'English is like a credit card’: The workings of neoliberal governmentality in English learning in Pakistan

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Employing neoliberal governmentality as a conceptual frame, this paper presents evidence from the mushrooming English language academies from Pakistan to demonstrate that how neoliberal rationality as a normative order of reason governs the minds of learners and teachers without governing. Drawing on the analysis of an open-ended interview protocol and semi-structured interviews, the findings suggest that learning more English is believed to render them competitive in the current linguistic market. The rationality is deeply interwoven with the logic of the market. English is considered instrumental for social survival, a tool that promises all forms of social, cultural, and economic capital. The paper discusses that how the knowledge that neoliberal rationality internalises, apparently governs participants’ discourses, actions, and their self-technologies. Self-technologies manifest in their conduct of relentless self-development and self-entrepreneurship. Recurrent neoliberal lexicon embodies their subjectivities. The power of neoliberalism ‘inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives’ (Foucault [1980]. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977. New York: Pantheon Books). The study concludes that the transformative potential and promises attached to English learning are facile because English does not exist in some neutral social space; instead, it operates in a polarised society where the roots of socioeconomic inequalities are fundamentally structural than access to English.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
Publication statusPublished - Jun 25 2021


  • Neoliberal governmentality; logics of the market; language commodification; technologies of the self; English; Pakistan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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