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Hidden meritocracies - unpacking 'social mobility' in development paradigms 
Annalena Oppel (London School of Economics and Political Science)
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Rethinking development
Palmer 1.11
Wednesday 28 June, -
Time zone: Europe/London

Short Abstract:

Meritocracy describes how individuals narrate and justify success and failure. It is framed and discussed in contexts of modern society. When agents of development become 'brokers of modernity' through efforts of progress and betterment, it becomes difficult to ignore it as an underpinning ideology.

Long Abstract:

Meritocracy is an ideology of increasing popularity and recognition in the public and scholarly discourse. It serves as a framework to describe individuals' beliefs about sources of inequality (deserved based on merit or un-deserved based on luck) whereby meritocratic tendencies lowered their demand for redistribution. Others linked meritocracy to a declining concern for inequality overall, which aligns with its origin as a dystopian future. Surprisingly, it is much less studied in the global South. This is despite the many development paradigms that include individual betterment, livelihoods, educational advancement, graduation from social protection schemes, and entrepreneurship - elements for which social mobility can serve as an umbrella term. Seen as inherently positive and something to strive towards, there has not been a moment of pausing and reflecting on their role in fostering meritocratic beliefs in global South societies and what that means. This is relevant given the rising concerns around meritocracy and its dynamics of eroding forms of public solidarity, ignoring structural barriers, and creating a heightened sense of individual agency. Unpacking elements of social mobility from an ideological angle - as well as where concepts stem from and where they are supplanted - can open a platform for thinking about alternative views. More importantly, a critical engagement with concepts established and promoted by the global North that are seen as inherently positive can signal a willingness to make space for voices less heard and considered in processes of national and global agenda setting.

Accepted contributions:

Session 1 Wednesday 28 June, 2023, -