Colley, Helen (2012) Not learning in the workplace: austerity and the shattering of illusio in public service. Journal of Workplace Learning, 24 (5). pp. 317-337. ISSN 1366-5626
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Purpose – This paper seeks to discuss the impact of UK government austerity policies on learning in public service work, specifically youth support work. It also aims to argue that austerity policies intensify “ethics work”, create emotional suffering, and obstruct workplace learning in a variety of ways.
Design/methodology/approach – The research adopts narrative methods and a critical interpretive paradigm to investigate practitioner perceptions within a broader analysis of neo-liberal change. It draws on Bourdieu's sociology as an interpretive framework.
Findings – Austerity is shifting the “stakes” of the youth support field from a client-centred ethos to the meeting of economically driven targets. This shatters the illusio of practitioners committed to client-centred ethics, resulting in emotional suffering, difficulty in learning to cope with new demands, and an erosion of professional capacity.
Research limitations and implications – A particular limitation is the lack of longitudinal data. There is a pressing need for more research on ethics work, emotional suffering and (not) learning in public service workplaces facing austerity, and to continue theorising this nexus more thoroughly.
Practical and social implications – There is a need to promote a feminist ethics of care in such workplaces. There is also a need to stimulate public debate about the ethical impact of austerity on public service work as a whole. These might allow workplaces to encourage learning more effectively.
Originality/value – This paper departs from traditional discussions of workplace learning to consider instances of “not learning”. It introduces the innovative concept of “ethics work”, discusses ethics as a form of work, through a sociological rather than philosophical lens, and utilises Bourdieu's key concept of illusio, not previously addressed in workplace learning research.
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