Transformational Crisis? Thinking within and beyond the Limits of Neoliberal Education Policy

By Ellison, Scott | International Education, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Transformational Crisis? Thinking within and beyond the Limits of Neoliberal Education Policy


Ellison, Scott, International Education


TRANSFORMATIONAL CRISIS? THINKING WITHIN AND BEYOND THE LIMITS OF NEOLIBERAL EDUCATION POLICY Peters, M. A. (2011). Neoliberalism and After? Education, Social Policy, and the Crisis of Western Capitalism. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing. 222 pages, ISBN 978-1433112065, $129.95.

Michael A. Peters' Neoliberalism and After? Education, Social Policy, and the Crisis of Western Capitalism is an engaging read that situates on-going global trends in social policy and education reform within the intellectual history of neo- liberalism, from its emergence at Louis Rougier's 'La Colloque Walter Lippmann' to the global economic crisis of 2007-2009. A collection of essays spanning Pe- ters' prolific career, Neoliberalism and After? is a strong piece of scholarship that would be of interest to a wide range of scholars in the fields of international edu- cation and education policy studies as a comprehensive analysis of neoliberalism understood as a social policy discourse. In this brief review, I will first discuss what I see as being the strengths of this scholarship, and I will end by sharing my thoughts on the future (and possible demise) of neoliberalism and neoliberal education policy.

I read Neoliberalism and After? as a genealogical work that seeks "to restore the conditions for the appearance of' what has become the dominant discourse informing education policy across the globe as "a singularity born out of multiple determining elements" (Foucault p. 64). Peters acknowledges Foucault's influ- ence on his work by describing his approach to the book as "critical historiog- raphies that emphasize different eras, transitions, mutations, and histories," and it is this un-packing of the discourse of neoliberalism that makes Neoliberalism and After? a strong piece of scholarship (Peters p. 4). The opening chapters of Neoliberalism and After? trace the development of neoliberalism from its emer- gence as a political project articulated at the first meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947 through its transmutations into public policy theory (eg. Becker's Public Choice Theory) and economic development theory (eg. Human Capital and Knowledge Capital) and its ascension to political dominance in the era of Third Way politics and globalization. Throughout, Peters skillfully frames these transformations within a fundamental conflict between individualist and commu- nitarian ideologies and common sense understandings about the relations between individuals and societies. Nowhere does he do this more concretely than when he uses education policy in New Zealand to demonstrate the neoliberal shift in politi- cal philosophy and policy formation from viewing education as a welfare right to a consumer model.

Indeed, Neoliberalism and After? is at its best in chapters six and seven when Peters uses education policy in New Zealand as a case study of neoliberal education reform. These chapters are effective in providing a concrete example of the shift toward neoliberal education policy by a welfare state and the chang- ing perspective on citizens' rights it implies. More importantly, Peters is able to effectively weave a discussion on human rights with Joseph Stiglitz' work on knowledge as a global public good in a knowledge economy to make a strong argument for re-conceptualizing education as a universal welfare right requiring significant state support, in terms of both funding and in fostering an intellectual culture of exchange and collegiality. …

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