Educational Expansion, Egalitarian Individualism and Neoliberalism

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 16:15
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Ralph FEVRE, Cardiff University, United Kingdom
Neoinstitutionalist understandings of the histories of various education systems consider individualism to be most important cause and consequence of educational expansion. This paper builds on this insight to suggest that the way educational expansion proceeded in the United States, and subsequently in many other countries, helped to prepare the political space for neoliberalism and the lurch towards inequality that followed neoliberal political settlements throughout the world. Of course expansion has happened in many different ways in different countries, however egalitarian individualism has provided many of the goals of expansion and some of the means. It is therefore ironic that more education has everywhere helped to create the conditions required for the shift in politics required for neoliberalism to take hold. This is as true of the US as any other country, indeed the achievements of egalitarian individualism in the US, most obviously in the form of universal comprehensive education, were unmatched for many years. The original driver for comprehensive education had been the egalitarian American Ideology of the mid-nineteenth century. It was later over-laid by a more competitive economic individualism which would have been welcomed by Herbert Spencer (and was detested by John Dewey) and which prepared the US for neoliberalism. The UK reached this point decades later, at precisely the high-point of equality in UK society.  With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how, although educational expansion in the UK and other countries certainly proceeded very differently to the US, the same end-point of a competitive economic individualism well attuned to neoliberal politics was eventually reached in all of these cases, although at different times.