Ladette to Lady The evolution of neoliberal governmentalityand discourses of freedom


The inception of television has not only introduced a new media era, but also a powerful site of ideological production (Gerbner & Gross, 1998). Not only because television has become a favourite pastime for a vast number of people, but also because of its long-standing relationship with capturing reality and mobilising viewers (Bratich, 2007). Hence, television is a technology that has become increasingly integrated into our everyday lives.

One of its latest genres, Reality TV, has been another game changer, as it altered standard television formats with its introduction of competition, make-overs, experts and audience participation (Ouelette, 2010). Moreover, Reality TV appears to utilise natural, domestic settings and ordinary citizens in their programs. The documentary style of shooting appears to capture the everyday lives and activities of the participants (Ouelette & Hay, 2008). However, in contrast to what people are made to believe, often these shows are scripted. Due to these stylistic features, many people misperceive this type of television as representative of reality. This also contributes to the normalisation of the common sense notions produced in these shows. Although, these formats do not seem to have a political agenda, they are producing a dominant meaning system about societal norms and good citizenship. Hence, Reality TV transcends the representation of reality, it prescribes it.

McMurria (2008) and Ouelette (2016) deemed Reality TV especially conducive to neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is more than an economic policy, as its rationality extends to noneconomic domains (Brown, 2005). Freedom, autonomy and choice are the central tenets for neoliberal state legitimisation and personhood (Rose & Miller, 2008; Hardt & Negri, 2009). The neoliberal citizen is posed as an entrepreneurial, self-improving individual, who shapes his or her identity through consumer choices (Brown, 2005; Redden, 2007; Ouelette, 2016). The freedom that is granted to the individual, simultaneously makes the individual responsible for his or her own actions. Reality TV is transforming its audience and TV participants into neoliberal, free subjects (Ouelette, 2010). Problematic about this transformation is the neglect of the structural constraints of society, which leads people to only blame themselves when they don't fulfil their 'potential'.

Over the years, a multitude of Reality TV shows have been analysed, covering different types of formats and highlighting different elements of neoliberal citizenship (Heller, 2007). Instead of selecting a differing platform, this study aims to analyse a typical Reality TV show characterised by competition, experts and ordinary citizens: Ladette to Lady. The show revolves around a group of ladettes who have entered a competition that will teach them how to be a proper lady. Within the show, the ladettes are supervised by five instructors who will teach them various tasks which will enable their transformation. At the end of every episode one participant is expelled from the school, Eggleston Hall. The research will be guided by the central question: How can the hegemonic discourses in Ladette to Lady be considered a technology of neoliberal governmentality? By analysing a typical format, the focus can be laid upon how the participants of the show are transformed. Moreover, the show makes an interesting case because of its central setting of a finishing school, the connection of class and culture it portrays and its central theme of social mobility. (Ouelette, 2016; Foucault, 1980).

Theoretical Framework


A plurality of studies have investigated the phenomenon of neoliberalism through theories of power. For this research (Larner, 200). Within this research the Foucauldian lens will be adopted by using the theoretical concept of governmentality. The investigation of governmentality will happen through the concept of hegemonic discourse. The combination of Foucauldian theory with Neo-Marxist theory will allow for more concrete observations in terms of effects.

In Foucault’s work two lines of inquiry could be identified (Lemke, 2000). On the one hand, his work covered political rationalities and the role of the state. On the other hand, there was a focus upon the individual subject. In his later work, a new concept emerged, namely governmentality. Governmentality can be defined as the mentalities of government (van Houdt, 2014). The interlinking of thought and governance reveals that technologies of power are intrinsically linked to political rationalities (Lemke, 2000). Although, this connection has become less obvious nowadays, the government’s role in other non-political domains used to be more explicit.

For Foucault governmentality concerned “the way in which one conducts the conduct of men” (Foucault, 2008, p. 186). The term is broad and could refer to multiple actors and institutions. It could refer to how you are regulating yourself, but also to how you are influencing other people’s behaviours (Kelly, 2009). Yet, Foucault often applied it to the government. Rimke (2000) and Rose (1996) have argued that the power of the government might seem to be in decline, but their strategies, tactics and reflections of governance have become more persuasive. Accordingly, power is not necessarily about discipline or coercion, instead power is mostly about guidance; about showing what is thinkable and practicable in society (Rose & Miller, 2000). Coercion and consent are merely the means by which the government can regulate people (Lemke, 2000).

The concept of governmentality has evolved in the Foucauldian tradition over time. Whereas Foucault (1980) mainly focused upon the discipling in or at institutions, Deleuze (1992) revealed how these institutions continue to govern us at a distance, as they are occupying our mind in other settings as well. Rose (1996), finally, argues that institutions aren't the only governing actors anymore, citizens themselves internalise the neoliberal discourse and continuously govern themselves with the help of expert advice.

Foucault’s analysis of neoliberalism does not include whether the practices conform to the rationalities it professes. Instead, it focuses upon the constraints and new forms of social knowledge that these type of rationalities enable (McHoul & Grace, 1993). According to Foucault, no knowledge is neutral, instead it is a technology of governance which allows for the creation of discursive fields. As becomes clear, the concept of governmentality is intrinsically linked to the concept of discourse.

Foucault's famous example: Panopticon

Hegemonic discourses

Discourse is the “sequence of statements that constitutes the rules and the practices in which subjects are formed” (van der Veeke, 2013, p. 119). To put it more simply, discourse is basically language as social practice (Fairclough & Wodak, 1997). It reveals what we deem common sensical and normal in our everyday lives. Discourses are both socially conditioned as socially constituted, therefore it also allows for counter-readings and resistance.

Foucault has been considered the antithesis of Marx for a long time. Nevertheless, Hall (1986) has shown how the concept of ideology (and its successor hegemony) could be merged with the notion of discourse. First of all, Hall (1986) has revealed that many of the criticisms of ideology are a matter of interpretation. For instance, false consciousness does not necessarily refer to the distortion (manipulation) of reality. It can also refer to the relations and processes that are hidden or neglected in one-sided ideologies. Moreover, the criticism of structural determinism was countered by showing Marx’s observation that economics is not in a unidirectional relationship with social relations, instead they influence each other (Harvey, 2010).

Furthermore, Hall (1986) shows the usefulness of the Neo-Marxist interpretation of ideology: Gramsci’s hegemony. Hegemony is basically an ideological force exerted by the ruling class that legitimates the dominant political-economic system (Kertzer, 1979; Stoddard, 2007). This concept allows for a merger with discourse, because (1) it allows for power to function through non-coercive means such as consent (Gramsci, 1929/1972; Brown, 2005; Stoddard, 2007), (2) its theoretical frame shows how ideological force can also become productive for the non-ruling class (Hall, 1988; Freedman, 2014) , (3) it acknowledges the role of other people and institutions in ideological production (van Der Veeke, 2013) and (4) it highlights how ideology is not a coherent body of thought, but a set of contradictory, common sensical notions (Kim, 2001; Harvey, 2005). By combining hegemony and discourse, it becomes theoretically possible to not only trace the specific language that is used to make sense of society’s functioning, but also to make explicit what the actual effects are for the people.


What has become clear is that according to both Foucault and Marx, the political economic system of neoliberalism is intrinsically linked with a specific mentality, which renders other mentalities or rationalities unthinkable. The discourse regarding good citizenship has changed. Whereas in the first half of the 20th century, social responsibilities and solidarity were central for citizenship, from the mid-1980s onwards, freedom, autonomy and choice became increasingly central for state legitimisation (Rose & Miller, 2008). The neoliberal citizen was posed as an entrepreneurial, self-improving individual, who shapes his or her identity through consumer choices (Brown, 2005; Redden, 2007; Ouelette, 2016). The freedom that is granted to the individual by neoliberalism, simultaneously comes with a responsibility for one’s actions and choices. The structural constraints that one might face are not taken into account in the discourse. This fosters the idea of meritocracy: the belief that social mobility is only based upon your merits or lack thereof.

Moreover, the autonomy that is presupposed in the individual requires people to be constantly improving themselves and seize every opportunity they get. When you face problems, you have the tools to solve the problems yourself (Brown, 2005). Lastly, you have the freedom to choose your own consumption patterns. However, what is neglected is that through these consumption patterns distinctions are made between social groups and consequently the chances people have (Bourdieu, 1990).

What becomes clear from these examples is that the freedom that people supposedly have isn't the same as social equality (Harvey, 2005). When one does not play the part of the entrepreneurial self, one is morally condemned and excluded from society (Redden, 2007; Redden & Brown, 2010). When one does play the part, one is still at risk of being socially excluded because of bad taste. Hence, these types of notions can morally regulate citizens.

Media production

Ladette to Lady

Both Gramsci (1929/1972) and Foucault (1980) have highlighted the importance of institutions in reproducing common sense notions and discourses. One of the institutions that has become increasingly important is the media and in particular reality television. The platform is not only able to produce hegemonic discourses, but also to govern the audience from a distance by the internalisation of this discourse.

Previous analysis of Ladette to Lady mainly focused upon the interactions between the teachers and girls. However, thereby the grand narrative was neglected. Redden & Brown (2010) revealed that classed distinctions were persistent in the show with regard to consumption patterns (e.g. alcohol). The wrong choices were often equated with failure. Moreover, some of the demands of the show are unachievable for the girls. Yet, they are still expected to "achieve the unachievable" (p. 243), thereby harsh discipline is justified because the girls are not able to better themselves. This fostered a kind of meritocratic cultural logic which devalued the girls' personhood in case of failure. Ringrose & Walkerdine (2008) similarly describe how the failure of taking upon the proper role by working class women is transforming their body and mind into a site of regulation.

From this literature, another central theme in Ladette to Lady can be highlighted namely regulation through discipline. Thereby the show actually portrays one of the early conceptions of Foucault (1980) regarding power, in which considerable attention is paid to the body which can be made docile by punishment. From the literature, three central themes could be deduced: the self as project, social mobility and regulation.



Within this research, narrative analysis will be combined with qualitative content analysis. Whereas the former focuses upon the grand narrative and its characters, the latter is able to supplement this more structural outline with the specific common sensical language that results from it. The advantage of these methods is their unobtrusive nature, which allows for the observation of language without interference (Gilbert & Stoneman, 2016).

Narrative analysis in particular has been selected because this type of analysis could result in different outcomes compared to previous research (Redden & Brown, 2010; Ringrose & Walkerdine, 2008). Moreover, narratives and fairy tales have always played an important role in prescribing norms and transforming the audience (Smith, 2000; McAdams, 1993). Bratich (2007) argued that the structure and theme of reality TV are rather similar to that of the fairy tale. Both are about radical transformation through the help of allies and knowledge about oneself.

Sample. Five seasons have been made, with in total 27 episodes. The show was first aired from 2005 to 2010. The season that has been selected, Aussie Ladette to Lady (season 4) was aired on on Nine Network and existed out of 7 episodes of 45 minutes. These episodes include an introduction, competition, finale and reunion. This particular season has been selected, because of its easy accessibility and opportunity space for extra cultural conflict and rebellion to occur. The ideal corpus of the sample consists of episode 2, 5 and 6, which resemble the beginning, middle and end. This selection allows for the tracking of the discourse throughout the narrative. Moreover, these episodes contained moments of resistance as well as compliance. Therefore, the selection also seems fruitful for analysing hegemonic discourses.

Analysis. Within the analyses, the emphasis will lay upon the following neoliberal themes: regulation, the self as project and social mobility (Foucault, 1980; Rose & Miller, 2008; Ouelette, 2016). Regulation is one of the main tenets in the show, due to its setting of a finishing school with strict teachers. The theme of social mobility is vividly captured in the title: Ladette to Lady, in which ‘ladette’ has working class connotations and ‘lady’ elite connotations (Smith, 2013). The self as project is central in Reality TV in general, as the transformation of the participants is central (McMurria, 2008). Hence, these themes have been selected, due to their centrality in the show and neoliberalism.

The analysis will combine elements of narrative analysis and qualitative content analysis. From the former discipline, the following focal points will be incorporated: (1) how the story is constructed (Smith, 2000), (2) how the different characters (narrator, teachers and ladettes) evolve during the narrative (Bratich, 2007) and in which particular stage of the narrative selected statements have been made. The qualitative content analysis will allow for extra depth when studying the resulting characteristics of the text. As not only the general outline of the narrative is captured, but also the more specific language and common sense notions.

Firstly, the construction of the narrative will be examined by coding a storyline in the series according to narrative, current event and frame. Firstly, the narrative provides meaning and coherence to the events by interlinking them (Bruner, 1990). Secondly, the events are the actual activities that happen in the show. Thirdly, the frame constitutes elements in the story which are further build upon and lead to expectations about the unfolding plot (Tannen, 1993).

Secondly, the data from the collected texts will be subdivided and reassembled in order to transform the raw material into findings (Boeije, 2010). This type of transformation will occur through the process of coding. A code is “a word or string of words used as a name for a category generated during analysis” (Boeije, 2010, p.95). The coding of the data will not only provide structure to the collected materials, but will also reveal how exactly the discourses of regulation, the self as project and social mobility are constructed. The research will follow the directed content analysis approach, in which codes are derived from theory but also originate during the research process (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005).

Within the content analysis, the data was subdivided according to the stage of the narrative in which a statement was made and the character the statement belonged to. Furthermore, two coding processes took place: open and axial coding. Open coding involves marking the first potential elements of interest and generating initial subcategories. Secondly, axial coding connects the open codes in new ways and results in main categories. Selective coding did not take place, because the general themes were already derived from the literature. Finally, the documentation of the stage and characters of the story allowed for the investigation of the evolution of discourses throughout the story.


Construction of story by narrator

Within Ladette to Lady, the narrator is the driving force of the story line whom introduces new scenes and imbeds reflections and flashbacks within these scenes. Especially, the latter are central in the show and form a constant reminder to the girls’ past. From the final episode, an excerpt has been made of one of the narratives created around the finalist. This storyline represents the general construction of the narrative.

Figure 1 shows the introduction to the narrative of ladette Nicole and her ‘journey’ so far. The elements of the text have been labelled narrative, current event or frame. The general, explicit narrative is constructed by the narrator who connects everything. The current event (teacher calling the girls ‘dogs dragged out of the ditch’) is explained by introducing the narrative of Nicole. The frames seem to be chronologically ordered and show the events that have occurred that lead up to this point. Within the frames, the metamorphosis must be explicitly illustrated. Therefore, the participants’ initial rebellion is showcased, mostly followed by an intervention of one of the teachers, afterwards the participants have gained elevated consciousness and a particular event has been selected which signals the turning point. After the turning point, mostly another reflection by the teachers is introduced, after which the personal narrative transforms into the general narrative again.

These structures in the narrative are only displaying what the narrator wants to tell, namely the story of great personal growth of the girls with the help of their teachers. The motives behind the girls’ rebellion are not highlighted. Thereby, only the grand fairy tale of the transformation of ‘ladette’ to ‘lady’ is highlighted. Furthermore, the structure of the show also sends a mixed message concerning social mobility. The excessive use of flashbacks in the show constantly reminds the viewer of the girls’ misdemeanours in the past. Thereby, the ‘true’ transformation of the girls is put under scrutiny. Besides, due to the competition format, it is communicated that some girls are not able to be transformed.

Figure 1 Example of Narrative Construction

The evolution of hegemonic discourses

The analysis of the discourses in Ladette to Lady have been guided by the themes of regulation, self as project and social mobility. The following sections will be structured accordingly. Moreover, within the findings, the general discourse and the evolution of the discourse will be discussed.


Within Ladette to Lady, the theme of regulation is continuously expressed. In Figure 2 the categories and sub-categories are listed. Self-control mainly consists of regulating one’s emotions, thinking as a rational human being, moderating your consumption and being able to resist temptation. The main goal of the school was to teach the girls self-control: “At Egglestone hall, you have to learn to be demure, graceful and control yourself (Mrs Schraeder)”. Loosing control is the standard phenomenon in Ladette to Lady, especially when supervision is lacking: “But as soon as their backs are turned, Zoe breaks her promise (Narrator)”. The discourse of self-control evolves during the narrative. This is especially noticeable in the ladettes who become finalists (see Figure 3). In the beginning, the girls are struggling with self-control, but after their misdemeanours, they still want to stay. One of the girls, Nicole, emphasised the need to proof herself: “give me another chance, so I can prove to you that I can do better than that”. As the narrative evolves, the teachers are giving more freedom, but also more responsibility to the girls. Noticeable is that the girls do take responsibility, but not for themselves, instead they want to keep the teachers trust. In the finale, the girls are not controlling themselves anymore for the teachers. They are regulating themselves in the absence of supervision and in their speeches they all highlighting how they have “learned that there was self-control … that really needed to be found (Nicole)”.

The teachers have emphasised their goal of self-control from the start. Noticeable is that during the training of the girls, the teachers are guiding the girls in how to think through rationality and subjectivity. When the girls resist their teaching methods, they accentuate how they have to think about benefits or how their personal situation is influencing them. In the finale, the teachers are overjoyed with the transformation the girls have been through. Positive appraisal is focused upon how the girls are in control.

Figure 2
Figure 3

Docility within the girls is procured by the teachers through several means. The tactics shift throughout the narrative. In the beginning, the teaching methods are very strict. Noticeable is how the teachers are creating a clear divide between them and the girls. The hierarchy immediately becomes clear and the girls are frequently disregarded: “You are a little piece of scum (Mrs Brewer)”. In this initial stage, the teachers are supervising the girls from up close and from a distance. Besides the negative appraisal, the girls are also stimulated by positive appraisal such as honour. They are making the girls do undesirable tasks with grace. In the middle of their training, the girls are still degraded and disciplined. However, two changes occur. Firstly, the supervision of the girls doesn’t happen up close anymore, instead the teachers are governing at a distance. Especially, the masked ball is exemplary for this phenomenon, as they are incognito, but present. Secondly, the girls bodies are made docile.

Narrator: Mrs Harbor decided that progress haven't come far enough. Mrs Harbor: Can you take off the jackets please. (Correction outfit) Narrator: A device they must wear at all times.

In the final stage, the teachers are less outspoken in their assessments. Moreover, the degradation of the girls is no longer present. For the first time, the girls’ opinion is sought after: “Do you believe in discipline now? (Mrs Schraeder)”. This shift exemplifies how the disciplining has moved from the teachers to the girls, whom are also accentuating now that they really needed discipline: “It was difficult at first, but I wish I had discipline beforehand. (Sky)”

Resistance to regulation is not lacking in the show. In the beginning and middle of the narrative, the ladettes are frequently questioning authority, making fun of the teachers, making provocative statements, disregarding the teachers’ opinions and sharing negative feelings about their experience. One of the most rebellious candidates, Sara, expressed rebellious opinion several times:

“I feel like I am a fucking dog on a leash at the moment. It is just ridiculous” and “I feel like that you are trying to turn us into decorated fuck dolls for the pleasure of men, Mrs. Schraeder”.

In the finale, there was a complete lack of resistance, as all the rebellious candidates were expelled. Although, the ultimate rebel, Sara, was invited to deliver a message to Nicole. This actually resembled that Sara too had changed. Thereby, resistance was eliminated in the finale episode.

Figure 4

Self as project

The self as project is the basis for Reality TV (McMurria, 2008). Consequently, the discourse in the show did not change during the narrative. In Figure 4 the components of the self as project can be identified. First of all, self-improvement was central. The norm was to “better yourself (Mrs Harbor)”, to overcome challenges and face your problems. Also for the ladettes, self-improvement was often noted as their reason for participation. Yet, noticeable is that although the girls have come a long way in their “journeys (Mrs Harbor)”, they never seem to be the finished project. They are still lacking something according to the teachers or they are saying themselves: “I feel I have improved, but I don’t feel I am at my peak. (Sky)”.

Secondly, two interrelated categories were dominant. During the show, the role of the expert and feedback were central for personal growth. Not only did the experts needed to give the proper example, they were also essential in giving the input that was necessary for the girls to grow. “If we can’t get through to you, how can you grow? (Mrs Schraeder)”. Their way of giving input was through feedback. This in turn, consisted our of critique and assessment. “The critical appraisal has been rigorous and now it is anybody’s guess who will win (Narrator)”. Similarly as the expert, critique was deemed essential for the growth process: “If you can't take criticism, you are not going to get forward (Mrs Brewer)”.

The self as project did not only exist out of critique and negative appraisal, moments of empowerment could also be identified. The goal of the finishing school was not only self-control, but also confidence, self-respect and finding one’s true self. When the girls are upset, often the teachers express their belief in the girls and stimulate perseverance.

“I believe in you, so do not give up yourself now, you have already worked so hard. Don’t! I really believe in you, sweetheart (Mrs Schraeder)”
Figure 5

Social mobility

In Figure 5 the components of social mobility are displayed. The show’s title indicates the centrality of this theme. However, when considering the discourse in the show, it becomes clear that social mobility is not achievable, despite the desire of the ladettes. Who become more enthusiastic over time about the chances they are granted: “The world is our oyster and I have the feeling that I’ve just discovered the pearl (Sky)”.

First of all, the show clearly makes a distinction between the elite teachers and the working class ladettes. In the beginning of the show, this distinction is mainly made by the teachers whom are reprimanding the girls: “you are a menace to society (Mrs Brewer)”. However, counter voices are also present, some of the girls highlight the similarities between classes:“I don’t find them gentlemen at all. That is men that I know I am used to (Nicole)”. As the narrative continues, the narrator becomes an important creator of distinction: “The girls will know whether they are made of the right stuff” and “The only thing that Kirsten doesn't possess is a conscious.”. The former statement could be considered a form of essentialism, as it is not about what kind of capabilities the girls have, but what kind of capabilities they have been granted. Moreover, the girls are constantly reminded of their past, which creates distinction yet again:

“You arrived almost like a bunch of dogs dragged out of ditch. You have to be honest and you have to try and impress upon people how and why you have changed (Mrs Brewer)”.

In the final episode, it becomes most clear that social mobility is a very difficult process. Firstly, the girls need the acceptance of the teachers and the aristocracy to complete their transformation: “The ladettes have come a long way, but have they come far enough to convince the aristocracy? (Narrator)”. Their training has shown that splendid efforts do not always result in acceptance, as another point of critique can be found (e.g. personality). Secondly, the final episode shows how the bar has been raised yet again. Although, they have successfully completed all their prior tasks, now they fail because they cannot meet the heightened expectations.

Finally, the possibility of social mobility is questioned implicitly. “I wish I could wave a magic wand and launch that little girl into a lovely life (Mrs Harbor)”. It reveals that magic is needed to launch the girl into a different life. Besides, the show emphasises how the girls should leave their past behind, but what becomes clear from the constant reminders is that the girls cannot leave their pasts behind. As visualised in Figure 6 the question becomes: are the girls ever good enough for social mobility?

Figure 6

Discussion and conclusion

In the findings, the construction of the narrative, hegemonic discourses and the evolution of these discourses have been scrutinised. It has become clear that regulation, the self as project and social mobility are part of the grand narrative of Ladette to Lady. In this section, the relationship between the shows’ hegemonic discourses and governmentality will be elucidated.

As has been established in the theoretical framework, hegemonic discourses and governmentality are intrinsically connected. The hegemonic discourses are a technology of governance, as they are able to guide our thinking (Rose & Miller, 2000). One of the main tenets that drives neoliberalism is freedom. This is not only a discourse present in neoliberalism, but also one of the ways in which people are actually governed (see Figure 7). The freedom is namely connected with responsibility for the individual, as institutions can no longer be blamed for your choices (Redden, 2007). Consequently, we can see a shift from the governing through institutions to governing oneself.

This type of shift is vividly portrayed in Ladette to Lady. The discourse of self-control has evolved throughout story. Firstly, the ladettes felt they needed to prove themselves to the institution (the teachers). Secondly, they were granted more responsibility and freedom. This led to the need to take responsibility in order to satisfy the institution. Lastly, the Ladettes took upon responsibility for themselves and the self-control that belonged to it. Throughout the story, a shift in mentality can be observed in which the girls are increasingly governing themselves for ‘themselves’.

The teachers similarly shift their strategies during the narrative. Whereas in the beginning, they are very strict and emphasise discipline, near the end, the disciplinary means become more subtle and positive. The masked ball functions as a type of panopticon in Ladette to Lady. The teachers are incognito and unrecognisable for the ladettes who know they will be under close scrutiny all night and anywhere. Yet, also the governing at a distance as described by Deleuze (1992) is exemplified. Some of the girls are thinking about what the teachers would say or feel when they show certain behaviour. Thereby, also in the absence of the the teachers, the girls can be governed. Hence, the discourses of regulation (self-control and docility) in Ladette to Lady revealed how modes of governance can shift by means of freedom and how through this shift the mentality of subjects can be changed.

Within the show, two elements of the neoliberal discourse of freedom surface: meritocracy and responsibility. These elements can be connected to social mobility and the self as project. Within the neoliberal society, people assume that the only thing that counts is one’s merits. Yet, thereby often the structural constraints of one’s social-economic position, gender or sexuality are neglected. Due to this neglect, the responsibility for actions and outcomes is completely laid upon the individual.

Within Ladette to Lady, the discourse of social mobility is rather paradoxical. On the one hand, the show is about social mobility because it wants to transform working class girls to elite ladies. Yet, the structure of the show and the discourse of the show, continuously highlight the impossibility of this mobility due to the clear distinctions between classes. This contrast is used to show the transformation, but instead, it shows the impossibility to reconcile these worlds. Even in the final episode, continuously the question is asked whether they have come far enough to convince the society. Hence, Ladette to Lady is representative of how the meritocracy seems to be in place, but actually doesn’t function the way it proclaims to function. The mixed signals the show sends regarding social mobility could lead to different readings.

The other discourse of responsibility is present in the girls and teachers. The teachers have the obligation to motivate the ladettes the best they can. The ladettes in turn have the obligation to always improve themselves. Besides, the self as project contained the most positive language in the series, as often the girls were motivated through empowerment. This is in accordance with Gramsci (1929/1972) and Foucault (1980), who both state that power does not only function through the means of violence. It also acts through positive, voluntary language to which people consent.

Although, the hegemonic discourses in Ladette to Lady clearly illustrate what is expected of the good neoliberal citizen, resistance to this discourse was abundantly present. The disciplinary acts of the teachers invoked resistance and rebellion in the girls. At times, the girls were even constructing a counter-hegemonic discourse, in which they offered a counter-reading of the institutions’ events. However, despite the moments of rebellion, the show’s structure quickly exterminated resistance through harsh force (expulsion). Thereby, the display of power through coercion has also been vividly represented.

To conclude, Ladette to Lady is a technology of neoliberal governmentality because it broadcasts a hegemonic discourse in congruence with neoliberalism. Within the show, the themes of social mobility, the self as project and regulation have been central. By studying not only the discourse, but also the narrative of the show, more insight is gained regarding the process through which subjects become governed and in turn govern themselves. Moreover, the show has also illustrated the continued presence of classed culture and how working class girls are downgraded. Despite the presence of a hegemonic discourse, still contradictory messages were present in the series. Fortunately, this allows for counter-hegemonic discourses and new modes of thinking.

Figure 7


In this document, you will find the full version with references and coding schemes.

Created By
Joia de Jong

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