Eyes wide shut: The fantasies and disavowals of education policy

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This paper examines the tensions between education policy’s attachment to notions such as excellence and inclusion and its investments in managerial tropes of competition, continuous quality improvement, standards and accountability that are at odds with and which undermine its attachments. In order to explore these tensions, I draw on the psychoanalytic notion of fantasy, explained through Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes wide shut. My argument is that while the individual and society are both constituted through unavoidable division, antagonism and opacity, these notions are obscured through the operations of fantasy which holds out the promise of wholeness, harmony and redemption. In particular, education serves as a key site in which these fantasmatic ideals are promoted and pursued, a claim I substantiate via an analysis of the UK government’s 2016 White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere. Specifically, I read the White Paper in terms of five fantasies of: control; knowledge and reason; inclusion; productivity; and victimhood. My argument is that while fantasy is an inescapable element that inevitably structures what we take to be ‘reality’, education policy might strive to inhabit fantasy differently, thereby finding ways of escaping its current mode of seeing education with eyes wide shut.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-167
JournalJournal of Education Policy
Early online date14 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • neoliberalism
  • fantasy
  • psychoanalysis
  • politics
  • education policy


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