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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 8 Towards a theory of the infrastructure of critique


The kindergarten teachers describe how far too many of them are forced to seek early retirement, or leave the profession. Those who choose to leave often feel very bad about not being able to cope with the work anymore. They have had to cope with stress for far too long, with the result that some are ill, while others are angry. Some express their anger by saying that they can’t be bothered any more; they leave, and switch profession. But the sense of powerlessness is there irrespective of whether they feel angry or ashamed. For many, what is most destructive is that they are not allowed to take on responsibility. They cannot apply their training, and are forced to drop both their professionalism and their basic integrity in order to keep pace with the work. Even this endeavour, however, is doomed to failure. There are insuf ficient resources available, and the result is that the teachers feel inadequate and have a sense of having failed the children. This group of kindergarten staf f seems to be growing day by day, and they all feel that their identity is falling apart. Censorship and self-censorship Several of the interviewed kindergarten teachers told me that they felt that ‘their capacity to work has been destroyed’. They have simply lost the abil- ity to work. Some suf fer so much from stress that they cannot remember how to make a cup of cof fee or cook their dinner. There are even kinder- garten staf...

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