The Paradox of Neoliberal Education Bureaucracy and Hysterical Resistance: The Case of New Zealand Schooling


Neoliberal discourse often positions itself as the antithesis of bureaucracy. However, as the hegemonic political project of the past forty years, neoliberalism has imposed various forms of bureaucracy, most notably, those that audit performance. This contradiction between antagonism towards bureaucracy and bureaucratising tendencies is particularly resonant in the contemporary neoliberalised education sector, where the perceived risk of not producing self-managing, autonomous, economically productive subjects must be minimised through audit mechanisms which, conversely, necessarily decrease those capacities in students. Through a case study of the neoliberalisation of New Zealand’s school sector, using the lens of Lacan’s four discourses, this article argues that the discourses of the Master and the University have worked together to sometimes obscure, but at other times highlight, this contradiction. Drawing on policy documents, political speeches and reports, I highlight that a key policy which increased the visibility of the contradiction was National Standards, introduced in 2007 to reduce the risk of the unknown through the collection of performance data. I also draw on interviews with educationalists who adopt the discourse of the hysteric as a means to publicly highlight this contradiction, contesting the symbolic mandate of the teacher-as-data-node, while avoiding the kinds of full-frontal resistance that might cost them their jobs and jeopardise the education of children.

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100 - 101: Bureaucracy