Individualism and Inequality

Individualism and Inequality

The Future of Work and Politics

Ralph Fevre

A belief in individual self-determination powered the development of universal human rights and inspired social movements from anti-slavery to socialism and feminism. At the same time, every attempt to embed individualism in systems of education and employment has eventually led to increased social inequality. Across the globe individualism has been transformed from a revolutionary force into an explanation for increasingly unequal societies where dissent is largely silent. This book explores the possibility of rediscovering the original, transformative potential of individualism.

Chapter 8: Education, individualism and inequality

Ralph Fevre

Subjects: business and management, critical management studies, economics and finance, labour economics, politics and public policy, human rights, public policy, social policy and sociology, labour policy


As the examples of anti-slavery and Common Schools have shown, sentimental individualism was a major stimulus to egalitarian social movements in the UK and the USA. This chapter shows how these social movements lost their impetus and how sentimental individualism was increasingly subordinated to cognitive individualism in public policy. Both processes will be illustrated with a further discussion of education which suggests that different countries followed a model of work and politics pioneered in the USA. This educational convergence made a major contribution towards setting the stage for the arrival of neoliberalism and globalization. The chapter begins by explaining, first, how education in the USA changed with industrialization, urbanization and continued immigration and, second, some international differences in education systems. While the majority of the English population was urbanized by the middle of the nineteenth century, it took another 50 years before most Americans were not living on farms. When industrial society finally arrived, American public education was transformed into an arena for individual competition but, even before this, the changes that accompanied industrialization and urbanization made the moral enterprise of the Common Schools Movement seem a very distant memory (Green 1990). In the last third of the century, the immigrants who had established ethnic enclaves in American cities began to see education as the other half of their democratic rights along with the vote.

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