Care of the self, resistance and subjectivity under neoliberal governmentalities – A Summary

Last Updated on February 26, 2017 by Karl Thompson

In this recent article – Care of the self, resistance and subjectivity under neoliberal subjectivities Stephen Ball (2012)  effectively argues that teachers who resist the multiple demands of professionalism and just struggle to be themselves are resisting the dominant discourses of neoliberalism.

based on a set of email exchanges with teachers about the terrors of performativity and revises Ball’s 2003 affirmation that performativity has no room for caring.

Ball argues that by acting irresponsibly teachers teachers take responsibility for the care of their selves and make it clear that the social reality is not as inevitable as it may seem. This is not strategic action, but a process of struggle against mundane, quotidian neoliberalisations, that creates the possibility of thinking about education and ourselves differently.

Ball has nothing against collective resistance and decentred unities – but this article is about the teacher who stands alone and thinks the system is cracked – one in which neoliberal governmentalities have become increasingly focused upon the production of subjectivity, so we need to think about subjectivity as a site of struggle.

Ball draws heavily on Foucault (1982) who suggests the struggle over subjectivity is crucial.

This study starts with the empirical — and sketches a new economy of power relations – by looking  at specific forms of resistance (specifically around performativity) to show how they bring to light power relations.

The struggles in this study are against a technique of power – namely performativity; it is about ordinary teachers who ask questions about the how of power and the hows of his or her beliefs and practice. In these moments of questioning the power relations in which he or she is imbricated come to the fore. It is then that they can come to take an active role in their own self-definition as a teaching subject. THE WHOLE PROCESS of writing (including the email exchanges) is a process through which an individual ‘takes care of themselves’.

Later Foucault (1997) asks – how are human beings made subjects, how are we constituted as subjects of our own knowledge? How are we constituted as subjects who exercise or submit to power relations? How are we constituted as moral subjects of our own actions?

Teaching Subjects

Clarifying concepts…

The subject is a form – not a substance – so the idea of subjectivity is that it is always in a process of becoming – so we should focus on what we do rather than what we are. The self is always open – it is a paradox – a constant beginning and a constant end, the subject is governed by others but also by him or herself…. there is always the possibility of resistance. However modes of governance are imposed on the individual by his culture…. (NB for teachers there are many ways this happens, but also for students!).

‘We are interested here in what could be called the teaching subject – the teacher as a subject that has been constituted and that has constituted him herself through certain practices of power and games of truth in a particular epistemological context. In our case, we want to disentangle in this context the mechanisms put into play by neoliberalism as a new regime of truth. NL introduces competition – a move from government to governance, from hierarchies to heterachies…. to a homo economis – an entrepreneur of himself.

NL sets the cultural and social limits to the possibilities of the care of the self, but opens up new spaces for struggle and resistance (NB – personally I think that just walking around stating the logic of the system truthfully counts as resistance).

Irresponsibility as resistance

Focuses on how teachers ways of being can resist governmentality.

Neoliberalism requires and enacts a ‘new type of individual’ that is formed within the logic of competition. It is a new kind of moral order which requires us to perform – there are two technologies which turn us into governable subjects – a technology of agency and a technology or performance – we are produced rather than oppressed, animated rather than constrained.

Quotes Martin – talking about his headmaster etc… they see no problem with, for example, impression management, or of constant improvement.

The rationality of performativity is presented as the new common sense…. it works best when we come to want it for ourselves…. resisting performativity at a discursive level requires the capacity to examine ourselves critically – like what the teachers are doing by emailing him.

The tropes of ‘demoralization, depression, frustration and stress are tropes of experience which reoccur in these emails. These are the responses to externally imposed regimes of truth – things such as OFSTED inspections.

These reveal the fact that the inspection, or top down management initiatives which look to collect more data are actually practices of domination (not power, which there is nothing wrong with)… because they do not allow for dialogue to take place. They imply the almost total impossibility of freedom.

The critiques of teachers represent an attitude of hyper and pessimistic activism as Foucault called it. – and are uncovering what Lazaratto identified as the core strategies of neoliberal transformation of the social – individualisation, insecuritisation and depolitization…. this is more than simply understanding the teaching subject as an entrepreneur of himself, performativity implies accepting that these are the things we do to ourselves and others.

Observations  individualize – the data from observations becomes the basis of social relations. The latter become increasingly fleeting and re replaced with judgmental relations in which teachers and students are valued for their productivity alone. Their value as a person is eradicated.

In the realm of performativity value replaces values… (Peters 2001) – and they divide – reward and exile the ‘irresponsible’ who fail to re-make themselves in the image of the market.

Resisting that works

 A target driven culture forces teachers to measure themselves against what works, no longer can we, or are we allowed to find meaning in what we do, but we need to justify and prove ourselves in terms of rhetoric. In the words of Judith Butler… ‘I am other to myself precisely at the place where I expect myself to be’ 2004

What is being called into question here is the way in which knowledge circulates and functions, its relations to power.

Quotes Paul who is becoming politicized by challenging dominant notions of power…

Nice quote about being aware of the data-drivers – hyper-accountability – the idea that students must make 3 levels of progress agress.

Two regimes of truth are in opposition here – two systems of value and values – One produces measurable teaching subjects, whose qualities are represented in categories of judgement. The other is vested in a pedagogic  of context and experience, intelligible within a set of collegiate relations.

Nigel’s quote about teachers who have managed to engage with students, but there is nothing ‘excellent’ about this!

Ultimately these resistances have to do with the right to develop a particular technology of the self – the right to define ourselves according to our own values and judgments – where we question what we are and what we may become… our askesis.

Walter outlines the problem of resisting the performative demands of the job – silence is easier… and so resistance takes the form of deciphering, understanding, unraveling and re-translating.

Ethics = applied resistance.. working on the self, trying to be ourselves at the moment of discomfort.

The email is part of this resistance – Foucault himself said writing was an important part of self-transformation.

There are costs of doing this – the micro politics of little fears (Lazaratto) and of being silent – who bears this cost…?

Part of this struggle is simply against being excellent, and grounded in ‘my experience’, not against grand narratives, just  about taking control and redefining the moment…!



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from ReviseSociology

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading