Thursday 22 September 2011

Managerialism and competency

One of the risks that is produced by managerialism is competency. For those without them, competencies are experienced as absence and anxiety. These anxieties (risks) are institutionally produced - indeed the culture of the production of the 'competency-risk' in many cases goes up to the definition of 'occupational profiles' of national governments (this is particularly the case for Italy, Germany and the Netherlands).

Within education, the competency of teachers is another point of risk-creation. Competency frameworks identifying 'good' and 'bad' teachers or academics now carry real risks for individuals who are already in their jobs, with rising anxieties as "jobs are on-the-line". Managerialism can exploit these anxieties to address issues of financial viability and directing professional practice in particular directions whilst dancing around restrictions concerning the termination of employment. Very soon sight is lost of the fact that while the risks and the associated anxieties of such competencies are real (albeit manufactured), their deeper ontological foundations in what is 'good' and 'bad' in education are much less certain, tied-up as it is in the perennial paradoxes of the nature of education and human cultivation.

But competency is still 'big' in thinking about education - particularly in Europe. The essence of 'qualification' - the institutionalised mitigation of personal risk - underpins the education system. I think this is why Illich railed against 'professionalisation' - because he saw in the 'disabling professions' risk-factories which had dehumanising consequences in their assault on conviviality. I want to look at these arguments again (partly because we may be getting into another round of projects concerning competency!!)

There is cental question here:
"In a convivial society (and a convivial education system) how are the different skills and attributes of individuals recognised, if creating risk around competency is to be ruled-out?"

The answer to this starts to appear when we ask "what happens when people come together?". This requires  some thought-experiments.

Togetherness is by its nature a diverse web of relationships, not a flat plain. Some people are good at certain things, and in a convivial environment we know who they are. We do not necessarily need to have a piece of paper that tells us who they are. But surely different people will have different opinions of who is good and who is not? I think the nature of the convivial society embraces value pluralism.

Thinking about this leads me to think of the distinction between managerialism and governance. Governance seeks to manage value pluralism and maintain conviviality: the principal mechanism for this is to coordinate activity. This is very similar to the arguments I presented in our recent special issue of Campus Wide Information Systems:   Managerialism seeks to coerce behaviour is particular ways: the principal mechanism is to create institutionalised risk.
Competency falls into the latter category.

But then again... as I write this I think "competency isn't going to go away." But it has the character of something global: generalised ideals to which all individuals are meant to conform. And here, there is another way of looking at the issue. It becomes another example of the need to balance global concerns with local needs. Maybe think this can be achieved through the governance of convivial education within institutions, which acts as the interface between the deep human needs of individuals and collectives and the global demands of competency frameworks. But given that, governance is what institutions need, not managerialism.

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