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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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Chapter 1 Many people feel unable to criticize without fear of reprisals

Extract

This is an essay about the ways in which the critique of modern human beings is dismantled, leaving them as disenfranchised citizens, plagued by feelings of powerlessness and paralysis. The essay focuses on kindergarten teachers, but could just as well have dealt with primary or secondary school teachers, nurses, police of ficers or people in other public sector professions – adult citizens who make daily choices on the basis of their professional qualifications. Over the past ten to fifteen years, an ideological wave has washed across the public sector, demanding more services for less money. This ideological wave goes under various dif ferent designations, such as new public man- agement, neoliberalism or strong leadership, but common to all of them is that they emphasize financial rationality above other kinds of rationality. As a consequence, even some of the most fundamental ideas, such as that of the autonomy of the public-sector professions and the knowledge base upon which they rely, have been wholly or partly set aside. It is as though each of the public professions has become the object of political consumerism. Soon, no year will pass without new reforms being proposed and implemented, in the name of ensuring the greatest possible ef ficiency and service. There have been reforms in the primary and second- ary schools, the universities, the police, and in particular, a major reform of local government. No area or professional grouping has escaped. The consequences of each of these reforms have been enormous. The human and institutional...

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