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Managerialism and Education

Patrick Fitzsimons
University of Auckland

One of the features of contemporary Western society is the tendency under neoliberal philosophy to define social, economic, and political issues, as problems to be resolved through management. Under neoliberalism there is also a generalised governmental concern to promote efficiency in what were previously non-governmental spheres—i.e., in self constitution—and that includes redefining the cultural as the economic. During recent decades, these developments have been associated with the introduction of managerialism as a new mode of governance under the restructured public sectors of many Western societies. The restructuring has involved the reform of education in which there has been a significant shift away from an emphasis on administration and policy to an emphasis on management. This form of managerialism is known as New Public Management (NPM) and has been very influential in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. It has been used both as the legitimating basis and instrumental means for redesigning state educational bureaucracies, educational institutions and even the public policy process.

Under NPM, there is an elaboration of explicit standards and measures of performance in quantitative terms that set specific targets for personnel, an emphasis on economic rewards and sanctions, and a reconstruction of accountability relationships. It promotes a reduction in scope for ministerial discretion in the administration of government agencies, it separates the funding agencies from providers of services as well as separating advisory, delivery, and regulatory functions. NPM introduces accrual accounting, capital charging and a distinction between the state’s ownership and purchasing interests. There has been a decentralization of management control towards what is often referred to as the doctrine of self-management. In the interests of so-called productive efficiency then, the provision of educational services has been made contestable; and, in the interests of so-called allocative efficiency, state education has been marketised and privatised.

Interpretations of managerialism

NPM is underpinned by a tradition of managerialism that can be located within an account of the development of capitalism. Historically, the ownership of capitalist enterprise was separated from its operational function, which was the stimulus for the employment of a professional managerial hierarchy in the organisation. The modern business enterprise can be located in this broad institutional context and can be linked specifically with two chronological phases in the development of the capitalist economic system. These two phases are referred to as liberal and state regulated capitalism respectively. It was during the development of state regulated capitalism that managerialism in its current forms came to the fore. Davis (1996: 305), who argues that in its latest mode managerialism has “refashioned the world in its image and captur (ed) for itself the modern state,” reinforces this. In terms of the modern corporation, managerialism signifies the shift from the owner to the professional manager to legitimate the control of individuals, societies, and their organisations in the interests of capital.

Managerialism has been characterised in a variety of ways. Enteman (1993), for example, describes managerialism as an international ideology on which rests the economic, social, and political order of advanced industrialised societies and from which arises the impoverished notion that societies are equivalent to the sum of the transactions made by the managements of organisations. In this view, social institutions are primarily a function of the practices of management. For Drucker (1974: 19), “management has as its first dimension an economic dimension”. Davis (1996: 305) claims that managerialism has swept aside “an idyllic older bureaucratic world … reducing every relation to a mere money exchange”. Managerialism has also been characterised as a “set of beliefs and practices, (that) will prove an effective solvent for … economic and social ills” (Pollitt, 1990: 1).

In addition to its technical function, management is … an elite social grouping which acts as an economic resource and maintains the associated system of authority. (Child, 1969: 13)

Managerialism has also been explained as a form of instrumental reasoning where, in the interests of efficiency, value does not inhere in the activity itself. Weber’s notion of the ‘iron cage’ of bureaucratic rationality explains the oppressive potential of a society that is increasingly governed by its logic of instrumental reason. He predicted that the modern bureaucratic state would require the extension of means-end reasoning into more and more areas of social life. In this respect Pusey (1991: 22) observes that “there can be no quarrel with the notion of efficiency as such. The inherent problem lies instead at another level – with the criteria that define what count as costs and benefits; with the loss of social intelligence; and with the number and range of potentially constructive discourses that have been suppressed”. Drucker (1994: 193) asserts that “post-capitalist society requires a unifying force … a common and shared commitment to values, onto a common concept of excellence”. In this new rational economic order, social decisions are defined within managerialism and, consequently, policy, politics, democracy, and ethics, disappear. On these accounts, managerialism is emerging as a unifying force in the wake of the predicted breakdown of Fordist notions of production. Taken together, these representations of managerialism imply a transcendent theory that Lyotard (1984) calls a meta-narrative.

It is significant that throughout these accounts managerialism has remained implicit as a mode of governance, preferring instead to account for itself explicitly as a mode of domination. An alternative characterisation of managerialism is as a form of what Michel Foucault (1991) has termed Governmentality. In this sense, managerialism is a regime of governmentalising practices rather than a meta-narrative where it is presented as a politically neutral technology under its rhetoric of economic neutrality. Employing governmentality to explain managerialism is different from employing theories of State and is legitimate, because, according to Foucault (Gordon, 1991: 8), the perceived internal constraints of governmentalising practices are just as capable as principles of legitimation of carrying normative meaning and content. Foucault sees that the State has no essential properties but is, rather, a function of changes in the practices of government. Governmentality has a central concern with the legitimate foundations of political sovereignty and political obedience.

This explanation of the new managerialism as a form of governmentality includes, but is not limited to, traditional accounts of managerialism as domination. In addition to the corporatist characterisations of managerialism as the prerogative of managers, governmentality suggests a genealogy of practices about how individuals also implicate themselves in their own governance. In other words, as a form of governmental rationality, managerialism is a form of disciplinary knowledge. Although Pusey may well be correct about suppression of the ‘other’ by economic rationalism, following Foucault, it could be argued that managerialism as a moral technology is not only constituted by, but also produces, certain effects on discourses. These productive effects are ignored in orthodox accounts of managerialism as domination. To the extent that accounts of managerialism employ imposition, they are inadequate because, at the expense of agency, they present a skewed picture of managerialism as domination. Even in nominally democratic societies, explanations of domination as a totality are not rational, and, therefore, agency is implied. Since agency implies a sense of self-governance, a more adequate explanation of managerialism as governance, then, would include what Foucault (1988) calls technologies of self. Although NPM includes corporatist management practices, under democracy, this combination must also be explained in conjunction with a genealogy of the ways in which individuals implicate themselves in their own governance. Self-governance as a form of governmentality occurs at the intersection of technologies of domination and technologies of self. In this mode, agency and domination can both be accounted for. Since this account is a new formulation of managerialism, it might be better termed as the ‘new managerialism’.

The new managerialism explains public services not as production functions or firms, but as governance structures. What is at stake is not so much the ethos and practice of management as the culture and structure of governance. Here governance means the culture and structure of the relationship between what Weber called legitimate domination and the self-constitution of those who are subject to it. What Weber meant by legitimate domination was justified by an authority structure, which was, in turn, legitimated by legal-rational authority. But governance through the new managerialism is not dependent for its legitimation on Weber’s notion of legal-rational authority, but more on a form of rationality that depends upon efficiency in the market. Although this new managerialism still draws on models of corporate managerialism as well as accounts of NPM, it is also imbued with the practices of self in everyday life. What is new here, is recognition of the technologies of self that individuals employ to implicate themselves in their own governance.

Against this account, it could be argued that much of this change is rhetorical rather than substantive and that educators will simply clothe their actions in new rhetoric while continuing their traditional practices. But rhetoric also has its own discursive force in that it encourages people to define the world differently; as language changes, so too does practice, and vice versa. Language itself could even be construed as a social practice. Education is also a product of the effects of social practices and its institutional actors are neither solely creatures of neither language nor agents independent of the historical practices in which they engage. Rather, both language and social practices constitute them. While this view displaces the individual as the central actor or agent of social change, it does not dismiss agency altogether. The question it raises is to what extent the individual is free from the coercion of managerialism; that is, to what extent can the individual recapture the centre as the originator of thought or action? Paradoxically, managerialism assumes an autonomous, individualistic, transparent and self interested, rational individual at its core that is admonished to 'take responsibility', to be 'self-motivated', and so on. Far from assuming a stable autonomous individual, managerialism has not yet demarcated the senses in which an individual might exist as a social actor. Managerialism then, leaves us wondering about the ‘who’ that is engaging in its required performances. If the problem is essentially a struggle about practices as well as language, what people say and do within institutions actually matters. Under the previous democratic governance of institutions, the dominant opinion was for the redistribution of educational opportunities and sought to remedy the exclusiveness of education. These same people are now implicated in managerialism. In the interests of ‘better’ education they (albeit grudgingly) write mission statements, implement strategic plans, design appraisal forms, and measure efficiencies. The result is that the governance of education is transformed under the new managerialism.

Resistance to managerialism as a form of domination is sometimes recommended as something that will enhance autonomy. But because managerialism sees itself as the antidote to chaos, irrationality, disorder, and incompleteness, there are no spaces within such a social order in which autonomy can be contested legitimately. Managerial definitions of quality, efficiency, improved productivity or self-management, construct a particular version of autonomy. Those who do not desire these managerial constructs of autonomy are simply defined as absurd, as under managerialism, these notions appear as self-evidently ‘good’. Even the presentation of resistance itself indicates an engagement already within the definitions provided by managerialism.

A way forward?

Managerialism—at least as the orthodox account of domination would have it—is a totalising technology that subsumes education to its discourse through what appears to be legitimate practices (including the language of efficiency and quality etc.). To find ways of increasing space for living, rather than living within managerial definitions of autonomy, a critique is required that will not simply fall into the trap of resistance within the definitions supplied by managerialist discourse. A way forward for research is outlined in brief below.

Since, power is masked as legitimate authority under orthodox accounts of managerialism, an analysis of power is called for if the new managerialism is to be understood. A form of power that could be analysed is that which Foucault (1978) calls bio-power, which presents us with a form of bi-polar technology that generates political counter-demands. It provides at the very least the possibility of a “strategic reversibility of power relations” (Foucault, 1982: 221). That would provide a technology for contesting managerialism. Further analyses could be introduced from a poststructuralist perspective in which there is now a rethinking of possibilities for education that illustrates meanings as shifting, receding, fractured, incomplete, dispersed, and deferred. There is also a Nietzschean approach to a critique of managerialism under which the value of these practices is to be evaluated on the basis of their contribution to survival and health (as metaphors for life) rather than on their contribution to abstract notions of truth and rationality. For Nietzsche, certain redundant metaphors for the philosophical tradition of ‘self as truth’ have carried over into the present as historical remnants in the form of reified practices. The particular practices in question within the new managerialism are those predicated upon its underpinning assumption of its autonomous, individualistic, transparent and self interested, rational individual.

These types of analyses of notions such as power, life, domination, meaning, rationality, and truth, suggest research into the worth of a project that revalues the actual value of the new managerialism as the governance of education.

Suggested reading

  1. Aucoin, P. (1990). Administrative Reform in Public Management: Paradigms, Principles, Paradoxes and Pendulums. In Governance: An International Journal of Policy and Administration, 3, 2: 115–137.
  2. Burchell, G. (1996) Liberal Government and Techniques of the Self. In A. Barry, T. Osborne and N. Rose (eds.) Foucault and Political Reason, London, U.C.L. Press:19–36.
  3. Dandeker, C. (1990). Surveillance, Power & Modernity: Bureaucracy and Discipline From 1700 to the Present Day. Oxford: Polity Press.
  4. Davis, G. (1997). Implications, consequences and futures, in Davis, G. B. Sullivan & A. Yeatman (eds.) The New Contractualism? Melbourne: Macmillan: 224–238.
  5. Drucker, P. (1974). Management. London: Butterworth Heinemann.
  6. Drucker, P. (1994). Post Capitalist Society. Oxford: Buttertworth Heinemann.
  7. Enteman, W. (1993). Managerialism: The Emergence of a New Ideology. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press.
  8. Foucault, M. (1978). The History of Sexuality: Vol 1 - An Introduction. London, England: Penguin.
  9. Foucault, M. (1982). Afterword: The Subject and Power. In: H. Dreyfus, and P Rabinow. Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Chicago: The Harvester Press.
  10. Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline & Punish: The Birth of The Prison. (Trans. A. Sheridan). United States: Vintage Books.
  11. Foucault, M (1988). Technologies of the self. L. Martin, L, H. Gutman, & P. Hutton (Eds), Technologies of the Self: A Seminar With Michel Foucault. Great Britain, Tavistock:. 16–49.
  12. Foucault, M. (1991). Governmentality. In G. Burchell, C. Gordon, & P. Miller (Eds.) The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality - With Two Lectures By And An Interview With Michel Foucault. Great Britain, Harvester Wheatsheaf: 87–104.
  13. Hood, C. (1990). De-Sir Humphreyfying the Westminster model of bureaucracy: A new style of governance? Governance: An International Journal of Policy and Administration, 3 (2), 205-214.
  14. Lukes, S (1974). Power. A Radical View. London. The Macmillan Press.
  15. Lyotard, J-F. (1984). The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Theory and History of Literature, 10. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
  16. Marshall, J. (1995). Foucault and Neoliberalism: Bio-power and Busno-power. In Philosophy of Education. Illinois, Philosophy of Education Society, 320–329.
  17. Nietzsche, F. (1989). On the Genealogy of Morals. (Trans. W. Kaufmann & R. Hollingdale). New York, Vintage Press.
  18. Peters, M., Fitzsimons, P., and Marshall, J. (1999) Education and Managerialism in a Global Context. In C. Torres and N. Burbules, Education and Globalization: Critical Concepts, New York and London, Routledge.
  19. Pollitt, C. (1990). Managerialism and the Public Services: The Anglo-American Experience. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Pusey, M. (1991) Economic Rationalism in Canberra, Sydney: Cambridge University Press.

Encyclopaedia of Philosophy of Education


EEPAT is published in association with the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia and the journal Educational Philosophy and Theory.