Below is a sample of some of the doctoral research being undertaken by current PhD students in the Centre for Modern and Contemporary History.
Amy Edwards: The Naturalisation of Neo-Liberalism: Thatcher and British Culture 1975-90
My research as a postgraduate at the University of Birmingham concerns the cultural atmosphere of the Thatcher era. In particular I am researching how notions of the welfare state came to be seen as outmoded and politically unworkable, and how they were replaced by neoliberalism as a dominant socio-economic and political concept. I will soon be starting a PhD in Contemporary British History on a thesis which follows on from my research as an MA student.
Since 1945 British politics were somewhat characterised by social democratic policies such as extensive welfare programmes and the pursuit of full employment. However, during the 1970s a series of economic ‘crises’ resulted in mass strikes and an alarming rate of inflation and high unemployment. These crises were used by Margaret Thatcher to form a narrative which condemned the ‘socialist’ policies of the Left as illogical and dangerous. The crises of the 1970s became, in Thatcher’s version of events, a crisis of Keynesianism. This narrative helped Thatcher win the 1979 election. She remained in government for the next decade
During her time as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher oversaw a series of policies which moved British politics and economics away from social democratic notions of a welfare state and towards the right of the political spectrum. This political and economic shift was also accompanied by a social and cultural shift towards a more overtly capitalist society based on the neoliberal values of free-market capitalism and individualism.
My research aims to uncover the ways in which the Thatcher government sought to encourage this cultural shift and created an ‘enterprise culture’ in Britain during the 1980s. My MA dissertation has focused on the role of advertising and how the Conservative Party used marketing to sell themselves and their neoliberal ideology. This makes use of two case studies: Saatchi & Saatchi’s role in the 1979 General Election campaign, and the marketing campaign preceding the sale of British Telecom in 1984. In my PhD thesis, I hope to look at other areas of culture in which Thatcher’s neoliberal message was disseminated, including, education, the printed press, television, and literature.
The University of Birmingham is the perfect place for me to carry out my research. Because the School of History and Cultures promotes taking an interdisciplinary approach to research I can draw upon the academic expertise of historians, sociologists, economists amongst many others. There are also fantastic resources at the University such as access to an extensive online network of journals and archives. Just as importantly, I really enjoy being part of the postgraduate community here which is active, welcoming and is great for meeting other students.