chapter  2
30 Pages

Rising up

Gender, ethnicity, class and the meritocratic deficit
ByJo Littler

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Meritocracy today, in its neoliberal form, tends to endorse a competitive, linear system of social mobility and to function as an ideological myth to obscure inequalities, including the role this discourse of meritocracy itself plays in actually curtailing social mobility. Its myth of mobility is used to create the idea of a level playing field that does not exist. Meritocracy has travelled a long way from a term of abuse to a normalised principle. This chapter considers the historical reasons for both such parables of progress and the intersectional inconsistencies they hide. It shows how a quasi-democratic, but problematic, post-war language and practice of egalitarianism was filleted and marketised for corporate gain: popularising the ideas of a level playing field and that we can all 'rise up' at work, whilst perpetuating particular inbuilt and structural prejudices in terms of race, class, gender and ability.