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  • 2017HoughtonPhD

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Students’ experiences: choice, hope and everyday neoliberalism in English higher education

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2017
Number of pages292
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The idea of a neoliberal subject has become prevalent within critical debates about changes to higher education. This neoliberal subject is framed as an entrepreneur of the self and an investor in their human capital (Foucault: 2010). Students are urged by political policy and sector discourses to think of themselves as investors in their own futures. This manifests itself in the fetishisation of league tables and market rhetoric in the name of student choice; a concern for future employability and earnings; but also in the everyday practices of university life. This thesis aims to redress a gap in the literature on neoliberalism in higher education concerning this neoliberal subject by examining students’ experiences of higher education across different stages, subjects and universities. Drawing on Foucault (1978, 1985, 1986, 2010), Archer (2003, 2007) and Bourdieu (1986, 1988, 1990, 1991), the thesis explores how neoliberalism within higher education may affect students’ processes of self-work. In defining these narratives, it draws on broader critiques of the neoliberal project, particularly Philip Mirowski’s (2013) concept of ‘everyday neoliberalism’. In capturing students’ experiences of higher education, the thesis uses interview data alongside identity portfolios, consisting of biographical data and examples of different presentations of the self students enact during their higher education studies. The students’ narratives are analysed against the theoretical background of subject formation and neoliberalism.