Neoliberal Education for Work Versus Liberal Education for Leisure

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Studies in Philosophy and Education






My concern in this essay is not so much with the invisible work or hidden labor produced by neoliberalism, but rather with what Joseph Pieper describes as an emerging culture of “total work” (Pieper, p. 43). More than the sheer (and increasing) number of hours of work, Pieper diagnoses a transformation in the way we view work. Work (or the necessary tasks of production and consumption) has become the exclusive point of reference for how we see and define ourselves. We are, Pieper feared, increasingly incapable of seeing beyond the working self. The human being (or homo sapien) has become the human worker (or homo faber). Historically, the ideal of leisure offered a counter vision (and its practices a counterbalance) to this tendency. Michael Oakeshott notes that while human beings must attend to the necessities for survival, they are most especially distinguished (from other animals) by their capacity for leisure—by an ability to pursue questions, conversations, and explorations that transcend the realm of production and consumption (Oakeshott 1989). To overlook and exclude leisurely pursuits is to diminish our humanity.