Docile bodies? Foucault, neoliberalism and FE learner identities

Allan, Robert (2019) Docile bodies? Foucault, neoliberalism and FE learner identities. Ed.D thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The extent to which Neoliberalism is an influence on identity has emerged as a key question in academic debates. Alongside issues such as worker and professional forms of identity, this debate has found its way into analyses of learner identity, with much of the literature suggesting that Neoliberalism has extended its reach into the ways in which students perceive themselves and their place in institutional life. However, the debate so far has tended to ignore learner identities within the Further Education sector, tending instead to examine the impact of neoliberalism in schools and universities. The purpose of this research is to explore the institutional contexts of further education, and specifically college learner identity in a context of neoliberal developments. I utilised the work of Michel Foucault to help explore this topic, particularly his ideas on discipline and docility; the study also considers other Foucauldian concepts such as ‘biopower’ and ‘care of the self’.

This study found that there were degrees of docility evident as aspects of college learner identity, with this degree of docility resulting from college disciplinary practices. This research provides evidence that docility exists within further education that accords with Foucault’s four disciplinary techniques that shape identity: ‘the art of distributions; ‘the control of activity’; ‘the organisation of genesis’; and ‘the composition of forces’ (1977, pp.141-169). On top of this, what emerged from the study are three identifiable traits - flexibility, individualism and credentialism – that can be understood as almost typical manifestations of neoliberal culture. As a consequence of institutional controls, therefore, learners have become docile; nevertheless the degree of docility is dependent on the complex form of mediation between the learner and disciplinary practices.

The study shows that these forms of learner identity have developed from the learner’s mediation of pre-existing individual priorities, through to neoliberal college practices as well as the intersection between the two. These findings suggest that the ideas of Foucault, particularly his ideas on docility but also his later ideas on governmentality, are important conceptual tools for understanding learner identities. The forensic approach adopted in this study has a key contribution to make to the already existing strong literature base that adopts a Foucauldian take on educational learner identities. At the same time the findings illustrate that not everything can be explained using a Foucauldian approach and that the institutional context remains a key mediator between (social) theory and (professional) practice.

Item Type: Thesis (Ed.D)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Neoliberalism, Foucault, identity, discipline, docility, further education, college.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
L Education > L Education (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Murphy, Dr. Mark
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: Dr Robert Allan
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-72992
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2019 13:09
Last Modified: 17 May 2022 12:37
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.72992

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