Avis, James (2017) Vocational Education and Training - the bio-politics of teachers’ labour. In: 12th JVET Conference 2017, 7-9th July 2017, Worcester College, Oxford. (Unpublished)

The paper has set itself a number of tasks. It considers analyses of FE teacher’s labour set within a performative context that stresses low trust relations, target setting and a ‘more for less’ working environment. The irony is that teachers labour is placed within a policy context in which the rhetoric of upskilling, creativity, autonomy and value addedness is hegemonic. Whilst the paper is set within an English context its argument extends beyond that setting to broader theoretical debates in Europe and US. The paper examines the wider political and socio-economic context in which education, and in particular VET, is placed. These arguments are set alongside a rather different literature that explores the ‘refusal of work’, engages with the salience of ‘anti-work’, and considers the significance of ‘busy-work’ and ‘bullshit’ jobs for the development of radical and revolutionary practices. The paper draws on the notion of bio-politics and power. These terms derive, from Foucault, have been marshalled by Hardt and Negri and mobilised by Fleming. In the paper these terms are used somewhat loosely to refer to the way in the current conjuncture ‘all of life is put to work’. It is suggested that the current conjuncture is qualitatively different to the preceding. As a result of class struggle and the refusal of work, Fordist models of industrial capitalism have been superseded by what has been described as immaterial, knowledge, or cognitive capitalism. This can be seen as capital’s response to class struggle, reflecting attempts to secure conditions favourable to the generation of surplus value. In relation to ‘anti-work’ theorisations, Hunnicutt’s discussion of the forgotten American dream is salutary. At the onset of industrial capitalism there was a concerted attempt to discipline workers so that they became habituated to the rhythms of the factory - immiseration being one tactic. Hunnicutt draws our attention to the struggles of American workers in the 19th and 20th century to reduce working hours and the exponential expansion of ‘free time’ – the ‘progressive shortening of the hours of labor’. The paper concludes by suggesting that a progressive politics necessitates the re-evaluation of VET as well as the way in which we understand teachers labour. This would require an ‘expansive’ politics that moves beyond the confines of education and teachers labour, suggesting a rethinking of what are emancipatory and revolutionary practices.

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