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.

chapter |20 pages


Ladders and snakes
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part I|92 pages


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chapter 2|30 pages

Rising up

Gender, ethnicity, class and the meritocratic deficit
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chapter 3|35 pages

Meritocratic feeling

The movement of meritocracy in political rhetoric
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part II|114 pages

Popular parables

chapter 4|33 pages

Just like us?

Normcore plutocrats and the popularisation of elitism
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chapter 6|33 pages

Desperate success

Managing the mumpreneur
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chapter |15 pages


Beyond neoliberal meritocracy
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