"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Monday, March 3, 2014

New Discourses

As I read the first chapter of The New Work Order, I couldn’t help but think of my own workplace. Last class I briefly mentioned my agency is in the process of rebranding its key messaging, which includes mission, vision and core values or, as Gee calls it, a new Discourse. The readings certainly provided a new and more critical way to view this process, but how my agency has gone about the process has been closely aligned with what Champy cites as necessary to “mobilize the business…up down and sideways so that everyone is in the know”(20). To illustrate my point, our new core values were created by inviting a cross-section of staff, part-time direct care workers to meso layer supervisors, to participate in various focus groups. Staff were prompted with a series of questions about working at the agency, and their answers were recorded and analyzed for reoccurring themes (similar to qualitative coding). The themes were then wordsmithed into five concise statements, staying true to only using words articulated in the focus groups. They were then presented to the executive team who enthusiastically gave their stamp of approval. The new values will be rolled out mid-March and include a video about how the values came to be so all staff have the opportunity to know why, how and who crafted them.

 I can see advantages and disadvantages of new capitalism, and I think it’s from experiencing very different situational workplace contexts. Had I read these chapters two years ago when I was teaching for the county, concepts like empowered worker and enchanted workplace would have added to my brewing resentment. As a teacher I rarely felt in-the-know, especially when we were told we had to take on new initiatives without any explanation of their purpose. I remember the new superintendent coming in and making so many changes that left teachers mumbling schools were the new corporate businesses of the world. In the teaching context I never felt authority was redistributed throughout, although I did find some improvement upon entering Adult Ed.

 Regardless, maybe I’m missing something. Is it impossible strike a balance between old and new capitalism? Gee reads like it’s one or the other but I can’t imagine a world that doesn't have some kind of competing values…or change?


  1. I thought of your workplace too! I think what you are doing IS creating a new discourse and there is nothing inherently wrong with that--not everything has ill intentions behind it to make more money, feed into "work hard play hard," etc. If you don't believe capitalism is bad (most of America), you will see a workplace discourse as a positive, as it makes employees more engaged and dedicated to their performance and the mission of the organization.

  2. Melissa makes a good point, and I know that mission statements are an integral part of both workplace Discourse but also of really focusing on what your organization really wants/needs to do. I guess as long as it comes from a place of honesty, maybe those workplace dialogues aren't all bad. I also value the perspective that it depends on your situation, how you view those Discourses: those in a management surely have a different perspective, and the organization you're in likely greatly changes how you feel about those Discourses.

  3. Lindsey, In a way, the process your organization used to gain participation in value setting, was as good as it gets--IF they really listened and allowed input from the staff at all these levels. I am not entirely sure I understand your question about old v. new capitalism. I do think Gee makes too much out of the differences between the older (mostly manufacturing) discourses and the newer ones. And I'm not sure it matters if we judge one "better" than the other, so much as try to get out from under the trance of discourse & common sense to SEE and NAME what is going on. One doesn't have to hate capitalism to do that, right? :)


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.