The present paper employs public discourses, in the form of policy documents from the OECD, EU and the UN, news and popular media, to explore how economic and political subjectivities simultaneously emerge and are obfuscated in the ubiquitous discourses on education that are dominated by neoliberal ideas (Ball, 2006; Buras & Apple, 2005).
Perspectives and theoretical framework
One point of departure are the notions of “interdiscursivity” and “medialization of politics,” which point to how discourses are rearticulated in different contexts, drawing on each other, and thereby both affirming and displacing each other, and to how politics is made intelligible in public media (Fairclough, 1995; 2000). Another point of departure is the notions of assemblages and flight lines (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004). These concepts enable us to understand the neoliberal education discourse as an open, ambiguous and undecided assemblage, and to explore how this assemblage makes possible differing educational aims and subject positions.
The argument is based on discourse analysis of transnational policy documents and news and popular media from different nations. The aim of the analysis is to explore what economic and political subject positions are made possible in these different data sets.
Results and Arguments
Although the tenants of neoliberalism are dominant, they are not totally hegemonic. In both the policy documents and the public media data, there are simultaneous articulations of a neoliberal educational discourse and a discourse of education as a tool to enhance democracy and create social justice. Furthermore, these discourses inform and are often intertwined with each other.
The transnational policy documents predominantly articulate education as possibilities.
There are, however, salient differences between the OECD and EU documents, and the UN documents. Although all emphasize what education can do for the nations, the former stress education as a prerequisite for economic progress, whereas the latter stress eliminating poverty, fostering democracy, and empowering individuals and subordinated groups. In this way, the OECD and EU documents constitute subjectivities in relation to a market focused on how learners can contribute to a growing economy, whereas the UN documents constitute political subjects who can contribute to society through political interventions.
News and public media are dominated by articulations of an education system in a state of “crisis”. The arguments for these representations and the solutions brought forward are drawn from a neoliberal discourse focused on competition, marketization, free choice, and private initiatives, but there is also a parallel and intersecting discourse of education as a means to give subordinated subjects opportunities for a better life. However, these discourses mainly point to economic rather than to political subjectivities, who hold their future in their own hands by making the right choices and working hard. This is not completely unambiguous, as media representations, especially in the popular media, also depict resistance and constitute subjectivities who subvert the neoliberal hegemony and who insist on the political (Mouffe, 2005). These subversions open the door to notions of education as practices that not only stabilize, but also destabilize and change society.
AERA 2013 Annual Meeting, 27 April - 1 May 2013, San Francisco, California, USA