Miller and Rose (2008 Ch 5 Mobilizing the Consumer) offer a detailed case study of the different ways in which the consumer has been rendered thinkable and manageable: a psychoanalytical approach which explores the deep-seated pleasures of consumption, the psychological meanings of consumption and the thoughtful, analytical, rational consumer.
The issue of choice and therefore the idea of a consumer does not immediately resonate for FE in the ways it necessarily resonates for schools. Most FE students (unlike their HE counterparts) attend their local college. There are few decisions to be made about institutional type and the range of choices FE students are required to make tend to be determined by where they can access the course they want. Colleges are in competition for students, but there is little research to suggest that students engage in the kinds of selection processes typically associated with schooling.
Nonetheless Miller and Rose’s discussion of ‘the consumer’ is of interest. It reminds me of Kooiman’s analysis in ‘Governing and Governance’ in which she points out that policy makers necessarily have in mind an image of that which they govern. And that there may be vastly different frames of reference that determine how that image is cast.
In grappling with the revocation of the requirement for FE teachers to be qualified – it is worth pondering what notion of the sector seems to persist within the Coalition? It is possible to identify distinct frames of reference that determine how FE students, teachers and colleges as institutions are viewed?
The Coalition seems to view the independent college as a rebellious teenager who has now grown up and can be treated as an adult, set free from government control to make its own choices. Confident and secure in its capacity to get it right. A qualified sector will become the self-regulating norm when teachers – like accountants, and estate managers – show themselves to be worth it. This line of thought also views government as malignant, interfering and intrusive. It suggest that social life is better without their intervention.
Mobilizing the consumer offers an extraordinarily detailed analysis of the lengths to which companies will go to understand what determines consumer choice. From childhood dreams to delusional vanity, from cold headed calculation to pre-conscious sensation. There is a substantial body of research about FE as a sector all of which points to the benefits that a regulated qualification structure has had on teachers’ professionalism and student learning. Teachers committed to this sector – need not seccumb entirely to the manipulation and domination that deregulation implies.
There is nothing for teachers to prove regarding the worth of their professionalism. There is good, strong, credible evidence available that demonstrates the value of having a regulated and qualified sector.