In the 1980s Jean Baudrillard diagnosed ‘the end of the social (Baudrillard 1983). Offering his readers certain propositions, he contended that it was possible that the social never actually existed, but has always been a simulation of social relations that has now undergone a de-simulation: a disintegration of what was, in any event, an imaginary space as reference and play of mirrors.
Miller and Rose (2009) p85
Our work and the value of it are seriously threatened in the current climate. Public sector ethos now sounds like something from the 1950s, to those of us witnessing a devaluing of our contribution and experience. This is particularly true in education where we are starting to see the loss of our most senior academics and bright young things because of redundancies in subjects no longer seen to be valuable for future generations and what we now rather incomprehensibly call their “employability”.
I no longer feel compelled to wrestle with Baudrillard’s apocalyptic tone and opaque field of reference. It is more beneficial to wrestle with ideas rather a dense literary style. But given that the sector is weeks away from seeing the regulatory framework that surrounds FE teaching revoked, his comment about the social is useful. These do feel like apocalyptic times.
While it is important to consider the current status of FE teaching from within a time-frame that takes the slow demise of the social and the associated Welfare is key markers, the immediate grip of a one-term Coalition government is what angers me most. I am heartened by Cotton’s (2011) reminder. In talking about work, redundancy, the current economic climate – she points out that anger is good. It is not only a healthy outlet for emotions, it can often lead to change. Anger positions us in relation to an imagined future. Caught up in the emotion is a hopefulness that things should and can be different.
It may well be that a sustained campaign will cause the government to do one of their double-right footed u-turns. I’m not hopeful that petitions, lobbying, lunch hour strikes or a furious flurry of tweets will make any difference. Though I fully support each of these activities. I am slightly more hopeful that a broader set of activities that connect the denigration of FE professionalism to what has been a sustained policy attack on people who are poor, unemployed, immigrants, women, disabled anyone who does not share the class interests of this government.
What I am most interested in however is what happens post-deregulation to the professionalism of Post 16 teaching. Does the loss of state sponsorship mean it is no longer able to survive or are there alternative strategies Post 16 teachers can use to continue to develop who they are and their reasons for working in the sector.
Baudrillard’s suggestion that one way of considering the demise of the social is to accept that it may have only ever been an illusionary space, a simulation that is now being de-simulated. Or, as Miller and Rose continue to suggest in my reading of chapter 3, the post-social age, post-professionalism – may offer also offer scope for welcome alternatives. That is, it is not enough to condemn the injustices and disadvantages of deregulation. Instead, the task may well be for teachers to engage inventively with the possibilities that new forms of governance create. This is a task that requires us to do more than blame or praise. What is needed is diagnosis. To make it our job to annotate moments of weakness, that might be exploited if we are to contest the authorities that presume to govern, albeit from within a discourse of choice, quality, freedom and commitments.
Is it possible to develop notions of professionalism and strategies that defend and support the sector. And is the localising, deregulatory, zealotry of the Coalition something that can only lead to negative consequences? Increased levels of poverty, inequality, exclusion and social disintegration are precipitous and real. Yet, it is possible, as Ken Spours seems to suggest, that there is potential for a ‘new localism’ to emerge in the wake of deregulation. Given that policy is a congentially failing enterpirse, might the unintended and unanticipated consequences of deregulation be to create a self-defining professionalism with strong democratic potential?
This is a serious, though incomplete suggestion. What this self-defining democratic professionalism (if it has potential to exist) might look like is another series of discussions altogether