Unmasking Global Education Industries and Their Capital Accumulation Strategies: On Materiality and Discourse

  • Author / Creator
    Riep, Curtis
  • The notion of education as being part of the “commons,” as a societal or public good, is slowly giving way to pressures of marketization, privatization, and commodification—and thus, re-imagined, reconfigured, and re-appropriated as an object of trade, increasingly for sale, based on individual competition and consumerism. Globally, the education sector, including K-12 schooling, higher education, and lifelong learning, is estimated to be worth US$6-8 trillion-dollars (Hartnett, Leung, & Marcus, 2014)—a market that continues to grow as more and more of the education state is privatized and commercialized. It is within this context that transnational corporations represent increasingly influential actors in global education policy and governance. Yet, they oftentimes remain overlooked by educational researchers and scholars.

    The aim of this research is to critically explore, describe, and explain how transnationally-configured corporations extract surplus value from systems of education through the commodities they produce, the devices they employ, and the discourse and ideas they construct as part of their capital accumulation strategies. In doing so, this research will assess three leading firms from the global education industry – Pearson Plc, Bridge International Academies, Ltd., and Microsoft Corporation. Due to their significant position, scope, scale, and influence, these firms are purposefully sampled to develop empirical generalizations, interpretive understanding, and speculative hypotheses regarding the operations and impact of transnational corporations in education. Each firm is analyzed separately, constituting three distinct studies that examine different angles and dimensions of the global education industry. Methodologically, this study of education industries is operationalized through theory-based construct sampling and case study analysis that takes on the form of a paper-based dissertation. Critical discourse and critical semiotic methods are employed to examine the constitutive role of discourse and discursive practices and semiosis and semiotic practices in political-economic processes that continue to stabilize and expand the global education industry. Network ethnography is also incorporated into this multi-methodological approach to trace new global spatialities, influences, and interconnections indicating corporate involvement in education policy processes. Together, these different elements of the research program formulate a critical cultural political economy account to interpret and explain the capital accumulation strategies and activities implemented by some of the most influential and powerful firms constituting the global education industry.

    The general conclusions of this dissertation illustrate the ways in which global education industries are transforming how systems of education are organized, delivered, and consumed (and for whom and what purposes) through discursive techniques and their materiality (in the form of educational tools, technologies, devices, products, and programs). The activities and strategies of global education industries, in turn, represent the following dynamic shifts and interrelated processes: (1) learning is about the production and consumption of skills and knowledge; (2) education industries reflect denationalization processes involving new governance modalities; (3) the financialization of education has transformed the sector into an investable opportunity for commercial financiers, and; (4) information technology (IT) innovations are creating new ways of teaching and learning that align technology initiatives with business aims, referred to here as techagogy. These processes signal the broad changes related to capitalist restructuring in education that will be examined throughout this dissertation.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.