‘Structure Liberates?’: Making Compliant, Consumable Bodies in Neoliberal Schooling

Mossbourne Community Academy, a celebrated highly disciplinarian secondary school, opened in East London in 2004. Operating under the ethos ‘structure liberates’, it actively seeks to culturally transform its largely ethnic minority student body and create ‘a culture of ambition to replace the poverty of aspiration’. With its regimented routines and outstanding GCSE results, Mossbourne has been heralded as a blueprint for educational reform, yet persistent structural inequalities are concealed beneath the rhetoric of happy multiculturalism and aspirational citizenship. Through pathologising the surrounding area as a zone of ‘urban chaos’, Mossbourne positions itself as an ‘oasis in the desert’ liberating students through discipline. This ‘urban chaos’ discourse draws on wider popular discourses of the pram-pushing ‘chav’ or the black, hooded gangster to portray ‘urban children’ and their families as regressive blocks to economic prosperity. Teachers compensate for incompetent parenting practices by becoming ‘surrogate parents’, while a masculine superhero-as- headteacher wields a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to cultivate an uncritical respect for authority. My research traces how Mossbourne processes, regulates, and reconstitutes the bodies of students and teachers through space and time. It also examines how students and parents negotiate or adjust themselves in relation to the institutional norms which bring raced and classed positions into focus by highlighting who needs to ‘do’ work on themselves to accrue value. More broadly, the research highlights how an intensely marketised education system does not mitigate, but reformulates, reproduces and re-intrenches inequalities.

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Read also: Factories for Learning – Neoliberal Governmentality and Inequality

Academies and the neoliberal project: the lessons and costs of the conveyor belt

Heroic heads, mobility mythologies and the power of ambiguity

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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