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The rhetoric of the prospectus image. Deconstructing schools’ visual promotional material in an age of neoliberal inequality.

Bracewell, S. (2023) The rhetoric of the prospectus image. Deconstructing schools’ visual promotional material in an age of neoliberal inequality. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00113198


In the quasi-market of education in England in 2022, schools are forced to promote themselves in order to compete for pupil intake. This self-promotion enters the field of advertising and the semiotic techniques for decoding the messages and meanings within the images they use can be applied. Parents and pupils are also situated within hegemonic neoliberal discourse with its mythologies of competition and meritocracy. They too are pushed into competition to make ‘wise choices’ around educational investment and choice of school. Applying the concepts of cultural capital and habitus from Bourdieu, my research seeks to examine how the process of school choice can function in cycles of the social reproduction of advantage and disadvantage. I argue that parents’ choice of schools is influenced by the interpellation of the signifiers of social status present in the images used by schools to market themselves. Images contain calls of “Hey You!” that different audiences, different parents, may respond to. This then acts as a form of Lacanian ‘quilting point’ that anchors the floating signifier(s) in the image into the ideological discourse of parents as ‘entrepreneurs of the self’ making the right choices for their children. Drawing from an visual analysis of 1300+ images found in a sample of 50 Secondary School prospectuses in the South East of England this thesis employs the semiotic methods of Barthes’ “Rhetoric of the Image” to uncover the signs and mythologies of distinction, social status and educational discourse that can be found saturated in the sample images.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Fuller, C.
Thesis/Report Department:Institute of Education
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education
ID Code:113198
Date on Title Page:November 2022


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