Ethnography of a Neoliberal School: Building Cultures of Success, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Ethnography of a Neoliberal School

Building Cultures of Success, 1st Edition

By Garth Stahl


180 pages

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Hardback: 9781138672192
pub: 2017-09-14
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315616490
pub: 2017-09-13
from $27.48

FREE Standard Shipping!


As a school ethnography, this book explores the controversial schooling practices and strategies embedded in charter school management organizations (CMOs), as well as how these practices influence teaching and learning, school leadership, teachers’ professional identities, and students’ understanding of success. By theorizing the common practices within the organization, Stahl connects current research in neoliberal governance, neoliberal structuring of educational policy, aspiration and social reproduction in schooling. Honing in on the discourse on education reform, Stahl demonstrates that a "unique blend" of neoliberalism and social justice values have permeated the CMO’s institutional culture, promoting the belief that adopting corporate practices will fix America’s schools and ensure equity of opportunity for all. The inclusion of institutional texts (emails, Blackberry messages, posters, and rubrics) balances the personal-subjective and inter-subjective to capture a blend of neoliberalism and social justice reframing.


"This richly theorised, fascinating ethnography of charter schools is a must-read for all those concerned about the impact of neoliberalism on schooling. In an analysis that both grips and challenges the reader, Garth Stahl uncovers the harmful consequences of privatisation on schooling in the US, setting out the corporate and managerialist policies and practices that are hollowing out public schooling not just in the US but increasingly across the globe. Ethnography of a Neoliberal School brings powerfully to life the damage wrought by educational policies that focus remorselessly on competition, individualism, and raising aspiration without recognising wider social and economic realities. In doing so it bears damning witness to neoliberalism's contributions to the injuries of class and race." --Diane Reay, Professor of Education, University of Cambridge

"In this groundbreaking book Garth Stahl combines thick ethnographic description with sociological theory to unravel the rich tapestry of everyday neoliberalisation in the ‘post-disciplinary’ environment of a US charter school management organisation. Using descriptive scene-setting vignettes and personal reflections, Stahl draws our attention to the role and impact of different species of corporate logic and the enterprise form to confront the messy actualities of stealth privatisation in public education in the US, and offers penetrating insight into the contrived pedagogies, technologies of expertise, cults of efficacy, and ideologies of deliverology resulting from these machinations. Moreover, Stahl uniquely captures some of the conflicting tendencies at the heart of these reforms, namely precariousness and permanence, and explores the significance of these trends to cultivating performative workers and the smooth functioning of neoliberalisation more generally. This book is essential reading for practitioners and researchers interested in the deeper frames and ground logic which help to secure the technocratic embedding of neoliberalism in the day to day organisation of schools."--Andrew Wilkins, Reader in Education and Governance, University of East London

"In Ethnography of a Neoliberal School, Garth Stahl presents a lucid, insightful and ultimately excellent account of policies and practices in a US Charter School Management Organizations (CMOs). Firmly positioned in the context of existing work on the charter school movement and the field of institutional ethnography, the book explores and analyses the ways in which neoliberal agendas play out through and within various aspects of schooling. Stahl presents a compelling and at times confronting read, setting carefully his own daily experiences in a charter school against wider literature in the area. This book marks an important and significant contribution to research on neoliberal agendas in education, and has something to offer for both advocates and critics of the marketisation and corporatisation of schooling. A must read for all educators and parents interested in how education and schooling are shaped and experienced today." --Andrew Peterson, Professor of Civic and Moral Education, Canterbury Christ Church University, UK

Table of Contents

List of Figures



Chapter 1: Introduction

Part I

Chapter 2: School ethnography, school effects and schooling in neoliberal times

Chapter 3: Charter schools, the reform movement and CMOs

Chapter 4: Corporatization, CMOs and the "unique blend"

Part II

Chapter 5: Leadership

Chapter 6: Teachers

Chapter 7: Students

Chapter 8: Assessment

Chapter 9: Reflections

Appendix A – Qualities of Exemplary Teaching (QET) Deliverables Rubric

About the Author

Garth Stahl, Ph.D. is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Education at the University of South Australia and Research Fellow, Australian Research Council (DECRA). His research interests lie on the nexus of neoliberalism and socio-cultural studies of education, identity, equity/inequality, and social change. Currently, his research projects and publications encompass theoretical and empirical studies of learner identities, gender and youth, sociology of schooling in a neoliberal age, gendered subjectivities, equity and difference, and educational reform.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Education, Neoliberalism, and Marxism

Neoliberalism is degrading and destroying public education systems globally. The local characteristics may vary, the results are common - increased inequalities in schooling, vocational and higher education, inferior work conditions for teachers and faculty, and detheorized and technicized delivery systems of increasing conservative curricula at all levels of education. Neoliberalism - marketization, privatization, pre-privatization, commodification - is increasingly accompanied by forms of authoritarian conservatism - secular in some countries, religious in others - with increased control, surveillance, and forced abandonment of critique. Such neoliberal and conservative assaults on public education and on broader aims than those which are couched purely in terms of economic/human capital - meet with increased resistance by students, teachers, communities, social movements, and in some countries, political parties.

The Routledge Studies in Education, Neoliberalism, and Marxism series features books by new as well as established scholars that throw a harsh spotlight on the conditions under which education currently labors and offers analysis, hope, and resistance in the name of more collective, egalitarian education for social and for economic justice.

Please send inquiries and proposals to: Dave Hill ( and Elsbeth Wright (


Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
EDUCATION / Administration / General
EDUCATION / Leadership
EDUCATION / Educational Policy & Reform / General