Pedagogy of the Neo-Liberally Oppressed?

Things have recently gotten all quiet on the virtual front. Within the classroom, on the other hand, things are presently very active. This surely must have been expected. Most of us have more people listening to our lectures than we (will ever) have studying our papers or reading our blogs. That has to be the experience upon which we organise, both individually and collectively. I’m not so sure it is something to worry about. After all, if we can’t speak to the interests of the captive audiences whose attention we attain more on the basis of compliance than enthusiasm, we really shouldn’t expect to capture a willing readership online. Teach first, then blog!

Here I’d like to briefly describe what has been happening within one of my classes and hopefully others can share similar experiences and concerns.  

Within a course on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) my students and I have been speculating upon the extent to which the occupy movement, alongside a variety of ongoing and proposed parliamentary responses to the global financial crisis, might be considered  historically monumental events in 100 years time. The students are being asked to review Colin Crouch’s The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism, particularly his account of CSR, and in so doing they are being asked to speculate, with Crouch, as to whether CSR is likely to become a more prevalent feature of the post-crisis landscape, or not. The students are also being asked to discuss these issues from their own position as potential managers and employees of post-crisis profit-making firms by considering the extent to which the debates and struggles currently in evidence might eventually serve to re-allign their own lives, for better or for worse.

This is, I think, a very concrete set of concerns. Nevertheless, the potential lines along which these concerns might be meaningfully pursued have very quickly proliferated. The reading list I’ve developed looks very much like a whistle stop tour of classical political theory. Whilst I know that an excellent occupy reading list is already being created I find it difficult to endorse anything other than the classics, at least in the context of a 10 hour module. I’m open to debate, of course, but with the likes of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Mill and Marx on my side, my opponent will need to come armed with some pretty strong artillery! 

Sometimes I worry that I am doing the students a disservice by not telling them what they really need to know about CSR. These worries rarely last long, however – the resources within the CSR literature are entirely inadequate to the task. So maybe the task itself is the problem? Maybe I shouldn’t bring the student’s own hopes and fears into the pedagogy but instead offer stable points of orientation as if I was really in a position to offer them. Try as I might, I find it hard to adopt that course of action. So maybe that’s the problem.

2 thoughts on “Pedagogy of the Neo-Liberally Oppressed?

  1. Great post, really interesting. I think there are lots of good reasons for reading the “classics”, including instrumentalist ones. I agree there are no really stable points — after all, capital (partly or wholly driven by human struggles and practices) constantly revolutionises everything — but classics, being “further away”, at least offer points which are more fixed than most: stellar constellations that can help guide us. Instrumentally (“employability”), I think knowledge of the classics is a lower-risk form of “cultural capital” than knowledge of the latest fashionable thinker.

    But on recent contributions, it’s perhaps also worth asking students to engage with Paul Mason, in particular his suggestion that the “graduate with no future” is a new social actor.

  2. I was wondering about the main problem in your post. Is it that students feel overwhelmed? Is it that you feel your message or teaching escapes them because they can’t follow the type of arguments you confront them with? Or is it that you have no ‘real message’ about CSR? It seems to me you have a large set of concerns going there, some of them to do with students and their willingness or capacity for uptake, some of them to do with what you consider worthwhile and relevant to teach in a curriculum.

    I guess my take on it would be that any chance you get to stuff them with proper thought food should be encouraged. No need to argue the relative merits of proper food over chips, as long as they get a taste of both. And chips they get on a daily basis.

    Moreover, the classics provide the only consistent background against which a sensible discussion can emerge about the paradoxical assumptions on which such programs are based. To say anything on the reason for and merits of both neoliberalism and CSR, such an approach seems unavoidable.

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