Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Managerialism, Technology and Conviviality


Managerialism is the institutionalised creation of risks.  It is the enemy of conviviality. Managerialism is concerned with individuals – indeed, what it sees as rather selfish individuals who are manipulated through the risks that managerialism creates to behave in certain ways: wanting certain things, avoiding other things, all for personal fear of falling victim to one risk or another. The anxieties which are the natural human response to managerialism’s risks are felt personally. And managerialism at its worst manipulates individual insecurities in cruel ways which only through the guile and cunning of clever higher-level risk management avoids the accusation of ‘victimisation’.

Individual biology is always prone to this sort of manipulation because fundamentally, it is a manipulation of identity through altering attachment relationships (I have speculated on this before here: http://dailyimprovisation.blogspot.com/2011/07/listening-to-economy-brief-paper-for.html). Indeed, managers themselves are prone to managerial manipulation higher up the ‘food-chain’, and there the anxieties produced by one set of risks can have particularly pathological consequences further down the system. Anxiety produces rather bad policy!

Attachments are fundamental in the establishment of identity and the strengthening of capacity to manage anxiety. Where attachments are strongest, society is at its most convivial. For Illich, such situations are the epitome of dignified humanity.

But managerialism seeks to disrupt and sometimes sever individual attachments to one another. It has found ways of leveraging technology to help it to do this. It has found in the internet radical ways of rationalising and organising individualised risk, asserting ‘realities’ which are not ontologically grounded. It has exploited the resulting alienation to further its risk-produced manipulations.

Because the whole economy is organised in this way, individuals appear helpless in the face of these forces. They are deprived of ways of being together because their attachments are subject to managerialism's interference. Not least the individuals who work or study in modern higher education - particularly in a risk-laden environment of rising fees and economic uncertainty.

But technology has a surprising knack of upsetting the applecart. Whilst managerialism has leveraged most of the radical technologies of the last 10 years, its technological foresight is less effective. The technological and human need is to fly beneath the radar of institutional systems. The first attempt to do this was Web Services about 10 years ago. Web Services enabled the connecting of the functionalities of different systems together in ways which would work in most institutional environments. Unfortunately, corporate managerialism consumed most of these ideas, using them to find new ways of producing risk for individuals in the form of the big global social network enterprises.

Now we have Web Sockets: the ability to create direct communication protocols between web pages, again without interfering with any of the high-level institutional security problems that usually plague socket-based communication. This is really new because it affords much richer real-time communications. Moreover, it enables those communications to be served and managed not by central services, but by ordinary individuals: setting-up a real-time communications server will become as easy as writing a blog.

I find this interesting because it may provide a way in which individuals can re-find ways of being together, and engage in convivial activity. That’s important, because if the technology can genuinely support environments for rich attachments, then the risk culture of managerialism is undermined: the collective that looks after each other is more immune to individual risk manipulation than the fragmented social wastelands we are currently producing.

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