Pedagogizing the self: researching education in neoliberal times

Year: 2013

Author: Gerrard, Jessica

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

As the ideology of neoliberalism is variously taken up across national policy contexts, the belief in individualised pathways of success and in the power of self-transformation increasingly patterns policy and public discourse. Accompanying, and legitimating, such presuppositions are diverse policy articulations of lifelong learning. Internationally, in the attempt to develop and buttress market-driven ‘knowledge economies’, there is increasing pressure upon individuals to be flexible learners capable of constant knowledge and skills renewal across their lifespan. Many scholars have already called into question the ways in which this particular take up of lifelong learning supports embedded social inequalities, by asking individuals to take responsibility for their social and economic success or failure whilst skipping over structural operations of class, gender, and race power. In this paper, I explore the repercussions for educational research methodologically and theoretically for this demand to be constantly conducting ‘self-work’. In particular, I consider the pedagogical and educational character of a range of ‘social services’ that target those who are already marginalised and disadvantaged by contemporary social relations. I am thinking here of the ways in which there is significant pressure placed on services and sites outside of ‘traditional’ educational institutions (e.g. employment, charitable, counseling, and career services) to have a pedagogical imperative. To do so, I draw on my own research on the pedagogical character of Australian homelessness policies and the ‘pedagogies of work’ mobilised in self-help initiatives for homeless men and women. First, I offer critical analysis of the ways in which ‘education’ and ‘learning’ are mobilised as unproblematic responses to profound social inequality and injustice. Second, I explore the ways in which informal ‘education’ and ‘learning’ might be understood methodologically in relation to researching neoliberal governance. Here I outline a broad approach to researching and understanding the ‘pedagogies of work’; an approach that attempts to grapple with the complex dynamics of self-regulation and management required by neoliberal state governance, and the multifarious processes and contexts of education and learning that underpin this.