Journal article

Excavating widening participation policy in Australian higher education: subject positions, representational effects, emotion

10 Jun 2014

This article uses Foucauldian discourse analysis to identify two subject positions within Australia's Widening Participation higher education policy.


The massification of higher education is a definitive feature of the late twentieth century. Widening Participation (WP) policy is a recent manifestation of this phenomenon in Britain and Australia. This article uses Foucauldian discourse analysis to identify two subject positions within Australian WP higher education policy, that of the cap(able) individual and the proper aspirant. The article also traces the feeling-rules associated with these subject positions to ask critical questions about neo-liberal social justice.


A Foucauldian discourse analysis was conducted on a range of policy documents relating the higher education during the period 2008-2013. Using Bacchi’s (2012) ‘what is the problem represented to be?’ (WPR) approach, two subject positions and their attendant feeling-rules are identified.   


The two subject positions, the cap(able) individual and the proper aspirant, represent a quintessential neo-liberal subject who possesses ‘natural’ ability, hope for social mobility and is highly individualised and entrepreneurial in disposition. As a reinvention of social justice approaches to higher education, WP has wide emotional and common sense appeal derived from its links into older discourses on social justice, meritocracy and the redemptive promise of education and childhood hope.  A new neo-liberal appropriation of social justice, WP neglects critical historical, social and contextual factors related to educational inequity.

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