Identity copyrights, education policy and the 'new' politics of difference in 'public' education

Year: 2012

Author: Gulson, Kalervo, Webb, P.T.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper works with the idea of 'identity copyrights' (Camaroff & Camaroff, 2009; Gilroy, 2000) to argue that school choice policies -within what has been known as the public system and the government funded 'private' system -are producing not just differential outcomes for different individual students, or different social and cultural groups, across nations like Australia. Additionally, school choice policies are concomitantly producing and being co-opted in the constitution of difference. This constitution of difference is manifest in the rise of schools that are based around particular types of ethnic and cultural identities (Wells, Lopez, Scott, & Holme, 1999). These 'ethno-centric' schools have been established through school choice policies, and include new forms of alternative schooling in Toronto, Canada, notably Africentric schooling; and minority religious schools in Australia, Canada and the United States. A new type of marketised politics is, thus, being mobilised by groups previously and currently disadvantaged in public schooling.

The paper outlines the idea of 'identity copyrights', that relates to the 'rampant commodification of identity' (Camaroff & Camaroff, 2009: 15), through which cultural and ethnic identity -strategically and opportunistically essentialised through the market (Pedroni, 2007; Spivak, 1988) -is mobilised and enabled within neoliberal education policy regimes. Ethnicity is, thus, taken as both 'increasingly the stuff of existential passion, of the self-conscious fashioning of meaningful, morally anchored selfhood' and 'is also becoming more corporate, more commodified, more implicated than ever before in the economics of everyday life' (Camaroff & Camaroff, 2009: 1). It is the object of choice as well as a determination - it is both care of the self and identity as a brand to be held and utilised alone by a particular group. This is both opportunity and problem, for culture then runs the risk of being 'oversimplified through being conceived as ethnic property to be owned and held under copyright' (Gilroy, 2006: 43).

The paper uses the idea of 'identity copyrights' to examine how and why community groups are part of a changing politics of difference, in which ideas of agency are also coinciding with the presentation of ethnicity as a desirable commodity - and how ethno-centric schools themselves are part of the process of commodification, a form of curricular and pedagogical marketing (branding) -rather than a problem to be addressed through (white) social democratic initiatives in public schooling; initiatives that have often been a failure or threatening for many ethnic and cultural groups (Pedroni, 2007; Wells, et al., 1999).