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-  2019 

Teaching austerity to working

DOI: 10.1177/0309816818780654

Keywords: austerity politics,fiscal crisis,Gramsci,labor studies,New York City,worker education

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To understand the contradictory power of austerity politics and, indeed, to teach about this contradictory power, the ideas of Antonio Gramsci provide an important guide. Austerity politics has a ‘there is no alternative’ durability derived from both the ruling class power behind it and the kernels of common sense that anchor it in everyday concerns of the majority. The challenge, therefore, is not simply a matter of practical politics and organizing. It is fundamentally a matter of political education, Gramsci-style: that slow and difficult work of creating, through carefully facilitated dialogue among the ‘subaltern’ classes, the kinds of alternative perspectives which reveal austerity for what it is and point to more equitable futures. This article explores a piece of this critical work. For theoretical context, it examines some key Gramscian terms – Hegemony, ‘common’, and ‘good sense’ – in order to surface their educational relevance. Then it explores the particular field of cultural experience, narrative, and meaning that shapes how the working-class students the author works with in a University-based labor studies program in New York City engage with college-level education and certain themes associated with austerity. Last, the article describes how, in a classroom-based analysis of the Fiscal Crisis in New York City in the mid-1970s, dialogue can create collective and critical understanding about austerity. The result is a small but important step toward a new common sense


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