Neoliberalism and Beyond: The Possibilities of a Social Justice Agenda?

  • Mark OlssenEmail author
Part of the Education Policy & Social Inequality book series (EPSI, volume 1)


The paper will start with a short account of neoliberalism where I will survey the arguments offered in support of neoliberal reforms made initially by James Buchanan and the Public Choice School. Many scholars, especially those coming from a poststructuralist or post-Marxist position, see neoliberalism, as Troeger (2014, p. 1) has put it, “as a kind of bogeyman-placeholder for all that is wrong with the predominant political and economic system in the West”. In this paper I intend to ask whether some of the criticisms made of the old welfare state by neoliberals like Buchanan were not justified, and then seek to offer a more nuanced account assessing both the costs and benefits of neoliberal policies and strategies as they affect both higher education and society. Specifically, I will ask to what extent neoliberal orthodoxies are compatible with policies promoting equity and social justice? And what sort of social justice might this be? The extent to which neoliberal strategies are themselves adaptable, are undergoing change, have differential effects in relation to different policy arenas, or can be rendered congruent with social justice agendas, are the broader general questions I will then seek to address. In order to do this, I will initially present a survey of a number of key policy domains within the higher education field to be able to ascertain which specific policy areas contribute to increased inequality and frustrate social equity. This will underscore an important point that while at one level neoliberalism constitutes a general policy framework, its individual technologies must be seen to act variably and with different effects, not all of which are necessarily negative, in relation to different issues and domains. Indeed, I will argue that it is at least conceivable that a progressively orientated social democratic government could utilise some supply-side policy agendas and technologies to good effect. As an overarching policy framework, however, I will argue that neoliberalism as the agenda of free market economics is not likely to survive due to the very shortcomings that are now in the second decade of the twenty-first century becoming evident. By way of conclusion then, I will ask briefly what lies beyond neoliberalism as a broad policy framework? Is there a new settlement on the horizon?


High Education League Table Disadvantaged Background Public Choice Theory Fund Council 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Sections 4.1, 4.2, 4.3 and 4.5 of this chapter draw from and reproduce some material from Olssen (2016a). The publishers are thanked for its inclusion in this context.

As the first section of this chapter represents a summative account of my position on neoliberalism, the ideas expressed, although reformulated for the context of this chapter, also generally build upon material that I have previously written and developed, notably Olssen et al. (2004) and Olssen and Peters (2005).


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SurreyGuildfordUK

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