Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Children of Rogernomics: A Neoliberal Generation Leaves School

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Children of Rogernomics: A Neoliberal Generation Leaves School

Article excerpt

Iuvenes economici: Karen Nairn, Jane Higgins, and Judith Sligo (2012) Children of Rogernomics: A neoliberal generation leaves school. University of Otago Press.

Reviewed by Nesta Devine

This book is an important contribution to understanding the patterns and trajectories of young people's lives in contemporary New Zealand, and as such will be of interest to sociologists, educators and hopefully policy makers. Its focus is a researched description of the lives of young people who have grown up since 1984, that is, who have never known a world which was not governed by neo-liberalism, or as it is known in New Zealand, by 'Rogernomics'.

One of the key elements of Rogernomics, or rather of its intellectual basis, as advocated by Hayek (1947), Buchanan and Tullock (1969), Treasury (1984, 1987), the Friedmans (e.g. 1853, 1980), and their rather less intellectual admirers - Roger Kerr, Rod Deans, Ruth Richardson, Margaret Thatcher, is a very precise way of regarding the makeup of the individual. The individual, the fundamental component of this analysis of state, economy, and public management, is the self-interested individual: rational in his pursuit of self interest, and oblivious to all notions of public good, aesthetics and ethics, unless they can be shown to contribute directly to that self interest. Indeed the overarching rubric for this form of political thought is 'methodological individualism': there is no escaping this formula for personhood, and other assemblages of persons, like the state, education, health services are to be understood only as assemblages of persons pursuing their own interests, not as communities of interest or public services.

The tricky thing about creating and using such discourses of the person is that they tend to create the person they describe: even if people were not inclined to put self-interest first then the rhetoric of individualism would not only encourage but to a large extent demand that they do so in order to be considered as persons. To a large extent this is done by constructing binaries like 'successful/unsuccessful'; 'independent/dependent'; 'working/bludging'.

The theoretic question of this book is this: if people, particularly young people whose concepts of themselves are not rigidly formed, are subjected to a particular ideological viewpoint for a protracted period, will this impact on their own understanding of themselves? The argument has been extensively explored by Nikolas Rose (eg.1990). In this book Nairn, Higgins and Sligo have asked the empirical questions around this change in selfhood. To what extent do our youngsters, exposed to this official rhetoric from the time they were born conceive of themselves in neo-liberal terms? To explore this question they have interviewed 93 young people, up to three times each, using very innovative research techniques to encourage the young people to give as full an account of their selves as possible. Not only did they use young people to interview young people, they have also used a very interesting 'Anti-CV' as a way for the participants to construct a narrative about themselves using a variety of materials - photographs, music, video, artwork . The analysis of the interviews and anti-CVs forms the empirical substance of the book, and very interesting it is, giving a real insight into the concerns and aspirations of the young people - particularly enabling them to 'play with and explore dominant discourses about sexuality, alcohol consumption and transition to adulthood in relation to their own identity work' (p.34). Their answer to the empirical expression of the major question is yes: a generation exposed to remorseless description of themselves as self-interested, rational exemplars of homo economicus does show some effects from it. But earlier forms of understanding of the 'subject' or self, persist, in the forms of political, ethical, theological, ethnic and gendered understandings of what it is to be a person. …

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