The role of entrepreneurial and therapeutic ethos' in shaping a 'diminished' subjectivity in Finnish education.

Year: 2012

Author: Brunila, Kristiina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Contemporary working life is about getting the most out of employees and releasing the psychological striving of individuals for autonomy and creativity, by enhancing skills such as self-presentation: self-awareness and self-management are key to this goal. In this paper, entrepreneurial and therapeutic ethos' are discussed together in order to highlight the fact that it is not merely competitiveness and efficiency which are shaping education, as many critics argue, but also subtle and implicit attempts to change the ways in which we perceive ourselves. The vocabulary of entrepreneurial and therapeutic ethos links political rhetoric and regulatory programmes to the 'self-steering' capacities of subjects themselves. The ideal self is autonomous, self-responsible, entrepreneurial, flexible and self-centred.


Finland is often seen as a model country of equality and a major international leader in education. The Finnish educational system has received a lot of attention from all over the world. Nevertheless, a combination of an entrepreneurial ethos with a therapeutic ethos has started to permeate the educational system in Finland including young adults' vocational and adult education. We still know very little about how entrepreneurial and therapeutic ethos' are internalised and how they transform and reshape people.


This paper focuses on the entrepreneurial and therapeutic ethos' in order to show their significance in constructing young adults' subjectivity.  It explores this proposition through analysing documents from project-based educational programmes as well as interviews with young adults and the people who work with them in these programmes. The data is examined using a Foucauldian and feminist analysis of discursive power and subjectivity.


This paper will argue that entrepreneurial and therapeutic ethos' represent power that shapes and retools young people to fit in with its needs without using force or domination.  Instead, it enables the target not merely to realise what is supposedly good for him or her but to account for this through therapeutic discourses. In this way, flexibility and self-responsibility mean a diminished self, a limited possibility to speak and to be heard by ensuring that one learns to find mistakes in oneself and blame only oneself: therapeutic accounts and justifications are crucial to this way of speaking. The key proposition is that there is a need for an alternative perspective for this conventional image of subjectivity as individualised and coherent. More nomadic and fluid perspectives concerning both subject and agency are needed as well as an understanding of how discursive constructions take hold of the body, and how certain discursive constructions are appropriated while others are discarded.