IN PRAISE OF HERESY AND IMAGINATION
Back in November 2005 the first Critically Chatting gathering took place. It was organised by a small group of people, who’ve been involved in youth and community work in England for up to thirty years. Across this period the Caucettes, as we used to call ourselves, have caucused regularly to argue the toss about ‘what on earth we think we’re doing?’. Of course we’ve done so in the light of our commitment to radical social and political change. And, without doubt, arguing this corner has got tougher in recent times!
Our initial meeting focused on the Green Paper, ‘Youth Matters’, one more expression of New Labour’s behavioural and instrumental approach to social and political issues. Central to this debate was the question of whether even the idea of a distinctive Youth Work practice ‘on the side of young people’ could survive its battering at the hands of the government and its ‘new managerial’ bureaucracy. Since then a series of further CC gatherings held in London, Wigan and Liverpool have broadened the discussion, pursuing such themes as the hypocrisy of the ‘Respect’ agenda; the taken-for- grantedness of representative democracy; the necessity of resisting and subverting the Management imperative; the contradictory character of the ‘community cohesion’ strategy; the inadequacies of Social Psychology; and the Neo-Liberal Agenda and Youth Work.
As you might expect we have not been overrun with support. On the other hand close to a hundred folk have participated in a range of stimulating conversations across the interrelated spheres of Youth and Community Work, Adult and Community Education, and the Voluntary Sector in all its many guises. In particular our spirits have been raised through renewing old and forging new contacts and friends.
Against this background there is a genuine desire to keep the Critically Chatting initiative alive. An organised and critical opposition to the ‘generalised conformity’ suffocating so much practice is sorely needed. This is easier to say than to do. Indeed our desire to encourage local, regional and national meetings has run inevitably into difficulties. Often interested and sympathetic people feel too tired or dispirited to turn out. And, of course, they need time too for themselves, their lovers, their children, their families and their mates! On the optimistic front more people have been drawn into organising and contributing to our efforts – so much so that we feel available now to call ourselves the Critically Chatting Collective. In addition we have derived strength and energy from sister groups tangling creatively with the same dilemmas – the National Federation of Detached Youth Work, the National Coalition for Independent Action and the collectives behind the journals of CONCEPT and YOUTH & POLICY.
It is in this context that this blog and web site makes a fresh appearance. We’re moving to WordPress in order to allow hopefully greater interaction between ourselves, readers and supporters. It seems useful to have a place, which can support critical dialogue in the following ways:
- by using the Blog to keep people abreast of and stimulate debate about topical and significant happenings in the arena of Youth and Community Work and the world Beyond!
- by spreading the word about and commentating on the Critically Chatting gatherings and other initiatives such as the Youth and Policy and Federation of Detached Youth Work conferences;
- by creating a fund of provocative and questioning articles, resurrecting past gems alongside encouraging the creation of contemporary comment;
- and by directing people to other sites and places, where critical debate about Youth and Community Work and, if we are allowed to be a touch pretentious, the future of humanity is fostered.
We do this in the spirit of inquiry contained in the following quotation:
“‘We do not have any Good News to proselytise concerning the Promised Land glimmering on the horizon, any book to recommend whose reading would exempt one from having to seek the truth for oneself” [Cornelius Castoriadis 1972]
and in the romantic vision of these words:
Workers of the world, awaken!
Rise in all your splendid might
Take the wealth that you are making
It belongs to you by right.
No one will for bread be crying
We’ll have freedom, love and health
When the grand red flag is flying In the Workers’ Commonwealth.
[Joe Hill of the Wobblies, One Big Union for All Workers]