Subjects of, or subject to, policy reform? A Foucauldian discourse analysis of regulation and resistance in UK narratives of educational impacts of welfare cuts: The case of the ‘bedroom tax’

Erica Burman, Anat Greenstein, Joanna Bragg, Terry Hanley, Afroditi Kalambouka, Ruth Lupton, Lauren McCoy, Kate Sapin, Laura Winter


This paper draws on material generated from a qualitative study of educational impacts of a British welfare reform affecting housing rent subsidy, size and location commonly known as ‘the bedroom tax’ (Bragg et al., 2015), which was partly taken as a topic for study specifically because of its iconic status as a controversial and unpopular welfare ‘reform’ (or cut). The analysis draws on Foucauldian understandings of subjectification or subject-formation - as elaborated both from within and in relation to the social (Foucault, 1970; 1983; Ball, 1990; Olssen, 2006; Popkewitz & Brennan, 1998), read through new and newly available perspectives (Allen, 2015; Pêcheux, 2014). This approach is applied to discuss how those addressed by educational policy, and also as research participants, are both subject to prevailing political and practice-oriented discourses (of educational ‘problems’, and of the neoliberal frameworks by which poverty and welfare cuts are discussed), but also – at times – how they can become the subject of – in the sense of reformulating – these discourses in their accounts of everyday activities. After outlining our approach and the context for the study, we focus on four examples drawn from the narratives of the various stakeholders in the study – parents/carers, school staff and other community-based organisations as illustrations of how this discursive approach can provide rich readings of relevance to educational policy debates. From these we not only take further discussions of the production and regulation of subjectivities via social and educational policy practices, but also offer indicative glimpses of resistance to this as expressed by those who are its primary subjects, and where in one case such resistance brings our own research commitments under critical scrutiny.  As such, the contribution of this article is both topic-related (concerning the educational impacts of policy) but, crucially, also conceptual and methodological, in motivating for a Foucauldian-influenced discursive approach that is sensitive to struggle and resistance.


Foucauldian discourse analysis; resistance; pedagogies of poverty; subjectification; responsibilisation; welfare reform

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Copyright (c) 2019 Erica Burman, Anat Greenstein, Joanna Bragg, Terry Hanley, Afroditi Kalambouka, Ruth Lupton, Lauren McCoy, Kate Sapin, Laura Winter


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