Social Justice in Austere Times

Social Justice in Austere Times

Issued: Tue, 02 Oct 2018 17:44:00 BST

The School of Education hosted a panel discussion on Tuesday 18 September exploring how social (in)justice is being interpreted and lived under new policy frames and priorities. Approximately 100 people attended, including PhD, EdD and PGT students, academic colleagues from other universities, and professional colleagues.

Emeritus Professor Bob Lingard (University of Queensland) spoke on the global policy environment and shifting treatments of social justice as the gap between the wealthy and the poor continues to grow, and the distinction between domestic/national and foreign/global politics fades. Professor Lingard highlighted the re-framing of social justice through the numbers game of international and national testing. These numbers serve to elide structural inequality and attribute student attainment to schooling factors alone, and ultimately ‘untether social justice from any conceptual definition’. He drew on the work of Nancy Fraser to distinguish social (in)justice as (mal)distribution, (mis)recognition and (mis)representation, and to argue that there is a ‘democratic deficit’ in policy settings above the nation.

Dr Sinead Gormally, (University of Glasgow) talked about communities’ capacity to cope under punitive policy settings that stigmatize and pathologize the disadvantaged. She reminded us that these are the communities whose suffering underwrites others’ profits. She argued that neoliberalism’s celebration of ‘resilience’ would be better nurtured as resistance through critical pedagogy, and that the resources devoted to quick fixes would be better distributed to communities to find and grow their own solutions. 

Dr Robert Doherty, (University of Glasgow) spoke on the local politics of educational policy, in the context of a worldwide crisis of legitimacy in the ‘post-truth’ political sphere. He characterised the emergence and treatment of educational policy in the SNP government as three phases –‘policy quietism’ (2007-2010), ‘sorting out the teachers’ (2011-2015), and ‘guiding mission’ (2015 – present). He suggested that social justice is back on the agenda in terms of targeted interventions that smack of compensatory education. In contrast, he argued that social justice needs to be lived as both institutional and personal responsibility.

Dr Jacqueline Purdie, (Headteacher–in-Residence, University of Glasgow) gave a perspective of how schools are experiencing and navigating the contemporary ‘policy deluge’ with its targeted funding for some groups, but not others. She pointed out that equality had been narrowed to just focus on poverty in terms of SIMD labels, while losing sight of the fact that rural poverty is different to urban poverty. She defined austerity as an attitude, and ‘severity of manner’. In this vein, she argued that the proposed charter for headteachers looms as undue pressure on school leaders who are left to absorb the risk and responsibility for ‘their gap’ and social circumstances beyond their control.

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