The problem with autonomy: an ethnographic study of neoliberalism in practice at an Australian high school

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Abstract

The research reported here demonstrates the need for greater subtlety in the practice of policy than appears to be evident in many parts of the globe. Based upon an ethnographic study of school reform, this paper heeds Appadurai's call for those researching the ‘global diaspora of ideas’ to pay attention to the contextual conventions governing their translation. This allows us to contemplate how beliefs and practices produced as part of a global swirl of ideas are adapted to meet local conditions. In other words, it is study of neoliberalism in practice. A single-minded focus on neoliberal ideals, in particular on the apparent need for individual autonomy, caused various key players to lose sight of the pragmatic realities of running an education system catering for a diverse population spread unevenly across an enormous expanse of land. Contrary to a commonsense view of the public service as a stultifying force, I argue it can, and does, play a significant role in maintaining some level of commitment to equity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-469
JournalDiscourse: studies in the cultural politics of education
Volume30
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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