chapter  3
35 Pages

Meritocratic feeling

The movement of meritocracy in political rhetoric
ByJo Littler

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This chapter considers how the discourse of neoliberal meritocracy emerged and mutated in social theory and how it has been shaped through the changing dynamics of work and through the legacies of 1960s social movements. It shows how such changes in the meaning of meritocracy were made possible in the political sphere. The chapter pays particular attention to the rhetorical and discursive strategies used by major figures in mainstream British political parties, and particularly to the personas of prime ministers in the period we now consider as neoliberal (since the late 1970s). The chapter investigates how the meaning and genealogy of meritocracy is shaped by political discourse, focusing on the UK and connecting its particularity to wider transnational cultures. It explores how what the author call 'meritocratic feeling' has been conveyed and encoded in mainstream political discourse, emphasising the cultural rhetoric and emotive appeals that have taken different forms in neoliberal culture.