“What you earn, depends on what you learn.” Political legitimacy in the West has for past decades rested on the principle that an individual’s social status and the associated rewards are given on the basis of one’s own performance and not according to ascriptive factors such as gender or parental background – i.e. meritocracy. However, the principle of meritocracy has increasingly come under criticism from philosophical and political perspectives arguing that it increases or perpetuates inequalities, rather than dissolve them. What is the state of meritocracy in our society today? What is the meritocratic principle’s influence on our education system? What is the relationship between the meritocratic principle and democracy? How do we situate the concept of meritocracy in the Swiss and the European context? What is the significance of meritocracy in other cultural and political contexts? In our reading group we explore meritocracy’s historical and conceptual underpinnings as well as its function across cultural contexts in order to critically reflect on the principle’s meaning in the 21st century. Furthermore, the reading group should be a space for your own reflections on the topic. The reading list consists of different books relating to the topic, written in German, English and French and is a “work in progress” – it can be added on to or modified depending on the group’s needs. Optional texts are marked in italics.
Organisation: Jonas Niederberger
Coordination: Stefano Aloise
Administration: Michelle Hug
Part I: Kick off: Religion and Secularisation; History of Meritocracy
Lefort, C. (2006). The Permanence of the Theologico-Political? In H. de Vries & L. E. Sullivan (Eds.), Political theologies: Public religions in a post-secular world (1st ed). Fordham University Press.
Wooldridge, A. (2021). The aristocracy of talent: How meritocracy made the modern world.
Part II: Ethics and Inequality in the context of Meritocracy
Sandel, M. J. (2020). The tyranny of merit: What’s become of the common good? (First published by Allen Lane). Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books.
Frank, R. H. (2016). Success and luck: Good fortune and the myth of meritocracy. Princeton University Press.
Hayek, F. A. von. & Hamowy, R. (2011). The constitution of liberty: The definitive edition. University of Chicago Press.
Rawls, J. (1999). A theory of justice (Rev. ed). Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Piketty, T. (2014). Chapter 11: Merit and Inheritance in the Long Run. In A. Goldhammer (Trans.), Capital in the twenty-first century. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Criado-Perez, C. (2019). Chapter 4: The myth of meritocracy. In Invisible women: Data bias in a world designed for men. Abrams Press.
Chamayou, G., & Brown, A. (2021). The ungovernable society: A genealogy of authoritarian liberalism. Polity Press.
Littler, J. (2017). Against meritocracy: Culture, power and myths of mobility. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Part III: Meritocracy in the Academic and Educational Context
Pollatschek, N. (2020). Dear Oxbridge: Liebesbrief an England. Galiani Berlin.
Tenret, E. (2011). L’école et la méritocratie: Représentations sociales et socialisation scolaire (1re édition). Presses universitaires de France.
Bradbury, A. (2021). Ability, inequality and post-pandemic schools: Rethinking contemporary myths of meritocracy. Policy Press.
Part IV: Meritocracy beyond the West
Bell, D. (2015). The China model: Political meritocracy and the limits of democracy (Paperback Edition, with a new preface by the author). Princeton University Press.
Bell, D. (Ed.). (2013). The East Asian challenge for democracy: Political meritocracy in comparative perspective. Cambridge University Press.
Scheduled meetings: 5 sessions between September 2022 and December 2022. The dates will be set within the group at the first get-together in September.
Working language: Most texts are in English, however, participants are free to choose what language to use for the discussion of the texts.
Meeting point: Berne (or optional depending on composition of group)
Number of Participants: around 10 students from all fields of study are welcome