Reforming "Time" in Danish Schools?

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The full article will be about a struggle over teachers' working time that took place in 2013 immediately prior to a reform of Danish Public Schools, ending with the introduction of a new law on working time for teachers. The analysis investigates the implications of a shift from paying teachers with "time", to paying them for "time". This implied a shift from a notion of time similar to a currency (teachers were paid for specific tasks/responsibilities with "hours"), to a notion of time as an abstract and empty category which (following a Marxian approach) anything can be put. The article will explore how culturally constructed notions of "time" become naturalized, and end up shaping the temporality of the teaching profession in profound ways. When arguing that cultural notions of time end up shaping our thought about time, I am following Kevin Birth, who has explored how "objects of time" (such as calendars and clocks) have shaped temporality (Birth 2012). In the article I will examine how the conceptualizations of "working time" and the fantasies of how to get more of it for less money, shape the temporality of schools in new ways and enable new (counter)power structures to emerge.By drawing on psychoanalytically inspired theories of fantasmatic logics (Glynos & Howarth 2007; Žižek 1989), Marxian inspired theories of abstract time and work, and anthropological theories of reciprocity and ritualization (Bell 1992; Graeber 2001; Graeber 2013), I will argue that the ways in which teachers and employers respectively understood and framed what they considered “work” in time, was connected to different logics and moral ideas about what the good society is imagined to be, and how different people can or cannot “count” (on) each other's work. In the article I will examine how a shift from one way of counting teachers working time to another, ended up having profound implications not only for teachers' working lives but also for the public school system. The change in ways of "counting time” was from the managerial and political side an attempt to be able to steer the public schools into a better and more productive future by getting rid of old-fashioned working time systems constituting barriers to efficient and flexible use of resources (Udvalget om analyse af folkeskolelærernes arbejdstid et al. 2006; Udvalget om analyse af folkeskolelærernes arbejdstid et al. 2007). In stead the managers shoud be given "room for management" so that they could flexibly prioritice the teachers time in a productive way. The change, however ended up having at least two different consequences, that did not exactly match these ambitions:First, it ended up reopening the teachers' past – even recalculating their past according to a new logic – raising questions about teachers’ productivity and contribution to society, insinuating that they might i fact in the past have stolen time and spent it on themselves. This reopening had profound consequences for the self-understanding of the teachers, and kept haunting them and the schools for the following years (Bjerg & Vaaben 2015; Bjerg & Vaaben n.d.).Secondly, it also had organizational implications. During the article I will argue, that the struggle was in a sense not really about time, but about power, about different understandings of value and about how to translate the value of teaching work into a salary. This translation process involved ways of framing work through various concepts of time, and this framing or ritualization also made different forms of resistance possible: Before the new working time law, work was defined in tasks and paid with "hours", and the teachers could resist to what they thought were meaningless management initiatives by "demanding hours". With the new law, defining work in duration rather than tasks, this form of resistance has become impossible, but a new form has emerged. Sine the managers are now in charge of how the teachers should spend their time, the teachers hold them responsible for planning their time by saying: "Dear manager, I have not been able to finish my work within the allocated time: What do you wan't me to do differently?"As such the article will question whether the political and managerial ambitions of securing a "room for management" by reforming "time". Instead of a room for management, the managers find themselves in the role of a micromanager, held responsible for the detailed planning of each teachers' time, now that they are no longer in charge of it themselves. Literature:Bell, C., 1992. Ritual theory, Ritual Practice, New York: Oxford University Press.Birth, K.K., 2012. Objects of Time. How things shape temporality, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Bjerg, H. & Vaaben, N., 2015. Striden om Tiden. In At lede efter læring: Ledelse og organiseringer i den reformerede skole. København: Samfundslitteratur.Bjerg, H. & Vaaben, N., The Danish School as a Haunted House - Reforming time, work and fantasies of teaching in the Danish public school. Ephemera.Glynos, J. & Howarth, D., 2007. Logics of Critical Explanation in Social and Political Theory, Abingdon, New York: Routledge.Graeber, D., 2013. It is value that brings universes into being. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 3(2), pp.219–43.Graeber, D., 2001. Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The false Coin of our own Dreams, New York: Palgrave.Udvalget om analyse af folkeskolelærernes arbejdstid et al., 2007. Delrapport om analyse af folkeskolelærernes arbejdstid - barrierer for ledelse og prioritering,Udvalget om analyse af folkeskolelærernes arbejdstid et al., 2006. Delrapport om analyse af folkeskolelærernes arbejdstid - ledelsesrum, fleksibilitet og ressourceanvendelse,Žižek, S., 1989. The Sublime Object of Ideology, London, New York: Verso.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventExploring the Dynamics of Organizational Working Time Regimes: Managerial, Occupational, and Institutional Perspectives on Extreme Work - Karl-Franzens-Universität, Graz, Austria
Duration: 29 Mar 201731 Mar 2017


ConferenceExploring the Dynamics of Organizational Working Time Regimes


  • management, organizational development and innovation


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