32 SES 08 A, Organization as Threat to Professional Identity
Recently, there has been a renewed interest in the concept of alienation in order to revitalize the concept within a late modern context (Jaeggi 2016). In this paper, we will examine the critical potential of alienation, applying the concept within a Danish public school context in order to raise questions on ethical implications of an accelerated work life. The analysis is based on a qualitative survey asking why teachers are leaving the Danish public school.
The German sociologist Hartmut Rosa identifies acceleration as a constitutive feature of the modernization process, affecting societies at various levels in relation to technological acceleration, accelerated social change and acceleration of the pace of life. In that sense, Rosa talks about a high-speed society that entangles people in a tight and totalitarian time-regime resulting in experiences of constantly lacking time (Rosa 1998; 2010). Identifying acceleration as a key concept, Rosa points to an immanent critique: Modern society is through acceleration undermining its own principles of autonomy, hereby increasingly submitting man to alien governance (Rosa 2010: 77 ff.). Acceleration leads to alienation, resulting in an experience of distraction from what one really wants; an experience Rosa argues, are also present in the work sphere. “In almost any realm of work employees (as well as employers) complain that the time they actually devote to their ‘call/business’ dwindles: This Hold for doctors´ time with the patients, teachers´ time spent with teaching or educating, scientists´ time spent with research etc.” (ibid,: 90).
A focus on an accelerated and time compressed work life is not new (Sabelis 2002). Within the last twenty years, research has increasingly focused on acceleration and time compression in welfare professions related to political demands for productivity and efficiency, raising questions on how an accelerated work life affects trust between professionals and citizens, quality and professional judgement (Brown 2007; Pollitt 2009; Murphy & Skillen 2015).
In a Danish school context, productivity demands have most recently resulted in a school reform and a law on the regulation of time and work implemented in 2013/14, both highly disputed. While the reforms have intended to increase learning outcome, an unintended consequence has also been teachers leaving the public schools in favor of private schools not subjected to the same (time) regulatory initiatives. One of the main arguments for leaving has been an accelerated work life. As a teacher from our qualitative survey says:
“There was not enough time for the individual child. My experience was that there were not enough time and space to relate to the children. Work became more and more alienated and detached as the children were put in the schedules, measured, weighed and documented - time taken away from the kids, so my lesson preparation become poorer, just as the contact to pupils and parents were inferior. I could finally not vouch for. In the end, I had to compromise my values” (Pedersen, Böwadt & Vaaben 2016).
Our analysis is based on Danish public school teachers’ subjective experiences of alienation from their teacher work life. Our thesis is that an accelerated work life intended to increase productivity may result in an experience of alienation and in that sense, might even be counterproductive. The analysis examines a) how the critical potential of Rosa’s concept of alienation based on acceleration might be applicable and relevant to a Danish public school context. b) How a concept of alienation might be able to point to ethical implications specifically relevant for welfare professionals responsible for the future lives of citizens, c) and, how it is possible to raise a critique on school structures taking its leave on subjective narratives (see methodology).
Brown, P. (2007). Trust in the new NHS: Instrumental versus communicative action. Sociology of Health and Illness, 30(3), 1–15. Jackson, M. (1998). Minima Ethnographica. Intersubjectivity and the Anthropological Project. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. Jackson, M. (2002): Politics of Storytelling. Museum Tusculanum Press. Jaeggi, R. (2016). Entfremdung. Zur Aktualität eines sozialphilosophischen Problems. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Murphy, M. & P. Skillen (2015): The Politics of Time on the Frontline: Street Level Bureaucracy, Professional Judgment, and Public Accountability. In: International Journal of Public Administration, 38:9, 632-641. Pedersen, R., Böwadt, P. R. & Vaaben N. (2016): Hvorfor stopper lærerne. University College UCC: https://ucc.dk/sites/default/files/hvorfor_stopper_laererne.pdf Pollitt, C. (2009). Bureaucracies remember, post-bureaucratic organizations forget? In: Public Administration, 87(2), 198–218. Rosa, H. (2010). Alienation and Acceleration: Towards a Critical Theory of Late-Modern Temporality. NSU-Press. Rosa, H. (2008). Social Acceleration: Ethical and Political Consequences of a Desynchronized High-Speed Society. In: Rosa. H. and Scheuerman, W.: High-Speed Society: Social Acceleration, Power and Modernity. Sabelis, I. (2002). Hidden causes for unknown losses: Time compression in management. In R. Whipp, B. Adam, & I. Sabelis (Eds.), Making time: Time and management in modern organisations (pp. 89–103). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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