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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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New preface to the English edition

Extract

I little suspected that the Danish edition of Disenfranchisement – an essay on the infrastructure of critique would be a success. It is rare for a sociological essay to find mention in the established media, and even rarer for such an essay to find itself a frequent topic of discussion in the professional journals and magazines of lawyers, economists and artists – not to mention those of therapists, social workers and occupational therapists. It has now been three years after the first publication, however, a number of explanations are apparent for why the essay has attracted interest beyond that of a few sociological peers. From paradise to hell on earth I believe the strength of the essay has amongst other things proved itself by demonstrating the concrete consequences of the liberal economic reforms introduced in Denmark over the past ten to fifteen years. These conse- quences become highly apparent when we analyse the very heart of the Danish social welfare system, namely its state nurseries and kindergartens. Moving from what were once almost universal paradisiacal conditions to what some of the interviewees consider to be pure hell on earth, eco- nomic liberalism has gradually dismantled the foundations of the famous Scandinavian welfare model. Intellectuals have been cursing the reforms of economic liberalism for years, but this criticism was at an abstract level, and did not therefore gain general acceptance by the public. This study, on the other hand, sets out the consequences of these reforms in a readily accessible and sober language....

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