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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 3 Normative processes of disenfranchisement

Extract

The processes of disenfranchisement among kindergarten teachers described in the following may very well have altered since they were first observed. Some may have become milder, or have disappeared entirely. On the other hand, I have heard that some of them have become part of the daily routine, and more have been added. Processes of disenfranchisement will always be subject to change. Luckily, they are not static phenomena, and thus can always be altered. Likewise, new ones – conscious as well as unconscious – will always arise. It is impossible to be free of all processes of disenfranchisement, but it is possible to remove some of them, and thereby improve the conditions for expressing critique. There are many dif ferent kinds of disenfranchisement processes, each of which contribute to hindering or entirely removing the possibility of voicing critique. Many may at first glance seem quite innocuous, just as they initially appeared to the kindergarten staf f. A few hours of mindless work every day, such as tidying up or light cleaning, may seem harmless in itself, but when such work, which does not form part of the staf f ’s peda- gogical duties, becomes more or less compulsory because otherwise the kindergarten will simply become too dirty for the children and the staf f, it begins to resemble a process of disenfranchisement. The meaningful work is pushed more and more into the background, and this gives rise to a sense of powerlessness. This powerlessness then later manifests itself as indif ference towards...

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