Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education Welcoming submissions for an upcoming special issue

Exploring alternatives to the ‘neoliberalism’ critique: New language for contemporary global reform

Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education

Guest Editors: Emma Rowe, Christopher Lubienski, David Hursh, Andrew Skourdoumbis, Jessica Gerrard.


As scholars, we have a legacy of critiquing the epistemological or theoretical frameworks we utilize in our research, such as the debates surrounding class, and the so-called ‘death of class’ (Clark & Lipset, 1991; Pakulski & Waters, 1996; Reay, 1998). In this Special Issue, we focus our attention on neoliberalism as a theoretical, epistemological and analytical tool in our research. The concept of neoliberalism, whether it is used as a social, political, or economic concept, retains a strong presence within educational research. It is frequently utilized as theoretical grounding to critique education reform and education policy (Rowlands & Rawolle, 2013). Consequentially, theories or epistemologies surrounding neoliberalism are, at times, rendered as assumed or shared knowledge. Ball (1995) argues that theories need to be examined, reflexive and ‘the absence of theory leaves the researcher prey to … preconceptions and dangerously naïve ontological and epistemological a prioris’ (p. 265).

In this Special Issue, we focus attention to neoliberalism in order to explore alternatives to the neoliberal critique. Hursh (2017) suggests different strands of neoliberalism, such as corporate neoliberalism and theoretical neoliberalism. This lends itself to Apple’s (2017) description of neoliberalism as a ‘movement’, accurately pointing out that ‘neoliberalism does not stand alone, and it takes on different forms in different contexts. It is also not a unitary movement, since it has contradictory tendencies within it’ (p. 148). Brenner and Fraser (2017) debate the end of ‘progressive neoliberalism’, whereas other scholars suggest we are moving into the post-capitalist, ‘post-truth’ or post-democratic era, with a changing relationship between capital and democracy, corporate wealth and inequality (Robertson, 2016; Streeck, 2014). Taking up these timely discussions, we ask: Are we living in the post-neoliberal? Or, are we simply moving beyond theoretical neoliberalism and towards corporate neoliberalism? If so, what does this mean for education policy critique?  

In this Special Issue, we aim to explore these questions and generate vocabularies, frameworks and measurements for thinking about the ‘edu-nomic’ – the entanglement of economics and the political with education. The issue sets out to critique the ‘neoliberal policy paradigm’ (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, p. 3), in order to pose critical, provocative questions and suggest alternative ways of measuring, analysing and exploring global education reform. It will be a timely opportunity for scholars to scrutinise neoliberalism as a theoretical framework and generate possible alternatives to advance critiques.

We ask scholars to engage in exploratory analyses, theoretically informed and rigorous debates, to engage in critique regarding neoliberalism as a scholarly tool of policy research. This is an opportunity for scholars to focus attention to the concept of neoliberalism, and critique the language and analytical frameworks we utilize within our work.

We invite critical and original scholarship to respond to this call. The submitted papers should be aligned with the scope of the journal, and we welcome an interdisciplinary approach. We are interested in a range of global perspectives, with comparative foci or systemic perspectives. Each of the papers should maintain a sharp critique of neoliberalism, and look to generate alternative theories, concepts or language within their analyses. Here are further suggestions:

  • The genesis of ‘neoliberalism’ as a concept or theoretical apparatus in education;
  • Market fundamentalism as an instrument of critique;
  • Different strands of neoliberalism that may be useful as theoretical tools;
  • Different ways to explore or understand education reform, such as Keynesian economics, neoclassical economics or ‘trickle down’ theory;
  • Commodification of education and corporate for-profit education reform;
  • Education reform in relationship to global digitalization;
  • Accountability in education and the ‘audit’ culture, singularization and objectification (Callon & Muniesa, 2005);
  • Venture philanthropy and education entrepreneurs.

Theory needs to be consistently examined, and theoretical frameworks critiqued. ‘Theory is destructive, disruptive and violent. It offers a language for challenge, and modes of thought, other than those articulated for us by dominant others’ (Ball, 1995, p. 266). With this Special Issue, it is our aim to make a strong contribution in extending our reach, as scholars, to effectively critique and assess educational reform, in a way that can be taken into the broader public and influence education policy reform.

Information for Submission


  • Submission of abstracts (approximately 400 words) for consideration by guest editors – by 14 February 2018. Please send to emma.rowe@deakin.edu.au
  • Following a review of abstracts by the editorial team, selected authors will be invited to submit a full paper. Authors will be alerted by end of February 2018.
  • Full papers will need to be submitted by end of June 2018.
  • Independent peer review process to be completed by end of August 2018.
  • Any required revisions needed based on peer review comments to be submitted by 1 November 2018.
  • Publication of special issue – Discourse, 40(3), June 2019 (hard copy).

For detailed submissions instructions, visit our instructions for authors page.


Apple, M. W. (2017). What is present and absent in critical analyses of neoliberalism in education. Peabody Journal of Education, 92(1), 148–153. doi:10.1080/0161956X.2016.1265344

Ball, S. J. (1995). Intellectuals or technicians? The urgent role of theory in educational studies. British Journal of Educational Studies, 43(3), 255–271.

Brenner, J., & Fraser, N. (2017). What Is progressive neoliberalism? A debate. Dissent, 64(2), 130.

Callon, M., & Muniesa, F. (2005). Peripheral vision: Economic markets as calculative collective devices. Organization Studies, 26(8), 1229–1250. doi:10.1177/0170840605056393

Clark, T. N., & Lipset, S. M. (1991). Are social classes dying? International Sociology, 6(4), 397–410.

Hursh, D. W. (2017). Contested social imaginaries: Uncovering the economic and educational roots of inequality. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, San Antonio, Texas.

Pakulski, J., & Waters, M. (1996). The death of class. London, California & New Delhi: Sage.

Reay, D. (1998). Rethinking social class: Qualitative perspectives on class and gender. Sociology, 32(2), 259–275. doi:10.1177/0038038598032002003

Rizvi, F., & Lingard, B. (2010). Globalizing education policy. London and New York: Routledge.

Robertson, S. L. (2016). Piketty, capital and education: A solution to, or problem in, rising social inequalities? British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37(6), 823–835. doi:10.1080/01425692.2016.1165086

Rowlands, J., & Rawolle, S. (2013). Neoliberalism is not a theory of everything: A Bourdieuian analysis of illusio in educational research. Critical Studies in Education, 54(3), 260–272. doi:10.1080/17508487.2013.830631

Streeck, W. (2014). Buying time: The delayed crisis of democratic capitalism. Verso Books.