23 SES 02 A, Markets and Consequences
Parallel Paper Session
In Western liberal democracies, education policies increasingly promote the view that government schools should design pathways relevant to the needs of students and their local communities (Peters 2010; Savage 2011). Far from offering a ‘one size fits all’ system, policies seek to enable clients (students, parents) to exercise freedom of choice in quasi-markets that offer different education products to different young people (Gillborn & Youdell 2000; Ball 2003). Schools are encouraged, in this climate, to ‘specialise’ (Doherty 2007) and carve distinctive market niches (Kenway & Bullen 2001). The creation of a mixed market is seen to promote productive competition between local schools and allow clients to ‘personalise’ their educational trajectories (Pykett 2010). The intended effect is a kind of bespoke education tailoring, whereby schools operate as reflexive service providers, adapting to the needs, desires and aspirations of the local market.
In this paper, I analyse emerging policies of tailoring and personalisation as part of broader shifts towards ‘advanced liberal’ governance (Rose 1996): a form of governance that frames markets as the most effective means for governing ‘free individuals’ and optimising human life and capital (Ong 2006; Rose 1999). Following this, I feature empirical data from interviews with school managers and educators in two geographically proximate but socially disparate government secondary schools in the Australian city of Melbourne. In doing so, I analyse the marketing practices of each school and the extent to which each school attempts to tailor and personalise its provision in response to its local community. First, I feature data which suggest each school expends significant energy consolidating differences to carve a competitive niche in local markets. Educators at both schools were unanimous, in this sense, that their school actively tailored to its local market, suggesting the desires of local parents exercised a particularly strong influence. Second, I feature data which suggest, quite paradoxically, that in a hierarchical education market with clearly defined indicators of value, both schools were attempting to market in very similar ways, evoking normative imaginations of academic excellence and emulating the market practices of exclusive full-fee-paying private schools. These normative market imaginations seemed to gloss over local differences and implicate both schools in practices and performativities that run counter to the logics of tailoring and personalisation. Taken together, these contrasting trends suggest inherent tensions and contradictions emerge when the rationalities of tailoring and personalisation are put into practice in quasi-markets in which ‘brand value’ is a rigid concept. Schools are caught, therefore, between paradoxical demands, requiring them to be simultaneously different and the same.
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