Seizing the moment – from Social Selfishness to Social Solidarity

Over the last few weeks I’ve discarded a number of responses to the fast-approaching General Election, fearing they were self-indulgent and added little to the overwhelming priority – to oust the Tories and to break from the selfish bullshit, that is neoliberalism.

At the heart of my abandoned efforts was a desire to explain my love/hate relationship with the Labour Party [LP] – from enthusiastic young canvasser in 1964 to being the committed Chesterfield delegate at the LP national conference in 1987 through to having little good to say about neoliberal New Labour for nigh on thirty years. All this was a preface to seeking to persuade you that I carried no naive torch for Jeremy Corbyn. This said, I did hope that something was on the move within the Party. The 2017 election LP comeback from the depths suggested that my fragile optimism should not be cast aside.

The passing years have dented inevitably my perspective. Whilst to be expected the coordinated mainstream media assault, from the Mail to the Guardian, on Corbyn’s character has been overwhelming. This pseudo-psychological narrative has so insinuated itself into people’s thinking that, for example, contributions on the youth work’s social media sites echo the fixation. Politics is reduced to personality. Corbyn’s dithering versus Johnson’s deceit is about as insightful as it gets.

Rarely do we find an engagement with the profound ideological, economic and political choice posed by this ‘snap’ election. On the one hand the Tories stand for a continuity with the ‘free’ market, dressed up in an authoritarian, populist, nationalist garb. The rich stay rich, the poor stay poor. On the other Labour aspires to resurrect afresh a social-democratic, redistributive agenda ‘for the many, not the few’.

To back the latter offers no guarantees, but it opens a door to possible progress that will be slammed shut if the Tories prevail.

This stark choice is caught in the following letter sent to The Guardian by leading contemporary musicians, about whose work I know little, but who represent certainly a significant current on the music scene.

Stormzy backs Corbyn. Ta to the NME.

We are musicians, artists, rappers and grime MCs, and we will be voting for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party this election. We’re not voting Labour in the naive hope that they will solve all the problems our communities face. We vote because they offer an urgent alternative to the destructive policies of the Conservatives.

Ending austerity will, for the first time in many of our lifetimes, use the taxes we all already pay into, to reinvest in the housing, youth clubs, community groups and cultural centres being destroyed by the current government. These spaces made many of us who we are today, and while we don’t rely on them like we used to, we know how important they will be for the next generation. It is only by restoring them that our communities can take charge of our own destinies, and build our own solutions to the problems we face.

We are under no illusions about Labour’s own imperial history, and we don’t think the British establishment is fundamentally going to change. But we are sick of our taxes being spent on fighting more wars and building more jails. Jeremy Corbyn has been one of the few people who has fought against injustice all his political life, from apartheid South Africa to the bombing of Libya.

To deny from our own, now quite comfortable places, that a Labour government would improve the lives of millions would betray the communities we come from. The opportunity for people-led change can be made possible under a Jeremy Corbyn Labour government. End austerity, rebuild our communities and take back the means to change our lives for the better.

Surely, in an election that could transform the livelihoods of many, and be the difference between life or death for many more, life is something worth voting for. Join us. Register to vote before midnight on Tuesday 26 November. And vote Labour on Thursday 12 December.

Signed by Akala, Stormzy and others – see Musicians backing Labour

I don’t think they exaggerate, whether talking about life or death in the present or the future. Crucially they recognise that a vote for Labour is no more than the start, a Labour victory merely the beginning. People-led change requires our ongoing involvement in politics, in the grass-roots struggles to transform our collective existence.

ta to snopes.com

Even as I pen the phrase, a Labour victory, I falter. Calling for a vote for Labour in England, exceptions such as the Greens in Brighton aside, is utterly understandable, but what about the situation elsewhere in the disUnited Kingdom? Two interrelated concerns colour my sense of what best to do. Firstly the bottom line is that we rid ourselves of the Tories and break from the Thatcherite legacy of self-centred individualism. Secondly I am deeply at odds with the idea that Labour is the sole repository of compassion and justice, a form of ‘monopoly radicalism’. It is caught in the leadership’s dismissal of a post-election progressive alliance, involving, say, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. My heresy is that I feel a coalition government led by Labour, within which politicians listen acutely to the people and to each other, would be an important step towards a more democratic British politics.

Since 1979 we have endured the conscious undermining of our commitment to one another, of our belief in the common good. We have been coaxed and cajoled into being first and foremost passive consumers rather than critical citizens. Since 2008 neoliberalism has been a broken model, but the vision of ‘another world is possible’ seemed to be beyond us. It is clear that the totally unexpected election of Corbyn to the Labour leadership shocked the status quo. Put aside, for a moment, the inevitable criticism that the LP leadership could have done this, that or the other better, the orchestrated, toxic campaign against Corbyn in particular has ironically little to do with the supposed weakness of his character or his alleged virulent anti-semitism. It has everything to do with the challenge posed to the ruling class or elite, if you prefer, by an economic and political programme focused on social equality and social justice. Such a proposal is an anathema to the most influential fractions of the powerful.

At this juncture the choice is plain, even if the consequences depend critically on our political involvement beyond the polling booth. We have a fleeting opportunity to close the era of social selfishness and launch a renewed era of social solidarity.

FROM SOCIAL SELFISHNESS TO SOCIAL SOLIDARITY

SEIZE THE MOMENT! VOTE TO OUST THE TORIES!

Recording Impact – thoughts from the Transformative Youth Work conference…and much more

Following on from my post, impact evaluation – a brisk intro, a few folk asked whether I could write up the scribbled notes I used for my half hour rant to the Plymouth conference. Well, if I’m honest, a grandson, my faithful dog, Glyka and a couple of sheep did. Others muttered, ‘if that bloke mentions neoliberalism again, we’ll puke’. Be this as it may, Jon Ord, the driving force behind the conference has ridden to my rescue, having painstakingly drawn together recordings of a large number of the contributions made over the two days. These are gathered together via the conference website and the link within the panel, ‘Recordings of Conference Talks’.

 

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The ‘expert’ panel leading an impact evaluation debate. Gill Millar in charge of the mike.

There are 68 recordings in total, reflecting a rich range of analysis and opinion. I would recommend trawling through the three pages to get a feel for this diversity.

For example, to give you no more than a flavour:

Accountability in Youth Work in the USA – Susan Matloff-Nieves & Dana Fusco

Reflections on the Impact of Youth Work in Finland – Juha Nieminen

Exploring youth work outcomes in Japan – Maki Hiratsuka (et al)

Evaluating young people’s participation in Australia – Tim Corney

Questioning the outcomes of youth work in Ireland – Mairéad Cluskey

The Impact of Youth Work in Finland – Lasse Siurala & Eeva Sinisola Juha

Youth work in Malaysia – Jufitri Bin Joha

The impact of youth work in Italy – Daniele Morciano

Evaluating Well-being –  Kaz Stuart (UK)

Centre for Youth Impact – Bethia McNeil (UK)

Evaluating Youth Empowerment in Spain –  Anna Planas & Pere Soler

Measuring Youth Work in Scotland – Susan Hunter & Kelly McInnes

The Impact of Youth Work in France –  Marc Carletti

Reflections on Malta’s National Youth Policy – Joanne Cassar

Building Bridges in Flemish Youth Work – Els de Ceuster & Jo Clauw

Enabling Spaces for Youth Activism in Egypt – Mohamed Yassein

Youth Work and Prevention in the Netherlands Judith Metz & Jolanda Sonneveld

My recording, if you’re interested, is to be found on the third page. As you will hear the first two minutes are taken up with Tony Jeffs, the chair, organising the masses pouring into the room!

Resisting Impact – a neoliberal tool of social conformity

Ta to Stephen Dixon of Marjohn for the photo.

The Politics of Youth Work and Impact Evaluation – a brisk intro!

neoliberalism

 

A few weeks ago I contributed to the Transformative Youth Work conference in Plymouth via a short seminar and as an ‘expert’ panel member. Here is the three-minute intro I offered at the beginning of the panel-led debate, ‘Critical Reflections on Youth Work Evaluation’. Obviously, it is sweeping, stuffed with assertions and short on jokes.

Contributing my longer polemical paper to some of the folk at the Transformative Youth Work conference. Ta to Pauline Grace.

 

INTRO TO CRITICAL REFLECTIONS ON YOUTH WORK EVALUATION DEBATE, SEPTEMBER 5, PLYMOUTH

Other Panel members were Bethia McNeil, Centre for Youth Impact [UK], Professor Emeritus Dale Blythe [USA] and Dr Lasse Siurala [Finland]

The first thing to stress is that I have always sought to evaluate my practice in collaboration with fellow workers and young people themselves, stressing the positives, but always mindful of the uncertain, provisional nature of the judgements I made in endless reports across the years to committees of all kinds.

However, it is no secret that I am critical, indeed hostile to the discourse of impact evaluation that has come to dominate since the mid-1990’s, particularly so in the UK following the 2008 financial crisis. In my opinion, it is impossible to understand the agenda of prescribed outcomes, the fixation on data, the metrification of our practice outside of the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism over the last 40 years – what has become the common-sense of our age. In particular, I would draw your attention to neoliberalism’s spectacular behavioural modification project, its desire to privatise the way we see the world, to mould us in its own possessive, self-centred image. Few of us have escaped completely its clutches.

And, given youth work is essentially an effort to influence the character or the personality of a young person I do see impact evaluation as neoliberalism’s chosen method of regulating, monitoring and policing the unruly and unpredictable world of open youth work.

Its demands undermine a youth work founded on a voluntary relationship and improvised conversation with groups of young people’s choosing, ungoverned by time – a critical dialogue within which young person and youth worker are educated by one another. Impact evaluation violates the ‘intimate democratic’ space, the respect and love created, the willingness to listen, which are a prerequisite for fostering an authentic, public democracy.

As Filip Coussee puts it succinctly and memorably, this discourse seeks ‘to formalise the informal’.

As it is I think the impact enterprise is fatally flawed. Character is complex. It is not a mix of traits to be taught, inculcated and measured. But I’ll leave aside technical and managerial issues – could we improve this or that tool and the like?

In the end, my concern is with the purpose of our theory and practice, with the politics of youth work.

Do we wish to manufacture the emotionally resilient young person, who will put up with the slings and arrows of antagonistic social policies, accept their precarious lot and do the best for themselves – utterly individualised and responsibilised?

Or

Do we wish to play a part, however fragile and uncertain, in the emergence of a young critical citizen, committed to challenging their lot in concert with one another and indeed ourselves, struggling to forge a more just and equal society, believing that ‘another world is possible’?

Given the crisis haunting humanity’s future, I believe there is only one option. And having made explicitly the choice, then, by all means, let’s think about how well we are doing.

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[My reference above to ‘intimate democracy’ is a touch presumptuous as I’ve only just begun, courtesy of Hans Skott-Mhyre, to explore its possibilities as a way of describing what we do. Its origin as a concept seems to lie in the writings of Rosi Braidotti, Professor in Media and Cultural Studies at the Utrecht University.]

If you want to look more closely and indeed critically at some of the themes in my argument, see this piece in Youth & Policy.

Treasuring, but not measuring: Personal and social development

 

 

 

 

Two Years On and still trying to resist neoliberalism’s embrace

 

education-is-a-process1
Thanks to thinksoup

Indeed it is two years since I rambled on about starting a new blog, alongside continuing in my role as Coordinator of In Defence of Youth Work – As time goes by, why another blog? In the event, the demands of doing my best as IDYW Coordinator coupled with personal upheaval meant nowt happened on here.

However, I’m about to withdraw from my role as IDYW Coordinator, taking something of a back seat in the forum’s activities. Indeed my last ‘official’ appearance as Coordinator will be at the forthcoming Transformative Youth Work conference in Plymouth,  September 4-6. I’ll be offering a paper, ‘Resisting Impact – a neoliberal tool of social conformity’ and be a supposed ‘expert’ panel member, reflecting critically on youth work evaluation.

Discussion Paper

Title: Resisting Impact – a neoliberal tool of social conformity

Key Words: (up to five) Neoliberalism, Youth Work, Measurement, Character, Resistance

Abstract: (maximum 250 words)

For four decades neoliberalism has mounted an extraordinary behavioural modification project, seeking to manufacture in its own image the self-centred, possessive individual, the satisfied, yet never satiated consumer. Few of us have escaped completely from its clutches. In its armoury of manipulation, we find the discourse of impact with its outcomes-fixated agenda and its relentless pursuit of comparative data, unveiled in the early 1990’s as the means ‘to do more with less’, nowadays crucially used as the means of changing how youth workers see both themselves and young people. The casualty in this shift to the imposition of a prescriptive, supposedly measurable script in advance of practice has been an open youth work founded on voluntary relationships and improvised conversations, ungoverned by time, which take place on young people’s terms and, dare we say it, for their own sake. The neoliberal impact agenda abhors the unruly, the unpredictable, the ‘wild spaces’, within which the youth worker and young person are educated by one another. As Filip Coussee argues, it strives ‘to formalise the informal’, to impose order.

Given youth work is never ideologically neutral and is fundamentally concerned with how young people understand themselves and the world they occupy we will tangle with two inextricably interrelated, immeasurable questions.

  • In what sort of society do we wish to live? What are its ‘characteristics’?
  • And, depending on our answer, what sort of ‘characters’, do we think, are best suited to either the maintenance of what is or the creation of something yet to be?

No surprises there!

In my next post, I’ll pull together links to a number of articles critical of neoliberalism’s insidious influence upon youth work.