“Crises,” such as the financial cum political crisis in Greece and the so-called “European periphery,” are usually analyzed as they occur and interpreted through “hard data,” i.e. statistics and mathematical models. This is a rationalist and positivist, but also presentist and post factum approach that ignores the various kinds of socio-economic reforms and “soft data” pre-existing and presaging future crises. The Greek crisis was preceded by neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatization and withdrawal of the state from many areas of social provision, coupled with the promotion of a “managerial” ethos. The attempt to make Greek citizens act as managers of themselves, meaning that they treat themselves and their social relations like corporate organizations, has been extensively promoted through a plethora of educational, yet entertaining, programs (“edutainment”), suggested and made available, especially since the 1990s, to member states by the European Union and affiliated organizations (UN, OECD). Through these “civilizing” projects, the “international community” aims at both producing and managing “global infrastructures” and a “common opinion” favorable to neoliberal discourses of entrepreneurial autonomy and flexibility accompanied by individual responsibility and accountability. In Greece, in the last two decades, thousands of pupils and teachers (from kindergarten to high school) have been enthusiastically participating in “edutaining” projects that are regularly “surveyed” by higher-echelon officials at the national, European and international level, as well as “assessed” through repeated prize-granting competitions between schools. All these programs are supported, financially and otherwise, by the Greek government’s reformist plans, while at the same time are based on the international triptych: acquisition of new skills in ICTs by all; peoples’ salvation through consensus building; and human rights.
Intra-European school “twinning’s,” through the Internet (e-Twinning), face-to-face visits and project exchanges, as well as the international role-playing game known as “Model UN” (MUN), are apt exemplifications of my main point: these projects have been preparing and continue to prepare what employers want at this moment of financial crisis and for its foreseeable future, i.e., productive, flexible employees who learn fast and can cope with, and adapt to, vocational changes. More specifically, European e-Twinners and participating teachers (both being considered “special categories” or “small,” hence, “soft” actors), are required to adopt the EU’s “lifelong flexible learning strategies, which provide for future vocational—and life—skill needs.” For these strategies to be implemented, pupils are asked, on the one hand, to become competent users of ICTs and, through them, to cultivate their “creativity” by (re-)combining all sorts of knowledge and information that are more or less related to school curricula (i.e. uploading materials to project websites, etc.); on the other, to learn how to work both in teams and individually in order to develop not only cooperativeness, but also self-management and self-esteem. The program’s final goal is to help pupils “learn how to learn,” namely to provide them with a “lifelong skill” which makes them more “flexible,” meaning more “employable” in the future. Being or becoming “flexible” is also required from pupils exchanging local visits and educational projects with “brother” or “sister schools,” although the emphasis here is put more on promoting “transnational peace” by means of respecting “cultural differences” and developing friendships unhindered by nationalistic assumptions and stereotypes. “Flexibility,” coupled with “courteousness to everyone, an even temper and charming manners,” is the principal capacity in which international MUNers are trained in order to simulate “real” UN delegates. Although pupils often make a parody of and hence “pollute,” even subvert, the “original” UN procedures, they nevertheless learn how to “recreate the world’s reality” through endless (mostly ineffectual) consensus-seeking negotiations, lobbying and debating. All these “lifelong skills” acquired by Greek pupils for the last two decades are based on a set of key pieces of advice suggested in the MUN handbooks: “Remember, when persuading others, you are a ‘salesperson’”; and “when answering (or evading!) questions, use politicians as a model.” In sum, the timely interpretation of “soft data,” such as edutaining school projects, is imperative for the investigation of the “hard” (neoliberal) policies presaging the crises to come. In fact, the more “softness” on earth, the more harbingers of crises in the air.
Eleni Papagaroufali is an Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at Panteion University. She is finishing a book with the tentative title, “The Anthropology of the Banal and the Soft. Town Twinning and Other Peace-building Practices”