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Disenfranchisement

An Essay on the Infrastructure of Critique

Rasmus Willig

Why is it important to take a critical approach to your work? And what are the consequences if your critical voice is suppressed? These are the questions that lie at the heart of Disenfranchisement, which focuses on the deteriorating possibilities for a group of kindergarten staff members to utter criticism and influence their work places.
The central point of the book is that the inability to criticise is closely related to a more general process of disenfranchisement that is corroding the lives of staff both professionally and privately. Through interviews with kindergarten workers, the book reveals how these processes have resulted in a widespread sense of powerlessness and paralysis.
This book is for anyone who seeks a conceptualisation of the feeling that it has become more worthwhile to keep silent than to speak your mind – a widespread impression in a time when several groups in the public sector, including nurses, teachers, kindergarten workers and police officers, report increased political control and a lack of tolerance of critical voices in a neoliberal era. The book focuses on the informal norms that determine our ability to criticise, rather than on the formal, statutory rights of freedom of speech, press and assembly.

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Translator’s preface

Extract

The original Danish title of this work is Umyndiggørelse, which means the act of depriving a person of the rights and responsibilities of an adult citizen. This relates directly to Kant’s concept of Unmündigkeit, as expounded in Was ist Aufklärung? (‘What is Enlightenment?’). The concept is straight- forward enough in German, and indeed in Danish, but dif ficult to convey accurately and concisely in English. In English translations of Kant, Unmündigkeit has been variously rendered as ‘immaturity’, ‘tutelage’ and ‘nonage’, none of which seemed appropriate to use in the context of this book. In consultation with the author, I have therefore chosen to translate umyndiggørelse as ‘disenfranchisement’. It should however be borne in mind that the word is used here in a special sense; meaning, not to be deprived of the right to vote, but to be robbed of adult dignity and the right to a say in determining the conditions of one’s own life in general. Another Danish term which can cause dif ficulties for the transla- tor is pædagog, often translated as ‘pedagogue’, ‘educator’ or ‘kindergar- ten teacher’. I have chosen the latter of these terms as that which is most likely to be communicative to an English-speaking audience, but again, the reader should be aware that the term is used here in a special sense. A kin- dergarten teacher, in Denmark, is a public sector employee who possesses a professional training and qualification in child education. The English speaker inevitably...

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