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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 4 Organizational processes of disenfranchisement

Extract

A fundamental experience among the interviewed kindergarten teachers in Aarhus is that the critique which they send upwards into the management hierarchy is either returned to them at double strength, or else exhibits a strange tendency to disappear without trace. The kindergarten teachers talk about how they feel as though each layer of management has been sealed of f from all others, which gives them a sense of not being taken seri- ously. Trying to write to or contact the administration is ‘like hitting your head against a brick wall’. The critique does not get through, or else is not considered to merit serious attention. Time and again, it was said that the levels of the management hierarchy ‘function as a filter’ for critique, which according to the kindergarten teachers results in the problems ‘always being sent back to the f loor again’. The experience of the kindergarten teachers does not appear to harmo- nise with the so-called CS (Consultation System), which was introduced in the 1990s with the aim of securing representation and inf luence for public sector employees. This system of co-operation between employer and employee was designed to give free rein to critique, and introduced a staf f representation committee at each level in the administrative hierar- chy. The stated aims of the CS, which was developed in collaboration with the union, are: 1) the system should improve and develop co-operation between management and employees, 2) all employees covered by a local agreement should be guaranteed the...

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