foucault presents Nietzsche as a philologist of a certain kind – entailing an investigation of concepts that is a philological genealogy that does not simply trace changing meanings of a term but exposes the historically contingent origins of moral ideals and practices. As such Nietzsche’s genealogy becomes
84 Michael A. Peters a radical historicist critique that through discursive shifts demonstrates the historically contingent nature of moral concepts and categories that pretend to be transcendentally guaranteed or universally given. In this sense, homo oeconomicus is that philosophical term embedded in the value of rationality, agency, individualism and self-interest that crystallises the history of political economy and its succession of economic discourses leading to its revival as the main philosophical approach to the subject and to the methodological calculus – political arithmetic (William Petty’s term) – of neoliberalism as a political discourse.
Notes 1 I based my brief survey here on the useful footnote (fn. 1) in Howarth and Stavrakakis (2000). 2 This is a piece of ﬁction I employ as a pedagogical device.
References Becker, G. (1962) Investment in human capital: a theoretical analysis. Journal of Political Economy, 70 (5), Part 2: Investment in Human Beings (October 1962), 9–49. Becker, G. (1964) Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Böckel, J.G.von (1677) Discursus Politicus de Societatis Civilis Primis Elementis. Paul Zeising. Buchanan, J. and Tulloch, G. (1962) The Calculus of Consent. The Online Library Of Liberty. http://ﬁles.libertyfund.org/ﬁles/1063/Buchanan_0102-03_EBk_v6.0.pdf Burman, E. & Parker, I. [eds.] (1993) Discourse Analytic Research. London: Routledge. Descartes, R. (2009 ) Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences. Auckland: Floating Press. Dijk, T.van [ed.] (1985) Handbook of Discourse Analysis [4 volumes]. London: Academic Press. Dijk, T.van [ed.] (1997) Discourse Studies [2 volumes]. London: Sage. Foucault, M. (1970/1987) The Order of Discourse [L’Ordre du Discours]. In: R. Young [ed.], Untying the Text. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Foucault, M. (1971/2000) Nietzsche, Genealogy, and History. In: J. Faubion [ed.], The Essential Works of Foucault, Volume II: 1954–84, pp. 369–393. London: Penguin Books. Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish. New York: Allen Lane. Foucault, M. (2008) The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978– 1979. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Haase, F.A. (2007) The History of Discourse as Literary History: On the Historicity and Documentation of a Concept Exempliﬁed by the Philosophical discourse, A Parte Rei 71 (13), 1–15. Hobbes, T. (1996) Of the Ends or Resolutions of Discourse. In: R. Tuck [ed.], Hobbes: Leviathan. Revised student edition (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, pp. 47–49). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Howarth, D. and Stavrakakis, Y. (2000) Introducing Discourse Theory and Political Analysis. In: D. Howarth, A.J. Norval & Y. Stavrakaki, Discourse Theory and Political Analysis: Identities, Hegemonies and Social Change. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Hunt, T.W. (1884) The Principles of Written Discourse. Whiteﬁsh, MT: Kessinger Publishing. Laclau, E. & Mouffe, C. (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso. Macdonnell, D. (1986) Theories of Discourse. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Mill, J.S. (1836) On the Deﬁnition of Political Economy, and on the Method of Investigation Proper to It. In: Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy [2nd ed.]. Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer. Mills, S. (1997) Discourse. London: Routledge. Nietzsche, F. (1987) On The Genealogy of Morals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Peters, M.A. (2011) Neoliberalism and After? Education and Social Policy in the Age of Knowledge Capitalism. New York: Peter Lang. Peters, M.A. (2017) Education, Neoliberalism, and Human Capital: Homo Economicus as “Entrepreneur of Himself. In: S. Springer, K. Birch & J. MacLeavy [eds.], The Handbook of Neoliberalism, pp. 297–307. London: Routledge. Potter, J. and Wetherell, M. (1987) Discourse and Social Psychology. London: Sage. Smith, A. M. (1998) Laclau and Mouffe. London: Routledge. Smith, A. (1776) The Wealth of Nations. London: Strahan & Cadell. Torﬁng, J. (1999) New Theories of Discourse. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. White, H. (1978) Tropics of Discourse. Baltimore: John Hopkins. Williams, G. (1999) French Discourse Analysis. London: Routledge.
Entrepreneurial Learning and the Merging of Progressive and Economic Ideals1 Johan Dahlbeck and Peter Lilja
The following chapter discusses the merging of progressive ideals – such as student-centeredness – and economic ideals – such as the cultivation of human capital – in the setting of entrepreneurial learning in Sweden. The purpose of doing so is to investigate the consequences of this alignment of widely different ideals for how we understand the role of the student, the role of the teacher and the role of education. We will proceed by ﬁrst looking at the conditions for the economization of education and at how the economization of education has shaped and constrained the teacher-student relation in different ways. Next, we will investigate the link between the ideal of student-centeredness – being an inﬂuential progressive ideal – and the conception of education as an economic transaction of sorts. At this point we will investigate the ﬁgure of the entrepreneurial teacher, looking especially at how progressive ideals feed into and reinforce the economic narrative of education. We will conclude the chapter by highlighting some of the tensions visible in entrepreneurial learning. Illuminating these tensions, we point to the need for a more substantial conception of education, one that is grounded in a more substantial conception of human well-being. Since the mid-1900s, two radically different ideological currents have permeated discussions on the societal role of education in politics, research, and the public debate. On the one hand, there is the perspective of what John Darling and Sven Erik Nordenbo (2003) label “progressivism” in a trivial sense. Progressivism, in this sense, denotes a set of commonly accepted educational tenets, not necessarily derived from (or loyal to) any particular progressivist thinker, that have proven very inﬂuential in modern educational policy and practice. According to Darling and Nordenbo, these tenets include an ambition “to consider the child’s nature, to care for learner-centeredness, to adapt the lessons to the child’s ‘natural’ motivation, to promote children’s personal growth and creativity.” Arguably, “[t]hese educational approaches form part of a common knowledge in education embraced by nearly all” (2003, 305). On the other hand, and seemingly in tension with the above listed progressive ideals, educational discourses have, since the 1960s, been increasingly inﬂuenced by economic concepts and ideals (Gilead, 2012a). In this context,
education is primarily conceived as a means for realizing economic values such as effectiveness, competition, measurability, accountability and maximization of human capital. Despite the apparent tension between progressive ideals and the economization of education, the economic logic has, not least in the context of educational policy, become more or less taken for granted insofar as schools are generally understood to be important actors within the knowledge economy. Consequently, it appears that the language of education has adopted an economic logic where the teacher is frequently cast as a provider of services and the student as a customer in an educational market. Even if these two dominant trends have very different ideological foundations – insofar as progressivism furthers a collectivist understanding of education and human well-being, and the economic logic presupposes a more individualistic understanding of the same – there is, surprisingly perhaps, ways in which they converge. For example, the ideal of student-centeredness within progressive education lends itself well to the economic idea of the student as a consumer. Sweden, in many ways an international role model of modern progressive education, is interesting to consider, as both traditional progressive ideals and the economic value of entrepreneurship are central aspects of contemporary educational policy. As such, the Swedish example of the state-sponsored program of entrepreneurial learning serves to illustrate the convergence of these two logics.
The Rise of Entrepreneurial Learning in Sweden In 2009, the Swedish government adopted a policy called Entrepreneurship in the Educational System, serving to encourage school boards to intensify the work on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial learning. According to a survey conducted by the Swedish National Agency for Education, this work entails focusing on “the development of pupils’ curiosity, creativity and initiative as well as supporting special abilities required for starting up and running businesses” (Skolverket, 2010). Entrepreneurial learning is understood to be based on the pupil’s “internal driving forces and motivation.” The policy applies to the entire educational system – from preschool to adult education – and a central aspect concerns stimulating the cooperation between schools and external actors in order to make school work more ﬁrmly grounded in socalled real world issues and practices. The focus on entrepreneurship in education was prompted by a political discussion on the importance of adapting to the demands of an increasingly mobile labor market. Entrepreneurship in education also constitutes one of the European Union’s eight key competences intended to support “economic and social well-being” (European Parliament, 2006). In the context of Swedish education, this focus has served a double aim. On the one hand it was intended to stimulate an increased knowledge in business-mindedness, and on the other hand it was conceived as a progressive pedagogical approach geared to the encouragement of pupils’ “innate curiosity, initiative and conﬁdence from
88 Johan Dahlbeck and Peter Lilja an early age”.2 The double aim of entrepreneurship in education hints at a certain conceptual fuzziness. The preface to a systematic review published by the Swedish National Agency for Education states that: “The concept of entrepreneurship is ambiguous as it originates in the ﬁeld of economics, and over the years it has been broadened so that it can be applied in many different areas varying from cultural to social and pedagogical” (Skolverket, 2015). From an economic point of view, the rise of entrepreneurship in education coincides with the increasing inﬂuence of a market logic that has proven pervasive in all social spheres, from welfare provision to cultural work (Clarke et al., 2007). From a pedagogical point of view, entrepreneurial learning appears to reactivate certain key words central to Swedish progressivism in its focus on student-centeredness, on promoting learning rather than teaching, as well as on leveling out social hierarchies (such as that between teacher and student) (Dahlbeck & Lilja, 2018). In spite of this conceptual fuzziness, it is clear that the implementation of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial learning has been appointed a key role on the educational agenda. For example, entrepreneurship is highlighted in Swedish national curricula at all levels and has been made into a cross-disciplinary and project-based school subject in secondary school and adult education. In addition, the state offers special grants for school boards to assist with the implementation of this perspective throughout the educational system. From the point of view of philosophy of education, the inherent fuzziness of the concepts of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial learning is highly interesting because of the way it highlights the conﬂicting values of contemporary education. In particular, it offers an example of how the seemingly incommensurable perspectives of educational marketization and progressive ideals merge and even transform one another through the redeﬁnition of key educational concepts. In this chapter we aim to use the Swedish example of entrepreneurship in education as a springboard to discuss the unexpected alliance between student-centered progressive education and the economization of education. In doing so we wish to highlight the effects of this alliance on the relationship between teaching and learning and, consequently, on the teacher-student relation. In order to do this, we will ﬁrst examine the conditions for the economization of contemporary education, and its impact on the teacher-student relation. We will then turn to progressive education, and examine the curious link between the ideal of studentcenteredness and the economization of the role of the student. Having done so we will brieﬂy examine the role of the teacher within the setting of entrepreneurial learning. The chapter will conclude with a discussion on some inherent tensions visible in entrepreneurial learning, being at once an effect of the economization of education and a pedagogical project ﬁrmly rooted in progressive ideals.
The Economization of Education The overarching rationale motivating the economization of education is the value of economic progress. The notion of economic progress has acquired an
almost universal status as a model of explanation within a variety of social institutions, all striving to gain legitimacy as reliable evidence-based practices within the discourse of what John Clarke and Janet Newman (1997) label “the managerial state.” As such, “economic methods and theories seem to be perfectly suited to the current public and political demand to make educational policymaking evidence-based – namely, guided, or at least informed, by sound, and preferably quantitative, research” (Gilead, 2014, 351). Economic progress in the educational context is inevitably linked with human capital theory (Gilead, 2012b). Human capital theory argues that the acquisition and use of skills and knowledge: are a form of capital, that this capital is in substantial part a product of deliberate investment, that it has grown in Western societies at a much faster rate than conventional (nonhuman) capital, and that its growth may well be the most distinctive feature of the economic system. (Schultz, 1961, 1) Following from this, human capital theory provides education with a clear cut role within the economic system, where education is expected to maximize the potential of each individual on a competitive market. The accumulation of human capital, in turn, serves a vital function for the maintenance of the well-being of society at large. It is important to note that this is a particular kind of well-being, however. From the point of view of human capital theory, well-being is conceived in economic terms. Rather than understanding well-being in the eudaimonistic sense of a ﬂourishing life, economic well-being is grounded in “an individualistic preference-satisfying notion of well-being” (White, 2002, 442). The notion of well-being as corresponding with the satisfaction of immediate wants is problematic from an educational perspective as it presupposes already deﬁned preferences. Contrary to this, one might argue that the very purpose of education is to arrive at an educated understanding of one’s preferences. Such an educated understanding must be preceded by education, lest well-being is reduced to the mere satisfaction of immediate wants. A consequence of utilizing an individualistic, preference-satisfying notion of well-being in education is that it casts the student in the role of the consumer and, correspondingly, the teacher as a provider of services. David Bridges and Ruth Jonathan characterize the marketization of education in terms of a supplier-consumer model: The main conditions that seem to be required for the “marketization” of education are, on the supply side of the educational economy, the creation of diversity and choice and, on the demand side, the placing of information and purchasing power in the hands of “consumers.” (Bridges & Jonathan, 2003, 127)
90 Johan Dahlbeck and Peter Lilja The problem with understanding education as an economic transaction is that it overturns a traditional educational logic according to which the role of the teacher is to offer perspectives on the world and on what it can be to live a ﬂourishing life by examining different traditions of thought, and the role of the student is, through the process of education, to arrive at a sustainable understanding of personal and interpersonal well-being. Inherent in the supplierconsumer model is the assumption that the customer already knows what they want and the supplier should deliver accordingly. As Gert Biesta points out: It forgets that a major reason for engaging in education is precisely to ﬁnd out what it is that one actually needs – a process in which educational professionals play a crucial role because a major part of their expertise lies precisely there. (Biesta, 2005, 59) Consequently, the supplier-consumer model fundamentally undermines the authority of the teacher by depriving the teacher of his or her professionalism. Feinberg explains that: [i]n market models consumers are supposed [to] know what they need, and producers bid in price and quality to satisfy them. In professional models the producer not only services a need, but also deﬁnes it and the professional body is supposed to maintain quality. (Feinberg, 2001, 403). Professionalism, in this sense, builds on a foundation of public trust on which the teacher is entrusted to use their judgment to represent different authoritative ideas about human ﬂourishing. As John White argues, “[t]he individual on his or her own is not the ﬁnal authority on what counts as his or her ﬂourishing. There is a centuries-long continuous tradition of thought about this topic to guide us” (White, 2002, 452). In a sense, the supplier-consumer model appears to empower the student in so far as it bases education on the personal choices and desires of the studentconsumer. These are limited choices, however, as they are circumscribed by the natural limitations of the student’s personal horizons. In addition, these choices are always subordinated to the transient demands of the labor market, making the goals of education both elusive and ever-changing. From this perspective, the inﬂuential idea of life-long learning – being a central part of the economization of education – illustrates the double nature of the kind of empowerment furthered by the economization of education. On the one hand, in terms of qualiﬁcation, the model offers a seemingly endless range of choices with respect to employability. On the other hand, the idea of perpetual change transforms education into a means for transmitting narrowly deﬁned skills, disregarding broader aims of education, such as establishing a sustainable notion of human ﬂourishing grounded in tradition.
Having discussed some of the consequences of understanding education within an economic framework, we will now turn to progressive education in order to outline the unexpected alignment of progressive ideals, such as student-centered education, and educational economization. In order to do that we will ﬁrst brieﬂy examine some of the key principles of the progressive movement.
Progressive Education and the Ideal of Student-Centeredness According to Avi Mintz, “[t]he early principles of the progressive movement in education included broadening the curriculum, aligning it to the needs of diverse students, and using schooling to democratize society” (Mintz, 2012, 249). While the economic discourse on education rests on economic progress as its fundamental value, the progressive movement emphasizes social progress. In this context, the term “progressive movement” is intended to describe the loosely held together cluster of ideas and practices reacting against “traditional” educational ideals of a subject- and teacher-oriented kind of education accused of promoting the instrumental drilling of inert students. In the economic model, schools and education become means for accumulating human capital, whereas in progressive thought, schools and education become means for engineering a radically new social order based on democracy and equality. In order to reach these goals, educational institutions must be designed accordingly. Rather than teaching students about the conditions of democracy and social equality, schools should embody these values. That is, schools should be made into miniature democracies, where traditional hierarchies are dismantled. While ideologically very different from one another, the economic logic of neoliberalism (within which the economization of education is staged) and the progressive movement coincide in the ambition to utilize education as an instrument for enacting (rather than simply envisioning) a desirable social order. In the economic discourse on education, schools are typically conceived as businesses of sorts (in structure as well as content), while in the progressive discourse, schools are ideally set up as dynamic political bodies. The guiding principles and methods of the democratization of education in progressive thought may be summarized as follows: [S]chools must educate the whole child (not just the mind), learning must be student-centered (rather than subject-centered or teacher-centered) because the child’s interests and developmental maturity are to limit and guide all instruction, students must be physically active and intellectually engaged (rather than inert and passive), students’ motivation must be intrinsic (while external coercion must be avoided), learning must involve discovery and experimentation (not drilling and learning by rote), and genuine learning is exciting and pleasurable (not joyless or painful). (Mintz, 2012, 249)
92 Johan Dahlbeck and Peter Lilja The focus on the intrinsic motivation of the student, as well as the importance placed on pleasurable experimentation, point to a notion of well-being that, while geared to collective ﬂourishing, still appears to be founded on the satisfaction of the uneducated preferences of the individual. As Darling argues: “[t]he idea of education which caters for each child’s interests suggests designing a curriculum which allows choice between different activities according to the child’s actual preferences” (Darling, 1986, 37). Even if the goal of progressive education is to emancipate children collectively, this process of emancipation is thought to follow from individual actions that, in turn, are taken to be manifestations of each child’s supposedly natural inclinations. In a sense, then, this may turn out to be another, differently motivated, version of what White (2002) calls an individualistic preference-satisfying notion of well-being. In order to substantiate this claim, we may look at some consequences of the progressive ideal of student-centeredness for the student-teacher relation. One consequence concerns the role of pain and discomfort in education. Mintz (2012) and Mark Jonas (2010) have both argued (in different ways) that the progressive ideal declaring that learning must be pleasurable is problematic because it risks denying students meaningful challenges necessary for overcoming and broadening their actual preferences. While it is certainly important to distinguish between painful experiences that are educationally detrimental and those that are in fact beneﬁcial for the students’ development, “in trying to protect students from the former, educators often deny students the latter” (Jonas, 2010, 46). This ﬁts well with the supplier-consumer model discussed above, since the goal of pleasurable learning assumes that it is the internal motivation (or preference) of the individual student that should guide the educational process. The work of the teacher, in this context, is inhibited by the demand to keep students happy. As Darling argues, “[o]ne symptom of this kind of belief is the great reluctance of the thoroughgoing child-centred teacher to intervene, to direct or to criticise when dealing with children” (Darling, 1986, 39). Another related consequence concerns the question of teacher authority and the role of the teacher in progressive education. According to William Kitchen (2014, 42), in the progressivist view of education “with the child supposedly at the centre, the child creates his or her own meaning of the world, based on his or her own experiences and interactions with the environment”. The problem with this view is that it leaves no room “for any form of authority and no belief in what authority represents,” and that, as a result, the teacher ends up a mere facilitator of learning (and supplier of services). When the teacher is denied the authority to offer a variety of perspectives on the world (of which some may be challenging and uncomfortable), education ends up promoting a limited – and limiting – understanding of human ﬂourishing and well-being. When teachers are no longer held responsible for introducing students to traditions of thought that can help widen their understanding of themselves and the world, all that
remains seems to be the questionable task of facilitating students’ choices on an educational marketplace. In this context, it is interesting to note a striking similarity between the educational language of the economic, and the progressive discourses on education, where both perspectives downplay (for different reasons) the importance of teaching in favor of the primacy of learning. The progressivist ideal of student-centeredness paves the way for focusing almost exclusively on learning, as “traditional” teaching evokes images of coercion and mindless drilling. This one-sided focus on learning opens up for a consumer-oriented understanding of education. As Biesta argues, “[t]his way of thinking introduces a logic which focuses on the users or consumers of the educational provision and a very suitable name for the consumer of education is, of course, ‘the learner’” (2005, 57). Biesta concludes that, “[o]ne of the main problems with the new language of learning is that it allows for a re-description of the process of education in terms of an economic transaction … ” (58). Before concluding this chapter we would like to look closer at the role of the teacher within the setting of entrepreneurial learning. As we do this we will see that the progressive focus on the psychological development of the individual and on developing general competencies appears to inform the contemporary ideal of the entrepreneurial teacher, thereby reinforcing the economic ﬁgure of the teacher as cultivator of human capital in unexpected ways.
The Entrepreneurial Teacher In an illuminating piece on the emergence of Swedish progressive education, Ingrid Carlgren (2011) argues that one of the consequences of establishing a new comprehensive school system in Sweden, following the end of the Second World War, was the introduction of new pedagogical practices centered on student activity, individualization, subject integration and interestdriven choices. The Swedish progressive reforms were distinguished by the strong inﬂuence of psychology on educational thought and policy. Unlike the progressive ideas adopting a psychological perspective on subject knowledge, however, Swedish progressivism targeted the psychological development of the individual. An effect of this was an increased focus on general competencies such as problem solving, creativity and cooperative skills, more or less detached from any particular subject matter. The teacher was tasked with overseeing and encouraging the cultivation of these competencies. In place of the traditional teacher of the pre-war era, characterized by instruction and enforced discipline, the new progressive teacher is a facilitator of learning and an anti-authoritarian motivator of student-led inquiry. As the inﬂuence of the economization of Swedish education becomes increasingly pronounced during the 1990s, the image of the ideal teacher changes. From having had a strong focus on democratic ideals and the cultivation of active citizens, the ideal teacher of the knowledge economy is to be
94 Johan Dahlbeck and Peter Lilja guided by catch words such as effectiveness, accountability, evaluation and performativity. Curiously, the skills that the teacher was to cultivate in order to create active democratic citizens appears to be largely consistent with the kind of skills that the teacher is to cultivate in order to create the desired entrepreneurial citizen of the rising knowledge economy. It may be argued that aspects of the ideal of the progressive teacher feeds into the narrative of the entrepreneurial citizen in interesting ways. In his The Good Teacher, Alex Moore (2004) describes different inﬂuential discourses of the desirable teacher. One of these he labels “the competent craftsperson” describing a political ideal that has been inﬂuential, in Britain and elsewhere, in shaping teacher education and training. Characterizing this political ideal is a teacher that has acquired the skill of promoting certain skills or competencies in others. In contrast to a teacher ﬁrmly grounded in a particular subject matter, the competent craftsperson needs to be proﬁcient in the technical aspects of teaching without necessarily being a recognized expert in any one subject area. The training of this teacher, then, is not so much a matter of theoretical formation as it is a technical preparation for “the ‘practicalities’ of life in the classroom and the school” (Moore, 2004, 78). In this conception of teaching, teaching can itself be understood as a skill: namely, as a skill that is productive of other skills. On this view, moreover, it is a skill that can itself be taught and learned like other skills, and it is the main if not the sole purpose of any professional training of teachers to be concerned with the promotion and acquisition of such skills. (Carr, 2003, 22). Teaching as a “skill-promoting skill” invites an understanding of the teacher as a kind of technical professional characterized by managerial qualities. As Stephen Ball (1999, 13) argues, “[t]his shift [from the substantive professional to the teacher as manager] in teacher consciousness and identity is underpinned and ramiﬁed by the introduction in teacher preparation of new forms of de-intellectualized, competence-based training.” The teacher as manager is intimately linked with the conception of education as the cultivation of human capital described above. Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons explicitly connect this with the construction of entrepreneurial citizens (enterprising individual) in contemporary education. They write: For the enterprising individual – which today includes students, teachers and parents – time is always occupied: individual talents must be found and developed; optimal choices must be made; added value must be produced; human capital must be developed and accumulated. This condition is aptly articulated in the now well-trafﬁcked terms “permanent” and “permanence”. Being entrepreneurial means being permanently busy and learning on a permanent basis. Time for the entrepreneurial self is thus a means of production, or even a product, and hence something that can and must be
“managed”. It is a time of priorities, investment, and return. If we read policy texts from recent years, for example, a very speciﬁc image of education becomes apparent, namely, education as a means of production of human capital. Education produces output in the form of useful learning outcomes or employable competences. (Masschelein & Simons, 2013, 135) If we follow this line of reasoning, it appears that the teacher cast as a cultivator of human capital is successfully realized in the form of the entrepreneurial teacher. The entrepreneurial teacher is guided by the development of desirable competencies and applicable skills rather than the initiation of students into established traditions of knowledge. In a study of the concept of entrepreneurship in Swedish education, the entrepreneurial teacher is described as “an individual who dares to break traditional teaching patterns and as an entrepreneur in the classroom” (Lefﬂer 2009, 110), emphasizing the break with any traditional understanding of the role of the teacher. In so far as the traditional role of the teacher is commonly deﬁned by an asymmetrical relation between teacher and student, it appears as if the entrepreneurial teacher is characterized by the eradication of such asymmetries. As such, the entrepreneurial teacher is a teacher who dares to break old, habitual patterns and who is a driving force for change. In addition, the teacher should act as a guide and have the courage to give pupils the freedom that is required in order for them to be able to develop their entrepreneurial skills. If a shift in power between teachers and pupils is to take place, the teachers must hence dare to relax their control. (Lefﬂer 2009, 110) The above description of the entrepreneurial teacher is reminiscent of the progressive ideal outlined by Carlgren (2011) to the extent that it is a teacher’s role characterized by being an anti-authoritarian motivator of studentled inquiry. Another similarity pertains to the focus on cultivating general competencies and skills. While the Swedish progressive teacher should focus on developing problem solving, creativity and cooperative skills, the entrepreneurial teacher is described by Karen van Dam, Marieke Schipper and Piety Runhaar (2010) as paying particular attention to competencies such as entrepreneurial knowledge, career adaptability, occupational self-efﬁcacy, creative thinking, networking skill and teamwork skill. While it is clear that the language of the entrepreneurial teacher is heavily inﬂuenced by the economic discourse on education, it is obvious that it still shares a pronounced focus on the psychological development of the individual with the progressive teacher. While focus is placed on developing competencies useful for the entrepreneurial individual, the framework is instrumentalized insofar as it employs
96 Johan Dahlbeck and Peter Lilja general technical skills such as adaptability believed to be a universally useful model of behavior. The goal, then, is not so much to deepen one’s understanding of the socio-economic conditions of adaptability but to train oneself in the technical skill of continually adapting to ever-changing circumstances. The role of the teacher in this context is not primarily geared towards introducing students to new perspectives on the world, but to coach them in the art of everyday living. Framed within the over-arching logic of an economic model of education, the teacher as a coach in the art of everyday living is typically presented as a provider of whatever general skills or competencies are deemed necessary to possess as an entrepreneurial citizen. The teacher is caught between, on the one hand, satisfying the demands of an educational system justiﬁed by the accumulation of human capital and, on the other hand, accommodating the personal preferences and desires of the consumer-student. While the ideal of the progressive teacher appears far removed from economic interests, it seems that entrepreneurial education provides a space in which progressive ideals can merge with (and perhaps even reinforce) the ideal of the teacher as a cultivator of human capital. In the remainder of this chapter, we return to the example of entrepreneurial learning as a contemporary outcome of the unexpected alignment of progressive ideals and the economization of education in a traditionally progressive educational setting. This will allow us to raise some concerns about central educational dimensions missing from progressive education (conceived in a trivial sense) and the currently dominant economic understanding of education.
The Concept of Education in Entrepreneurial Learning As we have seen, the progressive ideal of student-centeredness ﬁts well with the idea of the student as a consumer in an educational market. Correspondingly, we have seen that the image of the entrepreneurial teacher is informed by progressive ideals while being clearly oriented towards the cultivation of human capital. This convergence between two ideologically very different traditions is obvious in the example of the rise of entrepreneurial learning in Sweden. On the one hand, the inﬂuential notion of student-centered education is visible throughout the policy documents prescribing the use of entrepreneurial learning in schools. In the curriculum for upper secondary education it is stated that the purpose of the subject of entrepreneurship is to “contribute to students developing conﬁdence in their personal resources, and stimulate their creativity and desire to accept challenges and take responsibility for putting ideas into practice.” Furthermore, the subject of entrepreneurship should help students develop both theoretical and practical knowledge, on the basis of their ideas and work processes. In connection to work processes, teaching should help students develop the ability to work
purposefully, solve problems, take personal responsibility and co-operate with others.3 This way of describing the process of education corresponds well with a Scandinavian educational tradition, ﬁrmly grounded in progressive ideals. According to Alfred Oftedal Telhaug, Odd Mediås and Petter Aasen: the Scandinavian countries were particularly oriented towards international reform/pedagogic theory, its appreciation of the child’s personal potential and the desire to place the pupil at the centre. The ideal was the pupilcentred, contented school which provided space for the pupils to be spontaneous and creative, and which tried to engage them in a productive activity that gave them the opportunity to be involved in the choice of problems and methods of problem-solving through investigative and creative initiative. The pupils would be encouraged to seek relevant sources and to gain knowledge through their own efforts. (Oftedal Telhaug et al., 2006, 254–255) At the same time, the purpose of student-centeredness within the framework of entrepreneurial learning is explicitly geared towards creating businessminded individuals, resulting in the appropriation of progressive ideals by an overarching economic logic. Accordingly, the subject of entrepreneurship “should give students the opportunity to develop knowledge of project ﬁnances and of starting and running a business and by doing this develop knowledge of business economics.”4 In this way, the progressive ideal of student-centeredness (and other progressive values such as creativity, experience and intrinsic motivation) lends itself well as a tool for constructing entrepreneurial citizens. As we saw earlier, this kind of educational discourse promotes an individual preference-satisfying notion of well-being. It is questionable whether this kind of well-being is enough to sustain a robust concept of education, one capable of transcending the narrow scope of the immediate wants of the student. Such an education, it seems, needs to look beyond the limitations of students’ own ideas in order to construe a common understanding of well-being, informed by a “centuries-long continuous tradition of thought …” (White, 2002, 452). It appears, then, that progressive education and the economic discourse on education ﬁnd an unexpected common ground in their opposition to traditional education. Where traditional education is founded on conservative ideals such as the undisputed authority of the teacher, subject-centeredness and the hierarchical order of the teacher-student relation, both progressivism and the economic discourse on education (in different ways, and for different reasons) rely on the reversal of these ideals. What becomes apparent in the case of entrepreneurial learning in Sweden is that this unexpected fusion of progressive values with an economic logic reinforces a supplier-consumer model of education.
98 Johan Dahlbeck and Peter Lilja To conclude, the concept of education in entrepreneurial learning utilizes the positive aura of progressive ideals, such as student-centeredness, creativity and internal motivation, in order to create business-minded and entrepreneurial citizens who can contribute to the economic progress of society at large, in line with the rationale of human capital theory. Because entrepreneurial learning has proved very inﬂuential in the context of Swedish educational policy, the individual preference-satisfying notion of well-being (inherent in human capital theory) has been allowed to deﬁne the overall aim of education. This is highly problematic for two main reasons. One, it underestimates the richness of educational thought, and the understanding of human well-being informed by a eudaimonistic tradition, so foreign to the instrumentalism of the economization of the concept of well-being. Two, it threatens the necessary imbalance in the teacher-student relation. Contrary to the supplier-consumer model of education, a more traditional understanding of education hinges on the preservation of the teacher’s right and responsibility to offer students glimpses of traditions of thought not previously known to them. It is this responsibility that is undermined when the teacher must approach students as customers whose uneducated preferences are to guide the educational process.
Notes 1 This chapter is an expanded version of the published paper “The unexpected alignment of progressive ideals and the commercialization of education in entrepreneurial learning” (Dahlbeck & Lilja, 2019). 2 http://www.skolverket.se/skolutveckling/larande/entreprenorskap 3 http://www.skolverket.se/polopoly_fs/1.194801!/Menu/article/attachment/ Entrepreneurship.pdf 4 http://www.skolverket.se/polopoly_fs/1.194801!/Menu/article/attachment/ Entrepreneurship.pdf
Bibliography Ball, S. (1999) Global trends in educational reform and the struggle for the soul of the teacher! Paper presented at The Annual Meeting of the British Educational Research Association, University of Sussex, Brighton, September 1999. Biesta, G. (2005) Against learning: reclaiming a language for education in an age of learning. Nordisk Pedagogik, 25, 54–66. Bridges, D. & Jonathan, R. (2003) Education and the market, in N. Blake, P. Smeyers, R. Smith & P. Standish (eds.) The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education (Malden, MA: Blackwell), pp. 126–145. Carlgren, I. (2011) Progressivismens många ansikten [The many faces of progressivism]. Skola & Samhälle, 05-09-2011. Carr, D. (2003) Making Sense of Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy and Theory of Education and Teaching (London: Routledge). Clarke, J. & Newman, J. (1997) The Managerial State (London: Sage). Clarke, J., Newman, J., Smith, N., Vidler, E. & Westmarland, L. (2007) Creating Citizen-Consumers: Changing Publics and Changing Public Services (London: Sage).
Dahlbeck, J. & Lilja, P. (2018) The concept of authority and the Swedish educational crisis, in N. Levinson (ed.) Philosophy of Education 2016 (Urbana, Illinois: Philosophy of Education Society), pp. 265–273. Dahlbeck, J. & Lilja, P. (2019) The unexpected alignment of progressive ideals and the commercialization of education in entrepreneurial learning, in A. Chinnery (ed.) Philosophy of Education 2017 (Urbana, Illinois: Philosophy of Education Society), pp. 392–405. Darling, J. (1986) Child-centred, gender-centred: a criticism of progressive curriculum theory from Rousseau to Plowden. Oxford Review of Education, 12(1), 31–40. Darling, J. & Nordenbo, S-E. (2003) Progressivism, in N. Blake, P. Smeyers, R. Smith & P. Standish (eds.) The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education (Malden, MA: Blackwell), pp. 288–308. European Parliament (2006) Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on key competences for lifelong learning, OJ L 394, 30. 12. 2006. Feinberg, W. (2001) Choice, autonomy, need-deﬁnition and educational reform. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 20(5), 402–409. Gilead, T. (2012a) Rousseau, happiness, and the economic approach to education. Educational Theory, 62(5), 267–285. Gilead, T. (2012b) Education and the logic of economic progress. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 46(1), 113–131. Gilead, T. (2014) Educational policymaking and the methodology of positive economics: a theoretical critique. Educational Theory, 64(4), 349–368. Jonas, M. E. (2010) When teachers must let education hurt: Rousseau and Nietzsche on compassion and the educational value of suffering. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 44(1), 45–60. Kitchen, W. H. (2014) Authority and the Teacher (London: Bloomsbury). Lefﬂer, E. (2009) The many faces of entrepreneurship: a discursive battle for the school arena. European Educational Research Journal, 8(1), 104–116. Masschelein, J. & Simons, M. (2013) In Defense of the School: A Public Issue (Leuven: E-ducation, Culture & Society Publishers). Mintz, A. I. (2012) The happy and suffering student? Rousseau’s Emile and the path not taken in progressive educational thought. Educational Theory, 62(3), 249–265. Moore, A. (2004) The Good Teacher: Dominant Discourses in Teaching and Teacher Education (London: Routledge). Oftedal Telhaug, A., Mediås, O. A. & Aasen, P. (2006) The Nordic model in education: education as part of the political system in the last 50 years. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 50(3), 245–283. Schultz, T. W. (1961) Investment in human capital. The American Economic Review, 51(1), 1–17. Skolverket [Swedish National Agency for Education] (2010) Entreprenörskap i skolan – en kartläggning [Entrepreneurship in Schools – A Survey] (Stockholm: Skolverket). Skolverket [Swedish National Agency for Education] (2015) Skapa och våga – om entreprenörskap i skolan [Creating and Daring – On Entrepreneurship in Schools] (Stockholm: Skolverket). Van Dam, K., Schipper, M. & Runhaar, P. (2010) Developing a competency-based framework for teachers’ entrepreneurial behavior. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(4), 965–971. White, J. (2002) Education, the market and the nature of personal well-being. British Journal of Educational Studies, 50(4), 442–456.
Hard Work, Growth Mindset, Fluent English Navigating Neoliberal Logics Katy Highet and Alfonso Del Percio
A prominent feature of the shift to neoliberalism within education is the notion of neoliberal governmentality (Dardot & Laval, 2014; Foucault, 2003), or the processes through which market principles such as freedom, quality, ﬂexibility, competition, choice and constant improvement are extended to individuals and their social lives, and get to regulate people’s conduct as well as the ways they understand themselves and others (Martín Rojo and Del Percio, 2019; Urla, 2019a). According to these neoliberal principles, students are responsible for their own personal and professional success, which they ostensibly attain by continually acquiring commodiﬁable skills and investing themselves as bundles of human capital (Urciuoli, 2008, 2019). Such discourses are particularly pervasive in Higher Education, but can also be observed in state-led or NGO educational institutions for job seekers across the world, which demonstrate the ‘colonisation by business logic’ (Martín Rojo and Del Percio, 2019: 1) of domains that were previously not governed by the economic principles of the market. Through this ‘colonisation’, students are exhorted to develop neoliberal subjectivities whereby they seek to continually – and willingly – enhance their competitive edge by investing in perpetual self-development in order to meet the demands of the labour market. Language learning has not been left untouched by this process, and indeed is doubly imbricated: ‘On the one hand there is the language of neoliberalism itself, and on the other there is the role of certain languages under neoliberalism’ (Gray et al., 2018: 473). With regard to the latter, when framed in discourses of proﬁt (Duchêne and Heller, 2012), language becomes a resource for students to acquire in order to increase their human capital and exchange for further monetary gain (Duchêne and Daveluy, 2015; Gao, 2017). Such a framing is particularly salient in India, where Katy is conducting ﬁeldwork. Through its colonial history, English has long been associated with power and social stratiﬁcation, leading to, among other things, what Ramanathan (2007, 2005) has termed the English-vernacular divide, in which English remains in the hands of a privileged few. Following reforms in the 1990s which saw a shift from a state-led development model to pro-market liberalisation policies encompassing almost every aspect of the policy regime (Maiorano, 2015; Basu & Sen, 2015), there has been a boom in private
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English-medium schools, educational NGOs and coaching institutes to meet the growing demand for access to the language (Fernandes, 2006) as part of a wider ‘enterprise culture’ (Cameron, 2000), wherein ‘India is now imagined as a nation of individual enterprising people’ (Gooptu, 2013: 7). This demand for English stems, in part, from discourses of proﬁt, as mentioned above. Yet, while these discourses are indisputably present (Proctor, 2014) it is important to remember that the capital of English pre-dates neoliberalism, and while certainly now deeply entangled with the neoliberalisation of education, it ﬁnds its roots in the colonial history of the language and the British empire, as well as the ways in which it has become symbolic post-independence of a middle-class identity (Fernandes, 2006). Neoliberalism, thus, has been woven into education on a global scale, but it is important to take into account the varied ways which it informs people’s practice. This means examining the different forms in which neoliberalism, as ‘a variegated phenomenon’ (Block, 2018: 51) or as a mobile technology (Ong, 2007), manifests itself in particular socio-historical and political economic contexts (Gao, 2017) and how it gets entrenched with older, but still persistent histories of colonialism and imperial dispossession (Ganti, 2014). If historians of neoliberalism tend to trace the principle of entrepreneurialism back to longer ideas of investment promoted by Beckert’s ‘human capital’ theory (Beckert, 1964) or to the conceptualisation of selfhood tied to protestant work ethics (Comaroff & Comaroff, 2000), Gooptu (2013), for example, explains that in India the notion of the entrepreneurial self – which is a key concept used by scholars to point to the type of subjectivity produced by neoliberal governmentality – gains traction through various conceptualisations of noneconomic traits of ‘Indian enterprising self-hood’. She clariﬁes that three related understandings of enterprise are currently in circulation in India. The ﬁrst refers to business as a growth-oriented economic activity; a second one invokes entrepreneurship as pertaining to distinctive personal qualities, such as individual initiative, daring, energy and relentless striving; and a third points to a set of imagined quintessential Indian traits, such as a work ethic related to the notion of karmayoga, as well as ingenuity, resourcefulness, adaptability and a determination to succeed. This latter is also associated with a vernacularised and democratised notion of enterprise as jugaad (usually deﬁned as ‘creative improvisation’), which is now projected as a much-vaunted feature of popular culture (Gooptu, 2013: 10). Along the same lines, Upadhya (2013) demonstrates how, in contemporary India, soft skills training (Urciuoli, 2008) is ‘indianised’ through Hindu spiritual ideals. This has effects for the way we, as ethnographers, study neoliberal governmentality. While, as Urla observes, the technologies of power that seek to produce the neoliberal self are well documented, ‘we know less about the uptake and what conditions it’ (Urla, 2019a: 268). Along with Urla, then, this chapter seeks to bring to the forefront the ways in which students in an NGO-led English and skills training course in Delhi makes sense of – as well as navigate, interact with and sometimes contest – the neoliberal discourses
102 Katy Highet and Alfonso Del Percio that inform the programme’s vision and that subject their bodies to practices of control and regulation. In doing so, we aim to highlight their multiple positionings – that is, how they both contest and embrace discourses, and how they attempt to make sense of it alongside their perceptions of obstacles to their social mobility. Focusing on the uptake, that is, on individuals’ dialectic engagement with neoliberal rationalities, is also a means for us to understand these engagements as deeply entrenched with and conditioned by localised theories of selfhood, personal development and progress as well as language learning. Looking at uptake also enables us to generate insights about how, and under what circumstances, market rationales get translated into spheres and domains which were historically imagined as non-economic and thus have effects on people and their lives. We begin with an overview of the NGO and its students, before drawing on ethnographic data and promotional material to demonstrate how the NGO mobilises logics that seek to shape students into self-investing learners by inculcating in them a ‘neoliberal register’. We then turn to analyses of classroom and interview data to interrogate how students and staff negotiate these discourses, in order to argue that the adoption of such a register does not necessarily mean that students internalise it. Rather, we demonstrate that students and staff reﬂect critically upon – and, in varied ways resist – the language of neoliberal logic. Finally, we ask why they continue to invest in practices that they perceive to be futile, arguing that such a question can only be answered by looking more widely at the ‘other’ logics within which English education is entwined.
English for Social Mobility The data in this chapter is taken from an ethnographic study (2018–2019) at a non-proﬁt, educational NGO in Delhi, India, comprising daily participant observation, semi-structured interviews and informal interactions. The NGO was founded by an ex-pat Indian philanthropist and has multiple branches across North India. The CEO’s vision is to provide English, personality development and professional skills training to underprivileged students over the age of 15 who would otherwise be unable to access this cultural and linguistic capital. Students attend one hour forty-ﬁve minute sessions, six days per week for one year, completely free of charge. Many of the students and facilitators expressed their gratitude for the institution, noting that similar fee-paying institutes in Delhi were far beyond their ﬁnancial means. Indeed, while the vast majority of students did not live below the poverty line, ﬁnancial instability was a real concern, and many were frustrated at having been denied ‘adequate’ access to English in their government schools while their privately educated peers had been able to beneﬁt from their English-medium education. Although the students can be loosely termed as representing the lower-middle-class strata, the groups observed in this study comprised a relatively heterogeneous group, differing in their educational qualiﬁcations,
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occupation, parental occupation and educational background, age, religion and caste. With regard to the latter, it is important to stress that the use of the terms ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ caste is highly problematic, given the way in which caste ‘position’ is contested (see e.g. Gupta, 2004; Searle-Chatterjee and Sharma, 1994) and not uniform across the country. For example, while the agrarian caste of the majority of students in this study is classiﬁed in Delhi as OBC (Other Backward Class) by the government as it is deemed educationally, socially and economically backward, in other states they fall under the ST/SC category, usually reserved for the most oppressed classes such as dalits (previously known as untouchables). The complexity of caste notwithstanding, the students who hailed from this particular agrarian caste, one which is strongly represented in this suburb of Delhi, suffered a certain amount of caste stigma as they are stereotypically viewed as uneducated, violent and thuggish: it has been noted that they were categorised by the British during colonial rule as a ‘criminal tribe’. Due to their ofﬁcial status of OBC, members of this caste can beneﬁt from reservations for public sector jobs, in an attempt to redress the imbalance perpetuated by the caste system. Yet, as Leela Fernandes (2006) demonstrates, since the economic reforms of the 1990s, privatisation has swept the nation, with jobs in the private sector becoming symbolic of the wealthier, prosperous middle classes, leaving many of the aspiring middle classes from ‘lower’ castes lagging behind in public sector jobs that provide lower salaries and much fewer ‘perks’ (Fernandes, 2006). Thus, while the caste-based reservation system has allowed for some social mobility via the acquisition of (often lower-rung) jobs in the public sector, many of those from so-called ‘lower’ (or less privileged) castes are increasingly demanding access to the cultural and linguistic capital that they perceive to be the key to social mobility (Park, 2011; Proctor, 2014) and a means to afﬁrm their middle-class aspirations (Fernandes, 2006; LaDousa, 2014). In many ways, the NGO echoes their desires explicitly, presenting itself as a way for disadvantaged students to ‘break the cycle of poverty’ by ‘assisting [them] on the path to professional jobs’ (NGO promotional material).
Empowering Subjects In the vision of the NGO as developed by the CEO, along with a team of academics and practitioners from India and abroad, there is an emphasis on alleviating the widespread un(der)employment that affects a large number of youth in Delhi. In response to this problem, the NGO has developed what they call a ‘theory of change’ that focuses on ﬁve key areas – soft skills, English, lifelong learning, mentorship and career guidance – that students ostensibly do not gain from the government school system. Underlying this is the implication that English and soft skills, but also the capacity to invest in a constant improvement of the self, are the only barriers preventing them from gaining stable employment and improving their socioeconomic conditions. This argument is made even clearer in promotional material which Katy was able to
104 Katy Highet and Alfonso Del Percio collect at the NGO and which was designed to attract funding and recruit volunteer mentors for the students. In this text, a section dedicated to their values reads, ‘We believe that people can bootstrap themselves out of poverty’, citing ‘professional skills, and depth and strength of character’ as the means to do so. The NGO also delineates clearly the skills that students can and should acquire from the course, namely: lifelong learning, grit, growth mindset, drive, discipline, perseverance, communication, collaboration, ethics, resilience, selfesteem, adaptability and critical thinking, many of which are the subject of entire lessons. This ‘theory of change’ which can be found in different organisational documents and promotional material is, however, not only meant to make a diagnosis of the causes and possible solutions of underemployment and to act as a body of expertise differentiating the NGOs from public education and legitimising their existence. As a powerful rational, it also acts upon individuals through the mediation of different textual genres (posters, pictures, ﬂyers) that serve the inculcation of values of improvement and development into people’s minds and guide individuals in their attempt to become both self-responsible and empowered subjects. For example, the walls of the classrooms and textbooks students use in their classes at the NGO are adorned with motivational quotes that (in)directly reference these skills and attributes (‘Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacriﬁce and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do’ – Pele, ‘Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in day out’ ‘Only I can change my life, no one can do it for me’). These textbooks, which have been developed in close collaboration with UK and US based ELT scholars and strongly draw on research from Project-based Learning, International Baccalaureate, Tribes TLC® and the Intrinsic Institute Leadership Development Program, clearly espouse neoliberal rationales, most notably the principles of the entrepreneurial self, by which students become responsible for their own self-worth and success, which they manage by continually investing in their own human capital, and tirelessly adding ‘skills’ to their repertoire. In a further example, a promotional poster that Katy came across in the NGO pictures two young Indian graduates (male and female) in Western-style graduation dress alongside the questions: ‘Do you want to be a winner? Do you want to earn more money? Do you wish to make your parents proud? Do you wish to see yourself in this photo? Then attend [NGO name] class everyday’. This A3 sized poster, which hangs on the back wall of the centre, greeting students as they walked through the front door, suggests a causal link between the regular attendance of the NGO’s classes and individuals’ capacity to gain money, respect and pride. In doing so, the poster mobilises affect – being a winner, making one’s parents proud – in ways that are salient for a young Indian audience for whom – while we are wary of drawing on culturalistic tropes – parental respect as a value often holds particular weight. Indeed, for many of the students interviewed by Katy, making their parents proud and providing for them was a frequently cited reason for wanting to learn English.
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Success here is indexed by the western graduation gowns and diploma scrolls held by the students, which conjure images of elite international and Indian degree-conferring institutions (as opposed to the local colleges that the students often attend which tend not to engage in this style of graduation ceremony), thereby embellishing the social weight of the certiﬁcate they receive upon completion of the course. The poster thus interpolates its students as agentive selves who can act upon their own lives to achieve success: they too can be like the young Indians in the photograph if they follow the rules. Importantly, the reminder to ‘attend class every day’ is reminiscent of the explicit objectives of Personality Development centres to remove what are perceived as ‘indianisms’ such as lax attendance and time-keeping, which are ostensibly incompatible with Western workplace culture (see McGuire 2013). Indeed, a large hand-drawn poster above the entrance asks students as they walk through the door each day ‘Are you on time?’ As such, this poster is an example of not only how neoliberal logics are reproduced by the NGO, but how they are reproduced in ways that are entangled with other, context-speciﬁc, pre-existing logics of cultural values and orientalising tropes. Textual genres such as this poster, the promotional material or the slogans are not the only technologies through which the NGO’s theory of change, and the principles of winning, improvement and empowerment it mediates, are circulated. In one of the graduation ceremonies attended by Katy, the CEO delivered a speech to students, in which he congratulated them and encouraged them to continue their learning, before students were sent in small groups for career guidance sessions. During the speech, he uttered the ﬁrst half of a common Hindi idiom and asked the students to complete it: ‘Jitni chadar ho utna hi pair phailana chahiye’. This translates literally as ‘spread your feet only as much as the sheet allows’ or more idiomatically as ‘do not aspire for more than what you are capable of’. He then promptly told the students to forget this, reminding them they can do anything they put their mind to, and that they should not believe those who say otherwise. In a conversation over lunch afterwards, he was asked why he had chosen to say this. Referring speciﬁcally but not only to the caste system, he explained how these students often learn from a young age that they should ‘stay in their lane’. He wants to change this mentality and encourage the students to claim the freedom they deserve which, as the NGO documentation claims, can be done through a combination of English, soft skills and personality development training. The analysis of the NGO material as well as the CEO speech at the graduation ceremony echoes in many ways research on similar programmes for the un(der)employed in the UK (Del Percio and Wong, 2019), Italy (Del Percio and Van Hoof, 2017), Belgium (Van Hoof, Nyssen and Kanobana, 2020), and Canada (Allan, 2016, 2013), which, as Allan writes, ‘are less about the speciﬁc content or knowledge they provide than about the ability to produce citizens who increase their potential value in an unknowable future by continually investing in their human capital in the present’ (2016: 63). It is precisely this ‘unknowable future’ that comprises the danger of this neoliberal
106 Katy Highet and Alfonso Del Percio ethos. Through their English training, as another poster on the main wall of the classroom demonstrated, students are called upon to ‘continuously learn’, ‘embrace change’, ‘accept responsibility for their failures’ and not ‘blame other [sic] for their failures’ or ‘criticize’. What we see here is the fostering of a culture of responsibilisation which thrusts accountability onto the student, and away from any structural barriers to their social mobility such as class, caste, race and gender. Importantly, construed in this way, any failure they encounter is due to the individual’s failure to sufﬁciently adapt and self-invest (Martín Rojo, 2018). Students are exhorted to overcome obstacles by being ﬂexible, ‘constantly changing and continually adapting to variations in market demand by constant self-work or self-improvement’ (Martín Rojo, 2018: 550, 2019) and investment in English is a crucial part of this self-improvement. And yet, while discourses of language-as-commodity paint languages with high social capital such as English as a tool to ‘render their speakers competitive’ (Martín Rojo, 2018: 542) on the employment market, many have demonstrated that investing in English repeatedly fails to see returns, for reasons indissociable from other elements of social stratiﬁcation such as race and gender (Kubota, 2011) and the ever-moving goalposts that delineate ‘good’ English (Park, 2011), as ‘commodiﬁcation applauds only certain language variants’ (Martín Rojo, 2018: 558). It is for this reason that Tabiola and Lorente conceptualise investment in English in the context of the Philippines as ‘speculative capital’, as ‘its goal is not just monetary gain but the appreciation of the student’s human capital, measured primarily in partial estimates and holding no guarantee of future return’ (Tabiola and Lorente, 2017: 70; Duchêne and Daveluy 2015). Indeed, the students’ ability to ‘cash in’ on their English skills is wholly dependent on those who are in the position of regulating their access to resources, who will judge not only their language skills but also their persona and background. In other words, English does not guarantee jobs in a market that is regulated by far more than language; rather, learning English marks students as a self-investing, entrepreneurial self, equipped for the neoliberal workplace. Now, we want to be very clear on this point. The emphasis on encouraging students to take control of their own destiny stems, we think, from a genuine desire to seek change for those who suffer the brunt of oppressive systems of social stratiﬁcation by re-allocating unevenly distributed capital. As such, this analysis is not intended as a criticism of the NGO, and certainly not as a devaluation of the deeply committed staff at all levels. Rather, we aim to shed light on the ways in which the NGO is wound up in a wider web of educational trends that are not only prevalent in education in the West, but also across the ELT industry (Allan, 2013) and other educational and training sectors, including those with altruistic motives (Luke, 2017). Indeed, as McGuire shows in her ethnographic exploration of fee-charging ‘Personality Development’ courses in Delhi, such training programmes are ‘distinctly neoliberal in nature, characterized by a culture of enterprise in which disciplined self-government appears paramount’ (2013: 110). Along with McGuire, in this section, we have attempted to demonstrate how this ‘culture of enterprise’ and
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‘disciplined self-government’ gets naturalised within the NGO through the circulation and consumption of a set of keywords (Williams, 1976) that are understood as essential for students hoping to access professional jobs. Students are thus exhorted to envision themselves as ‘bundles of skills’ to enhance their competitive edge on the job market (Urciuoli, 2008). Urciuoli (2008) argues that these ‘soft skills’ are semantically vague, in that their meanings can shift according to the different ways in which they ‘cluster’. When used together, she writes, ‘particular elements of meaning collectively emerge’ (2008: 214), creating thus a new register: a skills register which expands ‘with new conceptual formations’. Importantly, the semantic vagueness of these skills keywords – that is, the way in which their denotational meaning can often be ambiguous – allows them to act as ‘strategically deployable shifters’ and, in turn, allows the user of such registers to index social alignments (Urciuoli, 2008: 214). In other words, learning to adopt such a register carries more social than denotational meaning, in that it marks one as a particular type of worker, successfully adapted to the demands of the neoliberal, corporate workplace. In the next section, we will examine the ways in which students who are targeted as the beneﬁciaries of such projects of change marry up such discourses with their lived experiences. An analysis of how neoliberalism is taken up and negotiated on the ground is fundamental if we are to avoid understanding it as a totalising logic (Bell, 2019; De Korne, 2017).
The Contours of the Neoliberal Register To demonstrate how students engaged with such discourses, we ﬁrst present one interaction from a classroom observation, taken from a group who were completing the fourth of ﬁve books that divide up the year-long programme. In this particular group, the eight students were all aged between 16 and 20, and predominantly young women (one student was male). They had all been educated in Hindi-medium government schools, except for one young woman who had studied in the English-medium stream of her government school. The teacher, Rupal, had also been educated in a Hindi-medium government school and was a student at the NGO before undergoing in-house training to become a facilitator. Although she stated that she belonged to the ‘highest’ caste (Brahmin) – as opposed to the majority of students who hailed from the agrarian caste discussed earlier – she had lived a rather difﬁcult life, and had grown up below the poverty line. For her, the NGO had changed the direction of her life, giving her the opportunity to become an English teacher, thereby equipping her with a certain amount of cultural as well as economic capital. It is important to point out here that, while their different caste positions are certainly not irrelevant, in terms of class and educational trajectory she identiﬁed more with the students than those in management positions. As such, she is an interesting conduit between the more economically and socially privileged staff at the top who design the curriculum, and the students on the ground
108 Katy Highet and Alfonso Del Percio who attempt to negotiate the incongruity between the discourses reproduced by the NGO and their lived experiences of structural oppression. This interaction is taken from a teaching session entitled ‘Lifelong learning’. The students had watched a video before reading a list of questions related to the topic in their textbooks. The video contained clips of interviews with Bill Clinton and the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, about their own learning experiences, the challenges encountered in these processes and their coping strategies developed to overcome these challenges. Having discussed as a group why lifelong learning is important, and how to ensure they continue once they complete the course, they proceeded to the sixth question: ‘what in your life or environment can prevent you from learning in the future?’ After waiting a few seconds for a response, the teacher adds ‘like [female student name] your marriage can stop you’, prompting laughter from the students. She follows this up with ‘isn’t it? But should not be’, while a student comments ‘yes, yes, that is really problem for her’. Passing over this comment from the student, the facilitator reverts back to the question, asking ‘Anything? What can stop you learn? Nothing?’ Students offer answers such as ‘in our life ﬁxed mind can stop us to learn’, ‘narrow mind can stop us to learn new things in our life’ which she acknowledges with ‘good’ and ‘yes’, while another student’s answer ‘when people do mock [məʊk] about my life that things stop me to learn’ receives only a correction of pronunciation (‘mock [mɒk], speak mock [mɒk]’) and grammar (‘that thing can stop me to learn’). There are several salient points to highlight in this interaction. First, the teacher and students demonstrate an understanding of the type of answers that are expected from this question or, in other words, of the appropriate skills register. In this interaction and in the following part of the lesson, students offer neoliberal buzzwords such as ‘ﬁxed mindset’ or ‘narrow mind’ (as the antithesis of ‘growth mindset’ and ‘open mind’) that place emphasis on individual rather than societal barriers, and they are validated by the teacher in her responses with ‘good’, ‘yes’. One can see clearly here the use of Urciuoli’s strategically deployable shifters (2008) that allow students to portray themselves as possessing the appropriate attitudes towards work. Yet, as Urciuoli writes in a more recent paper (2019), the term ‘pseudo register’ is perhaps more apt, in that the students are not so much demonstrating the skills they refer to, but simply pointing to them. This does not, of course, make the pseudo register any less important: they ‘mark’ themselves as ‘good’ students nonetheless simply by paying ‘lip service’ and, crucially, they also contribute to the institution’s branding as a place that claims to produce a certain type of student (Urciuoli, 2019: 92). Secondly, and more important to this analysis, the fact that there are set answers to this question is made clear at the beginning of the extract where the teacher ‘breaks out’ of the register by providing an unexpected, humorous answer. After waiting a few seconds for a response to the question of what could prevent the students from learning, she says, ‘like [female student], your marriage can stop you’ which provokes laughter (there had been a running joke for a few weeks about this student’s impending
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marriage). Through this comment, Rupal draws attention to a structural barrier that the young women – herself, as an unmarried woman, included – may face if they marry into a family that will not allow them to continue education or work. Indeed, several married women in the NGO explained that they had to lie or ﬁght with in-laws and husbands to attend class, and another female student had recently married and never returned to class. Rupal quickly follows her jokey comment up with ‘but should not be’ – in other words, marriage should not prevent the woman from continuing her education. The speed with which she attempts to move on from her joke is perhaps an indication that she realises that this utterance is not appropriate for the register expected here, and she signals a transition back to the ‘proper’ register by asking ‘anything?’ (i.e. does anyone have any ‘real’ answers to the question), thereby disqualifying her previous comment as a legitimate answer, and closing down a potentially fruitful conversation that could have followed from the ﬁrst student’s response: ‘yes yes, that is really problem for her’. Finally, we can see evidence that one student also ‘strays’ from the acceptable register by pointing to elements of social judgement beyond her control that could prevent her from learning (‘when people … do mock about my life that things stop me to learn’). Rather than uncritically accepting responsibility for potential future failure – one of the tenets of the bootstrap mentality – the student ﬂags up the role that social stigma could play in preventing her future success. In doing so, she draws attention to what Gershon and LaDousa term the ‘ﬁssures’ in neoliberal logic (2019) or, the tensions and clashes between neoliberal principles of choice and freedom and other understandings of the social world which, in this case, are linked to the caste system as well as patriarchal ideologies of sexuality and femininity. However, rather than this becoming a point for discussion, it is regarded as an inappropriate answer. Her response does not receive validation in the form of ‘good’ or ‘yes’ from the teacher; she is simply corrected on her pronunciation and grammar, and the teacher moves on, stating, ‘ok, one more answer’. On the one hand, then, one can see how the keywords discussed above which are present in the NGO’s promotional material and curriculum become part of a skills (pseudo)-register that the students learn to adopt in class. As such, by learning and adopting this skills register, students are able to align themselves with the image of the good neoliberal student who will work hard to achieve success. When they speak out of this register, as was the case for the teacher and one of the students in this interaction, their comments are either framed as being irrelevant to the ‘actual’ discussion, or almost completely ignored. Alternative discussions that are not compatible with the neoliberal rationales have no place in the classroom, thus demonstrating how language plays ‘a key role for the everyday doing’ of this governmentality (Del Percio and Wong, 2019: 192–193). On the other hand, to learn to successfully perform a register does not mean that one necessarily endorses or submits entirely to it (Del Percio and Wong, 2019; Upadhya, 2013). On the contrary, we have just seen how members of the NGO are aware of the tensions that arise when
110 Katy Highet and Alfonso Del Percio the logic put into practice contradicts their experience of social obstacles. In other words, they navigate the tensions between a multiplicity of logics working simultaneously. The classroom may not have provided the appropriate environment to delve deeper into these contradictions, but this does not mean that they went unnoticed by those in the NGO.
Contesting Neoliberal Logic While the interactions in class delineate the ‘contours’ of the acceptable neoliberal register, there were ﬂeeting moments where students and staff alike drew attention to the way this mode of reasoning about oneself, and about one’s place in society, stands in tension with other models of selfhood and society affecting students in their everyday lives. Interestingly, these ‘ﬂeeting’ moments in class were contrasted with much more developed discussions in the interviews. Rupal, for example, talked at length of her limited control over her future. As an unmarried woman whose parents are in the process of ﬁnding her a husband, she is ‘not sure’ whether her future husband’s family ‘will allow [her] or not’ to continue working. She is thus acutely aware of the gendered barrier to her future success, and has adopted strategies to retain some independence. By becoming a teacher, she can hope to keep her job as it would allow her to return home by the early afternoon for housework and, if she is not allowed to work outside the home, she plans to offer tuition services from home in order to be able to support herself: ‘if I face any problems so/ I don’t need to see anybody’s face that/ can somebody feed me’. As such, Rupal demonstrates a keen awareness of the contradictory nature of the multiple logics at play, in particular how the neoliberal rationality clashes with her understanding of social barriers, and she tempers her hope in ways that allow her to exercise agency within the conﬁnes of the patriarchal system. Abdul, a recent graduate of the NGO volunteering1 at the branch, was equally cognisant of these co-existing, but in a way diverging, logics. Like Rupal, he too was educated in a Hindi-medium government school and had studied at the NGO after spending several years feeling a deep sense of hopelessness for his future. As a young Muslim man from a poor family, he had witnessed ﬁrst hand both the social and economic barriers to prosperity and, in the interviews, offered scathing analyses of oppression in India. The following extract is taken from an interview, where we had been discussing unequal access to English, and the gatekeeping practices of elite institutions. Following a question about whether he thought ‘poor’ students in elite higher education institutes risked encountering judgement from other students, he replied: 8 no no actually it’s actually/ it shows you know really good thing also/ 9 if you’re coming from poor family and then you’re/ then you did some 10 really hard work so we respect that also right/ so its not like that we/
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11 ok er it was/ yes we can say in some/ see/ here you’re no/ see/ ﬁrst we 12 can/ if you’re talking about/ means language/ so lets talk about 13 language/ if we’re going something else/ like caste system and 14 religion/ that’s separate thing KH: 15 han [Hindi: yes] A: 16 right of course that time discrimination happens doesn’t matter you 17 speak English or what right KH: 18 ok A: 19 still you are from lower class and all but this is good thing/ that you 20 are coming from that class/ still you can speak in/ English/ that’s a 21 good thing [section omitted] A: 22 so it’s just that’s why I said that it’s separate it’s / I just want to you 23 know/ put it/ you know/ aside both things are completely different so 24 with/ if you go with the mentality of that community and that class 25 system and all so we feel that// doesn’t matter whatever you do/ how 26 well you speak in English still you belong from the same community 27 right/ it’s like it’s like you know a race of rat I think it’s very famous 28 race of er rat and tiger// doesn’t matter rat wins or not still it’s a rat 29 right/ and tiger is always tiger / right doesn’t matter who wins or not 30 who cares There are clear traces of both neoliberal rationales and arguably, at the same time Hindu understandings of karmayoga and jugaad in the way he moralises hard work, stating that ‘we respect’ those who work hard to pull themselves out of poverty (lines 8–10). In doing this, he draws on the trope of the ‘good’ poor person who works strenuously to beat the odds. Many stories of this type were shared in the NGO and more widely in the media, with newspaper articles about the sons of rickshaw drivers gaining entry to India’s most prestigious engineering colleges being used as discussion points at the beginning of class. The message from such narratives is clear: if he can, you can – no excuses.2 And yet, the self-contradiction is overlooked – if such a feat were so easy and normal, then it would not be noteworthy. Immediately after mobilising this discourse, however, we see Abdul stumble as he tries to coalesce this narrative with his sociological observations. In lines 11–14, he stutters, leaving sentences unﬁnished as he tries to form a coherent line of thought with two very contradictory logics: (neo)liberal work ethic, and
112 Katy Highet and Alfonso Del Percio structural oppression. In contrast to his initial comments about the praiseworthiness of working hard, his cutting remarks at the end of the extract paint a rather bleak picture of a society in which attempts to garner cultural or linguistic capital are futile: ‘doesn’t matter rat wins or not still it’s a rat right’ (lines 28–29). Through this, we see Abdul construct two very different worldviews which, in a way, co-exist in the very same narrative, the ﬁrst being more aligned with the ethos that hard work, skill-acquisition and English can lead to success, while the second points to the ‘rules of the game’ that are rigged in favour of the powerful. In further conversations, Abdul frequently oscillated between the two, often contradicting himself and never fully explaining how these two ‘mentalities’ are separate (lines 14 and 22). While ideological contradictions are certainly common, to keep them separate analytically is perhaps the only way to retain hope, particularly given the shocking way in which he refers to structural issues of social stratiﬁcation by insinuating that certain communities are viewed as ‘rats’. As a Muslim man in a climate of growing Hindu nationalism and violence towards Muslims (Santhosh, 2015; Vicziany, 2015), he is keenly aware of the reality of living in a marginalised position. Indeed, at the time of writing, the highly polemical Citizen Amendment Bill, which is being widely perceived as an anti-Muslim law, has sparked mass student protests which have resulted in police violence across the country. Abdul’s comments, while they are at times confusing, are reminiscent of those made by participants in Allan’s study of similar programmes in Canada, which draw attention to their futility, as the programmes ‘failed to consider how immigrants embodied the “Other” to many employers’ and thus were unrealistic as ‘by virtue of being marked as foreign or racialized, their skills and credentials were a priori devalued’ (Allan, 2016: 10–11). If we replace ‘foreign’ and ‘racialised’, with Muslim, ‘low’ caste or gendered, one can see sharp parallels with Abdul’s viewpoint. Furthermore, as Allan argues, such comments also shed light on the ways in which these programmes demonstrate ‘a liberal colorblind democratic approach to the labour market which [fail] to take into account the ways in which it [is] deeply discriminatory’ (Allan, 2016: 11). Similarly, by opting for an explicitly ‘bootstrap’ approach to empowerment, those responsible for designing and managing the curriculum at the NGO underestimate the structural discrimination that many of the students are likely to encounter. Interestingly, however, the facilitators and volunteers – who, as mentioned above, act in many ways as conduits between management and the students – retain varying levels of awareness of and criticality towards these discourses. It is, perhaps, precisely this go-between position that renders the contradiction all the more confusing and thus results in incoherent explanations or low-key resistance in the form of jokey asides.
Investment and Resistance Abdul explicitly expressed the futility of working hard and acquiring the necessary capital when one is often positioned by others in a stigmatised
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way. Yet, it is important to remember that, while Abdul relates this, he is simultaneously, it seems, investing in the logic and technologies that he questions. Similarly, Rupal continues to pursue it while at the same time acknowledging that her ‘success’ is unlikely to resemble the paths taken by the multi-millionaire CEOs whose pictures and quotes decorate the walls of the classroom. The NGO has undoubtedly provided them with economic and social beneﬁts – they have a salary (or a chance of a future salary from the NGO) which is stable and higher than that of their nonEnglish-speaking peers, access to further training, potentially enhanced marriage prospects, reported ‘respect’ from friends and ‘pride’ from family, and high self-esteem. But, at the same time, there remains an awareness that ‘working hard’ will not remove them from their marginalised positions in society, and the ‘beneﬁts’ are not always so clear-cut: Rupal reported that her English credentials may become problematic for suitors who do not speak English and thus who may perceive her ‘superiority’ as face-threatening, or who may consider her as too modern, thus an unsuitable wife; Abdul spoke of teachers from other institutes being surprised that a Muslim man would want to become an English teacher. Thus, neoliberal rationalities, as we have shown, do not systematically produce neoliberal subjects, and programmes that seek to inculcate such subjectivities ‘do not determine the actions or thinking of the participating subjects’ (Del Percio & Wong, 2019: 192). Rather, the rational is ‘mobilized, rationalized and dialectically engaged with on the ground’ by subjects who question the logic and the effectiveness of such programmes (p. 192). Why, then do they continue to invest in the contradictory logic? Indeed, are the students actually investing in these contradictory logics? To seek to answer such a question, we argue, means paying attention to how forms of neoliberal governmentality are weaved into other logics and workings of power. As Urla highlights, it is through critical ethnographic measures that we can hope to observe ‘how logics of governance interact with other already existing logics and forms of relationality, personhood, and governance’ (Urla, 2019a: 271) and ‘how neoliberal rationales become intertwined with longer, locally-anchored histories of colonialism, modernism and capitalist exploitation’ (Martín Rojo & Del Percio, 2019: 4). In his exploration of language learners in Catalonia, Pujolar (2019) demonstrates how the mobilisation of neoliberal logics in reasons for language learning was varied, with some participants frequently drawing on alternative, non-economic based discourses to rationalise their pursuits. In doing so, he draws attention to how the ‘saturation’ of neoliberal discourses is perhaps not so evenly widespread and thus to the existence of ‘more varied and complex positionings’ (p. 114), suggesting that those who experience social marginalisation may be less likely to be enticed by neoliberal tenets (Urla, 2019b). The extracts presented in this chapter corroborate these ﬁndings. In our instance, the production of neoliberal subjectivities via the acquisition of English is deeply intertwined with the long-standing hegemony of
114 Katy Highet and Alfonso Del Percio English in India and the ensuing indexicalities and associated personhoods that are indissociable from the language’s colonial and class-based history. This is a process that, we argue, cannot be fully captured through a neoliberal lens, and must be explored in ways that can account for the historical, ideological and affective dimensions of speaking English. As we demonstrate elsewhere (Highet and Del Percio, in press), students join this course ﬁrst and foremost with a desire to become English speakers, that is, not only to acquire the language but also to perform a constructed English speakerhood that stretches beyond language to encompass moral and bodily dispositions that are perceived as superior through their claims to modernity. In other words, they envisage English not only as a commodiﬁable skill to be (potentially) exchanged for monetary gain, but also as a source of symbolic pride (as opposed to the shame they report feeling when unable to speak English) and self-worth that is connected to affective, rather than economic or ‘human capital’, dimensions, and which are indissociable from the stigma faced due to their caste, class or religion. They seek a moral and bodily transformation of the self, but not necessarily – or perhaps only adjacently – the neoliberal self. Of course, an affective desire for English is deeply entangled with neoliberal rationality (Dardot and Laval, 2014), but it is also part of a longer-standing ideology of English superiority that ﬁnds its roots in the colonial project and which continued post-independence with the English-speaking elite. As such, while English is certainly neoliberalised through discourses of proﬁt and linguistic commodiﬁcation, it would be a mistake to understand this as the only ﬁre that fuels English language learning in India. The workings of neoliberal rationalities cannot be fully understood without a deeper examination of the ideological processes that lead some students to enrol in such courses to begin with; it is here that we may ﬁnd further explanations for why students and teachers continue to hope, and to pursue such courses, despite their suspicions of the ‘bootstrap’ ethos.
Conclusion The students and facilitators in this branch demonstrate the need to observe not only the various ways in which neoliberalism manifests itself globally (Harvey, 2005), but equally ‘the variable uptake of neoliberal values and personhood’ (Urla, 2019a: 271). Through an analysis of both the NGO’s documentation and extracts from classes and interviews, we have argued that, while the vision of the NGO is shaped by an ethos that invites speciﬁc neoliberal subjectivities, this is taken up by students and facilitators to varying degrees, leading to reﬂection, acceptance and contestation in ways that are often contradictory or confusing as they grapple with the disjuncture between what they learn and what they live, and the various strands of competing logics woven into their social practice. In this case, a critical pedagogy that encourages students to reﬂect on structural oppression (see e.g. Martín Rojo,
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2019) may not be sufﬁcient, in that many prove to already be highly reﬂective on such issues. It does, however, raise questions of how these reﬂections could lead to a form of mobilisation or a stronger resistance, one which ‘cannot be individual, but requires the construction of an alternative discourse and another rationality, of new hegemonies that contribute to create new subjectivities’ (Martín Rojo, 2019: 184). If the NGO takes seriously its quest for the empowerment of disadvantaged students, then this raises further questions of how the NGO could seek to provide institutional support that would allow students to collectively pursue alternative discourses by drawing on their own experiences of structural barriers and ‘incorporating [neoliberal] concepts and their attendant experiences to more egalitarian political projects’ (Pujolar, 2019: 130). Importantly, such resistance would need to address the full range of the political economic make-up, or how ‘neoliberalism often combines with racialized and colonialized histories’ (Allan & McElhinny, 2017: 92) in order to interrogate the ways in which the hegemony of English constructs particular personhoods beyond (and prior to) that of the neoliberal self. The participants in this study demonstrated an understanding of what the NGO (and by extension, the workplace) expects, and they adopt (or ‘strategically mobilise’; Del Percio & Wong, 2019: 197) the neoliberal register, with some pushing back through ‘safer’ forms of resistance such as jokes or in situations outside of the classroom. While their engagement with neoliberal ‘buzzwords’ allows us to delineate the contours of the neoliberal register, it is not necessarily evidence of internalisation of the ideology. They invest and contest simultaneously, for reasons that can be traced to forms of neoliberal governmentality, to the (post)colonial history of English and to Hindu ethics, and they seek ways to capitalise on the ‘positive’ aspects of neoliberalism, such as its alliance with discourses of empowerment, in order to carve out a more stable, independent future within the conﬁnes of processes of marginalisation. Whether they submit to the neoliberal imperative or not, in either case, English is perceived as non-negotiable, and to view this only through the lens of neoliberalism would be to overlook key components of the processes of inequality. After all, the neoliberalisation of education has certainly contributed to the representation of English as a pre-requisite for social mobility, but the injustices perpetuated by English in India can trace their roots much further back.
Notes 1 The NGO has recently begun a volunteering scheme for newly graduated students to help in class. See Allan (2019) for an insightful analysis of volunteering as ‘hope labour’, ‘premised on the logic of investment’ (p. 67) 2 These narratives are also evident in Bollywood ﬁlms (Gooptu, 2013; Chakravarti, 2013); see also Park (2010) for media discourses of elite ‘success stories’ in South Korea.
116 Katy Highet and Alfonso Del Percio
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118 Katy Highet and Alfonso Del Percio Martín Rojo, L., Del Percio, A. (Eds), 2019. Language and Neoliberal Governmentality, 1st edn. London; New York, NY: Routledge. doi:10.4324/ 9780429286711. McGuire, M.L., 2013. The Embodiment of Professionalism: Personality-Development Programmes in New Delhi, in: Gooptu, N. (Ed.), Enterprise Culture in Neoliberal India: Studies in Youth, Class, Work and Media. London: Routledge, pp. 109–123. Ong, A., 2007. Neoliberalism as a mobile technology. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32, 3–8. Park, J.S.-Y., 2010. Naturalization of competence and the neoliberal subject: Success stories of English language learning in the Korean conservative press: Naturalization of competence and the neoliberal subject. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 20, 22–38. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1395.2010.01046.x. Park, J.S.-Y., 2011. The promise of English: linguistic capital and the neoliberal worker in the South Korean job market. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 14, 443–455. doi:10.1080/13670050.2011.573067. Proctor, L.M., 2014. English and globalization in India: The fractal nature of discourse. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 24, 294–314. doi:10.1111/jola.12056. Pujolar, J., 2019. Linguistic entrepreneurship: Neoliberalism, language learning, and class 1. Language and Neoliberal Governmentality. doi:10.4324/9780429286711-6. Ramanathan, V., 2005. The English-Vernacular Divide: Postcolonial Language Politics and practice. Clevedon; Buffalo: Multilingual Matters. Ramanathan, V., 2007. A Critical Discussion of the English-Vernacular Divide in India, in: Cummins, J., Davison, C. (Eds), International Handbook of English Language Teaching. Boston, MA: Springer US, pp. 51–61. doi:10.1007/978-0387-46301-8_5. Santhosh, R., 2015. Muslims in Contemporary India: Socio-Religious Diversity and the Questions of Citizenship, in: Jacobsen, K.A. (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Contemporary India. London: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315682570. Searle-Chatterjee, M., Sharma, U. (Eds), 1994. Contextualising Caste: Post-Dumontian Approaches. Sociological Review Monograph Series. Oxford, UK; Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers/Sociological Review. Tabiola, H., B., Lorente, B., 2017. Neoliberalism in ELT Aid: Interrogating a USAID ELT Project in Southern Philippines, in: Flubacher, M.-C., Percio, A.D. (Eds), Language, Education and Neoliberalism: Critical Studies in Sociolinguistics, Critical Language and Literacy Studies. Bristol, UK; Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Multilingual Matters, pp. 66–73. Upadhya, C., 2013. Shrink-wrapped souls: managing the self in India’s new economy. Enterprise Culture in Neoliberal India. doi:10.4324/9781315889795-12. Urciuoli, B., 2019. Leadership communication ‘skills’ and undergraduate neoliberal subjectivity. Language and Neoliberal Governmentality. doi:10.4324/9780429 286711-5. Urciuoli, B., 2008. Skills and selves in the new workplace. American Ethnologist 35, 211–228. Urla, J., 2019a. Governmentality and language. Annual Review of Anthropology 48, 261–278. doi:10.1146/annurev-anthro-102317-050258. Urla, J., 2019b. Towards an Ethnography of Linguistic Governmentalities, in: Martín Rojo, L., Del Percio, A. (Eds), Language and Neoliberal Governmentality. London; New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 211–221. doi:10.4324/9780429286711.
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Gauging Neoliberal Discursive Formations in the Russell Group’s Education Strategies and LongTerm Objectives Rodolfo Leyva
Modern conceptions of the ideal and ivy-covered university as often represented (either satirically or with reverence) in Western ﬁlms and television shows, and which likely inspired the majority of today’s academics to pursue careers in academia, have been arguably primarily inﬂuenced by two major pedagogic traditions. The ﬁrst comes from or was at least popularised by the ancient Greeks. In particular, prominent historical ﬁgures who we would now call professors, such as Plato and Aristotle, viewed the academy as an institution that nurtures and strengthens reasoning skills, critical thinking, moral character, conscientious citizenship, and an overarching and life-long disposition towards seeking truth, wisdom, and justice (Pavur, 2009). The second tradition originates in the 18th-century Enlightenment period, and has been especially shaped by the writings and university policies of the German philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt – founder of the Humboldt University of Berlin. In brief, Humboldt stressed that universities should promote academic freedom and focus on the primacy of pure science over specialised professional training and instrumentalist research (Ash, 2006; Michelsen, 2010). Together, these two complementary traditions form the traditional paradigmatic, or what can be loosely referred to as the liberal-humanist, model of a university. Now of course, historical accounts disagree on the extent that the academies of yore really did practise this model. But, most accounts broadly agree that elements of it considerably inﬂuenced many of the goals and practices of Western universities till about the 1970s (Ash, 2006; Michelsen, 2010; Nybom, 2003). To be sure, the liberal-humanist model continues to be an inﬂuential, if perhaps overly romanticised, normative notion for what higher education institutions and objectives should entail (Mountz et al., 2015; Newﬁeld, 2018). In stark contrast to this classic conception, however, stands the neoliberal model which gives primacy to the marketisation, commodiﬁcation, and usevalue of higher education and research, and which has been largely enacted and gained dominance over the last 40 years. While there is little doubt that this institutional transformation has taken place, the current scholarly literature predominantly focuses on describing individual academics’ anecdotal accounts of, or the policy processes that are driving, the neoliberalisation of contemporary universities (see e.g., Ball, 2012; Morrissey, 2015; Mountz et al.,
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2015; Shore & Davidson, 2014). Resultantly, there is a relative dearth of studies that have measured the degree to which contemporary universities have actually replaced the traditional liberal-humanist ideals and principles with neoliberal ones. Therefore, to help address this empirical gap, this chapter presents a quantitative content analysis of the latest education strategy statements of the Russell Group i.e., a formal consortium of 24 elite British public universities that plays a leading role in shaping the values, ambitions, and practices of domestic and international higher education institutions. More speciﬁcally, said content analysis tests whether the pedagogic and institutional discourses, trends, and trajectories that can be gleaned from the aforementioned statements are signiﬁcantly more reﬂective of the neoliberal model’s objectives, values, and practices than those of the liberal-humanist model. To this end, the chapter continues with a brief review of the literature on neoliberalism and higher education, and then proceeds to discuss the present study’s methodology and ﬁndings – and what these indicate for teaching and learning in British universities.
UK Neoliberalism and Higher Education An exact deﬁnition of ‘neoliberalism’ is virtually impossible to provide. The reason being that this abstraction is a composite of several complex theories and ontological assumptions – one that has been developed by various Western epistemic communities (e.g., the Monte Pelerin Society, Austrian School of Economics), and which consequently has sprouted several provincial strands e.g., Brazilian New Capitalism and German Ordoliberalism (Mirowski & Plehwe, 2009). That said, neoliberalism can be broadly construed as a politicaleconomic paradigm. This paradigm consists of a set of ideological discourses, modes of governance, and policy prescriptions that call for and facilitate the extension of market-corporate logic and practices into all forms of government, civic, public, and even private life. In other words, into all forms of human decision-making and organisation (Leyva, 2018; 2019). To wit, self-conscious neoliberal theorists and think tanks argue that the primary goal of governance and concomitant public policy is to help maintain international competitiveness and induce and accelerate economic growth. To meet these ends, nations should eliminate or drastically reduce government expenditures, trade barriers, taxes, and business regulations; partially or fully privatise, and open up internal markets within, their state enterprises and services; and focus on generating exports. By doing so, nations can gain from their comparative advantages in factor endowments, ensure market credibility, achieve ﬁscal solvency, and attract foreign direct investment. Neoliberals thus theorise that over time, the successful realisation of these policy objectives will engender prosperous and dynamic, but stable and efﬁcient national and international markets in addition to the skilled, self-reliant, and ﬂexible workers needed to sustain and compete in them (Friedman, 2002; Hartwell, 1995). There is considerably more to be said about neoliberalism, but here I will only brieﬂy elaborate on
122 Rodolfo Leyva how this paradigm has inﬂected the education policies and practices of British universities. Since the 1980s premiership of Margaret Thatcher, government leaders from all the leading parties, along with inﬂuential conservative think tanks and newspapers, have presented public spending in education as a hindrance to GDP growth, arguing that schools, including universities, are overly costly and failing to adequately equip students with the skills needed to compete in the global labour markets (Cribb & Gewirtz, 2013). Neoliberal theorists and education reformers posit that to remedy this ostensive crisis in public education, schools need to be turned into ﬁscally solvent commercial entities whose primary function is to condition and train a professionally skilled and extrinsicvalue orientated workforce. In addition to this, they contend that a school’s viability, pedagogic efﬁcacy, curriculum, and funding can be more efﬁciently and accurately determined by making schools adopt and adhere to market-corporate measures and practices of accountability, productivity, cost-effectiveness, and consumer demand (Chubb & Moe, 1990; Friedman, 2002). To realise this institutional restructuring, neoliberals advocate for policies that a) force schools to compete for an ever shrinking pot of state funding against public and private for-proﬁt educational organisations; b) weaken labour protections (e.g., tenure) and union rights (e.g., striking actions), so that senior managers can have more freedom to ﬁre unproductive staff and impose heavier workloads as front-line educators and support staff are often seen as being lazy and having overly cushy jobs; c) increase public-private partnerships whereby selective school functions are outsourced to the private sector, or where businesses and corporations provide funding to schools in exchange for publicity, advertisement space, or research and development; and d), lead to the uptake of neo-managerial practices to help eliminate wasteful spending, incentivise performances, ﬁre or discipline underperforming faculty, and measure studentcustomer satisfaction (Ball, 2012; Boyles, 2004; Mountz et al., 2015). In effect, these practices increase the remuneration, number, and power of senior managers, and implementation of auditing measures and target benchmarks to monitor and evaluate individual and organisational performance, whilst lowering the income and downgrading the role and working conditions of skilled workers (Klikauer, 2015). Further, with speciﬁc regards to universities, neoliberal policy discourses have framed higher education as an individual rather than public good that should, therefore, be privately funded. Accordant policies have thus resulted in the deliberate denuding of public universities; ranking of universities via national league tables so that students can supposedly make more informed decisions on which schools to attend; and soaring tuition fees. Because of these policy inputs and outputs, universities must currently, for example, prioritise and produce research that as Mohrmana, Ma, and Baker (2008, p. 9) put it is ‘beyond the intellectual curiosity of the investigator; [as] scholars are expected to push their ideas to application and ultimately to the market’. This means that current academics are continuously pressured to
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engage in research with industrial, medicinal, or other instrumental applications in order to bring in revenue. Such pressure normally comes in the form of performance targets, whereby an academic researcher’s chances for promotion or, in many instances simply their job security, is tied to speciﬁc amounts of publications in leading journals and procured research income. These now common institutional practices and imperatives also mean that researchers are explicitly less incentivised to pursue basic science or abstract research aimed at gaining a fundamental understanding of natural, social, and mathematical phenomena. In other words, pursuing knowledge for its own sake has, according to several accounts of individual academics, become untenable, because prestigious journals, grant funding bodies, and university administrators are primarily interested in promoting and rewarding applied research that has the potential for immediate commercial application or social policy impact (Chubb & Watermeyer, 2017; Gafﬁkin & Perry, 2009; Lojdová, 2016). Furthermore, university degree programmes are now pursuing a more vocationally oriented pedagogy, pitching “tuition fees on a more lucrative basis, and are valued in terms of their output of knowledge-intensive human capital” (Gafﬁkin & Perry, 2009, p. 120). That is, because they are strapped for cash, universities have to be primarily concerned with ensuring ﬁnancial solvency through maintaining continuous annual recruitment of fee-paying students. This, in turn, manifests as a preoccupation with climbing positions in the national league tables and international university rankings. Accordingly, senior administrators generally try to accomplish these interrelated goals in three ways, though these will vary by university. The ﬁrst is by expanding the construction of new teaching buildings, information technology systems, and student accommodations –which is often done via public-private partnership deals. The second is by massive spending on domestic and international advertising campaigns. Accordingly, these campaigns tend to feature a given university’s new and/or planned infrastructure developments, various institutional and subject rankings, international demographic proﬁle, research accomplishments, career services, graduate employment ﬁgures, and/or ‘rock-star’ scientists if any. Moreover, one of, if not the main purpose of these building investments and advertisements is to recruit both domestic and foreign students by convincing them that they are getting ‘value for their money’. The third way is by imposing the standardisation of curriculums, embedding of transferable and professional skills into course content, and regular monitoring of course and teaching performance via frequent deployment of evaluation questionnaires. Here, one can be initially generous and assume that these impositions are well intended and meant to improve the student experience. However, in practice, they are gradually carving away at departments’ and individual lecturers’ academic freedom. For instance, course and teaching evaluations are used to discipline and regulate academics. This then promotes grade inﬂation and watered-down curriculum, because low scores reported by disgruntled students could lead to the closure of a programme and/or ﬁring of
124 Rodolfo Leyva a lecturer. The aforementioned impositions also force academics to base their course content on how well it can prepare students to attain gainful employment. Thus, in addition to undermining academics’ freedom of what and how to teach, this goes directly against the Humboldtian objective of a university pedagogy – which is one of fostering ‘an approach to learning, an attitude of mind, a skill and a capacity to think rather than specialised knowledge’ (Ash, 2006, p. 246). To summarise, the liberal-humanist model posits that university research must be based on intellectual curiosity and be concerned with generating pure scientiﬁc knowledge. Further, university teaching must adhere to the principle of academic freedom, and be concerned with fostering character, critical thinking, a love of learning for its own sake, and conscientious citizenship. In complete contrast with this traditional conception of the values that a university should defend and how it should function, the neoliberal model deﬁnes and aims to transform the university into: A self-interested, entrepreneurial organization offering recursive educational experiences and research services for paying clients. In such institutions, academics become managed knowledge producers who should follow prescribed sets of organizational processes. Their research and pedagogy must be justiﬁed as beneﬁcial for the university through quantitative measures. Students are recast in the role of knowledge consumers, and have a voice in determining the manner in which educational services are packaged and delivered to them. (Hadley, 2015, s. 6) Correspondingly, as mentioned earlier, the purpose of the present study is thus to gain empirical insights on the extent to which British universities extol and promote neoliberal discursive formations over liberal-humanist ones. To this end, said study examines the following research questions. RQ1: What is the paradigmatic portrait of prioritised educational and research objectives and values in the Russell Group’s education strategy documents? RQ2: To what extent are Russell Group universities committed to preserving and promoting higher education’s historically liberal-humanist principles and commitments?
Methodology In order to answer to these research questions, this study employed a quantitative content analysis procedure that followed a summative and contextual approach. This method is used to extrapolate and approximate the discursive mediations and effects of texts via the application of a reliable coding scheme that represents a fairly accurate model of what a given body of text is effectively
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communicating (Krippendorff, 2004). The exact procedure used here is speciﬁed below, but it more broadly entails quantifying the usage and unpacking the subtext of keywords that are initially derived from a literature review and/or a researcher’s interests. These are then searched for, identiﬁed, and contextualised during the analysis (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005; Krippendorff, 2004).
Inclusion Criteria The sample corpus was composed of each Russell Group member’s latest and ofﬁcial education strategy as of June 2018. These were retrieved from their respective website. Nine of these strategies came in the form of downloadable pdf ﬁles featuring full-ﬂedged mission and vision statements. Analysis of these ﬁles covered the entire document but focused on sections speciﬁcally about teaching, learning, and research. All other sections including, for example, those to do with employment recruitment, widening participation, and environmental initiatives were examined, but not included in the analysis below as these were not relevant to this study’s foci. Three universities did not have accessible pdf ﬁles, and so their teaching and learning strategies were collected directly from their dedicated webpages and copied onto separate Word ﬁles. In total, 24 units of analysis were compiled into a single dataset and analysed via the use of NVivo software.
Procedure The ﬁrst stage of analysis began with the search for an examination of the syntactic and semantic context in which the following or synonymous words and phrasings are used: research, employability, learning, citizenship, volunteerism, business, industry, autonomy, curiosity, partnerships, curriculum, critical, knowledge, independent, rankings, and justice. This preliminary perusing revealed that these words and phrasing are often used parsimoniously, superﬁcially, repeatedly, or concurrently in the same sentences and paragraphs. So following this initial examination, I drew on the literature discussed in the previous sections and developed a coding scheme consisting of four codes that correspond to neoliberal university discourses and four to traditional university discourses (see Tables 8.1 and 8.2). I then examined each document line by line, and coded individual sentences or groups of consecutive sentences – in instances where these provided better contextual and semantic clarity, based on whether they predominantly mirrored one of the eight codes. For example, the following excerpt from Queen University Belfast’s Education Strategy 2016–2021: Summary document has linguistic markers that reﬂect both the ‘Employability’ and ‘Global Citizenship & Moral Character’ codes: ‘Our graduates will help shape tomorrow, will be highly sought after by employers for being professional, dynamic, forward thinking, and enterprising, and will be equipped with the skills to be global citizens and to address global
126 Rodolfo Leyva challenges.’ However, this excerpt is arguably and overall more discursively in line (and was thus coded) with the ‘Employability’ code. Moreover, formulations that include relevant keywords and phrasings but which lack a clear or preponderant discursive inﬂection, or are otherwise too ambiguous to be coded with the aforementioned coding scheme, were left uncoded. For example, this included excerpts such as the following: [The] University will provide opportunities and support for all students to have a positive experience in all aspects of their time at Cambridge and to develop themselves to be able to pursue their lives and careers when they leave the University – not just in terms of academic qualiﬁcations and intellectual capability, but also in terms of self-esteem, personal resilience and self-conﬁdence. – From Cambridge University’s Learning and Teaching Strategy, 2015–18
The creation, dissemination and application of knowledge will remain at the heart of all that we do and builds on the University’s history and traditions. – From Leeds University’s Strategic Plan 2015–2020 It should be noted that codes listed above are rough and not entirely mutually exclusive. However, even the most rigorous and objective of quantitative content analysis coding procedures will have inescapable elements of subjective hermeneutic interpretation. This is because words and phrases are very often polysemous, and because determining the content producer’s communicative intent is usually beyond the scope of the content analysis method. Nevertheless, to ensure the reliability of my coding scheme, a second coder coded six randomly selected documents (25% of the sample corpus), using the codes shown in Tables 8.1 and 8.2. To avoid linguistic priming and consequent coding bias, the second coder was only given the codes and their deﬁnitions, but was not told about the broader discursive formations that they corresponded to nor about the purpose of the study. Following consultation, we generated acceptable inter-coder reliability estimates with percent agreements for all eight codes ranging from 83% to 100%.
Analysis and Results The number of times each of the eight discursive codes was identiﬁed in each of the education strategy statements (where applicable), is shown in Table 8.3. Additionally, Table 8.4 shows the frequency counts for the neoliberal discursive codes. These were summed to create an additive index (M = 32.08, SD = 18.99), as were the counts for the traditional university discursive codes (M = 8.33, SD = 11.13). A paired-sample T-test procedure was then conducted to determine whether the mean difference between these two sets of
Sentences that directly or otherwise primarily communicate institutional commitment to enhancing student professional development. This includes, for example, excerpts that indicate or stress the planned embedding of employment skills with course objectives; the increase in career advice resources, publicprivate partnerships, internship opportunities, study abroad programmes; and/or other initiatives to improve students’ ability to successfully compete for graduate-level jobs.
Sentences that emphasise the given university’s reputation, status, and commitments to raising their national and international proﬁle; strategies for sustaining or expanding income streams such as adding courses that are commercially viable; and/or investments in infrastructure and services to help ensure student recruitment and satisfaction. In other words, these excerpts directly or implicitly speak to a given university’s concerns or plans to increase student enrolment ﬁgures and investments in other areas to maximise institutional growth and ﬁnancial sustainability.
Value For Money
Table 8.1 Codebook For Neoliberal University Discourses Recording Unit Examples
‘We will protect our main income sources and improve competitiveness through a focused and market-driven approach to our educational provision. We will rapidly adjust our programme portfolio to changes in demand.’ – From Nottingham University’s Global Strategy 2020 ‘We will need to make explicit the value that is added to students’ experience through the cultural, volunteering and sporting opportunities available on our exceptional campus and in the city that is our home. In a more competitive fee environment, we must become the destination of choice.’ – From Birmingham University’s Shaping Our Future; Birmingham 2015
‘Review, reshape and expand our portfolio of taught postgraduate masters’ and continuing professional development programmes to ensure they are ﬁt for purpose in the national and international marketplace in terms of their content, structure and modes of delivery, and maximise their potential to boost the employability of our graduates.’ – From Bristol University’s Our Vision. Our Strategy ‘Provide information for employers on teaching excellence within the University to allow employers to choose graduates with appropriate skills sets.’ – From Queen’s University Belfast’s Education Strategy 2016–2021: Summary
Gauging Neoliberal Discursive Formations 127
Sentences that highlight examples of applied research, or which indicate that time, support, and ﬁnancial resources will be afforded to applied research. This includes research which has immediate commercial or industrial utility; social, cultural, or policy ‘impact’; and/or some other potential to generate income from interested private, governmental, or third-sector organisations.
Sentences which suggest that auditing and evaluation instruments will be used to measure departments’ and faculty’s teaching and/or research performance. These instruments include for example, the Research and Teaching Excellence Frameworks, student satisfaction surveys, and graduate employment ﬁgures.
Table 8.1 (Cont.)
‘All staff on teaching and research contracts will achieve outcomes that meet institutional policy principles of world-leading and internationally excellent research and impact by 2026.’ – From Liverpool University’s Research And Impact Strategy 2016–2021 ‘We now collect a good deal of information from our students about how they feel about UCL and their education – in module surveys, internal surveys and through the National Student Survey (NSS). We will invest more comprehensively in this rich resource.’ – From University College London’s Education Strategy 2016–21
‘Our ambition is to be a world-leading university, where researchers produce work of the highest signiﬁcance and impact. We will be distinguished by our interdisciplinary research, for training outstanding researchers and giving parity of esteem and to discovery, application, and knowledge transfer and impact.’ – From Manchester 2020 The University of Manchester’s Strategic Plan ‘We will continue to improve the volume and quality of collaborative research with commercial organisations to increase our research income and economic impact.’ – From Southampton University’s A Connected University. Vision 2020
Recording Unit Examples
128 Rodolfo Leyva
‘We prize academic independence and curiosity driven research at Durham.’ – From the Research and Engagement web-section of Durham’s University Strategy 2017–2027 ‘A great university both conveys the knowledge created by its community and is open to new ideas generated elsewhere. We will maintain the freedom for individuals and research groups to decide what to research.’ – From Oxford University’s Strategic Plan 2013–18
Sentences which indicate that time, support, and ﬁnancial resources will be afforded to the pursuit of intellectual curiosity driven research that generates new ideas, theories, models, or principles, but which may not be immediately utilised, have commercial application, or a sociocultural impact. This is sometimes also referred to as basic or blue skies research.
‘These aims are ﬁrmly grounded in an institution where, for the majority of programmes, students are required to be in residence, and where: there is a signiﬁcant level of local autonomy in delivery of provision (the quality of which is assured by proportionate central mechanisms).’ – From Cambridge University’s Learning and Teaching Strategy, 2015–18 ‘To our staff, we commit to the promotion of a collegial community, supporting academic freedom and alert to the needs and aspirations of its members.’ – From Queen Mary University of London Strategy 2014 – the Next Five Years
Sentences that communicate institutional commitment to protecting or otherwise ensuring the liberty for faculty to decide on how and which subjects to teach –irrespective of a subject’s commercial utility or viability or controversial content.
Academic Freedom (Teaching)
Recording Unit Examples
Table 8.2 Codebook For Traditional University Discourses
Gauging Neoliberal Discursive Formations 129
Sentences which primarily indicate that teaching, courses, educational events, and/or other learning resources will be made available, which are geared towards enabling students to pursue their intellectual interests and critically and actively engage with their chosen and other disciplines irrespective of whether these are related to a future profession.
Sentences that primarily emphasise institutional efforts and/or commitments towards helping students to develop into thoughtful, well-rounded, and conscientious global citizens.
Encouraging Student Intellectual Curiosity
Global Citizenship & Moral Character
Table 8.2 (Cont.) Recording Unit Examples
‘Students will develop as global citizens, socially and environmentally aware, and sensitive to international contexts and cultures.’ – From York University’s Learning & Teaching Strategy 2015–2020 ‘Students who undertake an education at King’s do not just engage in a transaction, but a commitment to serve society and to be active and responsible citizens.’ – From King’s College London’s Education Strategy 2017–22
‘An education at Imperial will give them insight and guidance into how they progress from a superﬁcial engagement with this information to a deeper understanding. We will teach students how to process information in a way that extracts meaning, connects concepts and derives insight. Mastery of their chosen discipline requires them to develop conceptual and practical skills and practically apply this as they process knowledge and information.” – From Imperial College London’s Learning and Teaching Strategy ‘Our teaching aims to inspire our students, challenge them, develop their curiosity and encourage them to take greater ownership of their learning, avoiding being passive recipients of knowledge.’ – From Learning and Teaching at the University of Shefﬁeld 2016–2021
130 Rodolfo Leyva
Russell Group Member
University of Birmingham
University of Bristol
University of Cambridge
University of Edinburgh
University of Exeter
University of Glasgow
Imperial College London
King’s College London
Value For Money
Table 8.3 Frequency of Coded Discourses per Russell Group University
Academic Freedom (teaching)
Encouraging Student Intellectual Curiosity
Global Citizenship & Moral Character
Gauging Neoliberal Discursive Formations 131
University of Oxford
Queen Mary University of London
Queen’s University Belfast
University of Manchester
London School of Economics
University of Nottingham
University of Liverpool
University of Leeds
Russell Group Member
Table 8.3 (Cont.)
Value For Money
Academic Freedom (teaching)
Encouraging Student Intellectual Curiosity
Global Citizenship & Moral Character
132 Rodolfo Leyva
Russell Group Member
University of Shefﬁeld
University of Southampton
University College London
University of Warwick
University of York
Value For Money
Academic Freedom (teaching)
Encouraging Student Intellectual Curiosity
Global Citizenship & Moral Character
Gauging Neoliberal Discursive Formations 133
134 Rodolfo Leyva Table 8.4 Total Frequency of Coded Neoliberal and Traditional University Discourses Russell Group Member University of Birmingham
Neoliberal University Discourses (Total Score)
Total Code Count
University of Edinburgh
University of Exeter
University of Glasgow
Imperial College London
King’s College London
University of Bristol University of Cambridge Cardiff University
University of Leeds
Traditional University Discourses (Total Score)
40.00 (100%) 15.00 (68.2%)
University of Liverpool
London School of Economics
University of Manchester
University of Nottingham
University of Oxford
Queen Mary University of London
Queen’s University Belfast
University of Shefﬁeld
Gauging Neoliberal Discursive Formations
Table 8.4 (Cont.) Russell Group Member
Neoliberal University Discourses (Total Score)
Traditional University Discourses (Total Score)
Total Code Count
University of Southampton
University College London
University of Warwick
University of York
observations was statistically signiﬁcant. The test showed that neoliberal discourses were signiﬁcantly more numerous than traditional discourses (t (23) = 4.93, p