Canaan (2002) 'Teaching Social Theory in Trying
Sociological Research Online, vol. 6, no. 4, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/6/4/canaan.html>
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Received: 20/2/2002 Accepted: 25/2/2002 Published:
the extension of market principles to public services, making the labour market more responsive to a flexible economy, advancing radical 'knowledge-based' economic restructuring and selling the UK HE product on a world market with an estimated £2trillion a year" (Nunn 2002:32).
new modes of distantiation . . . [to] provide the basis of new rationales for government to claim credit for successes, while attributing failure to 'technical' problems, managerial inadequacy, and other 'non- political' factors outside their control . . . [T]hese new institutional forms embody technical/calculative rationality operating at all levels of the structure in a 'top down' manner (Ibid, see also Marginson 1997).
Subject benchmark statements provide a means for the academic community to describe the nature and characteristics of programmes in a specific subject. They also represent general expectations about the standards of the award of qualifications at a given level and articulate the attributes and capabilities that those possessing such qualifications should be able to demonstrate (Quality Assurance Agency 2000).
means either fewer and/or different faculty, professional staff, and support workers. This means lay-offs, forced early retirements, or major retraining and reassignment . . . which means radically altering who the faculty are, how they behave, the way they are organized, and the way they work and are compensated (Johnstone et al, in Levidow 2001:15).
The Challenge we face to equip individuals, employers and the country to meet the demands of the 21st century is immense and immediate. In the information and knowledge based economy, investment in human capital—in the intellect and creativity of people—is replacing past patterns of investment in plant, machinery and physical labour. To continue to compete, we must equip ourselves with new and better skills. We must improve levels of knowledge and understanding and develop the adaptability to respond to change (in Avis 2000:31).
general cognitive abilities and skills; discipline-specific abilities and skills, defined as core capacities within the discipline of Sociology itself; transferable skills that may be gained by studying Sociology (http://www. qaa.ac.uk/crntwork/benchmark/sociology.pdf).
The question (overt or implied) now asked by the professionalist student, the State, or institutions of higher education is no longer "Is it true?" but "What use is it?" In the context of the mercantilization of knowledge, more often than not this question is equivalent to: is it saleable?" (Ibid:51).
the image of the destruction of the New York skyline has been preceded by prior images of New York City. Consequently, at some level these images are evacuated of real meaning. They refer firstly to other images—from films like Independence Day, Fight Club, Godzilla. In the first, Manhattan is flattened by aliens; in the second, key skyscrapers in an unnamed city are exploded by a fascist/anarchist group; in the third, a monster whose enormous size seems to have been created by nuclear testing, runs amok over the skyscrapers of New York City. What we see in all these films is that the skyline of New York City or of a major US city, symbolises the might of the US. And, indeed, whoever did the bombing of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon was, to some extent, acting symbolically, hitting . . . key symbols of US economic and military might (Ibid).
a long list of grievances felt by people in the Middle East—U.S. backing for Israeli repression and the dispossession of the Palestinians, U.S. imposition of sanctions on Iraq, leading to the deaths of huge numbers of innocents, and U.S. support for autocratic, undemocratic, highly inegalitarian regimes (http://www.zma g.org/terrorframe.htm).
11.09.2001 has demanded of us a different kind of recognition of the interconnectedness of all things in our global community than the rather unreflective "free trade and globalisation are good things" mantras with which we are regularly invited to concur (Ibid).
I have needed to revise the lecture I had prepared [for today] as a consequence of the tragic and terrifying bombings that happened in New York City and Washington DC on the 11th of September 2001, only two weeks ago. The world has greatly altered since then . . . But why do I say this as an introduction to a module on contemporary social theory? Because I believe that a module like this gives us tools for being able to ask questions about the world that we live in, and to begin to develop answers to these questions. If contemporary social theory offers us anything, it should offer us the tools to understand what feels like a really crazy and uncertain world . . . And so I offer this module to you as that which should, if you put the work in, give you insights that can help you to make sense of the world. And I would hope that you take up these insights, because you will need them. Contemporary social theory is not irrelevant and it isn't even simply an obligatory module. It is, I want to argue, necessary and urgently important today (Canaan 2002b, p. 1).
it is the duty and prime purpose of education in a democracy to challenge and test existing orthodoxies and for students at all levels to negotiate meaning to reach their own understandings.
[W]ith sufficient motivation almost anyone can learn almost anything. However, illusory promises of vocational relevance for increasingly commodified academic certification cannot motivate those who are 'excluded' by lack of cultural or financial capital from buying their way into the better schools, colleges and universities. 'The socially excluded' thus become increasingly 'disaffected', as the government calls it (Ibid).
2Indeed, I felt intimidated by theory when I first encountered it as a postgraduate. I saw postgraduate work as operating in the realm of the mind and theory as its presiding king. As I now realise, I tarred theory with the dual brush of being male and upper middle class because, as a white middle middle class woman in the late 1970s, I did not see that theory could also be racist.
3As Guillaumin (1995) noted, theory has long been the domain of the most privileged and has reflected their vantage point. This is backed up by Redman and Mac an Ghaill's (1997:171) auto/biographical study which considered how 'muscular intellectualness' offered at least some middle class young men approaching Higher Education a compelling version of masculinity. Frankenberg points to the historical association of the mind and its activities with white males:
The hierarchization of mind, emotion and body derived from Platonic thought has marked the racialized rankings of peoples and cultures from colonial times down to the present and has also been closely associated with a hierarchical division of masculine and feminine (Frankenberg 2001:79).
4I conducted intensive in-depth interviews with eight students in the spring of 1995, I interviewed two white working class young women together four times and one of them alone twice more thereafter. I also interviewed two mature white working class women once and one of them alone a second time, a white lower middle class Irish young woman twice, a mature working class African Caribbean male student three times, a mature lower middle class African Caribbean woman three times, and an Asian lower middle class young woman three times. In the 1998-99 academic year I interviewed a mature working class Asian male student thirteen times, conducting what I now call an 'educational life history'. In the 1999-2000 academic year, I conducted thirteen 'educational life history' interviews with a mature white working class woman and two interviews with an Asian working class young woman. I started doing this research because I was beginning to feel that my students were getting less engaged in learning. I wanted to be able to encourage them to think critically about the world and recognised that if I did not understand why they were less engaged, I could not do so.
5These students did not experience marketising processes in primary school because these processes were only realised after the 1988 Education Reform Act was implemented. As Gillborn and Youdell (2000) have shown, such marketising has been impacting on students most fully since around 1995, when my current students were in secondary school.
6Nunn (2002) uses the term 'commercialisation'. As I argue elsewhere (Canaan nd), there are a now wealth of terms being used to describe the same process.
7Southern governments that faced high levels of debt from the late 1970s were forced to go to organisations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to receive "'Growth-oriented loans' . . . [to] reduce budget deficits, control inflation, and thus create conditions for resumed growth" (Levidow 2001:16). This has led to the neo-liberal restructuring of HE, especially in African nations.
8According to Shattock, in Slaughter and Leslie (1997:41):
Within three days of Mrs. Thatcher's taking office in 1979, 100 million pounds were cut overnight from the universities' budgets, and between 1980 and 1984, 17 percent was removed from the grants made by government to the UGC (University Grants Committee), which at that point provided about 90 percent of the operating costs of British universities . . . And, from 1985 onwards, the universities have lost a further 2 percent per annum from their budgets.Nunn (2002:43) reports that 'Publicly planned funding per student has fallen by 37 per cent in real terms between 1989-90 and 1999-00'. Whilst these figures clearly indicate the serious reduction of government funds for British HE, they are matched by comparable figures for at least other Northern nations (Berman 1999, Schugurensky 1999, Slaughter and Leslie 1997).
9Whilst marketising apologists suggest that there is no alternative to such reduced and restructuring of public sector institutions like HE, critical researchers assert that such arguments can be contested by considering how they are discursively produced (Fairclough 2000, Gibson-Graham 1996) and/or that such arguments ignore evidence that demonstrates that marketising principles do not offer the best response to growing competition (Levidow 2001).
10This process has become painfully clear to us as the 2001 RAE Exercise, in which nearly 50% of British HE institutions were deemed to be of 'world class' status, has resulted in more funding for institutions in the top two research tiers and less funding for all others (The Lecturer 2002).
11I have no doubt that the sociologists who produced the Subject Benchmark Statements for Sociology aimed to minimise the damage that such an exercise could produce. They did the best job that could be done—but within terms set by the QAA.
12As Hatcher notes, attempts at such a re-orientation are occurring throughout the education system. Further, such attempts are organised by corporate leaders in regions across the world. These include groups like: the European Round Table (ERT), a pressure group of 44 European industrial leaders from 16 countries . . . [that maintain that schools should] 'place greater emphasis on entrepreneurship in schools . . . All too often the education process itself is entrusted to people who appear to have no dialogue with, nor understanding of, industry and the path of progress' (in Hatcher 2001:48, emphasis in original). The World Bank has been implementing structural adjustment programmes for Southern nations' educational systems that are resulting in the "businessification" of education (Klausenitzer 2000:37).
13In making this argument I am aware that I am taking the side of Chomsky and thus am contributing to what Fuller (2001) considers to be a 'theodicy' that seeks to give a seemingly quasi-divine meaning to the current situation. I would reply by claiming that my stance and that of others—sociologists and non-sociologists—also committed to an anti-war position is certainly part of a grand narrative but I do not consider grand narratives to be theodicies as they can be grounded in Enlightenment humanist principles.
14These rules were as follows:
15I had difficulty linking some theorists ideas, like those of Lyotard, to the war. In that case I discussed his ideas about the changing nature of the university in a world where production was increasingly based on ICTs rather than industrialism. Thus I stuck to my commitment to link social theory to the contemporary world.
16The fact that students experienced an information overload about the war confirms my idea that in the future I should link theory to a variety of national and world events to best ensure student engagement.
17This suggests that in future I should devise strategies for some alternative forms of small group work so that this group can participate more fully.
18For example, I received answers to the question 'Did having more informal seminars where you took more responsibility impact on your perceptions of seminars?' such as, 'I enjoyed being an active member and sharing my ideas for discussion.'; 'Very much so. It allowed us to feel that it was better to ask questions than not. I never really felt happy talking in class until this module!'.
19These students made the following points: As I read [news]papers, I was thinking about ideas from the module and the events gave me a framework from which to look at the module and increased my interest. More reading around the events of September 11th so that I could apply the discussed theories. More work—needed to comprehend ideas from September 11th before understanding and appreciating theories.
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