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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 7 Critique is concealed and disenfranchisement is reproduced

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The kindergarten teachers describe various conscious and unconscious strategies for learning to live with processes of disenfranchisement. Some of these strategies are successful, in the sense that they have helped to ensure the psychological survival of some of the participating kindergarten teach- ers, while others are less successful, and have in some cases led to dismissals due to chronic work-related stress disorders. Such conscious or unconscious strategies arise as a natural need on the part of those who are subjected to processes of disenfranchisement. They devise these strategies spontaneously and intuitively, in an attempt to retain their sense of enfranchisement and integrity. If they reveal their disenfranchisement, they feel as though they are obliterating themselves, and if they fail to conceal the criticisable conditions, many of them feel that this would be tantamount to abandoning their professionalism and denying their own identities, since their profession is closely bound up with how they regard themselves. As a result, they often hide very poor conditions, and in this way, paradoxically, the kindergarten staf f help to maintain their own state of disenfranchisement. The participating kin- dergarten teachers spoke about how they almost ref lexively attempted to conceal abysmal working conditions, because they find them embarrassing. None of the kindergarten teachers were responsible for these conditions, but they nonetheless assumed responsibility for them. They thereby, unin- tentionally, reproduce the same processes of disenfranchisement to which they themselves are subject, and this brings about a terrible sense of pow- erlessness, which they also try...

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