Looking Back – Looking for an Agenda

April 5th 2011, 7:15 a.m. – a journey beginning: ORK-LHR-WRS

October 1st 2011, 5:15 p.m. – EI 837 arrives at Cork airport, over 4300 hours, about 18,702.72 km, more or less four topics that followed me the way:

(i) the fundamental changes in the economic system which we cannot grasp by simply looking at the current crisis but where we have to think about the fundamental changes of the productive forces (see in this connection also the introductory contribution in: ‘Precarity – More than a Challenge of Social Security. Or: Cynicism of EU’s Concept of Economic Freedom’ (published with Europaeische Hochschulschriften in the series Studies in Comparative Social Pedagogies and International Social Work and Social Policy)

(ii) the connected changes of the socio-political system – in earlier thinking, published in the book New Princedoms (published with Rozenberg I talked tentatively about re-feudalisation (see as well the contribution in the recently published book All the Same – All Being New. Basic Rules of Capitalism in a World of Change (published with Europaeische Hochschulschriften in the series Studies in Comparative Social Pedagogies and International Social Work and Social Policy)

(iii) the linked question of changes of the actual meaning of Human Rights which apparently deserve more thorough consideration in the perspective of the changes of the economic formation, and

(iv) the topic of the role and function of research and education in this context – but the latter more in the search of a responsible undertaking, i.e. the responsibility of researchers as potential contributors to a counter-hegemony. At least few short reflections, looking back at the 4300 hours, may be useful.

First the search for courage. Aren’t we too much complaining, not taking up the opportunities? But it is a much deeper question of course: Aren’t we in our work as academic and also in the work as politicians to much caught in an agenda of different approaches which are glued to the existing societal patterns of fundamentally individualist and capitalist (re)production? There cannot be any doubt that we always have to secure ‘anschlussfaehigkeit’: the ability to connect to existing realities. However, we should not forget with this the need to transcend these conditions, to seriously apply the dialectical principle of preserving what is needed in order to overcome it, developing something fundamentally new. This new has to start from the real understanding of the existing – going beyond the analysis of appearances. And this means not least: going beyond a moral rebuke of individual behaviour.

Second, it is the challenge to think about the reach of the existing patterns. Human Rights and the Social/Welfare State are surely valuable concepts in the development of human kind and the political development. But by simply aiming on their maintenance we easily overlook that they emerged on the basis of restrictive systems. As a kind of last resort of systems that are in their own terms totally self-destructive. This is also true for the capitalist growth model, of which we should know at this stage that the attempts of moving to pre-2007 states are not anything else than determined ways to failure. Even the recent EU-, World Bank, OECD and IMF-outlooks make clear that we arrived at a point of no return. But what they do not show and what unfortunately only few who are seriously looking for alternatives ask is: what are the actual changes of the formation that are taking place. For instance what is the overall meaning of more and more sovereign functions are actually taken over by ‘private capital’ which, however, is not the same as the capital which political economy still considers as ‘entrepreneurial’.

Third, implied is the need to critically reflect on the use of terms as neoliberalism and globalisation, catchy and increasingly empty formula. It is easier, of course, hiding behind them than it is to openly and thoroughly discuss the relevant issues.

This brings me to the fourth point – and the last major stop of my journey: the celebration of the retirement of my colleague and friend Josef Scheipl, now professor emeritus. Although we did not really have much contact over the years it had been sufficient to develop a high appreciation for his approach. Social pedagogue in the best sense, politically engaged and historian. And never isolating the different areas from each other, seeing them as essentially bound together, relational. And most fundamentally, permanently asking questions which he saw as the main task of thorough research. Yes, ASKING QUESTIONS. We should be honest to ourselves: we are in so most of the cases too much engaged in giving answers: in the form of research reports, in form of certificates … – and easily forgetting what research is really about: ASKING QUESTIONS. I am glad that I had been invited to contribute to the Festschrift which had been handed over to him during the ceremony in Graz: Anastasiadis, Maria/Heimgartner, Arno/Kittl-Satran, Helga/Wrentschur, Michael (Eds.): Sozialpädagogisches Wirken; Wien/Berlin: LITVerlag, 2011.

Sure, I didn’t mention many things tag I could enjoy during these over 4300 hours, on the way of about 18,702.72 km. Meeting friends, making new friendships, meeting people who ask, teaching students here and there, contributing to a few conferences, writing and marking the exam papers of students which ‘followed me’: scanned and demanding their right … – and I didn’t mention the joys of answers that had been given at earlier times: Don Giovanni, (a little bit of) studies of arts – continuing something I took up yesteryear in Rome) and nostalgia as the encounter with Maria Farantouri, the meetings in beer gardens, coffee shops, and surely the Simit and Türk kahvesi.

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