The New Political Economy of Education Policy: Cultural Politics, Mobility and the Market: A Response to M. Peters' 'Four Contexts for Philosophy of Education and Its Relation to Education Policy'

By Gulson, Kalervo N.; Lubienski, Christopher | Knowledge Cultures, March 2014 | Go to article overview

The New Political Economy of Education Policy: Cultural Politics, Mobility and the Market: A Response to M. Peters' 'Four Contexts for Philosophy of Education and Its Relation to Education Policy'


Gulson, Kalervo N., Lubienski, Christopher, Knowledge Cultures


1. Introduction

We write this response to Michael Peters' paper on 'Four contexts for Philosophy of Education and its relation to education policy' (this issue) (1) from outside philosophy. Our focus is on, and our affinity is with, what Peters concludes is the aim of his philosophical work as 'attempts to problematize modern forms of power and knowledge' (n.p.). In this short response, we focus on two ideas emerging from Peters' paper--the first is to continue to articulate the ways in which the economic relates to the non-economic, and the second is the notion of neoliberalism and its explication and excavation in governmentality inspired work. We attempt to show the congruence of these ideas with the field of 'New Political Economy' (Besley, 2007; Gamble, Payne, Hoogvelt, Dietrich, & Kenny, 1996), and with what we posit as a 'new political economy of education policy' that encompasses three discrete and interrelated aspects of education policy - cultural politics, mobility and the market.

This paper is an authorial experiment, as one of us (Gulson) has not previously considered his work explicitly in reference to political economy, while one (Lubienski) was trained in political economy and applies it in his research endeavours. This response might be seen as an argument not so much to define the field of 'New Political Economy', as to translate and apply its analytics possibilities into the field of education policy studies. We do this, first, by outlining what has been constituted as the New Political Economy. In the second part of the paper we try to locate existing work in education policy studies in reference to some of the concerns of the New Political Economy. We discuss the relationship between neoliberalism, multiculturalism and the marketisation of life, and, we examine how education policy information can be understood within new political economies of mobile knowledge and markets. We conclude with some emerging thoughts about what a new political economy of education might mean for our understandings of policy and analysis.

2. From the 'Old' to the New Political Economy

The shifting boundaries between the economic and non-economic are endemic to late capitalist states and forms of neoliberal governance. As Peters notes, the Scottish Enlightenment, at the advent of the era of classification and specialisation, provides a way of seeing economics and politics as separate subjects for the first time. This separation in political economy was not there for writers such as Mill, Marx and Smith, for whom 'political economy was seen as a unified social science, rather than simply as the science of the economy' (Milonakis & Fine, 2009: 2). Twentieth century political economy was most concerned with:

... the relationship between the state and the economy. This involved different visions of its ideal institutional form as well as theoretical and empirical analysis of agencies and structures, and debates on the principles and substance of public policy (Gamble et al., 1996: 5)

A separation occurs in the move from classical political economy to neoclassical economics, in which 'political economy became economics, through the desocialisation and dehistoricisation of the dismal science' and that 'this heralded the separation of economics from the other social sciences at the beginning of the twentieth century' (Milonakis & Fine, 2009: 1), as economics claimed special legitimacy as a science with universal laws. Yet the boundaries of the economic and non-economic are paradoxical for while the study of the economy was separated from the social sciences, the economic has become the new set of assumptions that permeate privileged attempts to understand social, cultural and political life (Lubienski, 2006; Lubienski & Lubienski, 2014) (more on this below). What we are interested in, then, is the emergence of the New Political Economy as a conceptual intervention into, and a disruption of the dominance of, economics in the social sciences, and into neoliberalised social, political and cultural life. …

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