Category Archives: Second panel session: Contemporary Britain

Re-theorising Cameronism

The existing literature on Cameronism, despite its disputes, seems to generally draw on some combination of a core set of tenets: the perception of Cameronism as an electoral strategy, the noting of Cameronism’s occupation with deficit reduction, a debate over whether Cameronism is a brand of One-Nation or New Right conservatism, a focus on Cameronism’s employment of modernisation discourses, and finally, analysis of the ‘Big Society’ device. These are largely helpful and informative, but have some problems. This picture of Cameronism misconceptualises the relationship between structure and agency – overagentialising Cameronism – and misrepresents the pace and nature of political change.

This paper will review both the existing literature on Cameronism and some literature on these theoretical topics, before combining the two with empirical research to come to a new conception of Cameronism. It draws on the work of Hay (2006, 2010) and others to provide concepts with which to analyse Cameronism – borrowing from work on critical junctures, evolutionary change, structure and agency dialectics, and taking some ideas from institutional theory. Ultimately, Cameron is reconceptualised as a nodal point in the complex interaction between a set of discursive, historical and geographical institutions, which result in a reactionary form of anti-Keynesian, which defines itself more in terms of what it isn’t than in terms of what it is.

Jon Robinson




Political structures through 3D Glasses – Tiered Pluralist-Elitism

When modelling British political structures, strict applications of either pluralist or elitist frameworks are fraught with problems. By contrast, Rhodes’ Differentiated Polity Model and Marsh’s Asymmetric Power Model provide fuller pictures of the landscape of power within British Politics; however, both suffer from short-comings when dealing with how deep ideational changes alter the political composition of Britain across time, such as the waning power of the old ‘Etonian/Oxbridge’ elite and the ideational penetration of ‘meritocracy’. In light of this, this paper seeks to imagine a new way of conceptualising British Politics: Tiered Pluralist-Elitism.

I argue that this approach wields greater explanatory power as it allows for the modelling of ideational shifts across time, evidence for which I provide in the form of two analyses: (i) an analysis of business and epistemic communities within liberal democratic political structures, drawing on the work of Lindblom (year needed); and (ii) an analysis of the role of social-Darwinist ideas within historic and contemporary discourses surrounding ‘social mobility’. I conclude that Tiered Pluralist-Elitism is able to provide a more complete framework through which to approach the changing British state.

James Bowker




New Directions for Social Critique after the Technocratic Idea of Excellence and its effects on Higher Education

This paper is part of the fruit of a reflexive critical observation of my own experience as a student of Cultural Studies. I was affected by the events that led to its final moments at the University of Birmingham and thereof mobilised to write. I later expanded the scope of my investigation to the contemporary idea of the University in more general terms; a University marked by: curriculums streamlined to match career requirements in the Culture Industry and the Market; increasing focus on employability skills; increasing stress and pressure on students to gather work experience, ultimately regulating individuals’ modes of life by selling them fabricated desires, career prospects, and lifetime aspirations.

In this paper, I specifically investigate alternatives to the idea of excellence as the guiding value of Higher Education. Bill Readings described the contemporary University as an institution which transformed from one devoted to the cultivation of national culture into one obsessed with the “pursuit of excellence”: the design and delivery of a technocratic control which orders the management and administration of the social production of knowledge in the University primarily in favour of the accumulation of capital. I begin by highlighting how the criteria of excellence hinder the development of Critical Theories whose object of study is a society that is increasingly homogenising difference. I then conduct an analysis of technology on campus to portray the transformation of the contemporary University.

Subsequently, I seek a Derridean alternative to an Adornian conceptualisation of technology and its role in the development of a theoretical framework for a “University Without Condition” from the influence of technocratic capitalism. I ultimately gesture towards the importance of advancing a new guiding value of the contemporary University, calling for the theoretical development of an interdisciplinarity modelled around Derrida’s thought, in the attempt to envision a University more open to difference and the production of social critique.

Elio di Muccio