Governing through parents: a genealogical enquiry of education policy and the construction of neoliberal subjectivities in England

Olmedo, Antonio and Wilkins, Andrew. 2017. Governing through parents: a genealogical enquiry of education policy and the construction of neoliberal subjectivities in England. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 38(4), pp. 573-589. ISSN 0159-6306 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

In this paper we explore the various spaces and sites through which the figure of the parent is summoned and activated to inhabit and perform market norms and practices in the field of education in England. Since the late 1970s successive governments have called on parents to enact certain duties and obligations in relation to the state. These duties include adopting and internalizing responsibility for all kinds of risks, liabilities and inequities formerly managed by the Keynesian welfare state. Rather than characterize this situation in terms of the ‘hollowing of the state’, we argue that the role of the state includes enabling the functioning of the parent as a neoliberal subject so that they may successfully harness the power of the market to their own advantage and (hopefully) minimize the kinds of risk and inequity generated through a market-based, deregulated education system. In this paper we examine how parents in England are differently, yet similarly, compelled to embody certain market norms and practices as they navigate the field of education. Adopting genealogical enquiry and policy discourse analysis as our methodology, we explore how parents across three policy sites or spaces are constructed as objects and purveyors of utility and ancillaries to marketisation. This includes a focus on how parents are summoned as 1) consumers or choosers of education services; 2) governors and overseers of schools; and 3) producers and founders of schools.

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Governance, education policy, parents, neoliberalism, participation, choice, free schools

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies


10 February 2016Published Online

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Date Deposited:

06 Nov 2019 11:58

Last Modified:

11 Jun 2021 21:46

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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