Policy utopias: Fictions, phantoms and phantasmagoria

Year: 2012

Author: Bansel, Peter

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Policies are narratives that lay out problems and solutions, manage risk, and mandate collective and individual responsibilities. In this paper I read educational policy documents through the tropes of fiction, phantom and phantasmagoria in order to trace the narrative trajectories through which problem spaces of the present and desired futures are articulated. I suggest that these problems and proposed solutions are figurations of fears and desires through which fictions of future utopias are composed. I'm interested in the ways policy narratives, as practices of government, constitute citizen/subjects as autonomous and rational agents of democracy; subjects who are responsible for making personal choices upon which possibilities for social change are predicated. Given that possibilities for citizenship are normatively constituted and regulated by practices of government, and that they proscribe the limits of autonomy and agency, the putatively rational, autonomous and agentic democratic subject is itself a fiction.

Policy narratives, as technologies of government through which individuals and collectives are constituted as agents in relation to policy problems and solutions, are also articulations of the ambitions, fears and desires of government. In this sense, policy narratives are technologies (of Deleuzean 'desiring-production') through which the ambitions, fears and desires of the individual/citizen are figured. This figuration is instantiated through narratives of problems and solutions, collective and individual responsibilities, and necessary action directed towards idealised futures that defend against failure, collapse and disaster. In this sense, policy narratives might be read as cautionary tales told and performed through a theatre of phantasmagoria and the fabrication of fictive subject/phantoms (illusions/delusions) who are both the cause of, and solution to, policy problems.

Against the primarily economic rationalities through which education policy is figured, I offer an account of the ways these rationalities constitute emotional/psychological subject of needs, ambitions, desires etc, who are charged with individual responsibility for the health and prosperity of the nation, thus becoming the locus of transformation and intervention. What fantasies of, and responsibilities for, possible futures are individual subject/citizens invited (compelled) to bear, and with what consequences? In addressing policy in this way I contemplate possibilities for conceptualising narrative practices as a politics of intervention.