Challenging Academia: A Critical Space for Controversial Social Issues

A special issue of Societies (ISSN 2075-4698).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 June 2020) | Viewed by 59278

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Guest Editor
Formerly a Professorial Research Fellow in the Education and Social Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester M15 6BH, United Kingdomand more recently an Honorary Research Fellow of the University of Edinburgh, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UK
Interests: Her work is characterised by a contrarian perspective on mainstream approaches to a variety of issues, including citizenship education, animal abuse and human violence, intergenerational touch and in loco parentis relationships in the context of extreme concern around child abuse and protection, false allegations, and ethical issues relating to such concerns .

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Department of Culture and Society, Aarhus University, Jens Chr. Skousvej 7, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
Interests: Else-Marie Buch Leander is finishing a PhD on the unintended cultural, institutional, social and discursive consequences of the current significant fear of child sexual abuse (CSA) in western societies. She particularly focuses on changes in practice in childcare institutions, the stigmatization of male childcare staff and the problematization of children’s nudity and doctor games

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The call for papers for this Special Issue was intended to attract authors who may have been prevented from or are fearful of researching, speaking, or writing on certain topics. Increasingly in recent years (and perhaps in some societies more than others) there have been many instances of “no platforming” in academic arenas, often supported by social media campaigns against some alleged “offence”. Such instances include individuals and groups with a particular commitment and/or self-interest who have sought to silence academics, and others who may seek to question their particular view of a controversial issue; this has been especially evident in matters concerning gender and transgender individuals. Examples of such silencing include: Rachel Ara, a feminist artist, was due to talk at Oxford Brookes University (UK) in 2019, but her talk was cancelled as she was condemned for being a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF); Selina Todd, a Professor of Modern History, and others, have faced petitions for them to be sacked from Oxford University (UK) for being critical of gender self-identification, and were accused of being transphobic [1].

In some instances, journal referees and reviewers can exercise a form of censorship, as senior academics resist challenges to particular orthodoxies that they have a direct interest in protecting as the mainstream approach. Such cases of censoring have included the defence of concepts such as the cycle of abuse, i.e., the inevitability that those who harm animals when young will harm people when older, or that societal factors will always trump genetics—a contentious area, but one that is worth exploring, especially in relation to health issues. In some cases, powerful and well-resourced organisations with a particular self-interest exercise pressure on the academy and practitioners to ensure that certain behaviours prevail (e.g., some child care charities, unions etc who advocate that teachers, sport coaches, and child care workers must not touch children, even young ones in their care, or must touch them only in prescribed ways), this has been articulated in the US context by Johnson [2], and the UK by Piper et al. [3,4] and now by Buch-Leander et al. (see this Special Issue). Similarly, research applications frequently have to be reviewed by practitioners who hold particular views and who can prevent certain research from taking place by both negative reviews and/or the withholding of funds.

Beyond such actions based, at least in part, on personal, professional, or organisational self-interest, many restrictive trends have been explained as a consequence of identity politics, and the relatively new understanding that if someone says they experience something as true, or offensive, then this cannot be challenged. As a result, disagreements on secular issues are conceived in quasi-religious terms, with harsh outcomes for perceived “heretics.” In response to such silencing, a group in the USA, the Heterodox Academy, has been established, with a focus on achieving viewpoint diversity, seeking to encourage academics to confront these issues. In the UK, The Journal of Controversial Ideas has been launched, which aims to publish papers submitted pseudonymously, “in order to protect [authors] from threats to their careers or physical safety”. However, some regard such anonymity as a retrograde step which could become part of the problem rather than the solution.

We should acknowledge that this an arena of public perception and debate where certainty is hard to achieve, where grey areas proliferate, and in which participants will have very different perceptions and understandings. Further, we would not claim that the perceived problem derives from only one source, and there is certainly no basis for holding either “the left” or “the right” responsible. Some commentators who would place themselves in the latter category may complain that “woke warriors” are “snowflakes” who seek to restrict open debate and scholarship, but may engage or collude in restrictive behaviour of their own, for instance, against those who seek to explore and highlight the degree to which the prosperity of many western democracies is based on wealth derived from slavery and self-interested colonialism. However, we believe there is a difference between situations where the substantial majority of expert opinion judges a particular area of work and argument (e.g., climate change denial) to be wholly beyond the pale, and where particular contributions are silenced through the actions of relatively small interest and pressure groups who manage to punch above their weight through single-minded moral outrage or disproportionate media coverage. Against this challenging background, this edition aims to help expand debate in “silenced” areas, and tackle areas that have been subject to “no platforming” or biased reviewing, and to challenge and intervene in defensive academic and professional practices resulting from fear.

The brief was necessarily eclectic and inclusive, but we were specifically hoping to attract papers addressing issues including “no platforming” (how can this be challenged and discouraged in so-called democracies?); transgender issues (e.g., should young children be encouraged to seek medical interventions? Should teachers and care workers be instructed to call young children “they”?); #metoo (has this movement had any negative consequences for women? Does it encourage vulnerability and victimhood and, if so, is this a price worth paying? Despite some good this movement has brought, has it also damaged men and the process of justice? Has it frozen sexual relations between the sexes?); national narratives (critical and/or revisionist accounts of, e.g., colonialism; is it appropriate to rename historic buildings and remove “offensive” public monuments?). Many of these issues have gathered publicity and pace in recent years.

To some extent, we were unsuccessful in attracting papers addressing such controversies, in spite of some direct targeting of authors we knew had raised and debated these issues, to their detriment. The fear factor was perhaps even greater even than we had expected. While preparing this preface, we noticed a timely and powerful article [5] which problematised the trend in some jurisdictions towards conflating sex and ‘gender identity’, thus removing sex as a discrete political and legal concept. It has profound consequences; when words change meaning or are conflated, concepts vanish. The anti-science denial of the difference between sex and ‘gender identity’ raises many problems. Women’s oppression has been ‘on the basis of sex’, prompting the fight for sex-based rights which become harder to defend if permitted terminology erases women’s material reality. Gender neutral terms cannot erase biology, but they can remove the analytical tools to understand and address it. In the UK cases of sexual abuse against children by women doubled between 2015 and 2019, from 1.5% to 3% of all cases, but around 38% of sexual offenders in women’s prisons are transwomen. There are surely some fertile research areas here!

We did, however, attract a range of papers covering a number of areas (see below), and characterised by a broad international focus. While, on the face of it, many of these papers were less controversial than we had anticipated, nevertheless, a key theme emerged in many: there is often a clear and identifiable (yet unacknowledged) contradiction between key practices in various professional and institutional settings and what is either normally expected, formally required or endorsed by the relevant professions or institutions, or even legal in the relevant national context. For example, it is an expectation that graduate and post-graduate study will include an element of criticality in order to reach the required level of scholarship, yet there are certain topics and perspectives being excluded from such academic scrutiny (see the published papers for examples).

With some submitted papers which did attempt to address controversial areas, we had our own difficulties at the reviewing stage. At least one excellent paper was rejected; it challenged Sweden’s response to the Covid virus and was clearly deemed heretical by one reviewer who considered it in mid-2020. However, the early, low-key response to the pandemic in Sweden is now acknowledged as flawed even at the governmental level. A paper that was eventually published attracted diametrically opposed reviewer’s comments, ranging from “the project [was] poorly conceived and executed” (and this reviewer additionally raised confidential ethical concerns) to “I would like to express my appreciation … in which critical thinking is applied to both the training and the method of the proper discipline of [named discipline]”. Another paper, also eventually published, attracted two very positive sets of reviewers’ comments, including one who stated that the paper was addressing a previously taboo area, but a third which claimed “the insufficiency of the text is of such a degree and nature that no revision will make it fit for a publication in an academic context”. While differing reviewer’s opinions are always to be expected, the extent and severity of the gatekeeping for this Special Issue was greater than any experienced previously by the editors.

These difficulties, when viewed in retrospect and with the aid of the analytic overview proffered by Laurent Dubreuil in his post-scriptum, become easier to understand. The extent to which questions of identity now pervade understanding and debates within and beyond the academy can hardly be over-stated. Indeed, as he demonstrates, the consequences of the narrowing politics of identity can be discerned even in areas of research, policy, and practice where issues of identity are not immediately obvious. In combination with longer-standing restrictive practices, based on inflexibility, defensiveness, and sometimes self-interest, this reality suggests a difficult future experience for academics and researchers determined to swim against the tide of mainstream assumptions and opinions.

However, to end on a more optimistic note, it has been widely noted that, over time, things that seem set in stone do change as, in the words of Plato, “All is flux: nothing stays still”. Similarly, Leonard Cohen keeps us cheerful with his reminder that ‘There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in…” We hope that change and illumination is not too slow in coming to many contested areas, and that academic debate from all perspectives is encouraged for the good of us all.

Articles
Stuart Waiton, in “The Vulnerable Subject”, draws on a variety of theorists to explore the history, development, and current primacy of the conception of the individual in society as always vulnerable and potentially subject to victimhood, and he discusses some policies and practices which derive from this. With a range of examples, and a particular focus on the law and criminal justice, he argues that the identification of a substantial proportion of the population as victims, subject to trauma and abuse, has significant negative implications. Individualisation grows, collective activity is undermined, and the government is increasingly presented as planning for the avoidance of harm. This matches the experience of many professionals and workers, whose jobs from the 1980s onwards became less driven by making progress and more by the avoidance of risk. A linked development has been that this approach has allowed determinedly censorious groups to reduce their reliance on arguments based on morality by adopting arguments based on the avoidance of alleged harm (e.g., harm caused by pornography or prostitution). Since causing “offence” by presenting critical ideas regarding these processes has become conflated with committing harm and abuse, how are their negative consequences to be identified and challenged? How can universities be encouraged to support real freedom of thought, writing, and research in these areas? Is it possible to recover a conception of management and government based on the achievement of positive ends for robust and self-confident individuals and communities, rather than merely avoiding harm and victimhood for vulnerable individuals?

Jane Fenton and Mark Smith, in “‘You Can’t Say That!’: Critical Thinking, Identity Politics, and the Social Work Academy”, develop and exemplify a point made elsewhere in this collection. Long-standing ideals and regulatory requirements are paid lip service (in this case, regarding the necessity of understanding heterodox ideas, and of critical thought, in order to achieve a graduate or master’s status generally, and more specifically in social work) while contested ideas about policy and practice are treated and taught as unquestionable. Critique or deviation is dangerous to academic and professional progress. It is normal for universities and professions to change their teaching on the basis of data and evidence, but this new reality has been prompted by pressure from groups promoting a form of identity politics which prioritises “lived experience”, and avoiding “offence”. To question particular ideas is to promote “hate speech”. As a result, new social workers enter the profession accepting particular ideas as obvious, and are unwilling to exercise critical judgement in complex and contested situations. The focus has moved towards individual and cultural recognition, and away from issues of redistribution. Empathy is valued over more appropriate characteristics such as rational compassion. How have the priorities of social work been changed in such fundamental yet unacknowledged ways? Does the individualisation of the social work agenda further the purposes of neoliberalism? Why have both universities and the profession of social work permitted and colluded in these developments? While the focus of this article is specific, the concepts and argument are more generally applicable across disciplines and organisations.

Jens Stilhoff Sörensen and Erik J. Olsson, in their paper “Shadow Management: Neoliberalism and the Erosion of Democratic Legitimacy through Ombudsmen with Case Studies from Swedish Higher Education”, challenge a frequently taken-for-granted trend in public sector management, which, while certainly mainstream, is arguably also unacknowledged and clandestine. Managerial and regulatory mechanisms presented as guardians of democratic transparency and the rule of law have quietly adopted practices which obscure what is happening: move on quickly, there is nothing to see here! While the material is largely drawn from Swedish higher education, the analysis and critique will spark a general recognition in many public sector staff and middle managers: “Ah yes! That’s why I’ve felt uncomfortable for years.” Managerial logic and practice intrinsic to neoliberalism have been imposed on public sector bodies without any formal acknowledgement that the resulting arrangements run counter to established norms, legal requirements, and professional behaviour. To avoid admitting to this fundamental change, key practices and mechanisms which should protect the law and professional activity have been subverted, even up to the work of sectoral and state ombudsman. The contrarian illumination of this bad faith and hypocrisy, and its negative consequences, is both valuable and timely. How should the identified contradictions be illuminated and inserted into public awareness and debate? Within the academy, how are senior managers and regulators to be held accountable for their failure to acknowledge or act on these shortcomings?

Else-Marie Buch Leander, Karen Pallesgaard Munk, and Per Lindsø Larsen, in their paper “Guidelines for Preventing Child Sexual Abuse and Wrongful Allegations against Staff at Danish Childcare Facilities” comprehensively describe one of the most substantial empirical research projects conducted on the multiple effects, unintended consequences, and contradictions resulting from the widespread adoption of documented guidelines for avoiding child sexual abuse (CSA). The work focused on Danish childcare settings, but the reported experiences and outcomes will resonate widely. Drawing on a number of theoretical frameworks, the project outcomes are discussed and illuminated. A theme of other articles here is replicated in that the adoption of a simplistic regulatory approach to avoiding CSA and protecting staff from suspicion, combined with what Foucault calls the “real procedures” limiting the professional behaviours of male workers. Guidelines specifically aimed at men actually breaks Danish law in relation to employment rights and gender equality. Can the pretence that CSA can be avoided, and staff-protected, by the imposition of essentially performative restrictions be sustained? While CSA must obviously be avoided, proscribing affection, spontaneity, and key elements of humanity in childcare settings is a high price to pay, for both children and staff. How are we to promote principles of intergenerational trust and affection, and professional responsibility, if relations between children and non-parental adults are treated as risky and potentially toxic?

Erik J Olsson and Jens Stilhoff Sörensen, in “What Price Equality? The Academic Cost of Government Supervised Gender Mainstreaming at Swedish Universities”, challenge what has become a taken for granted “good” in many societies and various institutional contexts: the authoritative encouragement or effective imposition of gender mainstreaming. With contextual exposition and reference to key documentation and practices, they outline consequential tensions in Swedish Universities. In particular, they question how this development is compatible with more long-standing, taken-for-granted principles: institutional autonomy and academic freedom. The national and institutional promotion of one “good” has had unacknowledged, unintentional, or perhaps insufficiently considered, negative consequences for others. Significant questions are raised. How explicitly should particular principles and targets be prioritised over others? Is it possible to avoid real or apparent unfairness to some when introducing new policies and practices to support greater equality for others? Do Swedish Universities rate so high in terms of gender equality essentially because they rate so low for institutional autonomy?

Gustavo González-Calvo’s article “Narrative Reflections on Masculinity and Fatherhood during Covid-19 Confinement in Spain” is a response to a situation, and the resultant issues, which could barely have been predicted when the concept and brief for this Special Edition were developed. It crosses boundaries with subversive effect; while presenting as an exercise in narrative reflection, it challenges the reader to reflect on the experience of the body, the person, and their family, during a severe pandemic lockdown, in relation to more overarching individual, academic, social, environmental and economic questions. In doing so, it critiques orthodox assumptions and practices. What are the limits and implications of narrative research in this special context? Why are the limits of a biomedical approach so rarely acknowledged? Should the current hegemony of epidemiology be countered through advancing concepts such as “manufactured risk” and how it relates to individual experience? Should a reconsideration of societal, economic, and environmental policies and practices be required as a response to the pandemic? Have mainstream responses to our situation exposed a much more savage societal approach to the vulnerable, the poor, the elderly, than we would like to admit? While many wish for “a return to normal”, and others prepare to embrace a “new normal”, should we be pressing for something else entirely? Written very early on in the pandemic, the article will make for uncomfortable/apocalyptic reading for many.

Review Papers
Sean T. Stevens, Lee Jussim, and Nathan Honeycutt, in “Scholarship Suppression: Theoretical Perspectives and Emerging Trends”, provide a wide-ranging discussion of suppression of academic scholarship as a result of both self-censorship and the action (or inaction) of other academics. While focused on the context and experience of academia in the USA, the theoretical discussion is wide-ranging, and the issues and events referred to will be recognised internationally. As J.S. Mill noted, merely offending people should not be a block to free speech, and all silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility; suppression is distinct from justified objection even when pretending to be the same thing. While the reality of suppression and bullying is less extreme than during the era of McCarthyism, aspects of current society make them particularly visceral and personal. In the age of “outrage mobs” and social media, has free academic enquiry become a victim of free speech? How can scholars protect themselves and their work from disproportionate attacks from inside and outside the academy? Given that universities formally endorse academic freedoms, how are senior academics and administrators to be held to account when they fail to defend it when it is uncomfortable to do so? This Special Edition is premised on the ideas developed in this article: rejection of scholarship is quality control, even when imperfect, but suppression is a distinct phenomenon and one which impoverishes the knowledge base.

Rooshey Hasnain, Glenn T. Fujiura, John E. Capua, Tuyen Thi Thanh Bui, and Safiy Khan, in “Disaggregating the Asian “Other”: Heterogeneity and Methodological Issues in Research on Asian Americans with Disabilities”, offer a detailed and powerful critique of the common practice in both research and policy-making of treating “American Asians” as a homogenous category. While a similar case might be made in relation to other reified categories based on false premises which, in fact, mask massive internal variations, and also in relation to a number of distinct research and policy contexts, their particular focus is on how this false and misrepresented homogeneity has extremely negative real world consequences for many American Asians with disabilities. These problems are hardly surprising, since the multifaceted variations within the category are as wide as those outside it, and the authors argue for fine-grained community-based research and practice as the route to improved understanding and provision. In research and governmental systems, which increasingly deal in big data, how are key variations between particular social, religious, and ethnic groups to be represented and responded to? Particularly in a federal system, where the nature and quality of health and social care provision is substantially a matter for relatively local determination, how can wide variations between particular groups be understood and accommodated? How should research approaches and policy react to the reality of rapidly increasing heterogeneity in many national populations, driven by global upheavals and rising levels of precarity?

Concept Paper
Johan Lundberg, in “The Return of the Clan in Sweden”, for the most part, draws from and refers to the Swedish experience, but the issues which he discusses may be applicable to many national and international contexts. He argues that Sweden, and by extension other western liberal states, exhibits a blinkered approach to cultural, social, and legal differences which arise from state-based and clan-based conceptions of the individual, society, and morality. This causes extreme tensions in areas including legal practice and family relations. In part, this blind spot arises from a taken-for-granted assumption of the normality and general acceptability of the post-enlightenment State, which has existed for hundreds of years, but has been exacerbated by the rise of particular approaches to multiculturalism and (post) colonialism which make it very difficult even to raise such ideas and issues. As a result, internal contradictions tend not to be openly addressed, and international understanding is hindered. How can the ability to raise issues which offend particular world views be protected? How fervently should western liberal democracies defend and impose the philosophical and legal principles on which they have long been based? How can tensions between divergent conceptions of the individual and their relationship to larger social entities be dealt with in multicultural societies?

Opinion Piece
Eva O.L.Lantsoght, Miguel Abambres, Tiago Ribiero, and Ana Sousa, in “Interviewing and Hiring Practices in Brazilian Academia: Proposals Towards Improvement” present an account and a critique of structural and behavioural elements of the mandatory processes by which Brazilian academics are assessed for employment and which also have implications for research funding, productivity, and quality. They argue that the inward-looking, inflexible, and mechanistic procedures and requirements which must be applied in both public and private universities have significant negative consequences for the quality and international standing of Brazilian higher education and scholarship, while also challenging internationally accepted principles of diversity and equity. It appears significant that the authors, with a range of academic specialisms, work outside Brazil, and that their previous writing on this sensitive topic has not been published there. How can academics challenge administrative and personnel practices when they are biased against outsiders and minorities? How can the rights and prospects of academics who challenge a well-defended and inflexible status quo be protected? How might the international higher education community encourage extreme outliers to reconsider taken-for-granted procedures which have demonstrable negative effects for both institutions and individuals?

The above offers a brief commentary on the articles finally included in this Special Edition, and we hope readers will find their eclectic nature and argumentative approach a source of interest and a prompt for further thought and research. We are immensely grateful to all those who submitted papers for possible inclusion, in particular, Laurent Dubreuil, for the work of the many reviewers, and for the opportunity provided to us by Societies to edit and help develop some very interesting work.

Heather Piper and Else-Marie Buch Leander—January 2021

References

  1. The Banned List. Available online: https://www.afaf.org.uk/ (accessed on 4 January 2021).
  2. Johnson, R.T. Hands Off! The Disappearance of Touch in the Care of Children; Peter Lang Publishing: New York, NY, USA, 2000.
  3. Piper, H.; Smith, H. Touch in educational and childcare settings: Dilemmas and responses. Br. Educ. Res. J. 2003, 29, 879–894.
  4. Piper, H.; Stronach, I. Don’t Touch! The Educational Story of a Panic; Routledge: London, UK, 2008.
  5. Turner, J. War of words risks wiping women from our language | Comment | The Times, accessed on 30 January 2021.

Prof. Heather Piper
Ms. Else-Marie Buch Leander, M.A.
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • No platforming
  • Contrarian
  • Fear
  • Censorship
  • Identity Politics
  • Silencing

Published Papers (10 papers)

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16 pages, 251 KiB  
Article
What Price Equality? The Academic Cost of Government Supervised Gender Mainstreaming at Swedish Universities
by Erik J. Olsson and Jens Stilhoff Sörensen
Societies 2020, 10(4), 87; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10040087 - 16 Nov 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 6588
Abstract
This article is focused on gender mainstreaming at Swedish universities in the period from 2016–2019. Our research questions are: (a) In what form was gender mainstreaming introduced and did the form itself affect scholar’s academic rights? (b) Was the process in question compatible [...] Read more.
This article is focused on gender mainstreaming at Swedish universities in the period from 2016–2019. Our research questions are: (a) In what form was gender mainstreaming introduced and did the form itself affect scholar’s academic rights? (b) Was the process in question compatible with international standards of institutional autonomy? (c) What effect did gender mainstreaming have on scholars’ ability to exercise their academic rights in accordance with international standards? Using the UNESCO Recommendations Concerning the Status of Higher-education Teaching Personnel (1997) as our international standard, we conclude that gender mainstreaming was introduced as a form of identity politics though government action and de facto supervision; that the latter was problematic from the perspective of institutional autonomy; that the choice of gender studies as a preferred scientific framework for university policy had a chilling effect on inquiry and free speech in other areas of research; and, finally, that gender mainstreaming led to violations of some scholars’ individual rights. The findings may be taken into account in evaluations of the outcome of gender mainstreaming at Swedish universities, all things considered. Full article
14 pages, 256 KiB  
Article
Narrative Reflections on Masculinity and Fatherhood during Covid-19 Confinement in Spain
by Gustavo González-Calvo
Societies 2020, 10(2), 45; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10020045 - 16 Jun 2020
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 3959
Abstract
This article explores the intersectionalities of masculinity, corporal identity, fatherhood, relationships, and bodily experiences in relation to a person who is living in a period of home confinement. In so doing, I draw on autobiographical narratives to delve into how embodied subjectivities are [...] Read more.
This article explores the intersectionalities of masculinity, corporal identity, fatherhood, relationships, and bodily experiences in relation to a person who is living in a period of home confinement. In so doing, I draw on autobiographical narratives to delve into how embodied subjectivities are constructed to advance knowledge on an embodied way of being a man in the context of a health world crisis. In the telling, I attempt to engage the reader by communicating the subjectivity of different moments in a provocative, fragmented, physical, and emotional manner. The results suggest that narratives, such as those presented in this article, contribute to understanding the continuous process of change of life and body projects due to the health crisis pandemic, and serve as a corporeal resource to challenge some of the (self-)imposed tyrannies around the body. Full article
13 pages, 226 KiB  
Article
Shadow Management: Neoliberalism and the Erosion of Democratic Legitimacy through Ombudsmen with Case Studies from Swedish Higher Education
by Jens Sörensen and Erik J. Olsson
Societies 2020, 10(2), 30; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10020030 - 30 Mar 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 4443
Abstract
We argue that the neoliberal tradition and new public management reforms of the public sector effectively erode the core (liberal) democratic values of the rule of law and transparency. The tension between public law and managerially-influenced governmental policy is in practice resolved by [...] Read more.
We argue that the neoliberal tradition and new public management reforms of the public sector effectively erode the core (liberal) democratic values of the rule of law and transparency. The tension between public law and managerially-influenced governmental policy is in practice resolved by the emergence of what we call “shadow management” in public administration, whereby managerial decisions that clash with constitutional and administrative law are dealt with in internal memos or consultancy reports and hidden from public view. The consequence is a duality in the public sector, which potentially reduces public trust in institutions and undermines their democratic legitimacy. Finally, we argue that when governmental neoliberal policy clashes with legal requirements, the likely effect is that the popular institution of the (governmental or parliamentary) ombudsman, originally introduced for legal supervision over civil servants, takes on the new deceptive role of providing pseudo-legal justification for neoliberal reform, making neoliberalism and ombudsmen a particularly problematic combination from a democratic and legal perspective. We support our contentions by a case study of Swedish higher education and hypothesize that the mechanisms we highlight are general in nature. Full article
14 pages, 267 KiB  
Article
‘You Can’t Say That!’: Critical Thinking, Identity Politics, and the Social Work Academy
by Jane Fenton and Mark Smith
Societies 2019, 9(4), 71; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9040071 - 17 Oct 2019
Cited by 14 | Viewed by 7685
Abstract
Recent years have witnessed an eruption of what have been termed culture wars, often converging around the messier aspects of interpersonal relationships and corresponding identity issues that are complex, sensitive, and contested. These are emotive topics that are often colonised by activist groups, [...] Read more.
Recent years have witnessed an eruption of what have been termed culture wars, often converging around the messier aspects of interpersonal relationships and corresponding identity issues that are complex, sensitive, and contested. These are emotive topics that are often colonised by activist groups, and consequently have become enveloped in particular regimes of truth and assertive identity politics. They are often also, by their nature, the kind of issues that are central to social work practice. This can lead to pressure on social workers and social work students to think that these orthodoxies ought to underpin and define the profession, which in turn can lead to the silencing of alternative opinions and the closing down of dissent. This article seeks to locate identity politics in a political and cultural context. It goes on to set out classic arguments for free speech, viewpoint diversity, and for the need for social work to embrace and engage with such. It explores the notion that the closing down of debate about contentious issues, the disincentives that exist to expressing controversial opinions, and the uncritical adoption of ideological orthodoxies work against the development of the critical thinking skills that are essential for social work practice. Full article
17 pages, 924 KiB  
Article
The Vulnerable Subject
by Stuart Waiton
Societies 2019, 9(3), 66; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9030066 - 17 Sep 2019
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 5217
Abstract
Academic freedom is formally supported but often challenged, through activities like no-platforming and through a sentiment of sensitivity and an understanding that ideas can be harmful. This development is discussed here as a reflection of the rise of the ‘vulnerable subject.’ This paper [...] Read more.
Academic freedom is formally supported but often challenged, through activities like no-platforming and through a sentiment of sensitivity and an understanding that ideas can be harmful. This development is discussed here as a reflection of the rise of the ‘vulnerable subject.’ This paper demonstrates the growing importance of vulnerability as the central human characteristic in (post) modern times and with reference to law and justice practices explains the ‘collapse of the harm principle.’ Developed through Frank Furedi’s theory of diminished subjectivity we will demonstrate the extent to which the vulnerable subject has been institutionalised and adopted as a new (fragmented) norm. Within the framework of diminished subjectivity, the inner logic of vulnerability has a spiralling dynamic—once adopted as a norm, the vulnerable subject’s answer to the question ‘vulnerable to what?’ constantly expands, drawing in ever more areas of life, behaviour, relationships as well as words and ideas into a regulatory framework. Concerns about overcriminalisation are understood here to be a product of this vulnerable subject, something that cannot be resolved at the level of law but must relate to the wider cultural and political sense of human progress and a defence of the robust liberal subject in society. Full article
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24 pages, 353 KiB  
Article
Guidelines for Preventing Child Sexual Abuse and Wrongful Allegations against Staff at Danish Childcare Facilities
by Else-Marie Buch Leander, Karen Pallesgaard Munk and Per Lindsø Larsen
Societies 2019, 9(2), 42; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9020042 - 24 May 2019
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 4889
Abstract
Since the 1980s, the fear of child sexual abuse (CSA) has become a major cultural feature of a large part of the Western world. Internationally, the unintended consequences of the fear surrounding CSA are rarely investigated and doing so is often controversial. The [...] Read more.
Since the 1980s, the fear of child sexual abuse (CSA) has become a major cultural feature of a large part of the Western world. Internationally, the unintended consequences of the fear surrounding CSA are rarely investigated and doing so is often controversial. The purpose of this study was to investigate how this widespread fear of CSA has influenced practices and teacher–child relationships at childcare institutions. This is the first study of Danish childcare facilities’ guidelines for protecting children against CSA, and staff against wrongful allegations of CSA. Examples of such guidelines include staff being forbidden to have children sit on their lap, or male staff being forbidden to change diapers. This mixed methods survey, which involved the participation of 2051 directors and teachers from approximately one-quarter of Danish childcare facilities, showed that the majority of institutions had guidelines that were aimed mostly at protecting staff from wrongful allegations. The study revealed that the guidelines were a sign that male workers were being stigmatized, and that some institutions had discriminatory guidelines that applied exclusively to men. Furthermore, the guidelines conflicted with staff’s trusting relationships with children, and the task of caring for them. Full article

Review

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21 pages, 295 KiB  
Review
Scholarship Suppression: Theoretical Perspectives and Emerging Trends
by Sean T. Stevens, Lee Jussim and Nathan Honeycutt
Societies 2020, 10(4), 82; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10040082 - 27 Oct 2020
Cited by 14 | Viewed by 8078
Abstract
This paper explores the suppression of ideas within an academic scholarship by academics, either by self-suppression or because of the efforts of other academics. Legal, moral, and social issues distinguishing freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, and academic freedom are reviewed. How these [...] Read more.
This paper explores the suppression of ideas within an academic scholarship by academics, either by self-suppression or because of the efforts of other academics. Legal, moral, and social issues distinguishing freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, and academic freedom are reviewed. How these freedoms and protections can come into tension is then explored by an analysis of denunciation mobs that exercise their legal free speech rights to call for punishing scholars who express ideas they disapprove of and condemn. When successful, these efforts, which constitute legally protected speech, will suppress certain ideas. Real-world examples over the past five years of academics that have been sanctioned or terminated for scholarship targeted by a denunciation mob are then explored. Full article

Other

Jump to: Research, Review

19 pages, 265 KiB  
Concept Paper
Disaggregating the Asian “Other”: Heterogeneity and Methodological Issues in Research on Asian Americans with Disabilities
by Rooshey Hasnain, Glenn T. Fujiura, John E. Capua, Tuyen Thi Thanh Bui and Safiy Khan
Societies 2020, 10(3), 58; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10030058 - 28 Jul 2020
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 8478
Abstract
Asian Americans comprise the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the US. Between 2000 and 2019, their numbers almost doubled, from 11.9 million to 22.2 million. The numbers of people with disabilities within this demographically important population, which are also growing, puts [...] Read more.
Asian Americans comprise the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the US. Between 2000 and 2019, their numbers almost doubled, from 11.9 million to 22.2 million. The numbers of people with disabilities within this demographically important population, which are also growing, puts stress on the service delivery sector. This situation indicates a pressing need for research on lived experiences of disabled Asian Americans. A review of the extant literature shows that Asian Americans are underrepresented in the research on disability and/or mental health. This lack of hard data is compounded by the tendency to treat Asian ethnicities as monolithic. The US Census Bureau recognizes more than 20 distinct Asian nationalities, ranging from South Asian Pakistani Americans to Southeast Asian Americans. Aggregating all Asian Americans together in surveys and studies impedes a sophisticated understanding of their unique needs and strengths. From a policy or systems perspective, inadequate data representation in the research literature, including outdated conclusions, is an implicit form of disenfranchisement. This conceptual article examines issues and implications around the lack of systematic attention to diversity within the Asian American population in disability research. Full article
7 pages, 174 KiB  
Concept Paper
The Return of the Clan in Sweden
by Johan Lundberg
Societies 2020, 10(3), 49; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10030049 - 7 Jul 2020
Viewed by 5639
Abstract
This is a conceptual paper which deals with a subject that has been neglected by contemporary Swedish researchers, politicians and journalists: the clan society, which is one of the most common forms of society in the world—from which many of today’s nations seem [...] Read more.
This is a conceptual paper which deals with a subject that has been neglected by contemporary Swedish researchers, politicians and journalists: the clan society, which is one of the most common forms of society in the world—from which many of today’s nations seem to have sprung. The thesis of the essay is that the taboo around the clan issue has meant that we have no capacity to understand foreign policy or integration policy. Full article
10 pages, 273 KiB  
Opinion
Interviewing and Hiring Practices in Brazilian Academia: Proposals Towards Improvement
by Eva O.L. Lantsoght, Miguel Abambres, Tiago Ribeiro and Ana Sousa
Societies 2019, 9(3), 57; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9030057 - 14 Aug 2019
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3034
Abstract
Though Brazilian academia claims equality, the sector has largely been referred to as non-meritocratic, and academic hiring is still inward-oriented. The Lattes platform, a public curricular information system, reflects elements of this protectionism. This article assesses two ‘obsessions’ in Brazilian academia: the ‘mandatory’ [...] Read more.
Though Brazilian academia claims equality, the sector has largely been referred to as non-meritocratic, and academic hiring is still inward-oriented. The Lattes platform, a public curricular information system, reflects elements of this protectionism. This article assesses two ‘obsessions’ in Brazilian academia: the ‘mandatory’ Lattes CV, and the assessment criteria and procedures in public tenders for faculty positions. The current situation is introduced to the reader, and the shortcomings of these methods and their effect on academia in Brazil are analyzed. The following improvements are proposed: (1) evaluations in public tenders based on a candidate’s CV, interview, and a sample lecture, (2) removing the Lattes CV as a mandatory format, and (3) using platforms such as Microsoft Academic, Google Scholar, ORCID or ResearcherID for curricular information. With these recommendations, Brazil can move towards a more open and international-oriented academic hiring system. Full article
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