Against Meritocracy
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Against Meritocracy : Culture, power and myths of mobility

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Meritocracy today involves the idea that whatever your social position at birth, society ought to offer enough opportunity and mobility for `talent' to combine with `effort' in order to `rise to the top'. This idea is one of the most prevalent social and cultural tropes of our time, as palpable in the speeches of politicians as in popular culture. In this book Jo Littler argues that meritocracy is the key cultural means of legitimation for contemporary neoliberal culture - and that whilst it promises opportunity, it in fact creates new forms of social division.





Against Meritocracy is split into two parts. Part I explores the genealogies of meritocracy within social theory, political discourse and working cultures. It traces the dramatic U-turn in meritocracy's meaning, from socialist slur to a contemporary ideal of how a society should be organised. Part II uses a series of case studies to analyse the cultural pull of popular `parables of progress', from reality TV to the super-rich and celebrity CEOs, from social media controversies to the rise of the `mumpreneur'. Paying special attention to the role of gender, `race' and class, this book provides new conceptualisations of the meaning of meritocracy in contemporary culture and society.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 236 pages
  • 140 x 216 x 19.05mm | 621g
  • ROUTLEDGE
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1 Line drawings, black and white; 7 Halftones, black and white; 8 Illustrations, black and white
  • 1138889547
  • 9781138889545

Table of contents

List of illustrations


Acknowledgements





ã


Introduction: Ladders and Snakes


Meritocracy as plutocracy


What's wrong with meritocracy? Five problems


Meritocracy as social system and as ideological discourse


How this book is organised





Part one: Genealogies





Chapter one: Meritocracy's genealogies in social theory


Never start with the dictionary


Early genealogies, histories and geographies


Ladders and level playing field


Socialist roots and critique


Social democratic meritocracy


The critique of educational essentialism


`Just' meritocracy? The beginnings of neoliberal meritocracy


Meritocracy in the neoliberal meritocracy





ã


Chapter two: `Rising up': gender, ethnicity, class and the meritocratic deficit


See where your talent takes you


Partial progression and painful ladders: mid century welfare


Pulling rank: problems with welfarist `rising up'


Selling 1968


Parables of progress: luminous media fables


Not so cool: unequal employment


Selling inequality: post-feminism, post-race....post-class?


Neoliberal justice narratives


The egalitarian and the meritocratic deficit





Chapter three: The movement of meritocracy in political rhetoric


Meritocratic feeling


Thatcherism in Britain


Major meritocracy


Blairism and beyond


Aspiration Nation


Tragi-comedy: Bojo's `hard work'


Blue-collar billionaires: Farage, Trump and the destabilisation of merit


Theresa May and the Middle England meritocrats


Aspiration for all?


Meritocracy vs. mutuality





ã


Part two: Popular parables





Chapter four: Just like us? Normcore plutocrats and the popularisation of elitism


Meritocracy and the extension of privilege


The 1%, the new rentiers and transnational asset-stripping


Normcore plutocrats


Normcore aristocrats


The kind parent


Luxury-flaunters


The new rich are different





Chapter five: #Damonsplaining and the unbearable whiteness of `merit'


#Damonsplaining and externalised white male privilege


Post-racial meritocracy


The racialization of merit: people


The racialization of merit: products


The racialization of merit: production


Trying to shut women up


Calling out the myth of postracial meritocracy


Externalised and internalised neoliberal meritocracy





ã


Chapter six: Desperate success: Managing the mumpreneur


Doing it all


Child labour


Desperate success


Entrepreneurial Man


Magical femininity


The mumpreneur and the branded self


Disaggregation and alternatives





Conclusion: Beyond neoliberal meritocracy


Failing to convince


The journeys of meritocracy


What's the alternative?


Changing the cultural pull of meritocratic hope


Alternatives to the ladder








Index
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Review quote

"This is a marvellously rich and timely book. It is meticulously researched and wide ranging in focus. Jo Littler pins down with precision the key role played by the idea of meritocracy in the political and cultural neoliberal strategy."ã


- Professor Angela McRobbie, Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK





"Against Meritocracy is a tour de force of political analysis. But it's also a landmark political book, charting pathways beyond the leading social beliefs of our time."


- Professor Andrew Ross, Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University, USA


"In Against Meritocracy, Jo Littler elegantly and persuasively weaves together histories and discourses of the concept "meritocracy," and theorizes about the longevity of this concept even in the face of overwhelming evidence that this concept does not "work" in culture, in politics, in our everyday lives. Here she offers an important new angle on the familiar assumptions about meritocracy, and importantly demonstrates how these assumptions are put into practice in ways that benefit the privileged. This brilliant book is so important; Littler's refusal to make totalizing statements about what, and how, meritocracy means, is a major, and necessary, contribution."


- Professor Sarah Banet-Weiser, Communication, USC Annenberg, USA


"Meritocracy, as legitimating creed for capitalism-as-culture, has been widely studied, but less than adequately theorized. In a commanding new study, Jo Littler subjects the myth of upward mobility to searching critical analysis, probing its historical resilience, its pervasive presence in popular discourse, and itsã insidious effects as an ideology that continues, amidst plutocratic rule and widening structural inequality, to promote faith inã the elusive "ladder of opportunity"."


- Professor Jean Comaroff, African and African American Studies, Harvard University, USA


"Against Meritocracy has an important role to play in informing the growing movement working to sweep away the Tory government."


- IAN SINCLAIR, Peace News


"Littler's compelling argument of the damage, both ideological and material, caused by the workings of meritocracy needs to be heeded. [...] Against Meritocracy is an important and timely book that reminds us it is time to abandon meritocracy as elitist, inequitable, and well past its sell-by-date."


- Diane Reay, University of Cambridge



"Littler offers a systematic and brilliant analysis of the kind of cultural work that the incorporation of meritocratic ideals has carried out in the Anglo-American world, particularly since the 1980s"


- Dr Catherine Rottenberg
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About Jo Littler

Jo Littler is a Reader in the Centre for Culture and Creative Industries in the Department of Sociology at City, University of London. She is the author of Radical Consumption: Shopping for change in contemporary culture (2009) and co-editor, with Roshi Naidoo, of The Politics of Heritage: The Legacies of `Race' (2005).
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