Thursday 3 March 2011

Money, Education and Freedom

I'm wondering if the principle of 'exchange' is a principle of regulation of personal viability, identity and the material and social world. Identity is established in a way where 'property relations' are established with material and social reality (or at least external material artefacts and other people). Individual adaptation and 'steering' entails the evolution of identity by relinquishing some property relations and establishing new ones. The loss of a property relation would be seen as a threat to identity (for example, in theft); however, by providing compensatory stimulation, the feeling of loss of identity is balanced. Money is a universal mechanism to provide a balancing compensation for the loss of a property relation and its general form of stimulation is to compensate with 'possibility'. Education also deals with 'possibility'.. But what does education compensate for? The sacrifice that learners make for educational possibility is an important question: we might think they sacrifice 'freedom' in some way.. but how can this work?

But then, by my definition "freedom is the measure of the robustness of control an individual has over their identity", freedom is not a commodity or a property relation. Freedom is not something which one has a direct property relation to. It pertains to the state and organisational structure of an individual. However, that state can be manipulated through environmental circumstances. What is it when this happens? I think the question revolves around the extent to which one person can be in a property relation to another. Our children are in a property relation to us; slaves are in a property relation to their masters; husbands and wives, etc. Producers and consumers may be in a mutual property relationship (are they?).

These inter-personal property relations involve material changes to the environment whereby material property relations as expressions of individual identity are partly used to manipulate the identity and property relations of others. I think I'm back on a familiar theme: transformations to the environment through property relations which have either intended or unintended consequences on the identity and property relations of others. Once again, Positioning Theory starts to appear as the most sensible way of thinking this through.

Using this formula, imprisonment is relatively easy to understand. The prisoner is the property of the gaoler (or indeed, Her Majesty!). The property relation with the prisoner is manipulated by exploiting the property relations with the material world, which happens to be the environment of the prisoner. This manipulation deprives the prisoner of the ability to form property relations with anything (even their cell can be manipulated). However, property relations between people are rarely so extreme. The parent may well exploit their property relation with the child's environment, but will often engage in some form of exchange with the child so that the child is able to establish their own property relations and their identity. The same applies to teachers, who once again manipulate the learners' environment, but exchange some property-relations (but of what?) for the learners to develop.

What about service providers and service consumers? Here it is interesting, because what is manipulated is not just a product or artefact (although there may well be a 'phone' for example) or a person, but also a legal framework. In submitting to a legal framework (like a service agreement), consumers exchange money (possibility) for  (say) technology (also possibility?). They also expose themselves to some risk (they cannot escape the contract until a certain time, for example). The property relation they have with their phone is conditional, so whilst they might realise the possibility entailed through establishing a property relation with a new phone, they also carry the risk that that particular property relation, and consequently that part of their identity, might collapse.

Risk characterises the engagement with education. Whilst educational processes might create identity and realise possibility, they might also crush it. In exchanging possibility in the form of money for possibility in the form of education, what enters the picture is a heightened risk. (So Ulrich Beck rears his head again!). What do learners give up when they enter education? Yes, they give up freedom in the sense of submitting to an environment (effectively a legal environment) determined by the property relations of their teachers and their educational institutions. If their teachers are good teachers, they will know how to relinquish some of their property relations for the benefit of the learners. If they are not, learners will find themselves not just alienated from the environment, but on the receiving end of the legal consequence of the risk that they took on: a bloody big bill!

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