ARTICLE 56: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Neoliberalism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Many writers wrote about an innocent and beautiful farm girl who sought fame and fortune in the city.

Only to become the victim of unscrupulous criminals who misused her innocence.

Neoliberalism is such a teenage girl.

In this article, I will tell you how vulnerable neoliberalism is to the corrupt people of our world.

Neoliberalism is a description of the dominant mode of conducting political and economic organisation in a global world, which obviously would also be the field in which research is conducted. It also has an impact on other elements of the human environment, for example education, jurisdiction, and science.

Whereas classical liberalism signalled a negative view of the state, neoliberalism conceives of a positive role for a state that creates the optimal conditions for capitalist expansion, control and exploitation. The state has a definite function and responsibility towards the community, including the protection of private property rights, guaranteeing the quality and integrity of money, military defence and police protection of the community, the proper functioning of the economy and markets, and the protection of the environment. Governments that support neoliberalism would typically follow policies that encourage privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade and the reduction in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. A neoliberalist economic approach would promote entrepreneurship, creativity, participative leadership and democracy.

Neoliberalism is associated with a form of state that seeks reduction in public spending; it is obsessed with efficiency and effectiveness and elevates the market as the primary instrument for determining the distribution of social goods. An important basis of liberal thought is that all individuals are equal in terms of being legal citizens of a country. 

In terms of the academic focus, knowledge is regarded and promoted as an investment for the future and as a global commodity. Traditional, legacy approaches to education and training are challenged by focusing more on the skills needs of industry, rather than philosophy and theory.

In neoliberalist research, the relationships between researchers and communities have changed from “research on” to “research with” communities. This means that research based on a neoliberalist paradigm would include the researcher as part of the community while conducting research in liberalisation, i.e. an emic approach.

Action research became more prominent than in the past because of the emic approach and the focus on politics and the economy. In this respect the purpose of the research is not just to contribute to the available knowledge in a field, or to develop emancipatory theory, but rather to forge a more direct link between thought and action that underlies the pure-applied distinction that has traditionally characterised management and social research.

Private institutions are important role players in the preparation of students for future careers. Research, consequently, focuses more on the needs of industry, governments and markets rather than on knowledge for the sake of academic status. Action research is conducted with the primary intention of solving a specific immediate and concrete problem in a local setting.

Even though neoliberalism clashes with liberalism in some respects, it also supports liberal values such as equality and freedom in relation to imperialism, gender, race and austerity. Neoliberalism is associated with critical theory, post-colonialism, feminism, radicalism, romanticism, and critical race theory with the result that researchers making use of a neoliberalist paradigm would probably make use of a qualitative research approach.

The technicist paradigms, notably scientism, positivism and modernism can be said to be in opposition to neoliberalism. Some academics claim that the lack of scientific consistency should be blamed for the failure of neoliberalist government and economic policies, while others feel that it is rather unethical and irresponsible government and business practices that resulted in increased unemployment, higher inflation, social unrest, environmental disasters, etc. in many countries.


Neoliberalism focuses on political and other elements of the human environment.

Knowledge and skills development are regarded as an investment.

The state and private institutions play an important role in the economy and therefore also in research.

Neoliberalism support extensive economic liberalisation.

A qualitative research approach is preferred.

An emic approach towards the target for the research is favoured.

Neoliberalism is well suited for action research.

Neoliberalism can be associated with critical theory, critical race theory, feminism, radicalism, romanticism and post-colonialism.

Neoliberalism is opposed to scientism, positivism and modernism.

Criticism against neoliberalism is that it lacks scientific consistency and that unethical and irresponsible government and business practices can damage the value of the paradigm for research and practice.

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