Handbook of European Social Policy
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Handbook of European Social Policy

Edited by Patricia Kennett and Noemi Lendvai-Bainton

This Handbook will comprise of 29 original pieces from key contributors to the field of European social policy. It is intended to capture the ‘state of the art’ in European social policy and to generate and contribute to debates on the the future of European social policy in the 21st Century. It will be a comprehensive and authoritative resource for research and teaching covering themes and policy areas including social exclusion, pensions, education, children and family, as well as mobility and migration, multiculturalism, and climate change.
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Chapter 17: Neo-liberalism, discursive change and European education policy trajectories

Manuel Souto-Otero


Most literature has looked at EU education policy, primarily, through the examination of EU policy documents and policy ‘discourses’. These analyses conclude that European education policies are moving towards increasingly neo-liberal positions. While EU education policy has moved partly in that direction in recent decades, this chapter argues that this standard account is too one-sided. The critique of the mainstream argument is based on three premises: first, the coexistence of the neo-liberal discourse with alternative discourses in the European Commission’s education policies. Second, the ambivalence of EU targets in this area. Third, the neo-liberal view is based, largely, on textual analyses, downplaying the importance of EU regulation and funding actions. The second and third points acknowledge that discourses constrain our possibilities for thought and action, but also that social actors can use them strategically. This practical dimension needs to be included more centrally in the analysis of EU education policy.

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