Despite the frequency with which the concept of neoliberalism is employed within academic literature, its complex and multifaceted nature makes it difficult to define and describe. Indeed, data reported in this article suggest that there is a tendency in educational research to make extensive use of the word ‘neoliberalism’ (or its variants neoliberal, neo-liberal and neo-liberalism) as a catch-all for something negative, but without offering a definition or explanation. The article highlights a number of key risks associated with this approach and draws on the Bourdieuian concept of illusio to suggest the possibility that when as educational researchers we use the word ‘neoliberalism’ in this way, rather than interrupting the implementation of neoliberal policies and practices, we may, in fact, be further entrenching the neoliberal doxa. That is to say, we are both playing the neoliberal game and inadvertently demonstrating our belief that it is a game worth being played. In so doing, this article seeks to extend understandings of what illusio means within the context of educational research.
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