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    Re-Kindling Community Education in Neoliberal times

    Fitzsimons, Camilla (2015) Re-Kindling Community Education in Neoliberal times. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.

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    This is a study about community education in Ireland. It begins by problematising our current globalised neoliberal epoch interpreting this socio-political environment as built on a return to laissez-faire economics and a hegemonic imbuement of inequality as the norm. The research draws from literature to demonstrate how neoliberalism has greatly exacerbated income inequality demonstrating how this has been despite those responsible for implementing the neoliberal project as often asserting an equality-based agenda. This mixed-methods study sets out to determine the impact of neoliberalism on community education. It enhances our knowledge of community education by mapping a landscape of domestic practice. This is undertaken by drawing from the experience and insights of circa 226 practitioners who are working in a range of local settings. The study uncovers community educator characteristics, identifies where community educators work and details what their day-to-day practice often entails. Examples of community education that are uncovered locate practice within both Community Sector organisations and State (public) provision alike. This locational dispersal is congruent with a domestic history of community education most notably that which emerged since the 1970s and 1980s with much practice built from collective organisation through social movements most notably the women’s movement, the literacy movement and the wider community development/anti-poverty movement. The history of community education presented also reveals a growth in public provision which was often a response to community demands. The study upholds the view that much community education is inspired by a vision of an egalitarian society, something that is determined both through literature, and through the many practitioner insights that are shared. This research also demonstrates varying interpretations of how inequality should be addressed including, for example, a second-chance approach to dealing with educational disadvantage and a minority approach that directly links community education to community development and collective action. Across each philosophical perspective, the study reveals a harsh neoliberalisation of community education practice. This has been advanced through an EU-led policy approach that interprets all education as largely instrumentalist. In the main, neoliberalism views community education as an exercise in up-skilling a flexible workforce, a perspective which underpins a system of New Public Management. This type of managerialism focuses on the measurement of outputs and brings the logic of business into spaces where ‘education’ once related to issues of personal development and recovery or to consciousness-raising praxis is now instrumentally reduced to the vocational demands of the market. Based on the politics of free market neoliberalism, New Public Management has had a profound effect on community education with much Community Sector activism either co-opted into State structures or simply shut down. Other findings from this research demonstrate deterioration in working conditions for community educators. These include pay cuts, unstable contracts of employment and an erosion of occupational autonomy on a day-to-day basis. These problems are caused by the increased demand to accredit all (community) learning through an overly prescriptive, over-assessed model of certification that has been principally designed for Further Education (FE) settings. Given its ambition to re-kindle community education this research is undertaken as an attempt to support practitioners in upholding the equality agenda many hold firm. The study calls on community educators to expand anti-neoliberal spaces where possible and draws from the suggestions of those participating in this research to imagine how this might be done. Specifically, these suggestions are the need (a) to be more strategic in relationships with the State (b) to strengthen network relationships amongst themselves (c) to assert a stronger sectoral identity (d) to explore alternative accreditation mechanisms and (e) to expand ways in which stronger links with oppositional movements can be created. Along with drawing from practitioners suggestions, the research is underpinned by a critical realist-feminist perspective, a paradigm that brings with it an interrogation of contemporary community education practice. It particularly challenges a majority person-centered philosophy held by practitioners critiquing the potential for this philosophy to realise egalitarian change when utilised within neoliberal contexts. Person-centeredness is important for its holistic attention to participants of community education, but it is a limiting perspective in achieving egalitarianism given its lack of attention to the structural causes of inequality. It also discourages dichotomisation of radical and non-radical practice and encourages community educators to infuse a problem-posing approach within all of their interactions. Rekindling Community Education encourages community educators to reflect on their practice and to consider how best to advance the principles of equality and social justice though their work. This reflection should include consideration of practitioner relationships with the communities they purport to support encouraging authenticity in their interactions.

    Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
    Keywords: Re-Kindling Community Education; Neoliberal times;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > Adult and Community Education
    Item ID: 6420
    Depositing User: IR eTheses
    Date Deposited: 29 Sep 2015 13:36
      Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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