Professional doctorates as a space of resistance in neoliberal times: a symposium

Norman Fairclough’s (1992) notion of “construction of the social in the discourse” provides a guide to creating a social world grounded in political and ideological practices in this neoliberal era. In a highly regulated, system driven policy environment such as the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector where, commercialism and competitiveness are audited, some teachers may feel they are working as robots. Indeed, the VET sector has become a breeding ground for “those neoliberals who consider state is necessary for enforcing laws that protect private property, contracts, and the workings of the free market” (Spring, 1998 in Rogers, 2011, p. 288). According to Kopsen (2014, p.194), one of the ‘distinctive characteristics of vocational teacher identity’ is the ‘fostering work of teaching for studies, life and work’. This is certainly true within the field of English Language Teaching (ELT). However, in today’s commercially-competitive, industry-oriented, outcomes-focused and arguably ‘audit-driven’ TAFE sector, opportunities for student nurturing are increasingly limited; leading to feelings of guilt, powerlessness and frustration among many teachers. These emotions are compounded by irregular collegial interactions, as a result of casualization, fixed term, fractional and multi-site employment. Mounting administrative tasks take time away from core teaching-related activities, as continued funding depends on meeting a growing array of complex, changing and highly time-sensitive reporting requirements. At the same time, teachers’ professional judgment is devalued; particularly when marketing rather than academic staff ask teachers to ‘revisit’ any poor results (Crichton, 2004). Undertaking a professional doctorate provides an opportunity to view and understand such trends through a multi-sectorial and global lens; to identity the neoliberal origins of workplace practices and explore their effects in a ‘safe space’. Importantly, it also empowers us to ask ‘Who benefits?’ (Bacchi, 2009) in the workplace, when confronted with new administrative compliance demands.In a micro-managed VET work atmosphere, teachers often function as isolated and emotionally dislocated individuals with no opportunity for creating a social world. In this context, the professional doctorate gives participants an avenue for meeting freethinking individuals and developing a sense of belonging. As well as enhancing our pedagogy, it provides a neutral space within which educators may measure and critique VET sector practices. In this paper, perspectives on the professional doctorate from both the public and private VET sector will be presented.