A narrative exploration of meaning in the public sector
My thesis is a narrative exploration of making meaning in the public sector, drawing on my own lived experience of a radical 'reformation' of the British welfare state over the past two decades. This has been characterised by contested theoretical and political views about the commercialisation of public services, by the experience of turbulent social movements and public sector management, and by a profound sense of loss. The thesis is structured around an alternating weave of story and theory, which contributes to an iterative movement of different forms of reflection. As a researcher, I take up the role of a first-person narrator. This narrative approach is shaped by two discourses, which both emphasise awareness of the social and group dimension. Firstly, complex responsive processes of relating (Stacey et al, 2000; Stacey and Griffin, 2005) introduces a new and different dimension into use of narrative: one in which meaning making and ethical insight (Griffin, 2002,2005) are seen as emerging through social interaction. Secondly, the narrative work draws on psychosocial insights into the emotional life and politics of public services, particularly by Hoggett (1992,2000), Cooper (2003) and Cooper and Lousada (2005). Thirdly, it draws on a body of critical social theory about the new public management particularly by Newman (2000,2005), Du Gay (2000), Hall (2003) and Finlayson (2003). The thesis captures the lived experience of a social history and social movements around local government and addresses the question whether it matters if we now send public services 'off to the market'? I conclude that the idea of a 'public sector' is still critically important to our social well-being and that a public service ethos is to be rethought in terms of a capacity for human relating and intimacy, in contrast to the present orientation towards the utilitarian and pragmatic emphasis on efficiency and performance management. I identify the absence of 'a place to think' as an increasingly important phenomenon and advocate a new kind of conversation: one which draws on story and oral history to reflect on the emotional and moral capacities of a public service ethic confronted by intensive commercialisation and the rapid growth of a private public service sector and new monopolies.