ERG SES E 05, Management and Education
Over the past two decades, European education systems have witnessed an unprecedented expansion of private sector involvement in the planning, administration, and execution of public education (Fredriksson, 2009; Harris & Haydn, 2012). The increasing influence and use of private companies, consultancies, and schools has prompted a growing body of scholars to examine the processes and implications of shifting responsibility in education from public to private hands (Grimaldi & Serpieri, 2013; Olmedo & Grau, 2013). Spurred on by a long history of studying private-public relations and educational markets within especially Anglo-Saxon educational systems, the frameworks guiding the majority of these recent examinations have pivoted around a dichotomized conception of the private sector as an actor opposed to the public sector: a “quasi-autonomous field with its own logics of action and practice” (Verger, Steiner-khamsi, & Lubienski, 2016, p. 12). Whether unravelling the emergence of Swedish ‘profile’ schools (Forsberg, 2018), a private sector ethos in Italian education (Grimaldi & Serpieri, 2013), or marketized assessment practices in England (Pratt, 2016), the implication is that privatization involves a shift in discursive legitimization from the state to the market (Alexiadou, 2013; Ball & Youdell, 2008).
In spaces or regions guided by deregulatory ideals and structures of liberal education policies, there are obvious reasons for exploring the implications of such shifts as market logics or services gain leeway in the not-so-public turn in global education (Robertson & Dale, 2013; Steiner-khamsi, 2016). Meanwhile, as I will argue in this paper, a different conception is needed if we are to grasp the unfolding of privatization in spaces or regions bound to other modes of public administration. Introducing the notion of ‘soft privatization’, this paper explores privatization as it appears within the context of the European Union, framing it as a phenomenon deeply embedded in and sensitive towards particular modes and (regional and national) conditions of governance (Lawn, 2011; Pasias & Roussakis, 2012). Situated within the development of the European Union as a space of and for educational soft governance (Brøgger, 2016), the paper presents ‘soft privatization’ as an analytical framework to explore the complex ways in which the use of private sector services has been inscribed as a necessary component of contemporary European public education administration – rather than an external discourse or force necessitating competition, choice, and individualization (Hursh et al., 2013; Pratt, 2016). By looking at the distinctive features of outcome-oriented and coordination-based governance without government within the context of the European Union (Gornitzka, 2005; Rosenau, 1992), I explore the processes of this inscription and its implications for conceptualizing privatization as a particular mode of standardized, outcome-based, and data-rich governance that delegates particular operations to non-state agents without necessarily assuming the traits of a market.
Theoretically, the paper extends a line of scholarly inquiries examining the performative and constitutive role of contemporary governance modes that operate outside a hierarchical parliamentary steering chain (Lawn, 2011; Miller & Rose, 2008; Pasias & Roussakis, 2012; Rosenau, 1992). Within these frameworks, governance is broadly understood as a more encompassing phenomenon that also includes non-state agents in order to make education governable without the use of government and, thus, without compromising the sovereignty of European nation states (Brøgger, 2014, 2016; Dale, 2004; European Council, 2000, article 7 and 37). Understood in light of the mechanisms and techniques enabling such processes of soft governance contemporary, the notion of soft privatization applies these perspectives to question how private sector actors have come to take an empirically enlarged role across all levels of European education.
Methodologically, the paper combines a literature review of scholarly publications and policy analyses of central European policy documents connected to the notion of ‘governing at a distance’ (Miller & Rose, 2008; Staunæs, Brøgger, & Krejsler, 2018). Conducted primo 2019, the literature review includes 409 peer-reviewed articles. Publications were included and taken into consideration based on the principle of saturation (Small, 2009), meaning that articles were reviewed and categorized anew until the point “when all of the data are accounted for in the core categories and subcategories” (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2007, p. 494). The articles reviewed span from 1988 to 2018 and included only English-language publications. Spanning a similar timeline, the policy analyses explores the development of European education governance as it has moved and morphed across borders over the past forty years, beginning with the 1986 adoption of The Single European Act and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Approximately 50 central documents produced in regi of the European Commission, Council, and other relevant entities are included in the policy analyses.
The paper’s findings fall along two lines mirroring the methodological division between review and policy analyses. Building on a review of existing publications addressing educational privatization in Europe, I first identify four central aspects of the topic that have been availed thus far; 1) endogenous privatization (marketizing public education), 2) exogenous privatization (outsourcing public education), 3) assembling the private sector (network analyses), and 4) the privatization of subjectivities (performative studies). Following the review, I present the notion of soft privatization as a phenomenon that has been mediated and facilitated through the technologies of soft governance enabled with the creation of the European education space of governance. Framed as a way of governing education that configures the state’s responsibility to provide high levels of competency for all citizens in a certain and non-state-operated way (Gornitzka, 2005; Lawn, 2011), I argue that the development of privatization practices within a European context is tied intricately to the educational governance technologies developed within the EU commission and council.
Alexiadou, N. (2013). Privatising public education accros Europe: Shifting boundaries and the politics of (re)claiming schools. Education Inquiry, 4(3), 413–422. https://doi.org/10.3402/edui.v4i3.22610 Ball, S. J., & Youdell, D. (2008). Hidden privatisation in public education. Education International. London. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680930802419474 Brøgger, K. (2016). The rule of mimetic desire in higher education: governing through naming, shaming and faming. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37(1), 72–91. https://doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2015.1096191 Dale, R. (2004). Forms of governance, governmentality and the EU’s Open Method of Coordination. In W. Larner & W. Walters (Eds.), Global governmentality (pp. 174–194). New York: Routledge. European Council. (2000). The Lisbon strategy/agenda. Lisbon, 23 and 24 March. Gornitzka, Å. (2005). Coordinating policies for a “Europe of knowledge”. Emerging practices of the “Open Method of Coordination” in education and research. Arena Working Papers, 16. Lawn, M. (2011). Standardizing the European Education Policy Space. European Educational Research Journal, 10(2), 259–272. Miller, P., & Rose, N. (2008). Governing the Present. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press. Rosenau, J. N. (1992). Governance, order, and change in world politics. In J. N. Rosenau & E.-O. Czempiel (Eds.), Governance Without Government: Order and Change in World Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Staunæs, D., Brøgger, K., & Krejsler, J. B. (2018). How reforms morph as they move. Performative approaches to education reforms and their un/intended effects. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 31(5), 345–352. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2018.1453657 Verger, A., Steiner-khamsi, G., & Lubienski, C. (2016). The Emergence and Structuring of the Global Education Industry. In World Yearbook of Education 2016. The Global Education Industry. (pp. 3–24). London and New York: Routledge.
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