Dr John Garrick is a Senior Researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia and the author of ‘Informal Learning in the Workplace: Unmasking Human Resource Development’. He is also co-editor of several recent books on knowledge construction, learning in the workplace and innovative approaches to research.Professor Robin Usher is Senior Policy Advisor (Postgraduate Education) and Chair of the Research and Graduate Studies Committee in the Office of the Pro Vice-chancellor (Research and Development), RMIT University Melbourne, Australia and the author of several influential books on postmodernism, research methodology and the impact of new modes of knowledge on the university.
In this paper we explore the interlocking discourses around becoming 'flexible' at work, in particular the significations accorded to 'flexible learning'. In postmodern times, flexibility has become a key aspect of the cultural climate and a key metaphor shaping several mutually dependent discourses. This has affected the way 'learning' has been constructed and perceived in workplaces and organizations. Knowledge increasingly has become commodified as part of employees' human capital. This capital is often described as 'intangible assets' to be deployed for the generation of profit margins. From this perspective, employees need to adapt to rapidly changing workplaces and environmental conditions in flexible ways. At the heart of our argument, which draws on Foucault's (1982) ideas about the subject and power, is a concern that a seldom surfaced 'curriculum' exists in flexible learning: that the knowledge and identity of employees is constructed in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways that align individual aspirations with organizational goals. In this alignment, flexible learning is both performative and functions as a means of surveillance. Employees are, at the same time, both active learners and self-regulating subjects, increasingly confronted with the need to become 'enterprising selves'.
‘Flexibility’ has become a key metaphor potently vivifying a variety of contemporary life discourses. As capital becomes more globalised and national economies increasingly integrated on a global basis, flexibility becomes both a key goal in, and a means of, maintaining and increasing economic competitiveness. Organizations are expected to respond flexibly and rapidly to market changes and a premium is now placed on the need for flexibility not only within workplaces but also between them. Within this context are located interlinking discourses of flexible organizations, flexible workers and a consequent perceived need amongst managers (at a range of levels) for flexible structures, modes and contents of learning to service these organizations and workers.
Given this context, flexible learning can be seen as both a condition of and contributor to changes in the social and economic division of labour, the organization and management of work and production, and the management of workplace culture. Flexible learning is also, from an educational perspective, about the appropriate provisions required to meet such changes. Traditional knowledge canons and pedagogics are increasingly seen as inflexible, challenged and displaced by more flexible contents and modes of learning regarded as more congruent with the flexibility in labour processes, markets, products and patterns of consumption that characterise post-Fordist processes of flexible capital accumulation. All this has contributed to accelerating the breakdown of the university’s monopoly of knowledge legitimation and to a developing consciousness that the university is no longer the only or principal site in which ‘valid’ learning occurs.
As well as socio-economic and technological changes, the significance of changes in the cultural climate are an important means of understanding the contemporary workplace. These latter, to a large extent, are both the cause and outcome of postmodernism as a generalised social consciousness that involves the undermining of foundations, centres of authority and canonical knowledge and more decentred forms of social and economic organization (Lemert 1997). This has contributed to an acute consciousness of change, stimulation of diversity and difference and a consequent need to be ‘flexible’. The message now is that we all need to be adaptable in uncertain and troubled times.
This simultaneous, continuous and rapid change—in both the higher education sector and in contemporary workplaces (themselves now recognised as sites of learning and knowledge production)—is both an outcome and a reinforcement of a perceived urgency for continuous adaptation and flexible approaches to learning. Emerging in several OECD nations including the UK and Australia are university led work-based learning awards. These award programs can be aptly understood as an instance of flexible learning, characteristic of a contemporary situation that increasingly and significantly privileges ‘learning’ as the term preferred over ‘education’. This is manifesting not only flexibility in learning but also a flexibility of learning. What we mean here is that there is flexibility in terms both of what is learnt and how it is learnt. This entails a reconfiguration of traditional educational principles of disciplines-based curricula, canonical texts, courses with fixed beginnings and ends, and face-to-face teaching.
There is however another different but related signification of flexible learning which we want to examine. This is the sense of ‘learning flexibility’ that points to a ‘hidden curriculum’ that accompanies flexible learning. We will argue that this hidden curriculum concerns the management of subjectivity in the workplace that is now seen as a site of learning. Contemporary workplaces are often sites not only of new forms of organising production and work management, but also sites for shaping the subjectivity of employees—with learning a key ‘technology’ for its accomplishment and where learning involves the management of ‘intellectual’ capital.
Recently, strong attention has been paid to ‘knowledge management’ and the management of ‘intellectual capital’ through capacity-building (see Drucker 1995; Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995; Edvinnson & Malone 1997; Marsick and Watkins 1999). This interest largely comes out of human resource management and development (HRM and HRD) discourses that foreground the tangible outcomes of the organization as a learning organization. These discourses frame the term ‘intellectual’ in particular ways that are directly connected to the interest of flexible capital accumulation. Through this connection, ‘knowledge’ can be commodified as a product or factor of production. Marsick and Watkins (1999: 207) who are advocates of human capital theory put it this way: ‘the creation and management of knowledge within the system, and its contribution to knowledge outcomes are captured through the idea of intellectual capital.’
The idea of intellectual capital in organizational contexts is directly connected to the assumption that to prosper, companies will have to draw on all their resources including those of a more ‘intellectual’ kind such as language abilities, numerical and logical skills, knowledge of organizational culture as well as technical know-how. Marsick and Watkins assert that the naming and measuring of ‘intellectual capital’ emerged out of a dissatisfaction with conventional economic measures of value, for instance, the (over)reliance on financially based instruments for assessing the merits of training and development. American and European companies are now increasingly asking questions about whether training and development should be treated as capital expenditure or as corporate overheads. For such organizations, intellectual capital is currently perceived as the tangible product of knowledge where what is involved are both knowledge creation and its management within the system. Modern times seem to demand nothing less!
Marsick and Watkins (1999), Nonaka & Takeuchi (1995) and Edvinnson & Malone (1997) all argue that many assets brought to today’s post-industrial organization are ‘intangibles’. These result from the knowledge of personnel, or systems and products they create. In the industrial era, intangibles were identified as ‘good will’. But in today’s knowledge era, intellectual capital has three capital components: human, structural and customer (Marsick and Watkins 1999: 208). In these respects, intellectual capital is transdisciplinary in nature and involves employees interacting with diverse players within and across organizations (capacity-building), consultancies, think-tanks and action research and flexible learning processes such as on-line, distance or work-based learning. The role of ‘knowledge management’ is becoming a critical issue in post- industrial workplaces. Learning at work, when viewed through this theoretical lens assumes a new meaning, intimately linked to organizational goals and interests. ‘Learning’ is reinscribed as a core component of intellectual capital—directly related to an organization’s ‘knowledge products’. The integration of learning into all aspects of the organization’s business in this way becomes almost complete. Almost. But one of the decisive properties of contemporary organizations (in contrast to, for instance, medieval guilds) is that membership need not be all-embracing. Individuals can be members of different organizations (and are often encouraged by their workplaces to ‘network’ in this way). They can even be members of contradictory organizations at the same time such as belonging to a large-scale mining or construction company and at the same time an environmental protection group. Individuals will invariably distinguish between their roles as a member of a certain organization from other roles they perform. But what we are suggesting is that organizations do continue to exert powerful influences over employee subjectivity. As an illustration of how this happens, we draw on one of the more influential contemporary management/accounting texts The Balanced Scorecard (Kaplan and Norton, 1996).
Kaplan and Norton cite examples of management in a range of corporations that are actively seeking to improve asset utilisation by incorporating knowledge creation and exchange as part of their mission. For these writers, this means ‘a reduction in cash-to-cash cycles of investment in physical capital... in favour of investments in intellectual and human capital such as skilled technologists, data bases, and customer-knowledgeable personnel’ (Kaplan and Norton, 1996: 59). Within this discourse, the ‘intellectual’ capital of employees is constructed in a very specific way whereby their intellectual and human capabilities are integrated with organizational objectives. The most desirable results are constituted in terms of profit margins or observable (measurable) outcomes—‘financial objectives represent the long-term goal of the organization: to provide superior returns based on the capital invested in the unit’ (ibid: 61). Here, the measurement approach which remains popular is that of ‘the balanced scorecard’ which aims to make financial objectives explicit by adding return on knowledge assets to the traditional return on financial assets in the organization’s yearly accounting metrics (Kaplan and Norton, 1996).
Although there are great difficulties in measuring intellectual capital, it is nevertheless a very popular concept in organizational management. It is not new, however, but enshrined in concepts that are being re-packaged. This re-packaging is part of a theorisation which can be used to prepare a work environment for workplace re-structuring, the re-engineering of worker functions—so that they perform in flexible, new and innovative ways. Our argument is that employees are required to be flexible in that they are continually presented with the need to learn about something new and then incorporate it into their work. Whilst there is nothing particularly new about the place of ‘learning’ in the workplace, what is new is the way it is being highlighted. Contemporary workplace rhetoric is acknowledging the strategic importance of learning. Indeed, to an extent, the meaning of the rhetoric in the significations of flexible learning is powerful in linking the notions of lifelong learning with that of flexible work.
Preparation for and participation in contemporary work now requires greater flexibility, responsiveness and pragmatism. The workplace is now a context where rapid and continuous change is the norm and even the highly skilled and the highly trained may have to discard ‘knowledge’ they already have and adopt new ways of working. Furthermore, there is an implicit managerial expectation that employees will always avail themselves of all opportunities to develop themselves; with the implication that if they do not, they will have to accept responsibility for their own professional demise. The very notion of continuous, lifelong learning marks the intersection of ‘intellectual capital’ with human resource management theory, organizational development and accounting practices.
Against this backdrop, ‘capacity-building’ approaches that develop and manage intellectual capital become increasingly important and significant. Capacity-building is a concept connected with the adoption of market principles in both public and private sectors, bringing with it a ‘new’ language of ‘partnerships’, flexible learning and integrated training. The language of ‘capacity-building’ incorporates investment in social, human capital, flexible and innovative problem solving and continuous reciprocal transfer of knowledge between structures. Capacity-building is currently being promoted at the level of a conceptual strategy in a range of government enterprises and private sector companies. Indeed, one’s current opposition may well be one’s partner tomorrow!
Unlike earlier approaches to training and ‘competency-based’ approaches to learning, the emerging corporate emphasis is on ‘capability’ — which focuses on the ways that employees need to think and how they need to be in the world. The rationale is that in order to perform in the required ways in the contemporary workplace employees have to re-conceptualise not only their tasks and roles, but also themselves—their identity and subjectivity. Capacity-building is thus about developing a workforce of ‘enterprising selves’ with capabilities that enable them to successfully engage with the unpredictability of the market-place. The idea of using embedded work-based learning rather than more conventional ‘formal’ education driven by pre-set curricula is, in part, designed to do precisely this.
With employees increasingly having to cross traditional professional and disciplinary knowledge boundaries, and mobilise resources rapidly to function effectively, unprecedented opportunities are also opened. Individual career pathways and professional identities become open to multiple possibilities. Employees become active subjects, working within and against the tensions that permeate contemporary workplaces. For instance, capacity-building can focus on work roles, with the aim of conceptually ‘freeing’ them up. But in so doing conflicts will invariably arise that can be framed as ‘barriers’ which, in turn, are addressed through training, ‘skill development’ and ‘learning’. Working in the new ways, partnerships and alliances demands no less.
The new partnering/team approaches, characteristic of many of today’s so-called ‘learning organizations’, also require that conflicts be re-defined, with employees mobilised to be strategic problem solvers who are more directly responsible for achieving the desired outcomes – hence the emphasis on enterprising selves. Such re-defining contains potential for significant benefits for both employees and organizations, with the former actively encouraged to learn through solving problems at grass-roots or shop-floor levels. But this is of course not unproblematic. The nature of knowledge is being transformed in the process and worker identities are being reshaped. Getting employees to make sense of the contradictions and tensions that permeate workplaces and to ‘fix’ them is an element in current ways of ‘managing’ knowledge and intellectual capital.
The emerging discourse of ‘capacity-building’ then is intended to help in the management of intellectual capital. By drawing on the theories of Michel Foucault (1982) here, we see that ‘capacity-building’ is not simply a more rational, objective process of adjustment to conditions of rapid economic and social change. Rather, it is a technology of power that deploys certain kinds of communication processes and workplace relationships. Fuelling institutional and work based power relations are the interconnected discourses that circulate around the management of ‘intellectual’ capital: learning organizations, flexible learning, human and cultural capital, productive diversity and now capacity-building. Within and through these discourses is a managerial reinscription of the term ‘intellectual’. It signifies a pragmatic form of ‘working knowledge’ that is now in demand and ‘knowledge workers’ who are required to help organizations meet contemporary market challenges—and the subsequent demands for new forms of ‘capacity-building’. In turn, universities, in flexible mode as a response to this are now offering suites of ‘trans-disciplinary’ work-based learning programs.
The incorporation of work-based learning into university education is, in part, a response to the onset of ‘economic rationalism’ and the privileged place accorded to the market in the changing conceptions throughout society about the roles of universities. These changes have created a situation where higher education today is marked by decreased funding, lack of political support, and a public suspicious of and ambivalent towards academic institutions (Senge and Kim 1997). The arrival of the so-called ‘knowledge era’ thus presents a new set of hopes and challenges. Coffield & Williamson (1997) argue that one hope for the continued viability of university education lies in the philosophic approaches aimed at increasing the facilitation of lifelong learning, as knowledge-based societies become the norm. The idea of complete work-based qualifications rests heavily on this expectation. It should be noted, however, that universities are not simply passive recipients of ‘industry demands’, they are also agents for change. Flexible and work-based learning programs have been presented as a response to the rapid economic and social changes occurring in our postmodern world—as one way of assisting in the corporate management of working knowledge, intellectual capital, the building of new capacities and, simultaneously, flexible employees.
At this point we can begin to make some connections between the contemporary management of subjectivity in the workplace and the development of work-based learning programs which may be viewed as a distinct form of flexible learning. One way in which to understand work based learning is as a technology through which selves become enterprising, seeking betterment and fulfilment in the work context in ways that can be both personally and organizationally effective. Work-based learning therefore becomes an indicator both of successful self-management and a culturally sanctioned way in which employees in restructured workplaces can make a ‘project of themselves’ and at the same time add value to the organization.
The growth in significance of such programs is a mark of the now increasingly acceptable notion that learning is not a function purely of location in an institutional site of education. Work- based learning is not an ‘education’ in any traditional pedagogical and curricula sense. The university literally comes to the workplace with employees becoming ‘participants’—but located in that work site and perhaps never going anywhere near a university location. This, therefore, is an education ‘located’ both in a physical and a curricular sense, in the workplace. Work, rather than disciplinary knowledge, becomes the curriculum shaping the learning program, with the goal of studies becoming the development of the skills and knowledge required for successful performance in the workplace. These skills and knowledge are, in turn, regarded as flexible both in terms of their content and mode of acquisition.
As Barnett (1999) points out, the recognition that learning can take place at work, and workplace based knowledge is ‘legitimate’, signals a shift from a valorization of theoretical (disciplinary) knowledge to problem-based ‘know-how’. In this shift, the latter is now accepted not simply as informal, but as legitimate knowledge that can therefore be accredited (Garrick 1998). This kind of knowledge is characterised by learning outcomes that are performance- rather than time- and discipline-related, with pedagogy becoming more experiential and situationally-specific, and content flowing from productivity and work requirements rather than ‘subjects’ or disciplines. Here we can also note the argument about new modes of knowledge production put forward by Gibbons et al (1994). They distinguish between two modes of knowledge production: Mode 1 and Mode 2, with the former producing culturally concentrated knowledge and the latter socially distributed knowledge.
Mode 1 knowledge production comes from a disciplinary community and its outcomes are those intellectual products produced and consumed inside traditional research-oriented universities. Although Mode 2 is not exactly a new way of producing knowledge, it is according to Gibbons et al becoming increasingly prevalent and is taking its place in significance alongside the traditional and hitherto dominant Mode 1. Mode 2 knowledge production is characterised by being produced in the context of application—it has to be ‘performative’ in a contemporary situation where the sources of supply and demand for different forms of specialised knowledge are diverse and where the market process defines contexts of application. Furthermore, it is heterogeneous in terms of the skills deployed, transdisciplinary in the sense that it cuts across conventional disciplinary structures, and is located in a multiplicity and diversity of sites.
The emphasis on the context of use or application means that knowledge both arises from and is in the service of the problem-solving required in that specific context. Mode 2 can thus be seen as producing knowledge that can be understood as ‘flexible’ in the sense that it is problem-solving in form and orientation, specific to the context of application (the next problem will be different because the context will be different), transient and readily commodified. The legitimacy of this kind of knowledge is not determined by the academy but by a wider set of criteria than those defined by the interests of a discipline and its gatekeepers since social, economic and political criteria also come into play. Such criteria are precisely the features that are absent (at least at the visible level) in Mode 1 type knowledge.
The moves towards mass higher education, with consequent increases in the output of graduates, have led to more and more people becoming familiar with and competent in knowledge production processes—it is no longer an activity that a select group of academics can reserve for themselves. With the parallel growth of ‘knowledge’ industries many now work in ways which incorporate a knowledge production and knowledge manipulation dimension but where the worksite is no longer the university. This in itself creates a demand for learning—for new and updated skills and knowledge—related to the worksite and flexibly provided.
As we have noted in the earlier discussion of intellectual capital, globalisation and flexible capital accumulation depend upon the ability of the workforce to quite rapidly reconfigure and deploy knowledge. From the viewpoint of organizational policy and practice, flexible work-based and on-line learning offer advantages in this environment. For instance, in globalised conditions and with highly competitive markets, organizations regard the capabilities of labour to process information and generate socially distributed knowledge as the most vital source of productivity. Moreover, the knowledge required is one that has to be ‘flexible’ in the sense of relevant, readily available and accessible. Furthermore, in the contemporary environment, technological innovation becomes the key to keeping ahead—and technological innovation requires new and specialised knowledge, flexibly derived and flexibly applied. The kind of knowledge needed to keep ahead is located in Mode 2 knowledge production, a knowledge geared to the identification and solution of specific work-related problems. The demand for this knowledge also requires the sophisticated means of communication provided by sophisticated communication technologies. The new information technology, with its associated computer- mediated communication and global scope, provides the means for the necessary and quick access to know-how and knowledge production—which itself is now global.
All this is both a response and a contributor to a perceived need for that which we have already noted in our earlier discussion of intellectual capital and capacity-building—a ‘knowledgeable’ workforce, with well-developed re-skilling and relearning capacities that is now considered necessary for high productivity and flexible niche production. In post-Fordist work environments, fixed hierarchies, direct supervision and repetitive tasks (requiring routinised skills) are seen as unproductive and inefficient. These are viewed as needing to be replaced by teamwork, self-management and higher-order generic capabilities that can work with Mode 2 type knowledge in an information and communication technology-rich environment. Such capabilities most certainly require an ‘educated’ work-force, whereby ‘education’ encompasses not only the learning of skills but the learning of ‘right’ attitudes, dispositions and inclinations. ‘Right’ in this context is invariably connected to being ‘flexible’. We shall say more about this latter point later in the paper.
The instrumentality and ‘relevance’ of work-based learning is meant to ensure that what is learnt by the employee is valuable to both themselves and is ‘value adding’ to the organization in direct and tangible ways. With the replacement of what constitutes legitimate knowledge shifting from that constituted by disciplines (and therefore outside the control of the organization—culturally concentrated knowledge), to that constituted by performance agreements and production requirements (and therefore within its control—socially distributed knowledge), the organization can also ensure that the ‘right’ things are learnt and that they retain a considerable degree of control of the learning process. This control is effected by having clear, concise and consistent measures of what is being learnt and how it is being learnt. In turn this is reinforced by the significant dependence of work based learning assessments on pre-determined capability matrices or industry set competencies. It is worth noting here that there is a paradox in this dependence on pre-set and thus apparently inflexible learning outcomes.
For those interested in promoting ‘learning opportunities’ for employees, the developments we have described can mean a flexible ‘education’. This can comprise a flexibility in the mode of learning (certainly in comparison to campus-based university delivery) and a flexibility of content in so far as the latter is not tied to the learning of discipline-bounded knowledge. These new forms of ‘flexibility’ have the potential of making studies appear relevant and authentic—more closely related to their workplace needs and situation—and ‘empowering’ in ways that enables employees to feel more skilled, knowledgeable, autonomous and self-directing. They may indeed see themselves as better workers and better selves, simultaneously helping their organizations and themselves in their current and future work.
There are however some highly problematic features in this situation. For one thing, these developments make possible an increased potential for surveillance and regulation. Work-based learning programs can be seen not simply as empowerment, but perhaps more as a form of ‘seduction’ at work and by work—a seduction through ‘empowerment’. One consequence of this is that issues of power and ‘discipline’ (in the sense both of control of bodies and of bodies of knowledge) no longer seem so visible and relevant although it would be a mistake to assume from this that they have disappeared or are irrelevant.
Our argument then is that there are panoptic characteristics to the new ‘flexible’ learning. However, it would be simplistic to see the role of work-based learning programs purely as an instrument of oppression or manipulation on the part of management. The partnership of organizations and higher education institutions make this a complex and tension-filled form of new-age education, empowerment coupled with surveillance and regulation, and with subjects who are simultaneously active and shaped. Both the university and the workplace ‘speak’ in terms of power-knowledge discourses which, in the context of the practices of flexible and work-based learning programs, are sometimes congruent but often are not. Hence the shaping of subjectivity is a fraught, tension-filled and often contradictory process.
The shaping of subjectivity in the workplace is intimately linked to concepts and practices of lifelong learning through the way these foreground the positive relationship of learning to change and development at both organizational and individual levels. As Garrick and Rhodes (1998) point out learning has now become a technology of success. Discourses of workplace reform and human resource development (HRD) when coupled with notions of ‘the learning organization’ can themselves be read as ‘technologies’ in that they construct lifelong learning as a means for both employees and organizations to remain competitive and sustain themselves in changing and risky times.
Many commentators (Du Gay 1996; Rose 1989 and 1996; Miller and Rose 1990) have emphasised how post-Fordist re-structurings of the workplace have created a need for employees who can be self-developing, self-motivating and self-regulating. The management of subjectivity is now more than ever before the central task for organizations with employees actively wanting, thinking, feeling, doing and being and whose personal objectives are congruent with the objectives of the organization. A ‘good’ employee is one who will continually adapt to its changing needs—and who therefore is sufficiently flexible with the capability to regulate themselves. Employees are constructed both as active learners and as self-regulating subjects—each the condition of the other and always found together.
Here we are reminded again of Foucault (1977; 1980) who spoke of contemporary governmentality as a disciplining into a freely accepted particular form of life where subjectivity is shaped through the ‘educating’ or ‘teaching’ of individuals who would otherwise remain unorganised, or inappropriately organised, and therefore economically unproductive. It is in this way that learning becomes a technology of success. Both in its broadest sense and through a particular concrete form such as flexible learning, learning becomes the preferred means both of empowerment and regulation in a culture with values that frown on disciplining through force or coercion. Rose (1989) argues that governmentality in the contemporary workplace involves a non-coercive ‘pastoral’ power that works through infiltrating regulation into the very interior of the experience of subjects—a process that involves subjects ‘educating’ themselves into accepting, valuing and working to achieve a congruence of personal and organizational objectives.
The key thing here is the very stimulation of subjectivity, with its knowing and managing of the self, its emphasis on self-originating self-change. What emerges from this stimulation is not a ‘totally determined’ person, but a contingent subjectivity—one that is always contested and always ‘in process’. It is our argument that it is the very stimulation of subjectivity that creates subjects who will seek to maximise their capacities in the workplace and with dispositions appropriate to maximising productivity. This stimulation shapes employees as subjects free to choose, who consider their lives worthwhile to the extent that they can choose that which makes for self-enhancement and self-realisation—in other words, who are active subjects – who are:
subjects of autonomy equipped with a psychology aspiring to self-fulfilment and actually or potentially running their lives as a kind of enterprise of themselves (Rose 1996: 139).
What is constructed therefore, is an enterprising relationship to the self, with the development of qualities of autonomy, self-management and personal responsibility. Through the managerial discourse of ‘excellence’, technologies of work (power) and technologies of the self (subjectivity) become aligned with technologies of success (motivation and enterprise) such that ... ‘the government of work now passes through the psychological strivings of each and every individual for self-fulfilment’ (Miller and Rose 1990: 27). It is in this way that the discourse of excellence links and aligns the organizationally desirable—more productivity, flexible working, increased efficiency and profitability—with the personally desirable (greater self-fulfilment).
Here we also wish to emphasise the significance of ‘culture’ in contemporary discourses and practices of workplace restructuring and reform. Culture, along with and indeed linked to subjectivity, now occupies a central place It is seen as structuring the way employees think, make decisions and act on them and as the source of norms, attitudes and values - the patterns of meaning, understandings and beliefs through which they construct their experience and forge a sense of identity. This emphasis on organizational culture is the way in which subjectivity is foregrounded and stimulated—culture itself now being seen as a crucial determinant of organizational success and thus an ‘object’ to be developed and shaped in the workplace (du Gay 1996). Through working on organizational culture, the discourses and practices of workplace reform have restructured the workplace with the aim of making work more subjectively meaningful and more personally fulfilling—as a source of identity, an aspect of which is to construct the self as a source of learning, meaningful and essential to self-fulfilment. Restructuring centred on cultural change and the development of a ‘learning organization’ therefore becomes a way of effectively shaping a self- managing subjectivity in the condition of post-Fordist flexible modernisation or ‘dislocated’ capitalism that characterises postmodernity.
As we have argued, discourses of workplace reform and the practices of workplace learning have significantly contributed to bringing together the personal and the organizational in such a way that individual employees associate their own development with the goals of the organization. The key to this identification and the self-regulation which it simultaneously enables is that of ‘flexibility’. This then is the wider sense of ‘flexible learning’, the sense of learning flexibility mentioned at the beginning of this paper—a sense that foregrounds the ‘unspoken’ dimension of learning in the workplace, a hidden curriculum where what is learnt is flexibility itself—a set of values and attitudes which stress adaptability, continual modification and an acceptance of fluidity and uncertainty as a permanent condition of subjectivity.
There is, however, another aspect to learning flexibility. We have so far spoken of flexibility in the workplace in terms of a way of learning that is both responsive to the particular and diverse needs and contexts of employees as learners and takes their work situation as the curriculum. We have also argued that there is another curriculum at work, one concerned with the learning of flexibility and the self-regulation that this enables in the shaping of subjectivity. Earlier we began to discuss the role and place of universities in this. We want to end this paper by arguing that universities are themselves being forced to be flexible. Their responses thus far vary enormously in terms of the significance each accords to non-disciplinary forms of knowledge.
Universities, for financial, managerial and educational reasons, are increasingly engaging in collaborative arrangements with non-educational organizations in both public and private sectors—a trend that is now increasing with the significance of Mode 2 type knowledge and the legitimacy increasingly accorded to it. In this situation, universities have been forced to find new and different ways of legitimating knowledge and accrediting new types and sources of learning. They too have to act flexibly particularly in the context of accrediting work-based learning programs where traditional categories and classifications based on the authority of disciplines and disciplinary communities no longer seem so relevant. Furthermore what accompanies this move towards the ‘flexible’ university that provides ‘flexible’ learning is the pressure on academics to themselves learn flexibility—to become flexible.
The university is, and is finally recognising itself as, a workplace in its own right. As with most contemporary workplaces, what takes place there is a shaping of subjectivity—a shaping which simultaneously produces both active and self-regulating subjects. Of course, the shaping of the subjectivity of academics is nothing new but what is new is the form this is now taking. In learning flexibility, academics are coming to recognise that they will not be the sole determiners of curriculum content nor delivery. Campus-based teaching may possibly become largely superseded and university curricula will need to encompass a range of approaches to suit a diversity of learners. Disciplinary boundaries seem to no longer have the defining power they once did, membership of a disciplinary community no longer quite so significant. Now whilst this does involve learning flexibility in very specific ways, it is also worth noting that academics, like other contemporary workers are also subject to the kind of ‘hidden curriculum’ we have discussed. Flexible learning has its effects on those who purvey it as well as those who receive it (or do it). Academics too are having to become enterprising selves both within and against the new and influential discourses of flexible learning.
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