Details

or leaving me aside. Leaving me aside – my excitement when experiencing Russian history n a nutshell, really compressed in a short paragraph, a long sentence if you want: Compressed to the imagination of walking along the Nevsky Prospect on the pavement of which once Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin walked …., a Zeitgeist that drove Fjodor Michajlovitsj Dostojevski to gambling; allowing me now to think in similarly eccentric ways as Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy did, when he may have visited this city that has now the name Saint Petersburg; thinking about the greatness of Peter and the likes who, when time matured had been dwarfs standing in the way of the largess of a new society which chased them away, following the call coming from the Aurora and standing at the beginning of conquering the Winter Palace – the storm that later still required The Mother taking rigorous steps, standing up when she had been called.

Details are often forgotten while looking at the large picture. Or is it more that we are blinded by some grandeur?
There are surely the great politicians, the large lines and also the large crimes. And even if one should be careful with premature joys or anger, one should not take the required circumspection as an excuse for holding back with political judgement. And this is a matter of current governments here (yes: HERE) and there (for instance the ridiculous sentence for Berlusconi and the reduction of even this modest conviction. Nevertheless, leaving this major lines aside, looking at something that is more hidden it is sometimes the really small things that make huge differences.
When I went  he other day by train with Viacheslav to Petersburg – and while we had been comfortably sitting in the fast train, we had been chatting with Natasha (who is Natasha  – It could be a long story now like the many stories usually told from the transsib, even if the train trip took definitely much less time than one of those famous (or infamous?) trips in the “old times”. At some some stage we talked, of course, also about politics – Natasha recalled pre-Perestroika-times (“What are you talking about? When was that?” Viachselav intervened, half jokingly). The woman continued undeterred, though with a little smile:

You know, those times, before Gorbachev. We had been … – we. You,

she pointed on me, as on somebody coming from another world, the world of old capitalism

you start you sentence with I. And you write it with a capital letter, even in the middle of the sentence. it had been different here. It had been about us, about we …

Viacheslav intervened:

Peter knows. He studied also in

Looking at me I helped:

Leipzig – when it still had been in the GDR, although the Campus had been near Berlin.

Yes, the times and the circumstances had been different. But there seems to be more to it. One could speculate about this “it” constituting the we and the I … – and as much as times and circumstances matter, something seems to be still alive here where pure capitalism is on the advance to complete final victory. I thought about this “we” the evening when visiting with Viacheslav and Olesya the Mariinsky theatre, enjoying Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila … – in the program brochure so many details had been listed, the soli in the orchestra even if they seemed to play a minor role. It seems to be a paradox: but here, where it is still about a “we-society”, the I becomes much more important than in societies that pretend individuality and can only do so by limiting it to a sole mate, who has lost the soul.
And in actual fact, the detail gains grandeur when being really part of the we. – And history is a little bit like a love story – a love story being felt like the “story line of history” …

Annunci

children’s rights – ignorance or weakness?

Travelling over the last years, I felt here and there a bit ashamed – not because of hearing so bad things about the country. On the contrary, because of the praise I heard. First, it had been because of the celebrated bedside rug which, though from beginning outstretched on the floor pretended to be a tiger. Then, after the final total K.O. of the cat, because

…”Well, you Irish are so self-controlled, so disciplined when it comes to bearing the consequences of the crisis. No useless protests, just carrying on …”

I frequently said I am not too much friend of these attributions: ‘the Irish’, ‘the French’, ‘The Germans’ – dolce vita cannot only be found in bella Italia and the Greek police forces and their (para-)military helpers showed recently how much they are favouring law and order, probably doing better than the home-country of the high-ranking German visitor, Mrs Merkel.
Still, not being friend does not mean one can push such attributions easily away. At times it comes to my mind too: “we Irish”: first pushing the child into the well …, then shedding crocodile’s tears and finally coming up with an attempt to save the child from definite decease.
And as much as this is the pattern underlying the approach to the economy – actually since the 1950s (see the working paper Tíogar Ceilteach – An Enlargement Country of the 1970s as Showcase? in the series of William-Thomposon Working Papers) – it has found a new field of showing evidence, now actually literally dealing with children. All is about a referendum, scheduled for november now. The Taioseach (Irish Primeminister) bravely stepping forward, overcoming his apparent usual schizophrenia by uniting now the two souls:

As Taoiseach and as father I’m asking people to vote yes

Good boy – …good man, I should say and could add: a real politician, not just like the official administrator we know from Max Weber as being characterised by

Sine Ira et Studio

Rather, the real politican, engaged with all fibres of his body and soul. Well done, right? And we may wish to see more in this.

And although I try to be optimist a but asks for being allowed to enter the debate – it is not about “but don’t vote in favour of these rights as they are suggested with the change. It is more about the question

But why are you not really serious when it comes to children’s rights?

Let us have a brief look at the text of the Proposed New Article 42A – I saw it first here in the journal. And it reads as follows:

Children

1. The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.

2. 1° In exceptional cases, where the parents, regardless of their marital status, fail in their duty towards their children to such extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected, the State as guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means as provided by law, endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

2° Provision shall be made by law for the adoption of any child where the parents have failed for such a period of time as may be prescribed by law in their duty towards the child and where the best interests of the child so require.

3. Provision shall be made by law for the voluntary placement for adoption and the adoption of any child.

4. 1° Provision shall be made by law that in the resolution of all proceedings –

i brought by the State, as guardian of the common good, for the purpose of preventing the safety and welfare of any child from being prejudicially affected, or

ii concerning the adoption, guardianship or custody of, or access to, any child, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.

2° Provision shall be made by law for securing, as far as practicable, that in all proceedings referred to in subsection 1° of this section in respect of any child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the views of the child shall be ascertained and given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child.

And it found positive feedback from here and there. Apparently a broad consensus  – and that is good so. But I am wondering if we would find this consensus also in case of taking things serious, not looking at the corpses but looking for, i.e. in favour of the living. The state should work towards conditions and their legal anchoring that allow children to develop freely under conditions of respect and equality. – Interestingly, the article mentioned first, making reference to experts, does not refer to children.

Having said before ‘The state should work towards conditions and their legal anchoring that allow children to develop freely under conditions of respect and equality’, means we have to look for a society that is not about

Work. Consume. Be Silent. Die.

as I saw it recently on a website, dealing with a young man who committed suicide.
This person made a choice – a tragic choice. But as tragic and individual, not to say lonely as this choice had been, one sentence on the website shocked me more than the decision itself. The sentence:

Es hat den Anschein, als würde man die gesamte Sozialpolitik in die private Verantwortlichkeit von Individuen verrücken.

or in my translation

It seems that the entire social policy would be shifted to the private realm of individuals.

It is exactly this what moral approaches to social policy frequently forget. It is exactly this what heads who claim to support social rights forget when they reduce these rights on the level of protection, forgetting the more fundamental issue:

Rights are fundamental and need to be defined in a perspective of social quality. They have to be defined as rights for everybody, from the very beginning rather than for the drowning child.

And of course, this goes back to the debate on the stillborn kitten which disguised for some time as strong tiger, before being unmasked as bedside rug. This is not about general values and ethics. It is not about muttering ‘that is neoloiberalism’, briefly shaking the head and continuing business as usuals. – Heads should know this at this stage: heads of politicians, and heads of academics working in the areas of social policy, social work and law alike. – I am freqeuntly surprised that my student’s usually know more about the complexities of realities than highly paid people working Sine Ira et Studio.
__________

PS: Being member of the editorial board, I am currently working for SOZIALEXTRA on one of the special topics of one of the issues: Human Rights – Children’s Rights – Human Rights as Question of Everyday’s Life

Arriving

Saying Good-Bye – again — This had been the title of a recent posting. And indeed, there is some deep truth in the formulation John used when he wrote the other day in his really nice mail

as you sadly report, your uprooting and once more wandering, as of course scholars and refugees have done for centuries.

It is about sadness, and it is about this close link between scholars and refugees. And there is also much reflection in the words with which he continues, wishing that I find

an academic refuge, a medieval monastery in which to pursue scholarship and teaching as you would like to do.

Not that I may finally reach the state of a monk, defined as

a member of a religious community of men typically living under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

May be it is poverty that awaits me; chastity is not really something to talk about here – there enough other miseries to report on and there are enough wrong choices in life that one doesn’t have to go with all of them – and finally it is hopefully about ongoing disobedience as it had been such disobedience, some independence that told me that it is Time to Say Good-Bye.

From various feedbacks I learned a bit about my life: I thought I would have been more or less outgoing, vocal and I admittedly missed the affects of it. People not reacting, not listening … – and now learning that part of my life  can be apparently seen as “background noise”. Those who read Niklas Luhmann’s later work will probably  remember … – And being background noise may be as much a praise of a life as I read from a colleague who felt very pleased when he saw his name mentioned somewhere in footnote of a famous writer. Yes, there are always the two sides. The one is the bright fire, dominant and victorious and showing the way …, the other is the small flame, flickering in the background, not much seen but somewhat indispensable when the clear light fades away, turns to be a dazzling instrument: blinding and misguiding.

Nani gigantum humeris insidentes

– Indeed, there is always the gnome standing on the shoulders of the giant, thus claiming to be able to see further as there is the giant walking across the path of the ant, “shouting justice for all” and  guillotining with every step so many of those on which he actually depends. Two sides – at least as long as we live in a society that is characterised by antagonisms they will be and they cannot really be harmonised.

There are also always two sides of Saying Good-Bye: the leaving of “places” and the arriving in “places”. Exciting undertakings. And perhaps all of them, if written down in a very subjective manner, are also allowing others to participate, better even: to make their own experience, to gain new perspectives in and for their life and living.

I tried the writing – impressions from roaming to and through different parts of the world. Kerstin Walsh, a former student and a present friend, contributed some lovely drawings (studying social policy doesn’t necessarily spoil life and the sense for its beauties) and to be honest: all of the people I met during this time, for short moments or for longer spells, played their specific roles – background noises, giants …, small flames and blazing fires ….

Again and again arrivals – Hellos!!!!

You may be interested in ordering

Peter Herrmann: Diary from a Journey into another World

Diaries against nationalism, inspired by trying to overcome personal resentments

You can find an extract here in the Rozenberg Quarterly

PS: I am currently working on a larger piece together with Kerstin. Last week she agreed to join the work I am just starting – hopefully together with Susann Staats co-writer) and Tobias Ruhnke (music). It is a children’s operar about a pink elephant ….

student accommodation, studying facilities ….

or what is studying about?

Dear Students – here in Ireland and probably elsewhere.
Recently a mail had been sent to the staff at UCC – it originated from a Senior Lecturer in Science Education at the Department of Education, Uiversity College Cork and stated the following

I am writing to ask you to encourage your students to make use of the weekend study facilities now available in the Campus Kitchen. From now until next May the Campus Kitchen will be open on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holiday Mondays from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day. Feedback from recent talks on “Steps to ensure success in your study of science and engineering in UCC” that I gave to all first year science and first year engineering student students indicates that a significant number of students living in student apartment complexes find it difficult to study in this apartment environment.

Many thanks to Mr … and his security staff as well as … for making this facility available. The Students’ Union will be informing students of the study facilities available but a few words of encouragement from yourselves may help students to settle down to study and to start using the weekend study facilities to help them to keep up with their work. Recent statistics from the HEA (Mooney et al., 2010) on drop-out rates from universities in Ireland are cause for serious concern.

Now, I will be the least to complain about providing additional study facilities to students – when I had been studying, I had been in the privileged position that I could use the library 24 hours a day – there had been one exception throughout the year. though I do not remember exactly, I think it had been the 25th of December that the facilities had not been available.

Leaving various things aside that could be said in this context, I want to raise at least three points:
* is the provision of study-facilities really an appropriate answer on the lack of quality-accomodation for students? – This laves aside the fact that this accommodation is in many cases completely overpriced, pushes students out on the private market, thus contributing via a more or less long chain to problems on the housing markets. If landLORDS (are we still living in feudal times, or is it even meant as prayer?) are making easy money, this, of course, maintains high rents …
* is teaching, organisation of seminars and discussion opportunities so limited during the week that there is urgent need for facilitating additional studies during the week – especially: additional space for individual studies?
* finally, is the lack of space for studying a real and major problem for “high drop-out rates for universities”?
Perhaps such Higher Education Authorities should step down from their pedestals – having a look at the reality of all these supposed  *****-universities, excellence universities may cure them. Though it is boring and we all know it it may be stated again: education is perverted to a commodity. It is “goal-oriented” and the sole goal is availing of a paper that states a degree. I do not want to write a plea for the humanist tradition in its traditional form: it had been highly idealist and elitist in its very foundation. Nevertheless, it surely had been more of an empowering spirit than much today’s skill-orientation. And surely had been more emancipatory, independent it is orientation than social scientists who state in a complaining, and even depressed mood:

This is the consequence of liberalism

Turning around after a deep sigh …., continuously walking the old ding-dong-trotten path, welcoming any success, any start gained or maintained, as a success – it is a little bit like Christmas:

Mai le campane risuonano più dolcemente

Isn’t it time to wake up? – Can be sweet too!

At least this colleague seems to have slept while he had been studying … and needs to improve skills, then justifying a position as Senior Lecturer in Science Education at the Department of Education

We Got IT – Update Your CV …

Dear Colleagues,
as it is now clear that EU had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2012, there is some rumour that every EU-citizen can claim to be winner of this prestigious accolade.
You may consider this  when updating your IRIS and other information relevant for Quality Assurance.

Most of you know that I had been engaged for many years in EU-policy making – on different levels. From direct contact I know also – just to mention one tiny point – the the current president of the Commission (in my experience the least qualified during my “term in office” which reaches back into middle 1980s) appropriated the responsibility on “social services of general interest”, taking it away from Vladimír Špidla, then Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs …. – I mentioned this occasionally publicly and do it again although it may have been confidential information I obtained in a personal conversation from the Commissioner. Still, although I left that field of activity for different reasons (leaving some minor engagement aside) I am in principle very much a supporter of the European idea. And I am well aware of the ambiguity – what is today the EU surely being an institutional setting that succeeded on many issues we can relate to in positive ways. Nevertheless, I have my serious doubts that the awarding is in any way justified. An idea that is valuable, being set in a harsh structural setting, is as valuable as the chitchat of a smart society in an increasing “refeudalising” economic environment (having used this term, and having published in 2010 on this [the second of the “New Princedoms” just went to the printer] I am myself aware that much economic analysis is still needed to back this thesis).

Anyway, EU-staff and students may claim that they had been awarded. Colleagues from “Third Countries” (sorry, this is the official terminology) may possibly claim that they know Laureats (which is something, isn’t it).
The details on the award ceremony are not yet clear – so, refrain at this stage from buying flight tickets to Stockholm.
Some additional information for foreward looking people: There is some hope that The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel may be soon going to the EU too.

Irish Excellence – just a rant

Just received a job add – adverstising a job at UCD. It may be poiting out an interesting strategy of third level education: completely overpaid professorial positions (in an international comparison), probably reasonably well paid “core staff”, that has to work for the money, and a rather large number of jobs for people who are ready for self-exploitation, working in casual “contract” positions (you MAY TAKE IT as purely accidental that I did not say anything about the work of professorial positions in this country – you MAY …)
It is worth an additional remark. The president of UCC has an income that is shamefully high (I always say: arguing on the ground of morals is useless although some social work and social policy colleagues still don’t get this). And this shamefully high-earning individual suggests that working conditions, security of positions of researchers and lecturers should be more precarised (see the dispute on Tyndall) etc.
And another professor – of maths – claimed not long ago (in a personal conversation) that social science cannot claim the name science.
I am wondering if these people have anythinbg else to offer than a large bag for huge sums of money. But perhaps they don’t have even that and follow in one or another way the traditional way of carrying money: in envelopes.

Sure, you may read this also in a wider context, looking at the Irish crisis, the definition of excellence ….

Growth, Greek and Teaching

A Change in my teaching program and implications for politics

Well, the title is a bit misleading – but fact is, for me: as abstract many things are when it comes to teaching economics there are so many things very much about daily lives and daily politics.

Some good news – had been asked to change my program for next years teaching in Budapest at the Corvinus University: A course on Development Economics.

A rather challenging task I think – and that is what I like: challenges.

Teaching about about this hugely contradictory issue of development in such a situation where we can see on the one hand that the traditional development model of capitalism failed – and we may add: failed completely – and at the same time it is strongly prevailing and orienting as matter that strongly guides policy makers. Of course, there is this global dimension – and since Rostow manifested his anticommunism in his pamphlet on on “Stages of Economic Growth” the traditional understanding of development is more or a simple translation of the paradigm of GDP-growth. More recent debates do not make major changes although they stepped slightly away from this tradition by including issues of sustainability and “well-being” – I engaged on some aspects and shortcoming of these debates in the contribution to the International Journal of Social Quality, titled

Economic Performance, Social Progress and Social Quality—Social Sustainability Waiting in the Wings

 But there is more to it – some aspects I developed in earlier blog entries, looking at questions of growth and trying to link it to the fundamental issue of the structural fracture between use value and exchange value. These entries had been titled Sustainability, Non-Sustainability and Crime I, Sustainability, Non-Sustainability, Crime II and Growth and Development and finally the presentation during the recent Poznan-workshop of the EuroMemo-group, which I elaborated very much with Marica Frangakis (Nicos Polulantzas Institute, Athens), also reflected on these issues.

The new course now – teaching is learning, and not just students sitting down and listening bit developing together with the students the new issues – gives an opportunity to develop this further. One point is surely about the systematisation, or should I even say: the precise formulation of the question. Contrary to the mainstream approaches that tend to give first answers, and after that search for the question, there is some need in return to the drawing board …. But then there is another point, namely the systematic (dis)entanglement of the different layers of the analysis. This concerns especially a differentiated approach with respect to local and “societal” dimensions of development, as well as it requires to look at situations of individuals on the one side and collectivities on the other side. As a working thesis we may say that the separation of use and exchange value is very much complemented by a juxtaposition of different aggregate levels. In other words, we see tensional relationships between

  • different aggregate levels
  • individual and social dimensions
  • relevant proprieties.

A thorough approach to this multilayered perspective can help in two ways. It may open a way to approaches to the development that are predominantly based on normative settings. And furthermore it allows us to contribute to a sound debate on methodological individualism.

On some political implication of immediate interest. Greece – more than for instance Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland – is currently in the news. This is in various ways interesting.

One interesting fact is at least worth a side remark: The mass protests going on for a lengthy time now, and actually at least comparably strong in Spain and Portugal[1] did not nurture the same media spectacle as the visit of the German Prime-Minister (Kanzlerin) Merkel. This is very similar to the very old patterns: when the emperor comes, the streets have to be ready for the theatre. And so the protests had been countered with even more violence than there had been before. And a shocking photo had been circulated yesterday on facebook – not one of the many photos showing the brute force of security staff (though they surely had been shocking too), but the shocking photo that showed the decoration for the welcome of AM: blue-white—-black-red-gold—-blue-white—-black-red-gold—-blue-white—-black-red-gold—- – I did not count the flags, enough though to cover many of the victims of this war of the people. – And we should not refrain from saying what it is: a war against a people not just on the open battlefield but on the battlefield of an austerity strategy that is “killing softly” – making it nearly impossible for many children to go to school because they are starving, detaining necessary health services …. – and this happens in a country where only few people have sufficient resources to solve the monetary problems. IF they WOULD PAY taxes, the problem would basically not exist. IF they WOULD CONTRIBUTE to solving the national debt problem rather than contributing to the Swiss, Luxembourgian etc banking profits people could successfully claim what human rights declarations grant on paper but do not allow to be an issue in people’s real life. If politicians would people and their representatives serious solutions could be found – solutions meaning something different than huge programs that (simplified, admitted) shift money from the tax payer in Germany to the banks in Greece from the taxpayer in Greece to the banks in Germany (see also the interview I gave earlier in Athens).

This brings us to the second issue. As easy it is for the Greek government to listen to Merkel rather than to the Greek people it is also easy to speak the old prayer of growth. As important as it is to appreciate the need for a development that is rooted in growth, as important is to start thinking about what growth is about. Sure, as biologist Merkel could easily skip the lessons on Aristotle and Marx (admittedly GDR-education had not been perfect – AM is a showcase for failure) – and so she missed that it is necessary to move a bit further and look at the real meaning of development. Let us for instance refer to Aristotle. He contended that

if every tool, when summoned, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it, just as the creations of Daedalus moved of themselves, or the tripods of Hephaestos went of their own accord to their sacred work, if the weavers‘ shuttles were to weave of themselves, then there would be no need either of apprentices for the master workers, or of slaves for the lords.

But indeed, Marx referred to this paragraph, writing in the first volume of The Capital (from which I took the previous quote):

Oh! those heathens! They understood, as the learned Bastiat, and before him the still wiser MacCulloch have discovered, nothing of Political Economy and Christianity. They did not, for example, comprehend that machinery is the surest means of lengthening the working day. They perhaps excused the slavery of one on the ground that it was a means to the full development of another. But to preach slavery of the masses, in order that a few crude and half-educated parvenus, might become ― eminent spinners, ― extensive sausage-makers, and ― influential shoe-black dealers, to do this, they lacked the bump of Christianity.

And this marks the point any debate on growth has to take as point of departure – the concrete situation of peoples lives rather than the  abstract calculation of growth figures. A quick overview over developments shows at least two different things:

  • the growth, and in particular the extreme and rapid growth had been gong hand in hand with increasing inequalities;
  • the growth had been in many cases – and Greece is an exemple par excellence – only possible by diminishing indigenous potentials in favour of growth of national and international elites.

In this light, I surely could teach AM some basics in political economy and the course: That development is not about figures but about people in their societies. And the development of societies through and for the people.

Too late for her, I guess – though she should have enough money to pay the fees for the course – unfortunately Mr Orban and his FIDESZ easily succeeded with this program against democratic, accessible education. Still I hope: perhaps one or the other of my students will get into some kind of government position and show: ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE.


[1]             The optimistic interpretation of the relative silence in Italy is that people may be afraid that Berlusconi could interpret protest as people calling him back into office (cannot find the article I read recently in some Italian paper); silence in Ireland is more due to the ongoing belief that god, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael freed the country from the British colonialists and thus god, will know when it is time to move towards a better world).