Colley, Helen (2011) Time-space and the ethics of adult education: migrating from care to control? In: 2011 Joint Conference of the Adult Education Research Conference (AERC) and the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education (CASAE/ACEEA), 9th - 12th June 2011, Toronto, Canada. (Unpublished)Metadata only available from this repository.
This paper explores the consequences of the current global economic crisis for the ethics of adult education, with a particular focus on changes in the time-space of educational work. It theorizes from a number of different disciplinary perspectives and bodies of literature, but argues that we need to turn a sociological rather than philosophical lens on these questions.
From the late 1980s, social science has taken a ‘spatial turn’ (Castree, 2009, p. 32) focusing on positionality, space, place, borders, liminality and so forth. This has largely been used to illuminate epistemological questions in a metaphorical way; although more recent studies of adult education have a more ontological focus on globalisation and its material impact on diversified learning spaces (Seddon et al, 2010). Time, by contrast, is a sorely under-researched aspect of adult education, despite its growing importance in broader social science (e.g. Adam, 1995; Time & Society journal). Yet it is deeply connected with adult education, not least because key philosophical understandings of time reveal that it is always intimately connected with ethics – that is to say, with values and purpose, and with the pursuit of a ‘good life’ and a ‘good society’.
Whilst most philosophical discussions of time conceptualise it either in a external-realist manner (as a material context for human action), or in an internal-idealist way (as an inescapable category of human consciousness), this paper draws on contrasting sociological understandings. Concepts offered by scholars such as David Harvey (2006), often drawing on Marxist theory, treat time not as the external or internal backdrop to human practice, but as generated by human practice. They see time as inextricably integrated with space. Moreover, time is generated in three different registers: historical time, related to the mode of production and particular stages within its development; abstract or ‘clock’ time, which in the capitalist era is primarily used to calculate the degree of exploitation of labour power and the rate of profit; and concrete or ‘process time’, which is particularly experienced in human service work such as adult education, where labour is driven by student needs which often conflict with the ‘clock’ time allocated (cf. Davies, 1994).
Such an analysis allows us to consider the time-space of publicly-funded adult education as productive of labour power, and as part of the ‘social wage’ within the overall circulation of capital (Allman, 1999). It also helps to illuminate how and why, in times of financial crisis and ‘accumulation by dispossession’ (Harvey, 2003), not only is public funding for adult education restricted by the capitalist class, but the ethical nature of the work is also pressured to migrate further along a spectrum away from care and towards control (Harvey, 2006). Insofar as capitalists are still obliged to divert value into the social wage, they attempt to ensure that more of it is spent on surveillance and monitoring, and less on needs determined care. The time-space of adult education can become compressed (Harvey, 1990) (with requirements that individuals have to complete training or ‘become employable’ within limited time-spans) or simply restricted (fewer learners can enter the space, and less time is available to work with them).
This disturbing shift is connected to recent work by Cribb (2009), Banks (2009) and Colley (2010) which makes visible ‘ethics work’: the day-to-day labour for educators of making difficult ethical decisions, such as about whom they can help and how, in a context of severely restricted space, time and resources; and coping with tensions between decisions forced by these conditions (often associated with meeting policy-imposed targets) and their own personal and professional ethical beliefs. Implications for adult education theory relate to the need for more sophisticated understandings of and analytical attention to time-space in our research. Practical implications concern the impact of intensified ethics work on adult educators and learners, and how the migration of ethics towards control might be countered.
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