I’m thinking aloud here, and painting in broad strokes. But my central argument – that we’re witnessing a switch from the cuddly rhetoric of post-fordism/creative capitalism – to something altogether more authoritarian is one that I think might have some traction. We on the left know that immaterial labour isn’t working, but I reckon those on the right are onto it too – and whatever they propose to replace it with will be even more terrifying. The rhetoric around education is, I think, one of the places where this shift can be seen.
For a long time I’ve been interested in critical pedagogy and popular education. As part of Nottingham Critical Pedagogy I’ve been involved in trying to adapt it for use at BA and MA level without leaving it stripped of its criticality, but I’m not sure how successful this has been – or even if it’s possible at a higher education institution in the era of late capital.
I want to be clear that I don’t think critical pedagogy has ever been inherently capitalist. Indeed, if done ‘properly’ (or perhaps ‘well’ is the better term) it proceeds from and fosters class solidarity and radical critiques of capitalism, whilst exploring the various oppressions/exclusions/dominations perpetuated by capitalism and liberal democracy. But I’m not so daft as to believe that the University of Nottingham’s (now defunct) Centre for Integrative Learning funded us to the tune of £5,000 because it was supportive of this, but rather because critical pedagogy’s methods were appealing to the then ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’. Critical pedagogy, after all, uses a number of tropes of post-fordist capitalism: creativity, flexibility, challenging traditional hierarchies, etc. etc – and when applied uncritically ends up looking not a lot different from the kind of stuff offered by Sir Ken Robinson – a man who explicitly talks about preparing students for an ever shifting economy of uncertainty (post-fordism, in other words); and who was knighted by New Labour for his services to education.
In this, critical pedagogy forms part of a wider set of late C20th radical left practices that – when not anchored to an explicitly communist discourse – end up reproducing rather than challenging capital’s rule.
Yet I think this is changing. If this state of affairs can be summarised as a strange class alliance between post-68 leftists and post-fordist capital (not so much the ‘communism of capital’ as the ‘capitalism of the commons’); there seems to be a new class alliance forming between an increasingly authoritarian capital and the rhetoric of feudalism.
Education is perhaps the battleground where this is most visible. This is perhaps because – as Ken Robinson’s frequent appeals make clear – it never quite caught up with post-fordism; at least not at levels below further and higher education. It’s difficult to organise non-hierarchically in hugely underfunded, understaffed secondary schools and it’s difficult to foster ‘creativity’ in a group of kids who’ve drunk 2 litres of cheap energy drink on their lunch break. The National Curriculum, testing and ever increasing standardisation meant that schools were always more likely to be at the authoritarian end of neoliberal’s hegemonic axis of strong state/free market. But Michael Gove’s ludicrous Ebacc, his mooted changes to the curriculum and his article in yesterday’s Daily Mail take this to a new extreme. With these there is no talk of creativity. Nothing about dialogue. Nothing about flexibility. It’s all about knowledge, knowledge, facts, facts, knowledge, facts, ENGLAND FOREVER, grammatical sentences, tests tests tests tests – and declaring war on the voices of dissent that post-fordism has so effectively milked/patronised. If Gove is waging class war, he’s on the side of feudalism against late capitalism, but he’s naming the latter marxism.
If Robinson’s arguments and the appropriation of critical pedagogy were attempts to make education suitable for a post-fordist economy, Gove’s claims can be seen as an attempt to make education suitable for the stark brutality of an altogether less cuddly form of capitalism: no ‘communism of capital/capital of communism’; more ‘feudalism of capitalism/capitalism of feudalism’. A post-post fordism?
“Know your place, prole: you failed at school and that’s why you’re homeless.”
This is our fucking future.
(As a footnote, I wonder if in ten years’ time we’ll see the centre-left calling for a return to ‘creative capitalism’ as a ‘nicer, gentler’ form of capitalism just as we see them harking after Keynesian social democracy today).