All the lonely people: the struggle for private meaning and public purpose

Ivor Goodson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper argues that the "new world order" achieved at the end of the cold war is in crisis, not generated from the threat of "war" between Christian and Islamic worlds but from "within" western societies, specifically from the growing commercialisation and "privatisation" of social and community life which has uncoupled the systems and activities of society from the collective and individual purposes of people who comprise that society. Drawing on interview data (life and work histories) from three cohorts (1950s-1960s, 1970s-1980s, 1990s to present) of US and Canadian teachers, the paper identifies evidence of this crisis in the fields of culture, education and public service (e.g. in the turning away from public and towards private pursuits as the motivation for one's "life's work" or "passion"). It also looks to these fields in the search for answers to what motivates people and sponsors their meaning-making, specifically whether privatisation should be our only route to human meaning. The paper concludes that the personal "missions" that people bring to their employment may be accommodated in some parts of the business world where people are given freedom to pursue their own "projects", but these are largely frustrated in the micro-managed and re-regulated regimes of the public sector. Indeed, without invoking some "golden age", the sense of vocation, public duty and "caring professionalism" that characterised the "top end" and "backbone" of the public sector is diminishing as large numbers begin to withdraw their "hearts and minds" while implementing the mandates and missions of others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-148
Number of pages18
JournalCritical Studies in Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2007


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