Negotiating Acts of Citizenship in an Era of Neoliberal Reform: The Game of School Closures


In Ontario, the landscape of public education has changed quite rapidly during the past decade. Critics argue that neoliberal policies concerning privatization and marketization in the education system have produced different outcomes for different groups. One of the most sensitive issues during these years has been the closure of schools. Over three years (1999–2002) nearly 200 schools were closed in Ontario. These many changes, however, have not gone uncontested and communities have adapted to these circumstances in different ways. Acts of citizenship range from coping independently to challenging these changes collectively. This article examines the failures and successes of various acts of citizenship in challenging neoliberal governmental rationalities. More specifically, it traces the difficult process of school closure negotiations using examples from Toronto. Based primarily on participant observation carried out over a year, it examines the politics of the community consultation process among a heterogeneous ‘family of schools’ amid mixed incomes and varying capacities and needs. Through these case studies it explores whether these acts are inclusionary or exclusionary, homogenizing or diversifying, positive or negative. The evolution of the planning process is examined at three different periods (1998, 1999, 2000), demonstrating the slow and steady construction, advancement and legitimization of neoliberal policy, and correspondingly the spaces and citizens it makes and unmakes through this process. The article concludes with a framework of collective action highlighting relational aspects of citizenship that lead to positive or negative consequences for civil society.