Neoliberalizing markedness: The interpellation of “diverse” college students

Bonnie Urciuoli


For students at elite US liberal arts colleges, symbolic capital accrues to their association with the institution itself, and for racially unmarked (white) students, symbolic capital can also accrue to other, informal associations with such institutions, such as friend and family ties or social fraternities. For racially marked students at elite schools, sources of symbolic capital are more limited to institutional venues such as the classroom and official school organizations. They are under pressure to act as good campus citizens, to “bring diversity” as “campus leaders,” enacting a combination of institutional pride and neoliberal values as key aspects of their “diversity.” This is particularly the case for students whose educations are provided through the Posse Foundation, which recruits and promotes “diverse” students explicitly as “leaders” and “change agents.” Such students are subject to neoliberal interpellation (hailed to enact a specific subjectivity) in ways that unmarked students are not because their options for an acceptable racial subjectivity is limited to a narrow range of social performance. In this way, neoliberal subjectivity can exacerbate racial markedness.


Race, diversity, neoliberalism, US colleges, brand identity

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau6.3.016