Meritocracy is a ubiquitous concept. Writ large across the cultural, economic, and political terrain, the language of meritocracy is regularly spouted from the mouths of celebrities, CEOs, and politicians. The meritocratic mantra that anybody can “rise to the top,” so long as they possess the requisite talent and effort, is an enduring and powerful one. Despite escalating wealth inequalities, stalling social mobility, and almost one decade of punishing austerity measures, the cultural pull of meritocracy has not waned. For scholars concerned with the persistent structural inequalities and injustices that block upward social mobility, the insistence on individual aspiration, “grit,” and entrepreneurial self-fashioning is troubling and cruel (Mendick et al. 2018). Yet, as Jo Littler notes in Against Meritocracy: Culture, Power, and Myths of Mobility, despite being so “curiously formative” (15), this concept—and the ideological work that it does—has not been extensively interrogated. In this engaging and...
Dangerous Fictions: The Cultural Politics of Neoliberal Meritocracy
Kim Allen is a University Academic Fellow in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. Kim’s research interests include youth transitions and inequalities of class, race, and gender; the gendering of austerity; and representations of welfare and poverty in popular culture. She is coauthor of Celebrity, Aspiration, and Contemporary Youth: Education and Inequality in an Era of Austerity (2018).
Kim Allen; Dangerous Fictions: The Cultural Politics of Neoliberal Meritocracy. Cultural Politics 1 July 2019; 15 (2): 252–255. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-7515183
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