The Malaise of the Soul at Work: The Drive for Creativity, Self-Actualization, and Curiosity in Education
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Franco “Bifo” Berardi tells us that the current transformation of every domain of social life into economy has led to “the subjugation of the soul to work processes.” There is a newfound love of work and, consequently, writes Berardi, “no desire, no vitality seems to exist anymore outside of the economic enterprise.” Concerned as it once was with “fostering the soul,” and concerned as it now (almost exclusively) is with preparing students for the job market, what role might education have in Berardi’s musings? Can “creativity,” “self-actualization” and “curiosity,” which are so valued in education, still speak and help foster a sense of the soul that exceeds economy and work? In this paper, I explore these questions by providing an account of what is at stake in Berardi’s conception of the soul and its subjugation to work. I draw on his ideas to critically appraise the seemingly-benign aspirations of the “creative class,” a term coined to signal a new era for human flourishing afforded by shifts towards personal creativity in the digital economy. I then move to consider how, in particular, the ubiquitous promotion of “creativity” and “curiosity” in education tends to replicate a form of learning that puts the soul to work, as it were, promoting a narrow, self-enterprising subject with a frantic instrumental orientation towards the world. I conclude with a discussion on how demands on learners, to be always curious, innovative, nimble and open to discovery lead to panic, collapse and depression: the diseases of the soul.