The sublime objects of education policy: quality, equity and ideology

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31 Citations (Scopus)


Quality and equity are touchstones of education policy in the twenty-first century in a range of global contexts. On the surface, this seems fitting: after all, who could object to more quality and greater equity in education? Yet what do we mean by quality and equity, and how are they related? This paper draws on Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to argue that not only are quality and equity far more complex than education policy formulations typically imply, but also that despite their elevated place in policy debates they remain elusive, serving as sublime objects that function as sites for the investment of desire, while simultaneously covering over and compensating for the ultimate impossibility of a complete and harmonious society. The paper argues that it is a result of their occupying this empty place, and through their holding out the (illusive) promise of enjoyment, rather than as a consequence of their specific or intrinsic content, that sublime objects such as equity and quality exert their particular ideological force.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)584-598
Number of pages16
JournalDiscourse : studies in the cultural politics of education
Issue number4
Early online date2 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2014

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements: Thanks are extended to my colleagues, Kalervo Gulson and Stephen Marshall, as well as two anonymous reviewers, for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


  • education policy
  • equity
  • quality
  • psychoanalysis
  • neoliberalism
  • ideology


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