Post-Social politics, employability, and the security effects of higher education

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Abstract

Trends within Western capitalist societies toward the individualizing of social problems, the responsibilizing of individuals for such problems, the treating of social problems as problems of control, ongoing attempts to shift the burden for safety and security from the state to the market, and changing conceptions of citizenship, have produced a context within which economic insecurity appears as a governable problem for higher education. Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, experienced radical education reforms during the “common sense revolution” of the Progressive Conservative government from 1995 to 2003. The paper examines government documents, committee and task force reports, and legislative debates and hearings pertaining to these restructuring efforts and draws on the work of Michel Foucault and political sociology to explore the ‘security effects’ of higher education and the latter’s conceptual relationship to employability. Higher education policy and restructuring, shaped as it is by human capital theory, takes employability to be an outcome of restructuring. However, as the paper shows, in an attempt to produce ‘security effects’, employability operated as a central and constitutive category of governance around which education policies as regulatory strategies were crafted. In the recent emergence of a ‘next step’ in the production of the security effects of education employability is displaced by innovation.

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