If you are someone who follows this blog, uses Facebook, Twitter or other social media like email and texting, you may have become quite familiar with the idea that people are now networking in ways that were impossible only a few years ago.
A friend of mine was telling me the other day about her eight-year-old son, who was now the embodiment of a digital native. He knew how to log onto their computer, how to search for school projects, and how to use his tablet in the classroom to draw, add, compose and write. She was wondering what the future of work and study would be for him, and whether today’s lecturers and practitioners knew what they were in for.
According to a report last September in the International Business Times, ‘there are now 2.26 billion people online, with 1 billion of them using mobile broadband subscriptions’ (link), so while these have been largely ‘first world’ luxuries in the past, they are becoming increasingly globalised.
At the same time, new global networks are appearing, and new ways for people to organise are being developed. It’s possible, for instance, to read this blogpost within seconds of it being written. Geographical distance is no longer the barrier it once was.
The collapse of the welfare state in developed countries saw a profound shift towards free market capitalism and, as we have seen in recent years, there has been a growing backlash to the worst effects of neoliberalism (see here, for example), but even leftwing commentators struggle to imagine a return to the world before 1980. Too much has changed, particularly in the way people can now network and organise.
Organisations like the Critical Physiotherapy Network are a case in point. Professional bodies used to rule physiotherapy. Most countries followed the 19th century industrial model of having a regulatory ‘Board’ which set the standards for professional conduct, and professional ‘Society’ that promoted the profession. Today these organisations are in an inexorable decline.
There are lots of reasons for this. Regulatory Boards are often seen by members as a brake on innovation, and from outside as promoting the interests of the profession over the patients. Not surprisingly, pressure is now being applied to dissolve once impermeable professional boundaries and move towards more inter-professional and collaborative work structures. Professional societies are also in decline, with membership rates decreasing annually. Most societies now have less than 50% penetration within their profession (see link).¹
Trans-national, networked organisations that function more as fluid, dynamic organisms than stately homes are becoming more and more significant in people’s lives. Organisations have become more like nodes in a widely dispersed network, than monolithic fixed entities.
The decline of Boards and Societies might seem like the beginning of the end for professions like physiotherapy, but it need not be so. New organisations will emerge that fill the void and open space for people within the profession to take advantage of the affordances that global networked connections now bring.
¹It could be argued that physiotherapy has so far bucked this trend, but this is the exception rather than the rule and the trend in other professional societies, collective organisations like trades unions and guilds is quite clear.