Neoliberalism and the Production of Subjectivity

This is a brief summary of Jason Read’s: A Genealogy of Homo-Economicus: Neoliberalism and the Production of Subjectivity (2009)


Neoliberalism represents a fundamental shift in ideology – firstly, it is not generated from the state, but from the quotidian experience of buying and selling commodities from the market, which is then extended across other social spaces, “the marketplace of ideas,” to become an image of society. Secondly, it is an ideology that refers not only to the political realm, to an ideal of the state, but to the entirety of human existence. It claims to present not an ideal, but a reality.


A critical examination of neoliberalism must address this transformation of its discursive deployment, as a new understanding of human nature and social existence rather than a political program.


Homo Economicus: The Subject of Neoliberalism


Foucault – the difference between liberalism and neoliberalism – according to Foucault neoliberalism extends the process of making economic activity a general matrix of social and political relations; the sphere of economics expands, and more and more things are understood through a simple means-ends, cost-benefit analysis.



Another difference between liberalism and neoliberalism is that neoliberalism takes as its focus not exchange but competition. Competition necessitates a constant intervention on the part of the state, not on the market, but on the conditions of the market.


Foucault also takes the neoliberal ideal to be a new regime of truth, and a new way in which people are made subjects: homo economicus is fundamentally different subject, structured by different motivations and governed by different principles, than homo juridicus, or the legal subject of the state. Neoliberalism constitutes a new mode of “governmentality,” a manner, or a mentality, in which people are governed and govern themselves.


The operative terms of this governmentality are no longer rights and laws but interest, investment and competition.


As a mode of governmentality, neoliberalism operates on interests, desires, and aspirations rather than through rights and obligations; neoliberal governmentality follows a general trajectory of intensification. This trajectory follows a fundamental paradox; as power becomes less restrictive, less corporeal, it also becomes more intense, saturating the field of actions, and possible actions.


Neoliberalism has created individualised individuals, companies of one – the needs of Corporations to be free from expensive commitments and to have ever greater numbers of ‘flexible satellites’ has resulted in workers not seeing themselves as existing in solidarity, but as individuals who need to invest in their future, through constantly updating their skills.


The worker has become “human capital”. Salary or wages become the revenue that is earned on an initial investment, an investment in one’s skills or abilities – As Foucault writes summarizing this point of view: “Homo economicus is an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur of himself.”


As Thomas Lemke argues, neoliberalism is a political project that attempts to create a social reality that it suggests already exists, stating that competition is the basis of social relations while fostering those same relations.


Foucault offers us a different interpretation of the relationship between labour and capital. Marx saw labour as being exploited by capital in the process of production, whereas neoliberals redefine the two terms and the relation between them: the capitalist is redefined as an entrepreneur, and labour becomes human capital – capital emerges from labour.


(However, for Foucault) As Christian Laval argues, in neoliberalism all actions are seen to conform to the fundamental economic ideas of self-interest, of greatest benefit for least possible cost. This extends to all areas of society – It is not the structure of the economy that is extended across society but the subject of economic thinking, its implicit anthropology.


Towards a criticism of neoliberalism


Marx tended to see labour as being turned into a cog in the machine, and this was the major way labour ended up working for capital. However, Marx raised the possibility in the Grundrisse, that other human potentialities might be subsumed under capital – and this is where we are at now….


Capital no longer simply exploits labour, understood as the physical capacity to transform objects, but puts to work the capacities to create and communicate that traverse social relations. This subsumption involves not only the formation of what Marx referred to as a specifically capitalist mode of production, but also the incorporation of all subjective potential, the capacity to communicate, to feel, to create, to think, into productive powers for capital.


For Negri… as production moves from the closed space of the factory to become distributed across all of social space, encompassing all spheres of cultural and social existence, neoliberalism presents an image of society as a market, effacing production altogether and neoliberal power works by dispersing bodies and individuals through privatization and isolation.


To put the problem in Foucault’s terms, what has disappeared in neoliberalism is the tactical polyvalence of discourse; everything is framed in terms of interests, freedoms and risks. As Wendy Brown argues, one can survey the quotidian effects or practices of governmentality in the manner in which individualized/market based solutions appear in lieu of collective political solutions: gated communities for concerns about security and safety; bottled water for concerns about water purity; and private schools (or vouchers) for failing public schools, all of which offer the opportunity for individuals to opt out rather than address political problems. Privatization is not just neoliberalism’s strategy for dealing with the public sector, what David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession, but a consistent element of its particular form of governmentality, its ethos, everything becomes privatized, institutions, structures, issues, and problems that used to constitute the public.24 It is privatization all the way down.


As Foucault argues, neoliberalism operates less on actions, directly curtailing them, then on the condition and effects of actions, on the sense of possibility…. Competing ideas must address this!

Are Downshifters Resisting Neoliberalism?

This is a summary of Verdow: The subject who thinks economically? Comparative money subjectivities in neoliberal context

The findings below are based on a comparative study of the money values of 3 groups of Australian generation Xers -‘ordinary’ low and high income individuals and ‘downshifters’. The study is based on a sample of 41 interviewees from one region in Australia, using unstructured interviews with the question ‘what is the good life’ as a starting point.

The study looks at how neoliberalism it might shape subjective identity through the lens of money meanings, looking at respondents’ attitudes to money goals, money values, money boundaries and their relation to temporality. It shows that while ‘ordinary’ middle and low income participants’ subjectivities strongly reference lay (everyday) forms of neoliberalism, some aspects of downshifters’ money meanings proactively undermine them.

To couch this in more theoretical terms the study analyses the ‘particular manner of living’ (Read, 2009: 27) that participants narrate; or what Foucault (1997: 298) would call ‘the morality, the ethos, the practice of the self’ by which individuals regulate themselves.

Specific Findings

Key theories of neoliberalism are enacted through adult subjective money meanings of middle- and low-income groups in the following ways:

  1. Both value economic entrepreneurialism: having freedom, independence,self-reliance and the opportunity for consumer choice.
  2. Money is viewed as a form of personal security (from unpredictable life events, or anxiety)
  3. Participants emphasizeself-responsibility for the management and/or improvement of their circumstance. In line with Buchan (1997: 270), the values and goals of the middle- and low-income participants emphasize economic thinking as the ‘condition of moral health’. This is the subject who thinks economically, embroiled in a ‘manner of governing that is actualized in habits, perceptions and subjectivity’ (Read, 2009: 34).
  4. Economic ‘freedoms’ are envisaged as empowering projects for the middle-income participants, for the low-income participants they generate anxiety through the absence of a means to achieve them.
  5. Money use for the middle-income participants is limited to an intimate social sphere, including private use and extending to family and close friends, or whatBrown (2006: 42) names a citizenship of ‘self-care’. For the low-income participants – there is an imposed permeability to their money status; that they are part-owned by others. This dependence is experienced as stigma, or self-inadequacy.
  6. With respect to temporality, middle-income participants are confident of a clear linear future, including projects, goals and possibilities. Low-income participants emphasize the present, where, due to unachievable aspirations, future expectations are unclear and become anxiety generating.

Downshifter themes also present habits and perceptions that (in a few cases) fit with neoliberal tenets:

  1. Their emphasis on takingself-responsibility, and their agency around goals of health and personal growth (Joseph, 2013).
  2. The curtailing of collective transformation forneoliberal subjects (Read, 2009: 36) is also observed, in that there is no collective organization in their efforts towards behaviour transformation.

Notwithstanding these exceptions, downshifters in this study tend to challenge principles of neoliberalism.

  1. Downshifters’ money values demonstrate an activemoral rethinking of money priorities, demoting its value relative to quality of life and connectedness with others.
  2. Their goals are less material and they do not perceive a low income as a failure toself-regulate (Walker, 2011). Rather, downshifters emphasize quality and meaning in work, social contribution and personal and spiritual growth.
  3. Their money boundaries are permeable, as personal money is viewed as part of taking moral responsibility for a wider social sphere.
  4. Similarly, their confidence in the future is not economically oriented, and temporality tends to be non-linear. Their focus is on being adaptive and reflective in response to possibilities that life may, or may not, present to them.

Where theories and social critiques of neoliberalism state in variegated ways that its disciplinary power is near total (e.g. it is viewed as a ‘leviathan’ by Wacquant [2010: 211], which offers no ‘ameliorative outcome’ [Whitehead and Crawshaw, 2014: 24]), the downshifters offer an alternative possibility. Based on these terms, monetary values and goals are reoriented, and include taking responsibility for the other.

The downshifters’ subjectivity is transformed, but not in neoliberal terms of competition in order to maximize economic options and futures. Rather, their behaviour accounts for currencies of personal and social health, through strategies including working with and for others so that they, too, may experience social and economic opportunities for transformed futures.

This study demonstrates that neoliberalism does not psychologically govern everyone’s soul (Rose, 1990).


There is risk in romanticizing downshifter experiences, as if having a low income is preferable should the right attitude accompany it. Research shows that downshifters often have the ability to adapt to their low income because they can draw on a middle-income ‘tool kit’ of resources and networks.

Further research highlighting other ‘deviant’ cases, and in particular understanding their epistemological differences in terms of how they are resilient in the face of specific neoliberal subjectivities and agencies (Gershon, 2011: 138), would be an important contribution to this knowledge.

Also noteworthy is that the relationship between neoliberal money meanings and their effects on social relations captured by this data does not account for the presence of ‘relational work’ (e.g. see Zelizer, 2012; see also Block, 2012Tilly 1988), a salient dimension of the sociological study of money. Further study with a focus on participant money practices in the context of key relationships would provide greater depth to our understanding of how neoliberal subjectivities are embedded in specific social and relational practices

What is the Neoliberal Subject?

What are the key aspects of the neoliberal subject?

Below is a brief summary of some of the key theorizing around and indicators of the successful neoliberal subject, drawn from Verdouw 2016 (1)

  1. They are an entrepreneurial, competitive creature, forming a ‘company of one’ (Read 2009)
  2. Freedom is defined as the freedom to choose market strategies (Browne 2005)
  3. Practices are presented as freely chosen, responsibility is taken regardless of constraint (Brown 2005, Gill 2008)
  4. They subscribe to a cultural trope of individual moral responsibility (Wacquant 2010)
  5. They close off alternative moral possibilities (Whitehead and Crashaw 2014, Read 2009)
  6. Their main goal is economic entrepreneurial freedom, more specifically independence, self-reliance, choice (to be realised through markets) and (financial) security
  7. They tend to be materialistic
  8. They perceive the self as a project, and themselves as a rational economic actors
  9. problems are construed as ones with market solutions
  10. They focus on profit and productivity
  11. They emphasize self-responsibility, agency and initiative.
  12. They value money generation. comfort, leisure and success
  13. In terms of money boundaries they emphasise privatisation, dispersion and isolation
  14. They define citizenship as self-care
  15. If they Living in the shadow of financialised norm
  16. They subscribe to the implausibility of social transformation
  17. They only take Responsibility for family and small groups of friends
  18. They are confident in self-identification with the future
  19. They are never in the moment, they are future oriented
  20. They have a clear, linear view of the future.

NB – There may well be some overlap with the points above, this is a starting point post to be refined over the long term.

According to McGuigan (2014, see 2 below) – the neoliberal self is comprised of the following characteristics:

  1. A self which is subjected to compulsory individualisation and combines a freewheeling consumer sovereignty with enterprising business acumen; a self condemned to freedom and lonely responsibility. The individual is penalised harshly not only for personal failure but also for sheer bad luck in a highly competitive and relentlessly harsh social environment
  2. A cool-capitalist way of life that does not appear to insist upon conformity and even permits a limited measure of bohemian posturing, personal experimentation and geographical exploration (‘the year out’, for instance).
  3. Generational tension is a distinct feature of the neoliberal imaginary, including the rejection of ‘dinosaur’ attitudes concerning all sorts of matters cherished by an older generation. In this sense, the neoliberal self is connected to a generational structure of feeling, a selfhood counter-posed to the old social-democratic self. Concretely this will typically involve enthusiasm for the latest communications gadget.
  4. The consumption aspect of the neoliberal self is the most obvious, involving the subjectivity cultivated by the cool seduction of promotional culture and acutely brand-aware commodity fetishism. Naomi Klein (2000) said most of what needs to be said about it at the turn of the Millennium.
  5. ‘Generation Debt’ – he doesn’t say much about this, but I’m guessing the neoliberal self is comfortable with debt. NB to my mind this contradicts fundamentally with ‘capital accumulation’.
  6. Significant numbers work in the ‘creative industries’ in wealthier countries are caught in a ‘neoliberal trap’. The paradoxical life conditions of such professional-managerial groups have been written about by Andrew Ross (2009). Personal initiative and frantic networking in the precarious labour market of short-term contracts, where enterprising ‘creativity’ is at a premium
  7. As Boltanski and Chiapello (1999/2005: 199) put it, for cadres instilled with ‘the new spirit of capitalism’, in effect, ‘Autonomy exchanged for security’.
  8. People subjected to uncertainty and unpredictability especially in so called ‘creative’ and allied careers, though not only there, must fashion the kind of self that can cope where trade-union representation has been eliminated or severely restricted. This kind of self is a neoliberal self, figuring a competitive individual who is exceptionally self-reliant and rather indifferent to the fact that his or her predicament is shared with others – and, therefore, incapable of organising as a group to do anything about it. Such a person must be ‘cool’ in the circumstances, selfishly resourceful and fit in order to survive under social-Darwinian conditions. Many simply fall by the wayside, exterminated by the croak-voiced Daleks of neoliberalism. However, the mass-media of communication hardly ever report upon the down-side of the neoliberal experience
  9. Today, it is impossible to talk of an ideal self without mentioning the role of the celebrity, larger-than-life figures to be admired and maybe even emulated, in an old-fashioned term functional as role models of aspiration – ‘dressed-down cool capitalists like Bill Gates or “Ben and Jerry”’ (Budgen, 2000: 151), Steve Jobbs, and today Mark Zuckerberg.

Specific examples of neoliberal subjectivities?

If you struggle a bit with this sort of thing, then you might like my more simplified version: ‘What is Neoliberalism‘?


(1) The subject who thinks economically? Comparative money subjectivities in neoliberal context, Julia Joanne Verdouw. Journal of Sociology – August 29, 2016.

(2) McGuigan, J (2014) ‘The Neoliberal Self’, Culture Unbound, Volume 6, 2014: 223–240.


Neoliberalism in Conservative and New Labour Education Policy (1979-1997)

The resurgence of neoliberalism between 1979 to 1997 resulted in a rolling back of the collectivist principles of welfare state and a return to Victorian era individualsim, a reassertion of the twin pillars of individual liberty defined as freedom to choose and market forces, or the discipline of competition.

Throughout this period, conservative economic policy was reoriented towards the neoliberal agenda of deregulation, privitasation and and liberalisation.

Neoliberalism under the conservative government (1979-1997)

Ball points to six key elements of the conservative (neoliberal) framework for education, the main platform for which was the 1988 Education Reform Act:

  • The establishment of a national curriculum – (What Ball refers to as revisionist – a Victorian fantasy with Britain at the centre as a benign power lighting the way for others)
  • Suspicion of teacher professionalism – accountability and control
  • ‘Teacher-proof’ evaluation – more market information
  • Offering parents choice
  • Devolution of budgets from LEAs to schools
  • Enhancement of roles of governors and headteachers in local management systems.

These elements tied together as a reform package that provided the infrastructure for an education market and the neoliberal vision of the education system focused on market reform, which also had six key elements:

  • Choice for parents
  • Per capita funding meant schools were driven by recruitment
  • Diversity of provision
  • Competition
  • League tables
  • New organisationl ecologies – management modeled on business – focusing on ‘efficient’ use of resources and budget maximisation.

Further features of the neoliberal education system include:

  • A complex infrastructure of testing
  • A discourse of othering – constructing inner cities as a problem in need of correction, for example.
  • The TVEI was also established to reorient schools to the needs of employers. This was intended to make colleges more vocationally oriented, provide job-related training to 14-18 year olds and steer students into boom industries.

 Neoliberalism under the New Labour Government (1997-2010)

When New Labour cam to power in 1997 there were three further shifts or ruptures which were subtle yet distinct inflections of the period of Thatcherism or neoliberalism:

  • A further move in political terms towards the knowledge economy
  • A reassertion of the state as the ‘competition state’
  • A re-articulation of values to new labour values Following Jessop (2002) a competition state ‘aims to secure economic growth within its borders and/or seek competitive advantage for capitals based in its borders’ by promoting the economic and extra-economic conditions necessary for competitive success.

There was a corresponding refocusing of funding so it was increasingly related to performance and competitive success and a move away from public funding to contract funding through private, voluntary or quasi-public bodies.

 Specific policies to drive up standards included:

  • priortiorising literacy and numeracy
  • performance tables were amended to show student progress
  • every school was to be inspected every six years
  • failing schools were to become fresh start schools
  • there were more standards and effectiveness units and task forces

Policy also became increasingly complex/ diverse and dynamic – it talked of culture of success, and the economic imperative became absolutely clear – which represented a change in tone of policy making.

Ball refers to New Labour’s third way as warmed-over neoliberalism. The Third Way preferred a flexible repertoire of state roles and responses (following Eagle 2003) rather than being into market fundamentalism…. but ultimately the aim of the state was not to replace the market, but to make sure it worked properly.

Later on through the agendas of increasing diversification, differentiation and personalisation of learning we see policy being adapted to the interests/ fears and skills of the middle classes.

There was a new emphasis on modernisation, flexibility and dynamism – responding to globalisation – Schools should be innovators

There was a move away from the discourse of the comprehensive school, minimum standards and the start of what Kenway (1990) calls a ‘discourse of derision’ – bog standard comprehensives were stereotypically portrayed as bad – in order to undermine public services.


Post sumarised from Stephen Ball’s (2013) – The Education Debate

The Neoliberal Approach to Education Reform

Stephen Ball argues that there are four central mechanisms through which neoliberalism has transformed the British education system (these are also the mechanisms of public service reform more generally):

  1. Top down performance management
  2. Greater competitivenss and contestability
  3. Choice and voice
  4. Measures to strengthen the capability of public servants to deliver improved public services

 All of this leads to a self-improving system.


A lot of discursive work has gone into making the case for public service reform. Challenges and changes in public attitudes make reform necessary. Lister (2000) argues this is a discourse which has no opposition.

These four policy genealogies run through from the conservative government of 1979 to New Labour and can be traced into the Coalition government. Although there is no simple, linear relationship between government to government, overall there has been a gradual weakening of the welfare model of public service provision.

The initial moves can be traced back to certain neoliberal think tanks and individuals such as Joseph Seldon, Hayek, the Inst for Ec Affairs, Centre for Policy Studies, Adam Smith Institute, and later on the following:

  • Giddens – The Third Way
  • Michael Barber – World Class Education (NB MkKinsey)
  • Tom Bentley – Creativity
  • Charles Leadbeater – Personalisation
  • Andrew Adonis – Academies/ Selection
  • David Halpern/ Social Capital/ nudge economies

Ideas underpinning the policy commitment of the ‘new’ conservatives are supported and reinforced by the existence of a sprawling and highly interconnected network of influence. (NB – there is an awfully huge sum of money in the UK education system!) Ball and Exely 2010

These ideas also chime with various gateways of centre right thinking

  • Conservative Home CEsociety
  • Ian Duncan Smith – Welfare Reform/ Social Justice
  • Philip Blond
  • Sheila Lawlor Anti statiism Traditionalism
  • Policy Exchange

There are biases that emerge from think tank policy making – urban/ London/ middle class.

 Top Down Performance Management

Has its origin in the Ruskin Speech – the notion that education was no longer seen as fit for purpose – the profession being seen as both resistant to change and too progressive. The construction of the untrustworthy teacher and the mediatisation of policy – Tyndale School – Lead to the National Curriculum and the 1988 Education Act – and here starts the long history of the denigration of teachers.

Introduction of league tables in 1992 – providing market information to parents and national and local press- coverage has now become ritualistic (Warmington and Murphy 2004) – public discourse now centres around good and bad schools.

New Labour took these ideas much further – standards being one of the buzzwords of 1998. Ministers started to judge themselves by standards, and meeting national targets.

The setting of national targets is indicative of the reconceptualisation of the education system as a single entity and as a fundamental component of national economic competitiveness.

Ozga (2008) describes regimes of audit, inspection, evaluation and testing and the use of measurement and comparison as governing by numbers and as forms of governing knowledge that constitute a ‘resource through which surveillance can be excercised’.

We now have a discourse which centres around around failing and underpefrorming schools and Fresh Start Schools governed by Superheads

The Coalition took up governance-by-numbers (Ozga 2010) and changed key performance indicators – E-bacc, eliminated 2000 courses from GCSE indicators, and raised benchmark targets.

It also made strategic comparisons between unreformed and progressive schools.

Macguire 2004 – we now have a cycle of problem, solution, success and new problem…

 Competition and Contestability

Hatcher (2000) refers to endogenous and exogenous privatisation – The first of these was emphasised by early conservatives – making public sector organisations act in a more business like way by creating quasi-market systems – mainly through linking funding to recruitment and thus consumer choice and devolving managerial and budgetary responsibility…. and publishing league tables.

Then tweaking to avoid cream skimming/ exclusions.

There are three main aspects to the ‘drivers’ embedded in the theory of quasi market competition –

  • efficiency – more focus on performance, assumes outputs are appropriate
  • market failure – taking over failing schools
  • bringing in choice as a competitive force.

This third aspect does not sit well with top down performance management – as pupils are valued differently, with white middle class students generally seen as being the best value.

Labour gave much more emphasis to exogenous contestability – allowing new providers to come in….. Flexible contracting… Outsourcing. Connexions National Strategies. – If public models don’t work the private sector takes over! – Creates diversity of providers.

A final element here is diversity – More faith schools, grammar schools, grant-maintained schools, CTCs, Specialist schools and of course academies alongside a criticism of ‚Bog standard comprehensives‘ and weakening the role of LEAs

The Coalition took this further – extending academies, and introducing free schools.

ALL OF the below respond to glob and choice and voice.

Choice and Voice

This involves power being but in the hands of the service users, and the system is open, diverse, flexible (Blair, 2005). This supposedly provides incentives for driving up standards, promotes equality, and facilitates personalisation – all of which are contestable. Choice and voice are part of the move from a producer to a consumer culture and are about creating citizen-consumers (Clarke et al 2007), although experiements with voucher schemes by the conservatives have not been extended.

2006 legistation offered parents the possibility of ‘personalisation through participation’ – as part of an ‘agenda’ of government to reconfigure the environment for learning with new spaces and time frames both within and outside of the school day and incorporating new technologies. Ball argues that this can be read as a decomposition of a universal system of education – moving towards commodification.

Student participation was made mandatory in the 2002 Education Act and is now part of OFSTED inspections.

He now notes that choice policies increase inequality along class lines – classic Ball!

Choice Policies were accelerated by new labour in order to appeal to its individualistic, middle class voter base, and taken a stage further by the Coalition with ‘Free Schools’.

Choice policies (free schools) reflect a number of different aspects of Coalition Policy – greater choice, more competition, new ways of tackling deprivation, traditionalism, local community involvement and marginalisation or LEAs, and opening up opps for business.

While businesses are calling for more chains, it is unclear the extent to which the profit motive is manifest – it remains unclear. Where academy chains and communities are concerned, there is a tension between neoliberalism and classical liberalism.

Ball cites The New Schools Network,  University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools as examples of where the Coalition government is taking education.

Taken together this involves what Castells (2000) calls ‘reprogramming’ – addressing social problems through philanthropy, social ent and market solutions to supplement or displace state action. This extends to many areas of education – teacher education and development, school management, curriculum development, HE, policy research, NEETs.

These changes are not simply about who does what, they are about changing the forms and purposes of public services.

Capability and Capacity

 Again contains a dual element of intervention and devolution – a further set of moves through a new discourse of leadership, which enhances the roles of public sector managers, crucial agents of change, and the ‘remodelling’ of the teaching workforce as part of a more general strategy of ‘flexibilisation’ and ‘skill mix’ across the public services. This also involves reprofessionalisation (training a new cadre of school leaders) and de-professionalisation – in that teachers jobs are more closely scrutinised, more LA’s and now the abolition of the GTC with the Teaching Agency, tying teacher’s pay more to performance.

Policy moves to bring about improved capability and capacity have three dimensions –

  • Leadership
  • Collaboration/ Partnership
  • Remodelling teachers.

Leadership – Heads play a crucial role in reculturing schools – New Labour’s ideal leader instills responsiveness, efficiency and performance improvement – and they emphasise the above three!

The NCSL – And the Headship Qualification are two relatively new innovations here.

Leaders are managers of performance, not teachers – discourse of school leadership is drawn from Business writing and gurus (see Thomson 2009 and Gunter 2011).

Collaberation/ Partnership – Under the coalition, management has become about competition and co-operation – possibly just rhetoric. Michael Gove sees innovative schools as being models for other schools, these and academies and federations are seen as working together to drive up standards. Partnerships are also part of this – a buzzword of new labour – but this is a slippery word that dissolves the difference between private and public sector while obscuring the relationship between financial relations and power.

Remodelling of teachers – Performance related pay set at an institutional level – teachers are now seen as units of labour to be managed (Mahoney 2004) also academies and free schools allow the appointment of non qualified teachers.

This is transnational – and Smyth et al (2000) argue that they make sense of what is happening to teachers work with practical and emancipatory intent requires a critical theory capable of connecting globalisation to the every day life of the classroom.

Teacher net – The teacher workload study – teacher working hours fifty to sixty working hours a week are the norm.

Also mentions teach first as being part of this.

Over time as the effect of these policy moves teachers have been remade within policy and their work and the meaning of teaching have been discursively rearticulated: there is a new language about what teahers do and how they talk about themselves.

Bates 2012 – Coalition publications seem to prepare the ground for increased differentiation within the teaching profession.


What is happening within this ensemble of policies is a modelling of the internal and external relations of schooling and public service provision on those of commercial and market institutions. This involves new relations of power in the way policy is made. This means a wearing away of professional-ethical regimes and their value systems and their replacement with entr-competitive regimes and new value systems. Also involves the increasing subordination of education to the economic and rendering of education into the commodity form.

Education is increasingly for profit and education plays its part in fostering an entr culture and the cultivating of entr subjects. Parents are cast as consumers and offered personalized learning, and schools are expected to compete and yet also cooperate.

This is also a reorientation to economic global competitiveness as part of a global flow of policy based around a shift towards a knowledge based high skills economy, although conceptualisations of this are vague.

Inside classrooms teachers are caught between the imperatives of prescription and the disciplines of performance. Their practise is both steered and rowed. Teachers are not trusted, and exemplars of best practise are standards against which all are judged.

Key to all of this are the league tables, but what is avoided is what these indicators actually stand for. And whether they represent meaningful outputs. Does the adaption of pedagogy actually mean improvement?

Also this is part of a new global policyscape – involving more advocates and pressure groups.


Stephen Ball – ‘The Education Debate’ (2013)

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

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…!



Donald Trump’s Political Appointments – TNCs to shape U.S. Social Policy?

Trump’s political appointments seem to illustrate an extreme neoliberal approach to politics – those who are successful at business are being placed into senior positions in the U.S. political system which will allow them more power to shape domestic and foreign policy.

Trump’s Appointments – Transnational Corporations to Shape U.S. Social Policy  

According to a recent Guardian article on Donald Trump’s political appointments he ‘has so far nominated a number of billionaires, three Goldman Sachs bankers and the chief executive of the world’s largest oil firm to senior positions…. His team [has been] dubbed the “team of billionaires”.

Trump’s (neoliberal) argument for these appointments is that the accumulation of wealth is a sign of success and that having internationally successful business people in positions of power to negotiate (or renegotiate) trade-deals will benefit the U.S. economy and the the American people.

Two of Trumps appointments demonstrate this neoliberal approach (and its problems) perfectly: his appointment (still prospective at time of writing) of the CEO of Exxon-Mobile to Secretary of State and the appointment of Steve Mnuchin to the position of treasury secretary

It is the selection of Exxon’s chief executive, Rex Tillerson which has caused the most controversy. Tillerson has a close relationship with Vladimir Putin and some years ago agreed a joint venture with Russia to drill for oil in Siberia and the North Sea, however this venture was shelved following sanctions against Russia when it annexed Crimea. As secretary of state, Tillerson (who has $250 million of Exxon stock) will be leading discussions on whether the US should maintain sanctions against Russia.

According to this article from the Daily Kos, Tillerman’s appointment would be a disaster for business ethics…

‘Rex Tillerson is exactly the man you would expect a man who rose to the top of the oil industry to be. He has no evident morals or concerns about the world that supersede a paycheck. His respect for his own nation ends when there is a business deal to be made somewhere else.’

Trump’s pick for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is also a multimillionaire former Goldman Sachs banker who went on to be dubbed a “foreclosure king” for buying up distressed mortgages and evicting thousands of homeowners during the financial crisis.

Potential problems with Trump’s neoliberal agenda

  1. Increasing wealth and income inequality in the U.S. – With the transnational capitalist class now in direct control of U.S. domestic and foreign policy, there is every likelihood that the super rich will get richer while the income and wealth of the majority of U.S. citizens will stagnate or even go into reverse. Critics such as Warren (above) argue that Donald Trump has every intention of running Washington to benefit himself and his rich buddies”.
  2. Less respect for human rights globally. The appointment of Tillerson as Secretary of State and his close relations with the human-rights abuser Vladimir Putin suggests that the financial interests of the super-rich will trump (excuse the pun) issues such as respect for universal human rights – it’s more likely that the U.S. will turn a blind eye to dictators who trample on human rights, so long as there’s a profit to made for U.S. companies.
  3. More economic instability – The fact that Goldman Sachs executives now have greater say in shaping U.S. economic policy could mean more deregulation of financial markets and more instability in the global economy in the long run.
  4. Environmental decline – this is possibly the beginning of the end of life on planet earth as oil companies will almost certainly be given the green light to dig up the arctic.

Where can you use this in the A Level Sociology Course?

Unfortunately for those of you who haven’t been given the option of studying global development, this is just extension work, but if you are one of the fortunate few studying this most relevant and interesting topic – this info fits in as follows:

  • It’s a great example of current neoliberal policy (so neoliberalism is still very much relevant)
  • It demonstrates the increasing power of TNCs – yet how they need control over nation states to empower themselves.
  • It’s a great example of how the global super-class work – at a level above that of the nation state.



Evaluating the The New Right View of the Family

The New Right believe that the traditional nuclear family is best and are critical of other ‘non-standard’ family types such as lone parent and reconstituted families.

CIVITAS is one of the best examples of an organisation which represents the New Right View of the Family, and the decline of the nuclear family and increase the the number of single parent families is one of the social trends it focuses on.

In one of it’s documents, entitled ‘Experiments in Fatherless Living‘ CIVITAS focuses on the consequences of rising number of single parent families for both children and society. Just some of the problems they single out include the fact that:

Problems with Lone mothers

  • Are poorer – one mothers are twice as likely as two-parent families to live in poverty at any one time (69% of lone mothers are in the bottom 40% of household income versus 34% of couples with children).
  • Are more likely to have mental health problems – At the age of 33, divorced and never-married
  • were 2.5 times more likely than married mothers to experience high levels of psychological distress.
  • may have more problems interacting with their children. Young people in lone-parent families were 30% more likely than those in two-parent families to report that their parents rarely or never knewwhere they were

Children from Lone Parent families

  • Among children aged five to fifteen years in Great Britain, those from lone-parent families were twice as likely to have a mental health problem as those from intact two-parent families (16% versus 8%).
  • Have more trouble in school – After controlling for other demographic factors, children from lone-parent households were 3.3 times more likely to report problems with their academic work, and 50% more likely to report difficulties with teachers
  • Analysis of 35 cases of fatal abuse which were the subject of public inquiries between 1968 and 1987 showed a risk for children living with their mother and an unrelated man which was over 70 times higher than it would have been for a child with two married biological parents.
  • Are more likely to run away from home – children from lone-parent families are twice as likely to run away from home as those from two-birth-parent families (14% compared to 7%).

Criticisms of the New Right view of single parents 

This text, Charles Murray and The Underclass (especially from page 62 – ‘The Focus on Single Mothers’) provides some useful criticisms of the above statistics – As follows:

‘Murray’s thesis may have been exaggerated for effect, so as to get his main point over, but making scapegoats of single mothers for society’s ills does not help us to approach the serious issues raised by the growing proportion of one-parent families.

This growth has to be seen in the context of changes in social attitudes across the wider society. We live in an age when over 90 per cent of those aged between 18 and 34 do not consider pre-marital sex to be particularly wrong, and when divorce and cohabitation are increasing and are being seen as acceptable at all levels of society.

We may want to seek ways to counter these developments at an individual level, but is not easy to see how we can turn back the clock to a less permissive age—short of a massive religious revival or draconian laws which attempt to control private behaviour between adults.’

Related Links

NB – It’s not just single parents that CIVITAS have got it in for – in their ‘The facts behind cohabitation Fact Sheet‘ they provide more misleading statistics on how marriage is better than cohabitation

Sociology in the News (4)

Three articles about the close and friendly relationship between politicians and big business caught my attention this week.

The three articles below all illustrate how the Marxist critical theory is still relevant, and also serve as good examples of why we have shifted towards neoliberalism – basically big business and government are tightly interwoven, so it’s no surprise that government policy is pro-business – whether we’re talking about the EU, or Ireland, a member of the EU, or the UK which is about to leave the the EU!

Theresa May ‘Banging the Drum’ for Free Trade at the G20 summit

According to this BBC news article, during her first international appearance since Brexit at the G20 summit Theresa May

“banged the drum for free trade, an increasingly lonely message as electorates around the world urge their leaders to greater protectionism”

It’s difficult to know precisely what this means – but it’s highly likely that this means more neoliberalismneoliberalism – lower rates of tax on TNCs, to attract them to the UK, more deregulation (cutting ‘red tape’) and more privatisation of public assets, (already raging under the Tories) – basically more of putting the needs of business and the capitalist class first.

Apple’s 13 Billion Euro Tax Bill…

Or the 13 billion bite!

The European Union recently decreed that that the Irish government should recover 13 billion Euros in bax taxes from Apple, whose headquarters are based in Cork.

Ireland already has one of the lowest corporation taxes in the world, at 12.5%, but it agree 25 years ago it agreed to give Apple a number of subsidies in order to attract the corporation to Ireland, which effectively means it has been paying 0.005% tax during that period.

The reason the EU is demanding that Ireland claim the money back is because the subsidies are against competition law – states aren’t allowed to give preferential treatment to one company over another – by giving them cash hand-outs for example, but allowing tax-breaks effectively amounts to the same thing.

This amounts to giving Apple 220 000 Euros for every year for each job located in Ireland.

The revolving door between Government and Big Business 

A third article by John Harris in the Guardian reveals that there are very close links between EU and British cabinet ministers and big business – basically what happens is that ministers spend a period of time in political office, which often involves dealing with big business, and once they leave politics, the go on to work for big companies, advising them on how to get privileged access so they can easily lobby those in the corridors of power – which makes it easier for them to get ‘sweat heart tax deals’ like Apple did.

The event which prompted the article was that former EU commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso took a job as a nonexecutive chairman and adviser to Goldman Sachs which helped cause the financial crash of 2008, but Harris points out that this is normal – between 2009 and 2010 alone, six out of 13 departing EU commissioners moved into new corporate or lobbying roles.

Harris also suggests that we ‘watch closely as the alumni of the governments headed by David Cameron exit full-time politics. Already, in fact, an odorous cloud has started to form. Earlier this year a Daily Mirror investigation found that 25 former ministers in the coalition government had taken paid roles in sectors they once oversaw’

Somehow I get the feeling quite a few of these news update posts are going to be about the further advance of neoliberalism!

Sociology in the News (2)

Application of sociology to a few recent news events.

1. The Death of the Duke of Westminster

Following the death of his father, the new Duke of Westminster has inherited a £9 bn fortune – making him the third richest person in Britain. This is clearly relevant to sociology in lots of ways –

Firstly, it’s a stark reminder of the staggering extent of inequality between the very wealthiest and the rest of us. If you want to fire up a sense of injustice – keep in mind that this wealth is unearned, this guy did absolutely nothing to earn it and thus in  no way deserves it by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. He now owns ‘half of London’ – people with properties in Mayfair will now be paying ‘ground rent’ to the Duke – just because there’s a law in place which says they have to pay him ground rent. (What was that Chambliss said about capitalism, private property and the law?)

Secondly, it’s a reminder that the law effectively applies differently to the rich compared to the rest of us – If the duke had  paid the standard 40% UK inheritance tax on his new unearned wealth, that would have given the British tax coffers a £3.5 bn boost – but instead the wealth is held in various trust funds, so the new Duke in effect paid 0% tax.

Thirdly, there’s the not insignificant fact of his sisters – the male Duke was third born, he get’s the wealth, not his two older sisters.

2. Reflections on Neoliberalism

Martin Jacque’s article on the death of neoliberalism is effectively a round up of recent news events and a convincing analysis of how they suggest that neoliberalism is no longer hegemonic (even citing Gramsci) and is actually in its death throws. (A brief introduction to neoliberalism here).

The author argues that there is a growing number of people and organisations actively seeking political solutions to neoliberal hypergloablism – that is the free movement of capital around the world. He cites the following (some are quite obvious examples others less so) as evidence –

  • Most importantly, neoliberalism has stopped bringing economic growth – we are still feeling the slowdown from the last crisis almost 10 years later.
  • Joint most importantly – the consequences of neoliberalism’s biggest failing – increasing inequality are becoming more and more evident.
  • Donald Trump’s increased political influence – he’s basically an anti-neoliberal economic nationalist
  • the vote for BREXIT
  • Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity
  • 48% of Americans now identify as working class, it was only 33% in 2000
  • The popularity of left-wing economists such as Pickerty, Ha-Joon Chang and Krugman (excuse spelling)

Jacques also notes that we don’t actually know what the alternative is yet, and the conservatives seem to be oblivious to it, but there is mounting evidence that neoliberalism as usual isn’t working.

3. The Olympics

Obviously anyone with any sense doesn’t define sport as newsworthy, but the mainstream media does and there’s been a real love-in with the Olympics over the past three weeks. Or to be more specific, the elitist upper-middle class media’s had a real love-in with the disproportionately privately-schooled Team GB.

Digging behind the rather shallow obsession with winning and league tables the Olympics actually offers us not only a painful reminder of the UK’s class divide, but also a nice illustration of the relevance of Giddens’ structuration theory – see ‘A Sociological Analysis of The Olympics’ for a few thoughts.

Meanwhile, the working classes remain sat on their sofas, eating crisps, getting fatter, being northern and just plain wrong. I’m fairly sure ITV’s switch off for an hour won’t make any difference.

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