Prof Suriamurthee Maistry and Dr Zayd Waghid
The genesis of the term neoliberalism can be traced back to the end of the 19th century and was initially used by economists, notably the classical liberal economist, Milton Friedman. In essence, neoliberalism is a move away from the welfare state as was practiced, for example, in some Nordic countries such as Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s and emphasises free market trade, the deregulation of financial markets and individualisation. In the 1980s it emerged once more as a strong discourse/ideology during the Thatcher-Reagan years and infiltrated all forms of thought and practice. Universities did not escape this strong influence (or suction power) and it is evident in how knowledge is produced, utilised, packaged into curricula, disseminated, and in the very nature of its relationship with surrounding communities. The ideas of neoliberalism which have acquired an almost “common-sense” logic, are visible in the new managerialism and corporatisation of higher education as well as the very (corporate) vocabulary used. It is this bleak/grim outlook in formal education that prompted the British philosopher Stephen Ball to write an insightful article titled “The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity”. In it he neatly captures: “The new performative worker is a promiscuous self, an enterprising self with passion for excellence. For some, this is an opportunity to make a success of themselves, for others it portends inner conflicts, inauthenticity and resistance.”
How should higher education institutions in the grip of neoliberal agendas, as well as multiple crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic, racism (e.g. the death of George Floyd), decolonisation, etc., re-interrogate the curriculum and its theorising? What are the neoliberalism implications for education? Covid-19 has revealed thus far that it is the marginalised who have borne the brunt of the pandemic. These crises present us with an opportune moment to pause, reflect and think anew.
Ball, S. J. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 2015-228.