Women given the wrong skills;Reviews;Books;Further Education

12th November 1999 at 00:00
UNDER EDUCATING WOMEN:. Globalizing Inequality. By Jackie Brine. Open University Press, pound;17.99 - 0 335 19738 8

IN THESE days, with any mention of social class avoided in government pronouncements and - even worse - largely absent from the lexicon of radical critique, a book on "globalization and the education of working-class women", as the author describes it, is unusual to say the least.

In particular, Jackie Brine writes, "much feminist theory has been class-blind". Her book aims to reinstate class analysis to explore "the complex relationship between the late-20th-century global economy and the classroom".

It should find many readers in further education. This is not only because it addresses the situation of FE itself, but also because to do so it deals with many FE subjects, such as political science, international relations and economic theory, to describe the trend towards regional blocs in the global economy dominated by mainly US-based transnational corporations (TNCs).

In this tendency towards regional blocs, Brine sees the state - national and regional - "servicing TNCs with an adequately educated, relatively healthy, compliant and flexible labour force", while "mopping up the social and economic after-effects of TNC global power". Within this new world order, women are particularly important because they are "the cheapest and most flexible source of labour".

Brine analyses European Union policy pronouncements to show how European equal opportunities policies contradict social and economic inequalities inherent in the pursuit of economic growth. She discerns a shift in the Euro-discourse of equal opportunities from individual access to "group-based social exclusion" but with outcomes that remain the same: at best, "even well designed and accurately targeted active labour market policies only redistribute the probability of employment", she says.

In the case of working-class women, this is particularly because "the femocrats" (as Brine calls them) in European bureaucracy have followed "an exclusively gendered" and "class-race blind" discourse. The result is that "black and white working-class women are trained for black and white working-class men's jobs", when these are the areas of the economy in most rapid decline. Encouraging working-class women into carpentry and construction and middle-class women into science and engineering has, therefore, been counterproductive.

Often,"the qualification gained was merely a certificate confirming completion of the course rather than an established qualification with transferable currency".

This is an argument many people working in further and higher education need to take seriously to avoid post-compulsory education and training continuing to be placed in the position of "trying to shut the stable door, which is determinedly fixed open as each cohort of under-educated boys and girls leave school with impoverished futures".

Professor Ainley is a reader in further and higher education at Greenwich


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