Week 6 is exploring the question of whether we need another inquiry into learning disability ‘care’. Mark Brown has written the following guest blog, related to this question, calling for different kind of revolution.
I got a tweet a couple of nights ago. It was a great blog post from Chris Hatton called The Four Staplers of the Apocalypse. In it he argues that David Graeber‘s theories on bureaucracy can be applied to the way in which the state interacts with the families of people with learning difficulties. When I first read it I totally agreed with him. For so many of us the state and its systems are oppressive. It seems to exist for its own ends and there is a tacit acknowledgement on the part of most of us, that challenging it, is likely to end badly for us.
I agreed with all of that, but later I was kind of disappointed. Not with the essay itself but with how it left me. The sentence:
the increasing stranglehold of bureaucracy over all aspects of our lives has become almost total, such that any alternative to bureaucratic ways of organising society is literally impossible to imagine
hung over me for much of the day. As oppressive in its pessimism as the state that gives rise to it. And although Chris rightly cites the JusticeforLB campaign and Human Rights Legislation as reasons for optimism he loses me in the final paragraph:
Finally, I have hope in those professionals and organisations that are trying to reconnect to the human, based on human rights principles. Can organisations supporting people with learning disabilities and families operate by engaging people honestly, as human beings, without the threat of violence lurking behind inhuman rules that are impossible to fulfil? My hopeful answer is yes.
The issue is not that there aren’t professionals and organisations out there struggling to reconnect with the human. It’s that without our help they can’t, because practitioners with integrity are almost as much victims of the state and its bureaucracy as we are. It oppresses any who challenge it without discrimination. I don’t believe it’s time for hope. I think it’s time for action.
So how do we change it? I totally agree with Chris that the fundamental building blocks of any change can be found in the JusticeforLB Campaign and in the existing Human Rights Legislation. But as things stand the ability of both to bring about systematic change is limited by the inertia of the system and its ability to produce and control what we know about how it’s actually performing.
Or to put that in plain English, they get away with doing things as badly as they do because they have control of what we know. They decide what research to fund. They decide what to measure and perhaps more importantly what not to measure. They also marginalise and stigmatise those who challenge them. For me the principal purposes of a bureaucracy are to sustain the illusion of competence when none exists and to neutralise individuals who challenge it.
And perhaps that’s where the beginnings of a solution lies. What would happen if we knew exactly how things were for families across the country? What if we knew how many Carers hadn’t had a Carers Assessment? What if we knew how many local authorities weren’t meeting their obligations under the Care Act and Children and Families Act? What if we ripped away their ability to pretend that things are fine? Then rather than using the law to protect individual people and their families, maybe then we can use it to protect whole communities.
A couple years ago this idea would have been absurd. But changes in social media and the web mean that our ability to develop this kind of data has actually become relatively easy. We can build on the networks that already exist, we can share experiences and create user led evaluations of local and national service provision, in short we can break their institutional monopoly on data and we can undermine their ability to isolate.
That may not sound that sexy and as revolutionary slogans go “power to the people – develop data” probably doesn’t represent one of the pinnacles of revolutionary rhetoric. But it would give us as a community and our allies, an enormously powerful weapon in our struggles against the inertia of the state and its bureaucracy. Because ultimately their legitimacy is based upon their bureaucratic control of our voices and their ability to convince the wider world that everything is just fine.
Like Chris I have hope in the ability of some practitioners to transform the system but I have much more hope in the strength of our community and the transformational power of our experiences. Personally I think it’s time for a different kind of revolution.