Revisiting Dearing: Higher Education and the Construction of the ’Belabored’ Self
Keywords:Higher education, lifelong learning, learning society, Dearing Report, therapeutic education, belabored self, diminished self
Several authors have identified a ’therapeutic turn’ in education in the UK, at all levels of the system. In this paper I focus on and develop this claim, specifically in relation to the Higher Education sector. I seek to do two things: First, I argue that the ‘self’ which is identified by commentators on the therapeutic turn needs to be reworked in the direction of McGee’s idea of the ’belabored’ self. This is because the therapeutic turn serves, I argue, a set of wider economic goals arising from the restructuring of capitalism which followed in the wake of the oil crisis of 1973 and the subsequent breakdown of the post-war (1939-1945) consensus around the purpose of public policy, of which education is an important part. Second, I revisit an important document in the history of the UK Higher Education sector: the National Committee of Inquiry Into Higher Education’s 1997 report Higher Education In The Learning Society (known popularly as the Dearing Report, after its chair, Sir Ron Dearing). I argue that that the committee’s ambition to bring about a learning society characterised by lifelong learning played an important and neglected part in bringing about the therapeutic turn in higher education in the UK. The project of creating a learning society characterised by lifelong learning, advocated by the Dearing Report, should properly be recognised as an exhortation to embark upon a lifetime of labouring upon the self.
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